Cover Image: Gerta

Gerta

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Member Reviews

It is really hard to rate a book sometimes when it talks about hard hitting topics. The reason is because it is difficult to read in the first place, would be important to have known about trigger warnings from the start, and depending on the reader it can vary greatly on how they perceive the book in the first place.

For me, this one hit too close to home for me to 'enjoy' if I can use this word fora book like this one. Which is why I will rate it in the middle. I think we should not shy away from both reading and writing books like Gerta, but they are not definitely not for everyone in any walk of life and past experiences.
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This is certainly no easy read and requires concentration to keep up with the constant changes in time and place, but it’s well worth persevering. It took me a while to settle into it but once I did I found the book compelling and deeply moving. I knew nothing of the expulsion of the German population from Czechoslovakia after the war and the country’s liberation by the allies, nor that extreme cruelty was part of that expulsion. The eponymous Gerta is one such victim as although she has a Czech mother her father is German, and a Nazi supporter. Gerta loses everything when she is driven out of the city of Brno, her home, and has to leave everything behind. The book follows her through her life and it’s a sad and tragic tale, spanning decades and all the political upheavals in Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. Gerta is a survivor but the damage done to her, both physically and emotionally, takes its toll and she stands no chance of having a fulfilled and happy life. It’s an ambitious book, written with insight and compassion, and I very much enjoyed it.
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Gertrude Schnirch, was born to a German father, and a Czeck mother. Up until 1939, and Gerta’s a young teen, the  Schnirch family “functioned” - Gertrude and her mom spoke predominantly Czeck, and her brother Friedrich Jr. and her dad Friedrich senior, preferred German. Sadly, once the Nazis entered Czechoslovakia, life would change for Gerta in more ways then she could possibly ever imagine. 

Of coarse, during the war, she was expected to support the German war effort. Her brother, Freidrich Jr., was sent to the front, proud to wear his German uniform. 
In Brno life changed under Nazi occupation. The Jews were sent to concentration camps. Then, so were  the “Czecks” deported  Gerta was just bidding her time, waiting for the war to end, and for life to return to what it was before. But that would never for Gerta. Her mother dies. She is stuck living with her miserable father, who lands up raping her. On the night of May 30th, 1945, the returning Czeck government declare a forced exodus of thousands of Germans out of Brno (made up mostly women, children and the elderly). The cover of the book shows Gerta pushing Barbora out of the city with only the clothes on their backs. This is the infamous death march, in which thousands of (already weak) Germans died from hunger, thirst, dysentery, typhus etc. Miraculously, Gerta and Barbora survive. But as a German, in Czechoslovakia they will be forever scarred in the eyes of the Czechoslovakian people. 

This is an extremely sad 😞  and difficult book to read. Gerta did not consider herself at fault for the war. She never even felt associated to her German roots, and hated her father and the demands he made on her. For Gerta, the end of the war was only the beginning of her suffering. She suffered her entire life because of her German blood.

I highly recommended picking up Gerta. It is a difficult but meaningful read ( quite a few very heartbreaking moments 😢). It is award winning author Katerina Tuckova’s first novel to be translated into English. Thank you 🙏🏻 #netgalley and @amazoncrossing for the e-arc of Gerta for my honest review. #5stars
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I love WWII stories but having read probably hundreds of them I look for unique perspectives - I want to learn something new about that time in history. Gerta is definitely different than other WWII stories that I have read. Thematically it is a difficult story to read, but at the same time I couldn't put it down.

My WWII reading has expanded to what happened after the war. It is a bit of a black hole, at least in my historical education. I know about the economic devastation but not about the human toll of rebuilding lives and nations. Therefore, I was drawn to Gerta. 

First off, Gerta is translated fiction. Kateřina Tučková is Czech and the novel first published in Czech. I visited the Czech Republic in 2010 and even stayed a weekend in Brno, where the story is set. Véronique Firkusny is the translator of this edition and together they have brought this powerful story to life.

The title character Gerta was born to a German father and a Czech mother. Leading up to and throughout the war, theirs is a household divided. Their home life is like a tiny microcosm of what is happening within Czechoslovakia at the time.

At the end of the war, all German nationals were rounded up and expelled from Brno and surrounding areas. It didn't matter that you were apolitical. In the eyes of the Czechs, if you were German you were a Nazi and if not a Nazi, then a Nazi sympathizer, and if not that then at least you reaped the rewards of being German during the war (better rations, better wages, etc.). Thousands of Germans were expelled from Brno alone. Mend and boys over the age of 14 were sent to labor camps and the women, children, and informed were marched to the Austrian border - a march that took at least 3 days, many died. The description of the conditions and treatment of these women, children, and elderly were similar to what I have read about the death marches Jews and other concentration camp prisoners were forced on by Germains. And it wasn't just recently arrived German nationalists. In the country-side where families had farmed the land for perhaps centuries, they were also forced from their lands.

