The House of One Thousand Eyes

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

GDR and FDR, Cold war, 'accidents' and spying, The House of One Thousand Eyes is one of the most interesting cold-war based novels that I have ever read. Not much of action sequences but you will adore Lena. The 17-year-old girl is hurt and bruised but she still stands tall. Lena might have been a simpleton but her contribution was definitely noted. The sacrifices she makes for those whom she loves is tear-jerking. Her curiosity knows no limits and it gets her into trouble many a time but Lena is not going to take a no for an answer. 

A highly recommended read. If you like stories set during the cold war, then you must read The House of One Thousand Eyes.
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A great story, a bit long to enter but thrilling in the end. It never falls into the trap of romanticizing History which gives it a real shot.
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*I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. * 

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a needed story as it is one that has not been told many times, especially in the YA world. The story takes place in East Germany in the early 1980s before the wall came down.  We follow our main character Lena who now lives with her aunt after her parents die in a workplace accident. The story follows the Lena and the aftermath of her uncle's disappearance - One day he is spending time with her and the next he is gone, it's like he never existed.  

I thought that the premise of the book was intriguing but the pacing is where it was lacking. I found that it took me a while to chug through this book. It did pick up near the end and had a gripping conclusion. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book and felt very attached to Lena by the end. I also feel like Michelle did well with providing the atmosphere of being "watched" all the time throughout. There isn't anything majorly wrong with this book - the writing is well done and the story well researched. I think the issues that I had with the issue was the pacing and the way the story would seem to stall out.  I think I will still suggest this as a story to read due to the time period and circumstances, I just wish that the pacing was a bit better.
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If you enjoy murder mystery laced with, a boatload of colorful characters, and a plot that stops evolving only on the last few pages, you'll like "The House Of One Thousand Eyes "
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I love a character I can root for, and Lena is that character. She's shaped and driven by the losses she's suffered in her life, and that's made her determined—and forced her to find courage she didn't know she had. Life in East Germany in the 80s has always been fascinating to me because I was a teenager then, and I was so curious about what it would be like to live in those circumstances. This book is an awesome way to explore that time and place.
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It's an interesting and unique premise. There aren't a lot of stories about this time period. The characters are engaging. It keeps your interest. Overall, a very good read.
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My Thoughts:
About two years before the Tiannamen Square massacre in Beijing, I was a dorm advisor for an early college program in China Studies at the University of Hawaii. This was my evening job after they came back from dinner as well as my all day job when we brought the 20 of them to Beijing. 

Although I was just two years older than them, the fear and realization that we were not in America or any democratic country was quickly made clear to me when I  had to "rescue" one of my students that was stuck in the back room of a scroll shop and noticed that there was someone following us not just that day, but pretty much throughout the whole trip. My students were very naive about living in a highly oppressive, militaristic pseudo Communist country. So was I. If I knew that two years later, in the same square where we posed for pictures before viewing Chairman Mao's preserved body the People's Liberation Army would gun down over 10,000 student activists, I would have begged the organizers to take us home early or drop us off in Japan. 

Like Lena learning that she was being watched and recorded, my students were just furious when they came back to the hotel to find that all of their bags were searched, their music on their devices were played and their snacks were opened. They also tried to mess with the employee stationed in the hallway who was to write down the time that we came in or left our rooms by opening the door, walking one or two steps and going back in. Although to American teenagers, this is just harmless pranks, as the "adult" in charge, I tried to instill the right amount of fear in them, unsuccessfully. I was dealing with American kids growing up in a world where freedom is a right, social justice is a goal, and "Big Brother" is an allusion from a very old book. 

Lena is that kind of curious, independent character that seems very "American" in her naivete and her adamant expectation that social justice will be done. There is an innocent optimism in being young, whether a person or a country. 

On the other hand, she also seems savvy about knowing how to "play the game" in order to survive and get the answers she wants. 

What surprised me the most about the character Lena was her fierce loyalty to her aunt even when her aunt wanted Lena to protect herself. This is the part of Lena that, while perhaps most realistic* to the time and events, seems the most tragic and foreign to me. I finished the book feeling disturbed and confused, but that is not always a bad thing. 

*Although this novel was researched, and the author explains what is historic, the characters are fictional. 

A digital copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review.
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A tense and thrilling story about life in 1980s Germany. Fans of Beth Kephart's "Going Over" as well as the historical thrillers of Elizabeth Wein will appreciate this one.
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I was really surprised by this novel and I'm really glad I picked it up. To be honest I didn't know much about 1983 GDR. To me, the best thing about historical fiction is researching the history aspect of the novel and comparing facts with fiction. I love hearing the real stories and picking apart the novel to find out which parts were true and which were fiction. This story seems to be pretty accurate, which to me is very impressive.

The House of One Thousand Eyes tells the story of a young teen who lives in East Germany in 1983. One day, her uncle goes missing and no one seems to think he even existed in the first place. As Lena struggles to find out what happened, she realizes how much the government had actually been paying attention to her. And with them spying everywhere, if she's not careful, she could end up like her uncle. 

