#BookReview — For Those Who Dare by John Anthony Miller
For Those Who Dare
By John Anthony Miller
East Berlin, 1961. Kirstin Beck is determined to escape to the West. She watches from her townhouse window as the border with West Berlin is closed, and a barbed wire fence strung through the cemetery behind her house. With a grandmother in West Berlin that needs her, Kirstin knows she has to go.
Tony Marino is an American writer living in West Berlin. As he watches the nearby construction progress, he sees a beautiful woman looking from her townhouse window. Kirstin holds up a sign for Tony to see.
The two hatch a plan for Kirsten to get over the border, but the mission is not easy. With the Stasi closing in on them, Kirstin and Tony enter a kaleidoscope of deceit and danger, determined to attain freedom at any cost. But in a country torn between communism and capitalism, can Kirstin escape the world she can't endure?
“I think once you’ve tasted freedom, it’s very hard to lose it.”
The border between East and West Berlin had been closed before, but as Kirstin Beck watched as the barbed wire was rolled out, she feared that this time the East German Communist Government had something very different in mind for its citizens. They said they wanted to stop the evil plague that is capitalism from creeping inside their country and corrupting the populous, but everyone knew the real reason. The wall was built to keep the East Germans in.
How Kirstin wished she had left the day before the border had closed, but there had been no hint, no warning. Kirstin had a grandmother in West Berlin, and she was desperate to meet her daughter that had been so cruelly snatched away from her years ago. Kirstin had to escape this imposed isolation, somehow. However, who could she turn to for help? The Stasi were everywhere. They could be anyone. Her husband could be one for all she knew. If Kirstin were to escape, then she had to be careful — her very life depended on it.
American citizen, Tony Marino, had been commissioned to write a History of Nations series. He had been in Germany for the past two months visiting historical sites, taking notes. His editor had wanted him to compose a History of Germany, but what Tony had not expected was to be watching and participating in history as it happened. Nor had he expected to be communicating, via a small handheld chalkboard to a woman across the street in East Berlin, who was asking him for help. Tony had always shied away from commitment, but there was something about this woman and her plight, which tugged at his heart-strings.
With Tony’s help then maybe, just maybe, Kirstin would be able to flee across the border and make a new life for herself, in West Berlin. However, Kirstin has roused the suspicion of Karl Hofer, the Minister of State Security, and he is not a man to be crossed.
If it is a new life in West Berlin that Kirstin wants, then she must prepare for the consequences if her escape attempt fails.
For Those Who Dare by John Anthony Miller is a compelling account of one woman’s desperate longing for the freedom that those who live on the other side of the wall from her have. It is unashamedly moving, and I found myself close to tears on more than one occasion as this despairing fog of fear descends upon, not only the heroine but the populous of East Berlin. Kirstin, like others, is willing to risk everything for a chance to be free and to live the life that is being denied to her. Through this story, we see the devastating impact that the Berlin Wall created for those living in East Berlin as well as the daring escapes and acts of heroism from ordinary people who just wanted a better life for themselves and their families.
With an eye for the historical detail, Miller has penned a compelling account about life in East Germany during the German Democratic Republic’s rule. I thought the contrast between East and West Berlin was depicted with great skill and diligence. Miller describes a city that is cut cruelly in half because of opposing principles and political beliefs. West Berlin is a land of plenty, whereas East Berlin is a land of mistrust, fear, and relentlessly long queues for necessary provisions. The contrast could not be more apparent.
The sheer scale of the operation in creating what was to become known as the Berlin Wall has been meticulously described within the pages of this book. As has the confusion that the citizens felt as their lives were irrevocably changed forever by barbed wire, armed guards and a 3.6 metre high concrete wall. I thought Miller has captured the very essences of what it must have been like to live in East Berlin during this time of change and uncertainty. The despairing knowledge that those from the East were cut off from family, friends, jobs and places of education is harrowing, as is the brutality of the treatment of those who spoke out against the State, or who dared to try and escape. Miller has brought this recent past very vividly back to life.
I adored the characterisation of Kirstin Beck. Unlike conventional heroines, Kirstin isn’t a strong woman, but she is driven by desperation. She cannot live the way the government wants her to, and she risks everything, including her life to cross the border. I thought Kirstin’s portrayal was really rather wonderful. Kirstin’s determination to not give up, and to achieve her goal made her a highly desirable heroine for modern readers, but also a very realistic one for the time this book is set in.
On the other side of the wall is the hero of this story, Tony Marino. Like Kirstin, Tony is an unlikely hero. He is a writer, the idea of commitment leaves him running for the hills, but there is almost a sense of destiny in Tony when he strikes up this friendship with the woman across the street. He is determined to help her, despite what that could mean for himself. For the majority of this book, Tony has no idea what he is doing, and he is in completely over his head, but he promised Kirstin he would do everything that he could to help her, and he is not willing to go back on that promise. I thought Tony’s portrayal was fabulous, and it drove this story forward. It also made me stop and think about what I would have done if I were in his shoes. It is a very thought-provoking story as well as being a really entertaining one.
There are several antagonists in this book, most noticeably, Karl Hofer, the Minister of State Security. Hofer seems to take delight in frightening and threatening the citizens of East Berlin. His character brings a great deal of menace to this story, and he always seems to be one step ahead of the protagonists. He is a formidable opponent to put against our brave protagonists.
Another antagonist, which I think I may well have loathed even more than Hofer, is Kirstin’s husband, Professor Steiner Beck. Steiner is thoroughly indoctrinated with communism principles, and he seems to relish spying and reporting people — sometimes, for things they have not even done. He basks in the power that he thinks he has. I found his character incredibly disturbing.
Miller has not only penned some remarkably charismatic protagonist that makes a reader root for, but he also has a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading. Miller’s fast-paced narrative and his non-stop action make this book highly desirable. For Those Who Dare is a novel that is full to the brim of cliff-hanger action and nail-biting suspense. And if you like a good plot-twist, then this book is definitely for you.
For Those Who Dare by John Anthony Miller has a lot to recommend it. It has everything fans of quality Historical Fiction look for in a novel.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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For Those Who Dare
John Anthony Miller
Motivated by a life-long love of travel and history, John Anthony Miller's books are normally set in exotic locations during eras of global conflict. Characters must cope and combat, overcoming their own weaknesses as well as the catastrophes spawned by tumultuous times. He's the author of To Parts Unknown, When Darkness Comes, In Satan's Shadow, and All the King's Soldiers. He lives in southern New Jersey with his family.