Friends! Don’t you love it when you finish a book and want to learn more about its subject? Such will be the scenario when you dive into My Dearest Dietrich: A Novel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Lost Love by Amanda Barratt.
I recently heard an interview with our author, Amanda Barratt, and Eric Metaxas on the Metaxas Talk Show. (www.metaxastalk.com) One could argue over which of the two knows more about Bonhoeffer given Amanda’s research for her novel and Eric’s tome…
Not having learned much about Bonhoeffer’s fiancee, Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, I was delighted to learn of Amanda’s new novel, My Dearest Dietrich, especially since Branches Book Club will open their season with it come Monday, September 23rd. (Mark the date on your calendar! 6:30-8:00 p.m., at Middletown United Methodist Church! Load up your car with friends and come!)
Hearing the interview further fueled my desire to read Amanda’s book, promptly causing me to order it. The Living Word Bookstore currently has lots of copies for you book clubbers! Call to reserve your copy: (502) 253-8220.
The most astonishing discovery of this talented author is her age. Wait for it: Amanda is only TWENTY-THREE YEARS OLD. Huh? You’ll flip even more once you dive into her book, her words wrapping around you like a warm blanket.
Gaining a peak into Dietrich and Maria’s relationship is delightful. We readers must remind ourselves this book is a novel, yet we feel as if we are right there with them, almost afraid to disturb their privacy.
For me, seeing this side of Bonhoeffer, my eyes were opened to a much, much different man. While I’ve always respected him as a ten-talent theologian who continues to inspire thousands, I’d never considered the softer side of him. Additionally, I knew of his close ties with his family, and still didn’t ponder exactly how close they were.
Finishing Amanda’s novel only made me want to learn more. Bless her for listing suggestions for further reading at the end of her book, one book of which, I’ll be reporting on soon! (Letters and Papers from Prison by Bonhoeffer, compiled by Dietrich’s dear friend, Eberhard Bethge.)
The other kicker for me, was, since I knew the outcome of Bonhoeffer’s life (Spoiler alert: he was hung in prison the morning of April 9th, in 1945.), somehow I still hoped we’d see him freed from prison, and see them married off. Nevertheless, My Dearest Dietrich is the quintessential page-turner.
The novel opens in June of 1942. We get to see how Dietrich and Maria meet, his involvement with the Abwehr, his writing habits, along with snippets of his resume which intimidate Maria. For example: She calls him “a thoroughgoing academic, earning his doctorate in theology at the age of twenty-one, going on to pastor in Spain, complete a postdoctoral degree, study in America, lecture at Berlin’s University, and actively participate in maintaining ecumenical communication between foreign churches. He also became one of the foremost leaders in the Confessing Church—a group that fought desperately both to counter the false teachings of the Reich Church and to keep alive a church founded on Scripture’s doctrine rather than Herr Hitler’s.”
Dietrich, in his 30’s, and Maria, a mere teenager, become engaged much to the chagrin of her mother, insisting they wait a full year to date including no letters and no visits. Thankfully this changes once Dietrich becomes imprisoned. Soon letters become exchanged and Maria gets to visit him once a month. Reading about their visits is simply breathtaking. They’re also frustrating given the officers who feel compelled to be present.
We see through Maria’s eyes both a serious side of Dietrich as she recounts hearing him preach, counting sixty-eight times his use of the word, “God.” As well as a lighter side: in the same afternoon she witnesses him “trounce everyone at table tennis.”
Another element I particularly enjoyed was the musical influence over his entire family, Dietrich included. Often they play classical pieces together, everyone playing a different musical instrument, Dietrich at the piano. This was their way of life.
Their family meals seem perpetually challenging intellectually. I find this fascinating as time around the table is not a part of our way of life today, sadly. Although we can certainly aspire to such! (In a perfect world, a round table is my favorite with our family, you?)
During the frightening times of the Hitler regime, never knowing when one could potentially be arrested, the Bonhoeffer’s made the most of their time together. Maria said Dietrich’s words were always “full of purpose, clarity, and even rarer, hope.”
Dietrich shared a revelation about his faith with Maria. He told her what he enjoyed most about his visit to America was in the Abyssinian Baptist Church. He said,
As time marches on, the intensity of the war builds, the conspirators remain on edge, yet standing firm. Their ultimate goal was to assassinate Hitler. Black-out curtains are hung in all the windows. Cars begin stalking them and we readers find ourselves on edge as well. Amanda’s skill at foreshadowing is key.
One of many favorite quotes comes from November 11, 1942, in Berlin: “The time might come when Dietrich would be among those reduced to starvation rations, and as his gaze traveled the table, the faces of his parents, he committed it all to memory, storing up each scene like an art collector locking away his beloved masterpieces.”
While many of their friends become arrested, others die either from war or suicide. Dietrich learns of many soldiers suffering, “the young men who had once been his students, the lifeblood of his illegal seminary…”
Dietrich declares in a meeting of the conspiracy, “Above all, these concerns must be taken to God. His is the only authority to which we can rightfully answer. Seek Him, He will not fail you.”
Many fellow prisoners and guards, after becoming acquainted with Dietrich comment on his remarkable peace and tranquility he exhibited. His steadfast faith and trust in the Lord is wonderfully inspirational. You find yourself reading with your jaw open in astonishment over his ability to stay calm, forever seeking the Lord in prayer, day, after day, after day.
Don’t miss all the beautiful details of Dietrich and Maria’s relationship as well as their inspirational faith. More than once I asked myself, “Could I, and would I react like this? Would my faith hold true?”
Now you know what I’m going to say, “Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and grab My Dearest Dietrich.” You’ll be so glad you did.
And don’t forget to save the date: September 23rd to join us at Branches Book Club, Middletown United Methodist Church from 6:30-8:00 p.m. when we discuss this excellent novel. You won’t want to miss this! We’re hoping to hear from Amanda via a video message (I’ll confirm this closer to our meeting) and of course, we’ll have apple strudel among other German delights!
‘Til next time!