The Berlin Letters

A Cold War Novel

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Pub Date 05 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 05 Apr 2024

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Bestselling author Katherine Reay returns with an unforgettable tale of the Cold War and a CIA code breaker who risks everything to free her father from an East German prison.

From the time she was a young girl, Luisa Voekler has loved solving puzzles and cracking codes. Brilliant and logical, she’s expected to quickly climb the career ladder at the CIA. But while her coworkers have moved on to thrilling Cold War assignments—especially in the exhilarating era of the late 1980s—Luisa’s work remains stuck in the past decoding messages from World War II.

Journalist Haris Voekler grew up a proud East Berliner. But as his eyes open to the realities of postwar East Germany, he realizes that the Soviet promises of a better future are not coming to fruition. After the Berlin Wall goes up, Haris finds himself separated from his young daughter and all alone after his wife dies. There’s only one way to reach his family—by sending coded letters to his father-in-law who lives on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

When Luisa Voekler discovers a secret cache of letters written by the father she has long presumed dead, she learns the truth about her grandfather’s work, her father’s identity, and why she has never progressed in her career. With little more than a rudimentary plan and hope, she journeys to Berlin and risks everything to free her father and get him out of East Berlin alive.

As Luisa and Haris take turns telling their stories, events speed toward one of the twentieth century’s most dramatic moments—the fall of the Berlin Wall and that night’s promise of freedom, truth, and reconciliation for those who lived, for twenty-eight years, behind the bleak shadow of the Iron Curtain’s most iconic symbol.

  • A Cold War novel that takes readers to the heart of Berlin to witness both the early and final days of the Berlin Wall
  • Stand-alone novel
  • Book length: approximately 107,000 words
  • Includes discussion questions for book clubs

Bestselling author Katherine Reay returns with an unforgettable tale of the Cold War and a CIA code breaker who risks everything to free her father from an East German prison.

From the time she was a...

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Featured Reviews

Katherine Reay has done it again. This was stunning. The plot was well-paced and captivating from start to finish. The characters were well-developed; complex, and intriguing. I highly recommend this beautiful telling of the power of love. Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of the book.

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Meticulously researched, fascinating and absolutely unputdownable. I loved everything about this book!

Luisa grew up thinking that both her parents had died in a car accident when she was three. Until one day she comes across a piece of information that makes her question everything she knows about her family. Did her beloved Opa keep secrets from her? Is her father alive?

This book will keep you on your toes from the beginning until the very last page. Told in dual timeline from the perspective of Luisa and her father Haris, it’s a gripping Cold War adventure novel but also a poignant story of a family divided by the Berlin Wall. It’s about solving riddles and defying the system but also about understanding, acceptance and perseverance.

Luisa and Haris were both wonderful characters and a delight to read. The way the family history was interwoven in the history of Berlin and Cold War in general was exquisite. There were plenty of historical references and details, all relevant to the story and enriching it in the best way possible. The little romance subplot was just a cherry on top.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thank you so much NetGalley and Harper Muse, it was a treat!

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Katherine Reay is quickly becoming one of my top favorite historical fiction writers. Her stories are original and compelling and descriptive, I can easily imagine myself right next to the main characters as they engage in espionage and intrigue. The relationships between the characters are deep and meaningful, as is this fascinating story of a talented woman who finds a cache of letters that appear to be from her father years ago when the Berlin Wall was built. This was one of the most thrilling, deeply affecting stories I have read in a long time, and I will not soon forget it. I will be recommending this book to everyone I meet - especially those who love a good historical fiction novel. They won't be able to put it down! Ten stars!!!

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Although Katherine Reay’s “The Berlin Letters” shares many plot features of her book “A Shadow in Moscow:” the death of the protagonist’s mother, the wish to bring her father to America, life under a totalitarian regime, this book, which takes place in both Arlington, Virginia and East Berlin, Germany during the 1980s, is about a young woman’s quest to clear her father’s name and by doing so, clear her own.

Luisa Voekler’s father, Haris, lives behind the Iron Curtain. Luisa was taken to America as a three-year old by her maternal grandparents, Walther and Gertrude. The backstory of Haris’s family is not revealed until the second half of the book. This information is essential to understand both his character and motivations.

Reay explains how people can react to situations until they’re forced to stop: a bone is broken, a major illness is contracted, or like Haris, a person is jailed.

“I’ve rested in this cell for the past four months berating and consoling myself. The berating is justified – I was an idiot.”

As Luisa steps behind the Iron Curtain to rescue her father from a Stasi prison, she realizes she must “forgive and move forward.”

The nightmare quality of Luisa’s ordeal as she searches for her father against the eventful tearing down of the Berlin Wall is as chilling as a Hitchcock thriller and as engrossing as an Anais Nin tale.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Muse for this ARC.

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This was an absolute masterpiece of a novel!!! So we'll written and researched. I loved the split perspective of Luisa and Harris through every chapter. The story of love and forgiveness was powerful in this novel told in the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall. An excellent historical fiction novel that I would highly recommend!!!!

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Fabulous dual timeline read! Ms. Raey has dug deep in her research and crafted a superb authentic story. The smallest details are historically accurate. I moved to the city of Berlin quite a few years ago, and remnants of DDR times were all around me. One of my previous superiors (former Stasi) had not picked up on the fact that the Stasi ways were no longer the norm (but fortunately faded into oblivion after his Stasi past came to light.) Fascinated by this new city I lived in, I read a lot of historical fiction about this era. This book provides information that is new to me, which makes it interesting and worth reading. Initially, it has the depressing mood that seems pervasive in books dealing with DDR times and the incredible injustices done, but that dissipates as the story picks up speed and before long you find yourself wanting to read non-stop. I very much enjoy the cryptographer angle, the switch between the two settings, and the in-depth characters with real life emotions. The story and relationships are complex and clearly show the effects of war on the lives of subsequent generations. Wonderful life lesson at the end, “If I’ve learned anything this week…’s to let the past go. It may feel uncomfortable, perhaps unnecessary, or….be the most vital aspect of healing: forgive and move forward. The Berlin Letters is a historical fiction lover’s dream and leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, the author has several suggestions for more research at the end. I will definitely check out more of Katherine Raey’s books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Muse through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Having grown up during the time period this book covers – the Cold War era of the Berlin Wall - I really enjoyed reading The Berlin Letters. Reay brings to life the events of that time, and makes history so interesting. I’m glad there are such books for those who did not live through that time. The book sucked me in, and thankfully I had time to read it all in one day! I had to find out what was going to happen to all the various characters, even though I knew the outlines of what happened historically. If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend this book.

“I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own." #TheBerlinLetters #NetGalley

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An enthralling story, The Berlin Letters commences in 1961 when East Berlin starts erecting the wall to divide the city. In an impulsive, emotional split-second move, Luisa’s mother tosses her young daughter over a barrier into the arms of her parents who live in West Berlin.
Thus, begins this Cold War novel. Filled with anguish, secrets, lies, and deception, Berlin Letters is masterfully written such that the reader feels the suspense of the time.
Luisa is adored by her grandparents. They gave up their comfortable life in West Berlin to move to the United States to keep her safe and offer her greater opportunities. “My Opa was my greatest champion, my best friend, and my true north. If Opa said something was right, it was right. Wrong, and it was wrong forever. …And when he said I was his girl of infinite possibilities, I believed him because I believed in him…” (Pg. 40)
Solving codes and riddles was one of her and Opa's favorite activities. She learned about more and more difficult ciphers. Oma now recalls, “He was so proud of you. He was sure he was helping you develop your ‘little gray cells.’” (Pg 42)
After college, Luisa lived on her own but now she lives with her grandmother again as she promised her beloved Opa before he died. “My Opa was my greatest champion, my best friend, and my true north. If Opa said something was right, it was right. Wrong, and it was wrong forever. …And when he said I was his girl of infinite possibilities, I believed him because I believed in him…”(p 40)
Ironically, it is now 1989 and Luisa works in Arlington, Virginia in the CIA’s code deciphering division. Coincidently, she currently is deciphering coded communiques from 1945 to 1961 from Berlin. Something catches her eye on one of the messages…
Luisa feels compelled to investigate the possible connection to her Opa. As she literally digs for evidence at home, she discovers earth-shattering information about her parents. “It was all a lie.” (Pg.69)
Three days later, Luisa takes a life-threatening step to know more.
Luisa’s character is so well developed that the reader can feel her every emotion. “Outside Langley, the day has grown cloudy and it feels personal. Dark clouds hover above me, against me, I keep glancing in my rearview mirror and forcing out strange stiff laughs, hoping they will dispel my sense of foreboding.” (Pg. 190)
Wow, I loved this historical story even though I shivered with fear through much of it. While this is historical fiction, so much of it is historically accurate. I lived in West Berlin in the early 1970’s. I know the danger that permeated from the East. Since then, I’ve searched for and read books about life behind the “wall.” Fiction and nonfiction. The Berlin Letters contains so much ugly truth. The ending of this book has a wonderful metaphor, “The world tilts, almost like a kaleidoscope, one click from clear.” (Pg. 342)

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Fascinating Cold War novel! Told from the perspective of an East Berlin family that is torn apart by the wall, the grandparents and granddaughter Luisa move to America. Luisa believes both her parents are dead. But her father, once a top reporter for East Berlin’s party newspaper, is still alive and missing her.

