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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-03-26 18:37
Exodus von Leon Uris
Exodus: Das große Epos um die Gründung Israels (Taschenbuch) - Leon Uris

Leon Uris bettet die historischen Ereignisse rund um die Gründung des Staates Israel in einen umfangreichen Roman ein.

 

Kurz nach dem Ende des 2. Weltkrieges warten Tausende Juden in Lagern in Westeuropa und Zypern auf die Einreiseerlaubnis nach Palästina, das zu dem Zeitpunkt von Großbritannien besetzt ist. Da trifft die amerikanische Kinderkrankenschwester Kitty auf Zypern auf den jüdischen Agenten Ari, der plant, die Blockade vor Palästina mit einem Schiff voller jugendlicher Flüchtlinge zu brechen, und Kitty um Hilfe bittet. Damit nimmt die Geschichte ihren Lauf.

 

Das, was diesen Roman von der Durchschnittskriegsromanze abhebt, ist sicherlich die eindrückliche Schilderung der jüdischen Geschichte: von Ghettos und Pogromen bis hin zum Holocaust, Gaskammern und Internierungslagern *nach* der Befreiung. Dazu eine britische Regierung, die sich gar nicht mit Ruhm bekleckert, sondern Versprechen bricht rechts und links... alles nur des Zugangs zum Öl bzw Suezkanal. 70 Jahre später haben sich die politischen und wirtschaftlichen Interessen nicht so geändert, diese Nebenbemerkung sei erlaubt.

 

Dazu kommen die individuellen Schicksale von Aris Vater und Onkel, die aus Osteuropa Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts zu Fuß vor den Pogromen flüchten. Während Aris Vater Barak den Weg der Verhandlungen einschlägt, schließt sich der Onkel Akiba einer terroristischen Freiheitsbewegung an. Anhand ihrer Geschichte erzählt Uris die Entstehung der Kibbuze und schlußendlich die Gründung des Staates. Dann sind noch Dov Landau, ein polnischer Bursche, dessen gesamte Familie ermordet wurde und der nichts anderes als Ghetto und KZ kennt und dementsprechend wütend und desillusioniert im zypriotischen Lager landet und schließlich eines der Kinder von Aris Plan wird - genauso wie Karen, die das Glück hatte, rechtzeitig nach Dänemark geschickt zu werden, und so dem Holocaust entkam, die aber nun auf der Suche nach ihrem überlebenden Vater auch den Weg nach Palästina via Zypern und Aris Schiff sucht.

 

Ari selbst ist der typische Freiheitskämpfer, der Held mit Tiefgang sozusagen. An ihm im Einzelfall, aber sozusagen als Stellvertreter für die gesamte jüdische Gesellschaft, zeigt Uris die Formung des Charakters durch Verlust, Tod und Kampf: Nichts wird geschenkt, alles muss erkämpft werden (sei es durch Urbarmachung von Sümpfen oder Kampfhandlungen), und Schicksalsschläge werden ertragen und machen stärker. Genau diese Charakterisierung als absolut gut und die folgende Schwarz-Weiß-Malerei mit einfach nur abgrundbösen, verräterischen "Arabern", näher definiert wird da nicht, sie morden, rauben und vergewaltigen, haben keine Kultur, Hygiene oder sonstwie Wissen, und die Briten, die mit wenigen Ausnahmen auch einfach nur böse sind, ist mir zu wenig differenziert. Das mag grob geschichtlich stimmen, aber ein Roman lebt an sich von den Schattierungen, ganz besonders, wo's klare Fronten gibt.

 

Blass bleibt Kitty, die nicht-jüdische Kinderkrankenschwester, Mann und tote Tochter betrauernd (kein Zusammenhang mit dem Krieg), denn ganz erschließt sich mir ihre Motivation nicht. Zu Anfang ist sie richtiggehend von Karen besessen, in der sie sozusagen eine Art Tochterersatz sieht und die sie gleich nach Amerika adoptieren will. Dazu kommen ihre Argwohn gegenüber dem Fremden, Jüdischen. Nur wegen Karen und weil sie sich irgendwie zu Ari hingezogen fühlt, nimmt sie an dem Abenteuer der Überfahrt nach Palästina teil. Ihre Gefühle zu Ari aber kann sie nicht wirklich ausleben, weil der "nicht weint" und sie auch nicht zu brauchen scheint. Auch hier wünscht sie also eine Art von Abhängigkeitsverhältnis, das mir nicht wirklich gesund oder wie eine gleichberechtigte Partnerschaft erscheint. Und genau mit dieser Charakterisierung aber fällt die Wirkung der gezeigten Romanze flach.

