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This Terrible Beauty: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2020
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From the bestselling author of The Forgotten Hours comes an unforgettable story of one woman’s journey to reclaim what she lost in a country torn apart by the devastating legacy of WWII.
On the windswept shores of an East German island, Bettina Heilstrom struggles to build a life from the ashes. World War II has ended, and her country is torn apart. Longing for a family, she marries Werner, an older bureaucrat who adores her. But after joining the fledgling secret police, he is drawn deep into its dark mission and becomes a dangerous man.
When Bettina falls in love with an idealistic young renegade, Werner discovers her infidelity and forces her to make a terrible choice: spend her life in prison or leave her home forever. Either way she loses both her lover and child.
Ten years later, Bettina has reinvented herself as a celebrated photographer in Chicago, but she’s never stopped yearning for the baby she left behind. Surprised by an unexpected visitor from her past, she resolves to return to her ravaged homeland to reclaim her daughter and uncover her beloved’s fate, whatever the cost.
A She Reads “most anticipated women’s fiction” book of 2020
“The timeliness of Schumann’s fiction, along with the intriguing history she relates in This Terrible Beauty, makes her book a wonderfully exciting and compelling read. This Terrible Beauty is a wise and stirring contribution to the literary canon written about the German Democratic Republic that deserves to find as many enthusiastic readers as the bestselling books about World War II.” ―Historical Novel Society
“Schumann’s graceful evocations of people and place make this novel hard to forget.” ―Maria Hummel, author of Motherland and the Reese Witherspoon book club pick Still Lives
“Deeply relevant to our current times, This Terrible Beauty explores the lengths to which we will go to find love and the sacrifices we make for family and community. I fell in love with these characters and came away heartened and hopeful.” ―Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
“A compelling and richly layered story of love, motherhood, art, and ultimately self-preservation―this is a vivid, rapidly paced historical novel. Unputdownable!” ―Jillian Cantor, USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Letter and In Another Time
“Schumann’s vivid focus reveals characters who crumble with heartbreak and rise with strength, and above all draws her readers in and never lets them go.” ―Rachel Barenbaum, bestselling author of A Bend in the Stars
“Set in postwar Germany, this gorgeously written, sweeping, cinematic story is also a riveting and romantic page-turner. Get ready to put everything on hold and let yourself get lost in this sensual tale.” ―Erica Ferencik, bestselling author of The River at Night, a #1 Oprah.com pick, and Into the Jungle
“A complex, moving story of love and loss, beautifully written. This Terrible Beauty explores the critical nature of art as a lens through which we can understand history and asks us to be mindful of the ways we choose to look at the world. This is one historical fiction fans can’t miss.” ―Olivia Hawker, Washington Post bestselling author of The Ragged Edge of Night
“This Terrible Beauty kept me turning the pages long into the night. Katrin Schumann evokes an often-forgotten time and place to weave a story that is equally captivating and fascinating.” ―Eoin Dempsey, bestselling author of White Rose, Black Forest
About the Author
Katrin Schumann is the author of the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestseller The Forgotten Hours. Born in Freiburg, Germany, she lives in Boston and Key West. She is the program coordinator for the Key West Literary Seminar, teaches at GrubStreet in Boston, and was an instructor in PEN’s Prison Writing Program. Katrin has been granted numerous fiction residencies and is the author of several nonfiction books. Her work has been featured on Today and Talk of the Nation and in the London Times, among others. She studied languages at Oxford and journalism at Stanford. For more information and to sign up for her newsletter, go to www.katrinschumann.com.
- Publisher : Lake Union Publishing (March 1, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 381 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1542000068
- ISBN-13 : 978-1542000062
- Item Weight : 13.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,410,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #2,295 in Mothers & Children Fiction
- #3,175 in World War II Historical Fiction (Books)
- #11,202 in Women's Domestic Life Fiction
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2021
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Top reviews from the United States
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I was most interested in the story that unfolds with the characters, of course, and although I did not agree with all of Bettina's choices, I have to say the story rang with truth and reality. I ached for her and her losses, while also celebrating her success in America, even when she really did not even totally appreciate that success.
The story begins when the war is near the end, and Bettina is caring for her sick and dying father. He dies, and the war begins to end, and the people of her little seaside town wait for who will get to them first, the British, the Americans, or the Russians. It is the Russians. In the beginning it seems like it might be alright, and Bettina goes on with her life. She ends up marrying a kind older man who works in the local government and she continues to work in a fish processing plant. The winds of politics begin to change, and Bettina does not like the new scent in the air. Unfortunately, the man she married is rising in the ranks and seems very in sync with the new order. This begins the frission in the marriage. I will leave you in suspense.
Bettina has received an old camera from her father before his death and delights in snapping pictures. She runs out of film in wartime, but still goes about snapping and framing what she would photograph if she had the money to buy film. Later, early in the marriage, she now has the funds to get film and continues this hobby. Her husband does not really understand it on any level, and disparages it. She ends up conceding in her mind that it is an expensive hobby and abandons the camera to a closet for several years. Later, she must leave East Germany in a hurry and on a whim grabs the camera and some undeveloped rolls of film. She ends up in Chicago, with her sister and brother in law, and ends up finding work with a newspaper. She works her way up from janitor, and continues to take pictures along the way. When the editor, who befriends her, sees some of the photos, he is very impressed and lets her use the dark room. She seems set on her way to become a successful photo jounalist.
Please read the book, it is beautiful in it's pain and redemption, and has a few surprises. The surprises, for me, make the story. Highly recommend.
The plot reverts from the late 1960's Chicago where Bettina ultimately immigrates and the 1940's as she flashes back to what brought her there. The man she married in Germany near the end of the war and her husband has a career in the soviet secret police.
Bettina's only outlet from her stifled existence in East Germany is her amateur photography until she meets a teacher at the middle school who opens her up to a broader outlook on life and art and literature. The oppression under Sovie rule is told from a day to day existence and the norms of a suppressed society.
The writing is good and we see an average woman who has no real political thought other than what she sees and heard daily. The romance that develop between her and the teacher is understood as she grasps the awakening to love and life outside the grey existence. I truly felt her need for a "life."
Her husband's work clashes with her social life be it at her work at a fish factory, at home with him, her neighbors and her own sister.
I've never read a story told in this fashion and found it very real and difficult to accept all the constraints imposed on her as she deals with her marriage, the guilt and true love of the extra-marital affair and the child she ultimately bears. Add all this to her ending up in Chicago and it's a story of so many politics that invade one life to such an extent it strikes a powerful undertone.
A definite recommendation to readers of historical fiction and romance. Subdued and powerful all in one very good book.
Top reviews from other countries
The story follows a young girl called Bettina and her relationship with a political worker, Werner, during post WW2 Germany. It has 2 timelines - past and present and often flicks between two points of view - Werner’s and herself. She marries a man who once saved her but never really loved however meets a man who shares the same thoughts, beliefs and ideologies as her own and instantly falls in love. She begins having an affair and becomes pregnant. Werner, her husband, finds out about the affair and gives her two choices; leave the country, your child and your lover and never return, or you and your lover both spend lengthy time in prison. It is a heartbreaking story but extremely moving and eye opening.
I would definitely recommend. Just don’t give up half way through!