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Against the electrifying backdrop of the 1960s, Danielle Steel unveils the gripping chronicle of a young woman discovering a passion for justice and of the unsung heroes she encounters on her quest to fight the good fight.
The daughter and granddaughter of prominent Manhattan lawyers, Meredith McKenzie is destined for the best of everything: top schools, elite social circles, the perfect marriage. Spending her childhood in Germany as her father prosecutes Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials, Meredith soaks up the conflict between good and evil as it plays out in real time. When her family returns to the United States, she begins blazing her own trail, swimming against the tides, spurred on by her freethinking liberal grandfather, determined to become a lawyer despite her traditional, conservative father’s objections. She rebels against her parents’ expectations for her debutante ball and other conventions. She forges a lifelong friendship with a young German Jewish woman whose family died in the concentration camps. And while her grandfather rises to the Supreme Court, Meredith enlists in the most pressing causes of her time, fighting for civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War.
From the bright morning of JFK’s inauguration, through the tumultuous years that follow as America hurtles toward the twin assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, Meredith joins the vanguard of a new generation of women, breaking boundaries socially, politically, and professionally. But when the violence of the era strikes too close to home, her once tightly knit family must survive a devastating loss and rethink their own values and traditions in light of the times.
Encompassing the remarkable people Meredith meets, the historic events she witnesses, and the sacrifices she must make, this is the story of a woman changing her world as she herself is changed by it. Beautifully told, brimming with unforgettable moments and characters, The Good Fight is an inspiring, uplifting novel with resonance for our own time.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Good Fight
Meredith McKenzie could remember almost perfectly the day her father left for the war in February 1942. In her mind’s eye, she could still see the buttons on his uniform and how tall he looked and could almost smell his shaving soap when she kissed his face. If she closed her eyes, he was standing before her. There were other parts of the day she recalled less vividly. But she had a perfect mental picture of her mother crying, and her father’s parents watching him go. Her grandfather had said it was a proud moment. Her father had enlisted as an officer immediately after Pearl Harbor, and had been assigned to the legal corps in Washington, D.C. He was thirty-seven years old, and her mother, Janet, was thirty-three. Meredith was almost six. Her father had promised that they could come to Washington to visit him as soon as he got settled, and her mother had clung to him with tears streaming down her face. Her grandmother had faced it stoically. They had come to the apartment to say goodbye. Robert had said that it would be chaos at the train station, and it wasn’t as though he was going overseas, like many of the men who would be there.
After he left with a last wave and a smile, carrying his duffel bag, with his officer’s cap smartly on his head, in his heavy coat, Meredith’s grandfather had taken her for a walk to get some air, so Janet and her mother-in-law could talk, and Janet could compose herself before Meredith and her grandfather got back. Janet’s parents had died many years before, and she had no other family, only her in-laws.
“You know why your dad is going away, don’t you?” he asked her, as they walked along the edge of Central Park. She thought about it for a moment and then shook her head. Two of her friends at school had said that their fathers were enlisting in the army. But they were being sent to New Jersey for training, and then taking a big ship to Europe. Her daddy would be stationed in Washington, to be a lawyer, just like he was in New York. Her grandfather was a lawyer too. Her mother didn’t work, although she had volunteered for the Red Cross, and so had Meredith’s grandma. They were going to do it together, and Meredith’s mother had already shown her the uniform she was going to wear. It made her look like a nurse. She said she would be helping with something called a blood drive, to help soldiers who would get hurt.
“Your father will be defending our country, to keep us safe from anyone who wants to hurt us, and he’ll keep us free from bad people,” her grandfather explained to her. “That’s a very important thing to do. Freedom is the most important thing we have. Do you know what that means, Meredith?” he asked her solemnly, as they stopped and sat down on a bench in the park. Merrie thought about it and shook her head again. Her grandfather talked to her about important things that she didn’t always understand, but she liked it when he explained them to her, and treated her like she was grown up. “Freedom means that we can do what’s right and make our own choices and decisions, and no one can stop us or make us do something wrong. Sometimes we have to fight for freedom, like your daddy. If we’re not free, we become slaves. There are bad people in the world, like Mr. Hitler in Germany right now, who want us to become their slaves. And all the free people in the world are going to Europe to stop him. They’ll come back heroes when the war is over, just like your dad.”
“Is Daddy going to meet Mr. Hitler in Washington?” she asked with interest, and Bill McKenzie smiled.
