"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Faithful Spy: A True Story: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Some of you may not be aware that my father is a Methodist minister. I am not only a Christian, but one of those dreaded "preacher's kids" you've heard so much about. I tell you this as a sort of confession because I thought I knew about Dietrich Bonhoeffer because of my upbringing but I really had no idea what he did until I read this book, The Faithful Spy: A True Story: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix. As I was growing up I would hear about Bonhoeffer in sentences similar to those I'd hear about Martin Luther, or John Wesley, or Calvin Knox. I just figured he was just another theologian who had insightful things to say about a life in Christ. Later I came to understand that he also was a published author and that his books were very deep and theological. I attempted to read his The Cost of Discipleship once but gave up quite quickly. I thought it was his theology that got him in trouble with the Nazis. I had no idea he was killed by them, just weeks before the end of the war, because he was a spy conspiring with others to assassinate Hitler!

So The Faithful Spy: A True Story: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler cleared up my misconceptions of the famous German theologian and it delivered the information in a remarkable way---through a graphic (illustrated) biography written and illustrated by John Hendrix. however, unlike most graphic novels, this book is quite heavy in its text to illustration quotient. The illustrations were usually to make a point about what the text said, not to replace the text. And most speech wasn't delivered in text bubbles. I say this because it was decided that this book should be judged for a potential Cybils award in the JH/SH nonfiction category, not the graphic novel category.

This page is more illustrated than most. Before Bonhoeffer became involved as a double agent spy, he tried to sway the German people to beware of Hitler and his special brand of hatred. His broadcast was cut off mid-program, probably by the Nazis. The bottom right corner shows Hitler delivering his hate-filled speeches, getting people all fired up with anger through his rhetoric and delivery method.

On this page, more typical for the book, one big illustration makes two points about Hitler (He is an Omnipresent dictator and he liked to think of himself as a wolf, even encouraging others to call him Herr Wolf.)

On this page we find Dietrich and other conspirators waiting for news that the plane Hitler was on blew up from the bomb they placed on it. It didn't. Plot #1 was a dud.

So what is new about this book compared to others about Dietrich Bonhoeffer except that it was illustrated? Well, for one thing it is marketed to children and teens, not adults. As I read it I kept thinking that older teens or adults would get more out of it (or actually read it) compared to younger teens or children since it is so text-rich and full of complex issues. Elizabeth Bird, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, has this to say about that argument:
No doubt you will hear people argue about its age range. They will say that the book should never have been marketed to children and that due to the complexity of the ideas inside, to say nothing of the presence of Hitler himself, this should be purchased only for young adult collections. But to say that denies that children and middle-schoolers are capable of reading, comprehending, and processing moral complexity. Let’s put it another way. Few historical works for children will proffer the idea that all German Christians during WWII weren’t dyed-in-the-wool Nazis. In an era when nationalism is on the rise in countries across the globe, it is a great good to teach kids about a time when blind and displaced loyalty to a country led to unspeakable evil. Hendrix doesn’t have to spell out the parallels to the times in which we live. Have faith in the kids. They’re going to be able to get there on their own. The author is just laying the facts out before them. He trusts their intelligence. We, the adults, would be wise to do the same.
 We should trust kids to "get it": to read and enjoy the book on one level, and to understand the meaning for today's children on another level. In the author's notes, Hendix said he wanted to do this book because he is afraid we have not all been permanently vaccinated against tyrants. He wonders, "how a majestic nation can willingly become a puppet for evil... and how quickly a good and noble people can become infatuated with hated." This is not just an issue for Germany of the past. Hendrix, a Christian himself, challenges his readers, no matter how young, to consider that sometimes our faith forces us to stand up in the face of this evil and speak out, or maybe even act out in opposition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer did this and it cost him his life. What is his legacy? It is an "unswerving belief in sacrificing for the good of  'the other', which is exactly the opposite of the Nazi ideology" (169). 

I highly recommend this book even though Hendrix admits that he is an artist, not a historical researcher. It was a joy to read.

I read a print copy of The Faithful Spy from my public library.


  1. This book is even more important for young people to read NOW. They need to understand what's happening around the world, including here, with the rise of tyranny and infatuation with hatred.

  2. Wow it sounds fascinating - I have to admit, I've never heard of him! History was not my strong suit in school :)

    I like the format - I enjoy reading graphic memoirs or other nonfiction.

    Thanks for the review!


    Book By Book

  3. I did have a cataloging conundrum about this book. I kept going back and forth if I should I put in my Graphic Novel section or the Nonfiction collection. After skimming through it I decided nonfiction and I'm glad that I made the right call! I will definitely recommend this one to my WWII teen fans.

  4. This sounds like a great twist on the usual Hitler/WWII books and how great that it has a personal connection for you as well.


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