At the beginning, the main character, Lena, seemed to me like she acted younger than her years. As the story went on though, I got a sense of who Lena was and what she was struggling  with. I understood then, why she seemed a little too naïve at first. She started off "sleepwalking" through her life, but as she was forced to face the truth she began to wake up, she started to take action, and she seemed more her age. I really enjoyed reading about Lena and her journey. Her relationship with her uncle was incredibly sweet. Although her aunt  was a little tough on her, you could tell she really cared about Lena and I found their relationship just as sweet.

Overall, I thought this book was really well written. It was very engaging and it's characters will stay with me for a long time.
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DNF @ 25%. This had nothing to do with the novel itself, which was promising, but the formatting for my eARC was so bad I just couldn't continue reading. If I get the opportunity to check this out from my library or purchase a copy, I'll update my review.
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I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so I could give an honest review.

Lena Altmann is a 17 year old girl who lives in East Berlin. After her parents were killed in an explosion, Lena was forced to move in with her aunt. Lena's only respite comes when she spends her Sundays with her uncle, her aunt's brother. One day he is erased. He along with all of his possessions,and his birth records are gone. His published books have disappeared from bookstore shelves. He is just gone, disappearing without a trace.

Lena frantically searches for him but knows government spies are everywhere and she feels alone. Her aunt is a hardcore member of the Communist party. Can she trust her? Can she trust her friends? Can she trust anyone?

Through her story, Michelle Barker shows what it was like to live in the "Better Berlin" in the 1980s. She shows the rigidness, fearfulness, suspicion, and oppression of life in East Berlin. 

The House of One Thousand Eyes did not feel like fiction. You could feel and hear Berlin. You could believe Lena, her uncle, and her aunt were real people and this book just captured a portion of their lives.

Although the story wraps up nicely at the end, it ends abruptly.
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Historical Fiction
Set in East Berlin in 1983, this is an historically accurate depiction of life behind the Berlin Wall. Lena Altmann is 17 years old. She lives with her Auntie, a staunch Party member, in a nice apartment where there is even a telephone (though Lena has never heard it ring). Lena is grateful to her strict Auntie for taking her in after a brief but brutal stay in a psychiatric hospital due to her deep grief over suddenly losing her parents in a factory accident. Auntie even got her a job cleaning the Stasi headquarters. Sundays are the best day of the week for Lena, as she gets to visit her beloved Uncle Erich. He is a writer who teaches her about subtexts, the “other  story” that lets him publish books that are secretly critical of the government.
One day, Erich disappears, apparently arrested. When Lena starts asking questions, she discovers his birth records are gone, his books are no longer available, and the man now living in his apartment says he’s had it for years. Even Auntie tells her “you have no uncle.” Lena is devastated, and decides to find out what happened to him. Barker is historically accurate in her descriptions of life for Lena in “The Better Germany.” An addendum explains her sources, what is fictional and what is not. The story here is about that life for people who grew up behind the Wall. A character-driven story, the plot is necessarily slow yet fascinating, as Lena starts to find clues to the truth of her uncle’s disappearance. Along the way, she also discovers aspects of the people around her that reveal how complex their lives are, giving readers a better understanding of this time in history just before the Wall came down. The writing is powerful and riveting, especially as Lena tries to resolve her desire for a new life with the impact it would have on her aunt’s life. A coming of age story, there are passages of sexual abuse that were difficult for me to read, and make it inappropriate for younger readers. My thanks to Annick Press for the advance reading copy provided digitally through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel:
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This was a very good book, telling a story of what it was like to live in East Berlin during the early 1980s. 17 year old Lena Altmann works the midnight shift cleaning offices at the Stasi Headquarters. Naïve understandings of what killed her parents in a factory incident years earlier turn to doubt as another relative disappears overnight.

The book is filled with wonderful examples of the oppression and rigidness of living in "Better Germany" behind the Iron Curtain. Constant surveillance, strong government propaganda, shortages of food and goods, forbidden travel. The atmosphere is gray and depressing.

But the characters in this novel are anything but dull. Living with her Sausage Auntie, a devoted party member, and surrounded by her young friends with more progressive views, provides an excellent backdrop for opposing opinions. The interest in all things Western is fascinating.  

I think this book would be very enjoyable to young people. There is an emphasis on love attractions with Lena being a teenager, although the thoughts and actions are mature and believable. 
I would like to thank NetGalley, Michelle Barker, and Annick Press for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I had some trouble starting with this book. The formatting was really bad: in sentence breaks, page numbers in the middle of pages, author headers in pages, etc. I felt like a print .pdf was converted to .mobi in a program like Calibre and then not checked before uploading. This made the reading very difficult, even if this was the ARC version, where I expect to see some errors. However, having to fight through an ARC or readjust your focus every line breaks up the experience. I found myself reading like poetry stanzas on the breaks to get in to the story, and in doing so, created my own little world/emphasis/flow. If you're also struggling with the ARC formatting, maybe try this! :D

However, I kept with the book because I love historical novels and am particularly interested in the history of Germany (even more so now that I live in Munich and am learning German). 

