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Darker the Night
Lisa London, author

Books on WWII typically focus on famous people & events - and usually from the vantage point of the winners.  Darker The Night instead focuses on the viewpoint of the German people trying to live their lives. Hedy wants to help the war effort by becoming a physical therapist, but the Nazi's have other plans. She finds herself working on farms and in airplane factories, dodging bombs and battling hunger. As the war comes to an end and news of the atrocities crush her pride in her country, her father reminds her, the darker the night, the brighter the stars. Great for book clubs.

London’s touching debut novel (after a series of accounting guides) explores the effects of WWII on a young German woman’s life. Starting in 1937, the story follows the courageous Catholic Hedy Weiß from ages 11 to 20 from her home in Birresborn to volunteer posts throughout Germany during the war. Hedy’s initial pride in Hitler’s rise to power gradually progresses to disgust and disillusionment with the Nazi regime and the war, though she continues to serve her country, first by volunteering as a nursing assistant, then as a farmer’s helper and as an airplane factory worker. As the years pass, she returns to helping wounded soldiers until she meets a handsome American officer in Trier at the beginning of Allied occupation. Hedy’s concerns and challenges are rendered in unadorned prose, and her troubled existence of hard labor, sheltering from falling bombs, near-starvation, and inconvenient love is palpable. The brisk storytelling and excellent characterizations perfectly frame Hedy’s perspective, shedding light on her eventual hatred of the Nazis and the scruples of other civilians and draftees who must endure the war’s destruction. London’s accomplished narrative speaks volumes on the horrors of war. (Self-published)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the book's title.

Midwest Book Review

Enter the story in 1944 (World War II), where the blast of an air raid siren sends two girls tumbling from their beds and into a basement shelter; then go back in time to 1937, where Hedy is a winner in a competition certain to make the Fürher proud of his young warriors. This win will earn her a position in his Youth Gathering in Cologne, a high honor, indeed, for one not yet fourteen. 

Hedy's classmates are in the SS and in special corps serving the Fürher, and their lives take on new meaning in an adult world where they are usually directed instead of respected. 

More so than most similar books about Hitler's youth movement, Darker the Night chooses a powerful character (Hedy) to portray how youth were affected by his ideals and encouraged to participate in increasingly dark events. It's often about seeking and gaining approval from peers and adults alike: and just as frequently, events pose a strange juxtaposition between adult training and concerns and a child's eye view of the world just beginning to change as they teeter on the cusp of adulthood: "Grinning, Hedy picked it up and swung back. Frieda seized a pillow and returned fire. Soon all of the girls were throwing pillows and shrieking. Laughter, squeals, and feathers filled the room as they fell on top of one another." 

By interspersing these moments of a child's life and innocence with the insidious unwinding of events to come, London's survey succeeds, more so than most young adult reads, in capturing the flavors of both the times and the sentiments of young people determined to fit in and establish a position for themselves in life. 

As Hedy continues to mature and comes to make some difficult decisions about friends, enemies, and her future, she finds herself constantly walking a thin line between survival and ethics, making decisions that often tend to thwart the effects of starvation and challenges to life itself: "Dammit, Hedy, every time I visit you, I ask, ‘What do you and your family need?’” He stopped and drew a deep ragged breath. “You lied to me. You insisted you did not need a thing. Your family is starving and you won’t tell me? What kind of relationship is this?”  Squirming, Hedy explained …"I didn’t want you to think I was dating you to get food.” Hedy fought back the tears swelling in her eyes. “I never wanted you to question my motives.” 

And as she interacts with Americans and Germans alike, she savors the good things that evolve in her world (for, yes, there is good - it's not all darkness) and battles against those which would drag down her and her family. 

Each chapter opens with a quote from a speech or piece of propaganda to give a flavor of the times and its influences, and each section offers new opportunities for reflection and understanding; because just as events in Germany weren't singular, so Hedy is a complex character whose perceptions aren't based on political correctness today, but on the experiences of a young German citizen confused about her country's direction and its real actions. 

Against this backdrop, Hedy's coming of age isn't just political: it's a personal saga personal, throughout. This approach gives the book a stunningly realistic, absorbing quality that will make it a powerful juxtaposition to Diary of Anne Frank, recounting the youth experience from quite a different vantage point and making it a special recommendation for a companion read and contrast to Anne Frank's more famous Diary's perspective. 