“I hope not. He’s in Germany. Your daddy is going to do legal work for his country, the army, and the president of the United States.” Meredith knew that her father and grandfather were lawyers, but she was never sure what that was, or what it meant. “Your dad might go to fight Mr. Hitler one day, but not yet. He has work to do in Washington first.”
“Will you meet Mr. Hitler one day, Grampa?” she asked with interest, and he shook his head. She wondered if her grandfather was going to fight him too. He sounded like a bad person to her.
“No, I won’t. I was in a war a long time ago, and I went to France.” He had been in the First World War once the United States got into it. And he’d been one of the lucky ones who came back. He’d been two years younger than Robert was now when he went. Meredith’s grandfather, William McKenzie, had just turned sixty.
“Can girls be lawyers, Grampa?” she asked after she thought about it for a few minutes.
“Yes, they can,” he said firmly, taking advantage of the fact that they were alone. He knew Robert hated it when he said things like that to Meredith, but there was no reason she couldn’t be a lawyer and join the family firm, where he and Robert worked. It was a big decision for a woman, and a choice she’d have to make. But Bill knew the war was going to change a lot of things, just like the last one had. Women would be joining the workforce, taking jobs that men held in peacetime. And one day, fields that had only been open to men previously would be accessible to women too.
Robert wanted his daughter to follow in the footsteps of her mother and get married, have children, and stay at home. Bill loved the idea of his granddaughter accomplishing more than that, although her grandmother had never worked. Bill had married her when she was nineteen. She had Robert at twenty, and had been a wonderful wife. But this was a new world, and a new generation, and Bill’s dream for his granddaughter was that she would be part of a bigger life. They were fighting for all kinds of freedoms, not just in Europe, but at home.
“Maybe I’ll be a lawyer too,” Meredith said pensively, “or a doctor, or a nurse.”
“You can do whatever you want,” he said, as they held hands, crossed Fifth Avenue, and headed home. He liked his private moments with her. She was a bright child, inquisitive about everything and full of questions and ideas of her own.
Her mother and grandmother had tea and sandwiches and cookies waiting for them when they got back. Meredith was hungry after their walk in the cold. She ate two of the delicately trimmed sandwiches, and a cookie and a glass of milk. She went upstairs to play with her dolls then, while the grown-ups stayed to talk about the war. Later, she couldn’t remember what happened after that, but she could always hear her grandfather’s words echoing in her ears, about freedom, and telling her that she could do anything she wanted when she grew up, even be a lawyer like him and her father. It sounded just right to her.
Her mother visited her father in Washington every week, but she didn’t take Meredith with her. Meredith stayed with her grandparents when her mother was away, and she didn’t see her father again for several months, until he came home on leave. He was thrilled to see her, and he spent a lot of time talking to his father, and he was startled to realize that Meredith knew a surprising amount about the war in Europe. Her grandfather had explained it to her, and she had a good understanding of it for a child her age. Robert scolded his father for discussing it with her.
“You shouldn’t tell her about the war, Dad. She’s only six, she doesn’t need to know.”
“I think she does. Don’t underestimate her. She’s a smart girl, and I just tell her what she can understand in broad strokes, not the details. So what do you hear about how the war is going in Europe?” Bill was hungry for information. Everyone was.
“The Germans are punishing the Allies severely. Hitler is trying to take over all of Europe. Our losses are heavy so far, but so are theirs.”
“Any word about your going overseas?” his father asked with a look of concern, and Robert shook his head.
“Not for now anyway. They’re keeping me pretty busy at my desk. They still need a few of us at home, and I’m no kid, Dad. It’s the young ones, the boys, they’re sending into combat.” The war was being heavily fought from the air, and men were being parachuted into Germany, Italy, and France. As an officer, and at his age, Robert wasn’t likely to be one of them. There had been talk about sending him to England, with a legal corps on loan to the Royal Air Force. But he wasn’t assigned to the unit when they went.
Robert wasn’t shipped to Europe for another two years, and went as part of the D Day operations in 1944. They sent him over in March, and he was with the landing operation of American, Canadian, and British forces on the beaches of Normandy in June. One hundred and fifty-six thousand men were among the Allied forces on D Day, and Robert was one of them. He remained in France afterward, as they liberated the country village by village, and at the end of the year, and into early 1945, he joined one of the units that liberated the concentration camps in Germany, which affected him profoundly. He saw Auschwitz after the Russians had freed it. He had never seen anything as horrendous in his life, and he was part of the unit that had freed Dachau. The prisoners they found, starved and suffering, literally died in their arms. They called for all the medical assistance they could deploy there, but it was too late for most of them. Corpses lay in stacks and littered the ground. Robert and the other men couldn’t hold back their tears as they tried to help them. It brought home as nothing else could have the horrors of the war, and the crimes against humanity Hitler and his men had committed in Germany and all across Europe.
