The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: November 7th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, World War II, Romance, Historical, Adult Fiction, Holocaust, Germany, War, Relationships

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An epic story of love, betrayal, and art that spans decades, through the horrors of World War II to 21st century America, inspired by an actual porcelain factory in Dachau.

Two lovers caught at the crossroads of history.

A daughter’s search for the truth.

Germany, 1929. At a festive gathering of young bohemians in Weimar, two young artists, Max, a skilled Jewish architect, and Bettina, a celebrated avant-garde painter, are drawn to each other and begin a whirlwind romance. Their respective talents transport them to the dazzling lights of Berlin, but this bright beginning is quickly dimmed by the rising threat of Nazism. Max is arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Dachau where only his talent at making exquisite porcelain figures stands between him and seemingly certain death. Desperate to save her lover, Bettina risks everything to rescue him and escape Germany.

America, 1993. Clara, Bettina’s daughter, embarks on a journey to trace her roots and determine the identity of her father, a secret her mother has kept from her for reasons she’s never understood. Clara’s quest to piece together the puzzle of her origins transports us back in time to the darkness of Nazi Germany, where life is lived on a razor’s edge and deception and death lurk around every corner. Survival depends on strength, loyalty, and knowing true friend from hidden foe. And as Clara digs further, she begins to question why her mother was so determined to leave the truth of her harrowing past behind…

The Porcelain Maker is a powerful novel of enduring love and courage in the face of appalling brutality as a daughter seeks to unlock the mystery of her past.

First Line

In a tall cabinet, on a glass shelf, lies a white porcelain rabbit.

The Porcelain Maker by Sarah Freethy

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pace of The Porcelain Maker was medium throughout most of the book. It did speed up towards the end (when Bettina tried to flee Germany with Max).

Trigger/Content Warning: The Porcelain Maker contains content and trigger warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Antisemitism (graphic)
  • War and War themes (graphic)
  • Violence (graphic)
  • Classism (moderate)
  • Dementia (moderate)
  • Depression (moderate)
  • PTSD (moderate)
  • Alcohol Consumption (moderate)
  • Dead Bodies (moderate)
  • Suicide (minor)
  • Starvation (moderate)
  • Grief (graphic)
  • Confinement (graphic)
  • Gun violence (moderate)
  • Murder (graphic)
  • Concentration Camp (moderate)
  • Genocide (moderate)
  • Mass Murder (moderate)
  • Abusive Relationship (minor)
  • Mental Health Hospitalization (minor)

Sexual Content:  There is sexual content in The Porcelain Maker. It was not graphic.

Language: There is moderate swearing in The Porcelain Maker. But there is offensive language used (slurs against Jewish people).

Setting: The Porcelain Maker is set in several locations. In Bettina and Max’s section of the book, the locations were various parts of Germany. In Clara’s book sections, the settings were Cincinnati, London, and Germany.

Tropes: War, Combining Real and Fiction Events, Including Historical Figures as Characters, Dual Timeline, What Life was Like, Survivor’s Guilt, Death Used as Catalyst, Bittersweet Ending, Alternation POV, Trauma

Age Range: I recommend The Porcelain Maker to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Max and Bettina fall in love in the golden years between World War I and World War II. But, with the rise of Nazism, Max is soon captured and thrown into Dachau. What saves him from manual labor is an unexpected friend he had made at Allach’s famous porcelain factory and his talent for creating porcelain figures. Desperate to save Max, Bettina will do anything to save him. That includes planning a daring escape from Allach with Max. Will that escape happen?

Desperate to find out her father’s identity, Clara starts on a journey tracing her roots with the sparse clues her mother left her. But, what Clara discovers will shake her to her core and make her question everything she knew about her mother. Will Clara find out who her father is? And why didn’t her mother tell her?

