Summer of My German Soldier deals with an important period in American history, the armed conflict between Germany and America in...
(The entire section is 181 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
It is the early 1940s, and war fervor is high in the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas. A prisoner-of-war camp has been established nearby, and many of the local residents have gathered to witness the arrival of the first group of Germans to be incarcerated there. Twelve-year-old Patty Bergen is among those who have come to share in the excitement. She is a little disappointed to find that the prisoners, perhaps twenty in all, are young men who, except for the letters "POW" stenciled across their blue denim shirts, are quite ordinary in their demeanor, exhibiting none of the evilness and brutality she would expect in the appearance of the enemy.
When Patty returns home, Ruth, the family's Negro housekeeper, makes lunch for her and her six-year-old sister, Sharon. During the course of the meal, Patty, Ruth, and Sharon engage in good-natured repartee. Patti wishes that she could share the same easy familiarity with her mother and father too.
Patti tells Ruth about the arrival of the German prisoners, and says that she is going to pray that Ruth's son, Robert, comes home from the war with "lots of medals." Ruth muses that she does not care about wars or medals; she just wants Robert to return safely. When Patti says that she is going to go down to the family's store to tell her father the news about the POWs, Ruth gently urges her to wear one of her pretty dresses, not only to please her parents, but to show pride in herself.
The family business, Bergen's Department Store, is located on Jenkinsville's Main Street. Patty's father is talking with a salesman when she arrives, and makes it clear that he does not wish to be interrupted, so Patty approaches her mother instead. Mrs. Bergen is chatting with a customer, Mrs. Fields, who compliments Patty on the dress she is wearing, but Patty's mother interjects that her daughter is only wearing the dress because Ruth has told her to. Mrs. Bergen then begins to complain...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
Chapters 2-3 Summary
On Sunday, the Bergens drive to Memphis to visit Grandma and Grandpa Fried. On the way, Patty tries to initiate a conversation with her parents by telling a joke, but her father crossly tells her not to bother him while he is driving. A little while later, Sharon jumps up off her seat and squeals, "There's a bee on you...April fools!" Her parents respond indulgently for a while, but when they tire of the little girl's antics, Mother brusquely orders Patty to amuse her sister.
Grandpa and Grandma Fried live in an affluent neighborhood, in contrast to Mr. Bergen's parents, who were "the poorest of the poor." As the family approaches their destination, Mrs. Bergen tells Patty that if Grandma tries to give her money, she is not to take it. Sharon, however, will be allowed to receive gifts from her grandparents, because she is still little. Grandma Fried greets the Bergens heartily when they arrive, and Grandpa quickly engages Patty in an adult conversation about a letter to the editor she has written about President Roosevelt.
The dining room table is set for fourteen people; in addition to the Bergens, a variety of aunts, uncles, and cousins are expected. Patty notes that at home, Ruth does all the cooking, while here, Grandma prepares the meals herself. As she observes the table laden with Jewish delicacies, Patty reflects that it is "like finally coming home."
Grandma, who understands clearly the situation between Patty and her mother, takes her granddaughter aside and promises to plan a special day for just the two of them. Patty will come out to Memphis by herself on the train, and she and Grandma will go shopping and have lunch at the Hotel Peabody Skyway. In addition, Grandma insists on giving Patty ten dollars to buy some books she wants. When Patty dutifully protests, her grandmother says, "This is not for your mother to know." During dinner, the family talks about the war, and then Aunt Dorothy mentions that...
(The entire section is 629 words.)
Chapters 4-5 Summary
Giddy with the thought that Anton Reiker might indeed be her friend, Patty becomes desperate to talk to someone about him. She approaches Sister Parker, who works over in the notions department of the store, and nonchalantly brings up the subject of the German prisoners in general. After engaging in some small talk, Patty boldly mentions Anton, telling Sister Parker that one of the POWs spoke perfect English, and was exceptionally polite. Suddenly interested, Sister Parker says that she saw Patty smiling and laughing with Anton, and insinuatingly asks if she liked him. Realizing her mistake, Patty prevaricates, telling the older woman that she can spread any kind of gossip that she wants, but that the truth is that Anton had...
(The entire section is 706 words.)
Chapters 6-7 Summary
Patty likes Saturdays because the "country folks" come into town to do their shopping, and she is usually allowed to help out at the store. In preparation, she puts on her favorite dress which she had been allowed to pick out herself, a light-blue middy with no sashes or lace, and brushes her hair vigorously, for once appreciating its buoyancy and rich, natural auburn color. On her way downtown, Patty overhears some men talking about a group of Nazi saboteurs who have been caught on the American coastline. When she arrives at the store, she excitedly relays the story to her father, who, after an initial reaction of skepticism, actually seems to appreciate receiving the news. When she tries to share the information with her...
