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A Berlin Love Song

Written by Sarah Matthias

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A Berlin Love Song Review

Featured Books for Young Adults Historical Fiction

A circus during war - and how war tears lives and people apart, a compelling story of romance and love

One of Our Books of the Year 2017 |   Lili Petalo is a trapeze artist in her family’s circus, growing up part of a warm, loving family, proud of her heritage and the Romani customs that inform all they do. Max is fascinated by Lili from their first meeting and gradually a friendship develops that turns to love. But this is 1942, and love between a Romani girl and a German boy is forbidden. The fate of the hundreds of thousands of Romani people who lost their lives in the Nazi death camps has been described as ‘the forgotten Holocaust’; Sarah Matthias paints a vivid portrait of the people and the culture Hitler attempted to destroy and succeeds too in making her young heroes Lili and Max living, breathing characters.  An enthralling story of love and loss that deserves to be widely read.    The Earth is Singing by Vanessa Curtis is another deeply affecting story of the Holocaust, inspired by real life people and events.


Andrea Reece

Other Info

A Piece of Passion from Troika MD Martin West says, ‘Like the best writers of historical fiction Sarah brings the past vividly to life.  A celebration of the Romani way of life, and the powerful, moving story of two individuals caught up in history A Berlin Love Song is one of the most compelling and moving stories you will read all year.’


A Berlin Love Song Synopsis

‘Max Hartmann. Just a Berlin boy of seventeen who loved me in that long autumn of 1942, when war raged all over Europe. And I loved him back desperately, since our love was forbidden. For he was the son of a rich professor of medicine. And I was Zigeunergeschmeiss.  Gypsy scum.’

Max is 17, a German schoolboy, when he meets Lili, a trapeze artist from a travelling circus that performs every year in Berlin. Lili is from a Romani gypsy tribe and her life and customs are very different from those of Max and his family. Their friendship turns into love – but love between a member of the Hitler youth and a gypsy is forbidden – as events tear them apart, can their love survive? Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, A Berlin Love Song is a love story of passion, unexpected friendship, despair, loss and hope.

The Inspiration for A Berlin Love Song from Sarah Matthias :  When I was a child growing up in Yorkshire our next-door neighbours, the Adlers, were German Jewish refugees who had fled to England during the war. Mr Adler had been imprisoned for a while in a concentration camp. He was a dentist – a proud, kindly, professional man with his own business. He didn’t talk about his wartime experiences very much, but when he did, he used to shake and cry. This had a profound effect on me as a child; seeing an adult who I respected reduced to tears by memories of his past.

In 2011, on one of my many visits to Berlin, I happened upon an exhibition in the Deutsches Historisches Museum entitled Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime. It was a courageous exhibition – the first time since the war that a major museum had explored the relationship between Hitler and the German Nation, addressing the question of how Hitler had managed so successfully to seduce an entire country. It was fascinating. I was astonished by the boxes of Christmas baubles depicting Hitler’s face, the jewelled swastika for the top of the Christmas tree, the beer mats and the playing cards, all decorated with Nazi symbols. Nearby there were the striped uniforms worn by prisoners in the concentration camps and street signs bearing the words Juden verboten.

In one small corner I found a few showcases dedicated to the wartime persecution of the Romani people. I discovered that in addition to six million Jews, up to half a million Romanies from Europe had been exterminated by the Nazis and I wondered why relatively little had been written about this. On my return to London I went to the permanent Holocaust exhibition in the Imperial War Museum. There I found another a small corner dedicated to the Romani story, but again, not very much. I set about discovering all I could about the persecution of the Roma. It was not long afterwards, in October 2012, that I read about the long-awaited memorial to the Roma and Sinti that had just been opened by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in the Tiergarten park in Berlin, and her moving tribute to the victims. ‘Every single fate in this genocide,’ she said, ‘fills me with sorrow and shame.’ I felt I had to visit the memorial. Situated in the shadow of the Reichstag, it consists of a circular pool of water, at the centre of which there is a triangular stone, a reference to the badges that were worn by concentration camp prisoners. In bronze letters around the edge is the poem ‘Auschwitz’ by the Romani poet Santino Spinelli that appears at the front of this book. As I stood reading these poignant words, I finally resolved to write a story about the Romani Holocaust. This novel is a work of fiction, but many of the characters in it are inspired by real people I have known or read about in diaries and first-hand accounts during my research. Max’s father for example, the anti-Nazi paediatrician Julius Hartmann, is based on a German pastor who was a close friend of my father; the Jewish painter of portraits in Auschwitz was inspired by Dina Gottliebova, a Czech artist who really was forced to work for Dr Mengele, painting portraits in the Gypsy Family Camp. So although my novel is a product of my imagination, I believe everything I have written could have happened. If you would like to read more about the persecution of  the Roma and my inspiration for this book, please visit my website

A Berlin Love Song Reader Reviews

Teens and YA's love to read and so in addition to the review by one of the Lovereading4kids editorial experts some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel members were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Talia Jacobs, age 15 - 'A soon to be bestseller, there are no words to describe how much I adored this beautiful novel. A haunting, bittersweet story about forbidden love, set in the harsh reality of the Second World War.'
  • Humaira Kauser, age 19 - 'A Berlin Love Song is a sweet, heartfelt story that pulls on your heartstrings.... Max and Lili's love story is one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.'
  • Amy Laws, age 15 - 'A beautiful story- I flew through the pages.'
  • Izzy Read, age 16 - 'Story’s like this remind me that war is a tragedy; tearing family’s and lives apart. I recommend this to lovers of Anne Frank’s Diary.'
  • Lucy Minton, age 13 - 'A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias is a beautiful read, its compelling story intertwined with intrigue and danger and, of course, a bewitching romance.'
  • Megan Chambers, age 16 - 'This book was absolutely wonderful from the start to the end! An amazing love story set within the war I would definitely recommend.'
  • Aimee Sweet - 'It was interesting seeing very different views of the situation and it was nothing like I had read before. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction.'
  • Jess Anderson - 'A Berlin Love Song was an absolutely amazing read that I would definitely recommend.'
  • Rosie Watch - 'A very unexpected and rather lovely read.'

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781909991408
Publication date: 23/03/2017
Publisher: Troika Books
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781909991408
Publication date: 23rd March 2017
Author: Sarah Matthias
Publisher: Troika Books
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 400 pages
Suitable for: YA readers
Genres: Historical Fiction
Recommendations: Reviewed by Children
Other Categories: Books of the Year

About Sarah Matthias

Sarah Matthias studied at Oxford University and then worked for the BBC where she produced a documentary called The Nazi Hunter, based on the life and work of Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down war criminals. A Berlin exhibition, Hitler and the Germans, Nation and Crime, further inspired her to research the wartime persecution of the Romani people. Sarah’s previous books include three well-received medieval mystery stories for children: The Riddle of the Poisoned Monk, Tom Fletcher and the Angel of Death and Tom Fletcher and the Three Wise Men. She ...

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