Main Characters

Max Erlich: I liked Max. He truly loved Bettina and was willing to step back to let her shine. I was enraged with how he was captured (I was yelling at my Kindle). Then, I knew his plotline would go two ways: a happy ending way or the way that would shatter me (and Bettina). So, I wasn’t surprised by how it ended.

Bettina Vogel: This woman was strong. She knew her mind from the beginning and wasn’t about letting anyone tell her what to do. She had a plan to get out of Germany before Max was captured. But, when he was arrested, her plan had to be adjusted a bit. I disagreed with her marrying the SS guy, but I understood why she did it. What I didn’t understand was her after World War II. What was done to her messed her head up, but willingly not telling her child something that important made me scratch my head. Still, regardless of her choices, I liked her a lot.

Clara Vogel: I felt terrible for Clara. At times, she was chasing shadows and rumors about her father. I liked that her doggedness got her answers. That scene at Dachau, talking to a Holocaust survivor and looking at records, gave me chills.

My review:

When I started to read The Porcelain Maker, I was expecting it to be like other World War II/Nazi Germany books. The main character is captured by the Nazis, forced into concentration camps, and either done to them or seen horrendous things. But not in this case. In this case, while the horror of Dachau was there, it was muted and kept in the background. Which is what made the violence and racist remarks that Max endured at the porcelain factory even more shocking.

This book was an emotional read for me. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish community in Massachusetts. Several of my neighbors, friends, grandparents, and teachers survived concentration camps during World War II. Nothing was talked about, and seeing those inked, blue numbers wasn’t out of the ordinary for us. It wasn’t until a local woman started talking to the middle and high school about the Holocaust and what she endured that I truly got a sense of what happened.

The Porcelain Maker has three separate storylines. Those storylines follow Max, Bettina, and Clara. Max and Bettina’s storylines merge at the beginning of the book, but they separate once they move to Allach. Each storyline was well-written, and each had its twist that surprised me.

The storyline with Max affected me the most. I genuinely liked him and wanted everything to turn out well. But, after he moved to Allach with Bettina, I felt that everything that happened to him (and to her) was predestined. I wanted to change how the author wrapped up his storyline. I wasn’t surprised, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to happen.

The storyline with Bettina also affected me. As I said in her character section, I thought she was strong. Once the Nazis put Max into Dachau, everything she did was to protect her baby and, ultimately, to work towards seeing Max again. Did I agree or like everything she did? No, but I did understand. I also understood why she was so broken in Clara’s recollections. Living through something like that and with what was done to her would scar anyone.

The storyline with Clara intrigued me. I liked seeing her journey to finding out who her father was. What I liked even more was that the author set the storyline in 1993. There were few computers or internet access back then (I remember using dial-up in 1994 or 1995 for the first time). Clara had actually to do the research. I liked how she got one tiny breadcrumb after another, eventually leading to someone who knew her father. I won’t lie; I did get emotional while reading her storyline. I got all the emotions and then some.

The end of The Porcelain Maker was perfect. I won’t say anything about what was written except that I liked it. And the epilogue was just as good. Talk about a tribute!!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Sarah Freethy for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Porcelain Maker. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Porcelain Maker, then you will enjoy these books:

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: June 6th, 2023

Trigger Warnings: confinement, death, genocide, racism, sexual violence, xenophobia, trafficking, grief, death of parent(s), murder, forced abandonment, deportation, war, child abuse, child death, pedophilia, stalking

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical, Contemporary, Family, Holocaust, World War II, Adult Fiction, Adult

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

This powerful and moving novel from the New York Times bestselling author of A Long Petal of the Sea weaves together past and present, tracing the ripple effects of war and immigration on one child in Europe in 1938 and another in the United States in 2019.

Vienna, 1938. Samuel Adler was six years old when his father disappeared during Kristallnacht—the night their family lost everything. Samuel’s mother secured a spot for him on the last Kindertransport train out of Nazi-occupied Austria to the United Kingdom, which he boarded alone, carrying nothing but a change of clothes and his violin.

