Melissa Amateis grew up on a farm near Bridgeport, Nebraska. She holds a BA in history from Chadron State College and an MA in history from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). She is an editorial assistant for two academic journals at the Center for Great Plains Studies at UNL, and has authored two nonfiction books, Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland (2014) and World War II Nebraska (2020), both from The History Press.
The Stranger From Berlin by Melissa Amateis
Are you tired of living during a historic time? Me, too. I never had “pandemic” on my “events I want to experience in life” bingo card, yet here we are. Still, like all historic moments, it’s revealed good and bad things about us as human beings. And that makes for dramatic, emotional fiction.
I write novels set during the Second World War precisely because I like to explore the good and the bad of humanity. There’s plenty to choose from in this time period, but I enjoy examining lesser-known facets of it. And that’s what my debut novel, The Stranger from Berlin, is all about.
Set in a small town in Nebraska in 1943, The Stranger from Berlin features two very different main characters. Max Koenig is a history professor who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 under dubious circumstances to come to Lincoln, Nebraska, and teach at the local university. But after he’s fired from his job, he ends up in the small, insular town of Meadow Hills to translate a German diary. Here he meets Jenni Fields, a feisty war widow pregnant with another man’s child, who rails against the xenophobic nature of Meadow Hills.
What makes Meadow Hills so very unwelcoming to outsiders stems from a horrific event during the First World War. Settled by Germans, the town endured a terrible onslaught of anti-German sentiment in 1917, and as a result, they took their culture “underground.” To compensate, and to ensure they are never again targeted for their ethnicity, they have become the most patriotic town in Nebraska. Red, white, and blue colors decorate the downtown area. Songs like Bing Crosby’s “Buy Buy Bonds” play through loudspeakers. A statue of George Washington stands in the town square. No one can ever again question their loyalty to America.
So, what happens when a German, one who misses his culture, his people, his language, arrives in Meadow Hills and finds that he is regarded with deep suspicion not only because he’s a stranger, but also because he reminds them of all they’ve lost?
When the diary goes missing, and local businesses and landmarks begin to be vandalized by Nazi propaganda, everyone points the finger at Max. Only Jenni believes his innocence. But does she trust him? Why did he leave Nazi Germany? What secret is he refusing to tell her?
In this emotionally rich backdrop, I was able to explore lots of different dynamics of human nature. The bad—group think, fear, judgment, power, manipulation—and the good—kindness, redemption, empathy, love. As the past few years have shown us, none of these dynamics have gone away. But through the power of story, we can explore what it feels like to be “the other,” or the newcomer in town, or the woman standing up against the crowd to do the right thing. Historical fiction has the amazing ability to give us a window into the past, to help us understand what it might have been like to live in other historic time periods, and to ask ourselves, “What would I have done?”
I’m so excited to share The Stranger from Berlin with you. Happy reading!
The Stranger from Berlin is out NOW in eBook.
‘This intriguing and immersive novel is a real-page turner with plenty of romance and a dark mystery at its heart’ Rachel Hore, Sunday Times bestselling author of A Beautiful Spy
She doesn’t know if she can trust him. But she’s determined to save him . . .
A gripping and emotional WWII mystery with a love story at its heart, The Stranger From Berlin is perfect for fans of Suzanne Goldring and Angela Petch.