Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Book Review - The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy


The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy is about two lovers who were caught in the middle of World War II, and a daughter's search for the truth.  In Weimar, Germany in 1929, a group of young intellectuals gathered at a party to celebrate life. At the party, two artists meet and find themselves drawn  to each other.

Max Ehrlick is a skilled Austrian Jewish architect and Bettina Vogel is a celebrated avant-garde painter. After meeting at the party, Max and Bettina find themselves spending every moment in each others’ presence. Months later, they feel that their relationship starts to be threatened by the rising threat of the Nazis. As Bettina is a German woman and Max is a Jewish man, they are unable to marry, and have to keep their relationship under wraps. They move to Berlin hoping that they are far enough away to keep Max safe.

They moved to Dachau as life in Berlin had gotten too expensive and they were not able to afford their lifestyle any longer. They figured that Bettina would move back home with her mother and brother and Max would work at the porcelain factory to help save money. They decided that the Nazi regime’s influence had gotten too big and that they needed to escape before it became too late.

The pair decided that they saved enough money after Bettina sold some of her artwork and Max had been putting aside his wages from the factory. They agree to meet at the train station to plan their escape. Bettina patiently waits for him until late at night but Max never shows up. She finds out later that he was arrested by someone close to Bettina and was sent to a concentration camp.

As luck would have it, Max gets reassigned to work back in the factory where he was caught. Max is thankful for his stroke of luck as he managed to befriend someone in charge of the factory. He spends his day toiling away at creating elegant porcelain figures. The people in the Nazi regime love these porcelain figurines and they buy them to show loyalty to the Nazis.  Max knows that his talent is the only thing keeping him from certain death, or hard labor in the camps.

Bettina is desperate to find Max and reconnect with him. She meets with someone from their past and the pair together tries to find out where Max is. She decides to cook up a desperate plan when she finds out where Max is. Bettina is willing to risk everything to find Max and escape Germany with him.

In 1993 in America, Clara, Bettina’s daughter, travels across the country to search for the truth about her father. Her mother has kept her father’s identity a secret from Clara. Clara was never sure why Bettina thought it was important to hide her father’s identity but Clara didn’t want to upset Bettina by demanding that she tell her the truth. The only piece of the puzzle Clara has is a collection of small figurines that her mother treasured. As Clara digs further into  her mother’s past, she realizes that there is more there than her mother  was letting on.

The novel is a love story that spans across continents and decades between lovers that were torn from each other because of World War II. The book is told from alternating points of view: from Bettina in the past and Clara in the present. In the beginning, it was confusing to distinguish the change in time periods and narratives. When Clara was remembering a moment in the past with her mother, it then switched to another moment from the past and it was confusing to me. The story had mentioned conflicting information but I was also reading the uncorrected draft of the novel and perhaps this was fixed when the book is going to be published. 

It was an interesting and emotional read at times. I like reading the dual timelines and trying to figure out who Clara’s father was. Also, I  liked reading about Bettina’s and Max’s romance blossoming and then withering under the Nazi regime. I enjoyed Clara’s portion as she tries to be a dutiful daughter and respect her mother’s wishes but she wants to find out about her own past. I felt for Clara and at times, I wished she pushed Bettina a bit harder to find out the truth as I felt that it could have been a moment for the two of them to bond. I feel that the two women had a fractured relationship. Clara always seemed to be walking on eggshells around her mother and this secret was a missed opportunity to heal past trauma.  If you love epic love stories with a hint of mystery and history, then you might enjoy this book.

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