The setting is Poland; the year, 1944. Alfred Mendl and his family are brought on a crowded train to a Nazi concentration camp after being caught trying to flee Paris with forged papers. His family is torn away from him on arrival, his life’s work burned before his eyes. To the guards, he is just another prisoner, but in fact Mendl, a renowned physicist, holds knowledge that only two people in the world possess. The other is already at work for the Nazi war machine.

Four thousand miles away in Washington, DC, Intelligence Lieutenant Nathan Blum routinely decodes messages from occupied Poland. Having escaped the Krakow ghetto as a teenager after the Nazis executed his family, Nathan longs to do more for his new country in the war. But never did he expect the proposal he receives from “Wild” Bill Donovan, head of the OSS: to sneak into the most guarded place on earth, a living hell, on a mission to find and escape with one man, the one man the Allies believe can ensure them victory in the war.

I have read both fiction and nonfiction accounts of World War II and the Holocaust as well as the race for the United States to make an atomic bomb ahead of Nazi Germany. However, I have never read an account with a storyline anything like this book. It takes us through the war, showing the reader the cruel life of the Jewish ghettos, a trip inside a train car whose destination is a concentration camp, life in that very concentration camp, and much more. We feel the brutality of the Nazi regime as we read about atrocities committed.

Nathan is real to the reader as well as Dr. Mendl. One of the characters, Leo, was a bit of a reach for me but it did not detract from the book and he was historically a part of this story. Though the book is fiction because the author did take liberties with the characters, there is historical evidence that this actually happened and the characters in the book were real to this time period and our war effort. The Epilogue assures us of this.

With believable characters and tense story lines, this historical thriller from New York Times bestseller Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting book with a series of twists and turns that take the reader through a landscape of World War II and the Holocaust. While it was at times difficult to read because of the true content, I was unable to stop reading as I needed to know the outcome.

The Yankton Community Library has many books by Andrew Gross, including the ones he co-authored with James Patterson. You’ll find the books in multiple formats for either your reading or listening pleasure.