This book definitely warms up and moves from struggling with the basic dialogue to really being able to sink in to the story and characters. For me, I believe the book would have moved better without such a linear format, or maybe a stronger opening that really grabs you in to the story that starts to developed around 40% in.

In the end, I fell in love with the reality and very well researched pieces. Germany has a lot of funny idioms, that when translated in to English, just make you giggle. I was happy to see some of these.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an interesting read on historical events that's littered with hope from the beginning in clever ways, even during some dark days.
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The story is thrilling me up! I could not lie to you that I even barely gasp for a while because the tense that coming from each pages. At first I thought it would be a drama fiction. But, after reach 10 pages, I know the story fits me better.
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This was such and amazing and easy read. First off, I found the time that it takes place very interesting. Most Germany based books I have read have been around the WWII era. It was heartbreaking to read through Lena’s obstacles in hunting down her uncle. Michelle Barker did a great job at giving Lena a distinct voice as well as writing in a way that the reader can feel the pressure and intimidation of the “Secret Police.”
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House of One Thousand Eyes is set in Berlin during a time when the tensions between East and West Germany were at an all-time high.  During this time, the people of East Germany were monitored closely to see that their people would not revolt against the government. Oppression was real and people died trying to leave.  

However, there were others that were extremely loyal to East Germany and may have even loved living there.  If they did not love it, they at least loved telling on their own neighbors to watch them get taken away by the government for “rehabilitation,” which usually resulted in death.

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a fictional account of a young girl who lives in East Germany with her overbearing aunt and visits often with her uncle, who is an author and hates East Germany. The girl is forced to navigate between the different worlds that was East Germany. The first was the terrifying real world of ruthless police, an overbearing and unforgiving government, and people who delighted in turning in their neighbors to prove how loyal they were to the regime.  The second world was one of fantasy; of stolen kisses, of dreaming of a freedom that they could never have, of eating fruit and meat whenever they wish.  It was 1984 in real life. 

This is an eye-opening account of what East Germany was like, even if it is a fictionalized account. For anybody who grew up watching this during this time, I highly suggest reading this! For those of us who lived outside of the walls, it is a fascinating read.  For those who lived inside the walls, it may contain memories that are best left forgotten. 
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an advanced copy to read.  All opinions are my own
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This is an unpopular opinion, so please bear with me. 

It started off slow, then picked up when her uncle went missing. The suspense was there but I personally think it went on for too long. The pace kind of plateued after awhile.

The plot was definitely better than the character development. Lena's character was the most well polished. I liked her relationship with her colleague, Jutta, but not Max which I found hard to get into. I just thought that relationship didn't really gel well with the entire story.

Certain parts felt repetitive like what happened to the uncle and her parents, didn't add depth or movement to the story. 

Overall this is a pretty decent read. Great job for a debut.

Thank you Netgalley for free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A more complete review will be posted up on my blog.
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Recently, I read a compelling historical fiction book about West Berliners and how they coped after WWII when their country was split into zones. The House of One Thousand Eyes was another captivating YA read that effectively delved into the lives of East Berliners where freedom and rights were no longer a given and every move to question truths was quickly, and sometimes permanently, silenced. 

This story centered on a very selfless seventeen year old who wanted answers to her uncle’s abrupt disappearance despite the dangers to her own life. Lena was brave, yet scared, but she persevered. She even suffered through sickening sexual abuse by a high ranking Stasi. When the truth was finally exposed, Lena was faced with life altering decisions. 

This was a great read and should also be used as a supplement to the Cold War curriculum. Anytime history comes alive in the classroom, is personalized, students benefit. This book will give students a much deeper meaning to two words often used and taken for granted : freedom and rights. 
Very highly recommended!
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As the daughter and granddaughter of GDR-citizens and proud Eastern German myself, I am always interested in books set in the GDR. However, I am also always weary, as it is too easy to turn the subject-matter into mere propaganda or a joke - especially if the authors are not from around here. That being said, Michelle Barker surprised me with her unbiased and neutral treatment of the country, taking it mainly as the scene for a compelling and suspenseful story. When her uncle suddenly disappears, Lena wants to find out what happened. But that is not easy in a country that tells you you never had an uncle and now stop asking questions, or do you want to be put back into the asylum?

I liked that the books began with the reader still wondering about Lena's sanity: was she living in a fantasy world, speaking to voices, going crazy? Turns out: no. The book quickly turns from childish / mad imagination into serious adult mental health / trauma coping mechanisms. And then it gets very interesting, from the suspense and the action to the characters, to - yes - the occasional jokes about the "shit" country. Everything I read was historically accurate and the novel captured the balance between "I know this is not ideal life and the West is better" and "but I can't do or say anything because of the state powers", the urge to run away and the wish to remain in one's home country with one's family very well. Which is impressive for someone who was not actually part of it. It is a serious book (tw for sexual assault), but also a hopeful one. And most importantly, a grounded and real book.
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