My Brother's Shadow

Overview

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed...

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My Brother's Shadow

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Overview

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.

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  • My Brother's Shadow
    My Brother's Shadow  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Nothing is going to be the way it used to be.” It’s 1918 in Berlin, and in four years’ time 16-year-old Moritz Schmidt has lost his father to the war and his baby sister to illness. Moritz feels increasingly distant from his mother and older sister, both active in the socialist revolution against the Kaiser, as well as his older brother, Hans. While his activist mother hides from the police, who are seeking to arrest her for treason, Moritz gets a job at the daily newspaper, gradually writing more articles for his mentor, Herr Goldman, while dreaming up ways to find food and money for his family. When Hans returns from war an injured and embittered radical, and Moritz falls for a socialist Jewish girl, he cannot reconcile his feelings: Is the revolution a salvation or a betrayal? In this nuanced and realistic work of historical fiction, Schröder (Saraswati’s Way) immerses readers in her setting with meticulous details and dynamic characters that contribute to a palpable sense of tension. Moritz’s intimate narration captures the conflicts, divided loyalties, and everyday horrors of the period. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“Readers who are aware of the aftermath closing in on Moritz and his family will feel a chill looming over his romance with a Jewish neighbor and the illusory nature of the family’s brief respite after the war.” —BCCB

 

“A good choice for sharing across the curriculum, this is a novel readers will want to discuss.” —Booklist

 

"In this nuanced and realistic work of historical fiction, Schröder (Saraswati’s Way) immerses readers in her setting with meticulous details and dynamic characters that contribute to a palpable sense of tension. Moritz’s intimate narration captures the conflicts, divided loyalties, and everyday horrors of the period." —Publishers Weekly

 

" 'War gives meaning to some men's lives. For other men, the experience of war extinguishes all meaning in life,' says a man who becomes Moritz's mentor; Schröder makes this sad and ever-timely lesson all too clear."—Kirkus Reviews

 

“The sorrow and the pity of World War I haunt every page of this unsparing coming-of-age story set in Berlin during the war’s final days. Monika Schröder skillfully sketches in the fractured political background of a disintegrating imperial Germany. She doesn’t miss a beat in her fast-paced first-person narrative as sixteen-year-old Moritz copes with his family’s misfortunes, finds his calling, and discovers love.  I found the innocence of the meetings between Moritz and Rebecca particularly affecting, and because she happens to be Jewish, the story ends on a note of foreboding.  This is a memorable and instructive novel.”—Russell Freedman, Newbery-award winning author of The War to End All Wars: World War I

Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
War stories are often told from the viewpoint of the victor, but Schroder tells a different tale—the story of the German Schmidt family in the closing days of World War I. Teenage Moritz Schmidt has taken on the responsibilities of man-of-the-house since his father was an early war casualty and his brother is serving in the Kaiser's forces. Moritz struggles with the ethics of wartime survival for his family. Although he and his mother are both employed, the family struggles with food rationing, the threat of Spanish flu (which has already killed Moritz's younger sister), and other hardships of the wartime political landscape. Moritz's mother and sister have joined the radical Social Democrat party, a subversive organization promoting revolution from within the country. While Moritz is initially neutral, he is brought into the activities of the party by his association with Rebecca Cohen, the secretary to Hugo Haase, a party official. Moritz's brother's return from the war, disabled and addicted to morphine, represents the seeds of change in Germany. Hans, embittered by the German military loss and the abdication of the Kaiser, takes out his anger on his family and through acts of anti-Semitic brutality. While Moritz moves ahead in his chosen career as a journalist, it is easy to see that Hans represents Germany's other path, the one that leads to Hitler's rise to power and Germany's path to World War II. Schroder's portrait of wartime Germany is even-handed and takes the reader into and important postscript to World War I, the dominance of Democratic Socialism which included suffrage and office holding for women. With a budding romance between Christian Moritz and Jewish Rebecca, a future conflict is predictable but adds a human interest hook for readers. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Moritz, 16, struggles with the political climate and the realities of life in Germany near the end of World War I. He and his family feel the impact of the fighting acutely: Moritz's father died serving his country, and his brother, Hans, is injured in battle. Schröder gracefully weaves in the effects of war throughout the novel without being overbearing. To make up for the absence of his father and Hans, who suffers even more psychologically than he does from his physical injuries, Moritz works at the local newspaper and steals food to supplement rations. Meanwhile, his aunt, mother, and sister, all disillusioned with the Kaiser's government, become active in the socialist movement. Hope comes in the shape of two of Moritz's relationships. His friendship with a Jewish teen, Rebecca, blossoms into an innocent romance, and Herr Goldmann, his newspaper colleague, stokes his passion for writing by giving him assignments for the paper. The author develops Moritz's character through a series of difficult decisions he must make, some pitting him against his own family in a striking manner. The rushed ending foreshadows the anti-Semitic climate that developed in Germany in the years between the two World Wars. An author's note contains further information about the complex political and social environment of the period. Libraries in need of fiction from the World War I era will find this an acceptable choice.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
Kirkus Reviews