Readers' Favorite

Wow....just, wow. That's exactly what I thought when I finished reading Darker the Night, the haunting and interesting story inspired by a true life story by author Lisa London. Follow protagonist Hedy as she matures from a child raised as part of Hitler's Youth Group to a young woman determined to serve the Nazi troops through her skills as a physical therapist, and then onto a time when her pride in her country is torn apart when the horrific actions of the Nazis are made public, and the aftermath of the horrors of World War II. Hedy's development as a person and the changes in her life as the war progresses, including the introduction of a charming American love interest, is a story that will keep readers turning the pages from the start all the way to the very end.

I very much enjoyed Darker the Night. Exploring a much studied time period from a viewpoint not often considered, this book, while a work of fiction, provides an incredibly realistic and interesting glimpse into the past. Author Lisa London has done a fantastic job in creating a character in Hedy that readers will connect with, relate to, and ultimately care about very much. If that isn't a hallmark of a great author, I'm not sure what is. I highly recommend Darker the Night to any reader who enjoys an excellent work of historical fiction. I look forward to reading more from the very talented author, Lisa London, as soon as I possible can. If it's anything like Darker the Night, it will absolutely be worth a read!

Darker The Night-All Things Considered-Public Radio

Like many Americans, author Lisa London grew up with a limited knowledge of what happened in Nazi Germany during World War II. 

But when she began talking with her neighbor, Hilda Sensale, she was surprised to discover stories about the time period from the perspective of a German youth. Lisa used the experiences of Hilda as the basis for her coming-of-age book.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Hilde Sensale and Lisa London about Darker The Night (Deep River Press/2016).


Local Author Debuts Book Featuring Morehead City Woman who Lived in Nazi Germany

MOREHEAD CITY, Carteret County - Hilde Sensale was born in Germany in 1926. When World War II started, she was one of the thousands of Germans who contributed to the war effort.

"Of course the young men, they were all on the front lines during the war," she said. "So we had to take care of some of the farming, building the cockpits for fighter planes."

She said her mom wanted her to be girlier, but she was actually happy to be a member of a Hitler Youth group.

"There was no choice," Sensale said. "I mean, I could not go to college, so I had to do something else."

Her childhood in Germany is now the inspiration for a new historical novel called "Darker the Night." It's by Morehead City author Lisa London.

"At one point she said something to me about her Hitler Youth Group," London said. "And I knew she was a German war bride, but it didn't occur to me that she was probably in a Hitler Youth group."

London said she wrote the book to shed light on what life was like as a German citizen during the war.

"As I was doing the research with the propaganda quotes and everything, it was so interesting to me how gradual it was," London said.

Sensale said she saw a lot of suffering in Germany.

"The people themselves were suffering as a result of the bombing, you know, personal loss," she said.

She left the suffering behind when she married her husband, an American GI sent to Germany. And while much has been written and learned in the years since Hitler's Germany, Sensale wouldn't change her life experiences.

"It was a good experience," she said. "I don't regreat it in the sense that I was forced to do certain things. I don't regret that."

Local author tells story of neighbor that grew up in Nazi Germany

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WNCT) – One local author is telling the story of another Carteret County woman during her time in Nazi Germany.The story of Hilde Sensale encompassed in the book Darker The Night tells the challenges she faced during Hitler’s reign.The tales of the local German war bride were launched on her 90th birthday all thanks to local author, Lisa London, who tells the stories of Hilde’s time as a Hitler youth.“I said you know Hilde, I want to take your stories and I want the American people to understand what was the German perspective, what was their side?,” said London.The book tells of Hilde’s experience as a young girl who found herself assembling airplanes, dodging bullets, and battling hunger while Hitler’s troops marched across Europe.As Hilde matured, she found herself losing pride in her country due to tragedies brought on by the Nazi’s.Hilde recalls one of those tragedies, the moment she went back to her hometown.“There was not a living soul, no dog, no cat, nothing, and I walked down the street, I got the chills, started to cry, put my jacket on and just ran off a couple of streets and is never went back,” said Sensale.The story also tells of her interaction with Americans, one specifically, a CIA agent, who would later become her husband.But for Hilde, she says throughout her 90 years she wouldn’t change any of her experiences for the world.“It was an interesting life, and I don’t regret any of the hardships,” said Sensale.While the book only tells the life of Hilda from age 12 to 19, the author says they hope to make a sequel to the book to tell the story of her travels to America after marrying her American soldier.