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Which Way Now?

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Which Way Now?
  • by Chris Rahn
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Fiction Series
      • First Edition 2013
      • 360 6x9-inch pages
Internment in America—over four-hundred thousand Germans were imprisoned behind barbed wire in five hundred prisoner-of-war camps across the United States during World War II.
     Which Way Now? is the story of Wilhelm Schmidt, a young diplomat stationed at the German consulate in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time America is joining the war. Pressured into spying for his homeland, his efforts land him in a labor camp for captured German soldiers. Sent to work on a local farm, he falls in love with Laura Wojtek, a young woman whose fiancé is a pilot in the U.S. Army. Wilhelm’s and Laura’s journey to war’s end is fraught with conflicted loyalties, ill-fated love, and eventual reconciliation.


I considered purchasing this novel as I have had German cousins who were in Russian Prisons after World War II as they had the misfortune of being sent to the Russian Front and, after I saw a History Channel Program interviewing former German prisoners of war who were imprisoned here, I was interested in reading material, even if it was fiction. I think there might be a dearth of biographies regarding this time frame, so even a fictional account gives flavor to the experience. The author did a great deal of research and it shows in her writing. The ending leaves the reader to decide what should occur. This would be a good book for someone who is in high school studying World War II to get an idea of the impact of prisoner-of-war camps on the United States. As a side note, I have been told by a coworker that German POWs constructed many of the runways in service at Bradley Field in Connecticut. —Elizabeth Dobbins
Which Way Now? is a marvelous little novel. In many ways, it is downright Zhivagoesque: profound ideological conflict and turmoil, personal crises of life-changing proportions, star-crossed lovers, subtle political intrigue, deprivations, injustices, cruelties, and tragedies of wartime, surprising twists and turns, and even a bit of thrilling fast action worthy of a sequence in a Jason Bourne movie. It is a thoroughly gripping read and I highly recommend it. The story takes off from the little known fact that, during WWII, large numbers of German prisoners of war were interned in POW camps throughout the US mainland, including the quiet and bucolic environs of a small town in south-central Minnesota. It was my having learned of its being set in that particular location that led me to pick this book up in the first place; I grew up in that area and am familiar with the specific locales depicted. (Somewhere in a shoebox of old family photos, there is a picture of me as a toddler actually sitting on the lap of a German POW who was helping with the work on my grandfather's farm.) These personal connections aside, I soon found myself carried away by the compelling nature of the story in its own right and by the absolutely outstanding literary craftsmanship of its teller. Chris Rahn is a talented writer whose artful descriptions of people, places, and times take you there and then. One comes to genuinely care about the two main characters and to empathize with them in the impossible predicament their time and place has imposed upon them. All in all, an extremely satisfying intellectual and emotional reading experience. —Gail B. Peterson
Really interesting view of a German who had no interest in Hitler or being a Nazi. His heritage and employment in the U.S. With Embassy work made him automatically guilty by U.S. Individuals and a target of abuse from fellow German inmates. —Anonymous
It was interesting. I didn't know there were interment camps for Germans during WW 2. The writing was okay, the story line moved well. I was surprised that I liked it. —Anonymous
Such a great snapshot of a part of WWII that we never knew about. Even though I'm from Minnesota, and very familiar with the area, I didn't know about this camp. Thank you for preserving a piece of history! —Wink S.
"I couldn't put this book down!" Truly, I could not. And this is my highest regard for any book. I was immediately engaged by the characters and the dilemmas of impending war with inevitable suspicion and persecution; people are suddenly different by virtue of the necessity of lining up on multiple sides in World War II.
     WHICH WAY NOW? is a novel of 400 pages that explores the war years in the Midwest, 1941 to 1945. Growing up in Missouri, I had no clue about prisoner-of-war camps in Southern Minnesota. I expect no one was talking about the camps. In this sense, the narrative is revealing and shocking. The main characters in the book are presented with generosity and detailed clarity. Readers will rush to the end, after numerous twists and turns, to determine the outcome.
     Congratulations to Rahn who has presented a little explored chapter in American and German history. It would be a pleasure to see this fine novel reproduced as a movie. As I read, I quickly imagined images on the screen. The story is rich with images of life and death as well as time and place. The book is an intellectual pleasure. Thank you! —Judy Schaefer
I felt like I was back in the 1940's during World War II while reading this book. The descriptions of the dress, the food, the shortages, and the entertainment was in the background but set the scene so perfectly. Born in 1953, I have no first hand knowledge of WWII and learned a tremendous amount about how it was to live during that time. The story unfolded beautifully and I came to really care for the characters. The descriptions of the German POW camp and the aggressive Nazi influence made me realize how ruthless they could be. I loved how the book ended, but was sad to have it end. In my mind, that is the sign of a great book. —Gail Frare
A friend gave me this book because we are both from Minnesota. Initially, I thought the book looked too long, and I didn't even want to begin. But after actually beginning to read, I was hooked. The author is a wonderful story-teller. Her characters are well developed and interesting. Her topic is barely known about by Minnesota natives, but it is significant in that our nation's enemies were brought by the thousands to be imprisoned in out of the way rural areas. The author entertains us with her creative story, teaches us history worthy of knowing, and imparts a wise philosophy of life. I enjoyed reading this book very much. —Paul S. Lundberg
Which Way Now provides a fascinating look at some aspects of World War II rarely, if ever dealt with in fiction: the life and treatment of German prisoners of war in this country, their impact on communities where the camps were located, and the imprint of war generally on rural life. Chris Rahn's research is meticulous and exhaustive, which adds considerable interest. But that would be for naught without the interesting, sympathetic and conflicted characters that populate the story and shed light on the complexities of war.
     Wilhelm Schmidt is an imprisoned young German consulate bureaucrat who develops doubts about the Reich and tries to distinguish himself from the fellow POW soldiers in the camp. As a result he receives harsh treatment from both American officials and his fellow inmates that eventually puts his life in danger.
     Laura Wojtek is an attractive, resourceful, hard working farm girl and recent high school graduate. She lives with her widowed father and her brother who is eager to enlist and fight the Axis. Laura is faced with managing a household, scarcity of basic necessities, rationing of food and gasoline and the loneliness of missing her brother and sweetheart thousands of miles distant in harm's way.
     The crossing of Laura and Wilhelm's paths highlights but one of the many dramas and ironies of the home front during times of war. I heartily recommend this lively read with entertaining twist and turns, and a new perspective on that unusual time in our history. —David Cheal

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