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Literature / Summer of My German Soldier

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A popular YA novel by Bette Greene about a young Jewish girl, Patty Bergen, living in World War II-era Arkansas who befriends a German POW, 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, the book got published in 1973 and became an ALA Notable Book. A Made-for-TV Movie starring Kristy McNichol as Patty and Bruce Davison as Anton was made in 1978. A sequel, Morning is a Long Time Coming, was also written in 1978 and met with 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.
  • Alpha Bitch: Edna Louise Jackson.
  • Artifact of Attraction: Anton's ring.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The unsubtitled German in the TV adaptation.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Patty uses daydreams and fantasy to cope with her loneliness, isolation, and her parents' abuse.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The book makes no bones about the prejudices of the 1940s.
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  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!
  • 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.
  • Funetik Aksent: Ruth.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Anton, in his general mannerisms and his protectiveness of Patty in the climax of the story. Before he was drafted, he was a medical student in Gottingen. Also qualifies as Officer and a Gentleman.
  • Good Samaritan: Patty to Anton, even though she is committing a war crime.
  • Gratuitous German
  • 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.
  • Nerd: Patty reads dictionaries for fun, and is so excited when her grandparents present her with a collegiate dictionary!
  • "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 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.
  • Protected by a Child
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Anton, Anton, Anton. And apparently Harry to a degree, when he was younger.
  • 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".
  • Uncle Pennybags: Grandma Fried, and Grandpa Fried as well. J.G. Jackson, to an extent.
  • World War II: Played straight, as the story takes place in wartime and there were several POW camps set up in rural America at the time.
    • The Lees are also run out of town, their business destroyed, in a manner akin to Kristallnacht simply for being Chinese.