I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started The Night Train to Berlin. I wasn’t expecting the present day story line, which I normally wouldn’t go for. Everyone has their specific tastes and honestly if I see a historical fiction novel with a present day story line I 98% of the time choose not to read it. But that’s just me and no disrespect to those who enjoy it.
As for the present day story line in question; I found it to be tolerable albeit quite commercial, fluffy, and not very fleshed out in terms of character backgrounds. That is largely due to the fact that the present day story line takes place on a train in one night. The historical line follows Eliza who, during WWII, rides the same train to Cornwall as Ellie (the present day gal) and like Ellie, meets a romantic interest while aboard.
Eliza’s chapters were far more interesting as she becomes a war artist at the front in France, as well as volunteers as a Red Cross nurse. Eliza is, quite literally, in the middle of the juicy action while Ellie is merely reading about it in Eliza’s journal from the time. Eliza’s life is thrown askew when she meets Alex aboard the night train to Cornwall. They experience a week of carefree joy and what we surmise as love–though a bit hard to suspend my disbelief for a mere week? I don’t know, I guess Titanic did it, anyway…although Alex is always in Eliza’s thoughts as she moves through the battlefields of Europe, the reader hardly gets to spend any time with him. In fact, the most we see and hear from him is the night they meet. He is very lively in his first interaction with Eliza, but for the remainder of the book he is quite two dimensional and is oftentimes out-shined by his quick witted sister Nora.
The Night Train to Berlin was a fast, entertaining read (as much as one can be about WWII,) but I found it to be too on the nose at times as well as relied on cliches and tropes. I admit I don’t have a lot of experience reading “commercial” historical fiction–again, not my usual cup of tea and no disrespect to those who enjoy it, but perhaps these aspects are par for the course with this style. The only times the novel seemed to dig deep was when Eliza would witness the brutalities of war first hand. However, if you want to read some light-ish, entertaining historical fiction that doesn’t ask a lot of you as a reader (other than suspending your disbelief, of course,) then this one’s for you.
And for the record, I think the title should have been The Night Train to Cornwall instead of Berlin, since all our characters are in fact on trains to Cornwall for large pieces of the novel. (And for the record, I’m being facetious.)