Ears on the Odyssey

Review: Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

Their histories buried, the Edelweiss Pirates’ story shares the bold accounts of youths whose resistance to oppressive forces were seen as the actions of rebels rather than the brave actions of conscientious and heroic teenagers.

Meet Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean, three German youths from the city of Cologne. Similar to many wandervögel, they enjoyed hiking in the woods, singing folk music, and celebrating German nationalism. Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean also resisted the Nazis. 

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenager Who Resisted the Nazis explores the largely untold story of the Edelweiss Pirates, a group that actively protested the oppressive machinations of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Alternating between viewpoints, K. R. Gaddy’s thoroughly researched history recounts the often tragic experiences of Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean as they experience the rise and eventual fall of the Third Reich. These three resistors, along with similarly-minded German groups, produced anti-Nazi publications, fought the Gestapo, assisted the imprisoned, and even sabotaged factories of war. For decades following the war, the Edelweiss Pirates were branded as terrorists, but Gaddy vindicates the Pirates, and along the way, recognizes an entire movement that possessed the courage to stand against tyranny corrupting their homeland.

Often reluctant to delve into nonfiction audiobooks, I nearly backpedaled on my decision to give Flowers in the Gutter a listen. My fear is that the conveyance of the information will drone on in a manner akin to one of Charlie Brown’s teachers delivering a marathon lecture. In reality, very little nonfiction narration is like that. My irrational reluctance persists, however, so when the experience is engaging and pleasant, I am happy.

Breathing life into the historical recollection is acclaimed voice actor Natasha Soudek. A veteran of audiobook narration, Soudek brings a subtly dynamic tone to the story while respecting the more serious elements of Gertrude, Fritz, and Jean’s story. Soudek appropriately handles moments of tension, such as when quoting one of the protagonists remembered cries during an interrogation by one of the feared “brown shirts.” Real emotional fear is evident without becoming a caricature afloat an ocean of somber content.

With native fluency in German, Soudek’s performance carries an authenticity that adds legitimacy. Rather than a didactic history, the experience becomes immersive. Her honed theatricality almost makes you wonder if she wasn’t really there, an omniscient observer. Instead of simply being taught, I felt included. Coupled with her ability to emote, Soudek stepped into the shoes of a beloved professor that shared excitement for knowledge of the past instead of inundating us with rote learning. 

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenager Who Resisted the Nazis is an excellent investment of time, especially for history devotees and fans of all things World War II. Obscured and forgotten histories are always fascinating, more so when their conveyance is elevated by excellent examples of prose and audio narration.

Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis by K.R. Gaddy, read by Natasha Soudek. 7 hours, 46 minutes. Listening Library, 2020.

Andy Meyers is an aspiring Librarian toiling his way through the MLIS program at Wayne State University. Andy embraced audiobooks to make lengthy commutes more manageable, but has since fallen in love with this wonderful avenue to enjoying literature. An occasional thespian, Andy understands the power of a great performance and believes that an outstanding narrator can enhance just about any book. @AndyBeau

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