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An act of desperation divides a mother and her child. Only an act of faith can reunite them.
Trudy Hulst has no idea if her husband survived his attempted escape past the newly constructed Berlin Wall. But she knows too well the consequences of his actions. Now branded the wife of a defector, she faces a life in prison. With no real choice, she is forced to follow, praying she can find a way to claim their child once she's in West Berlin.
Trudy survives a harrowing break for freedom...only to learn her husband was shot during his escape. Terribly alone, she wanders the wall like a ghost, living for brief glimpses of her son, now out of reach behind barbed wire and armed soldiers. Desperate to regain her child, Trudy begins a journey that leads her to America, where she continues an odyssey of hope to find her son.
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Marcia Preston grew up on a wheat farm in central Oklahoma, and her first two books were mysteries in an Oklahoma setting. She was awarded the 2004 Mary Higgins Clark Award for suspense fiction, and the 2004 Oklahoma Book Award. Her most recent books are general fiction. Before writing novels full time, Marcia taught high school English and was a freelance writer for a long list of national magazines. She also published and edited a specialty magazine for writers.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
East Berlin, January 1963
The five o'clock whistle shrilled, and Trudy pulled the lever to shut down the ancient, clattering loom. She had stood on cold concrete since seven that morning, and her legs felt numb and swollen. A persistent ache nagged her lower back.
On the next machine over, her friend Renate was using up the last of her yarns before quitting. If you were close to finishing a job, you were expected to complete it before leaving. Renate was pushing fifty, twenty years older than Trudy, but she never complained about the long hours or her aches and pains. Trudy made a sympathetic face at her, but Renate just shrugged.
When her loom was quiet, Trudy anchored the pattern cards and locked down the machine. All around her in the cavernous, high-windowed building, other machines fell silent one by one. The echo of their rattling bottled up her ears. A parade of unsmiling women crossed the factory floor in rubber-soled silence, too tired to talk. Trudy joined the queue and clocked out, placed her time card in its proper slot in the rack and left the building.
Outdoors, a greasy yellow light hung above the factory roof. The low sky smelled like diesel exhaust and possible snow. Trudy rolled her head in a slow circle and felt the burning between her shoulder blades, the crackling in her neck. She buttoned her coat and started the long walk home through gathering darkness.
Twelve weeks today. Stefan's first birthday had come and gone, then Christmas and New Year's. Twelve weeks since Rolf had gone across, and still she'd heard nothing from him. Maybe Gisela had received some word from him today. She quickened her steps as if she hadn't fed herself the same hope every evening.
Lights winked on in the buildings along her route.The pungent aroma of bratwurst and sauerkraut drifted out from an apartment house, and her stomach rumbled. She was always starving by the time she got home. But she was luckier than most of the women on her shift, who still had to cook a meal for their families. Gisela would have dinner ready, and her mother-in-law was a good cook.Trudy pulled her coat tighter and pictured Stefan at home in the warm apartment with his grandmother, waiting for her return. That vision sustained her during the long days at the textile mill.
A few months ago, Rolf would have been there waiting, as well. For a while after the wall went up and cut him off from his job in the western sector of the city, he was at home more than he had been in years. She'd enjoyed those weeks, despite the financial hardship. But because he'd been a Grenzgaenger—a border crosser who lived in the East but worked in the West for better pay—he'd found it difficult to get a decent job in East Berlin. As the weeks dragged on, Rolf grew frustrated and bitter. Trudy had taken the factory job to get them by until he found something better. And Rolf had begun to spend hours away from home in other pursuits, dangerous ones that brought tension and arguments between them. And finally his exile.
It was fully dark by the time she climbed the stairs to their second-floor flat. Trudy insisted that Gisela keep the door locked when she and Stefan were alone. Trudy tapped three times before using her key. Behind the door Stefan shrieked, and she knew he was scrambling toward her on all fours, quick as a cat. He'd started walking before Christmas, but he could still crawl faster.
Smiling, she stepped inside and scooped him up, covering his face with sloppy kisses. He giggled and squirmed, his dark curls falling away from his face, and then lifted his shirt so she could tickle his tummy. Was it possible he had grown just since this morning? At this rate he'd soon be too heavy for Mutti to lift.
Gisela called to her from her favorite chair, where her knitting was spread on her lap. "Hallo, meine Liebe. A long day?"
Trudy carried Stefan and sank onto the sofa. "No longer than usual." She sighed. "Something smells wonderful. Goulash?"
"With boiled potatoes and green beans. It is ready when you are."
"In a few minutes."
Stefan slid off her lap and onto the floor, where he'd left a pile of lettered blocks. Trudy slouched back on the sofa and watched the rhythm of Gisela's knitting needles working blue-and-grey yarn. "What are you making?"
"A cap and mittens for Stefan. I found an old sweater of Heinz's in a drawer and unraveled the yarn. It's pretty, ja?"
