The Seventh Gate by Richard Zimler
On 14 July 1933 the Nazi government of Germany passed the "Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses)" also known as the sterilization law. The law ordered the compulsory sterilization of anyone deemed to be "suffering from genetic disorders". Over 400,000 people were sterilized against their will and no one knows how many people were murdered but it is believed to have been hundreds of thousands.
Zimler's wonderful book is set in Berlin during the Nazi's reign of terror and focuses on Sophie Riedesel a feisty 14-year old who has a secret circle of Jewish and disabled friends and her relationships with Issac Zarco their leader, her Nazi adoring boyfriend and her disabled brother.
Zimler has painted a terrifying picture about what it must have been like to be Jewish, disabled or gay during in Germany before the war. The atrocities carried out by the Nazi's makes you angry, helpless and leaves you devastated that man could inflict such suffering on their fellow man. But it also is a book of hope and how some people no matter how dangerous is was to continue friendships with 'undesirables' refused to turn their backs and fight against what was right.
The characters are wonderfully drawn. Sophie is a strong, witty and although it might seem that she is years ahead of her time is completely believable. Issac the leader of the group of ex-circus performers is a tower of strength to all around him and provides shelter for his friends Vera, the giantess, the Heidi and Wolf who are small people, the deaf photograpgher Karl-Heinz and his wife Marieanne and a blind, gay tightrope walker called Roman.
Zimler has told a story captivates from the first page and grips you until the final page. It is frightening in its realism, extremely touching, shatteringly sad but at times funny too. It is well worth a trip to your local library.