- Title: An Enemy Like Me
- Author: Teri M. Brown
- Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Would I recommend: Absolutely. Teri M. Brown writes a compelling story.
How does a man show his love – for country, for heritage, for family – during a war that sets the three at odds? What sets in motion the necessity to choose one over the other? How will this choice change everything and everyone he loves?
Jacob Miller, a first-generation American, grew up in New Berlin, a small German immigrant town in Ohio where he endured the Great Depression, met his wife, and started a family. Though his early years were not easy, Jacob believes he is headed toward his ‘happily ever after’ until a friend is sent to an internment camp for enemy combatants, and the war lands resolutely on his doorstep.
In An Enemy Like Me, Teri M. Brown uses the backdrop of World War II to show the angst experienced by Jacob, his wife, and his four-year-old son as he leaves for and fights in a war he did not create. She explores the concepts of xenophobia, intrafamily dynamics, and the recognition that war is not won and lost by nations, but by ordinary men and women and the families who support them.
I had nothing but good things to say about Teri M. Brown’s first novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow. She set the bar high for her future books. And with An Enemy Like Me, she surpasses her earlier work.
An Enemy Like Me opens from the perspective of young William Miller. His parents are fighting for the first time, and his comfortable routine changes. His father leaves, and there is no definite answer as to when he will be back.
We then see the story unfold from different viewpoints: William as a child, William in 2016 as an adult looking back on his life, Jacob, and Bonnie. Jakob Mueller – now Jacob Miller – grew up in America, the child of German immigrants. His father died when Jacob was young, and his childhood and youth were times of privation and struggle.
Yet Jacob was making his way as a young man, and he met and married Bonnie, a young lady from a well-to-do family. They were young and in love. It wasn’t long before they added William to the family. And then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and everything changed.
Before the United States entered the war, anti-German sentiment ran high, and Jacob felt this keenly. He was proud of his German heritage, but he was also proud to be an American. How can a man reconcile the two sides of himself? Jacob thought to do so by joining the military and fighting the Japanese, to show his love for his country.
There are some descriptions of the war itself, but Brown’s focus is not the graphic horror that is war. Her focus is the battle of the heart and mind. Jacob felt the tension in which he lived as an American of German heritage. How could he be proud of his heritage and true to his country at the same time? He joined the military after Pearl Harbor, hoping to go into battle against the Japanese. They were not his people. He could fight them. But when his orders changed and he was sent to Germany, he struggled to make sense of a war that had him fighting against men who looked like him, who lived and loved and raised their families in the same place Jacob’s ancestors had come from. How do you justify taking up arms against someone who could have been your friend, your neighbor, had circumstances been different? This is one of the all too human fronts on which the war was fought.
Brown also looks at the impact of war on a family over decades. We see William as a child, trying to understand why his father must leave and trying to uphold his father’s wish that he, William, be a brave little soldier for his mother. We see his father’s return through the eyes of William a little older, see Jacob’s challenges at reentering civilian society and Bonnie’s efforts to help him return more to himself. War changes people, so the story says. Brown examines how those changes hit and how they ripple through the years, impacting not only Jacob and Bonnie and their relationship, but rolling down to how William relates to his children.
The story is at times joyful and full of youthful exuberance. At other times, it is weighed down with despair, and hope seems hard to come by. Brown illustrates clearly that it may be nations that declare war, but it is fought by men and women on fronts foreign and domestic, and the effects of war do not end when a man hangs up his weapon and returns home.
Teri M. Brown is quite possibly one of the finest writers of historical fiction I’ve had the pleasure to read in recent memory. If you want to be pulled into a story that makes you consider historical events in a new light, if you want characters who will make you want to hug them and whose struggles will break your heart, you need to pick up An Enemy Like Me.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author and Atmosphere Press. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.