All the Broken Places by Irish novelist John Boyne is a cunning domestic drama with breathtaking plot twists, experienced through the eyes of a German woman desperate to escape an evil, shameful legacy: her father was one of Hitler's senior lieutenants, responsible for unimaginable atrocities during World War II. Gretel Fernsby, Boyne's enigmatic 92-year-old narrator, is a force to be reckoned with. A widow in impressive physical and cognitive health, she lives independently in a grand apartment overlooking London's Hyde Park. She keeps to herself, her self-imposed exile concealing her family's haunting, troubled wartime past that would destroy her and her son if revealed. Guilt and remorse over her father's war crimes, as well as her own silence, are her constant companions.
Boyne's plot alternates between Gretel's life in present-day London and the postwar years in Berlin, Poland and Paris. Readers of his work will have encountered a much younger Gretel in his sensational young adult novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. In All the Broken Places, a standalone sequel, Boyne (The House of Special Purpose; The Absolutist) has crafted a diabolically complex protagonist made vulnerable by a lifetime of lies. Gretel--exquisitely tender with Henry, the young boy who lives downstairs--demonstrates merciless hostility to Henry's father, Alex, a Hollywood producer who physically abuses his wife and son and who taunts Gretel by digging into her past. As Alex's treatment of Henry worsens and he comes dangerously close to exposing Gretel's secrets, she is faced with two terrifying choices, neither offering any hope of redemption. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer