A friend of mine tagged me in a NYT story about a new book the talks about how all the higher-up Nazis were addicted to drugs.
Another friend then laughed about how I was tagged in a story about Nazis.
So my interest is well-documented.
Last year I read, and loved, Jane Thynne’s The Scent of Secrets. This year I read, and loved, The Pursuit of Pearls, the follow up.
To recap, Clara Vine is a Berlin film star. Half English, half German, she hides the fact that she is also partly Jewish. Her role in the Berlin film system means that she has access to some of the senior Nazi party officials including Goebbels, Goering, Himmler and Heydrich. This time, she also works for Leni Riefenstahl!
This makes her quite an asset for British Intelligence, who she has agreed to work with. This time, her goal is to find out if the Germans are looking to make a pact with the Russians. It’s 1939, and while talk of war is everywhere, it’s not yet a certainty. The hope is that, using her connections to the Nazi wives, Clara will be able to find out what it is that the Nazis are planning.
I cannot begin to describe for you how much the idea of these books delights me. Thynne is using the domestic goals of the Third Reich to inform her story. The fact that women were meant to exude only a certain kind of German womanhood – good Aryan German women were meant to marry Aryan men, have loads of Aryan babies, love the outdoors, eschew cosmetics, and favour only traditional German garments made by other good Germans.
Of course, most of the Nazi wives loved giant jewels, Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, gowns by the finest couturiers (who were mostly Jewish at the time) and giving and attending lavish dinners, rather than hiking in the forest.
The Pursuit of Pearls more than holds its own in this series. Another great mystery found within the bounds of female society under the Third Reich. Thynne gives us access to the Faith and Beauty Society, a kind of finishing school for girls hoping to marry into the SS. She’s also done an incredible job recreating the fearful atmosphere, of a time when everyone was fearful that their friends and neighbours were going to turn them in.
It’s the kind of book that has me wanting to fall down a rabbit hole; while reading I googled images of the Nazi wives to see what we were dealing with. And lucky for me, I have a biography of Magda Goebbels kicking around, as well as one that looks at the lives of Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl around this time.
One final thought about this book: it struck me how easily Berliners, and most Germans, accepted the new dictates of the Nazis. How quickly the new rules took over and made certain ways of life illegal. These kinds of books are fun to read but they seem to hint at something more sinister now.
Don’t forget what happened in 1930s Germany.