American author Laura M. Fabrycky has an unusual perspective on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and Christian anti-Nazi dissident who many consider a martyr.
After her family moved to Germany in 2017 during her husband’s diplomatic mission, she served as a tour guide at Bonhoeffer-Haus in Berlin. This was where Bonhoeffer wrote parts of his book “Ethics” and where his manuscript about the resistance movement was found after the war.
Fabrycky’s “Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” is not a typical biography. The author interweaves her story as an American living abroad with the story of a man who crossed oceans to study theology.
Those unfamiliar with Bonhoeffer will be left wanting to know more details about the man whom the Nazis executed in April 1945. The book provides more of Fabrycky’s internal process of discovery as she gave tours of his house rather than a straight chronological telling of his story.
As a Christian in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer faced the challenge of trying to live as a moral man in an immoral society. This struggle to live according to his conscience placed him in difficult circumstances. He wrestled with whether or not to participate in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
He gave his consent. The plot failed.
To those readers who disliked the memorization of names and dates in history class, Fabrycky’s narrative provides an alternative. She provides “keys” to understanding Bonhoeffer at the beginning of each of the seven chapters.
One such key: “When we hold on to the truth, we find the truth holds onto us, even when we are tempted to despair.”
In that chapter, titled “The Watchwords,” Fabrycky integrates an anecdote of a relationship she had with a German neighbor over a garden wall into a chapter primarily about Bonhoeffer’s daily scriptural study and his decision to leave Nazi Germany in 1939, only to return a few weeks later.
While such juxtapositions between her story and Bonhoeffer’s may seem trite, the “keys” she provides are anything but, and the author delivers them with humility.
In attending to the minutiae of Bonhoffer’s environment, retracing his path, and studying, Fabrycky has an appreciation for what the man endured. This process makes her own story a vital contribution to the book rather than an interlude.
“Bonhoeffer is a hero, without question,” she writes. “But when his story is told in ways that make it thrilling and dramatic – which in parts it was, no doubt – that narrative easily neglects the many smaller deaths and lesser sufferings he experienced.”
In discovering Bonhoeffer’s house, Fabrycky’s own sense of place becomes clearer, as does her purpose in writing – to spur others to action.
“Looking at my own place of belonging, the American experiment is predicated on ideas and ideals that have yet to be fully realized in the lives of its citizens,” she writes. Later, she adds, “Our civic house begs for attention, and those of us who belong to the small centers of a house can make a difference.”
With her book, Fabrycky makes a contribution – a contribution vitally needed as the work of creating a better “civic house” for the world continues, 75 years after Bonhoeffer.