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All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler

by Rebecca Donner

Unabridged — 13 hours, 49 minutes

Rebecca Donner

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Overview

The INSTANT New York Times Bestseller

Winner of the 2022 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Chautauqua Prize
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award
Finalist for the Plutarch Award


A New York Times Notable Book of 2021
New York Times BookReview Editors' Choice
New York Times Critics' Top Pick of 2021

Wall Street Journal 10 Best Books of 2021
Time Magazine 100 Must-Read Books of 2021
Publishers Weekly Top Ten Books of 2021
An Economist Best Book of the Year
New York Post Best Book of the Year
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year

Oprah Daily Best New Books of August
A New York Public Library Book of the Week
 
In this “stunning literary achievement,” Donner chronicles the extraordinary life and brutal death of her great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack, the American leader of one of the largest underground resistance groups in Germany during WWII-“a page-turner story of espionage, love and betrayal” (Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography)

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Mildred Harnack was twenty-six when she enrolled in a PhD program in Germany and witnessed the meteoric rise of the Nazi party. In 1932, she began holding secret meetings in her apartment-a small band of political activists that by 1940 had grown into the largest underground resistance group in Berlin. She recruited working-class Germans into the resistance, helped Jews escape, plotted acts of sabotage, and collaborated in writing leaflets that denounced Hitler and called for revolution. Her coconspirators circulated through Berlin under the cover of night, slipping the leaflets into mailboxes, public restrooms, phone booths. When the first shots of the Second World War were fired, she became a spy, couriering top-secret intelligence to the Allies. On the eve of her escape to Sweden, she was ambushed by the Gestapo. At a Nazi military court, a panel of five judges sentenced her to six years at a prison camp, but Hitler overruled the decision and ordered her execution. On February 16, 1943, she was strapped to a guillotine and beheaded.

Historians identify Mildred Harnack as the only American in the leadership of the German resistance, yet her remarkable story has remained almost unknown until now.

Harnack's great-great-niece Rebecca Donner draws on her extensive archival research in Germany, Russia, England, and the U.S. as well as newly uncovered documents in her family archive to produce this astonishing work of narrative nonfiction. Fusing elements of biography, real-life political thriller, and scholarly detective story, Donner brilliantly interweaves letters, diary entries, notes smuggled out of a Berlin prison, survivors' testimony, and a trove of declassified intelligence documents into a powerful, epic story, reconstructing the moral courage of an enigmatic woman nearly erased by history.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/17/2021

Novelist Donner (Sunset Terrace) brings her heroic great-great-aunt Mildred Harnack (née Fish) to life in this stunning biography. Born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Mildred met her future husband, German native Arvid Harnack, while attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. The couple settled in Germany in 1929, where they viewed the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party with alarm. In 1933, they began holding secret meetings with a loose network of “like-minded people” and distributing anti-Nazi literature to workers and students. As Germany prepared for war, the couple and other members of “the Circle” took greater risks: Arvid funneled military secrets to the Soviets; Mildred used her job as a literary scout to meet with anti-fascists across Europe. In 1942, after Germany cracked the cipher code used by Soviet intelligence, revealing the names and addresses of group members, the Harnacks fled for Sweden but were captured, tortured, and tried for treason. Arvid was sentenced to death by hanging; Mildred’s six-year prison sentence was overruled by Hitler and she was executed by guillotine in February 1943. Donner’s research is impeccable, and her fluid prose and vivid character sketches keep the pages turning as the story moves toward its inevitable, tragic conclusion. This standout history isn’t to be missed. Illus. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)

From the Publisher

Extraordinarily intimate… Wilder and more expansive than a standard-issue biography… a real-life thriller with a cruel ending—not to mention an account of Hitler’s ascent from attention-seeking buffoon to genocidal Führer.”—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

“A powerful book… Ms. Donner’s use of the present tense increases the feeling of inevitability as she unfolds her story to its horrific conclusion... A nonfiction narrative with the pace of a political thriller, it’s imbued with suspense and dread… a deeply affecting biography, meticulously researched and illustrated… Ms. Donner evocatively brings to life the giddy feeling of freedom under the Weimar regime in Berlin and how swiftly it eroded. Her account of the decline of liberties is harrowing.”—Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

