I read a lot of books. Maybe not as many as some but definitely a lot. So it takes something huge to make me say “WOW!” Somehow, Cathy Gohlke ALWAYS manages to do that. Secrets She Kept is a WOW book, without a doubt. The story balances between 1938 and 1973, allowing the reader to see from both Hannah and Lieselotte’s point of view.
Hannah Sterling wants to understand her mother. A woman who never seemed to love her. A woman she never felt close to. She empathizes with her father and how he had to endure so many years in a loveless marriage. When Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte dies, Hannah needs to know what made her the kind of woman she was. Taking a trip to Germany, Hannah follows the trail of clues her mother has left her. They lead her to discover the past she never knew, the family she never knew and the secrets her mother kept. But the past has left a cruel and horrible wake of destruction and Hannah longs to fix the wrongs even at the risk of her own safety.
One of the most interesting things I discovered in this book was that even after the war had been long gone, the memories, the terror and the shame that it left in its wake, was not easily forgotten and some of the ideas weren’t refuted. “Just because we lost the war and were forced to stop doing what we did, just because the status quo openly acknowledges the immorality of inane cruelty, doesn’t mean each person’s thinking has reformed. The younger generation, maybe they see things differently. But the ones who lived through that time, who were already adults, making decisions…” (pg. 134) The story showed that the most evil of wrongdoings cannot be redeemed by anything other than Christ Himself.
Lieselotte is the daughter of a goal-driven father who cares more about rising in the Nazi party than his own flesh and blood. Determined to rid his daughter of the man she’s in love with, he takes measures to eliminate their relationship. After her own mother’s death, Lieselotte leans heavily on the surrogate family of her beloved. Bravery and stubbornness are her fueling motives and she fights against the Nazi reign, even at the risk of her own safety.
I want to tell you all about the book. I want to give you every awesome detail but to do so would ruin the story. Secrets She Kept takes you back in time. It allows you to discover Germany during WWII not only from an American Western point of view but from the Jewish point of view and from the Nazi point of view. How Ms. Gohlke manages to weave the stories in such a way, to accomplish this, is nothing short of artistry.
Here are my favorite quotes from this amazing story:
“…If America could rid herself of those races who’ve become a burden on your society, then…well, you would see that are not the only ones with a vision. We were simply the only ones with a Fuhrer made of steel.” (pg. 328) – Dr. Peterson
“My dear,” she laughed softly. “We’re all trash. Its only His love and grace, His forgiveness, that make us clean.” (Pg. 337) – Mutter Kirchmann
“And it’s only by forgiving that we can be free of that poison that would steal our life.” She held my face in her hands. “Don’t hate, my child. That’s a prison worse than Ravensbruck.” (pg. 337) – Mutter Kirchmann
“How many lives are destroyed when we do one wicked thing?” (pg. 377) Hannah Sterling
In one of the most powerful scenes, Hannah meets a woman who tells her the story of her own struggle through forgiveness and then reminds her that it’s only through Jesus that we can forgive. It’s impossible in our own strength.
Secrets She Kept is a story of finding oneself by releasing the expectations of others, along with the interpretations and perceptions we burden with their identities. It’s the story of courage to go beyond the comfortable and safe world, to dig beneath to the layer where the ugliest of human tendencies lie. It’s the story of redemption beyond the grave.
Five out of five stars is far too low. This book is a ten and beyond.
I received this book from The Book Club Network, NetGalley and Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest opinion which I’ve provided here.