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Literature / Summer of My German Soldier

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A popular YA novel by Bette Greene about Patty Bergen, a 12-year-old Jewish girl living in World War II-era rural Arkansas who befriends a German POW in a nearby camp named Anton Reiker. She shelters him after he attempts escape, while keeping him a secret from her family and the authorities.

Rejected by publishers 37 times, it was published in 1973 and became an ALA Notable Book. A Made-for-TV Movie adaptation, starring Kristy McNichol as Patty and Bruce Davison as Anton, was made in 1978. That same year, Greene wrote a sequel novel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming, which met with a mostly lukewarm reception.

Summer of My German Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Harry and Pearl Bergen. Harry is physically abusive, Pearl is emotionally abusive.
  • A-Cup Angst: Patty occasionally delves into this, wishing her bosom was larger after seeing a neighbor's enormous brassire hanging from a clothesline. She even considers praying to God for bigger breasts at one point, before deciding against it as it just might be blasphemous.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Patty, after everyone goes away to Baptist Camp, and she realizes just how alone she is.
  • Downer Ending: Anton is shot by the FBI in New York, Patty is tried for treason and sent to reform school where she realizes Ruth is all she's got left in the world.
  • Freudian Excuse: Near the end of the story, we learn that Patty resembles Harry Bergen's emotionally abusive mother.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Averted. Anton says that, faced with the rise of the Nazis, his father chose "acquiescence and life rather than resistance and death. Not an honourable choice, but a very human one."
    • Played straight by Anton when he runs out of his hiding place to try and protect Patty from her father, though she convinces him to turn back.
  • I Have No Daughter: Harry outright tells Patty she is dead to him after finding out she was harbouring the escaped POW.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: Played straight with Patty, whose mother frequently talks behind her back about how homely her daughter is.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: In the TV movie, which downplays the romantic nuances of the relationship between Patty and Anton.
  • Mama Bear: Ruth. She gives a powerful Whoopi Epiphany Speech on how Patty's parents are incapable of giving her love, comparing them to the irregular and seconds products one sees when shopping— Patty has "irregular" parents.
  • Moral Guardians: This book has frequently been banned in schools due to its use of racial slurs, and candid portrayal of prejudices in the 1940s.
  • Moral Myopia: Major theme of the book, in that the Bergens have been treated unfairly for being the only Jewish family in a small Arkansas town. Despite the prejudice that the Bergens have faced, Harry and Pearl seem to have no problem with racist attitudes towards black people and are quick to think Anton is a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer simply because he is German.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Dark example. On numerous occasions, the racism and paranoia of rural America is compared to those same aspects of German society which allowed the Nazis to rise to power. The novel also points out that cruelty and brutality exist everywhere and transcend nationality and race, as when Anton compares the cruelty of Patty's father, a Jewish man, to that of Hitler.
  • Parental Favoritism: It's incredibly obvious that Sharon is the favorite child, but even Patty doesn't have it in her to resent Sharon for that.
    • Even when Harry outright says that from the day Patty was born, she brought him nothing but misery. Wow.
  • The Power of Love: Anton and Patty tell each other that they love each other. It is with Anton's companionship that Patty gains self-esteem, and the love he gives her compensates for the love she does not get from her parents.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Harry Bergen qualifies for the extent of his physical abuse of Patty alone (it's implied that he both beats and emotionally abuses his wife as well), while portraying himself as an upstanding businessman in the community. However, Anton secretly observes him ranting to himself one evening about how no one respects him before breaking down into Inelegant Blubbering while alone in his den.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Subverted in that Anton is a patriot, but adamantly against Nazi ideology, and even goes on to decry it as brainwashing. The other German prisoners are basically never brought up again after they are in the Bergens' shop. At one point, Patty protests, "He's not a Nazi, he's German."

Alternative Title(s): Summer Of My German Soldier