“A deeply moving act of recovery… In a photo of those pages reproduced in the book, Mildred Harnack’s cramped yet careful handwriting crystallizes Donner’s goal: to write her heroic forebear back into history, to bring her back to life.”—Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

“A tour de force of investigation… The story unfolds in fragments… but as the pieces cohere, the couple’s story becomes gripping… The abiding impression is of virtuous, extraordinarily brave people caught up in tragic horror.”—The Economist

“Donner quotes passages from her sources at length, letting the reader dwell on facts rather than galloping through them. She does this stylishly… The archival quality of the book, its enumeration and cataloging of sources, is both surprising for a biography — too rarely the site of literary innovation — and affecting. It gives a sense of the warped timeline of crisis, how life can shift overnight without moving at all, the way in which change can ricochet from the political sphere to the smallest and most mundane details of a person’s life.”—Madeleine Schwartz, New York Times Book Review

“[A] compelling book, which reads like a tragic novel where we wish we didn't know the ending… Yet knowing her terrible fate from the onset shouldn't dissuade you from reading this page-turner about Harnack's perilous journey… Donner's descriptive style takes us inside Nazi Germany and makes the book hard to put down.”—Laura McCallum, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Remarkable… [a] gripping, inventive biography… Donner’s book is a breathtaking account of how individuals can find the strength to defy the darkness enveloping them.”—Time

“A gorgeous collage of history and family lore, a revelatory window onto a Götterdämmerung that transformed the world forever.”—Oprah Daily

“Gripping… Donner brings her ancestor to life through artful use of documents and interviews… and she tells Harnack's story with dramatic pace and vision. As the story unfolds in time, Harnack and her resistance comrades become like a small cluster of white blood cells targeting the seemingly overwhelming infection that was Nazism.”—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[Donner is] a meticulous researcher and master of narrative suspense… Here is a historical biography that reads like a literary thriller.”—Wall Street Journal (Best Books of the Year)

“Highly evocative, deeply moving, a stunning literary achievement. Rebecca Donner forges a new kind of biography—almost novelistic in style and tone, this scholarly work resurrects the courageous life Mildred Harnack, an unsung American hero who led part of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. A relentless sleuth in the archives, Donner has written a page-turner story of espionage, love, and betrayal.”—Kai Bird, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

“Rebecca Donner has written a beautifully rich portrait of a very brave woman. While never less than scrupulously researched, this biography explodes the genre of 'biography': experimental but achieved, Donner's story reads with the speed of a thriller, the depth of a novel, and the urgency of an essay, like some deeply compelling blend of Alan Furst and W.G. Sebald.”—James Wood

“Moving… From helping Jews escape, to spreading anti-Hitler leaflets, to becoming a spy, to her eventual capture and execution, [Harnack’s] little-known story is finally brought to light by her great-great niece through newly discovered documents, diary entries, survivor stories and more.”—Lesley Kennedy, CNN

"A stunning biography... Donner’s research is impeccable, and her fluid prose and vivid character sketches keep the pages turning…This standout history isn’t to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“How can it happen that a constitution, a free press, and a democracy be demolished—all within six months? This powerfully written story of Mildred Harnack, resistance fighter against Hitler, tells step by step the way the German republic fell to the Nazis. Read All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, and be warned.”—Maxine Hong Kingston, winner of the National Book Award, author of The Woman Warrior

“At once boldly imagined and lovingly researched, All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days sets the remarkable story of resistance fighter Mildred Harnack against the backdrop of daily life in Germany as Hitler tightened his grip on the nation. Epic in sweep, written with a novelist’s attention to detail and a historian’s perspective on social and political forces, this book opens up new possibilities for biography.”—Ruth Franklin, winner of the NBCC Award for Biography, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

