Saturday 19 December 2009

Review: Auslander by Paul Dowswell

A chilling and thought-provoking thriller about a Polish orphan's subversion of Nazi ideals

When Peter’s parents are killed, he is sent to an orphanage in Warsaw. Then German soldiers take him away to be measured and assessed. They decide that Peter is racially valuable. He is Volksdeutscher: of German blood. With his blond hair, blue eyes, and acceptably proportioned head, he looks just like the boy on the Hitler-Jugend poster. Someone important will want to adopt Peter. They do.

Professor Kaltenbach is very pleased to welcome such a fine Aryan specimen to his household. People will be envious. But Peter is not quite the specimen they think. He is forming his own ideas about what he is seeing, what he is told. Peter doesn’t want to be a Nazi, and so he is going to take a very dangerous risk. The most dangerous risk he could possibly choose to take in Berlin in 1943. (from

Auslander is a very different book compared to the books I have reviewed so far on this blog. I have the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending this to me as it is not the sort of book that I would normally have gone out and bought as it is set in 1940s Germany which isn't a period of history that I am particularly interested in when it comes to fiction (my favourite periods in history are the Tudor Period during the reign of King Henry VIII and the post-English Civil War Restoration period. The recent explosion of Steampunk novels has awakened in me an interest in the Victorian era as well.). I was 'turned off' the Second World War period due to the incredibly boring Key Stage 4 history lessons I had at school, which sadly just goes to show you the power a poor teacher has over the future interests of their pupils.

So how is this book so different from the other books I have mentioned so far? Simple..... it is far more 'real'. Readers of this blog will have worked out by now that I really like adrenalin-fuelled books with lots of action scenes - sort of like action movies on paper - but even though I can associate with characters in these books and often feel I'm living the story with them, it is still all just fantasy. Auslander is different in that whilst it has more than enough action and tension to shake a stick at, it reads like a true story. Based on the horrifying events that took place in Germany and Eastern Europe during this time, everything that happens in the story really could have happened. I just wish Mr Dowswell had been my history teacher whilst I was at school as in this book he really made these events come alive for me, and this is a must-read for any boy (or girl) studying this period in history at school.

It is a sad fact that some authors have assumed that because they are writing for younger readers then they don't have to carry out the same degree of rigorous research as they would do when writing for adults. I have lost count of the books I have read over the years that have disappointed me in this area. However, Paul Dowswell is most definitely NOT one of these authors - his research is meticulous and his descriptive writing about war-time Berlin and its people is outstanding. His development of his characters as we progress through the book, and especially that of Peter, is detailed and thorough; even his secondary characters are well-drawn, with no-one being relegated to sit all alone on the substitute bench of character development.

This book is definitely for older readers (12+) as less mature readers will, understandably, find some of the content a little disturbing. However, for young adults this will make a thought provoking introduction to the chilling atrocities carried out under Adolf Hitler's regime, and the different reactions to these of the people who lived through the period.

Auslander is published in paperback by Bloomsbury on 4th January 2010. Mr Dowswell was interviewed at the 2009 Booktrust Teenage Prize ceremony, and in thr second half of this video excerpt from youtube he discusses Auslander and the issues it explores:     


  1. I have not seen this one but I will check it out. There has been some interesting writing on this history for younger readers lately. We bought class sets of Glitzman's Once and Then for the year 7s and it turned out to be a popular choice. I ended up struggling to match demand for Glitzman's books in the library.
    Interesting comment on the power of a bad teacher, for me it was Asian History, my resident teenager is fascinated by it and yet I never recovered an interest after a particularly dull teacher.

  2. I am not surprised your students love Once and Then - another really well-written and though-provoking book

  3. Not many writers put so much time, research and consideration in to a novel of this nature. This careful attention to detail is appreciated immensely as you read along, as you not only find yourself walking the story out with the characters but also learning more about this time and place in history.

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