Set in Berlin as World War I is nearing the ultimate, shameful defeat of Germany, the story 16-year-old Moritznarratesreveals the causes of the next great war.

By 1918, conditions in Germany, especially for civilians, were brutal: starvation, lack of essential goods, war-wounded on every street, dead soldiers from every family. Working-class Moritz is an apprentice printer taking the place of his father, who was killed at the front. His older brother, Hans,lost part of an arm and an eye fighting for his homeland and has become a morphine addict and street bully. In him, readers see the incipient Nazi as he and others attack an old Jewish man and he adopts of the creed of German vengeance. The slow unfolding of conditions and characters forces readers to see a full portrait of the then present and the soon future.Moritz meets Rebecca, daughter of a Jewish bookseller, and through her and her companions becomes involved in the politics of the Social Democrats. Here the book becomes somewhat preachy, as various political philosophies are presented. An author's note at the end of the book fills in historical details and names; it would be wise to read this before starting this gripping, active novel.

"War gives meaning to some men's lives. For other men, the experience of war extinguishes all meaning in life," says a man who becomes Moritz's mentor; Schröder makes this sad and ever-timely lesson all too clear. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374351229
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/27/2011
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,477,298
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Monika Schröder grew up in Germany and has worked as an elementary school teacher and librarian in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile and India. She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband and their dog, Frank. My Brother's Shadow is her third novel.

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Read an Excerpt

My Brother's Shadow


By Monika Schroder

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Copyright © 2011 Monika Schroder
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780374351229