“Combining meticulous scholarship and sparkling narrative brio, Rebecca Donner’s All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days brings to life for the first time the central role played by underground activist Mildred Harnack in Germany’s homegrown opposition to Nazi rule. That Harnack was an American woman from Wisconsin only adds to the complexity of this stirring and tragic story, which culminates in the Harnack group’s ill-fated clandestine campaign to undermine Hitler’s regime. More broadly, Donner’s portrait of the cruelly oppressive system against which Harnack and her circle fought can serve to remind us of what can happen when, amidst economic insecurity and anguish over dislocating socio-cultural change, a highly civilized nation embraces demagoguery over democracy.”—David Clay Large, author of Berlin

“Donner’s meticulous research and novelist’s sensibility make for a riveting biography of a remarkable and brave woman… Readers of Erik Larson’s biography In the Garden of Beasts will appreciate Donner’s different perspective on the same historical events and figures. Recommended to all who enjoy engaging narrative nonfiction.”—Laurie Unger Skinner, Library Journal

"An impressive story... a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground."—Kirkus Reviews

“Mildred Harnack lived an extraordinary life… Donner—Harnack’s great-great niece—draws on notes, diaries, letters and declassified intelligence materials to offer this window into 1930s Germany and Harnack’s remarkable actions.”—Joumana Khatib, New York Times Book Review (New Books Coming in August)

Library Journal

08/01/2021

In her first nonfiction book, novelist and essayist Donner (Sunset Terrace) tells the astounding life story of her great-great-aunt Mildred Fish-Harnack (1902–43). Fish-Harnack was born in Milwaukee, got a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and fell in love with Arvid Harnack (1901–42), a German studying in Madison on a Rockefeller fellowship. They married and moved to Germany in 1929 and settled in Berlin, where Fish-Harnack studied for a PhD in literature. As an academic, an American émigré, and now a member of the prominent Harnack family, Mildred had a front row view of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. Like Arvid's cousins the Bonhoeffers, the Harnacks started an anti-Nazi resistance cell. They passed credible information about Hitler's plans to whoever they thought might listen, but they were often ignored. On the eve of their planned escape to Sweden, the Harnacks were caught, subjected to a show trial, and executed by the Nazis. VERDICT Donner's meticulous research and novelist's sensibility make for a riveting biography of a remarkable and brave woman; there's also good insight into the German Resistance. Readers of Erik Larson's biography In the Garden of Beasts will appreciate Donner's different perspective on the same historical events and figures. Recommended to all who enjoy engaging narrative nonfiction.—Laurie Unger Skinner, Highland Park P.L., IL

Kirkus Reviews

2021-06-16
Historical biography of an American woman who led resistance groups against the Nazis before Hitler personally ordered her execution in 1943.

Donner’s subject is Mildred Harnack (1902-1943), who traveled to Germany in 1929 to obtain a doctorate in literature. She opposed Hitler even before he came to power in 1933 and spent 10 years in the resistance before her arrest and execution. Specific facts about the lives of people who aim to leave no evidence are hard to come by (“her aim was self-erasure”), but Donner has clearly worked hard in East German, Soviet, and recently released American archives to tell an impressive story. Living mostly in Berlin, Harnack earned money by lecturing, translating, and teaching English. In the first years of Nazi rule, when public opposition was possible, she made no secret of her beliefs and organized informal meetings in her apartment to “discuss Germany’s political climate.” After several years, her group moved underground and began active resistance, largely by printing and distributing leaflets. Many urged readers to sabotage military production. Harnack’s group came to be known as the Red Orchestra, but this was a name given by German intelligence. Orchestra described any enemy network, and Red labeled it as communist. Although sympathetic to the Soviet Union, Harnack may not have engaged directly in espionage. Others did, however, and it was an intercepted transmission from Moscow that provided information that led to her 1942 arrest. Harnack was a brave idealist, and she died for her beliefs, but Donner—like many historians of civilians who opposed Hitler—largely passes over the painful fact their efforts did not significantly inconvenience the Nazis. Mostly novelistic, the narrative contains some manufactured tension, melodrama, and passages of purple prose and paragraphs broken apart or clipped short to create a dramatic effect that feels forced.

Despite the breathless delivery, this is a welcome contribution to the history of the anti-Nazi underground.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940173290908
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Edition description: Unabridged

Customer Reviews