I hadn’t realized that the assassination attempt on President Reagan may have kept the Soviets from invading Poland during the Solidarity Movement because the US automatically went on a war footing.

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I felt as if I had fallen into a time vault as I began reading, The Berlin Letters. Luisa Voekler works for the CIA deciphering codes. It is mainly posited in 1989 when Luisa first finds the letters that her Opa hid from her. She is of East German descent and though her grandparents raised her, she didn’t know how her grandparents really came to America and became her sole guardians and she didn’t question it growing up.

I am not one to read spy novels but The Berlin Letters had that feeling considering it starts just after WWII ends and the Cold War has just begun. Without knowing it, Lusia has continued the duplicity that her Opa and Oma began as they think she works for the Labor Department, not the CIA as a code breaker deciphering codes, ciphers, etc.

Lusia has noticed infinity symbols in the letters that Opa and her father, Haris exchanged over the last twenty-four years, and she knows that she has to show these letters to her boss at the CIA. Even though I wouldn’t classify this as a historical novel, as it doesn’t take place in the 1800s or 1900s, I think it could easily slip into that genre just based on the scale of history that you learn reading this.

I don’t know what I was expecting of The Berlin Letters but it far exceeded what I thought it was going to be. It showed what parents would do for their children, what love can and will do for better or worse, and what it means to sacrifice.

My gratitude to Netgalley and Harper Muse. All opinions expressed are mine and honest.

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Katherine Reay uses the Cold War setting perfectly for this book. It worked well in the historical setting in and the characters worked in this setting. They felt like real people and I was engaged with their story. I really felt for Luisa and glad everyone was so well written.

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THE BERLIN LETTERS by KATHERINE REAY is a well researched and beautifully written novel which takes place during the Cold War.
On Sunday 13th August 1961, when barbed wire closed off East Berlin, Monica Voekler throws her three year old daughter Luisa to her father on the other side.
When his inlaws, Walther and Gertrude, move to the U.S., a correspondence starts up between Haris and Walther. When Luisa, who works for the C.I.A., cracks the codes, many secrets come out……
I like the way the story is told alternately by Haris and Luisa and the way in which the author gets us right into all the different characters’ emotions.
I also like the way she gives us insight into the punk ideology in Eastern Europe, one of whose slogans is “Don’t die in the waiting room of the future,” meaning don’t be complacent. We learn that their music is “rage, discordance, anarchy and destruction. …..angry and alien…..political opposition aimed straight at the dictatorship.”
Life in East Berlin is one of living in constant fear of betrayal, of courage and self sacrifice. We see the importance of true friends and family at a time anyone could be a Stasi snitch. The importance of forgiveness is also strongly brought out.
I cannot recommend this thrilling and inspirational read highly enough.
I was given a free copy of the book by NetGalley from Harper Muse. The opinions in this review are completely my own.

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“Some secrets can get you killed.”

This utterly absorbing historical fiction/Cold War espionage thriller will rate right up there with some of my top reads of the year. Not only did it have me grabbing my air mic, channeling my inner Cher, and belting out “If I Could Turn Back Time,” it also hooked me with a fascinating look at life in East Berlin and a protagonist with whom I empathized.

In short: Set during the Cold War, a CIA code-breaker risks it all to free a loved one from an East German prison.

Luisa Voekler, CIA cryptographer, is frustrated cuz her work is stuck in the past decoding Third Reich ciphers from WW2 while her co-workers have been given exciting and new Cold War assignments until one day she notices a symbol she recognizes from her childhood. Seeing it changes everything.

Harris Voekler, an East German, and the chief reporter for Neues Deutschland, the Party’s newspaper, is disgruntled that Soviet promises haven’t materialized. His outlook causes challenges within his marriage and he soon discovers that the Berlin Wall has separated him from his daughter. In desperation, he learns to send coded letters to his father-in-law in an effort to communicate with his family.

Luisa discovers this treasure trove when she’s working on decoding the WW2 messages and it opens up opportunities to understand the past and begin a new future. I loved reading about the Voekler family and their drive to freedom and reconciliation. Luisa’s examination of her past as a way to move forward captivated me and I was tempted to go down a rabbit hole learning about Vigenere and Caesar cipers. My curiosity was piqued reading about why there was no advertising in East Berlin and why contact with the West was seen as disloyalty. Luisa’s life was forever changed on Sunday, August 13, 1961 … come find out why and how!

This compelling read about a family torn apart by the effects of a totalitarian regime and devastating secrets needs to be in every historical fiction reader's sights.

I was gifted this copy by Harper Muse and NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.

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The events of this book take place during the Cold War leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two primary points of view telling the story are Luisa and her father, Haris. I felt the tension of the decisions the characters were making as they navigated the complex dynamics of country, family, and friends.

I'm always fascinated by codes that were utilized in WW2. A complex coding system is an important part of this book, and i found it interesting!

In the book, Luisa calls her Germany grandparents Oma and Opa. I also had German grandparents that I called Oma and Opa. It was sweet to be reminded of my grandparents as I read those familiar German names throughout the book.

I also LOVE the cover of this book!

I've been a big fan of Katherine Reay's work for a long time. I think this might be my favorite of her historical fiction novels. If Katherine has a book out, I've either read it, or I am eagerly waiting to get my hands on it.

Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

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Thanks to @NetGalley for the chance to read an ARC. I really enjoyed this book. I was a child in the 80s and remember very clearly the day the wall was open. But as a 14 year old, I couldn’t truly grasp the significance. I feel as if I’ve met the characters in person and they took me back in time. At times, their feelings of despair felt as if they were mine. The twists and turns kept me turning pages late in the night. This is not a “light” read. But it was an enlightening one. Thank you to the author for this beautiful tale of family drama, suspense, determination, and desire for freedom

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A trip to Berlin in February 2023 sparked the imagination of author Katherine Reay as she began work on her latest novel, “The Berlin Letters.” She wrote this roman à clef about a fictional family living in East and West Berlin, then the U.S., during the Cold War era. The novel begins in 1961 when Germany had an Allied portion in the West and a Soviet portion in the East. Refugees were crossing in droves from the east to the west. General Secretary Walter Ulbricht, a German communist leader, stockpiled materials and prepared troops to quickly put up the Berlin wall to keep the Western “fascists” out, he said. Really, they wanted to stop the flow of people fleeing to the West they saw as “fascists.”

Reay begins on a day that changed everything. Monica and Haris Voekler still in bed on Aug. 13, 1961, the day the Berlin Wall began construction. People were running as fast as they could to cross over the barbed wire barrier. Some lived in a building that faced West Berlin and used a window to climb down.

Journalist Haris runs off to cover the story about this “anti-Fascist protection barrier” going up for the Neues Deutschland, East Berlin’s newspaper. Monica wonders how anyone could place a barrier based on an ideology. But she soon sees thousands of soldiers have descended on the city. Monica with baby Luisa in her pram sees people panicking, some crying. She had planned a lunch meeting with family in West Berlin. She can see her mom, Gertrude, and dad, Walther, her sister, Alice, on the other side of this structure, but the guards won’t let her through. Fear takes over her when the guard speaks to her in Russian. In a split section decision, she launches baby Luisa over the barbed wire into her grandfather’s arms. Monica watches him run with the child away from the guards. It’s a gut-wrenching prologue.

Reay wrote from two perspectives in the novel, Luisa and Haris. I learned about life in East Berlin through Haris. He realizes too late the great lie he’s both fed and spread as a truly “fake news” reporter, writing propaganda pieces for the Socialist Unity Party’s paper. The people aren’t free in East Berlin. They have no way to escape the Soviet’s tyranny. No one who tried to go over the wall survived; in fact, a total of 171 people would die trying to go over or under it.

Until this story, I had never heard of the East Berlin secret police, the Stasi, short for Staatssicherheit. Formed after World War II, they were the “official state security service for the newly formed German Democratic Republic (GDR or DDR for Deutschland Democratic Republic).” They were similar to, but apparently worse than the KGB. The Stasi police spied on the population in East Berlin “to quash any discontent before it became a threat.” Reay’s depiction had me thinking often of George Orwell’s dystopian 1984, fiction that became fact for many in East Berlin. Surveillance became the norm. People who tried to leave often died mysterious deaths. They kept political prisoners in the worse of prisons. They tortured people to the point they would agree with the police or make up information. After the wall came down, people had access to their files, Reay said, and people saw which neighbors and friends had been spying on them all that time. People shared intel with the Stasi in an effort to save themselves.

In Arlington, VA, a now 27-year-old Luisa Voekler lives with her Oma, Gertrude, following the death of her Opa. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen at 18. Early on, Luisa set her sights on work as a CIA agent who goes on clandestine missions, but she didn’t pass at the “farm.” She blames the loss of her dream, the disappointment and embarrassment for the self-imposed isolation she expected would happen after. She cut herself off from the friends she went through training with as a result, even Daniel, a love interest in the novel who shows up when she least expects him.

