Posts Tagged ‘Nazi Germany’

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

Best New Books of 2014: Stephen B’s Picks

December 4, 2014

I’ve truly enjoyed my second career as a part-time librarian in the Wake County system. I’m in my 14th year, and that says a lot. My favorite genre is good solid mysteries, but this year a few interesting nonfiction books slipped in.

The Gods of GuiltThe Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly has created some memorable characters – Homicide Detective Harry Bosch, and his half-brother, attorney Mickey Haller. We first met Mickey in The Lincoln Lawyer, where the reader learned his penchant for operating out of the back of his car…a Lincoln. In Gods of Guilt, Mickey gets a text “Call me ASAP – 187.” 187 is the state code for a murder, and murders are Mickey’s bread and butter. Andre LaCosse is accused of murder and contacts Mickey on Giselle Hallinger’s recommendation. There are two problems with this recommendation: first, Mickey knew Giselle by another name; and second, Giselle is the murder victim. With a pace and a plot that are pure Connelly, this book is ready to be made into a movie. Enjoy!  See my full review.

SuspicionSuspicion by Joseph Finder
Danny Goodman becomes a single father when his ex-wife dies and daughter Abby comes to live with him. He’s please when she soon makes a new friend, Jenna Galvin, but surprised when Jenna’s father, Danny, offers him money, supposedly with no strings attached. Danny is financially strapped because his latest book deal is on the verge of collapse. He accepts the money, but eventually learns he was right to be suspicious – the “strings” attached to the money lead right to a Mexican drug cartel! Now Danny finds himself pressure by the DEA to bring down some big time, dangerous operators. Finder doesn’t disappoint with this fast-paced read!  See my full review.

Operation PaperclipOperation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen
Near the end of WWII, the Nazis realized they were losing the war and set out to destroy all evidence of their crimes. Meanwhile, both the United States and Russia were attempting to capture as many of the leading German scientists as possible, with the goal of controlling scientific knowledge, and through that, the world. Much of the documentation about this true story has only been released from the archives in the last few years. You won’t believe what the United States was prepared to do to capture scientists and secure the knowledge they carried!  See my full review.

The CloserThe Closer by Mariano Rivera
This is the story of a tall, skinny kid from Panama, who thought he would end up working in his family’s fishing business, specializing in sardines. That all changed when, in his teenaged years, a baseball scout discovered “hey, this kid can throw a baseball pretty good!” and the rest is history. You will never read about a more humble person, and his 19-season career with the Yankees will surely put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame as soon as he becomes eligible. I’ve been a Yankees fan for 70 years, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an excellent book and a fascinating story!  See my full review.

The DollThe Doll by Taylor Stevens
Vanessa Michael Munroe is a special person, a survivor who has taught herself all the skills necessary to survive. Working for an agency in Texas, she is sent out all over the world to gather information, rescue people and when necessary, kill someone. On a busy Dallas street, Munroe is kidnapped and thrust into an underground world where women and girls are just merchandise. She must both escape and bring to justice the mastermind of the operation, a mysterious villain known as “The Doll Maker.” This is the third book by Stevens describing the adventures of Munroe. Each of them can stand alone, but it wouldn’t hurt to start at the beginning of the series with The Informationist. Side note: Be sure to read the jacket notes; Taylor Stevens’ interesting background surely gave her an advantage when creating the fascinating character of Munroe.

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

October 31, 2014

Garden of BeastsMob button man Paul Schumann is sure he’s doomed when he’s caught by the feds, but he’s given a choice – the electric chair, or one last job. The catch – his target is Col. Reinhardt Ernst, a bigwig in Hitler’s organization, which means going undercover in Nazi Germany to achieve his goal. Paul has been wanting to get out of the mob anyway, and the feds promise he’ll be free of charges and given a cash bonus when he’s finished. Dreaming of a normal life with the girl of his dreams, he heads for Germany.

