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review 2017-07-03 22:30
I guess I read a different book from other people.
Last Hope Island: How Nazi-Occupied Europe Joined Forces with Britain to Help Win World War II - Lynne Olson

Being in the US means that I typically read (and initially learned) about WWII through the role of the United States and what it did during that time. I have some understanding of the roles of other countries but this sounded like an interesting read so it was exciting to see this at the library.

 

It sounded like an interesting premise: to see the role the United Kingdom played and how it became a gathering place for exiled governments to continue the war planning. Perhaps my lack of knowledge played a role because this was a tough, tough slog. As another reviewer notes on Goodreads, the author mentioned she put the book down for years before taking it up again, which perhaps accounts for why it seems like it doesn't quite fit together as one cohesive narrative that flows.

 

There's a lot of information here that maybe would be more interesting to a WWII and/or history buff but this definitely wasn't for me at all. It's a pity because there's a movie about King Haakon and his escape from the incoming Nazi invaders which looked really interesting from the trailers. I thought that story would be a good read from this book but I wasn't drawn into it at all.

 

Library if you're really interested. 

 

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review 2017-06-08 12:15
A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era
The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery - Jennifer S. Alderson

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.

 

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review 2017-05-14 16:07
Out in sept
To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen's Account of a War Criminal Trial - Kathy Kacer,Jordana Lebowitz

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

 

                When the trial of Oskar Groening of aiding and abetting the killing of Jews in Auschwitz. started, I actually discussed it with a student.  We had both seen the series on Auschwitz done by BBC and Lawrence Rees.  In it, Groening is interviewed.  My student wonder two things – why it took so long for Groening to be arrested, especially after the interview and whether her interest in the Holocaust was wrong.

                She would like this book.

                In many ways, Jordana Lebowitz reminds me of that student with an interest in something that happened long before her birth.  True, Lebowitz is Jewish and my student was not.  But the burning need to know is something that they have in common.  Though guts and determination, Lebowitz is able to make it to the trial and witness it.  This book is the story of that determination and the trial itself.

                Sadly, the book is far from perfect.

                Now, don’t get me wrong.  There is much that is good in this book.  In many ways, this is a book that most teens and young adults should read because it makes connections between then and now.  Lebowitz’s story not only shows the importance of history and remembrance, but how the younger generation can get involved. 

                Yet, there is also a sense of wanting something more from the book.  In part, this is due to the chosen style.  Referring to Lebowitz in third person, doesn’t work.  It actually distances the reader in a way that is a bit disconcerting, and the use of passive voice doesn’t help in terms of this.  There are also some weird juxtapositions – like the overlooking of Lebowitz’s grandmother’s reaction to her granddaughter’s proposed trip.  Perhaps this reaction does have something to do with the Holocaust as well?  The inclusion of Groening’s testimony , while understandable, is also somewhat strange as it is taken from sources, something that is only made clear at the end of each entry.

                The thing is Lebowitz’s blog on trial, done for the Simon Wiesenthal center, doesn’t suffer from this.  Undoubtedly, there are copyright resections and such, but if Lebowitz had had more of a voice, I wonder if this book would have been a smoother read.

                That said, it isn’t a bad read.  It is one worth reading, especially for teens and young adults.

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review 2017-03-19 16:01
"Nazi Gold", by Tom Bower
Nazi Gold - Tom Bower

This book was first published in 1997 and republished as an Ebook by Open Road Media in March 2017. I received an invitation by the publisher to read and review this book via NetGalleys.

Tom Bower, a British journalist, chronicles the 50 years of greed between the Third Reich and the government of Switzerland and the Swiss banking industry. Millions of dollars, gold pilfered from occupied country including gold teeth extracted from the mouth of those murdered were hidden away in Swiss bank accounts. The crimes didn’t end with the end of the war. The Swiss authorities hid the wealth from the rightful owners for the next half a century. Finally when a class action was launched by the Wold Jewish Congress against the Swiss banks a settlement was reached and millions of dollars were released in the late 90’s.”Nazi Gold” tells how it took a huge amount of time and patience to reach a fair conclusion.

Mr. Bower not doubt has put his heart into writing an account in great details. It seemed well-researched with first rate sources to back his statements. I was quite interested for part of the book but after a while the narration became too technical, highly colourful and particularly overwhelming. I found to presentation to be done in a journalistic manner: rather cold and in a sharp tone. Mid way, I thought things were going in circle and I lost interest, the writing was somewhat repetitious so I kept skipping parts to see the outcome in this grizzle chapter of history. Even if I was not totally captivated by this book it nevertheless gave me a better appreciation of the Swiss government involvement with Germany and the perfidies of the Swiss banking system.

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review 2017-03-04 14:35
Swiss Neutrality? Psst
Nazi Gold - Tom Bower

Disclaimer: ARC of the Kindle edition via Netgalley.

 

                When I mention Holocaust Denial someone always asks how can a denier be so stupid, what could motivate someone to deny something so documented.  I usually counter with, well, you have people who believed slavery really wasn’t that bad; it’s a little like that.  It’s true that such a comment is most likely a facile respond, but it is a hard answer.  The reasons seem to run from a desire to shock to a refusal or need to defend the honor of one’s country to straight forward and outright anti-Semitism (not that you couldn’t say the first two points aren’t).

 

                One could also argue that the denial was not something that started long after the war was over.  In this book, Tom Bower chronicles the Swiss attempt to keep Nazi gold, stolen from Jewish citizens of various countries.  In some case, the gold was in fact deposited by rightful owners who were killed and whose heirs could not inherit because proper documents were not to be had.

 

                It is a maddeningly story, even if Bower’s prose is a little dull.  It does call into question how neutral the Swiss were, or how neutrality should be defined.  What is chronicled is one part sleight of hand, one part finical and bureaucratic genius, and one part a lack of gall (on behalf of some of those trying to get access to the gold).

 

                In some ways, the cynicism exhibited by the Swiss government and banking establishment seems to suggest a refusal not only of compassion but of realities of the Second World War.   A start of denial that might have a grounding in greed or covetous of a monetary gain.

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