Luisa breaks codes from World War II letters and memos as part of a team, which I found fascinating. She has a natural affinity for the work because her Opa made up puzzles and coded messages for her as a child. Her family thinks she works for the Labor Department, so Opa had no idea the kind of work she did for the government. On Nov. 3, 1989, a pregnant co-worker Carrie asks Luisa for help with 20 unsent letters she dubbed “the Berlin letters” that run from September 1945 to July 1961. Luisa recognizes an infinity sign on each of the letters. She is sure it is a signature and she tells Carrie, but then stops herself. Opa had received similar letters with the symbol, but he had wanted her to say nothing about those to her Oma.

That night, Luisa wars with herself, worried about betraying her Opa. She decides to ask her Oma if he had been a spy. She doesn’t answer her though, so when Oma goes to bed, Luisa searches for the letters. I don’t know that I needed to follow Luisa into every room, but I did and she eventually finds them in a surprising place. The next day Oma reveals more letters, but her fear pushes her to try to destroy them until Luisa stops her. The fear she faced in Germany still haunted her in the U.S. Luisa spends the weekend reading them in order before she has to turn them over to her boss at the CIA. The letters are coded correspondence between her father Haris to her Opa. All this time she believed a lie. She thought her father and her mother died in a car accident. But her father is still alive. And Luisa jumps into action to rescue him behind the Iron Curtain.

And it is here where the story takes off. I will not reveal too much, except to say I felt a sense of panic while reading. I felt like I became Luisa when she flew to West Berlin. She finds help is on the way as her personal mission continues. Reay jumps between Luisa and Haris, who take turns telling of the events of Nov. 9, 1989.

I didn’t think I would feel as nostalgic as I did when I read about the East Berlin youth in the punk movement who helped Luisa on this quest. I graduated high school in 1989, so I knew a little bit about the punk movement in the U.S. and the UK from their fashions to the music scene. East Berlin punks were on another level entirely. I admired their resistance and activism in the novel and in real life.

At the end, Reay shares some of the materials that aided her research for the novel that listed on my blog post. I finished reading this book thinking, “This is why I love historical fiction.” It’s a genre that both teaches history and entertains. This novel took me back in time to the first day the wall speedily went up to the day when the people helped tear it down at 11 p.m. Nov. 9, 1989.

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Luisa Voekler is a CIA code breaker in the dying days of the Cold War, in the novel, "The Berlin Letters." by Katherine Reay. Although born in East Berlin, Luisa is curried away to the West by her grandparents just as Germany erects the wall. At the age of three, she leaves behind her parents who were not able to get to West Berlin, and several years later die in a tragic car accident.

Now secure in her job as a code breaker in 1989, Louisa comes across lost letters from her father to her grandfather. She quickly realizes that her father is still alive and languishing in an East German jail cell. So the adventure begins for Louisa to understand the nature of the letters from her father and race to rescue him.

The novel is quick paced, engaging and filled with characters that fill there own purposes. The historical context is riveting and gives the reader a feeling of what It might have been like to live in east Berlin through the cold war.

This novel is an excellent read where one can get lost in this fascinating historical period, while still rooting for a heroine who refuses to give up.

Thank you Netgalley and Harper Muse for the ARC.

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This story had me on the edge of my seat. Setting the scene in post WW2 Berlin and giving the perspective of how fast things changed for the citizens of Berlin was compelling. Seeing how the characters had to use secret ways to communicate and how many years later it all came into play was exciting! I definitely recommend this book!

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I adored this book. It was fast paced and had me hooked from the prologue. The action starts right away!
Before I read The Berlin Letters, I had a broad knowledge or what happened in Berlin when the wall went up in the 1960's but Katherine Reay's writing transported me right into it. How the citizens were feeling? How awful and disconcerting it would have been for them living on either side. Separated from family and having life change as they knew it, so seemingly permanently almost overnight. She painted that picture very well and it was so heartbreaking and realistic.
This is a dual timeline book. It was told from the perspective of Luisa Voekler in the late 1980's in Washington D.C and her father Haris Voekler in 1960's East Berlin.
The Berlin Letters is a story of political intrigue but more importantly of family relationships and deep seated and necessary secrets. Reay does such a great job of revealing those secrets in an electrifying way from start to finish. I couldn't recommend this book enough. My first read of 2024 is a 5 star! I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to read an ARC copy before the books release. Thank you NetGalley for that opportunity.

#TheBerlinLetters #NetGalley

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✨I have been a fan of @katherinereay’s books going all the way back to her first novel DEAR MR. KNIGHTLEY which I loved. It has been a true pleasure to watch her writing evolve over time.

✨I need my historical fiction to give me captivating storytelling while teaching me something I didn’t know. This one delivers in spades.

✨The dual timelines and points of view masterfully tell the story of a family divided by the Berlin Wall as well the disparity between postwar US and Eastern Europe.

✨I loved the nuanced storytelling, the historical references, the themes of resistance and redemption and the second chance romance woven into the narrative.

✨An excellent Cold War espionage historical fiction that I highly recommend.

Don’t miss it.

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Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read The Berlin Letters. Ms. Reay writes an incredible story set against the Berlin Wall. This is a story of choices, consequences and what we do for those we love. This story will keep you on the absolute edge of your seat!! You won't be able to put it down!!!

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On my first trip to Berlin I had the privilege of listening to stories of people who experienced the wall going up and the wall going down while sitting at a breakfast table. In this book Katherine Reay has captured the essence of that experience in a page turner while transporting you to one of my favorite cities in the world. She has done so while creating characters that are real and match their time. I highly recommend this novel.

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Washington, DC, 1989

Luisa Voekler misses her beloved Opa and her life before he died. The life where she lives alone works as a code breaker for a super-secret branch of the CIA and visits her grandparents. But she promised her Opa she would move back home to care for her Oma when he died.

While she doesn’t regret her decision, her grandmother’s hovering and worrying have restricted her life. Her friends want her to join them more often and revive her social life. Luisa doesn’t know why she resists—she feels close to no one, has horrible dreams, and feels like a failure because she didn’t make the cut as a CIA agent.

When a coworker brings her the Berlin letters—pieces of coded correspondence from an agent in Berlin, a small mark on one of the envelopes sparks a memory of a long-ago conversation with Opa. All the games they played in her childhood have a new meaning, and Luisa races to crack the code and discover the truth about her parents.

Does she still have time to save one of them?

East Berlin, Germany, 1961

Haris Voekler, star reporter for the party newspaper, mourns when his wife, Monica, does the unthinkable. Rather than stay in East Berlin as the party builds a wall separating the city, she passes their three-year-old daughter over the concertina wire to her parents. Haris and Monica cannot escape the ever-restricting community and the ever-intrusive Stasi.

After Monica dies of a broken heart, Haris begins a coded correspondence with his father-in-law, Walther. The game of hiding the truth in banal pleasantries gives him a challenge his job no longer provides. Demoted at work, watched on every side, and living with the devastating realization that he chose the wrong side, Haris needs the correspondence to maintain his sanity.

As friends and coworkers suffer through arrest and face death for their courageous decisions, Haris must decide what he will do.

By 1989, Haris had joined the resistance, and someone had betrayed him. His father-in-law hasn’t written for months, and he wastes away in a Stasi prison. Hope dries up. Then, the unthinkable happens in the middle of a prison transfer.

What I Loved About This Book

This book intrigued me as someone who grew up hearing about the Berlin Wall and reading stories in the Reader’s Digest of daring escapes over it. I don’t usually read historical books set in my lifetime (I feel like a relict), but The Berlin Letters quickly grabbed my attention and kept it.

Reay explores how the missing pieces of our lives impact us more than we realize. Luisa has no firm memories of her early life, and those missing pieces cause nightmares and a vague sense of loss. Only as she works to uncover her past does she start to awaken. Haris discovers a way to fight against the society he once touted as perfect by writing to his father-in-law. His small rebellion keeps a spark of hope inside him because it fills in the missing pieces of his daughter’s life.

Thoughtful, thorough, and swirling with mystery and intrigue, The Berlin Letters will take you on a journey through despair and hope.

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My first Katherine Reay book was, “Dear Mr. Knightley,” which I adored. While the other titles written by Reay around this time didn’t grab me quite as much, last year I was blown away by, “A Shadow in Moscow,” my favorite book of 2023. When I saw that there was a new book coming out by this author, who is now a definite favorite, I was beyond excited to receive an advanced copy to read on NetGalley. I only hoped it lived up to her achievement of the previous year’s, “A Shadow in Moscow.” It did! “The Berlin Letters,” is (thankfully) a bit different than the many, many novels that have come out it the last several years surrounding the World War ll time period. I have heard a lot about the Berlin Wall over the years, and have read other novels on the topic. However, I learned many things that I had never heard before in this book. The overall concept of how a culture is infiltrated by Communism is very interesting and very relevant to our times. The story is engaging from start to finish, and is one I will definitely encourage others to read in the future!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Muse through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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I've read several of Katherine Reay's post-WWII novels and this is her best yet.

"The Berlin Letters" is a remarkably researched and executed story of a father (Haris) and daughter (Luisa) in separate worlds, fighting for what is right on either side of an oppressive wall.

