Unbelievable Adventures of a WWII German War Bride
by Ingeborg M. Johnston
Published by the author, 2010
Review copy provided by the author
What's it about? Courtesy of Goodreads:
Ingeborg M. Balendat's German youth was dramatically changed because of World War II. During the war she served as a teenage nurse in war-torn Berlin, administering to wounded German officers while planning to escape with her mother to the American front. In this heroic and compelling story, readers learn how Ingeborg M. Johnston, eighty-five and the last survivor of her immediate German family, escaped into and out of East Berlin, took on the president of Daimler-Benz to save her father's life, carried to America a Nobel laureate's scientific discoveries, won the first Mrs. Philadelphia contest, survived Hurricane David aboard her sailboat, and became a valuable member of the U.S. educational community. In Unbelievable Adventures of a WWII German War Bride, we are reminded of the generosity of strangers, the need to live every day to its fullest, and how one young woman lived to share her extraordinary story of survival, love, and American patriotism.
Eighty-something Ingeborg M. Johnston sure had some unbelievable adventures. She managed to keep herself out of the Hitler youth program, married an American GI, won a Mrs. Philadelphia contest, founded swimming programs for disabled children, learned to scuba dive, sail small boats and fly small planes, raise two successful daughters, get divorced, remarry, become a translator, and a plethora of other things during her active life thus far.
Johnston is a big proponent of 'random acts of kindness' and dedicates a portion of her book to her efforts to help those in need at Christmas and to offer hugs to strangers. She calls on readers to adopt her one act of kindness a day policy because it will make the world a better place. That was a red flag for me as a reader. I thought I was reading about her unbelievable adventures, not about her social agenda, even it is is an agenda that I agree with.
Interesting as it was, Johnston's Unbelievable Adventures of a WWII German War Bride fell short. The major flaws in structure, editing, and writing style turned what could have been a powerful memoir of hope, resilience, and kindness into a shallow and sometimes repetitious account of her life thus far. Yes, her stories are interesting and definitely should be told, but not in this manner. Her short chapters, sweeping overviews and generalizations, and her failure to dig deep into the rich history she lived and the emotions she felt left this memoir lacking.
A strong and seasoned editor could have helped Johnston turn her short chapters into a gripping narrative that showed her love for random acts of kindness without her having to tell us about it at random intervals. An editor would have picked up on all the repetitions in the book, especially over explaining the members of her family. An editor also could have worked with her to bring forth the raw emotions that are sadly absent from this memoir and would have made it a much more compelling read. And an editor would have been able to point out the plot holes she left in her own life story.
This is one of those books that depresses me because I know it could have been so much more. I enjoyed her 'unbelievable adventures,' but her short and shallow chapters left me wanting more. On a scale of one (I hated it!) to five (I loved it!), I give Unbelievable Adventures of a WWII German War Bride a two.