Trudy is a professor of German history who knows very little about her family's history. What she knows is that she was born in Germany during WWII and raised by her mother, Anna. Trudy was three when the war ended and her mother ended up marrying one of the American soldiers that liberated their town. Her mother is a very quiet old woman, never discussing the war or what it was like to live in Nazi Germany during that period.
When a colleague starts a WWII project interviewing survivors of concentration camps, Trudy decides it is time to learn more about her history, especially what other Germans thought about the war and if they knew what was going on during the war.
All Trudy knows about her life in Germany is a small photograph of her mother, herself as a toddler, and a Nazi officer. While her colleague is listening to stories about the shame felt by the Jewish, Trudy is interested in researching the shame felt by ordinary citizens who had to do whatever they could to survive. She knows the missing link to her past is the Nazi officer in the picture but the rest is a mystery.
The novel switches from Trudy's point-of-view in the present and Anna's point-of-view in the past. Since Anna never talks about the war or what happened in Germany, it is interesting to see firsthand how Anna handled the war and how that affects her now. Anna's story starts when she is a teenager and goes through the end of the war, even into the first year they lived in Minnesota.
This novel shows how war affects the common person as well as showing how this mother/daughter relationship was affected by Anna's decisions when Trudy was too young to understand what was going on. Anna truly put Trudy first in all her decisions but is now too embarrassed to talk about any of it. Even fifty years after the war, Anna still feels shame about what happened and Trudy wants to understand if her mother would let her in.