Sunday, 3 May 2020

In The Shadow Of The Storm by Ella Zeiss

In the Shadow of the Storm by Ella Zeiss
First published in German as Wie Gräser Im Wind by Tinte Und Feder in 2019. English language translation by Helen MacCormac published by Lake Union Publishing on the 15th December 2019.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As World War II approaches, two families run for their lives – and for the future of all they hold dear.

1930: As raids and violent arrests sweep through their Crimean village, two families are forced to make desperate choices in order to keep themselves—and their hope—alive.

The Pfeiffers get out as quickly as they can, braving a last-minute escape in the dead of night. Their friends the Scholzes are less lucky. Captured and transported to labour camps in the icy Far North, the future seems a bleak, dark nightmare for the couple and their three children.

As the 1930s march towards the inevitable horror of war, and Europe is engulfed in hostility and persecution, the Pfeiffers find there is only so long—and so far—you can run before someone uncovers your past…

In their darkest hours, these two families must do everything—anything—to survive. Will they ever find peace in the new world order?

The first in a two-part touching and authentic family saga about a hitherto little-known chapter in history.

In The Shadow Of The Storm reminded me strongly of Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys because both novels tell the stories of families exiled to the icy Soviet North during the 1930s and 1940s. Sepetys focused on the Lithuanian people. Zeiss tells the story of two ethnically German families who lived in Russia but, because of their ancestry, were mistrusted, vilified and, ultimately, persecuted and 'resettled' by the State.

Zeiss has based her novel on her grandparents experiences, remembered through the stories she was told in childhood. I had hoped this familial connection would enhance our closeness to the characters, but unfortunately I always felt somewhat distanced so, while I could understand and appreciate the harshness of the protagonists' situations, I never felt fully immersed in their story. Zeiss' prose style leads us swiftly from each event to its successor, but I think I would have preferred a slower pace with a stronger focus on character depth and development.

The construction of In The Shadow Of The Storm was also problematic for me. I believe the original German novel was a single book whereas the English translation is being sold in two parts. Unfortunately the split seems to have been decided by page number so the story abruptly stops at the end of a chapter. Also, while two families are briefly introduced in the prologue, In The Shadow Of The Storm starts out by solely following the Scholz family. It is not until the later stages that I suddenly found myself faced with the Pfeiffers. At this point (and indeed throughout this first book) the two families are unconnected so being expected to to jump from one to the other felt like a squandering of all I had invested into the Scholz story. If Lake Union were determined that a single book would be too long for commercial appeal, I think having one book telling each family's story would have made for a more rewarding reading experience, although the editing needed to make this happen would obviously have been more expensive! As it stands now though, for me, In The Shadow Of The Storm is an okay read, but doesn't really do itself justice.

Etsy Find!
by Eko Piter in
St Petersburg, Russia

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ella Zeiss / Historical fiction / Books from Kazakhstan


  1. It sounds like the two part split wasn't planned very well or positioned carefully at all. I like the sound of this novel but you did compare it to between shades of grey which seems to handle the layout a bit better, so I might just read that one instead.

    1. I'd definitely recommend Between Shades Of Grey anyway. That novel is so powerful!