Cover of The House of One Thousand Eyes, featuring a bunch of male heads and one female one under a watchful red eye

About the Book

Title: The House of One Thousand Eyes
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Look Up
BFF Charm: Danger, Girl
Talky Talk: Authentic Voice
Bonus Factors: East German Culture, The Power of Words
Anti-Bonus Factors: Sexual Assault, Misuse of Medicine
Relationship Status: Declassified

Content Warning: There are instances of sexual assault and abusive psychiatric treatment in The House of One Thousand Eyes that might be triggering for some readers.

Cover Story: Look Up

The drawing style is just like a propaganda poster – until you look closer and see Lena defiantly standing out from the crowd.

The Deal:

East Berlin, 1983. Lena Altmann has a Wall inside her head to match the one going through her city. On one side of that Wall, she’s a dutiful citizen who goes to socialist youth group, helps her aunt Adelheid with chores and works as a night janitor at State Security (“Stasi”) headquarters. On the other side, her boss is a pervert, her parents’ deaths may not have been an accident, her mental health is precarious, and she’s afraid to confide even in her beloved uncle Erich. When Erich disappears one night along with every trace of his existence, and everyone tells her she never had an uncle, she has two choices: either lose what sanity she has left … or find out the truth, no matter what the cost.

BFF Charm: Danger Girl

BFF charm of Oda Mae Brown from GHOST

She’s a 17-year-old spying on one of the most notorious secret police organizations in history, knowing if she gets caught, she’ll be locked up, tortured, and possibly lobotomized. Anything she says might be recorded. Anyone she trusts might be an informer. Given these risks, I have to admit I found her behavior incautious at times (like talking about her crush, a self-confessed flight risk, in a room she already knows is bugged). But what can I say? She’s 17.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Lena’s crush, Max, may have cute dimples, subversive ideas and astonishing levels of patience with her odd behavior, but it’s not easy to swoon while under surveillance.

Talky Talk: Authentic Voice

Barker, Canadian daughter of an East German mother, writes with a rare and genuine appreciation for the German language in all its weirdness: “I think my pig is whistling”, “dumb as a bean straw”, “standing in the biggest bowl of grease”. It made me smile in spite of the grim subject matter.

Bonus Factor: East German Culture

I was born in 1990, but my family showed and/or told me the same things that appear in this book: work brigades, blue youth group uniforms, envy over Western-made clothes, a patriotic song called “The Party Is Always Right”, sardonic secret jokes about Erich Honecker, bee-shaped stamps to reward children in school, a children’s TV character called the Sandman (I could hum the theme song right now) … The German Democratic Republic might have been only a blip in history, but for some, it was a lifetime.

Bonus Factor: The Power of Words

An open notebook filled with writing and a fountain pen laid across a page.

In a surveillance state, words have the power to save lives as well as destroy them. Lena’s uncle Erich is a novelist who has perfected the art of subtext to get his books past the censors; their coded conversations, shared imaginary worlds and the clues he leaves for her keep her going, even when the whole world seems against her.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Sexual Assault

Clenched fist pounding into a table

One of the Stasi agents in the building where Lena works regularly “calls [her] into his office”. Saying no could mean losing her job or worse, and if she reported him, who would believe her? (Full disclosure: I skimmed over these scenes pretty quickly, because they made my skin crawl.)

Anti-Bonus Factor: Misuse of Medicine

Lena had what her doctors call a “nervous breakdown” after her parents’ deaths and was sent to a psychiatric clinic, where she observed that some of the other patients were there to be “cured” of “wrong opinions”. Her greatest fear is to be sent back there.

Relationship Status: Declassified

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, crowds of people stormed the Stasi headquarters to open up the archives. Some files, though, had already been shredded. This book is a tribute to all those whose stories will never be told.

Literary Matchmaking

I Must Betray You

Ruta Sepetys’s I Must Betray You covers the Cold War from another Eastern Bloc country’s perspective.

Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1)

Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf series offers an alternate-reality take on post-WWII Germany.

Delirium (Delirium #1)

Lauren Oliver’s dystopic Delirium series is fictional, but the heroine has a lot in common with Lena (including her name).

FTC Full Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review. The House of One Thousand Eyes is available now.

Regina Peters works in the video game industry, but her favourite imaginary worlds are on paper. She lives in Montreal, Canada, with her family.