The opening chapters were difficult to read. It was definitely a period of "an eye for an eye" justice. Nothing is overly graphic. It is more the emotions and internal conflict the story envokes. Was taking everything from these German nationalists and treating them worse than livestock truly justice? The Czech nationals were not concerned with getting justice for the Czech Jews. There is a statement made that I found ironic. In the years when property was being stripped from the Germans and given to the Czechs it was said that the Germans had stolen it from the Jews. However, it wasn't the Jews who were being given the houses and farms and other items of worth. 

I liked that the story continued to follow Gerta's journey throughout her lifetime. It gives the reader a glimpse of what life behind the Iron Curtain was like. It makes history personal. This again, makes for a difficult read thematically as the reader has to struggle with what was right and wrong. 

I saw some parallels to today. Particularly here in the U.S. While not on the same level of tragedy and atrocities. we struggle with the same questions: What is justice for past injustices? Should generations pay for the crimes and sins of the past generations? How do you heal and move forward?

From a historical perspective, Gerta is an eye-opening story. It is thought-provoking and would make an excellent read for book clubs. On a personal level, seeing history through the lives of individuals, it is an emotional story. I grew teary-eyed in the last few pages.

My review is published at Girl Who Reads - https://www.girl-who-reads.com/2021/02/gerta-by-by-katerina-tuckova-veronique.html
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Gerta Schnirch was raised by a Czech mother and a German father in Brno, Czechoslovakia during Hitler’s rise to power. She always identified with her mother’s Czech values and often clashed with her father over his Nazi ideology. The war eventually shatters her parent’s relationship and her simple childhood. As the war winds down, the political climate of their country changes, and blame is cast on anyone with German heritage. 

Gerta is expelled from Brno and forced to march west to Austria.  Both German and Czech collaborators join her on this journey where they suffer greatly. Gerta manages to survive while others are killed or fall ill with dysentery. Her dreams of returning to her former home are also delayed when Czechoslovakia is invaded by the Soviet Union.

Gerta by Katerina Tuckova provides a different perspective on the aftermath of World War 2 and the continuation of hatred and punishment towards mankind.  Many of the survivors on both sides of the war were innocent bystanders who fell victim to extreme circumstances.
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3.5 Stars.

Thank you to OverTheRiver Press  for this gifted copy of Gerta. 

Gerta is filled with an incredible story that cuts to the core; the author was not afraid to show the reader the hard truths that occurred post-WWII. We open with a group of ethnic Germans being forced out of their home in Brno in a death march, and what follows is the story if protagonist Gerta’s life from this point forward. 

I appreciated the novel’s approach to reconciliation and seeking redress from the war crimes committed against ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. This is not a subject that one hears much about. I did, however, get a little lost at points; certain chapters switch POV without much indication that it is happening, and keeping track of place names or at what place we were in the chronology was a challenge at times. 

I was left feeling bereft by the end; it is a relentless story with no redemption at the end. To me, the ending felt as though it were unfinished or rushed. The constant pathos without any let up was too much at times for this reader. Gerta is painted as a tragic figure, and one with no strength at the end. I wanted more for the protagonist. Ultimately, I know this unrelenting look at this historic events is not meant to allow the reader any comfort; the bracing nature of this read, I think, is meant to force us to confront our history in hopes that the living memory endures.

I would recommend this book to those interested in reading more about what happened to ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia (modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia); the story itself is very interesting, but it failed in execution in my opinion. It could be that the translation didn't work for me.
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Tučková has tackled one the most difficult chapters in European history, one that has been influencing the relationship between two nations for decades. It’s a tale of prejudice, of exclusion and collective shame.Gerta is both a disturbing novel and a wonderful piece of literature that could easily become a classic.
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Know up front that this is not a cheery book at all. Set in post WW!! Czechoslovakia, it's the story of Gerta whose rape by her loathsome father results in her daughter Barbora.  Nothing foes well for this pair- they are macho into an exile of sorts and then return to Brno where Czech nationalists bully them for their German heritage.  You' might, like me, learn about the region during this period but the novel itself is just grim,  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC,  A pass from me.
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𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐫 𝐰𝐚𝐬 𝐥𝐨𝐧𝐠. 𝐈𝐭 𝐛𝐞𝐠𝐚𝐧 𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐩𝐢𝐜𝐮𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐥𝐲, 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐆𝐞𝐫𝐭𝐚 𝐛𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐥𝐲 𝐧𝐨𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐬𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐥 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐞𝐧𝐝, 𝐢𝐭 𝐡𝐚𝐝 𝐢𝐧𝐟𝐢𝐥𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐜𝐨𝐫𝐧𝐞𝐫 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐬.