Before Robert returned from Europe, after France was liberated and the Germans had surrendered, he signed up for the legal team that would be prosecuting war criminals in Germany. He explained it to both Janet and his parents when he was back in New York. It was something he felt he had to do, to right the wrongs he had seen. Janet was sympathetic, but his father was somewhat stunned. They missed him at the law firm and Bill McKenzie had just been appointed a federal judge, which meant that no family member would be running the law firm in Robert’s absence. But they had a competent managing partner who had things under control.
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” his father asked him.
“I don’t know,” Robert said honestly. “A year or two.” Or longer. He couldn’t judge it, and he didn’t receive confirmation of the assignment for another month after he got home. It would mean staying in the army for the duration of the trials, which he didn’t mind. And when he talked to Janet about what he’d seen in Dachau, with tears streaming down his face, she understood what it meant to him and agreed with his decision.
He got his orders to report to Nuremberg, where the trials would open and be held. They already had a prison full of men to bring to trial, with survivors of their atrocities to testify against them. Their crimes were legion and inhuman, the number of people they had killed astounding. Robert was to be part of the International Military Tribunal established by the Americans, British, Russians, and French, who collaborated to set the ground rules of the trial. There were four Allied judges and four main prosecutors. Sir Geoffrey Lawrence was the president of the tribunal. There were numerous attorneys of all four nationalities, and many assistants. Prosecutors and judges were designated. The trials were to be held at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. And there was a prison capable of housing twelve hundred prisoners. The American legal team alone consisted of 640 lawyers, researchers, secretaries, and guards. It was assigned the task of proving the conspiracy charges brought against the defendants.
With considerable negotiation, Robert was granted permission to bring his family, and housing would be provided. A number of houses had been rented for the officers, and a few were bringing their wives and children with them, though most members of the tribunal were not. Meredith was shocked when her parents said they were moving to Germany for a year or two, or maybe longer, and she would be joining them. She was nine years old and liked her school and her friends. She attended Marymount, and her grandfather told her that moving would be a wonderful opportunity to learn German, which sounded terrible to her.
“But they’re bad people, Grampa! That’s who Daddy has been fighting,” she reminded him, as though he had forgotten.
“They’re not all bad, Merrie. And many of them suffered at the Nazis’ hands. The men who committed the crimes have to be punished. That’s a very important assignment for your dad. You should be proud of him.”
But for the first time, the war was going to affect her directly, and she was afraid to go there. “Why can’t I stay home with Adelaide?” she begged, about their familiar, comforting housekeeper, who also cooked for them and had worked for them since Meredith was born. She loved sitting in the kitchen with her, helping her shell peas or clean string beans. Adelaide walked her to school in the morning, and had children of her own. Her only son had been killed in the war, and she had two daughters. And Adelaide loved Merrie. It had been decided that she would continue to care for the apartment while they were away, and they assured Meredith that she would be waiting for them when they came home.
“What if I forget how to speak English? And how will I go to school there?” Meredith asked, panicking, and her parents and grandparents reminded her again and again that it was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the world, and for her father to help people, and it was a very special job.
Robert left a month before they did, and was working hard on his German to become fluent before the trials. Meredith and her mother arrived to find a small, tidy house that was simple but immaculately clean. The widow who owned it lived in the basement in an apartment she had created for herself, and was happy to rent her home to Robert and his family. She spoke no English but made delicious cookies, and had recommended a young neighbor girl, Anna, to cook and clean for them and help take care of Meredith. Anna had lost three brothers and her father in the war, was supporting her infirm mother, and was grateful for the wages Robert offered her. And he wanted her to teach Merrie German. If they stayed long enough, he hoped Meredith would transition from the school provided for the children of U.S. Army personnel to a local school, but Meredith didn’t like that idea at all.
Danielle Steel has been hailed as one of the world’s most popular authors, with over 650 million copies of her novels sold. Her many international bestsellers include Past Perfect, Fairytale, The Right Time, The Duchess, Against All Odds, Dangerous Games, The Mistress, and other highly acclaimed novels. She is also the author of His Bright Light, the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death; A Gift of Hope, a memoir of her work with the homeless; Pure Joy, about the dogs she and her family have loved; and the children’s books Pretty Minnie in Paris and Pretty Minnie in Hollywood.