Hon­est Deceptions

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

At the begin­ning of World War II, two Ger­man med­ical stu­dents and their fam­i­lies devel­op a close friend­ship. One of those fam­i­lies is Jew­ish. Hav­ing grasped the dan­ger they face if they remain in Ger­many, the Bren­ners book pas­sage on a ship sail­ing for Amer­i­ca. They spend their last night in the home of their friends, the Mein­hoffs. That evening their son becomes ill and Mar­tin Bren­ner insists that his wife and daugh­ter leave with­out him, assur­ing them that he will sail as soon as the small boy is well enough to trav­el. He’s unable to keep that promise and, despite many attempts over the years, Claire Bren­ner is nev­er able to deter­mine what hap­pened to the hus­band and son she left behind. 

Skip­ping for­ward twen­ty-four years, Claire Bren­ner has died and her daugh­ter, Mar­got, has just fin­ished med­ical school. She arranges a trip to Ger­many and, before her depar­ture she con­tacts her parent’s old friend, Dr. Willibald Mein­hoff, hop­ing that he’ll be able to pro­vide some infor­ma­tion relat­ed to the fate of her father and broth­er. Although he appears far from enthu­si­as­tic about her arrival, she moves for­ward with her plans, even going so far as to check into a pos­si­ble intern­ship at the hos­pi­tal where Meinhoff’s son Willie is also in train­ing. There is a last minute can­cel­la­tion in that intern­ship pro­gram and she is accept­ed. Willie wel­comes her warm­ly, but his father ap­pears increas­ing­ly uneasy about her attempts to dig into the past. 

As the sto­ry con­tin­ues to move back and forth in time, a dark secret is uncov­ered, but, ini­tial­ly, only for the read­er. Mar­got Brenner’s search con­tin­ues. Rather than issue a spoil­er alert, I will only say that the nov­el deals with the heart­break­ing­ly dif­fi­cult choic­es that indi­vid­u­als were forced to make dur­ing those hor­rif­ic times and the com­plex ways in which those choic­es altered the lives of lat­er generations.

Relat­ed Content:

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions