Midnight Train to Prague by Carol Windley

Midnight Train to Prague Book Cover Midnight Train to Prague
Carol Windley
Historical Fiction
HarperCollins Publishers
April 14, 2020
Kindle E-book
352

In 1927, as Natalia Faber travels from Berlin to Prague with her mother, their train is delayed in Saxon Switzerland. In the brief time the train is idle, Natalia learns the truth about her father and meets a remarkable woman named Dr. Magdalena Schaefferová, whose family will become a significant part of her future.

Shaken by these events, Natalia arrives at a spa on the shore of Lake Hevíz in Hungary. Here, she meets the journalist and writer Miklós Count Andorján. In time, they will marry, and Natalia will devote herself to life on a rural estate in Hungary.

When war breaks out in Europe, Natalia loses contact with Miklós. She believes they are to meet in Prague, a city under Nazi occupation. She sets up shop as a fortune teller with a pack of Tarot cards. In this guise, she meets Magdalena Schaefferová’s young daughter, Anna. Accused by the Nazis of spying, Natalia is sent to a concentration camp. In April 1945, Natalia and Anna are reunited, and with courage and determination, find the strength to begin again in a changed world.

From Peace, through War, and Back Again

The study of history is one of my true loves in life. It doesn’t matter if the focus is social, political, economic, or military…I’ll take it all! Naturally then, I always jump at the chance to review historical fiction books, particularly those set in war-time. On this particular occasion, as I took on Midnight Train to Prague, I was even more intrigued than usual since the story is set mostly in Eastern Europe (Hungary, and Czechoslovakia specifically), which is a departure from the WWII based novels I usually choose, focusing on American, British, or French characters. The main character, Natalia, is a wealthy German girl who finds herself married to a Hungarian count, and through the lens of her experiences, Carol Windley does indeed offer up a story that documents a side of Nazi brutality, and the barbaritySee the source image of the conquering Russian Army, that is not usually covered in WWII novels (more on that in a minute).

Before I get to the real substance of my review, I want to offer up my main critique: the writing style takes some getting used to! There are many long descriptions (not necessarily bad, but easy to get bogged down in), and because the dialogue is very matter-of-fact, sometimes characters’ musings seem to run together. This bothered me for about the first 30% of the book, but from there it was smooth sailing, as I became more invested in the characters, and as the story started to pick up the pace.

Now that I have that out of the way, let me tell you why I think this book is a worthy investment of time for lovers of historical fiction. Carole Windley doesn’t shy away from describing Nazi atrocities, and I See the source imagethink that is important, even in works of fiction. Any time you read about WWII, there should be a certain level of discomfort; it’s not all about grand Allied victories! In this case, not only does the book discuss the Nuremburg laws and how European Jews were affected by them, but it touches on the treatment of Hungary’s Sinti people, on the “Germanization” of Czech girls with “Aryan traits”, on the rape and savagery  practiced in Berlin and other German-controlled areas by the conquering Russian Army, and even on how diabolical American and British bombings were in employing incendiary weapons. Finally, one of the most chilling moments of the books takes place when an SS officer describes mass killing tactics used by the Einsatzgruppen battalions to an adolescent girl, while she is on vacation with her family.

But its not all about the grim realities associated with living in war-time Europe. The book begins with a sweet, if understated love story, bringing together Natalia and the count. This love endures through uncertainty and separation caused by the war, that at times is nothing short of tragic. It shows the kindness and solidarity that people find in having a common enemy like the Nazis, and reminds us of the good work down by the Allied nations after the war was over, to help those who had been victims of the concentration camp system. And for my “Happily Ever After” crowd, there’s quite a bit of satisfaction to be had, if you hang on through the grim moments! All in all, this is a good, quick read.

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