After World War II, over 20,000 ethnic Germans were expelled from the city of Brno, Czechoslovakia to Austria, an expulsion known as ‘the death march’. Many of these Germans had lived in the country for centuries and were now facing death from starvation, illness (typhus and dysentery) , and execution. Women and men, elderly, children witnessing atrocities, rapes, if they survived the march they were forced into labor camps. Many never made it beyond the border. This was retaliation for German occupation, now subjected to similar treatment, inhumanity the Jews faced by the Nazis.

The novel begins with young Gerta and her best friend Janinka, their friendship slowly splintering when Gerta is forced to attend the League of German Girls, where her mother belives she’ll be brainwashed and Janinka’s family would never allow their daughter to spend time with her if they knew. With a German father, she is more blind to the Reich than one would imagine, just waiting for liberation with her dear friend Janinka, not realizing she is the enemy. Gerta has always been more like her Czech mother, as a girl her father had no plans to involve her in politics, he has her brother for that. Protected in a bubble from the brutal realities and threats brewing, she can’t imagine that the coldness that crept into her father through his support of Hitler, his shaming of all things Czech would cost her everything. Her dream of a future in art quickly becomes instead a fight for survival, a place where there is no time for dreaming. Her brother is sent to the front, her mother’s health declines and soon it is Gerta alone with her harsh, commanding, cruel father whose sole purpose seems to be indoctrinating her with blind faith for the Führer. Life is dismal…

Then she delivers a child, Barbora, “into a time of poverty” and fear, always the presence of fear. Air raids, bomb shelters and the wait, half-crazed until the arrival of the Russians. Now, she is the enemy, both German and Czech but it doesn’t matter, for all Germans living in the district of Brno (women, children- men under fourteen and over sixty, as well as those who are infirm or invalids are to be expelled from the city and may only take a few belongings (excluding jewelry and savings books). The Germans will be punished!

So begins the real heart and horror of the novel. It is survival in the bleakest of circumstances, humanity at their worst and best. Death shadows every moment of the march and long after, poisoning the future with stains of past generations. Displaced people, many enemies due to the actions of others, full of helpless rage and endless humiliations, degradation. Gerta survives with nothing but the thought to keep her child alive. As her child comes of age, so too grows a distance between them. If only her child’s future won’t be a dire one, as Gerta’s has been. How to make a child understand one can’t enjoy a life when they are just trying to survive it and later, the fear, anger, bitterness, guilt, shame and pain are ghosts that never leave?

A story about dark history and the shrouded secrets of the past, tormenting a family for generations to come. This is not a light read, it is complicated and tragic. The horrors of war (the aftermath, retribution) cannot be denied, that hearts close in or turn hard, cold is a defense mechanism for anyone lucky enough to survive. Raising her child haunted by violence, it’s no wonder she can’t speak about the things Barbora longs to know, about her family. Who can blame Barbora either for giving up on her mother? Sometimes it takes the clarity of distance, time and a third generation to understand and bridge the gap. Brace yourself, it’s a tough read.

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

Amazon Crossing
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Sometimes the measure of a good book is how long it stays with you. I suspect this one will stay with me for a long time to come. I did not know the premise of the book before I began it and was unaware of this part of European history.  The book traces the life of a young woman, Gerta, and that of her friends.  We first meet her as a child, making friends regardless of ethnic ancestry and unaware of the divisions that would soon form in Czechoslovakia.  At the close of World War Two she is alone in the world - a single mother with a baby.  Half German and half Czech, she is forced to leave the town she grew up in because all Germans were expelled from the city of Brno.  Following the rise and fall of the Nazi empire, Germans are hated and no mercy is given to someone whose passport identity unites them with the ideology of the Nazis.  Many women, children and elderly were killed as they began the journey on foot out of Brno.  Gerta was one of the survivors of the Death March but for the rest of her life she was treated as an outsider.  She became suspicious of those around her, after all, she had experienced betrayal from her own family as well as those she had grown up with.  I felt that I learnt something from reading this book. I learnt about a hidden chapter in history and and I was struck by how "the innocent" can turn on "the guilty" and in the end they too may become perpetrators of great crimes.  I did find the length of this book a challenge and I think it could have been shorter.  Translated from Czech into English, the frequent reference to place names was the only barrier in reading this book.  I had no reference for these names and at times they made it difficult to remain in the flow of the book.  I would recommend this book; it is a reminder that truth is such a precious value that it should shine a spotlight on evil, no matter which side of history it is on.
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The story and the prose felt a little simple and sentimental to me. There is so much already written about WWII and it’s immediate aftermath that I feel fiction needs to surpass what has come before to justify itself. The other issue I struggle with is that fiction about this era seems a bit derivative always when compared with fiction written by those who lived through these times. We might be in a historical space where we’re too close to the era, where we still have recently written fiction that feels vivid and true, and we’re not yet far enough away in years for something really new to be written about the era. So what gets written feels sincere to me but also a bit plodding. I felt the same way about “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” and “All the Light We Cannot See” so the book will probably appeal widely.
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