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text 2017-10-06 17:39
Discussing Fishing With Herr Hitler
Munich: A novel - Robert Harris

Robert Harris has been described as a thriller writer but I don't think that really does him justice. What he does is find the humanity in big historical events with which we have all become so familiar that we are no longer able to see them from the perspective of the individuals caught up in their midst.


Munich is another fine example of Harris's tailor-made genre. He gives us Chamberlain, Halifax, Hitler and Mussolini along with a bevy of minor diplomats all seen from the point of view of Hugh Legat a third secretary in Chamberlain's private office.


Hugh is inadvertently involved in an attempt by disaffected members of the German establishment to depose Hitler. Of course the attempt is never going to get off the ground, as we know from our vantage point nearly eighty years later. But Hugh doesn't know that and he spends a lot of the novel terrified while determinedly trying to do his duty without letting anyone know what he is up to. At times his predicament feels a little bit like an extended metaphor for the British national character.


However, it is the portrait of Chamberlain that makes this novel compulsive reading. We are so used to seeing him derided as the high priest of appeasement that it comes as a bit of a shock when Harris reminds us just how grateful everyone was at the time - ordinary people in Britain, in Germany, indeed all over the world. For a brief period Chamberlain was a superstar.


The picture that emerges from Harris's narrative is of a man both diffident and vain, who greatly overestimates his capabilities while simultaneously underestimating what Hitler is capable of. Polite and pedantic, bewildering Hitler with talk of fishing, he is out of his depth and entirely unaware of it. His hours of diplomacy achieve nothing except the shameful betrayal of the Czechoslovakian people and yet we cannot help but like him as he gets off the plane waving his little bit of paper, exhausted but hopeful.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-09-18 11:03
Lustrum by Robert Harris
Lustrum - Robert Harris

This is the second part of Harris's Cicero-trilogy. The author claims that you should be able to read this book independently, but in my opinion you should have at least some idea about the various alliances and enmities that made up "Imperium".


Lustrum spans 5 years, beginning at the eve of Cicero's 1-year consulship when a young slave, owned by Cicero's co-consul Hybrida, is found mutilated. What follows is a row of unholy alliances to thwart the attempt of overthrowing the republic by Catilina and his followers. While Cicero is hailed saviour of the republic, his adherence to the rule of law opens the door for the rise of the mob on the one side and Caesar's rule on the other, disregarding protocol and pushing through legislation via bribery and threats. The senate's power is on the decline, the government now consists of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey with narcissist Clodius ruling the mob. And Cicero has to flee into the night.


The last 100 pages or so quite honestly gave me the chills. Cicero might have thwarted the most overt attack on the republic during his consulship... but he couldn't prevent the slow decline, the rise of the mob and Caesar's usurping power. Everytime he thinks he has slain a monster, it grows back 7 more heads. And that's rather disquieting. Of course, Cicero's not without blame, either. He chose to rest on his laurels, he made pacts that later on bit him in the behind, he wasn't careful enough about whom to trust, and that's what leads to his fall from grace.


But the chilling sensation doesn't only come from the story itself, the tale of a corrupt republic that tears itself apart. No, rather than talking about the long lost Roman republic this novel feels damningly real in this age and time where we see mob-like movements on the streets and online, where we see demagogues taking control of that mob and pointing fingers (and the mob mindlessly following), where we see established parties stuck in corruption and self-annihilation, where we see so much anger, hatred and negative campaigning instead of enthusiasm and new ideas, where we see divide and conquer instead of unity and common ground. Sounds pretty relevant in the current climate to me.


Overall, a satisfying and thought-provoking novel - on to part 3.

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review 2017-09-17 15:34
"Munich", by Robert Harris
Munich: A novel - Robert Harris
This novel is set over four days during the September 1938 Munich Conference where an agreement was signed between Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier to settle the fate of Czechoslovakia. 

“Munich” is a tantalising game of “what if” and a glimpse on how things might have turned out. The story is told through the eyes of two men who were friends at Oxford but are now in opposite camps. The main players are Hugh Legat, private secretary to Chamberlain and Paul Hartmann, a diplomat in the German foreign office. With a unique style, Mr. Harris skilfully weaves a gripping fiction with historical events and looks at those four days from both sides. Taking us behind close door is quite an achievement especially when taking something well documented and showing us something else. In this dramatization, both Legat and Hartman’s machinations affect the course of history. 

The story is quite slow to start with. The first third of the book is hugging the actual facts with grave-faced men coming in and out of their offices and minutia details involving the procedural of the two parties as they navigate the diplomatic path towards the summit at which the Sudetenland would be handed back to Germany. In the later part, when the dual plotline converges and we inch closer to the center of powers we discover Hitler’s true agenda….and more melodramatic scenes occur giving “Munich” a tad of suspense. Even with some excitement the story never reach the level of a high-octane page-turner I love to read. The tale nevertheless brilliantly evokes a sense of place and its vivid descriptions leading to the main event highlight why Mr. Harris is a master novelist who focuses on events surrounding the Second World War.

I received this ARC for review from Penguin Random House Canada via Netgalleys


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review 2017-08-29 18:05
Conclave by Robert Harris
Conclave - Robert Harris

Did I read the same book as everyone else?


The pope dies and the cardinals have to choose a new one; there's some political intrigue involved, naturally. I've taken this book off my "thriller" shelf because I don't really find that it fits that category. Parts of it were somewhat interesting but others were dull or predictable. I think I have more sympathy with the Church when it's not in a modern day setting. Here its patriarchal attitudes seem almost anachronistic, and I wasn't surprised by the ending. Also, for people who are supposed to sequestered and cut off from the outside world...the cardinals weren't, really.

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quote 2017-08-17 08:15
Nikt, kto słucha swojego sumienia nie postępuje źle(...). Konsekwencje mogą być inne niż się spodziewaliśmy; z czasem może się okazać, że popełniliśmy błąd. Ale to nie oznacza, że postąpiliśmy źle. Jedyną wskazówką na to, że wybieramy to lub inne postępowanie, jest nasze sumienie, bo to we własnym sumieniu najwyraźniej słyszymy głos Boga.
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