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Rachel Goss
Driven by Conscience
Rachel Goss, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

The story begins in 1942 Berlin. Uwe Johannes was slated for a brilliant career as a physicist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. As the illustrious Werner Heisenberg’s graduate student, Uwe would have remained in the inner circle if not for his family’s humanitarian work. The Third Reich intervenes and Uwe ends up fighting on the front line in Tunisia. Before Uwe leaves, Heisenberg shares classified documents detailing their work towards constructing an atom bomb, which Uwe carries out of the country hidden on a medal. Captured by the Allies, Uwe is interned in a prisoner of war camp in Arkansas. Eventually, he is recruited for a clandestine Allied research program operating out of a private home. Uwe’s data is stolen and he runs away to retrieve it. The housekeeper’s daughter runs away with him. The mixed race couple travel through rural, segregated Arkansas as they unravel the mystery of who took the medal. It is a story of the development of character and judgment in a chaotic world, a story of friendships, neighbors, a good dog and brother love.
Goss’s inspiring debut historical novel follows a young man on a fraught journey through many dangers. In 1942 Berlin, young Uwe Johannes, son of political dissidents and protégé of physics professor Werner Heisenberg, is drafted into Hitler’s army. Before departing for North Africa, he devises a plan to hide Heisenberg’s research for a powerful new bomb inside his father’s old military cross. After his capture and subsequent internment in a POW camp in rural Arkansas, Uwe is ambushed and beaten by violent prisoners who despise his sympathy for the Allies. While recovering in the hospital, he’s recruited by the camp’s director to use his math skills for a top-secret assignment in a local family’s home. Uwe agrees and hides his cross in their home, but it’s soon stolen in a burglary. He goes searching for the cross with the family housekeeper’s daughter, Fredericka—but, as a mixed-race duo in a segregated Southern state, the two friends face additional dangers.

Goss sprinkles the story with maps, photographs, and handwritten notes that bring the era to life. Small-town North Little Rock and its close-knit neighbors—including socialite Imogene, legless veteran Charlie, and the indefatigable Fredericka—breathe life into the sometimes pallid prose. Young paperboy George and his faithful dog, Porter, steal the few scenes they’re in. But as the characters proliferate and FBI agents, Russian spies, and teen thugs mix with choir directors, victory girls, and well-meaning parishioners, the story becomes too convoluted.

Uwe is an almost too-impressive protagonist who’s saved from a lofty pedestal by his naiveté around women. His most powerful moment comes when American strangers bring cups of ice water to the hot train carrying prisoners to the camp, and he’s moved to dedicate himself to the Allied cause. Goss’s theme of the value of kindness and shared humanity will resonate with fans of uplifting historical fiction.

Takeaway: Readers looking for an uplifting story of kindness and valor amid WWII’s dangers will enjoy Goss’s tale of a conscripted German physicist who devotes himself to the Allied cause.

Great for fans of Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: B+
Editing: B
Marketing copy: C