A Night Divided Summary

Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night Divided

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A Night Divided Summary

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Young adult novelist Jennifer A. Nielsen’s historical novel A Night Divided (2015) follows a family’s plight after the Berlin Wall separates them into East and West Germany. The novel was praised for its sensitive depiction of families affected by the Berlin schism in the 1960s and its compelling narrative informed by in-depth research. Nielsen is an American author and New York Times bestselling novelist; one of her most popular works is The False Prince (2012) about a figurehead prince in the middle ages.

A Night Divided is narrated in the first person by Gerta. She is eight years old when she wakes up on August 13, 1961, to find a barbed wire fence surrounding East Berlin. This is a major problem as her older brother, Dominic, and father, Aldous, traveled to West Berlin two days ago seeking employment and a new apartment; the father sensed that life in East Berlin would only decline in the future. East Berlin remained under Communist Russian control while West Berlin was associated with the United States and notions of democracy.

Right away, it’s clear that no one can cross the fence unless they’re willing to die. The “Grenzers” a sobriquet for the police or the Grenztruppen, look at every passerby with cold-contempt and grip their rifles. As the days pass, the government realizes it can’t pay hired guards to watch the fence at all times. So it begins to reinforce the fence with cement. Tanks from Eastern and Western forces appear on the front, causing great tension for the residents.

Four years pass and Greta is now twelve. One day, walking home from school, she finds that Dominic has been watching her through a watchtower on the other side of the wall. The next day, she passes the watchtower again and this time she sees her father. He looks much healthier than her, and he is visibly distressed that she looks impoverished. He begins making the motions of digging, and Greta takes the hint that she should try to dig a tunnel to West Berlin. The only problem is she doesn’t know where to start digging.

A few days later, Greta’s good friend, Anna, brings a map that her brother smuggled in from West Berlin. Anna says it comes from Dominic. It pictures an abandoned building in her neighborhood. The building is a former bomb shelter with a basement that will give her a good head start with her digging. It’s also on a deserted street so the probability of her being apprehended decreases considerably.

Greta convinces Fritz, her eldest brother, to help her dig the tunnel. Fritz desperately wishes to leave East Berlin and is considering escaping through the river even though he knows there is a good chance he will be shot dead. The siblings tell the government that they wish to start a garden there so no one suspects that they’re actually digging a tunnel out of the city when they’re in the abandoned building.

The tunnel operation runs smoothly until one day, an Officer Müller discovers their project. He agrees to keep mum about the operation only if they allow he and his wife (as well as their infant child) safe passage along the tunnel. The siblings agree.

After a few close calls, their mother finds out about their secret operation and is initially irate. But soon enough, Greta’s mother realizes this is their only option for a fulfilling life with the other side of the family and agrees to help them dig.

Unsurprisingly, it is a superhuman challenge. Every second that the family builds the tunnel, they risk their lives. Due to extreme rations, they also lack the food to give them strength to keep digging.

One day while digging, the family hears voices coming from the other side of the tunnel. They fear the voices belong to Communist soldiers who will be eager to arrest them. But, Greta recognizes the voice of her father. They talk through the wall. Aldous has been digging the tunnel to them. He wasn’t expecting them to dig a tunnel; he only wanted them to be prepared to leave once he arrived. The tunnel is nearly finished. Gerta and her mother run home to appear normal to the authorities. Unfortunately, several guards are waiting at their home looking for Fritz. Fritz is of the age where he has to (by law) join the military. The mother and daughter claim to be oblivious as to his whereabouts. The soldiers leave their greenest member at the home as they go to search for the young man.

The mother bribes the young soldier with a car, and he allows the two to leave the premises. They go to the tunnel and prepare to escape to West Berlin. They are joined by their entire family, as well as Officer Müller and his family. Sadly, the Soviet soldiers discover the secret tunnel and start to pursue the family. They shoot at the refugees, and Officer Müller takes a bullet in order to save Greta’s life. With the exception of Officer Müller, the family is reunited in West Berlin.