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Newsflash from June 1941: GERMANY CALLING. BEWARE!!!

News from Berlin - Otto De Kat

"NEWS FROM BERLIN", in its basic essence, is a story centered upon 4 main characters scattered across Europe in the late spring of 1941. First there is Oscar Verschuur, a Dutch diplomat posted to Switzerland, a neutral nation standing apart as one of the few oases on the war's periphery. Second: there is Oscar's daughter Emma and her husband Carl, a German she had married a few years earlier. Both work for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, whose boss, Adam Trott, a smart, discerning and warm-hearted anti-Nazi, nurtures hopes of being able to save Germany from itself. Emma and Carl take a brief holiday to Switzerland, where Emma informs her father over lunch in a Geneva restaurant of the date of the imminent German attack on the Soviet Union. Its codename: Operation Barbarossa. Emma's reason for disclosing this explosive tidbit of information to her father is her hope that thus armed with this vital secret, he'll inform his superiors and friends in Britain with the aim of frustrating Hitler's aim for new conquests, Russian oil, and Lebensraum.


And thirdly, there is Kate, Oscar's wife, who is living in London, where she works in a local hospital helping to administer care and bolster morale among wounded Allied soldiers. Oscar and Kate living apart across frontiers I thought a little odd. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear to the reader that a certain state of separateness suits them both.


After returning to Berlin, Emma informs Carl that she disclosed the date of Barbarossa to her father. Though greatly displeased, he kindly admonished Emma to be more circumspect in future. He appreciates her reasons for informing Oscar of the impending invasion. But there is the spectre of the Gestapo. He loves his wife so much that the prospect of her possibly ending up ensnared by the Gestapo makes him fearful for both their lives. Indeed, at one point, Emma is taken to Gestapo headquarters on Prinz Albrechtstrasse for questioning. Apparently, one of their spies noticed her whispering something to Oscar over lunch in Geneva. Emma manages to keep her cool and eludes suspicion.


Oscar is hesitant about sharing the news of Barbarossa with Morton, a friend of his in Britain with connections that go all the way up to Churchill himself. Nevertheless, he takes a nocturnal flight aboard a Swiss airliner from Lisbon to Bristol, from where he catches a train to London for a meeting with Morton. Later he surprises Kate by stopping by her flat. It is hardly an auspicious reacquaintance for husband and wife.


This novel had the potential to be a potboiler. Instead, it simmered ever so infrequently and in a few instances, it seemed that matters would become intense, that some kind of dramatic showdown would erupt. After all, if the Soviet Union could be informed in time that its ally Germany was set on attacking her in less than 2 weeks, perhaps Stalin would change sides and deliver Germany a jarring rebuff. So, while "News from Berlin" was interesting to read, there was no sustainable dramatic tension which could have made it much better than it was.