(The entire section is 575 words.)
Chapters 8-9 Summary
At breakfast the next morning, Patty sees "the biggest, blackest headline...since Pearl Harbor" on the front page of the daily newspaper. The article announces the capture of eight Nazi saboteurs on the coasts of Florida and New York, and describes an underground network within the country which had reputedly been ready to assist them. The piece ends with the ominous warning, "Any person acting as a spy in wartime shall suffer death."
Thinking of Anton over in the hideout, Patty tells herself that he is not a Nazi, and she is not a spy; although she knows that her actions would not be applauded, she rationalizes that she is simply helping a captured German soldier. She reads another article about a local boy who has...
(The entire section is 824 words.)
Chapters 10-11 Summary
After their trip to the prison camp, Charlene Madlee drops Patty back off in town, expressing her appreciation for her company and offering her help if ever Patty should need it. Back at home, Patty brings Anton lunch and some fresh clothes, including a shirt she had chosen for her father two Father's Days ago. Patty had used all her birthday money to buy her father the beautiful, expensive blue shirt, but instead of being pleased with the gift, he had dismissed it uncaringly, and had even gotten irritated when she had pointed out that she had had his initials embroidered on the pocket. In contrast, Anton expresses true appreciation for the offering, and thanks Patty with sincerity, touching her cheek gently with his hand....
(The entire section is 833 words.)
Chapters 12-13 Summary
Ruth serves Anton and Patty a fine breakfast, and is surprised when Anton asks her to join them. Patty is certain that no white man has ever offered the housekeeper a chair before. Ruth at first respectfully declines, but later joins the two, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. Ruth and Anton engage in a light conversation, while Patty basks in the amazing warmth of her "two favorite people getting to know each other." Ruth asks Anton how "colored folks" are treated in Germany, and, to her astonishment, he replies, "There aren't any."
Ruth tells Anton what it has been like for her as a Negro woman in twentieth-century America. When she was a child, her mother had saved pennies so that Ruth could get an education...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
Chapters 14-15 Summary
In the days after Anton's departure, Patty tries to get accustomed to the aching void which she knows will never be filled. School begins, and she wears the ring he gave her on a chain around her neck. The ring reminds Patty of Anton's "last lesson" to her, that she is a person of value who is worthy of being loved.
Patty walks into the store one day to find her little sister Sharon showing off, singing and dancing like Shirley Temple before a small audience of customers and her doting parents. Mr. Bergen gushes about his younger daughter's abilities, bragging that with her beauty and talent, she would be a sensation in Hollywood. In a sudden fit of bitterness and anger, Patty speaks meanly to Sharon, then...
(The entire section is 595 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
As fall wanes and winter draws near, Patty evaluates the gains and losses in her life. Her losses, though they are greater than any gains, are only one: Anton. Her gains include her relationship with her father. Although she knows that Mr. Bergen still does not love her, Patty recognizes that he now looks at her with something akin to respect, and the knowledge that, whatever he does, he will never destroy her. Patty is sitting in the hideout alone one day, ruminating about these things, and making plans for her future. She fantasizes about using the thousand-dollar war bond that Grandpa and Grandma Fried have given her for her education to go to Germany, where she will be united with Anton once again.
(The entire section is 564 words.)
Chapters 18-19 Summary
The FBI agents get permission to take Patty into Memphis as her father has demanded. They assume that he is going to accompany his daughter when they take her in for questioning, but when it is time to go, Mr. Bergen says he cannot leave, because he is waiting for a call from his lawyer. As Patty walks out the door with the agents, she says good-bye to her father, but he does not answer.
As Patty and the two men walk to the car that is parked downtown, they must pass through a crowd of people milling around Bergen's Department Store. Word of Patty's ignominy has spread, and she is spat upon and called a "Jew Nazi-lover" by angry citizens. Sheriff Cauldwell intervenes, berating the crowd and making them disperse. As...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Chapters 20-21 Summary
Patty has served a month of her four-to-six-month sentence at the Arkansas Reformatory for Girls when Christmastime finally arrives. On Sunday morning, Miss Laud, the head matron of the facility, announces that she has a visitor, her first in the entire time of her incarceration. It is Ruth, who has come all the way from Jenkinsville on the Greyhound bus. Ruth greets Patty with a warm, welcoming smile and a hug, and in the circle of her protector's arms, Patty feels "freshly born."
In a gaily striped red-and-white shopping bag, Ruth has brought Patty two of her favorite foods: a box of ginger snaps and six homemade fried chicken breasts, each sitting on "its very own pink paper napkin." As Patty samples her treats, Ruth...
(The entire section is 721 words.)