Headstrong Johanna Berglund, a linguistics student at the University of Minnesota, has very definite plans for her future . . . plans that do not include returning to her hometown and the secrets and heartaches she left behind there. But the US Army wants her to work as a translator at a nearby camp for German POWs.
Johanna arrives to find the once-sleepy town exploding with hostility. Most patriotic citizens want nothing to do with German soldiers laboring in their fields, and they’re not afraid to criticize those who work at the camp as well. When Johanna describes the trouble to her friend Peter Ito, a language instructor at a school for military intelligence officers, he encourages her to give the town that rejected her a second chance.
As Johanna interacts with the men of the camp and censors their letters home, she begins to see the prisoners in a more sympathetic light. But advocating for better treatment makes her enemies in the community, especially when charismatic German spokesman Stefan Werner begins to show interest in Johanna and her work. The longer Johanna wages her home-front battle, the more the lines between compassion and treason become blurred–and it’s no longer clear whom she can trust.
I picked up this book not knowing what to expect because it’s different to what I usually read. Things We Didn’t Say is set in Minnesota during the latter years of World War 2 (WW2). I was immediately drawn into the compelling and heartfelt story, and couldn’t put the book down.
The story is told via a series of letters in chronological order, including editorial content from the local newspaper. The opening chapter introduces Johanna and her predicament. The authorities want to charge her with treason for her role in events that took place while she worked as a translator in the prisoner of war (POW) camp in her home town in Minnesota. The story then backtracks to a year earlier and shows how Johanna landed in this situation.
I love learning about history from reading historical fiction. Being an Aussie, I’m familiar with POW camps and historic war events that took place in my part of the world during WW2. I had no idea about the WW2 history on US mainland soil, and I appreciated learning about this aspect of WW2. I recommend Things We Didn’t Say to historical fiction readers who like books that explore social, political, and other issues connected to POW camps on American soil during WW2 with a relevant faith element in the story.