I read a lot of WWII fiction, so loved experiencing "the next phase" in history, even with all its dark, horrific details. I was so sad for Luida's mum being suddenly separated from her family, and understood her reaction and response to her husband, Haris. She was justified to have responded as she did, and though things didn't turn out well for her, I'm so glad Haris was redeemed through decades of letters. I felt like I travelled Luisa's journey of discovery beside her, mourning her losses and anxious to know what happened next.

Luisa was so believable and lovable. Such strength and brokenness in one small package. I felt so many emotions as she journeyed this story, but my favourite "extra" bit was her hinting at her past infatuation with Daniel. Such a great set up for things to come.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Longtime readers of the Books About Letters series may recall our 2022 review of 'The London House' by Katherine Reay. When I saw 'The Berlin Letters' by Katherine Reay (HarperCollins, 2024) available on NetGalley for review, I had to jump at the chance! In this novel, we time travel from the 1960s to 1989 as a young woman learns the truth about herself, her family, and her country through the medium of coded letters during the Cold War. Read on for a review and thoughts on this month's Book About Letters.

(P.S. I cannot look at this cover and not think of Uma Thurman!)

Our main character, Louisa, works by day as a CIA code breaker and discovers through the course of a routine assignment a symbol she recognizes -- from childhood. So we begin the story of Louisa and Haris Voekler, the father she never knew now ominously imprisoned in East Germany.

So the fundamental question: Is this a book about letters? Yes! We learn thanks to Louisa's well honed skill for code breaking that letters containing news about life in East Berlin have been making it out from behind the Wall for almost thirty years. But it is up to Louisa to detangle to what extent these letters have shaped not only her life, but history generally. While not wholly epistolary -- there are at length letters 'reproduced' in the context of the story, however -- this novel qualifies as a Book About Letters because they are used as a key plot device and are referenced with regularity as the story progresses.

If you, like me, know very little about the history behind the construction of the Berlin Wall and the regime(s) that developed around it, I recommend this excellent video from TED-Ed to help contextualize the dense history:

Reay's well researched novel weaves the historical and the human together with evident craft. World building plays a huge part in this novel as Louisa learns about her background and the very real circumstances of not only her father, but the citizens of East Berlin just before the Wall 'came down' in 1989. Through the use of journalist characters in her plotting, Reay is able to explain and layer exposition which flavors the novel as her talent for human connection braids the narratives.

I first visited Berlin in August of 2023. Strangely enough, Reay in her acknowledgments writes that she spent February of the same year exploring the city for research. An eerie parallel. I had never been to Germany before and found it hard to visualize, or imagine, the trip in the lead up. I could have never pictured the city I found there. I had a wonderful, local tour guide -- my penpal, Alex -- who brought us around and showed us -- it felt -- like almost 'everything' in just one gloriously hot day. We saw Barenberg Gate, saw the remnants of the Wall, and visited Checkpoint Charlie among other spots.

It was that trip to Berlin that colored my experience of 'The Berlin Letters' so vividly. And I am so thankful for both the opportunity to travel there then and to return to the city through Reay's words. I believe that reading can transport us and to be able to map the Berlin I had experienced against the world Reay builds in her novel, added to my overall enjoyment while reading.

Thank you to NetGalley for the chance to read and review 'The Berlin Letters' by Katherine Reay, out March 5th from HarperCollins publishing.

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This is a fast-paced page turner taking place primarily in East Berlin just before The Wall came down in 1989. CIA codebreaker Luisa Voekler finds a symbol on some letters from just after the Berlin Wall went up that seem familiar. So begins her search that will lead her to uncover secrets about her family that ultimately send her to Berlin at the end of the Cold War. Excellent book about a time I haven’t read much about.

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I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. This was fast paced and I couldn’t put it down. I am a Gen Xer. So this was fantastic for me to remember these events. I loved having the pov from the dad’s side. I was nice to get all the view points from all the family. I did have all the feels for Luisa. I did tear up a bit. I felt for Monica and her family. I really feel like people dont remember enough about the Cold War and this is a refresher. It is incredible what the people did for their families good or bad. The punks I wan to read more about. I did have moments of flashback from the movie Gotcha.

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'It's funny how easily you can convince yourself that the people you live with see the world like you do'.

The Berlin Letters takes on a journey back through recent history and the day Russia permanently detached East Berlin from the West by building a solid wall. A wall that unexpectedly and instantaneously divided friends, families, employees and even buildings. On that day in August 1961, Monika Voekler made a split decision, she wrenched her daughter Luisa from her stroller and threw her over the barbed wire into the arms of her father. Her father who, distrusting the increasing grip of the iron fist, had already moved to safety in the West. Eventually, Luisa moved to America. She grew up with her grandparents and believed her parents had died in a car accident when she was young. But in her new role as a decoder, at the CIA, she stumbles across a pack of letters that unsettle her. They seem familiar. In the true spirit of a spy game, full of secrets, she discovers the real truth about her family.

This dual-time, dual-narrated story ticks down from the building of the wall, a daring rescue before it's too late.

I really enjoyed this story. It has many layers to it and keeps building throughout and delivers at the end. 'The Berlin Letters' is not only for historical fiction lovers, and Cold War followers but also those who enjoy spy novels.

Three word summary: informative, complex and thrilling.

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I loved this new historical fiction set in Berlin in the days of the cold war. There are plenty of books about WW2, but not so many about other periods related to it. I learned a bunch about East and West Berlin and how the wall came down in 1989. Fascinating story.
This was a compelling read which I finished in 24 hours; I had to know what happened next.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thank you so much NetGalley and Harper Muse, it was a treat!

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I have read several of Katherine Reay's historical books and this one is now my favorite! Set in Washington D.C and Berlin, this story of what life was like in East & West Berlin is both heart breaking and amazing at the same time. It is suspenseful and leaves you wanting to know! This one will stay with me for awhile.

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I know people who lived under this wall, and things were hard if you were on the wrong side! Loved Reagan's speech to Gorbachev!
This read has it all, such love and sacrifice, only to break ones heart and will to live. While others thrive, some pretend to be friends, so sad, and they do this right to the end.
This is a story of survival, and great love! Luisa is brought up in Washington D.C., when her Grandfather dies she learns that her father is still alive and behind that wall.
What a journey we begin and the sacrifices made to go to Germany and rescue her father! We travel with her with our hearts in our throat!
Keep reading the author's notes are great!
I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Harper Muse, and was not required to give a positive review.

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I feel like l've entered my "historical era" and what I mean by that is that historical fiction now encompasses events that have taken place in my lifetime. While it's true that the Berlin Wall was erected long before my birth (1961), here is where *|* intersect with this chapter in history: born in 1987, the wall “came down” in 1989, and my family moved to Germany in 1990 (my parents used a mallet and chisel to chip away pieces of the wall to keep as souvenirs). It’s hard not to feel the enormity of this and Katherine Reay has written a compelling historical narrative to bring home the weight of what the wall meant and to remind us that in the midst of terrifying emotional and physical hardship, there were people brave enough to say this:

“It's letting go of what you're supposed to do be doing for whatever comes your way. It's about creating a future of our own making, not accepting the one they shove at us. And it's all risk. Every breath in every day."

I loved this story of a mother's sacrifice, a grandfather's secret, a father's evolution, and a daughter's determination to make it all worthwhile.

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The Berlin Letters by Katherine Reay is a historical fiction novel about the Cold War focused around the story of Luisa, a code breaker for the CIA, in 1989 and her father in East Berlin during the 1960s. Luisa discovers the Berlin Letters through work and finds a link to her grandfather which sends her on a mission to free her father from jail in Berlin as the wall is coming down. The last part of the book reads like a Mission Impossible movie! This story is intricately woven with turbulent history and the ties of family that span decades. Luisa’s family loves her fervently and she risks it all to save her dad whom she has never met.

I highly recommend this historical fiction book for the nonstop action, relevant history, and perspectives of living in East Berlin during the Cold War.

Thank you Harper Muse and Netgalley for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. All opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wow. This is a strong work of historical fiction, opening up the world of a divided Berlin and life alongside the terrible wall. I have never learned a lot about the Cold War and the wall, so being able to read a work of fiction about it was truly enlightening and makes me want to learn more about this terribly difficult and sad time in world history. The author brings her characters to life and gives us small glimpses into their past that allow us to see how the past has influenced who they are at the time of the story. With so much danger and intrigue going on in our world during that time, I appreciate the way the author shows those things through the lives of her characters and their experiences. Lies, deception, betrayal, fear, loss, loyalty, love, and courage are all components that compel the reader to read more and to wish the book was not over when the last page is turned. Luisa’s whole world is rocked when she finds her grandfather’s letters, and I was not able to put down this book until I knew what the end of the story was. I highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, to those who know little about the Cold War, and to anyone looking for a well-written story.

I requested a copy of this book for review, but the thoughts expressed here are wholly my own.

