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Frei, Pierre 1930-

Frei, Pierre 1930-

PERSONAL:

Born 1930, in Berlin, Germany.

ADDRESSES:

Home—France.

CAREER:

Novelist and journalist.

WRITINGS:

Onkel Toms Hütte, Berlin, Karl Blessing (Munich, Germany), 2003, published as Berlin (novel), translated by Anthea Bell, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Journalist and novelist Pierre Frei was born in Berlin in 1930 and grew up during the tumultuous years of Hitler's rise to power, the waging of World War II, and the Allied occupation of Germany. Using his experiences as a backdrop, Frei wrote Berlin, a "sprawling thriller set amid the hard times and horrors of pre- and post-World War II Germany," according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Originally published in German as Onkel Toms Hütte, Berlin, the book centers on the search for a serial killer stalking blue-eyed, blonde German women in 1945 Berlin. With the Allied occupation of Germany underway, postwar chaos cloaks the activities of the killer as he sexually assaults his victims and brutally strangles them with a chain. Hunting the killer are German police inspector Klaus Dietrich and American Military Police captain John Ashburner. "Here, Frei depicts the conflicted love/hate postwar relations between the Germans and the Americans particularly aptly," noted Ulf Zimmerman in World Literature Today. Meanwhile, Frei adds an additional human touch to his story in the form of Dietrich's teenage son Ben, wheeling and dealing in the devastation to acquire a fancy suit that he hopes will impress a potential girlfriend.

Frei adopts the unusual narrative technique of providing a lengthy biography in flashback of each murder victim, portraying her struggles to survive during the Nazi regime. The irony and tragedy are heightened as each woman seems to be overcoming her circumstances and on her way to better things when the killer strikes. Frei tells the story of Karin, an actress in German films; Helga, a nurse who desperately tries to help her mentally retarded son and save him from Nazi extermination; Marlene, a prostitute married to a Gestapo concentration camp commander who forces her to provide sexual favors for persons who can advance his career; and Henriette, a Prussian aristocrat who works in the foreign ministry and helps her Jewish friends as she is able. "On the one hand, it lessens the suspense of each story that we know at the outset that the woman will be murdered. Yet that knowledge creates poignancy, too," observed Patrick Anderson in the Washington Post. "These stories, while uneven, are vivid and generally persuasive portraits of several levels of German society as the Nazi cancer eats away at it," Anderson commented.

Zimmerman concluded that "Frei has achieved one of those rare novels that richly rewards rereading." He "documents how disturbed this ugly war's aftermath could be, even in those precincts that were supposedly racing ahead to celebrate their new births of freedom," observed Jesse Berrett in the San Francisco Chronicle. Library Journal contributor Michele Leber called the book "fine storytelling for history and mystery fans alike."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 2006, David Wright, review of Berlin, p. 61.

Bookseller, February 4, 2005, review of Berlin, p. 33.

Guardian (London, England), October 29, 2005, Chris Petit, "Dames and Geysers," review of Berlin.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2006, review of Berlin, p. 804.

Library Journal, September 15, 2006, Michele Leber, review of Berlin, p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2006, review of Berlin, p. 40.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2006, Jesse Berrett, "The War's Over, but the Killing Continues," review of Berlin, p. F2.

Washington Post, December 4, 2006, Patrick Anderson, "Murder with a Sense of History," review of Berlin, p. C3.

World Literature Today, January-April, 2005, Ulf Zimmerman, review of Onkel Toms Hütte, p. 99.

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