Review of ‘Tunnel 29’ by Helena Merriman

An absolutely gripping account of how people from East Berlin escaped through a tunnel beneath the Wall in 1962. The book is based on a BBC podcast by journalist Helena Merriman and uses sources such as interviews, film and Stasi files to build an amazing narrative.

The main character in the book is Joachim Rudolph, whose family was torn apart by the Russians after the defeat of Germany in the Second World War. He managed to escape to West Berlin but was willing to risk his life again to help bring people over, with a group of students who dug a tunnel. After we have Joachim’s early years and some historical background, we hear about others, on both sides of the Wall – families and couples desperate to be reunited and also the informants who tried to foil escape plots. We hear about the interrogations, show trials and imprisonments. Another strand is the NBC documentary film, The Tunnel, controversial at the time because the producers helped fund the tunnel diggers. The details suggest that this film, which almost wasn’t aired, may have helped bring President Kennedy to Berlin, where he made his famous speech.

You don’t need to know anything about this subject before reading the book, as everything is explained in a clear, non-patronising way. If you already have some knowledge, the book will help add to this. The most impressive aspect is the writing style, which is like a real-life thriller, even using the present tense sometimes to make you feel as if you are right there – in solitary confinement in prison, or crawling along a tunnel, or trying to act normally as you pass armed guards at the checkpoint.

The book includes a ‘where are they now?’ section at the end, plus notes, sources, places and bibliography. I didn’t mind not having images (they will be included in the published book) as some can be found online.

Highly recommended, a must-read which shows you what people will risk for freedom.

Thank you to the publisher Hodder and Stoughton for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on 5th August.

6 thoughts on “Review of ‘Tunnel 29’ by Helena Merriman”

  1. I’m so excited to read this one, especially after hearing you liked it so much!! I love the idea of it including updates about their current situations too.

  2. Great review! I love it when the author adds a ‘where are they now’ bit. It kind of helps with closure of the book as they can be very emotional reads.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 One of the best books I’ve read this year (and that’s saying a lot!) – you’re right about closure, I always want to know about what happened to people as you get to care about them (or the opposite) in non-fiction as well as fiction.

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