Suspense, history, literary fiction, espionage, romance and psychological drama Secret Father, the compelling new novel by acclaimed writer James Carroll, is all of this and more.
Told by father and son, the story is set in Germany during the summer of 1961. The Cold War between East and West is escalating, and construction will soon begin on the Berlin Wall. During this tense time, Ulrich, Michael and Katharine leave their American high school in West Germany and travel, without telling their parents, to the Communist side of Berlin for the May Day celebration. Their escapade springs from youthful rebellion but quickly brings serious consequences. Shadowed by his unknown birth father's past, Ulrich has taken a flight bag belonging to his stepfather, a U.S. intelligence officer. The bag what it contains, who will view its secrets and what will happen to Ulrich for possessing it is at the crux of the story.
The teenagers are detained by the Stasi, East Germany's notorious secret police. Paul, Michael's widower father, and Charlotte, Ulrich's beautiful German-born mother, must attempt to rescue them before their actions cause an international incident that could destroy them and the world's tenuous peace.
Secret Father, Carroll's first novel in nine years, is being published this month on the 42nd anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. The author of Constantine's Sword, which examined the role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust, and An American Requiem, a National Book Award-winning memoir, Carroll himself spent time in Germany in the 1960s as the son of a U.S. general. In fact, Carroll and two friends took a trip to East Germany, but their experiences were less harrowing than those of the fictional characters in the novel.
Gripping and beautifully written, Secret Father is a remarkable evocation of a tumultuous era and of the power that secrets can hold across generations.
Cindy Kershner is a writer in Nashville.