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Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By: Helena P. Schrader
Publisher: Cross Seas Press
Publication Date: May 15, 2024
ISBN: 979-8987177020
Reviewed by: Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.
Review Date: June 25, 2024

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift is the second book of a three-part series (Bridge to Tomorrow) written by Dr. Helena P. Schrader and devoted to a largely forgotten part of World War II history: the Russian blockade or Berlin Crisis of 1948-1949 when Berliners were unable to get the basic supplies they needed to survive because of Russian interference. Most historical novels and works of nonfiction about this time period are about what happened prior to and during the War, mainly focusing on the Holocaust; however, what Schrader expertly does is speak to the aftermath of the War, when innocent lives were (literally and figuratively) picking up the pieces and starving for the essentials. The Berlin Airlift in Gatow was a lifeline to those who needed assistance, and Cold War (the sequel to Cold Peace) is a dramatic attempt to show how significant this innovative and creative initiative was to a devastated nation on the brink of being ripped into two distinct worlds.

There is no doubt Dr. Schrader knows the subject matter; she earned her PhD in history from the University of Hamburg, and her areas of expertise include aviation and World War II, so it is obvious she is familiar with what happened between 1948 and 1949. This fact is apparent in her discussions about how the Berlin Airlift was built and used, from its paltry beginnings to becoming the juggernaut it was, eventually dropping almost 13,000 tons of necessities to the German people. Most of the novel, which is also a multi-character melodrama indicative of 1940s and 1950s war pictures, is devoted to providing readers with a complete understanding of the difficulties surrounding the Herculean task of ensuring an entire population of people are fed and living comfortably in a war-torn nation. She does this with an unparalleled audience-centered confidence; the book is simple, focused, and straight-forward, even if over 500 pages long. Dr. Schrader goes day by day, in a linear fashion, which makes Cold War flow and makes the building of the Airlift into something most readers can understand without googling different mechanical terminologies or looking up convoluted airplane schematics. The work is accessible and keeps readers engaged in both how the Airlift was built and how individuals, who had their own personal baggage to deal with, sacrificed it all to guarantee the safety of those in need.

Much of this has to do with Dr. Schrader’s “Forward,” which provides audience members a full synopsis of Cold Peace, plot points about the first book, character biographies, maps, and list of side characters who are not and who are historical figures. Similar to the expositions given day-after-day in daytime soap operas, having this “Forward” brings those who did not read the first novel in the series, up-to-date on what is currently taking place in the story; and, it orients readers in the hopes they will be able to stay focused on what is happening throughout. Although the number of characters admittedly can be quite dizzying (10 protagonists, and a slew of bit players, come and go throughout the work), Cold War is relatively easy to follow and is rife with a great deal to keep the audience on the hook: danger, suspense, intrigue, passion, good versus evil, and battles. In other words, Cold War possesses all the components needed for a successful historical novel very much like that of Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and a slew of other films coming out of America and the United Kingdom during that timeframe. The narrative is indeed important, but so is readers knowing about the tenacity of those willing to lose it all to save their fellow humans.

This tenacity comes from both men and women. Very different from the films discussed above, and many other war films, Cold War places women at the forefront of the narrative. Oftentimes, writing and visual authors of history whitewash groups of people out of said histories. Systemic misogyny and racism are a sad but true part of world history. Dr. Schrader, instead, recognizes women were just as important to the war effort. They were: pilots; translators; air traffic controllers; journalists; and, blue-collar workers. They contributed their time, blood and love of country to their countries of origin just as much as the men did, and Dr. Schrader does an excellent job in showing this fact of history in Cold War. Thus, the women get equal “screentime” and readers can get a good taste of what it meant to be a woman during this most difficult time in world history. And, ultimately, what makes Dr. Schrader’s timely work so valuable is how accurately Cold War shows the trials and tribulations all human beings went through during World War II and soon thereafter, as well as what they may be going through now in several countries around the globe. Just as much as it is historical, Dr. Schrader’s novel is a covert commentary of what is happening today and our need to be better humanitarians.

Quill says: Cold War is a sprawling but absorbing narrative that gives readers a full and accurate understanding to what happened during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949.

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