FeaturedHistorical Fiction

To Zenzi

By

Loved it! 😍

Fraught with disaster & heartbreak, "To Zenzi" brought me along on a teenage boy's incredible journey during the 1945 fall of Berlin.

Told from the perspective of 13 year old Tobias, and set during Berlin's fall to the Allies, To Zenzi brought me along on an incredible journey through the voice of an artistic and sensitive teenage boy.


Opening with a letter from present-day Tobias (which led me to question his lucidity), he then regales the reader with the nearly unbelievable story of his past. It's 1945 and the Soviets are just outside of Berlin's city limits- air raids, bomb shelters, death and pure devastation have become normalized for Tobias and his family. Soon what little comforts he had known are taken away, and with the promise of full meals that included the ever elusive bread, he is swayed into joining the German Youth Army.


Along the way he is mistakenly labeled a German hero, even being awarded the Iron Cross from Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler takes an interest in his artistic talent and promotes him to be the "eyes above ground" by sketching the goings on throughout the city and reporting back each day. Navigating the complete chaos of the city and it's inhabitants create several challenges in his few weeks as Hitler's eyes, but during this time Tobias still manages to see his girlfriend, Zenzi. A girl of Jewish descent, Zenzi ultimately convinces him to escape to the Americans with her. This would become a journey fraught with disaster and heartbreak.


From stealing gold, to full fledged battle, even to murder, Tobias' struggle to survive this time of his life was harrowing to say this least.


When I reached the afterword of this story, I mistakenly thought that I was done, and if I'm being honest, I was left wanting more. But then I realized my mistake and goodness was I pleased! Shuster brilliantly reinvents everything that the reader believes this book to be with the afterword. It's unique and beautifully tragic, and left me wanting to read more from this debut author.


I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, particularly with the WWII sub-genre.




Reviewed by

My Poppy taught me at a young age that reading is the best way to experience things that you otherwise couldn't, & to always seek as much knowledge as possible. So I read- every single day. I have a decade of career experience in writing & proofreading for NGOs, a university and a SaaS company.

About the author

Robert L. Shuster’s novel To Zenzi won the 2019 AWP Prize for the Novel, and also received a James Jones First Novel Fellowship. His short fiction has appeared in North American Review, Witness, The Mississippi Review, and Stone Canoe, among other publications. His website is at robertshuster.com. view profile

Published on May 22, 2021

Published by New Issues Press

100000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by