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This gripping Cold War narrative by Katherine Reay immerses readers in the heart of Berlin, capturing the tension and turmoil of both its early days and the historic fall of the Berlin Wall. Through the intertwined stories of CIA codebreaker Luisa Voekler and East Berlin journalist Haris Voekler, the novel delves into themes of sacrifice, identity, and the pursuit of freedom. As Luisa uncovers the truth about her family’s past and embarks on a daring mission to rescue her father from East German captivity, readers are taken on a journey of suspense and revelation. With its meticulously researched historical backdrop and compelling characters, this stand-alone novel offers a poignant exploration of human resilience and the enduring quest for truth and reconciliation. Plus, with discussion questions included, it’s sure to spark lively conversations in book clubs.

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Luisa Voekler’s life is marked by significant historical events. As a small child, her grandparents fled with her when the Berlin Wall went up seemingly overnight. Her mother, seeing the writing on the wall, far ahead of her idealistic socialist husband, literally flung her daughter over razor wire to her father, so that she could have a better life. That one decision set the stage for the rest of Luisa’s life.

Raised in America, Luisa believed her parents to be dead, but her beloved Opa knew otherwise as he was corresponding via coded letters with her father Haris for decades. Luisa was destined to be able to read these letters one day, as growing up her grandfather would make her solve ciphers to find her own birthday presents. His training prepared her for her job as a cryptographer in the CIA.

When a stack of letters crosses her colleagues’ desk where they decode classified messages all day, she is shocked to discover a symbol similar to one she has seen in her grandfather’s office. As she figures out the cipher, she realizes everything she believed about her own family is wrong, and most importantly her father is alive and in danger.

Against her better judgment, and without any approval, Luisa heads to West Berlin determined to help her father out of a Stasi jail behind the Iron Curtain. Her operative training comes in handy, as she fights a clock to get her father out before it’s too late.

The Berlin Letters is a Cold War story that will keep you turning the pages long after its time to go to bed (trust me). Luisa and Haris’ story, like many families divided by the Berlin Wall, will leave you wondering “what if”. Both characters are defined by circumstances out of their control and only become more interesting the further into the novel you read. I was in elementary school when the Berlin Wall came down, and reading the Voekler’s story helped clarify history I was too young to understand.

Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Muse, and of course the author Katherine Reay for the advanced copy of the book. The Berlin Letters is out on March 5th. Go ahead and add it to your TBR pile, you won’t regret it. All opinions are my own.

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Wow…what a story. I grew up hearing about the Cold War and the Berlin Wall but wasn’t taught much about either until I read The Berlin Letters. Katherine Reay’s story is compelling, heart stopping and so well written it kept me reading well into the night.

The Berlin Letters, set near the end of the Cold War, is more than historical fiction. Espionage, spys and code breaking, along with the twists and turns, keeps the story flowing and k3p5 m3 on edge. The dual timeline, which can be challenging for writers as well as readers, moves from one time period to the other without a hitch.

The story begins in East Berlin when citizens were free from repressive laws and limits. Luisa Voekler was about three when her mother, Monica, realizing what was happening politically, threw Luisa over newly constructed barbed wire fencing into the arms of her grandfather, Walther. He along with his wife and other daughter left East Berlin for West Berlin when it was still possible to do so. Eventually, Walther took his family to the United States where Luisa grew up believing her parents had died in a car crash.

Luisa works for the CIA as a code breaker, having been taught the skill by her grandfather who began her education in cryptology at a very young age. One day at work she recognizes a symbol on a letter she remembers seeing in her childhood. And, thus The Berlin Letters starts in earnest.

Reay’s use of letters written between Walther and Luisa’s father Haris is a brilliant method of recounting the history of that period of time in Berlin. The letters opened my eyes to what can happen to citizens when a totalitarian government takes control; when ones every move is monitored and people “disappear” after an interview at ‘Stasi’ headquarters. I new nothing of how the people lived behind the Berlin Wall or that there was an active Resistance movement fighting the tyranny of the Soviet regime as best they could - through music - until now. .

The events leading up to the destruction of the Berlin Wall and freedom for East Berliners kept me on edge…a very critical and exciting time in history brilliantly shared on the pages of this book. There is so much more I could say about The Berlin Letters but that would mean spoilers, which is something I prefer not to do. The Berlin Letters is one of the best books I’ve read in some time and I’m sure will be one of my top 10 books for 2024.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Muse for a complimentary of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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When I was a child, I remember hearing about the Berlin Wall go up. There were stories on the TV news that showed people trying to escape over the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin. Years later, my husband, a USAF pilot, flew the "Berlin corridor" over East Germany and East Berlin to land in West Berlin. This book brought back so many of those memories.

This is a story of familial love, of spies and intrigue, of personal liberty versus state control, of change in people and politics. Katherine Reay has become one of my favorite authors, and I could not put The Berlin Letters down. I don't giver many 5 star reviews, but this is one of those 5-star books.

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This is why I love historical fiction! Meticulously researched and filled with rich historical details and context about the Cold War, specifically around the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union controlled East Germany. I’m appreciative of the author for writing a book that is equally intriguing as it was informative and provided much room for reflection and desire for further learning. It provides a deep exploration of communism as it led to political repression, cultural censorship, restrictions of human rights, etc. And gives readers an in-depth understanding of the danger, fear, and uncertainty of this time for those living in East Berlin and many parts of the world affected by their political system.

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The Berlin Letters is a fascinating dual-timeline glimpse into East Berlin from the day the Berlin Wall was first erected to the day it began to be torn down. The first generation perspective takes us all the way from 1961 to 1989, giving us a glimpse of the heartache and the tears and the years. The second generation perspective spans exactly one week in 1989, providing a fast-paced style that makes you feel our heroine’s fear and urgency. And yet, with the two points of view interspersed with each other, it is somehow neither too slow nor too fast.

The Berlin Letters contains some of my favorite themes: epistolary and code breakers. Katherine Reay’s skilled research is evident in every page and coupled with the way she portrays family relationships, we have another 5-star read in The Berlin Letters.

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I absolutely loved every minute of Katherine Reay’s latest, The Berlin Letters. Set during the tumultuous times of the Cold War, Reay does a fantastic job at making the sudden appearance and lingering effects of the wall personal through the stories of one family divided by time, distance, and beliefs. I learned so much from this book about life in Berlin after WWII and then as the wall is built overnight to separate families and friends, one side free and one side imprisoned. The details of life behind the Iron Curtain were heartbreaking and shocking, the fear palpable as there was no one to trust, nowhere safe.

As in her last book (A Shadow in Moscow which I gave five stars!), Reay explores the strong bonds between family members and how these ties can bring about change on a global scale. I was thoroughly invested in the characters from page one, racing through the tension-filled chapters to the thrilling conclusion. Reay is a master at crafting electrifying novels full of historical details and research.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about how the Cold War affected everyone behind the wall. Those of us old enough to remember this time period will be amazed at what was going on while we were living our typical American lives and those too young to remember the Cold War need to read this so they never forget.

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My thanks for the ARC goes to NetGalley and Harper Muse. I'm voluntarily leaving a review.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Post-WWII Fiction, Germany
Spice Level: Low
Violence Level: Hard things are discussed or mentioned but not on the page.
Format: Dual POVs from different time periods and letters (The correspondence is more explained than shown on the page, but I felt like it was there.)

Here are words I thought I'd never say: I love spy novels! Yep, but specifically all the ones written by this author. Reay makes it approachable for me when I've never delved into this type of material before.

I think the reason THE BERLIN LETTERS works so well is because it's all about the faces behind the events. It's a human story.

We see loss, love, betrayal, secrets kept, and secrets revealed, and emotional turmoil in so many facets.

Somehow, this sucked me in and made me want to read more. I was equally vested in Luisa and Haris. This would make a great book club selection. And after reading this, I want to find out more about my relatives who visited from East Germany in the early 80s.

What a fantastic book! Yes, I highly recommend it!

Happy reading!

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Thank you to Net Galley and Harper Collins Publishing for an early copy of The Berlin Letters by Katherine Reay

Non-stop character development and a captivating plot centered on the fall of the Berlin Wall make The Berlin Letters a "must read" in 2024. While the story has its roots in the post World War II tragedies of a divided Germany and a divided Berlin, the actual events of the construction and eventual destruction of the Berlin Wall are remarkably modern, and many readers will remember vividly watching television coverage of the reunification of Berlin in 1989.

Reay's story focuses on a young Luisa Voekler living in East Berlin until the day her mother thrusts her over a fence and into the arms of Luisa's grandparents in West Berlin. Luisa's father, a staunch believer in the ideals of the Soviets in power, begins a correspondence with his father-in-law now living with his wife, daughter Alice and granddaughter Luisa in the United States. Within their correspondence are hidden codes that aid the Americans in understanding events in East Berlin. When Luisa goes to work for the CIA, she will learn about her father and embark on a dangerous journey to rescue him from prison.

So many real-life situations of the time are embedded in The Berlin Letters: the plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II, the role that young people played in weakening the Soviet hold on East Berlin, and the neighbor-against-neighbor spying that was such a part of an East Berliner's life at this time.

With all of its sorrows culminating in the joy of the downfall of the Berlin Wall, The Berlin Letters is much like an automobile that accelerates with no brake pedal in sight. At the conclusion of the novel, readers will want to view video of the night in November 1989 when the unbelievable came to be. Real people whose lives were forever changed.

