Follow Here To Purchase A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany

Author: Sigrid MacRae
ISBN: 9780670015832
Publisher: Viking Penguin Publishers

The story begins with the gift of a carved, locked wooden box by eighty-five year old American-born Aimee to her daughter with the words “Your father’s letters.”  Many years after Aimee dies, Sigrid opens the box and encounters the tragic love story of her parents through the intimate letters and diaries locked inside the box. 

When Aimee was very young, her socialite and wealthy Connecticut mother died and her father was unable to provide a loving, supportive environment as a single parent to Aimee.   Soon after the end of WW1, she went to Europe and met a young well-educated, titled Baltic German, Baron Heinrich von Hoyningen-Huene.

  When the Russian Revolution began and the Bolsheviks came to power, Heinrich’s aristocrat family was forced to leave their home and life dramatically changed for them all.  Heinrich was penniless.   But the love he and Aimee shared was immediate and passionate.  They married and remained in Europe even though Heinrich’s hopes of a diplomatic career were unrealized.   Eventually, he joined the Nazi Party, hoping to bring ‘change-from-within,’ but when WW 11 broke out, he was drafted into the Nazi army, leaving Aimee alone with five young children. 

On his last furlough, Aimee became pregnant again and another child was on the way.  

When Heinrich was killed on the Russian front, Aimee struggled to survive on their farm north of Berlin.  She gave birth to her sixth child (the author of this book); fed her now six young children; and cared for the ever-increasing number of people who came to depend on her hospitality, encouraging letters and thanks to a Trust Fund, her financial support.  Aware of Russian brutality and fearful for her eldest son who had been conscripted by the Nazis, Aimee made the agonizing decision to leave the farm and the family became refugees, hoping to encounter Allied forces. 

The story is powerful.  The author knows how to write beautiful prose - particularly towards the end of the book.

   What is missing, however, is a skilled and constructive editor, someone who would encourage the author to be consistent in her writing style  - at times, “A World Elsewhere” reads as a biography.  At other times, it reads as a novel; an editor who would encourage her to create a more appropriate title (almost ten (!) chapters pass by before “wartime Germany” is part of the story); one who would discourage placement of the complex family history at the beginning of the book and place it in an Appendix at the back of the book; one who would suggest inclusion of a family tree and a map showing places that were significant to the story; and an editor who would have the author reveal her relationship to Aimee in an Epilogue to the book rather than in the Prologue.

Had these been done, this beautifully written, gripping and dramatic story which offers a poignant and rare insight into the life of an American woman caught in the chaos of Germany during WW11 would have been a more cohesive read.