On November 7, 1938, 17 year-old Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish-German Jew, shot and killed German embassy official Ernst vom Rath. The next day, the Nazis launched Kristallnacht, a major assault on the Jewish population in Germany, and claimed the assassination of vom Rath as the catalyst. Everyone Has Their Reasons, by Joseph Matthews, chronicles the life of Herchel Grynszpan before and after the assassination in a fictional series of letters between the teenager and his defense attorney.
Throughout this series of letters, the reader is taken on a journey through Herschel’s adolescence as little more than a refugee, to the assassination of vom Rath, and through his imprisonment in various locations around Europe while he awaits trial for his crime. In the way the novel is structured, and in the subject matter and voice of the character, this novel is similar to The Diary of Anne Frank. However, it gives a completely different perspective of WWII in that it goes into intricate detail of what life was like in Germany in the time directly leading up to the war.
As somebody who always takes great interest in reading and learning about World War II, I was immediately drawn to this novel and excited to learn more about its lesser-known aspects. Prior to reading Everyone Has Their Reasons, I had never heard of Herschel Grynszpan, and had, in some far-away recess of my brain, only a vague recognition of Kristallnacht. At first, I had a difficult time with the prose and structure of this novel, but once I got into it, I was gripped by the intricate, heartbreaking detail with which the author lends a voice to the main character.
This is a great story for anyone who is interested in history, particularly World War II, and truly allows readers to throw themselves into somebody else’s shoes.
Trisha Tucci lives near Baltimore, MD with her husband, 4 cats and 2 dogs. She is a university employee by day and grad student and bibliophile by night. She loves Harry Potter and books about books, but will read just about anything that can spark her imagination.