Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.

 

TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.

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.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer

September 23, 2014

I have been looking for a read alike to Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand for a while, and I finally found it in the compelling memoir, The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith H. Beer.

Edith was a young woman, Jewish by birth but without any real knowledge of the religion. She was a bright, studious, feisty, and on the verge of finishing her training to be a judge in 1940’s Vienna. Flush in her first romance, she decides to not flee Vienna when the Nazis take over Austria so she can stay near her boyfriend. Her sisters fled (to London, and Palestine), and Edith’s decision to stay put in Vienna lands her in a forced labor camp, picking asparagus in back-breaking conditions. In a poignant passage, despite being forced into farm work because she is a Jew, when Edith and her fellow laborers decide to celebrate Yom Kipper, they realize not one of them knew the Kol Nidrei, the prayer which ushers in the holy day. She is released from the camp months later, but her mother had already been shipped to Poland for “re-education.”

Edith ends up becoming a “U Boat,” a Jew who goes underground to live as a non-Jew, with forged paperwork. She became Grete Denner, a German friend who lent her papers. Edith/Grete ditches her mama’s-boy boyfriend (who is half Christian and a spineless character) and falls in love with a German, Werner Vetter.

She confided in Werner that she is indeed a Jew, in a terrifying passage in the memoir. Werner kept her secret, and they married and had a daughter in the midst of the war. Edith/Grete hides in plain sight, working for the Red Cross, all the while living as a Christian woman (a religion about which she knows nothing), and as the wife of a Nazi.

While Unbroken is a testament to physical strength in the face of incredible conditions, The Nazi Officer’s Wife is the story of a strong woman’s mental and physical fortitude while having to hide her very identity, her history, her language/accent, her education, her name, and her ancestral background from the Gestapo.

This is a survival story, beautifully told. The author’s papers are now part of the collection at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

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The Wave by Todd Strasser

September 11, 2014

Ben Ross was an enthusiastic young teacher, always leading his high-school history students toward deeper understanding, rather than just memorizing battle dates and lists of kings. The older teachers tolerated his style, figuring that it would wear off soon enough. When Ben showed his students a film about the Nazi concentration camps, some of his kids woke up from their bored lethargy, but they raised questions about how this could have happened. A few of them openly stated that they did not believe that ordinary people would stand by and let their neighbors be treated this way. Ben needed a strategy to convince them that the Holocaust really did happen— and could happen again.

The next day, class was conducted differently. Ben wrote on the board: “Strength Through Discipline.” He made the kids stand beside their desks and start all of their answers with, “Mr. Ross!” There was no discussion, just questions and rapid-fire answers. To Ben’s surprise, the students ate it up! The class showed a cohesion that he had never seen before, and later they opined that they all felt equal for the first time. As the days went by, they created a salute and a motto, and the movement spread beyond Ben’s class. Even the football team began to incorporate the disciplined group mentality that began as Ben’s experiment. Students who had always been shunned as outsiders were some of the most enthusiastic adherents, as they fit into a group for the first time. Chillingly, however, Ben’s students began to persecute those who were not part of the group, and at least one young man landed in the hospital. How could Ben bring this experiment to an end?

Although The Wave is a novel, it is based on the true story of a classroom experiment in Palo Alto, California, in 1969, and is often assigned in high schools. The writing is simple and straightforward, but the message is frightening. Pair this with the spectacular novel The Book Thief (also based on a true story) or the movie based on this title, which I highly recommend. Sometimes it feels as if we are awash in Holocaust stories, but their importance goes far beyond the history of what happened in Germany seventy years ago. It is the revelation of the evil that lies within each of our souls that needs to be kept out in the open, warning us that this was not just a German phenomenon; it is a human phenomenon. Even at our best, we rush to self-preservation against the slightest danger, but at our worst, we can perpetrate terrible cruelties toward our very own neighbors if the opportunity presents itself—and opportunities are always presenting themselves. If you are looking for ways to discuss these issues with your teens, or even among an adult book group, this story is a great springboard. Weighing in at 138 small pages, everyone should be able to get in on the conversation.

This review was adapted from the original on EatReadSleep.