 

Somit bleibt ein ausgezeichneter Eindruck der jüdischen Geschichte, und ja, aus diesem Teil kann man als Nicht-Jude definitiv viel erfahren, der Rest allerdings sackt doch ins Durchschnittliche ab. Schade.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-03-05 19:43
Dictator by Robert Harris
Dictator (Book Three) - Robert Harris

This is the third part of Harris' Cicero series - and it doesn't make much sense without having read the previous 2 novels, Imperium and Lustrum since it picks up right where Lustrum left off and runs through the final 20 years of Cicero's life: his exile and return, Pompey vs Caesar, Caesar's dictatorship, Caesar's assassination, the 2nd triumvirate and the end of the republic.

 

"Raise, praise, and erase."

 

But as much as especially the second half  of Lustrum captivated me, this book rushed through major events - and unfortunately also showed that Cicero, in all his idealism, didn't really learn from past events. He again put faith in people who betrayed him and/or turned out to have quite different agendas. He again tried to manipulate events, not realizing that it was he that was manipulated. In that way much of what happens with Octavian and Marc Anthony - even the ill-thought through assassination of Caesar (which Cicero had no part in but sympathized with) -, didn't offer more than what history books teach. Frankly, in some parts, there's more introspection about Tiro than about Cicero. Granted, Tiro is the narrator, but the book is about Cicero.

 

So, yes, this is a good book, and it concludes this trilogy in an engaging manner - but the undisputed highlight remains Lustrum where the inner workings of politics are actually put to the stand, including democracy vs the rule of the mob vs the rule of one, and Cicero's personality as a politician and as a human-being is defined.

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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 SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-24 01:12
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

Synopsis:

Navy captain Will Laurence never would have guessed that the recovery of a dragon egg from a captured French frigate during the Napleonic Wars would throw his own life into upheaval. Now, bonded to newly hatched Temeraire, he has to abandon his career and face a new destiny among dragons and other aviators, and finds himself sharing a cameraderie and friendship with Temeraire he never would have thought possible. But the French aren't idle, either. They want their dragon back - and they are not above invading the whole of Britain, either.

 

Review:


As I said in a previous entry, the first part of this book simply blew me away. The build-up of the friendship between Laurence and Temeraire, Laurence's having to get used to his new way of life, Temeraire's childlike curiosity, his mutinous tendencies, his love for Laurence... all this touched me deeply. And when that other aviator came along trying to replace Laurence I was so angry on Temeraire's behalf (and Laurence's), that the reunion and confirmation of their partnership almost made me cry. I always enjoy focusing on few characters and their relationship, and this was just what I love most.

Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as happy with the second part of this novel. While, of course, it's necessary to introduce the other aviators and dragons this section dragged along quite a bit. There was too little action and a bit too much theory behind the Corps and all the dragons. Again, I know that the members of Temeraire's formation have to be introduced and properly described, but I would have wished for a bit more interaction, maybe even a description of how Temeraire fits in. He is, after all, as new to the Corps as Laurence is, so I'd have loved to get a glimpse at the training camp out of *his* point of view, especially given his insecurity at fitting in.

What I did like, though, was the introduction of females into the Corps. Given the setting at the onset of the 19th century one wouldn't expect women to play roles other than as damsels in distress, so I quite welcomed their riding one of the more dangerous dragon breeds.

On the other hand, the training camp offered quite an insight into the partnerships of other riders and their beasts. And while Laurence comes across as extremely accomodating and mindful of Temeraire's needs, the relationship between dragon and human seems generally based on mutual respect and friendship. Small wonder that riders don't quite find the time for other serious relationships. Perhaps because of the caring and loving environment, even between a not so intelligent beast (Vollie) and its rider, the fate of Levitas comes as an even harsher blow. I always find it difficult to bear disdain and negligence when a few simple words and actions could mean all the difference. And I also find it difficult to just look on and not interfere. Why couldn't Levitas be taken away from Rankin? Because *he* wouldn't have accepted another rider? Loyalty for sure is a fickle thing, and love is even more. Not everyone who gets it, deserves it - and still, Levitas couldn't help but be loyal and loving towards Rankin even if the only thing he got back were harsh words, negligence and, at the end, death. I sobbed throughout the whole scene of Levitas' death, I rooted for him to get just one small declaration of affection and worthiness from Rankin - and still, even the fake words Rankin managed to utter on Laurence's behest were enough to let him die peacefully... I'm still tearing up, just thinking and writing about it.

