Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review - Pocket of Guilt by Dora Lee Thompson

Last year I met a man who had celebrated his 100th birthday. His life story was amazing. In fact, he'd written his autobiography. I felt very privileged to read it.

At one time in his life, my friend served a mission for our Church in Germany during the late 1930s. While serving there, he and his companion were invited to a rally. They arrived late. The place was packed, but there were a few seats on the stage, so he and his companion sat there. When Adolf Hitler walked in, my friend was shocked and amazed. At the time no one knew what Hitler would later do or the misery he would cause the world, but this was an event my elderly friend would long remember. My friend passed away last March. He'd led a very full life. What does this have to do with the novel, Pocket of Guilt? As I read this book, my thoughts often went back to my elderly friend and what he'd witnessed. This novel gives you a peek into that time era and a little of the German perspective, just like my friend's autobiography did for me.

Here is the back liner of the book.

The Schulz family, all members of the Mormon church, is trying to survive in Germany, during WWII. When Hitler invades Poland and the war officially begins, the family is quickly feeling its strains, as they have less and less food to eat. Anna Schulz often stands in line for hours, only to find the market shelves empty. This becomes the least of her worries though, when one by one, the men of the Schulz family head off to defend their country.

The story follows Dieter, the middle son, just ten years old when the war begins, as he learns to cope with the war around him. Read about his stubborn streak and spontaneity, and how it gets him into trouble, how he defies Hitler's law by giving aid to a Jew and subsequently finds himself in the biggest trouble of his life, and what happens when he has to decide between loyalty and love. Will Dieter ever be able to forgive himself for all the things he has had to do to survive the war, or will he have to live with his guilt forever?

My review:

Dora Lee Thompson has done a terrific job in her research for this novel. The reader learns about Hitler's Youth Camps, how tough it was to grow up during that time, and how, from day to day, families didn't know if they'd ever see their loved ones again. I felt the fear of air raids, the worry of providing food for loved ones, and the love of family ties as I read about the Schulz family and what they lived through. War is ugly and horrible no matter what side you're on. It causes ordinary people to do heroic things and sometimes to do shameful things in order to feed their families and stay alive. Those who maintain their honor are to be admired. And for those who stumble and fall, only a merciful Father in Heaven should be their judge.

This is an amazing story. Were there parts that bothered me? No story is without flaws. As an author, I am especially aware of certain story aspects. For me, there were several info dumps that slowed the pace, in some places point of view was mixed, and at times, I felt frustrated because the author missed great opportunities to show the inner turmoil of her characters. The outer conflict was terrific.  Homes were being destroyed and lives interrupted, men were being sent to serve in a war they didn't believe in and didn't want to fight. Their freedoms were stolen. Now that's strong outer conflict. But I missed deep, inner conflict to parallel the horrors of that horrible war.

Pocket of Guilt spans many years, 1939 to 1950. The focus is the Schulz family and how they survived during this trying time. However, the book felt rushed through key moments in history. I would have preferred a longer book so I could see more inner turmoil of the main characters as they witnessed the rise and fall of a dictator.

In the back of the book is a nice chronology of the Jewish Persecution in Germany that shows year by year how Hitler rose to power and persecuted the Jews. Also in the back of the book Thompson has provided notes on key chapters and Internet links where you can go to learn more about this time in history.

I think my elderly friend would have liked this book very much. I only wish he were alive so I could share it with him.

(I received a free copy of this book, which did not influence my review.)


  1. Great review! Thanks for stopping by my blog and I look forward to visiting here often!

  2. I don't know why but I love books about WWII. Great review, Kathi!

  3. It sounds like a wonderful read. Something that would make you take a good look at yourself and ask, "What would I do for my family?"

  4. Laura,
    I love books set during WWII, too. War stories make me realize how good we have it today. So many suffered incredible cruelty. I'm grateful for those who gave their lives to keep others free.

  5. Natalie,
    I'm glad you liked the review. Stop by any time. :)

  6. Christina,
    You're right. I was thinking just that as I read what some were forced to do to feed their families. I hope I never have to find out what I'd do.

  7. Great post, Kathi! I have a soft spot for WWII Veterans/heros too. My Grandad is an English WWII Vet. :) I'm writing a mg novel based on that time period and revising a pb on the same period...

  8. Sharon,
    WWII was quite the period in time with so much happening. My father made torpedoes during that war. Oh the stories he could tell. Good luck with your novel. Can't wait to read it.



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