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Wow! Katherine Reay has penned a very intellectual historical spy thriller that had me gripped from page one. I remember the Cold War era and the day the Wall came down in East Berlin. As a young mother of two at the time, I thought, God bless them!! They were finally free. They can choose and live a life without fear. This book follows a young girl from the time she was three when the Wall was erected until she was thirty-one when it came down. This is a book rich in historical detail in a duel time line that brought back memories of that era and allowed me to feel the emotions the characters went through. If you like spies, espionage, thrillers, and some romance in the mix, then you will absolutely love this novel. I know I did. 5 stars!!

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When CIA codebreaker discovers a symbol she recognizes from her childhood on coded letters from Berlin, she embarks on a journey to learn more about the secrets of her childhood and her family as the Berlin wall was constructed during the Cold War and eventually torn down.

This is the first book I’ve read about the Cold War in awhile and apparently, even living through most of it, knew very little. Told through dual timelines and dual POV, Katherine Reay has crafted a thoroughly researched and engaging novel set in Berlin during the tumultuous Cold War. I loved the character development and growth that she achieved through the dual timeline. There were some times when there were some info dumps, but if you know me, I enjoyed those and don’t think they took away from the story, but added to the understanding and stakes in the story. This book achieved everything I want for historical fiction and I highly recommend.

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As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to read it. Firstly, it is Katherine Reay and I have not read anything by her that I did not treasure. Second, the setting is Berlin. I lived there as a teen during the events in the story, so I knew it would have a totally different impact on me due to experiences. Once again, Reay demonstrates her ability to research properly to tell an accurate, compelling story. Luisa is a complex character who does not even understand her own layers. As more starts to come to light and she learns that her past and her family are not what she has always believed, she learns that she has been prepped and prepared for these revelations her whole life. The dual timeline perspective makes the events so real and helps the reader understand why some people reacted the way they did. The setting, the temperaments, the descriptions, and stage is cast perfectly. Details are spot on and enhance the experience. I was completely engrossed by the time Luisa made it to Berlin and could not put the book down. I have walked in those spots and to hear the story from various perspectives knowing where I was and what I experienced at the exact same moments was powerful for me. Reay did her homework, she got it right, and she told an exquisite story. There is a little romance sprinkled in to lighten some of the heavy moments, but even this is well done and brings great balance. Do yourself a favor and set some time aside to walk in Luisa and Haris’s shoes. You will be impacted, and you will never view the fall of the Berlin Wall the same again.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley and all opinions expressed are solely my own, freely given.

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This book was just what I needed. Historical Fiction set in Berlin and the USA after WW2. Dual timelines, spies, secrets, family torn apart, and badass female CIA agent? 😍

Seriously, reading how she broke codes and cyphers made me want to be her. Of course, thats impossible. The only code-like thing I am capable of is a sudoku puzzle 😆 but how freaking cool?

This book was flawlessly written. I both tried to devour and savor it. I loved every moment and learned so much.

There is something about bravery during oppression that speaks to my soul. It reminds me of what we, as humans, are capable of.

I loved how so many characters didn’t want to escape the iron curtain, but wanted to fix the root issue. It was absolutely beautiful and like… Daniel though 🫠🫶🏼

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This book is a must-read! If you are looking for history, adventure, messy family relationships, or espionage, you will find it all in this story. Be warned that once you begin reading, you may not want to put it down! You also may find yourself thinking about Luisa's and Harris' story long after you read the ending.

This is a wonderful "inside" view of East Berlin beginning from the night the wall was erected to when the wall came down. Although a very up-close view of local and personal history to the characters, it is a piece of history that impacted the world but is little understood or known so intimately. It is the story of the cost and sacrifice of the freedom to help make home better.

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The Berlin Letters is set during the Cold War when the Berlin Wall went up and when it came down. East Berliners could travel to West Berlin freely at the beginning of the novel. Suddenly one day Monica is trying to cross to visit her parents who live on the West Berlin side when she comes across barbed wire standing across the border area. She makes a split second decision that will change her life and her parent’s lives.

When Luisa, a CIA cryptographer, finds coded letters to her grandfather, she realizes her father is alive in East Berlin in a prison. She travels to West Berlin to hopefully find her father.

The novel is very fast paced and a great spy/ thriller story with the historical aspect of how East and West Berliners lived during that time period.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Muse for my complimentary copy of this book. All opinions expressed are completely my own.

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August 1961 changed the life of Monica Voekler and her family. She planned on joining her parents and sister for lunch, but she's stopped by a barricade. One that arrives overnight and separates more than just parts of a city. The Berlin Wall changes history and the lives of the Voekler family. Sacrifices are made with devastating consequences. Lies that were once believed reveal their truth. Eyes that were blinded to the reality of the the wall are cruelly opened. Navigate the Berlin Wall with the Voeklers- from all angles- as it goes up, while it's up and the day it's torn down.

Katherine Reay has quickly become one of my favorite historical fiction writers for good reason. The Berlin Letters has sealed her place among my favorite writers. I LOVED this book. So very much. I was gripped to the story. There were several times I thought I knew what was going to happen only to be proven wrong. I was captivated. I was enthralled. I was rooting for each character. I didn't want to put the book down. This book has found it's way onto my favorite books of all time list.

Monica Voekler is a wife and mother in 1961. On this particular day she plans on joining her parents for breakfast. However, she finds a wired barricade stopping her from entering West Berlin. It doesn't take her long to realize the barricade has nefarious intentions. Nor does it take her long to realize she has to decide not just her future, but that of her 3 year old daughter, Luisa. As Monica watches events unfold at the barricade and the actions of the guards in charge of it, she knows the life she knew is over. The woman who set out to meet her family doesn't return home the same.

Monica's husband, Haris, is a reporter for a local newspaper and a member of the Stasi party. He's heard rumblings of a barricade going up and is positive it's for good intentions and not meant to be permanent. He's the last of his family to see things for what they really are and he stands to lose everything he has left. However, in learning the truth, Haris fights for the truth to be known. He finds help in the last place he would've expected it ands sets out to educate the world beyond the wall of what life is like for those living behind it. He has no idea the words and secrets he passes on become known by more than the eyes he wrote them for.

Luisa Voekler has been brought up by her Grandparents after her parents die in a car accident. Her Opa has died, so it's now just her, her Aunt and her Oma. Her family doesn't know that Luisa is one of a team who cracks WW2 and Third Reich codes and ciphers. When Luisa helps her coworker decode a set of letters from berlin, she notices small details like dots over paragraphs and an infinity symbol. The same symbol she's found on one of her Opa's envelopes. Thus begins the journey of uncovering secrets she has no clue of and no idea how deep they went.

As Luisa discovers more letters with the symbol on them between her Opa and someone she long since thought she lost. Once she makes the connection of who her Opa exchanged letters with, she's on a race against time to rescue them from the hell they're in.

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. I'm not even remotely doing it justice here. Katherine Reay wrote a story that had me gripped to the very end. My heart broke over Monica's story. My heart felt despair over the path Haris found himself on and the consequences it had. I was shocked as Luisa learned the truth of her beloved Grandfather. By the time I read the last line, I had traveled all over the emotional map. This book was AMAZING!! Not only did you learn about the characters and all they endured, but you learned so much history. I haven't heard of any other book involving the Berlin Wall and Katherine did it perfectly.

If you love historical fiction, you will be a fan of this book. You get a real and in depth look at what life was like during the years the Berlin Wall was up. I cannot rave about this book enough. Katherine Reay, thank you for telling the story of so many. Thank you for bringing to light the events many people know nothing about.

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The Berlin Letters was fascinating! I doubt I would have ever chosen to pick up & read a book about The Iron Curtain & The Cold War...but Katherine Reay's writing kept me coming back for more & anxious to see how it ended!

I loved the book. It kept me engaged & it was very hard to put down! I always appreciate aome good twists & turns and I wasn't disappointed!

One of the reasons I enjoy Katherine Reay's books so much is that they challenge me to read "outside the box", so to speak...reading books & genres I might not automatically choose.

Thank you to Netgalley & the Publisher for the ARC. All opinions are my own.

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This well written, thoughtfully plotted dual timeline story of a father and a daughter will keep you reading late into the night. For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, this is a reminder of our freedoms and the ensuing protection of NATO. For this who learn about the Cold War in history class, this is eye opening and a wake up call to value democracy and our freedoms. I will be purchasing this for my high school library.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.

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This book immediately caught my eye. The cover is spot on, the author is one of my favorites, and the topic is not one I know much about. I was so excited to get my hands on a copy. I am so glad that I did. I knew nothing about the Berlin Wall. What lead up to it, who put it up, and the big questions...why? I am going to age myself and say that I remember President Regan saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." After The Berlin Letter, I am a little bit clearer on the topic, as usual I am still craving more knowledge. This book is phenomenal. You can feel the history oozing out of the pages and through the cover. I feel in love with the characters and the way in which Katherine Reay develops them, made me tear through the pages. I love a book that circles around a family and their complex histories. This one blew me away.

