I like to read historical novels about World War II, not about the battles, politics, or war tactics, but stories about the home front, resistance, and the historical figures involved. Usually what I have read has been about the Allied side of the conflict. The Song Before it is Sung was recommended to me as a novel about a "good German" and the German resistance. It is the story of a friendship between a professor at Oxford and a German nobleman. They met as young men when they were both Rhoades Scholars at Oxford. Total opposites physically and in temperament, they build a relationship based on their intellect, indulging in late night conversations and arguments about theories and life itself. With the war looming they struggle to maintain a relationship that is splintered by Mendel's strong opinions about the Third Reich and the German people's complicity and von Gottberg's strong German nationalism. Mendel is Jewish and of course this has an impact on his feelings. Von Gottberg believes that the real Germany is a good Germany and if he can rid the country of Hitler by working from within he can help prevent the war. Von Gottberg returns to Germany and when the war begins he resists joining the party but does become part of the government.
The narrator of the story is a student of Mendel, to whom Mendel has entrusted all his papers in regard to von Gottberg upon his death. The story is told through the student's research and interviews, and the secondary plot line is about his personal life.
I was about a third of the way through the book when a friend of mine asked me to go see the film Valkyrie (2008) with Tom Cruise. The film, which was better than I expected, tells the story of the attempted assassination of Hitler on July 20, 1944. The attempt almost succeeded as did the coup that was in full swing before it was halted upon the realization that Hitler was not killed. The man who engineered the plot and attempted coup was von Stauffenberg.
When I continued to read The Song Before it is Sung this weekend - the next section was about this plot and von Gottberg's involvement in it. This is when I realized and confirmed (thank you Google) that the novel is based on the real friendship between Isaiah Berlin, an Oxford scholar, and Adam von Trott who was deeply involved with von Stauffenberg in the attempted assassination. Von Stauffenberg and von Trott were executed as a result of their involvement.
The book is well written and the characters are well developed. It takes the historical facts of this friendship and the assassination plot and weaves a story that is compelling through characters that are a product of the historical events and atrocities of that time. The book tells a story not often told of the good Germans that tried, albeit too late, to prevent the horror of the Third Reich