Book Review: The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

The Dressmaker of Dachau…

Book Description:

London, spring 1939. Eighteen-year-old Ada Vaughan, a beautiful and ambitious seamstress, has just started work for a modiste in Dover Street. A career in couture is hers for the taking – she has the skill and the drive – if only she can break free from the dreariness of family life in Lambeth.

A chance meeting with the enigmatic Stanislaus von Lieben catapults Ada into a world of glamour and romance. When he suggests a trip to Paris, Ada is blind to all the warnings of war on the continent: this is her chance for a new start.

Anticipation turns to despair when war is declared and the two are trapped in France. When the Nazis invade, Stanislaus abandons her and she is taken prisoner, sent to Germany as slave labour and forced to survive on her wits alone. Resilient at every turn, Ada finds the strength that extremity breeds and survives the only way she knows how: by being a dressmaker.

 

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My Thoughts:

I felt entirely mislead about this novel quite early on in the story. Often when you read an engaging blurb, you begin to form a certain idea of what to expect. In this case, either my vision was completely off base, or the blurb is not reflective of the story at all.

The Dressmaker of Dachau had all the promise of greatness: a dressmaker in a concentration camp, surviving against the odds. I was instantly intrigued. Well for a start, the dressmaker wasn’t in a camp. Yes, she was kept prisoner, and her story was still an intriguing one, but why mislead through the title of the novel? When reading back over the blurb, I could see that I had made an assumption that Ada ended up in a concentration camp based on the fact that Dachau was a concentration camp and the title clearly states she was ‘The Dressmaker of Dachau’. My bad for having a grasp on WWII history. There was no love story either, again, deliberately misleading. Nor was she abandoned in Paris.

As frustrating as I found this poorly written blurb, the novel turned out to be equally as disappointing. The style of writing was very impersonal and disjointed. I never felt Ada and her struggle. I never felt her misery. I read about it, but the author never once made me feel. Only just over half of this book relates to Ada and her experiences as a Nazi dressmaker. From this, the author took Ada back to London and decided to turn her into a delusional prostitute. I should have stopped reading then.

Towards the end of the story, we find out that events in the war were not quite what they seemed at the time. We are left to consider that Ada truly was delusional, so what else was a lie? I really did not like this inference. The author should have just been up front at the outset, it would have made for a more credible main character. The ending was atrocious. Probably historically accurate, but awful still. I feel as though the author had a fantastic idea for a story but got sick of it half way through and decided to write another without changing novels. If you’re looking for a WWII story of substance, don’t read this novel. It’s not at all what it seems.

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