Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein
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4.07  ·  Rating details ·  4,768 ratings  ·  755 reviews
East Village, 1989
Things had never been easy between Ava Fisher and her estranged mother Ilse. Too many questions hovered between them: Who was Ava's father? Where had Ilse been during the war? Why had she left her only child in a German orphanage during the war's final months? But now Ilse's ashes have arrived from Germany, and with them, a trove of unsent letters addres
Hardcover, 373 pages
Published April 23rd 2019 by Crown Publishing Group
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Jennifer Thanks for your interest! As of now it does not have a German publisher (though it will be published next year in the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Is…moreThanks for your interest! As of now it does not have a German publisher (though it will be published next year in the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Israel and France). Hopefully that will change!(less)

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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  4,768 ratings  ·  755 reviews

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Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A friendship destroyed by the perils of WWII. A betrayal that will take your breath away.

This book is why I read.

As a reader, there are times when I fall into that dreaded pattern of "reading just to read." Do you know what I mean? I find myself picking up the same types of stories and I feel like I'm in the movie Groundhog Day. However, there are also those precious gems that quicken your heart, put a bounce in your step, and make you fall in love with reading all over again. This was one of t
Angela M
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
There aren’t any horrific scenes of the death camps here, yet it is a story that is very much a story of the holocaust, a chilling depiction of Nazi Germany before WWII, evoking in me anger, fear, sadness. This was an emotional read about friendship and betrayal and the desire for redemption. We see how the Nazi ideology became so ingrained in Germans, in this case the focus on young people and the impact on the daily lives of Jews moving from being restricted to being taken from their homes and ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This historical fiction is more of a family drama. We see Ava as an adult in New York, dealing with her memories and questions after the death of her mother Ilse. We also see Ilse, from a young teenager in 1930s Germany through the war and beyond. What has led to their estrangement? We are given glimpses - Ilse unwilling to answer Ava’s questions about her paternity, her abandonment at the end of the war.

I can’t remember another book I’ve read that covers Germany in the lead up to WWII. How ord
Diane S ☔
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 Ilse and Renata, young girls in Berlin, inseparable friends, they tell each other everything, do everything together. That is until Ilse joins the women's part of the Hitler's youth, Renata's family refusing to sign the papers. To once again be close to her friend, she forges the papers, but what happens next is totally unexpected, and will change things for both girls.

In the present day, Ava, with a child of her own, wants to know the secrets her mother, Renata, is keeping from her. Estran
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
You all know I love an emotional read about friendship! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I never tire of stories of friendship. Wunderland is a story of enduring friendship that will stand the test of time.

Told in two timelines, the first is in New York in 1989. Ava and her mother, Ilse, haven’t gotten along. There’s this empty space between them filled with unanswered questions, important ones. Ava wants to know who her father is. She has no idea where Ilse was during World War II.

Ilse has passed away, and he
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
The beginning of Wunderland is clunky but persevere as it improves greatly afterwards. It starts with fragmented scenes from the main characters lives beginning in 1989, switches to another character in 1933, back to the initial character in 1977 and onto yet another character in 1937. This would be fine if a discernible connection existed at this point but it didn’t. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but as I continued to read the connections eventually became apparent.

Essentially a story
Aga Durka
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wunderland is a beautifully written story about two friends, Renate and Ilse, and their struggle to fit and survive during time in Germany, when Nazism was growing and spreading like wildfire. Both girls face impossible and horrifying situations. They have to make choices with which consequences they will have to live for the rest of their lives. This was a hard book to read for me. I have connected with both, Renate and Ilse, on a personal and emotional level and reading their stories was heart ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to stay up late into the night in order to finish a book because I couldn’t bear to put the book down without finding out how it ends. Things get especially complicated when it is a book that had me emotionally invested in the story and in its characters for practically the entire time I was reading it. Having said that, I will be one of the first to admit that this book was not an easy one to read for several reasons.

First, the subject matter — h
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wunderland is a beautiful and haunting and utterly magnificent novel: a wrenching tale of friendship and betrayal in Nazi Germany. It’s also a page-turner that kept me reading until two in the morning one night and three in the morning the next. It’s that good." ...more
Sacrifices have to be made.