"Yes, it is." Mutti was a master at making do with what she had, a skill left over from the war in which her husband Heinz had died.
Tonight Gisela's hands seemed tight on the needles, and Trudy noticed extra lines around her eyes. Either the arthritis had settled in her bad leg again, giving her pain, or something else was wrong. Trudy watched her a moment longer.
"Mutti? Did you hear something today?"
The needles kept working and her voice betrayed no emotion. "I had a call from Wolfgang."
Trudy frowned. "Wolfgang Krüger?" News from Rolf should come from one of his associates in the underground, not from the Volkspolizei.
"What other Wolfgang do we know?" Gisela looped a double strand of yarn over the needles and took three quick stitches. The cap was starting to take shape, thick and warm.
"What did he say?"
Gisela glanced up, and for a moment her fingers went still. "He wants to come visit us. He didn't say when."
Trudy's pulse jumped to her throat. This couldn't be good. She hadn't seen Wolfgang Krüger in months, maybe longer, and she doubted Rolf had either. "Why?"
Gisela shook her head and said nothing. She resumed her knitting.
Trudy saw in the set of Gisela's jaw that there was more to her conversation with Wolfgang Krüger than she was saying. Mutti was worried. She was also as stubborn as an old habit, and Trudy knew it was useless to question her further.
Gisela pushed the yarn back on the needles and folded her work into its faded canvas bag. "I'll set dinner on now. I'm sure you and Stefan are both hungry." She pushed herself up from the chair and started for the kitchen.
Now that Rolf was gone, they rarely ate at the big dining table that anchored one end of the living room. The table was one of only two Hulst family heirlooms to survive the war. The other was the rocking chair Trudy used every night at Stefan's bedtime. Tonight Gisela set out their meal on the small table in the kitchen.
There was little meat in the goulash, but Mutti was skillful with seasonings. Trudy held Stefan on her lap and let him eat small bites from her plate. She offered him a spoon but he preferred to use his fingers, and she was too tired to insist.
She ate all of her goulash and took another half portion, but Mutti picked at her food and had little to say. Trudy listened to the ticking of the kitchen clock and the rhythmic kicking of Stefan's foot against the table leg. She watched him track down green beans and gnash them happily with his three teeth.
When Stefan was full, he squirmed to get down. Trudy and Gisela cleared the table and stacked the dishes. While Trudy washed and Gisela dried, Stefan toddled around their legs, jabbering. His elbow was hooked around the neck of Bebe, the stuffed bear Rolf had given him not long before he left. The bear's brown fur was already matted, the red tongue partly gone.
By the time they'd finished, Stefan's eyelids were heavy and he was starting to fuss. Trudy wiped him down with a warm cloth, changed him into pajamas and let Gisela kiss him goodnight. Then she carried him to the bedroom they shared.
Inside a circle of yellow lamplight, the rocker creaked its familiar song while Trudy's feet pushed against the floor. All day in the cold clatter of the textile mill, she had looked forward to this quiet time. She hummed a Bavarian lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was small. Gisela had rocked Stefan's father in the old chair, and Trudy hoped those memories would somehow pass to Stefan. She wanted him to have the kind of family history that she had lost in the war.
Stefan was her miracle baby, her first and last. The solid weight of him grounded her, and she was thrilled by the bright intelligence in his eyes. Even now, the perfection of his tiny hands left her breathless.
She laid her head back on the chair and closed her eyes. Stefan's nose was stuffy and his breath rattled in his chest. Probably taking a cold.
A child's life ought to be safe and happy. But she couldn't even protect Stefan from catching cold or scraping his knee, let alone from the scary things that happened to children. Her own mother must have lain awake with the same worries, while Germany lunged toward war and Trudy's father was drafted into Hitler's army.
She had been six years old when her father went away, and now the same thing was happening to Stefan, even younger. The only image she had left of her father was a tall, straight man in a handsome uniform. His face had become a blur within a year after he was gone. How long would it take Stefan to forget Rolf? Perhaps he already had.
Humming her mother's lullaby, Trudy tried to remember her father's face. She'd been proud of him on the day he left, not even worried. Her father was invincible, and the grown-ups had talked about Hermann Goering's promise that not a single enemy bomb would fall on the capital of the Reich.
The British RAF proved Goering wrong. The first time the sirens blared in the night, her mother had pulled her from bed in her nightgown and they rushed to one of the bunkers near their home. Trudy had shivered in the damp cave, cradling the puppy her father had given her for her birthday. She clutched a blanket around them both, while her mother prayed and the night exploded.
That night the planes did little damage to Berlin. But that was only the first air raid, followed by many more. There were other dangers, too—looters in the bombed buildings and ruthless armed policemen in the streets. Worst of all, her friend Elsa Hammerstein disappeared along with her whole family, and no one would tell Trudy where they'd gone.
Her father had come home only once, on leave. He was nervous and thin, and there were special ribbons pinned to his che...
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Book Description Mira, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0778314073