We last heard from John Russell in late 1941 on the eve of Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into the world war. Russell and his longtime girlfriend Effi Koenen were escaping Germany with help from the Communists. At the last minute, however, they get separated, with Russell headed to freedom and Effi back into the Nazi maw.
Potsdam Station begins three years later on the eve of Nazi Germany’s defeat and the Soviet Union’s triumphant conquest of Berlin. Russell, who hasn’t heard from either Effi or his son Paul in the intervening years, is desperate to return to Berlin to find them. To do that, he needs help. The Communists helped Russell escape Berlin, and now he hopes the Soviets will help him get back in.
Meanwhile, Effi has been living under a false identity for three years, using her considerable acting skills to impersonate an older woman. She’s also part of a resistance movement helping Berlin’s Jews—yes, there are still Jews in Berlin as late as 1945—escape to freedom. But when the resistance lands a 7-year-old Jewish girl on Effi’s doorstep, she enters a new, potentially fatal endgame.
And where is Paul? Now 18, he has served in the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front and is now on the eastern side of Berlin, participating in what everyone believes—including himself—will be a futile defense. And he’s made at his dad, John Russell, for abandoning him with nary a word three years earlier.
Potsdam Station is the story of how three people who have survived war in very different ways long for reunion and unexpectedly find one another just in time. It’s not just a story of survival and reunion, however. It’s a personal story set on the eve of the Cold War, as the Soviets and Allies begin to think that they cannot occupy the same city at the same time.
Only one can rule the world. Who will it be? And whose side will John Russell be on?
David Downing, Potsdam Station (New York: SoHo Crime, 2010).
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