This recurring refrain becomes almost a motto for one of the primary characters in this multigenerational novel that faces up to some of the essential issues of daily life in mid-1930s Germany. As the reparations costs for WWI continue to bankrupt the country, susceptibility to a savior becomes strong, as does the pull for scapegoats.

The central characters of the story, Renate and Ilse, are early teens as the Nazis begin their ascent in German politics and society. Th
Maine Colonial
I received a free publisher's digital advance reviewing copy, via Netgalley.

The novel is told in the voices of three women—Ilse, Renate and Ava—and in different places and time periods, ranging from Germany in the 1930s to New York in 1977 and 1989. Ilse and Renate are young girls and friends in 1930s Berlin, and Ava is Ilse’s daughter who lives in New York in the 1970s and 1980s chapters. The book bounces around a lot between different time periods and characters. But each chapter identifies th
Martie Nees Record
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Pub. Date: April 23, 2019

Though I found “Wunderland” to be a letdown, this may be my own fault. The author, Jennifer Cody Epstein, has written for BC, HBO, and The Wall Street Journal, among other prestigious journals. Because of her credentials, maybe I was expecting something unusually good and/or different. Or, possibly my disappointment may be because historical fiction is my favorite genre. I may have simply read one too many WWII stories
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
I recently watched a series about Hitler and his inner circle. One of the things that stuck with me was how Germany's culture after the first WW was one built on violence and thuggery. Hitler and his henchmen took advantage of that culture and were able to get in power by using violence and fear. I thought of this while reading Wunderland. The ability of the Nazi's to instill such fear and trickery over it's people using false propaganda and blatant violence.

Wunderland was a fabulous e
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was sent an ARC of this book by Crown, whom I wish to say thank you to.

Now, down to brass tacks.

This was one of those amazing stories that I wanted to finish in one sitting, but I had to go and do the work thing. And no, it’s not a typical story that takes place during the Second World War in Germany. Parts of this story are unpredictable and that makes the story even more compelling.

And you need to ask who is the villain and the hero of the story. Finding this out will surprise you.
Bev Walkling
Thanks to Crown Publishing and #NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

I first gained access to this book in September of 2018 but I didn't finish reading it until late November. There were a number of reasons for that - some of them personal and other obligations getting in the way but I also fond it a difficult book to read. The story is set in multiple time periods and moves back and forth between them. I was first drawn to reading it because of the WW2 t
Deacon Tom F
Jan 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein. It was a truly a original perspective for a WWII novel.

It's focus is stark chronicle of Nazi Germany through the experiencs of two teenage girls.

Truly, a fast paced page-turner, Wunderland traces the lives of three women across two generations of wartime Germany.

The characterization is realistic. Ilse Fischer and Renate Bauer are very genuine characters. Like looking into a prism, this story can be viewed from different angles. One perspective is t
Laurie • The Baking Bookworm
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ehbooklover, margaret, booksandchinooks
4.5 STARS - Wunderland is a Historical Fiction page-turner that brings readers into the lives of two teenage friends, Ilse and Renate, who have vastly different perspectives and experiences during World War II.

The story begins in 1989, shortly after Ilse's death, when her daughter, Ava unearths Ilse's long-held secrets. The story then heads back in time, to Berlin in the late 1930's when Ilse and her best friend Renate are teenagers. It's through the bond of these two young women that we get va
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good read which tells the complex stories of Ilse a German girl and Renate a Jewish girl growing up in Berlin as the Nazi party tightens it’s grip on the city. A different take on this period of history focusing on friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness. I enjoyed the many literary references in the book along with the theme that reading and writing were stabilizing forces in the lives of both girls. The book’s title Wunderland stems from Renate’s love and frequent reading of Lewis Carroll’s Al ...more
With COVID days, I’ve found myself in the supermarket aisle since my library is inaccessible, bookstores are closed and delivery is happenstance. The first pages of this trade paperback were so compelling it made its way into my basket, (with appropriate social distancing- no one was in the book aisle!!) in spite of having grown tired of WWII historical fiction. The novel’s treatment of its subject matter - an insider’s look of a young Nazi woman devoted to the cause of the Reich, and its reperc ...more
I won't be summarizing the story-line, but instead will review my likes and dislikes.

