★★★★★ It’s the 1930s and the Nazi party is swiftly rising to power. Cotterena (Sonne) Becker, a young girl from Rastenburg in East Prussia, is placed in a position by the Third Reiche as a food tester. She must try meals to determine if they contain any poison before Adolf Hitler eats. Sonne soon finds herself in another terrible job when she is chosen for the Lebensborn Project, in which Aryan women are forced to conceive “racially pure” children. At the same time, Rainer von Bauchelle, a promising University student originally from Colmar, France, is required to collect art for the Nazi party. It’s not until 1944, after Sonne makes a harrowing escape from the Lebensborn Project, that she and Rainer finally meet. Sonne is pregnant from the forced insemination and the two decide to marry. They seek refuge in the United States where Sonne gives birth to her baby. She and Rainer go on to have another child together, but difficult days are not completely behind them. Soon after, sudden tragedy strikes and forever changes the family of four.
Made up of short chapters that primarily alternate between the grueling storylines of Sonne and Rainer as they each navigate conflicted lives locked under Nazi control, The Center of Gravity is, without a doubt, an important work of historical fiction. Through her use of descriptive writing and strong characters, Brandon opens a window for readers into the past’s darkest days and showcases the determined individuals who stood against hatred and fought to stay alive. A notable event in the storyline is when the family experiences great hardship at the end of the book. Readers are sure to wince at this ill fortune—to overcome the cruelty of the Nazis only to face a new source of grief. Yet it’s a beautiful element in its own right, and Brandon seems to have included it as a reminder of the great randomness of the world and of the constant battle between love and hatred, happiness and sadness, life and death.