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What the critics liked

Horst Krüger’s memoir, The Broken House: Growing Up Under Hitler (Bodley Head £14.99), has been described as one of the most evocative books about life in the Third Reich, says Dominic Sandbrook in The Sunday Times. It is “short, lacerating and exquisitely written”. First published in 1966 and newly translated into English, it is the story of a young man “who was neither an enthusiastic Nazi nor a committed dissenter, but simply an ordinary middle-class German”.

It is also a portrait of a “particular social stratum”: hard-working, respectable “bourgeois families” like the Krüger family, who lived in the neat Berlin suburb of Eichkamp. They were “those harmless Germans who were never Nazis and without whom the Nazis would never have been able to do their work. That’s the point.” The surge of improvements under Hitler produced a sense of exhilaration. “They were like children… simply delighted to hear how wonderful it was to be German, to see Germany becoming ever greater.”

Krüger, an idealistic philosophy student, was recruited into the resistance by a friend (“I was never a hero… I slipped into it”) and duly incarcerated by the Gestapo. On his release he joined the army, but as the Third Reich began to collapse in early 1945, he “woke up” and gave himself up to the Americans. Two decades later he travelled to the Auschwitz trials in Frankfurt, “a final chance to ‘meet the past in flesh and blood’”.

The Broken House is a book of hard-won simplicity and beautiful precision, says Oliver Moody in The Times. “Its real value, though, is its rarity.” It took “more than two decades after Hitler’s downfall for someone like Kruger to spell out what happened in plain language”. The truth was that “his family, and nearly everyone around them… had acquiesced with the passivity of the apolitical”. It never occurred to them that this acquiescence “entailed complicity”. German exiles returning to their homeland “were astonished by the public’s indifference and sense of victimhood”.

No wonder the book fell out of print for decades, says Anthony Quinn in The Observer – “the truths in it were probably too scalding for a traumatised nation to digest”. The writing “glowers from the page, sorrowful, disbelieving, chastened and yet not without hope”.

Available as an audiobook on Kobo.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’s highly anticipated debut will be “one of the biggest reads of the summer, and for good reason”, says Prudence Wade in The Independent. The Other Black Girl (Bloomsbury £14.99) is a “horror-style take on what it means to be black in America today”. Nella Rogers is a 26-year-old editorial assistant at Wagner, a New York publishing house. She thought it was her dream job, but after two years she is tired of being the only black woman in an all-white office.

The novel is a “fast-paced, vivid, thought-provoking ride”, says Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times, “skewering – often wincingly – white liberal anxieties”. When another black girl, Hazel, is hired, Nella assumes they will become office allies. But soon she feels “outshone, outmanoeuvred and then publicly humiliated by the charismatic newcomer”. Nella then discovers an anonymous note on her desk, urging her to “Leave Wagner”.

Whatever you think is happening, you are only half right, says Oyinkan Braithwaite in The New York Times. Harris’s writing “propels you forward through the story”. You may not agree with all of her opinions but you will “turn page after page after page in your eagerness to unravel this unique tale”.

Available as an audiobook on Audible.

Vintage fiction: Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Waters has written a “fabulous, fin de siècle frock of a novel”, said Mel Steel in The Independent in 1998. Tipping the Velvet is “a sexy… unstoppable read”. Set in late Victorian England, it’s the story of Nancy King, an oyster-seller’s daughter, who is transfixed when she sees cross-dressing Kitty Butler perform at the local music hall. “She walks on the stage and – she is so pretty; and her suit is so nice; and her voice is so sweet… She makes me want to smile and weep, at once… I never knew that there were girls like her.”

Nancy becomes Kitty’s dresser and a bond is formed. They perform together and become lovers, but, mindful of her career, Kitty chooses to marry her manager, Walter Bliss. Nancy’s despair leads her to prostitution and to a wealthy, manipulative widow with a liking for leather accessories. “Could this be a new genre?” wondered Steel. “The bawdy lesbian picaresque novel?”

This buoyant, accomplished first novel is an erotic and absorbing story, said Miranda Seymour in The New York Times in 1999. The “confidence and elegance” of Waters’s writing saves it from “descending into a pornographic romp”.

Available as an audiobook on Scribd.