My biggest dislike was the historical accuracy of the novel. Many dates were off, amongst other things. For example: In 1935 Ilse is part of the BDM but has not experienced or succumbed to any racial propaganda, which is largely unlikely. The Nuremberg Race Laws were started in September of 1935; but before that time they already tolerated violence against Jews and that year in particular was a violent one.
The s
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This story starts in 1989, NY, with Ava Fisher. She receives an urn with her mother’s ashes and letters addressed to Renate Bauer. She has been estranged from her mother Ilse for some time.

Then the story alternates among those three women back in time.

1933, Renate’s story starts with her being in trouble and then relating how it all happened. It involves her best friend Ilse.

1977, Ava’s story goes back to a time when her mother Ilse comes to NY to visit her and her daughter Sophie.

1935, Ilse’s s
Jan 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What happens when you commit actions against humanity that can never lead to atonement? What happens when a childhood friendship between two young girls breaks as one one joins the Nazi youth and the other finds out she is Jewish? What happens when one girl is naive and the other is a deceiver to herself and the friend she abandons?

This is a powerful book which I will never forget, although I struggled to stay with it during Kristallnacht and all the events that transpired after. It was a trauma
Literary Redhead
This compelling novel reveals the horrors of Nazi Germany, both in its anti-Semitism and the hypnotic way in which Hitler mesmerized the German population. It tells the story of two best female friends — Renate, whose family is declared Jewish, and Ilse, who supports Nazism. The reader’s heart is doubly broken as one suffers terrible persecution and the other endorses it. Evil when “explained” is still evil, so it was hard for me to ever find Ilse a sympathetic character. I especially mourned fo ...more
Sue Seligman
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a riveting and emotional Holocaust novel which centers on the friendship between two teenage girls staring in 1933, at the start of the changes in Germany brought about after World War I and the increasing popularity of Hitler and his Nazi party and its philosophy. Ilse and Renate are as close as two girls can be, sharing secrets, crushes, and school escapades, taking very little interest in the discontent and ominous signs of discrimination. The storyline also includes a glimpse into th ...more
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was emotionally exhausting and it had such chilling parallels for the times we we are living in right this moment. From the author's endnotes:

"But I guess I hope that in reading Wunderland, they’ll engage some of the tough questions I engaged with myself while writing it: How do the lessons of the past translate into the present? How you recognize evil amid the everydayness of life—and perhaps even in yourself? And once you recognize it, what do you do about it?"
At this point in my life I have read so many WW2-based novels and memoirs, that I’m either disappointed because the content is too overdone, or overjoyed because someone takes a new angle and delves into it to create a new story. I just finished Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein and all I can say is WOW. Jennifer Cody Epstein manages to recreate several eras and places that are so close to my heart, and weave together lives in a way that you literally cannot put the book down. I’m not kidding ...more
Ellie Midwood
Wunderland” was wonderful. I actually read it in two days because the story just wouldn’t let me rest until I got to the bottom of things along with Ava - one of the main protagonists, who has just received her late mother Ilse’s ashes along with multiple letters addressed to some mysterious Renate Bauer. As Ava finally uncovers the truth surrounding the mystery of her birth - which was the reason for the constant feeling of estrangement between Ilse and herself - she begins piecing her memorie ...more
Helen Beglin
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
It seems lately that there are a bunch of new books in the vein of WWII and female childhood friends. I am a fan of WWII themed stories. While, I did like this book, I did find that it fell flat some with me. This is because for these types of stories to truly work; so that you can appreciate them to the fullest, you have to for that strong emotional connection towards the characters. I experienced a luke warm bond. In fact, it was the past with Ilse and Renate that I was drawn to the most. The ...more
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I don't normally write reviews, as I simply use goodreads as a way to track my reading progress and whatnot, but this book... wow.

Eloquent and raw.... there were times I absolutely despised characters and then times when I openly and loudly gasped (startling my boyfriend in the process). I actually threw my hand over my mouth a few times, shock and grief getting the best of me. That has NEVER happened to me before, by way of a book. This book, this stunningly written book, drew me in and he
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