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Monday 6 June 2011

The Secret of the Notebook, book by Eve Haas published by Harper & Collins (2009), 4* out of 5

The Jaretzkis are an upper middle-class Jewish Family from Berlin who in 1934 flee from Germany to the safety of the Hampstead neighbourhood of London. Hans Jaretzki is a prominent architect of the Bauhaus School. On her 16th birthday he shows his daughter Eve a notebook that has been in the family for generations. The notebook contains an inscription by Prince August of Prussia (1779-1843) the illustrious nephew of the Frederick the Great of Prussia to his wife Emilie Gottschalk. Emilie is Hans Jarecki's great-grandmother. The Jarecki family, though Jewish, are thus descendants of Prince August. Prince August is not just any member of the German Royal family: he is a General and a key organiser of the Prussian Army who will play a major role in Napoleons defeat and represent Prussia at the Vienna Congress that establishes the European Political order following the Napoleonic Wars. His adjutant is von Clausewitz, whose writings are still the gold standard of military strategy and required reading in modern Military training schools.

In 1970 Eve Jarecki-Haas, who has inherited the notebook on her father's death begins a long search into her family history supported by her husband Ken Haas. How come a Jewish family can claim to be descendants by morganatic marriage from a most prominent member of the German Hohenzollern Royal family? And how did Eve's grandmother, the grand-daughter of Prince August, who lived in Prague at the time of World War II become a victim of the murderous German-Nazi machine that targeted the Jews of Europe?

The Secret of the notebook is the literary equivalent of a musical fugue consisting two thrillers wrapped into one. The first concerns the machinations at the Prussian Court during the Napoleonic Wars and beyond in the Potsdam and Berlin of the early to mid-19th century. The second takes us into the Europe of the late 20th century. The totalitarian communist regime in East Germany is very much intact and unaware of its imminent demise.

Eve (Jarecki-)Haas book tells the story of her search and the many twists and turns of her family history that it reveals. She is an accomplished writer and raconteur. For anybody with even a passing interest in European history the book is a page-turner with a plot-line that would do justice to the most fertile mind of writers of historical fiction. But this is a fascinating true story and an exciting read.


  1. Emilie von Ostrowska.Polish aristocrat.

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