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Potsdam Station by David Downing
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Soho Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569479179
Date: 05 April 2011 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Wikipedia Entry / Show Official Info /

Do you want a glimpse of World War II Germany? Potsdam Station, by David Downing, brings us May of 1945, and a nearly-destroyed Berlin. Downing follows the family of John Russell, an American journalist, through this difficult time.

Potsdam Station is the fourth in the series about John Russell, an American journalist in Berlin during World War II. This time we are near the end of the war in 1945. Using severe understatement, Germany is a mess. Rather than face the months of "protective custody" as a foreign journalist Russell escaped Germany at the end of the last novel and has been in hiding for four years. As a foreign journalist in Berlin in 1941, Russell knew his status would change as soon as the United States entered the war. His intent was for his girlfriend Effi to escape with him, but the plans failed.

David Downing

Jack McColl Series:
* Jack of Spies
* One Man's Flag
* Lenin's Roller Coaster
John Russell series:
* Zoo Station
* Silesian Station
* Stettin Station
* Potsdam Station
* Lehrter Station
* Masaryk Station

Russell's son Paul, only 14, was too young to escape with him. Since 1941, Effi has been living in Berlin under a false identity. Paul, now of age, and is a German soldier. Paul is angry that his father left, but honestly he has other things to keep him occupied. Afraid that his family will suffer from revenge against the German people from the Russian soldiers, Russell is desperately trying to get back to Germany. Russell goes to the Russians and asks if he can join the Red Army when they enter Berlin and join them as a guide and a journalist in exchange for them letting him find his family. The Russians decline.

The Russians come up with a crazy deal. They want to parachute in two soldiers, Russell and one nuclear scientist to steal nuclear secrets from the Germans so that the Russians can use them to keep up with the Americans after the war. Russell has done assorted low-level espionage operations over the course of the three novels, but understands that this is a whole new level of espionage for him. It will make him a traitor to his country if he ever gets caught, assuming that he stays alive through operation. Russell decides to do it, regardless of the peril, as he sees that it is the only way to rescue his family.

The stories of Effie and Paul run parallel to Russell's. Effie is a crafty woman. She has been living in hiding over the last few years, and working to help rescue Jews. Paul is a soldier. Living conditions are poor. Food is short. It is inevitable that Germany will lose, but they are just trying to stay alive long enough to let that happen.

David Dawning's novels are not heavy on plot, but that is not his real intent. His stories are about the people and how they are affected by the war, the shortages and constantly being around death. It is an interesting perspective. David Downing's novels are a glimpse at the human side of the war. What are the average Germans thinking? How is the world around them changing?

I found this novel very sad. I know that wars have been around as long as people have, but it really makes me wonder why. Nobody wins. The thing that touched me most was the story of the Russian soldiers pillaging as they moved across conquered lands (I supposed that many were reconquered because the Germans had conquered them first). All women just expected to be raped. I have heard that is what soldiers do, but I have also heard many stories in our American media of trials and scandals for Americans doing such things. It makes you think and wonder how much things like that really happen and how much gets reported and how much doesn't. The last thing that creeps me out is reports of crucifixions as the Russians advanced. Not sure why or to whom, but that is not something that we normally think about in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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