Set in Wisconsin during World War II, “The Cherry Harvest” by Lucy Sanna explores Door County when German prisoners of war (POWs) were set to work under armed guards on the cherry orchards and live among the families there.  

This historical fiction book is based on real-life events, laced with mystery, suspense, romance and an often unexamined side of World War II among Midwest farming communities. It examines the exchange between two countries, two ideologies, two beliefs and two ways of life. 

The German former soldiers and current workers are met with apprehension and anger — they had, after all, been shooting at Americans and allied forces.

For the Christiansen family, Thomas and Charlotte with teenager daughter, Kate, who own a large cherry orchard on Lake Michigan, the workers are a relief, but also a worry. Their son and brother, Ben, is fighting overseas. Last year’s harvest of cherries was lost, however, for lack of pickers with so many men gone to World War II and migrants leaving for better-paying work south. They need the help to survive. The Christiansens attend a local meeting to speak in favor of the German prisoners coming to the area so they can keep their farm, put food on the table and survive past the war. The town approves, and German POWs arrive.

One POW, a math teacher in his homeland, agrees to tutor Kate. Another POW is seen in the background, this one whose intentions are not quite as clear. 

Kate, on the brink of womanhood, meets a wealthy young college man, the son of a senator staying at their summer estate in Door County. Charlotte also finds solace in a German solider — one she’ll have to keep a well-guarded secret that could destroy her family if ever discovered. 

“The Cherry Harvest” is a romance with thriller and suspense elements — it is an interesting look back to a simpler yet stressful time of American history. Parts of the novel I did not enjoy — too much time was spent on some seemingly frivolous details not relevant to the characters or plot. The ending did not fulfill the characters’ potential nor motives and relayed an unrealistic storyline to what was otherwise a very strong start. Historical accuracy is questioned as there were no lost harvests during the time prior to the POWs arriving, and living residents who recall the German POWs recall no bad behavior or animosity towards them when they arrived for work — as well as inaccurate geographic location of orchards and scientific temperature and behavior of Lake Michigan.

“If you imagine that your right palm is the state of Wisconsin, your thumb will be Door County, jutting into the depths of Lake Michigan. This far north, it’s a short season of blossoms and fruit, so you have to catch it just right. Come late May, take a low-flying plane from Cherryland Airport clear up to Rock Island, and you’ll glide over three thousand acres of pink and white fluttering blossoms. In the best of years, these trees supplied the entire nation with cherries. But that was before the war.”