I absolutely loved this book!
At the beginning of the novel, we travel with the protagonist to Germany just before the start of WWII. Although Michael Renner doesn't want to comply with his father's demand that he go to Berlin to ensure that his grandmother is not being exploited by her neighbour, he complies.
Michael is young. He doesn't really know much about life nor about himself. It is his first time traveling and while seriously seasick on the ship, he is forced to quickly learn how to deal with strangers and new situations. He is also ignorant of his German heritage. He knows nothing of Berlin nor of his extended family living there. Further, he also doesn't seem to know what is happening around him in Germany. He unwittingly is politically blind, unaware of the discrimination against the Jews, the homosexuals, and all deemed "deviant" or "enemies" of the State.
What I really really liked about this book is its fresh approach.
This is not a typical Holocaust novel. It is somewhat reminiscent of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in that the protagonist is simply living his own life and minding his own business while the world around him is changing. He seems blissfully unconcerned by the plight of the less fortunate. Thanks to his grandmother, he has enough money, is meeting friends, partying, discovering his sexuality, simply living. Eventually the realities of his situation catch up with him. He is forced to endure unimaginable brutalities and to cope in ways he never thought possible. Although I am not homosexual, I could easily relate to Michael. He is very naive. He simply wants to live and be loved. He is human. He makes mistakes. He is flawed.
Another thing I liked about this novel is the realistic description of Berlin just before WWII. Although I am not a big fan of gratuitous descriptive passages, there is just the right amount of fine relevant historical detail that the pages came alive as I read. Simply amazing!
Would I recommend this book? Most definitely!