1
one

 
I still hear the rhythmic drumming of the rotation press in the printing room of the Berliner Daily where I just finished my shift. It’s already September, but late summer’s humid heat has returned; it clings to me like a hot, wet towel as I walk to the small park across the street and sit in the shade of a linden tree to read the paper I just helped to print. Today’s Berliner Daily headline boasts “Masterful Retreat at the Ailette Front,” announcing the “successful detachment from the enemy.” Some people are saying the war is not going as well as the government is trying to make it sound. The newspapers have to print the official armed forces war bulletin so it’s hard to know what really is going on, but I am sure the German Reich will achieve final victory.
A woman walks by with a small child on each hand. All three of them look gaunt, their eyes underlined by purplish rings, their cheeks hollow. I’m always hungry myself. After four years of war and the British navy’s blockade of German harbors, there is not much left of anything. Printing paper is rationed since last week and the Berliner Daily is published on only half the usual number of pages.
On the bottom of the first page I study an advertisement for nerve tonic. It reminds me of Papa, who died at Verdun two years ago. At first his letters proudly described the devastating impact of the German flamethrowers on the enemy’s morale, but as the battle dragged on he openly expressed his despair. When my mother read one of those sad letters to us, my older brother, Hans, turned red in the face and yelled, “Maybe we should send him a nerve tonic to build up his strength if he is such a weakling.” Hans can get angry like that. It hurt to hear him talk about Papa this way, but I didn’t dare say anything.
Soon after, we got the letter informing us that Papa had died. Because he also worked for the Berliner Daily the paper paid for his obituary. His name appeared in one of the many black-framed boxes under an Iron Cross, announcing his heroic death on the battlefield for “People, Kaiser, and Fatherland.” When I showed it to Mama she threw the paper across the kitchen table and said, “People, Kaiser, and Fatherland? My husband didn’t die for me or for his country. He only died for our foolish Kaiser, who loves his uniforms and his yachts. He and his military cronies brought us all this misery.” Hans argued with her even then, and I wondered how he could make it sound like it was Papa’s fault to have been shot dead by the enemy’s artillery fire. But I kept quiet. Later I cut out the obituary, folded it neatly, and placed it in the cigar box, the one that shows a picture of the Kaiser in his uniform on the lid.
Now, for more than a year, Hans has been fighting in the trenches on the Western Front. His last letter arrived two weeks ago, asking us to send him lice powder. How awful to be pestered by the little nits while burrowed in the earth, expecting enemy fire or a gas attack at any moment. But Hans was always stronger than me and not afraid of anything. The day Hans left to meet his battalion at the train station, he got angry with Mama for swearing at the “damn war.” Hans said it was an honor to serve the Kaiser, and when Mama saw that he really meant it she cried even more.
On the second page a poetry contest calls readers to “Support the War Effort! Write a patriotic poem to encourage Berliners to give money for the 9th War Bond, 1918.” A patriotic poem is about all I can contribute to the war effort. I am only sixteen, too young to enlist. The winner of the contest will receive 500 Marks. I know I won’t win, but even if my poem comes in third I will get 200 Marks, enough to buy back my mother’s sewing machine. It is still with the fat man in the pawnshop at the corner of Charlottenstrasse.
Mama used to sit under the window in our living room, altering dresses or sewing sailor suits for children, while my little sister, Louise, played with her doll on the floor. Last winter, when Louise started to cough, Mama sold the machine to buy medicine and meat. But then Louise spat blood and two days later she died. Shortly after, my mother went to work in the ammunition factory and began to attend socialist party meetings, talking badly about the Kaiser, blaming him for everything.
During my lunch break I had already composed a few lines: The Kaiser needs us, the Kaiser leads us. Let’s give what we … When I read what I have written out loud, the words leave the hollow sound of an empty can rolling over cobblestones. A good poem expresses the true emotion of the author, my former schoolteacher Professor Blum used to say. There is no doubt that I love the Kaiser and my fatherland, but my feelings don’t come across in these sentences. I rip the page from the notebook, crumple it into a tight ball, and throw it in the metal waste bin next to the park bench.
Hans would have already found a way to make enough money to buy back the sewing machine. On Sundays he often returned home with lentils, eggs, or other items you couldn’t get even with ration cards. He never told me what he and his friend Otto were up to, but I knew he hadn’t bought these things with his salary as a watchmaker at Hoffmann & Nolte. He always made sure I didn’t follow him when he met with Otto and the gang. In several letters I’ve asked Hans if he could put in a good word for me with Otto, and explained why I needed the money. But Hans has never responded. I know that Otto’s gang still makes money and finds food since I overheard Emil bragging about it. Emil and his older brother, Robert, another friend of Hans’s, are both in the gang.
A voice startles me out of my thoughts. “Moritz, what are you doing out here in the heat?”
Herr Goldmann’s lanky body jerks with each step as he pulls his right leg in a stiff limp toward my bench. In spite of the heat he wears a suit. Its jacket seems two sizes too big, and the waistline of his pants is bunched together with a belt.
“Just resting after work, Herr Goldmann.”
“Resting sounds like a good idea.” He sits down next to me and pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket to dab his forehead. “Air as thick as jelly,” he sighs, and shakes his head, sending tiny drops of sweat flying from his dark curls. Herr Goldmann is the only younger journalist left at the Berliner Daily. Because of his leg he has not been drafted.
