Silesian Station is the second installment in David Downing’s series of novels featuring Anglo-American journalist John Russell. It is set primarily in Berlin in the summer of 1939, just before the Nazi invasion of Poland, although Russell travels to other locations in pursuit of stories. As with his first novel, the 2007 Zoo Station (review), and the 2021 prequel, Wedding Station (review), Downing ably recreates the atmosphere of menace and malice that pervaded Germany in the pre-war years.
The novel begins with the disappearance of Miriam Rosenfield, a young Jewess who arrives in Berlin via Silesian Station, only to disappear without a trace. Finding out what happened to her occupies Russell and his German girlfriend, Effi Koenen, throughout the novel. It’s the “mystery” aspect of this novel.
There’s also an “espionage” aspect, however. In the first novel, Zoo Station, the Soviets recruit Russell, a former party member, to write articles for Pravda and to do a little spying on the Germans on the side. The Nazis approve this arrangement, but in this novel, they ask Russell to pass along disinformation to the Soviets. The Americans, as the price of giving Russell, whose mother is a citizen, a passport, ask him to vet anti-Nazi Germans for their own potential spy operations. Managing the complex relations between these spy agencies taxes Russell’s abilities.
But the most important question facing both him and Effi is the degree to which they are going to resist the Nazis. Much is on the line. As an American, Russell might be deported. But as a German, Effi faces a more dire fare at the hands of the Gestapo. How they decide to manage the risks in light of the moral imperative of resistance is a turning point in this novel.
In my opinion, Silesian Station is the best of the three novels I have read. It is a page-turner with a well-written, smartly paced plot, and an ending that foreshadows the course of the years that will follow. I recommend the series, and I highly recommend this installment.
David Downing, Silesian Station (New York: SoHo Press, 2008).
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