On My Bookshelf: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

March 26, 2018

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen is historical fiction set in Berlin, Germany just as the Berlin Wall is built in 1961. Though she is only twelve, Gerta, the main character, and her brother Fritz, not much older, already have government files that will determine their fate in life. Their apartment is bugged and just looking at the wall on her way to school earns Gerta reprimand from the soldiers who guard it. Considering these conditions, it is amazing that Gerta and Fritz would even consider tunneling beneath the wall to be reunited with their father and brother. Gerta isn't fearless, but nothing can stop her from reaching her goal once she starts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: From NYT bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen comes a stunning thriller about a girl who must escape to freedom after the Berlin Wall divides her family between east and west.

With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can't help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.

But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen is historical fiction set in Berlin, Germany just as the Berlin Wall is built in 1961. Though she is only twelve, Gerta, the main character, and her brother Fritz, not much older, already have government files that will determine their fate in life. Their apartment is bugged and just looking at the wall on her way to school earns Gerta reprimand from the soldiers who guard it. Considering these conditions, it is amazing that Gerta and Fritz would even consider tunneling beneath the wall to be reunited with their father and brother. Gerta isn't fearless, but nothing can stop her from reaching her goal once she starts. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: A Night Divided is historical fiction set in Berlin, Germany just as the Berlin Wall is built in 1961. As a teenager, I visited the city and saw some of the few remaining pieces of the wall, but I had not remembered that it was built so long after World War Two ended. Seeing that date at the start of the book was startling as well as the reminder that it has been less than 30 years since the wall was torn down. It seems like something out of a dystopian novel that a wall dividing a city could go up almost overnight.

The parallels to dystopian literature don't end there. Though she is only twelve, Gerta, the main character, and her brother Fritz, not much older, already have government files that will determine their fate in life. Their apartment is bugged and just looking at the wall on her way to school earns Gerta reprimand from the soldiers who guard it. Considering these conditions, it is amazing that Gerta and Fritz would even consider tunneling beneath the wall to be reunited with their father and brother. Gerta isn't fearless, but nothing can stop her from reaching her goal once she starts.

Classroom application: The novel is appropriate for students in middle school and up. As a piece of historical fiction, it could be used in literature circle focused on the genre to compare historical events to their treatment in the novel. The novel could be paired with Between Shades of Gray to help students better understand what life was like under communist Russia during and after World War Two. Cross curricular connections could be made be by pairing the novel with a history unit on world governments or the Cold War.  Comparisons to North and South Korea and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the land strip that runs across the Korean Peninsula and serves as a buffer between North and South Korea.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of A Night Divided for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

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