Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

February 27, 2014

JoJo Moyes latest novel is similar to her other book, The Last Letter From Your Lover, which was part historical fiction and part modern novel. In The Girl You Left Behind, Moyes starts with the story of Sophie, a French woman living in a town that is occupied by the German army in 1916. Sophie and her sister must protect their family from the occupying force, all the while convincing the town’s residents they are not collaborating just because the enemy chooses to eat at their hotel. Sophie and her sister Helen have been alone with Helen’s children since their husbands both went to war. When Sophie’s husband, a painter, goes missing from the front, she is desperate to know his fate. Her only remembrance of him is a portrait he painted of her.
The second part of the book tells the modern story of Liv Halston, who was left a painting by her late husband. The painting’s provenance and whether Liv owns it legitimately becomes the focus of an international debate. Liv ends up in court accused of profiting from a stolen painting. Suddenly, she may lose everything she has, including the painting.
The Girl You Left Behind (the title of the painting) was a really good story, although I enjoyed the first half of the book more. The second portion did a good job of wrapping up the historical mystery, but Sophie’s story was so compelling I missed that part when it ended. There were quite a few convenient discoveries and coincidences in the modern story that stretched believability, but Moyes writes such lovely characters I was willing to overlook.

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Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

October 7, 2013

British author Philip Pullman attracted plenty of attention when he said that children should know stories from the Bible. Stop! Wait! Isn’t Pullman famous for being an atheist? Yes, he is. But it is possible to appreciate the Bible even if it’s not understood as “the inspired word of God.” The Bible is part of a widespread cultural heritage and in terms of narrative it is supreme.
The same can be said about the fairy tales collected, transcribed, edited, and re-edited by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Like the Bible, these tales belong to the cultural heritage of the world, and they are also similar to the Good Book in another way. There are no original Bible manuscripts – they have all been eaten by Time – and likewise no one alive today knows what the original oral fairy tales contained, and how they differ from the tales that were published by the Grimms in 1812. “The fairy tale,” Philip Pullman says, “is in a perpetual state of becoming,” and in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Pullman becomes part of this process and tradition.
In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic fairy tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” “I thought there was no point being fussy about the original text,” he said in an interview when the book was published, and he was thorough when deciding on what to include in his book. “They are not all of the same quality,” he said. ”Some are easily much better than others. And some are obvious classics.”
What mainly matters to Pullman is clarity in storytelling and the sense that these tales still transmit deep truths. The author’s retelling of the fairy tales from the brothers Grimm is admirable and his “version” – that enlivens these classics – serves a commendable purpose – it brings the fairy tales back to the attention of modern readers.

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Munich 1938: Appeasement and World War II by David Faber

October 11, 2012

On May 15th 2008 Chris Matthews asked conservative pundit Mr. Kevin James, a fairly simple question. What did he do? Mr. James had no idea. Several times he replied “He was an appeaser!” He did not know the answer at all. It is a painful exchange to watch. Near the end Mr. Mathews said “When you make a historical reference you better know what you’re talking about.” Matthews added “Gee you guys are really blank slates.” It is my sincere hope that Mr. James has read David Faber’s Munich 1938 since that embarrassing moment.

So what did happen in Munich in 1938? Faber’s tome illustrates this diplomatic catastrophe in beautiful detail and earnest tone. What happened that was so fateful that Mr. James had no idea about? In 1938 the then Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain signed an agreement with Adolf Hitler that would concede the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia to Germany. This was an area that had a large population of German ethnicity and that spoke German. When Chamberlain returned to England he was greeted by throngs of happy people. They believed that by appeasing Hitler he had avoided war. Some, including Winston Churchill, disagreed they thought this would only make Hitler think he could do whatever he desired with impunity. Ever quotable, Churchill said “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.” Chamberlain did however continue a re-armament program. The logic was that it would be ridiculous to hope that other countries would disarm.

The public opinion of the Munich agreement started to erode after the madness of Kristallnacht on November 9th and 10th, 1938. Chamberlain still hoped for peace but when Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939. England declared war on Germany. James was comparing Obama to Chamberlain trying to make him look weak. His unbelievable ignorance was upsetting because not only was he not aware of the basic facts but more importantly he was not aware of the nuances of the situation. In 1938 England and France were still building monuments to the millions of soldiers who died in World War one. No one, save Hitler and his administration, wanted a conflict on that level again.

It is absurd when people try to reduce history to sound bites and talking points. It’s dangerous when the aforementioned are completely hollow.

