Title: The Heart Mender
Author: Andy Andrews
Major Themes: Forgiveness, World War II
Synopsis: A memorable true story of a resentful woman who found a barely alive German submariner washed up on a northern gulf coast beach one day in 1942.
I knew The Heart Mender was a book I wanted to read when I saw Mom head off to the bedroom with her iPad so she could get away from the noise and listen to the last ten minutes of the book. Mom is a through-and-through bookworm. She can hardly stand to sit still long enough to watch a movie, let alone listen to someone else read a story, so the fact that she was so invested in the story that she’d be willing to not do anything for ten minutes to finish it spoke volumes to me about the book. Just a week or so later, I had a project going that didn’t need my full attention, so I had the privilege of listening to the audiobook myself—and ended up finishing it in several long stints over the next day or so. What an excellent read!
Widowed, resentful, and recently become the owner of a house along the gulf coast, Helen Mason lives alone and works at a local cafe to support herself. Since her young husband was killed in a bombing raid while helping to train men in the British airforce, she has struggled with anger and resentment toward the world in general and Germans in particular. Meanwhile, Josef Landermann was commissioned as a Lieutenant on a German U-boat, and sent across the Atlantic to help patrol the gulf of Mexico. After being betrayed and left for dead, Josef washes ashore along the northern gulf coast, where Helen finds him, barely alive. What is she to do with a hated Nazi in her house? And even if he survives, what can Josef do with his life now?
Told in a mix of first-person, present-day, and third-person, World War II, The Heart Mender is a breathtaking account of despair, anger, forgiveness, and hope. For being such a powerful story, it packs a punch in its 250 pages—I was expecting it to take a lot longer to get to the end than it did. Every time I turned the story on to listen a bit further, I was instantly riveted. The situation, the characters, the beauty of the storytelling, and the way this book takes you into a new piece of history are all incredible. And every time I had to turn the story off, I chaffed at the delay. This is a book that’s hard to put down!
As far as I can tell, this is a true story. The dialogue would have been almost entirely made up, but as far as the actual events, I believe they are realistic and did actually happen. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and this book definitely has the feeling of reality about it.
Besides the strong theme of forgiveness, the historical side of this book was a favorite of mine. Before reading this story, I had no idea that German U-boats patrolled the Gulf of Mexico during the Second World War, sinking ships. Getting a glimpse into what quiet seaside towns in Alabama and Florida were like during the war was also intriguing. The characters were another fun historical discovery, especially the boy with down syndrome. His observations were always timely, spot-on, sometimes uncomfortable, and often hilarious! Of all the people shared in this book, I think Danny was my favorite.
Though The Heart Mender is a war story, it’s full of hope. Aside from a few descriptions of injuries near the middle of the book and one scene near the end of the book (see the warnings), it’s a heartwarming read. If you enjoy true stories or stories from the past that could easily be true, I’d recommend this story. I’m looking forward to checking out the movie when it releases, too!
WARNING: There is lying in ch. 2, 6, 9, 12, and 14; God’s name is used wrongly in ch. 4, 5, 7 (twice), 10, 11 (twice), 12, and 15; swear is used in ch. 5; dang is used in ch. 6 and 8 (twice); curse is used in ch. 6; cussed, “filthy bastard”, and the phrase “all hellfire and God knows” are used in ch. 8; jeez is used in ch. 8, 9, and 13; bloody is used in ch. 10; damn is used in ch. 11; “heck-Joseph” and gee are used in ch. 13; and heck is used in ch. 14. In ch. 2, there is talk of the results of U-boat torpedos and people who were killed. In ch. 4, a ship is torpedoed, there is a mention of a young woman and an older man who were beaten up (the latter one described), and a man admits he’s thought of suicide as a way out. In ch. 5, there is a story of a man who was killed in a bombing raid. In ch. 6, a man shouts at another man and dead bodies are found washed up on shore (somewhat disturbing). In ch. 7, a man thinks about how he wants to kill another man, and a man is shot several times and falls overboard. In ch. 8, a man is found injured on a beach and someone gets punched in the face. There is some smoking in ch. 9. In ch. 11, there is a story of people being killed by bombs. In ch. 12, a man shoots at someone. In ch. 14, a man is threatened with a gun, a man slaps a woman, and someone is shot at. In ch. 15, someone is badly injured and killed (a pretty gruesome scene; I recommend a parent pre-read this scene before approval). In ch. 16, there is a mention of someone found hung, possibly a suicide.