Arizona, 2019. Eight decades later, Anita Diaz, a blind seven-year-old girl, and her mother board another train, fleeing looming danger in El Salvador and seeking refuge in the United States. However, their arrival coincides with the new family separation policy, and Anita finds herself alone at a camp in Nogales. She escapes through her trips to Azabahar, a magical world of the imagination she created with her sister back home.

Anita’s case is assigned to Selena Duran, a young social worker who enlists the help of a promising lawyer from one of San Francisco’s top law firms. Together they discover that Anita has another family member in the United States: Leticia Cordero, who is employed at the home of now eighty-six-year-old Samuel Adler, linking these two lives.

Spanning time and place, The Wind Knows My Name is both a testament to the sacrifices that parents make and a love letter to the children who survive the most unfathomable dangers—and never stop dreaming.

First Line:

A sense of misfortune hung in the air. From the early morning hours, a menacing breeze had swept through the streets, whistling between the buildings, forcing its way in through the cracks under doors and windows.

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende

Samuel was six years old when his father, a doctor, disappeared during Vienna’s infamous Kristallnacht. Saved by a veteran neighbor, Samuel’s mother secured passage for him on the Kinderstransport, a train taking Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Austria. Samuel was delivered to England and, after being bounced between a couple of foster homes, was adopted by a Quaker couple. Eighty years later, Anna Diaz, a blind seven-year-old, was captured with her mother trying to cross the border into the United States illegally. She is separated from her mother and put into a detainment camp for unaccompanied minors. Her way of dealing with the trauma of being separated from her mother and the horrors of abusive foster homes is to escape to an imaginary place called Azabahar. Samuel and Anna’s paths cross when a social worker and lawyer do pro-bono work and find that Anna has a relative in the San Fransisco area. That relative is Samuel’s housekeeper, and she has been living with Samuel since Covid shut the country down. While Anna gets settled with Samuel and Leticia, the lawyer and the social worker continue their search for Anna’s mother. Will Anna and her mother be reunited?

What attracted me to The Wind Knows My Name was the cover. That is why I wished for it to begin with. What also attracted me to this book was the plotline (which I did try to summarize in the paragraph above). I usually don’t read books that closely follow recent (think within the last 3-4 years) events but something about this book and how the blurb was written made me want to read it. I am glad I did because this book was a great read.

There are numerous trigger warnings in The Wind Knows My Name. I won’t lie and say they weren’t graphic; some triggers were. But, and I stress this, the ones that involved children, the author only did the bare bones. She explained enough for me to get the gist of what was happening and then left it. The triggers are:

  1. Confinement (non-graphic, on page): Anna was confined to a center where the border patrol agents took unaccompanied minors after they were captured crossing the border. Samuel and Leticia were limited to the house during the pandemic.
  2. Death (mostly non-graphic, on page): Death was a running theme throughout the book.
  3. Genocide (slightly graphic, on page): Samuel escaped Nazi Austria and discovers his mother and father died in concentration camps. Leticia and her father, by pure luck, escape their village in El Salvador, being decimated by rebels.
  4. Racism (graphic, on page): Samuel and Anna experience racism during the book.
  5. Sexual Violence (non-graphic, on page): Both Anna and her mother experience sexual violence towards them during the book.
  6. Xenophobia (mostly non-graphic, on page): Anna and her mother experience xenophobia while trying to cross the border. Anna experiences it while living in foster homes. Leticia experienced it growing up in the United States.
  7. Trafficking (mentioned, off-page): One of the villains worked for a human trafficker.
  8. Grief (graphic, on page): Samuel experiences grief over his parents’ deaths and when he is forced to leave his mother. He also grieves over his wife’s death. Anna mourns the death of her sister, her mother leaving, and leaving her grandmother in El Salvador. Leticia grieves the death of her mother, siblings, and grandmother. Leticia’s father grieves for his lost family.
  9. Death of parent (s) (non-graphic, on page): Samuel’s mother and father were killed in concentration camps. Anna’s father was killed when she was very young. Leticia’s mother, grandmother, and siblings were killed.
  10. Forced Abandonment (graphic, on page): Samuels’ mother sent him away to England. Anna’s mother was forced to leave Anna at the detention center.
  11. Deportation (graphic, on page): There are several scenes where immigrants were forcibly deported. Anna’s mother was deported to Mexico without her.
  12. War (semi-graphic, on page): Samuel survived World War II. Leticia’s village was decimated during a civil war in El Salvador.
  13. Child Abuse (semi-graphic, on page): Anna is forced to do her foster mother’s chores. She was verbally abused when she wet the bed. In one scene, she was locked in a closet for hours, only to be taken out by her social worker. A foster father attempted to abuse Anna sexually.
  14. Child Death (nongraphic, off-page): Anna’s younger sister was killed in an accident that caused Anna to go blind.
  15. Pedophilia (semi-graphic, on and off page): Anna and her mother were chased by a man who wanted to molest Anna. He had forced Anna to touch him once. Anna’s foster father attempted to molest her.
  16. Stalking (non-graphic and off page): A corrupt ex-police officer stalked Anna and her mother in El Salvador. He stalked them to the United States border.

