Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit

In my late teens and twenties I was a huge fan of those cold war spy novels. John Le Carré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton and others were a regular part of my reading experiences. Today, if my partner and I are arguing about what to listen to while travelling, we end up compromising and listen to at least one of the BBC's series, The Complete Smiley.  

Because I am already a fan, I am predisposed to be both delighted and fascinated to view the world of the cold war from a child's perspective.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening).

As Noah—now "Jonah Brown"—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs?

What I Think:

I started this a while ago, and then, when I decided I had to finish it, couldn't put it down. 

First off, the characters are compelling. Noah is so ordinary. He's just a kid who is caught up in circumstances beyond his control. He's trying to do his best, but sees injustice everywhere he looks. Claudia's life with her strict grandmother is untenable and Noah/Jonah is her only friend. What those two will do to support each other is dangerous and heartwarming. Their pseudonyms, Cloud and Wallfish are merely the beginning. 

Even the secondary characters, like Noah's parents, Claudia's grandmother, and Noah's teacher, when he finally gets to go to school, are multidimensional. 

This book is filled with secrets; secrets about Noah's parents, secrets about Claudia's family, secrets about what it was really like to live in the country of East Germany, and even Noah's secret ability. 

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. Here in the west we were astonished and hopeful. Reading about it from the perspective of people on the other side, however fleeting, gave me a whole new perspective. 

What I really think is that even if you are not a huge fan of cold war novels, you should still get your hands on a copy of this historical novel set in East Germany in 1989 as soon as possible and read it!

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