This is a fascinating time in history, when a culture of fear led neighbors to betray each other and paranoia reigned. It was a time when citizens were trapped between duty to country and their own consciences, and Deaver portrays them with sympathy and humanity. Watching Paul navigate this complicated time and place, you really feel like you’re in 1936 Germany with him. He’s undercover as a journalist covering the Berlin Olympics, but spies are everywhere. After uncovering one spy while still en route, he dispatches a second almost immediately after arrival and finds himself pursued by the police. This is cat and mouse at its best, with Paul playing both roles in his quest for Col. Ernst. Deaver is a master of the plot twist, and he doesn’t disappoint here. The beauty of his stories is, even knowing there will be a twist, it’s nearly impossible to guess. I challenge you to try!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Meet popular fiction writer Jeffery Deaver at Cameron Village Regional Library on Sunday, November 9th at 2:30 pm. He will discuss his novels, characters, writing style, and more. Q & A to follow discussion. Registration requested.

Crabwalk by Gunter Grass

May 14, 2014

crabwalkbookcover.phpI happened to stumble onto Crabwalk when I was researching the sinking of the German ocean liner MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine in January 1945 while evacuating civilians from the Courland Pocket in German-occupied Poland.   The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the largest disaster in maritime history, with 9,343 dead, including about 5,000 children.   Gunter Grass weaves the historical sinking of the liner and the real life assassination of Swiss NSDAP leader Wilhelm Gustloff, who the liner was named after, into a fictional narrative.

The novel is told from the viewpoint of journalist Paul Pokriefke, who was born on the night the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk.   His mother, Tulla , was one of the few who was saved when the ship sank in the frigid waters of the Baltic. Tulla has been obsessed with the sinking for her entire life, even though she became an ardent Communist in East Germany. She was not very nurturing or affectionate towards her son, who she has continually berated for neglecting what she calls his duty to write a definite account of the disaster.   His own life has been rather dysfunctional, and he is estranged from his wife and son, Konrad, called Konny.    Tulla dotes on Konny  as the one who will rightfully commemorate the Wilhelm Gustloff.    Konny has created a website dedicated to the liner and its sinking.

In his efforts to understand his mother and, indeed, his own life.   Paul has devoted much of is life to researching the sinking of the ship.   His musings jump back and forth from the past to the present, “scuttling backward to move forward” as Grass puts it.   There is a great deal of information about the actual sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, much more than is found in most of the historical accounts of the event.  Grass dedicates a substantial part of the novel to the outfitting of the ship and the career of the man who sank it, Captain Alexander Marinsenko. As a history buff I found this all very interesting.   I was unaware of the circumstances of the assassination of the Swiss Nazi Wilhelm Gustloff until I read this novel.   Gustloff was shot by David Frankfurter, a young Jew who had witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany.  After killing Gustloff, Frankfurter turned himself in saying ‘I shot because I am a Jew”.

Paul make the disturbing discovery that his son Konny has adopted the role of Nazi leader  Gustloff on his website..   His main opponent in many online debates is a young man called Wolfgang, who is not Jewish but argues from a Jewish perspective. Paul is very concerned about his son’s anti-Semitic posts, but Konny shrugs that it he does not hate Jews personally, he   Paul tried to establish a rapport with Konny, without success.   Tulla increasingly distances herself from Paul, who she calls a failure.

The reader can increasingly sympathize with Paul, who becomes further and further estranged from both his son and mother. His ex-wife seems to have little respect for Paul. Apparently his preoccupation with is career led to the dissolution of his marriage. Paul is unable to find solace or rapprochement with his son or mother.    Meanwhile, Konny has set up a meeting with Wolfgang at the site of a former Nazi memorial to Wilhelm Gustloff, who was recognized as a hero by the Nazi regime. Wolfgang spits on the ruins of the memorial.   Mirroring the original assassination of Gustloff, Konny shoots and kills Wolfgang, declaring “I shot because I am German.”  To Paul’s horror,  the imprisoned Konny becomes a martyr to Neo-Nazis.