If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book.

There are four plotlines in The Wind Knows My Name. When I figured that out, I was a little wary. In my experience, books with more than one plotline confuse the everliving out of me. I am happy to say that this book did not. The author marked the chapters, stating whose plotline it was and, in some cases, where in time that person was.

The first plotline centered around Samuel. It starts when he is six, and his world implodes during Kristallnacht. The plotline isn’t linear; it does jump around from past to present quite a bit. But, and I stress this, I was not confused or couldn’t figure out where in time it was. Samuel’s singular plotline ends when Leticia and then Anna move in.

The second plotline centers around Leticia. Now, this was a linear plotline, and it follows Leticia from a young girl recovering from ulcer surgery to her growing up in the United States. It details her rebellious youth and how that shaped her into the woman she grew into. Her singular storyline ends when she moves in with Samuel.

The third plotline centers around Selina and Frank. This plotline starts in the middle of the book. But it goes into Selina’s immigrant background and Frank’s white privilege background. This storyline intermingles with Samuel, Leticia, and Anna throughout the book.

The fourth storyline centers around Anna. This is a linear storyline and is told through Anna’s POV. Anna’s storyline details her horrific journey to the United States border and her horrible experiences in foster care/detention. I do want to note that her storyline is also in 2nd person. She is talking to her dead sister through her doll, and it is freaking heartbreaking.

Several secondary storylines flow throughout the book. The main secondary storyline was about Anna’s mother and where she could be. I was heartbroken by the way it ended. I did expect it to end the way it did, but at the same time, I was hoping it wouldn’t.

The characters in The Wind Knows My Name was well-written and well-fleshed out. Even the secondary characters had depth to them. The characters, along with the storyline, made this book.

When I realized that this book would take place during the pandemic (and I realized it fairly early in the book), I did almost DNF it. I did not want to read about the pandemic because I lived it. But the pandemic took a backseat to Anna’s story. But Anna’s storyline was so compelling that I chose to overlook that. I am glad that I did because this book was fantastic.

Immigration was a massive point in this book. The author didn’t sugarcoat what the border was like in 2019/2020 or how overwhelmed the agents were. Instead, she gave a good look into the chaos. And when Covid hit, the chaos just grew. There were some references to the political atmosphere during that time, and you know what? I agreed with what the author wrote. I never agreed with separating families; the author’s details were chilling when she wrote about that.

I liked Samuel, but he did not have it easy in life. I thought his being raised by Quakers was fascinating and wished that more detail had gone into his life with them. His traumatic past was why he was so attracted to Nadine and kept returning to her. Their relationship was exciting and different. The author could have written a whole book could have been written about that alone. Samuel, later on in life, was a better person than when he was younger. He was willing to do whatever it took to help Anna overcome her traumatic past. He was a gem, and I enjoyed his character.