Luisa Voekler has led an astonishing life already. Born in Berlin, German during a volatile time. Luisa and her mother, Monika visit her grandparents. Easily making their way between east and west Berlin. This all changes in a blink of an eye. Overnight a wall is erected and no one can pass. Keeping families, friends, businesses, everything separate. Monika has a gut feeling to throw young Luisa over the wall and into her father's waiting arms. He catches her and makes his way away from the police and from Monika's watchful eye. Did she make the right decision? The book is told in a dual timeline when the wall is erected and until a few days before it comes down. Luisa is now a CIA Code Breaker. Thanks to her grandfather's entertaining codes that he always sets up for Luisa on special occasions. He always kept her on her toes, thinking, learning, and looking for differences in the most minuscule ways. When one of her coworkers brings her a stack of letters to help her break the code. Luisa has a feeling that she has seen that infinity symbol before. Could these letters somehow be connected to her grandfather? As Luisa digs deeper into her grandfather's past. She is met with a realization that her life and what she was told was not what happened. She is left with more questions, than answers. She decides the only way to move forward, is to go back to where it all started...Berlin.

I was completely absorbed and enraptured by this story from the beginning. Code breaking, spies, the Berlin Wall, all of it. I have not read much about this time and I am now determined to find more books centering around this moment in history. Thank you to Katherine Reay and Harper Muse for this phenomenal read!

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Another captivating, compelling historical novel from Katherine Reay! I love everything I read by her and The Berlin Letters is a fascinating addition to her fantastic body of work. Reay tells her story with poignant details and incredible heart. I was engrossed in the story and the fate of these characters.

The Cold War Berlin setting was incredibly fascinating as I learned so much about post-WWII Germany and the Berlin Wall. Getting a glimpse of life behind the Iron Curtain was so interesting. Learning about how the world worked in East Berlin was so intriguing. People thought differently, accepted things differently, revolted differently, and fought for freedom. I came to this book with my American experience and the German and Soviet experience surprised me. The way the wall came up so quickly was surprising. I couldn't believe they had collected so much barbed wire! Then I found it fascinating how the Party controlled the news, the border, peoples jobs and homes, churches -- everything. But that control couldn't hold forever. The ending was the most compelling part of the novel as the wall comes down and the world changes forever.

I loved the dual perspectives in this novel giving us the story from different times. The letters that Luisa reads were clever and intriguing. The codes were even more compelling. We read Luisa's grown up perspective in 1989 and Haris', her father, perspective through the 1960s-1980s. I appreciated the similarities between their voices and also how they both change and grow through their stories. Haris is absolutely fascinating because of his growth. He begins the novel a very different man than who he becomes at the end. Seeing his opinions of the party and their platforms shift was an intriguing journey. I also enjoying getting to know him and Luisa better through their shared perspectives. They both are surprised by the secrets they discover and their abilities to create and decipher codes were impressive. I love their reunion at the end and the ways they experience such a poignant moment in history together.

The storytelling is exquisite as Reay creates a compelling and vibrant story. Although I have not yet visited Berlin, I was transported there though Reay's writing. I could see the creation of the wall and the many additions to it's intensity. I could see the abandoned churches, the sterile block housing, the dying trees, the simple apartments and sophisticated Stasi center. I also felt the emotions of the people -- the fear, the anger, the determination, the courage, the strength, and the overwhelm. Reay so expertly balances the experiences of the masses with the experiences of individuals. In many ways, Reay puts us at the center of the conflict and I was impressed by how much I felt I understood this time in history after reading The Berlin Letters.

Another absolutely fantastic novel from Katherine Reay. The characters are complex and endearing. The storytelling is fantastic. And the historical moment is unlike any other. I was fascinated by all I learned in this novel and grateful for Reay's many notes and sources that she mentions at the end of the book. A must read for anyone interested in understanding the Berlin War years and anyone who appreciates a compelling story showcasing the best of the human spirit during a unique time in world history.

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Wow. Just wow. This book sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. I was a teenager in the 80s and grew up during the later years of the Cold War. This book took me back to that time period and all the things that I’ve heard and read about happening in Berlin came to life in its pages. It has it all— secrets, intrigue, healing, hope. Can’t recommend it enough.

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****Publishing March 5, 2024****

From the writing to the characters to the story, this book will captivate you from the start!

In Katherine Reay’s latest book, The Berlin Letters, this dual timeline book is from the point of view of Luisa parents, during the era of the Berlin Wall and Luisa during the end of the Cold War in 1989. Luisa is a CIA code breaker, and she is assigned to the Berlin Letters Project where she makes discoveries about her own mother and father, whom she never really knew, since she was raised by her grandparents. She even finds matching letters written by her father and grandfather at her grandmother’s house where she lives. When she learns her father is alive and in prison, can she save him in time? How will she react? What will she discover? How will this change her life?

Katherine Reay is one of my favorite authors because you can tell she meticulously researches her books, which turns into a fascinating and well told story that is informative and entertaining! Katherine Reay perfectly captures the emotions and hardships of the time period. If you love Historical Fiction, then this is one to add to your TBR list!

Thanks to Harper Muse, I was provided an ARC of The Berlin Letters by Katherine Reay via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. #NetGalley #TheBerlinLetters

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"I have found over the years that I fare better being surprised by hope rather than being fooled by reality."

I've unwittingly taken a hiatus from Katherine Reay's books and am so glad that I'm back to reading them again. Katherine Reay has a magical way of transporting the reader to wherever and whenever her characters are. The "past" component of the beautiful story starts in 1961 East Berlin and quickly makes its way to 1989. The "present" component of the plot takes place in one week of November 1989. The past is narrated in third person whereas the present is in first person and I loved how Haris and Luisa's voices mingled together to create a rich and complex tale of sacrifice, loss, regret, betrayal, secrets, and power of love.
I had not given much thought previously to how East Berlin functioned after WWII and during the Cold War years. The vivid descriptions of the conditions were eye-opening and heart-breaking. The codebreaking was truly fascinating and I loved how Luisa's mind worked. How the past collided into the present in the end was masterfully done and I'm still mulling over the details of the story a week after I've finished it.

It's an adrenaline and intrigue-infused race against time to find the truth and save a life - a fast-paced historical fiction that will have you thinking about the Berlin Wall in a new way. I received a complimentary copy courtesy of Harper Muse via NetGalley and was under no obligation to post a positive comment. All opinions are my own.

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A compelling and gripping story about the hardships of living in East Berlin during the Cold War and the measures that the Stasi took to keep the people suppressed and surveilled. One daughter's perseverance to save her father from a lifetime in prison goes above any concern for her own survival. This is a must read.

"I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own."

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The Berlin Letters by Katherine Reay is such a fascinating read. The author does such a wonderful job of writing about the Iron Curtain and The Cold War. I think this is her best book so far. The characters are well developed and makes the story totally engrossing. I learned so much about this period of time in history. This is a fast paced spy story that will stay with you long after you are finished reading it.

The story is about Luisa and her family, who get separated when the Berlin Wall is erected, their struggles and how they cope to survive. It shows how opinions we thought to be true can change over time. This book will keep you on your toes until the very end. The story will evokes many emotions in the reader from hatred, sadness to joy and even love. I would highly recommend this book to everyone. One of my favourite reads.

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Muse for an advanced copy of this book.

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Such an amazing book. Totally engrossing novel set in East Berlin and Washington DC during the Cold War era of the 1960s, 70, and 80s.. I was completely caught up in the story of Luisa and her family, all victims of the Soviet domination of East Berlin during that time. So well written and researched, I would have read 24/7 if I had been able to. It’s a different view of an era I remember very well but did not fully understand. Highly recommended—my first five-star book of this year.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


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Terrific story based on real history! A page turner, especially towards the end as the tension escalates and lives are at stake. History buffs and fans of spy stories will want to grab this one.

Covering the Cold War era in Berlin from 1961, when the Berlin Wall was erected, to its demise in 1989, it brought back memories from news stories of the time, with names of political leaders and events that rocked the world. A good look at the effects of strict communism on the culture and lives of people under its control.
Well-written and researched, perfectly paced, with just a touch of clean romantic interest towards the end. Highly recommend!
5 stars!

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I read a lot of historical fiction but this period of time and set in East Berlin is new to me and I loved it. Katherine Reay managed to evoke the terror and confusion of Berliners the day the wall went up. It is extraordinary how the GDR managed to project manage that task so quietly! The image of the little boy trapped on the wrong side from his parents will stay with me for a long time.
I always love a dual timeline and thought she did a great job of giving them a distinct voice. The history felt part of the narrative rather than added information which can happen when an author needs to include all their research and lose the story.
And I really liked that this book wasn’t bogged down in romantic love. This was about the love a father has for his daughter, and family love that becomes distorted by the past. It shows the reality of how hard it is to move forward from such trauma and how that impacts the next generation.
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.

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Katherine Reay whisks to life behind the wall. Compelling, heart wrenching, humbling, leaves you that much more thankful for freedom.

A special thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the honor of reading an ARC.

