"An extraordinary saga." —David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
The mesmerizing account of a granddaughter's search for a World War II family history hidden for sixty years
Growing up in Paris as the daughter of a German mother and an Irish father, Svenja O'Donnell knew little of her family's German past. All she knew was that her great-grandparents, grandmother, and mother had fled their home city of Königsberg near the end of World War II, never to return. But everything changed when O'Donnell traveled to the city—now known as Kaliningrad, and a part of Russia—and called her grandmother, who uncharacteristically burst into tears. "I have so much to tell you," Inge said.
In this transporting and illuminating book, the award-winning journalist vividly reconstructs the story of Inge's life from the rise of the Nazis through the brutal postwar years, from falling in love with a man who was sent to the Eastern Front just after she became pregnant with his child, to spearheading her family's flight as the Red Army closed in, her young daughter in tow. Ultimately, O'Donnell uncovers the act of violence that separated Inge from the man she loved; a terrible secret hidden for more than six decades.
A captivating World War II saga, Inge's War is also a powerful reckoning with the meaning of German identity and inherited trauma. In retracing her grandmother's footsteps, O'Donnell not only discovers the remarkable story of a woman caught in the gears of history, but also comes face-to-face with her family's legacy of neutrality and inaction—and offers a rare glimpse into a reality too long buried by silence and shame.
About the Author
Svenja O'Donnell grew up in Paris with a German mother and an Irish father, before attending university in the United Kingdom. As Bloomberg's UK political correspondent, she was awarded the Washington-based National Press Club's Breaking News award in 2017 for her coverage of the Brexit referendum. She has travelled all over the word for assignments and has appeared on BBC, Sky News, and France 24. She holds master's degrees in English and art history from the University of Edinburgh.
Praise for Inge's War:
“Books about World War II — and there are so, so many — tend to focus on the big names . . . Less common are books about the ordinary citizen whose life was laid waste by the war — and even less common, at least in this country, are books about the ordinary German citizen . . . Through O’Donnell’s meticulous reporting and sensitive, compelling storytelling [Inge’s War] becomes the gripping story of anyone navigating life in a war zone . . . a riveting and important story, one that focuses so tightly on Inge and her family in its level of detail — physical, temporal and emotional — that it becomes universal.” —(Minneapolis) Star-Tribune
“[The] wider-lens view of German suffering offers the book’s most compelling perspective . . . [Inge’s] life is an illustration of how women will shoulder in silence the burden of sadness bred by events beyond their control.” —The Telegraph (London)
“A wartime memoir that not only charts the survival of a family but bravely examines the inherited horrors of a conflict that scarred a nation . . . O’Donnell writes with an arresting clarity and a deep empathy for the women who are ordinarily forgotten from history; the women whose lives are destroyed by the trauma of war and silenced by the peace that comes in its aftermath.” —Irish Times
“Outstanding . . . An illuminating and highly personal family memoir . . . [O’Donnell is] an honest writer, who scrupulously avoids glamorizing or exculpating her family . . . Library shelves are packed with war stories of outstanding heroism or cruelty, but few tread the path of Inge’s War . . . O’Donnell paints a portrait of millions of unseen, unrecorded citizens.”—The Herald (Glasgow)
“Svenja O’Donnell has woven together a magnificent tale that grips the reader like a novel.” —Libération (Paris)
“Vivid and meticulously researched . . . An incisive and multilayered account of family trauma, the dangers of nationalism and anti-Semitism, and the plight of refugees. This exceptional account transforms a private tragedy into a universal story of war and survival.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The author, a graceful, eloquent writer, follows a trail that sometimes takes her through deeply troubling terrain, and she amply reveals the cruelty and compassion that characterize times of war. Haunting family stories that serve as a metaphor for human suffering everywhere.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Enlightening and timely . . . This compelling testimonial details the deprivations German citizens faced during the war and reveals a dark part of Danish history . . . [It] deserves a wide audience.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A story that reads like a novel filled with fascinating history and excellent detective work.” —BookPage
“Too often the most dramatic, fascinating human stories are lost to history because they are never documented. Thankfully, Svenja O'Donnell has rescued the extraordinary saga of her grandmother, a saga filled with love and betrayal and secrets, a saga that illuminates the nature of war and memory. Using her remarkable skills as a reporter and writer, O'Donnell has recorded this story so meticulously and beautifully that it will remain forever in our consciousness.” —David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z
“A lyrical, engrossing and essential read.” —Sathnam Sanghera, author of The Boy with the Topknot
“A superbly nuanced reclamation of history and family secrets.” —Brian Van Reet, author of Spoils