I only got to know Leticia once the author explored her background. It was then that I started to understand her. She was like Anna in a way. She had lost her entire family in a rebel attack that wiped out her village, and she crossed the border illegally (with her father). Her reaction to being Anna’s only relative in America was spot on. But she had a big heart and couldn’t let that little girl stay in foster care. She was one of my favorite people in this book.

I loved Anna and was so mad for her throughout the book. Time and time again, she was let down by the adults in her life. I wanted to reach through the book, hug her, and tell her it would be alright. By the time she arrived at Leticia and Samuel’s house, she wasn’t the same girl she was at the beginning of the book. But, her time with Leticia and Samuel did heal her. She acted like a normal child instead of the withdrawn fearful child she was when she arrived.

The end of The Wind Knows My Name didn’t shock me. I figured it would end the way it did. I did like that Anna got her HEA, though. She deserved it after everything she had been through.

I recommend The Wind Knows My Name to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and mild sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warning list.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books, NetGalley, and Isabel Allende for allowing me to read and review The Wind Knows My Name. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of The Wind Knows My Name, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Isabel Allende:

The One Man by Andrew Gross

The One Man: The Riveting and Intense Bestselling WWII Thriller by [Gross, Andrew]

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Date of publication: August 23, 2016

Genre: Historical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Thriller, War, World War II, Holocaust, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | IndieBound | Indigo | Kobo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

1944. Physics professor Alfred Mendl is separated from his family and sent to the men’s camp, where all of his belongings are tossed on a roaring fire. His books, his papers, his life’s work. The Nazis have no idea what they have just destroyed. And without that physical record, Alfred is one of only two people in the world with his particular knowledge. Knowledge that could start a war, or end it.

Nathan Blum works behind a desk at an intelligence office in Washington, DC, but he longs to contribute to the war effort in a more meaningful way, and he has a particular skill set the U.S. suddenly needs. Nathan is fluent in German and Polish, he is Semitic looking, and he proved his scrappiness at a young age when he escaped from the Polish ghetto. Now, the government wants him to take on the most dangerous assignment of his life: Nathan must sneak into Auschwitz, on a mission to find and escape with one man.

This historical thriller from New York Times bestseller Andrew Gross is a deeply affecting, unputdownable series of twists and turns through a landscape at times horrifyingly familiar but still completely compelling.

I am going to start this review with a dedication. I found out that Elie Wiesel died today at the age of 87. He dedicated his whole life to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. I read Night in 9th grade as part of an English assignment. So, to say I was (and still am) very interested in the Holocaust is an understatement. I read everything and anything about the Holocaust (from fiction to nonfiction) that I get my hands on. So RIP Elie Wiesel.

This was one of the best books that I have read to date. From the beginning, when an old man in a nursing home decides to open up to his daughter, it takes off. It is a whirlwind ride that left me breathless (and in tears) at the end of the book.

I was taken back to Nazi-occupied Germany and Roosevelt-era USA. The atrocities committed against the Jewish people in the book were vividly written. I had to put my book down at some points because I was crying so hard. Introduced in the book, in no particular order: Nathan Blum, Alfred Mendl, Leo Wolciek, and Greta Ackerman. All their lives become intertwined at Auschwitz.

This book is fast-paced, and I did not want to put it down in case I missed something. There are several twists to the plot, but the two biggest were saved for the end, and they took me by surprise.

3 things I liked about The One Man:

  1. Nathan Blum
  2. The storyline
  3. Leo Wolciek

3 Things I disliked about The One Man:

  1. Auschwitz
  2. Kurt Ackerman
  3. The scene right before the ending

I would recommend The One Man to anyone over 21. There is brutal violence, language, and sex.

If you enjoyed reading The One Man, you will enjoy reading these books: