Prinz David’s Castle, by Daniel Richard Smith

Ten stars (trust me here)!!

First and foremost, a large thank you to Daniel Richard Smith for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When Daniel Richard Smith approached me to read his debut novel, I was perhaps more nervous than he—as an independent author seeking an audience—as I have had mixed experiences in that regard. Smith hoped that I would enjoy its story and perhaps the message on offer. I read the dust jacket blurb and was enthralled, hoping the journey would be as exciting as it was educational. The book consists of three time periods, all integral to one another. The centre of the three is the journey of Robert Schmidt (Smith) as he pieces together his uncle’s childhood disappearance during the height of Nazi rule in Germany. Smith’s research and interviews in the late 1970s seek to answer some of the key questions of Nazi decisions to sanitise the country in the lead-up to what would be the Second World War (more on that in a moment). While working to fit everything together, Smith comes to terms with the choices his father (Lukas) made over the years, embittered by having to flee from Germany to Canada in the late 1930s. Smith also learns of his own brother, a man who was erased from the Smith family and given up as a ward of the the province. The primary narrative of the story is told in the late1930s, when the Nazi’s hold over the country continued to get stronger. The Nuremberg Race Laws were coming into effect, which ushered in a program, Aktion T4, to ‘disinfect’ the country, read euthanise those who were mentally and physically impure. This included children and the elderly, who were the most vulnerable. The Nazis created killing centres throughout their territory and installed fake showers to offer false hope to those who were led there, killing them en masse and burning the bodies before anyone on the outside might know. Felix Schmidt was once a prominent doctor in Germany, stripped of his role because he is a Jew. Felix and his wife try to raise their boys—Lukas and David—with limited resources. David suffers from cerebral palsy and is sure to be sent to a killing centre, should he be found. In need of medical attention, the Schmidts must make a decision, save themselves or help David escape the reach of the Nazis. In a harrowing tale, Lukas and his mother flee for Canada, while Felix remains behind to ensure David’s safety. However, the story shows that nothing goes quite as planned and David is shuffled around in an effort to protect him. Enter the aforementioned Robert Schmidt narrative. This creates a third narrative, which includes the culmination of Robert’s work, sent to his own nephew, Duncan, in 2015. Duncan Smith now lives in Edmonton and has no idea of his family’s harrowing stories, which are sure to rock him to the core. Stunning in its delivery and rawness, Daniel Richard Smith tells a story that must be presented, as painful as it is to read. A must read (and I stress this more than I would normally) for anyone who has an interest in how the Nazis treated their citizens, as well as the reader who finds solace in a story where a pinprick of light fosters a determination for the truth to shine through.

When reading and reviewing a book last week about Operation: Paperclip (search my reviews for more info), I mentioned that I have tired of reading about the Nazis and their role in the Second World War. It seems a topic that has been flogged to death. However, Daniel Richard Smith offers not only a unique perspective, but also one that is a mix of fact and fiction, presenting something that is equal parts horrible and life-affirming. I knew that there were Nazi atrocities before the infamous concentration camps and that German citizens were killed for being Jews, homosexuals, and even having mental illnesses, but this was one of the first times that I could read all the specifics of Nazi early euthanasia while the world was distracted with other matters. Smith tells in the narrative of how Hitler used the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a distraction to open his own killing centres and terminate the lives of thousands of Germans, leaving only a smoking mess behind. I will not choose a single protagonist in this piece, as it is the collective who make the story worth reading. Smith’s detailed accounts of his characters and their actions makes the story come alive on yet another level, one that cannot easily be put into words in a single review. The reader must be ready for one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives, as Smith pulls no punches in a narrative that builds on itself, weaving the horrors of human nature with the determination to live. His writing is so realistic, it is almost as though the reader is right there: dodging guards on the streets of Nuremberg, in the mountains of Austria, or even aboard a boat making its way into Montreal. There is so much rawness that the reader will likely have to take a moment to compose themselves, though the story is so captivating that it invites a binge reading. Daniel Richard Smith uses some of his own experiences, based on the author biography I read, and infuses them into this story, which adds a new dimension to its greatness. Those who love historical fiction need look no further than this book for a moving and sometimes awkward look back, with just enough shame embedded in the narrative to wonder what the world was thinking as appeasement was the policy of the day. This is one of those books that will stay with me forever and I am happy to have both an author signed copy of the book and the audio, both of which are stunning representations. I encourage you to find a copy of this book or have your local library purchase it, not only because it supports an independent author, but also because it should be shared as widely as possible. And those who know me through my reviews will understand that I don’t say this lightly.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for such a stunning book. I am sorry I did not begin it as soon as it arrived in the post, but you can be sure that if/when I get my hands on your current project (one you shared with me by email), it will move to the top of my list, post haste.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: