Review: The Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

I requested this book from NetGalley with no prior expectations – I was simply drawn to the location (Berlin) and the nature of the story (I actively seek out books that tackle the Holocaust).

Amongst all the books featured on this site, you occasionally come across a rare masterpiece and I was overjoyed to find that this was one of those books.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5


“Goebbels used his position to infuse Nazi policies and ideology into the arts. He called it gleichschaltung – synchronizing – but to me, it meant that the bull was in charge of the china shop.”


Set in present day, Chicago lawyer Catherine and her PI husband Liam are approached by an Italian friend to help his elderly aunt Gabi with a residency dispute over in Tuscany. A powerful corporation are claiming the deeds to her land which means she will be evicted imminently. Adamant that the corporation are wrong, Gabi is refusing to give over her land and vineyards that she has worked so hard to build. Before flying over to Italy to assist, Catherine and Liam receive a mysterious manuscript from Gabi which has been translated from German to English and appears to document the life of one Ada Baumgarten – a German girl born in Berlin, 1918. With no extra information attached, Catherine and Liam are confused as to why Gabi wants them to read it but believe it must hold some answers relating to the property dispute.

Narrated by Ada, the story follows her life as an incredibly talented violinist inspired by her father – an accomplished member of the Philharmonic Orchestra. Though the family are well integrated in society and respected by many, this does not stop them from being Jewish. When Hitler takes over Germany, Ada and her family must utilise their talents in order to survive. Believing they are safer in Italy, Ada and her mother move to Bologna and they settle into a new life. But how long can Ada use her musical ability to avoid capture by the Nazis? Will her talent actually be the downfall of her escape? And where is the connection to Gabi’s estate? Could this story from a different country and era hold the answers that will prove Gabi is the rightful owner of her property?

First impressions

Based on the synopsis, my first thought was I don’t think I’m going to enjoy/understand the property and deed side of the story. I was more drawn to the war part which influenced my decision to request the book.


As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the property deed as the characters began tracing back to discover the true ownership. It was something different and to me, that made for a refreshing and educational read. There was tension throughout as the characters raced against time as the eviction date loomed. There was the right amount of fast and slow, a gradual build-up with a clever climax.

“Villa Vincenzo was a rogue island in the sea of VinCo’s vineyards. A trespasser.”

A different perspective

I commend books that tackle the Holocaust; it is such a sensitive subject that requires truly emotional writing to paint an accurate description of the awful events that occurred. Most books I’ve read have been from the point of view of the Jewish prisoners, however this book was from the perspective of a Jewish family with wealth, fame and talent, giving them a higher status in society and an excuse to survive. This gave the story an original angle that I found interesting and engaging.

“The BSO was performing Wagner’s Gotterdammerung on the day the world exploded. It was as if we were hired to record the soundtrack. We were performing it on the stage in the Teatro, while on the world’s stage a million Nazi troops were marching into Poland.”

Overall, this is one of my favourite books of 2018 so far. I absolutely applaud the author for bringing this magical and poignant story to life.

You can purchase a copy of The Girl From Berlin here: Amazon

Disclosure: I am part of an affiliate program which means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.

Other books by Ronald H. Balson

Take a look at other books in the Liam Taggart & Catherine Lockhart Series:

Once We Were Brothers (Book 1)

Saving Sophie (Book 2)

Karolina’s Twins(Book 3)

The Trust (Book 4)

What Next?

If you enjoyed The Girl From Berlin and are looking for other books in this genre, I highly recommend The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. You can see my full review of this incredible book here.


Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Pages: 384 (hardback)
About the author: By trade, Ron is a civil litigation attorney, practicing in Chicago. In 2014, he was a finalist for both the Premio Bancarella Italian Literary Award and the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson

  1. How did I miss this post? Oh WP Reader, you fail me yet again.

    Now that you said this title was one of your top picks for the year, I definitely want to read it. I was kind of already interested at “vineyard” anyway. I agree with you: I wouldn’t think deed and property ownership would float my boat…but you convinced me otherwise. Plus, it’s also a unique spin in literature these days.

    I equally agree: covering the Holocaust is delicate and not easy. I knew I’d see a Picoult read alike here…nice choice!


    1. I know I keep missing your replies to my comments on TUL but I get notifications of everyone else’s! Very typical of WP ha. Yes I can’t recommend this book enough, it definitely puts a different spin on it and gives it more of an original storyline. Some reviews think it unnecessary and that the memoir was enough but I think the flashbacks between past and present work well. Let me know your thoughts if you get round to reading it!

      Oh you know me, massive advocate of The Storyteller and any excuse to recommend it!!

      Liked by 1 person

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