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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Scent of a Storm: A World War II Story about Love, Courage, and Survival by Annette Oppenlander is a heartfelt tale of two love-crazed teenagers torn apart by the vagaries of war as Soviet soldiers pushed westward to Berlin through what was then East Prussia in the dying days of World War II. For Annie, now living with her daughter Emma in East Berlin under its repressive communist rule, 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall would prove to be a momentous time in many ways. A chance sighting on the television of a journalist whom she firmly believed to be her lover from years ago sends her into a recollection of those far-gone days. She and Werner had been lovers and she was left pregnant and all alone after Werner was sent by the Reich to dig trenches designed to halt the relentless advance of Soviet tanks into Prussia. As Annie and Werner revisit their early days and their struggles for survival as they both separately tried to flee the oncoming Soviet army, both are consumed with the possibility that their long-lost love may still flicker in each of their hearts. For Emma, though, it might be a chance to meet and finally get to know the father she had never known all these years.
The Scent of a Storm is a beautiful story that perfectly captures the helplessness felt by ordinary people when their leaders have taken them into a war they didn’t really understand and certainly, by the end, no longer believed in. To the victors go the spoils, as the saying goes, and for the millions of people displaced from Prussia at the end of the war, life was indeed tragic and brutal; for many of them, terminal. Author Annette Oppenlander has captured the essence of defeat and the struggle for survival for the people who wanted nothing more than to just go home – to a home, though, that no longer existed. She conveys the utter hopelessness of the vicious winter of 1944-45, as so many died on the long, cold march westward seeking sanctuary and just somewhere to call home. One can really feel the anguish, especially of the young people who were thrust into a situation not of their making, over which they had no control, and yet they were expected to fight against impossible odds to defend their homeland. What I particularly liked was that both Werner and Annie, despite their suffering, did grasp that what was happening to them was, in some way, understandable righteous retribution for the atrocities their own people had committed on the Soviets and others in the preceding five-plus years. This is a fantastic read that is impossible to put down and will steal the hearts of all true romantics, as well as historical fiction buffs. I can highly recommend this book.