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This book is a history lesson masterfully encased in a top-notch spy thriller. The story is told in a dual timeline. Haris Voekler's story begins in 1961 Berlin with the construction of the Berlin Wall. Luisa Voekler's story begins in 1989 in Washington D.C. I was hooked from the first page. The secrets, lies, snitches, secret codes, and tension of living in East Berlin under the watchful of the Stasi kept me reading way past my bedtime.

Katherine Reay is a new author to me. While I am waiting for next book, I will definitely check out her backlist. Thank you, Harper Muse and Net Galley for the advanced copy of this book.

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Excellent!!! I could not put it down. The Berlin Letters is a fantastic story of family, of separation, of secrets, a story of codebreakers and spies, of living in Berlin during the years when the Berlin Wall was up, a story of courage, hope, resourcefulness, with a dash of romance. I cannot recommend this story enough. It has everything I love reading about.

Side note-there is one real world event from 1981 that has a bombshell secret revealed about it that left me speechless. I was dumbfounded. I immediately googled it and sure enough, found the same facts that the author so flawlessly wrote about. I had not known! This is why I love historical fiction. Had I been able to learn history through story in high school, I would have learned so much more!

Thank you to Harper Muse and Net Galley for allowing me to read an early ecopy. All opinions are my own. I can't wait for my own copy to arrive for my keeper shelf.

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The story of a family torn apart by the Soviet policies in East Berlin and the building of the wall between East and West Berlin. Luisa was smuggled out the day the wall went up, and was always told her parents were dead and raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather teaches her cryptology through games because he has his own secret life. Her journalist father is behind the wall, dealing with its oppressive policies, and longs to make contact with his daughter and the world.

What is not spoken between the members of this family becomes huge walls, separating them from truth and true contact. All the walls, both the mental and the physical are finally breached together.

The history of the wall, the culture of East Berlin behind the wall is detailed and really interesting. Great blend of history and story.

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Reading <i>The Berlin Letters</i> was like reading a historical novel and a mystery/suspense novel all in one. Honestly, it kind of reminded me of <i>The DaVinci Code</i>! The story takes place over two timelines that ended up merging into one by the end of the book. It's a story of a young girl, Luisa, who was born in Berlin just before the wall went up. Through a series of events, she ends up escaping just in time and being raised by her grandparents in the United States. Now as an adult, her career and her grandfather's recent death play a role in opening a Pandora's box of secrets, codes, and mystery that ultimately lead to a wild adventure back in Berlin in 1989.

This historical fiction is an interesting look at a period and events in history and how those on both sides not only interpreted the events as they were happening, but also came to see how they impacted people on a grander scale and what they meant for society and the human race as a whole. A fascinating and exciting read!

Thank you to Harper Muse and NetGalley for the ARC.

Publish Date: March 4, 2024

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I almost didn’t read this book and I’m so thankful I did. I knew very little about East and West Berlin. This story is told from the perspective of Luisa and her Dad, Haris. The timelines and perspectives are easy to follow. The story begins prior to the Wall going up. It was shocking that the segregation and barbed wire went up over night. I had no idea. Luisa is about 3 or 4 at this time. Her grandparents and Aunt had already moved to West Berlin. Overnight, they were cut off from their other daughter, granddaughter and son in law. Haris comes to have several regrets as his eyes are opened. There was so much snitching and betrayal by West Berliners. It might have even been worse than during the Holocaust. The CIA becomes involved, I won’t reveal more than that. The story takes us through the night the Wall was opened. This was well written and quite emotional. Made me cry. I enjoyed all the characters and the plot. Highly recommend. I was blessed with a free advance reader copy, and I am submitting my review voluntarily. Looking forward to more by this author.

In my opinion, this would make a great selection for a book club, that loves history, and intrigue. Outstanding questions at the end to guide a book club.

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It’s weird to read about historical fiction events that you remember. I was a kid when the Berlin Wall came down and, at the time, I didn’t understand its significance. While I’ve read other Cold War novels, this is the first I’ve read that took place in East and West Germany. The dual narrative grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go. The characters and the plot were well-developed with just enough mystery to keep me reading. It was truly hard to put down! This may be my favorite Katherine Reay book.

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Another winning piece of historical fiction from Katherine Reay! Set during the cold war we meet Luisa Voekler who was raised by grandparents who immigrated from Germany and now works for the CIA. In the 1960s, we meet Luisa’s father Haris, living in East Germany behind the Berlin Wall. The tension and fear in Haris’s everyday life was palpable. I learned so much about that time period through Haris.

I can remember President Reagan’s “Mr Gorbachev, bring down the Wall” speech but I knew very little about what life was actually like in East Berlin. I loved seeing references to the attempted Reagan assassination and learned how it impacted Soviet aggression toward uprisings in Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Highly recommend this to historical fiction readers and anyone who loves world history.

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Book description: “Near the end of the Cold War, a CIA code-breaker discovers a symbol she recognizes from her childhood, which launches her across the world to the heart of Berlin just before the wall comes tumbling down.”

This is my first read by Katherine Reay, and my first historical fiction about the Berlin wall. I knew nothing about the Berlin Wall other than that famous quote from President Reagan, and I found it fascinating and very sad. I love how she put the story together and will look for more books by Reay.

The story alternates between Luisa, a CIA Cryptographer, and Harris, her German father living in East Berlin. Luisa grew up in the United States with her grandparents and was told that her parents had died in Germany when she was a baby. However, while working she finds letters that seem familiar to her, which leads her to hunt for more information. As she reads through the letters she unravels the truth about her family.

The rescue at the end seemed a little unrealistic, but I really enjoyed this book and finished it quickly!

My thanks to Harper Muse and NetGalley for this ARC.
#TheBerlinLetters #NetGalley

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Thank you AustenprosePR and HarperMuse for my advance copy via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.

Luisa Voekler has always loved solving puzzles, and her dream was to one day become a field agent at the CIA. But ever since she was yanked from training for no discernable reason and assigned a desk job in budgeting, she has felt like a failure. Even being moved to a covert code-breaking team wasn't enough to make her feel worthy. But when, in 1989, she stumbles on a secret cache of letters written by the father she thought died when she was little, she starts to unravel a twisted skein of secrets and lies that takes her on her first international trip, and to the dangerous heart of East Berlin.

This dual-point-of-view historical spy thriller was immediately gripping and tragic. From the moment that Luisa is handed to her grandparents to the final heart-stopping finale, I was hooked. Seeing the entire length of the Cold War both from the experience of a journalist within the German Democratic Republic and then from the epiphanies of his daughter, a 1980's CIA codebreaker gave the story a broad perspective. I learned so much about the achievements of women working on deciphering Nazi and then Soviet codes (Verona I & 2), the groundbreaking and dissent of East German punk music, and the volatility of East Berlin throughout the 20th Century. The narrative had clear imagery, a sense of place, and vivid (often conflicting) emotions, including loss and hope. I can't help thinking that this would be a fantastic movie!

Triggers: child separation, the horrors that were World War II and the repression in East Germany (death, torture, kidnapping, rape, manipulation, etc.)

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I loved this book. Growing up during the Cold War, so much of the content of this story unfolded in front of my eyes but this book gave me a whole new perspective. It was clearly well researched and just so well executed.

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1989 and the Berlin Wall-we saw it fall on television but what was going on behind the scenes ? Spies and Secrets and Intrigue abound!
This story tells you about one family living in Berlin in 1961 and what happens to them when the wall goes up and their family is separated for decades. The protagonist is Luisa, who is now working for the CIA in the 1980s, but was thrown over the barbed wire fencing by her mother to her grandparents to keep her safe in 1961. Luisa finds a secret cache of letters between her father, who stayed in East Berlin, to her grandfather, who lived with the family in Washington, DC. Being trained her who life to solve puzzles and ciphers by her grandfather, she figures out the secret messages that were sent from her father. Her grandfather passed those secrets behind the Wall to a newspaper reporter in DC. The intrigue continues with a clandestine trip to East Berlin as Luisa desperately tries to find and save her father.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story as it unraveled the secrets of that tumultuous time in Berlin's history. Luisa was portrayed as a brave, bright young woman who had to deal with family secrets and I was rooting for her success. This book gives you some context and personal connection to the Berlin Wall and the history surrounding it. If you are looking for more recent historical fiction, I recommend this one!
Thank you Harper Muse and Net Galley for a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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I absolutely adored Katherine Reay's newest novel, The Berlin Letters! This book was gripping, engaging, and so well written. Told in dual timelines, this is the story of a father and a daughter, and a family as a whole, whose lives are transformed by the Cold War. The author must have spent a ridiculous amount of time researching this novel - the level of details given to life in East Germany in the 1960s-1980s, as well as life in the States in 1989. it was heartbreaking reading about how families were torn apart thanks to the Berlin Wall...and with the wall coming down during my lifetime (I was 4!), it is amazing how much things have changed. I really liked Luisa as a character - she was so driven, so committed to her family, so smart. What a strong woman and you couldn't help but root for her. My only complaint (even though I LOVED this book) was that everything tied up so nicely and her career path just happened to put her in a place where she could engage in a dramatic conclusion. But what is a novel without some coincidences. :)

Highly recommend this book!

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for this eARC. All opinions are my own.

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