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I’m Off Then: My Journey Along the Camino de Santiago By Hape Kerkeling

June 12, 2012

Hape Kerkeling is a German Comedian who suddenly decided he’d like to walk the El Camino de Santiago, an over 800 mile pilgrimage that crosses the northern part of Spain. He is not athletic, or particularly religious, but is a Catholic and was curious about what effect such a journey might have on him physically and spiritually. Although the decision was made almost on a whim, the final results were profound and far reaching for him.

Kerkeling doesn’t take himself too seriously and laughs at how unprepared he really was for such a huge endeavor. He doesn’t end up walking the entire way, as some do. Several times he hopped on a train or bus if he felt he needed a break from walking. He also stayed in hotels whenever he could as he felt the hostels were too crowded for him to get any real rest. I thought Kerkeling was very open to new experiences as he traveled, though. He tried new foods and walked with others as their paths cross, although sometimes he chose to have a day of solitude. While walking, he kept a journal of the people he met and the places he stopped. He ended up traveling the final segments with two ladies who become lifelong friends of his. In his journal, he reflects daily on his experience, writing down what he feels was the lesson for the day. At the end, he decides the pilgrimage was worth every minute, even the bad ones.

Note: If you would like to see some of the scenery of the El Camino, the recent movie “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen tells the story of someone else making the same pilgrimage. This book is also sure to appeal to fans of Bill Bryson’s hilarious travel memoir A Walk in the Woods.

Editor’s note: we forgot to mention that this book was translated from German by Shelley Frisch.

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City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin

October 24, 2011

At the continued urgings of one of my favorite library members I finally read City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin.  I am an avid mystery reader and can’t believe this amazing book got past me until now.

City of Shadows opens in the shabby, brutal and corrupt city of Berlin during the year 1922. Esther Solomonova, a Russian Jew, horribly scarred during a pogrom, scrapes out a desolate living as the occasional mistress and indispensable business manager to fellow Russian émigré “Prince Nick”. Nick, always scheming to find a way to make his fortune, is the owner of several tawdry nightclubs frequented by the powerful leaders of Weimar Germany.

His latest unscrupulous scheme is to present asylum patient Anna Anderson as the Russian Grand Duchess, Anastasia. As Anna’s companion and guardian, Esther realizes Anna’s fear of being hunted may not be a delusional fantasy.  Anna’s existence appears to be the key to the multiple unsolved murders investigated by Inspector Schmidt.

Franklin’s research and literary style bring to life the rise to power of the Nazis and the new world order for the post-revolution Russian Bolsheviks. These forces are entwined in the mystery of Anastasia.  The violence and coarse language the author uses are integral to the intense atmosphere of the story. This aspect of her writing should not deter the reader from Franklin’s authentic research, complex plot and well defined characters.

If you liked In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson  City of Shadows is for you.

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In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

July 21, 2011

For many years I lived in the town of Clayton, and on the corner of Robertson St. and US 70 there is a historical marker for William  E. Dodd  that I have stared at many a time waiting for the light to turn green. It says; “Ambassador to Germany, 1933-37; professor and writer of U.S. history. He was born 2 mi. N.E.”. I always thought it was neat that a local farm boy ended up as an Ambassador to Germany, and always wondered what his story was; well now I know.

In the year 1933, Mr. William F. Dodd, a Professor from Chicago, along with his family (wife, daughter and son) were sent to Berlin by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to become the American Ambassador. Mr. Dodd was the first Ambassador to Germany from the U.S. and settled in Berlin during the year that was to become a turning point in history. Mr. Dodd, a fairly docile gentleman, was perfectly willing to accept the German politicians and their ways, which proved later on, that he was a bit overly naïve. Mrs. Dodd and Bill, Jr. were content with their lot in life and daughter, Martha, was extremely social and loved to party. Some of the handsome young men of the Third Reich were more than happy to show her the town. Martha was so impressed with these men that she had many affairs, one of them with the head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

But, as the days progress, it is evident that the new regime in Germany is starting a little “ethnic cleansing,” as they say now, and the Jewish race and many others are being persecuted. These attacks against citizens of Germany are certainly not kept quiet and Mr. Dodd is getting very nervous and sending letters back to the State Department telling the President what is going on. Sadly, the State Department is very unconcerned about the letters and thinks that Mr. Dodd is crying wolf. Mr. Dodd watches the new laws passed by German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and also the newspapers are censored as to what they can write. He even has a meeting with Hitler, where Hitler swore that he was not interested in starting a war. Unfortunately, Mr. Dodd believed Hitler and said so to the U.S. State Department.

Erik Larson has once again created a narrative non-fiction masterpiece. In the Garden of Beasts is another of his skilled well-documented historical chronicles that will join fiction lovers with history buffs, with neither realizing the merge. Mr. Larson, in my opinion, is a master at making this work.

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