“I was too late this time,” he says, and holds up a sheet of paper. “You weren’t there, so Old Moser sent me right back out.” Herr Goldmann often brings his drafts to the printing room after the deadline. If Old Moser, my boss, isn’t paying attention, I squeeze the article into the next edition and Herr Goldmann gives me real cigarettes that I sell on the black market. Old Moser thinks they should have found something for Herr Goldmann to do in the war.
“I didn’t know you were also a scribbler.” He points to my notebook.
“I’m not, really.” I like to write my observations in my journal, but I’m not a good writer. After I finished middle school Papa wanted me to start an apprenticeship in the same printshop he worked in. I had dreamed of being a journalist, but there was no money for further schooling once Papa was drafted. The closest I could get to a career in journalism was at the printing press.
“May I?” Without waiting for my answer he takes the notebook and flips through the pages. “You participated in the contest to replace foreign words?”
“Yes, I did. But I didn’t win.” Last spring, newspapers had asked their readers to help clean the German language of foreign vocabulary. I had suggested “Holland Gravy” to replace “Hollandaise Sauce.” But the person who sent in “Dutch Dip” had won.
“You don’t like French words? What about ci-ga-rette?” He widens his dark eyes, giving his birdlike face a comical expression, as he pronounces each syllable with the soft vowels that Berliners usually don’t have. I wonder how he can make the foreign words sound this way.
“Tobacco roll sounds just fine to me.” I shrug.
“You appear to be very interested in politics,” he says, turning another page in my notebook with his tapered fingers.
“I like reading the papers.”
“But you also write, yourself. This is a vivid description of the parade at Tempelhof Field last March.”
I look down and draw a line in the gravel with the tip of my shoe.
“And you copied parts of the Kaiser’s speech celebrating his thirty years as emperor last summer.” Herr Goldmann reads the excerpt out loud, perfectly imitating the Kaiser’s diction. “This war is not fought around a strategic campaign; this war concerns the struggle between two worldviews: Do we uphold the Prussian-German worldview of justice, freedom, and honor? Or do we succumb to the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things, which means the worship of money?”
“You’re good with accents,” I say.
“Thanks. That’s because my mother was an actress.”
“She’s not acting anymore?”
“Oh, no! She’s dead,” Herr Goldmann says.
“I’m sorry.”
“She died a long time ago, but thank you.” He nods and reads another of my short descriptions of the Kaiser’s appearances. “You pay attention to detail. That’s important for a good writer!”
“I’m not a good writer.”
“Maybe not yet,” Herr Goldmann says. “But you know what you have to do to become one. That’s the first step!”
I’m not sure how to respond. No one has ever called me a good writer.
“Would you like to come with me?” Herr Goldmann gives the notebook back to me. “I’m on my way to report on a social democratic workers’ meeting for tomorrow’s edition. Have you been to a socialist gathering?”
“No. I don’t care for them,” I say.
“The meeting is supposed to be disturbed by the police. We might see some action,” he says, and winks an eye. “Or do you need to get home?”
I’m not really interested in a political meeting, but it’s still too early to go home and maybe Herr Goldmann will give me another cigarette. I pack up my notebook and follow him as he limps toward the park gate.
“Aren’t these meetings illegal?” I ask as we pass a long line of women waiting in front of a butcher’s shop on Louisenstrasse.
“They are,” Herr Goldmann says. “Since the government has made it illegal to gather and talk about the war, which is what the social democrats mostly do, their meetings are illegal.”
We turn onto Lindenstrasse, and I am about to ask Herr Goldmann how he learned about this gathering when he stops in front of a pub. “Here it is”—he points at the sign above the entrance—“the Hot Corner. What a fitting name. It’s going to be stifling in there.”
We walk past the bar and Herr Goldmann speaks briefly to an older man who sits next to the back door. The man nods and lets us enter. All the windows are closed, most of the net curtains drawn. It is almost too hot to breathe. Clouds of smoke hover over the long tables. I recognize the smell of ersatz cigarettes, made from nettles and dried beech leaves, which most people now have to smoke for lack of real tobacco. The benches are filled with middle-aged men in working clothes, but there are also many women in the audience. A short man with thinning hair and a looping black mustache is speaking from the podium. I follow Herr Goldmann as he makes his way closer to the front. The man at the podium raises his voice when he calls out, “The people are paying the price while the bosses of the war industry are profiteering. It’s the little man who suffers the most.”
“And the little woman,” a female voice shouts from the back of the room.
“Yes, you are right,” he continues. “The women are suffering here at home. They are the ones who have to feed their families, while the capitalists exploit them in their ammunition factories. Four years of slaughter, misery, and hunger are enough.”
“That is Hugo Haase,” Herr Goldmann says. “The leader of the Independent Social Democrats. He’s a member of the Reichstag.”
When Haase finishes his speech, he introduces the next speaker as a courageous leader of the movement. A woman steps behind the podium and I hold my breath.
“Workers,” she addresses the audience, “we are gathered here today to express, once again, our discontent with this war. I have already lost my husband to the war. My oldest son is in the trenches on the Western Front. Many of you have lost husbands, sons, or brothers or soon will if this slaughter doesn’t come to an end. We have been tricked into believing in the final victory of our beloved country. But now it is time to end this war!” Some people in the audience cheer.
“This woman has guts,” Herr Goldmann says approvingly. He scribbles something on his notepad. I don’t respond. I can’t tell Herr Goldmann that the woman is my mother.

 
Copyright © 2011 by Monika Schröder


Continues...

Excerpted from My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroder Copyright © 2011 by Monika Schroder. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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