 

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Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

August 1, 2014

Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and SweetSet in World War II Seattle, author Jamie Ford explores the United States’ internment of Japanese Americans through this well-written historical fiction novel. Henry is a Chinese boy assigned to an all-white middle school on scholarship (meaning he gets to serve the kids in the cafeteria while they disparage his heritage). His parents are proud, his friends call him the white devil and his classmates taunt him. His only friends are Sheldon, an African American saxophone player, and Keiko, a new girl at his school who is Japanese. Henry is confused about who he should be at a time when identity is important to the American public and government. He is expected to be Chinese, an identity treasured by his father, a nationalist who sends money home to fight the Japanese attack on his homeland. His parents want him to speak English at home even though they do not understand the language. His parents force him to wear a button proclaiming “I am Chinese” as protection from anti-Japanese backlash. Like Henry, Keiko was born in the United States. When Keiko sees his button, she tells him “I am American”. Henry has truly found a friend in Keiko. They share a love of jazz and she shows him her beautiful sketches of Seattle life. He likes her so much, he rejects his father’s low opinion of Japanese and is horrified at the government mandated internment of Japanese Americans.

As an adult, Henry is mourning the loss of his wife after a long illness and stubbornly longs for a closer relationship with his son, Marty. When he hears that the belongings of Japanese Americans have been discovered in the basement of the Panama Hotel his mind immediately turns to memories of his friend Keiko. He knows that her family stored their more treasured belongings there meaning to retrieve them after the war. Henry lost track of Keiko and her family. Marty and his new fiance (a surprise to Henry, less so that she is not Chinese) help Henry search for a valuable jazz record in the pile of assorted and very dusty personal items. When they uncover Keiko’s sketchbook, Marty and his fiance sense that there is more to the story.

This is an enduring story of love and friendship despite prejudices, obstacles and the passing of time.

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The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

May 29, 2014

parisbookcover.phpCharles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is set during the Nazi invasion of France. It illustrates how Parisians were affected and how they had to use all their willpower to just survive this era. They could keep quiet or turn the other way when they saw how the Jews were being treated. Some even gave away their Jewish neighbors’ whereabouts, if they thought they would be targeted by the Gestapo themselves. Lucien Bernard, whose whole life ambition is to be a well-known architect, lives in this scenario.

When a rich industrialist asks him to build an ingenious hiding place for a wealthy Jewish friend, Lucien agrees because of the money he is offered. As a result he also gets a big German contract and is able to design buildings to his heart’s content. He earns praise for it, which is every architect’s dream. But Lucian slowly begins to feel empathy for the pain and helplessness of others. He changes without knowing it himself. He falls in love with a wonderful woman, saves a life of a Jewish boy whom he starts loving like a son and somehow is able to have a family to call his own.

This piece of fiction shows us two facets of human values, one in which humans go to extremes to harm other humans and the other of courage, morality and humanity.

This was a really interesting read!

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Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen

May 21, 2014

paperclipbookcover.phpFor anyone who is a history buff, this is one of the best books telling the story of the closing days of WWII. Annie Jacobsen’s research is phenomenal. Her book tells the story of the end of the war…. Germany knows it is going to lose……she doesn’t even know who the final conqueror will be…Russia or the United States…the US is coming from the West and Russia is barreling towards Germany from the East. To me it is the most detailed story of the war from midway in 1944 to past the their final surrender in April of ’45 and beyond !!

Although I was aware that certain top German scientists were shepherded to the United States to continue their research, I had no idea that the total numbered was in the thousands !! It didn’t seem to matter to certain US authorities that some of these men (plus a few women) were heinous criminals and deserved to be executed. All these ‘patriots’ knew was that they must bring this science to the United States.

Considering that the end of WWII occurred almost 70 years ago, it is truly amazing the story that Anne Jacobsen has put together for all of us. If one has any doubt about the truth that she unveils, a few minutes reading of citations and data from archives and from subsequent generations of these men will remove any doubt from your mind. The special program that let these men continue their research included the promise of future citizenship !! was called ” Operation Paperclip”. And even the name given to the operation has some meaning. The book is long , but once ‘hooked’ you will find it difficult to put down.

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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.

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