Monika's discovery of her grandparents is intertwined with the broader story of her family, in particular that of Hella, who became part of the East German nomenklatura and remained loyal to communism even after her daughter's defection and the reunification of Germany. There are also fascinating, if brief, views of different points of German history — of life and politics in Berlin's working class suburb Neukölln in the Weimar period, self-criticism and spies in the GDR, and more.
The Holocaust looms over the story of her grandparents, but Monika's portrait avoids making their deaths the centre of their lives. She also conveys something of the way Nazi race laws separated families, came between friends and lovers, and stripped people of parts of their identity.
Monika is particularly skeptical about her own early memories: "I have almost always regarded child first-person narrators with a certain degree of aversion. I completely distrust autobiographical childhood remembrances, my own included". And Pavel's Letters is pleasantly unpretentious. It is a powerfully moving family memoir with much of the feel of a novel.