There is also a rather enigmatic figure that Paul calls his “boss”, or “the old one”.  His boss urges Paul to write about the sinking of the ship because he himself failed to do so.   The boss may in fact be Gunter Grass himself, interjecting himself into the book.  The dialog between Paul and the “Old One” is intriguing.

Crabwalk  is a fascinating novel that juxtaposes past and present both on the larger historical and personal levels. The novel can be rather stilted and awkward at times, which may be the fault of a translator. And yet to me this merely added to the authenticity of the voice of the narrator. Crabwalk’s bleak narrative spirals down a path that is increasingly dark and fatalistic, though the reader is aware at all times that any decision along the way could have changed the course of events, both in the wartime tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and in Paul’s own life. Gunter Grass delivers a stunning affirmation that the past makes us who we are today, though this is not pre-ordained.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

January 29, 2013

It’s the autumn of 1938. France is almost completely surrounded by fascist dictatorships and a Germany governed by NSDAP. The hounds of all-out war have not yet been unleashed, but Germany is waging political warfare against France. The Germans have allied themselves with French right-wingers who abhor and want to destroy democracy in the country, and who wish to replace it with an authoritarian government that will rid France of socialists, communists, and labor unions once and for all.

And now Frederic Stahl, a Hollywood star born in Vienna, Austria, with a Slovene father, sits in his Parisian hotel room. He’s in France to make a movie, loaned out by Warner Bros., and in the newspaper Le Matin he reads, “Hollywood Star Frederic Stahl Speaks Out for Rapprochement.” The quotes in the article are not inaccurate per se, but they are presented in a way that turns Stahl into something he is not. Forces he wants nothing to do with are using his name and public image to promote their ideas; they have him speak out against French re-armament and preparation for war.

Being a famous and important person from a powerful part of the world, people will listen to Stahl and perhaps even change their minds when they hear him share his opinions. He is an agent of sorts, an agent of influence. Stahl understands this and wants to do “something, anything, even a small thing,” to fight back, and he becomes part of an informal espionage service run out of the American embassy in Paris.

When the actor arrives in Berlin for a film festival, his worst fears are confirmed as Kristallnacht breaks out and destroys tens of thousands of Jewish lives – soon enough Frederic Stahl’s own life is in danger.

Like so many of Alan Furst’s heroes, Frederic Stahl is (to use a phrase from the novel) “a warm man in a cold world,” and in a time of fear and resignation he takes a stance for what he believes in – a world where dialogue and not violence shapes societies. Mission to Paris takes place just before World War II, but it has distinct contemporary resonance, and the novel asks the reader, “What do you want to do?”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

See previous blog posts of other Alan Furst titles, Red Gold and Dark Star.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

October 18, 2012

Most of us have studied World War II, we know of the rise of Germany in the thirties and we know of the atrocities committed by Hitler and his henchmen, Goebbels, Himmler, Goring, Diels , Eichmann and the like. We certainly are familiar with the unbelievable details of the Holocaust. But what was it like to live in the Germany of the 30s? What was it like to be a foreigner in Berlin? Erik Larson has written the definitive non-fiction story of Berlin at that point of history. The focus of the story is the family of William Dodd, a professor from Chicago, who Roosevelt appoints to be the American ambassador to Germany. Dodd takes his entire family with him , his wife, Mattie and his grown children, Bill and Martha.

And what they see is at first totally confusing. On the outside is the facade of a modern, charming Berlin but the reports that they receive of the horrors and the brutalities visited on the residents that don’t adhere to the philosophy of the Third Reich is beyond belief……especially the treatment of Germany’s Jewish citizens.Martha is infatuated with the German officers that she meets. She is a bit of a romantic who can’t believe the stories that she hears. Terror has to strike closer to her family before she realizes what is happening in Germany.

As much as may think you know about the Third Reich, you really have a lot more to learn. Please take the time to read this fascinating story of the development of the Third Reich by Erik Larson.

Fun Fact: William Edward Dodd was born in 1869 near Clayton North Carolina.

Find and request In the Garden of Beasts in our catalog.

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