But actually, I do wonder about the set relationship between rider and dragon once the dragon decided on being harnessed. It says quite a bit about the position of the dragons that they can't decide on having a new rider. Novik depicts the beasts as sentient and more or less well aware of their position, and it seems a bit contradictory that, given the mass of available riders and the few dragons being bred, that a dragon that's abused can't be reassigned to a new rider - or even better, that riders such as Rankin that have little regard for their dragon and/or border on cruelty, can't be dismissed from the Corps. And even if that's not an option due to Rankin's family's influence, then it should have been possible to reassign him to duties that prevent him from actually coming in contact with the dragons. Laurence managed to save the next newly hatched dragon by sending Hollins - but what about the one after that. Will s/he then have to face a fate similar to Levitas'?

I'm not so sure what to think about the last part of this novel, the fight to drive back to French forces. I mean, all the training Temeraire and Laurence underwent in section 2 was rendered more or less useless because in the end, it was a previously unknown ability of Temeraire's that saved Britain. Which kind of leaves me feeling cheated.

I know that this whole review appears as if I, ultimately, was disappointed by "His Majesty's Dragon" - but nothing could be further from the truth. The well of emotion throughout this story makes up for almost everything. This may not be *the* perfect book, but despite its... I don't even want to call it flaws, but there's no other word that pops into my mind right now... it comes close. Novik offers a unique spin on historic events, adds fascinating and humane characters, explores relationships and emotions - and stirs well. The result is a novel of about 340 pages in length that I could hardly put down. I simply hope the sequels live up to my now very high expectations.
 
~~
 
review originally written in 2008
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-24 00:43
Imperium by Robert Harris
Imperium - Robert Harris

Synopsis:


Tiro, Cicero's slave, recounts his master's political career, starting with his case against Verres and ending with his being elected consul...

 

Review:


I first encountered Marcus Tullius Cicero when translating his speeches against Verres and Catilina and later on his philosophical entreaties at school. Up until now he remains my favourite Latin/Roman author/orator, and when I find time I still enjoy translating his works. But quite frankly, I didn't care at all to learn more about his political career back then. After all, he lived more than 2000 years in the past...

But lately, I rediscovered him as a political figure, not just an author whose texts I enjoy, only to find out that political systems, be they from 2000 years ago or contemporary, are not that different after all. Cicero's social standing as a "new man", meaning he's the first of his family to pursue the consulship, the highest political position in ancient Rome, often puts him at odds with the aristocrats who have held power in the republic since virtually forever and are loathe to relinquish it - and who maybe fear being replaced by those "new men". And Cicero poses a threat to them. He is the (reluctant) mastermind behind Pompey's grasp for power, he puts the governor of Sicily, Verres, an aristocrat, on trial for his misdeeds in office, and he's quite popular with the common people as an orator and lawyer.

But as Cicero advances in his political career he's forced to strike up deals and compromises. He gets caught up in a net of conspiracy, corruption, and... well... politics, and only chance helps him achieve his goals as he uncovers a plot to essentially overthrow the political system which secures him the unhoped for support of the aristocrats in the elections practically at the last minute. It's a fitting end to the book that Cicero doesn't boast his victory, that he isn't giddy with glee - but rather contemplative and aware of what he had to sacrifice along the way.

But it's not just Cicero with his witty remarks and high morals that are challenged at every juncture (with the latter sometimes even put aside) that makes this book a fascinating read. Rather, Harris manages to breathe life into the Roman society surrounding these more or less historic events. The basic story, Cicero's career, is based upon his speeches and letters to friends and Tiro's actual account of events, so the facts in this book appear historically sound. But it's much more than a mere biography. It's a glimpse into a Roman republic that is on the eve of its demise, it's ripe with corruption and the pursuit of petty self-interests. Caesar, Crassus and Pompey are already secretly spinning their nets, and one understands at the end, even as Caesar and Crassus' plot is revealed that this would only be a minor road block in their plans - even more so, because the reader of course knows what would happen just a few years after the events depicted in this novel. Caesar would declare himself dictator, and the Roman republic would finally meet its end... This knowledge, and the knowledge about Cicero's eventual fall from grace and cruel death, adds a rather bitter-sweet note to a very satisfying book.
 
~~
 
review originally written in 2008.
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