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review 2017-11-24 16:26
Unresolved conflict
Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir - Ingeborg Day

I read Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day on recommendation from a patron. She assured me that I would love it and that it was right up my alley as it was a nonfiction book that covered events from WWII. What hooked me into reading it was that it was covering the events of WWII from the perspective of someone who was on the 'other side' aka the Nazi perspective (as opposed to the 3rd person nonfiction narrative or survivor memoir). Ingeborg wanted to uncover the secrets of her father's past and hopefully work out exactly what his role was as a member of the Nazi Party and SS. She revisited old memories of times spent living in shared accommodation with other families, rationing, and the charged silence around the dinner table. She continually reiterated that she had no memories of her parents ever saying anything about Jewish people or showing any violence whatsoever toward anyone...and yet the undertones of the book were very anti-Semitic. I honestly found this a very uncomfortable book to read especially considering that she seemed to vacillate on her own beliefs and feelings towards those who were slaughtered en masse while her father served as a member of the Nazi party. (Her conflicting beliefs made this a very disjointed read.) For those interested in knowing just what his role was and his innermost beliefs, you will be sorely disappointed. There is no clear cut conclusion to be found among the pages of Ghost Waltz. The author herself couldn't seem to work out her own feelings much less those of a man who she had no contact with as an adult (there was an event after she left home which led to a rift). This wasn't my favorite read of the year for multiple reasons but mostly for those stated above: anti-Semitic sentiment and unsatisfactory conclusion. It's a 2/10 for me. :-/

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-07-10 11:30
Apartment 16 - Adam Nevill

I was disappointed with this book. The only thing that made me finish it was curiosity but you know what they say about that! The author was out to shock and nothing more. I didn't feel any tension or fear whilst reading it and I certainly won't be in a hurry to read it again, or buy any more books of his. I read The Ritual a while back and enjoyed it which made this one that much more disappointing. Pity.

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review 2015-10-11 13:14
Hitler - Ian Kershaw

'He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.' - Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

I've studied Nazi Germany for years through my courses at university, college and High school, but also as an interest in my own free time. I think the Nietzsche quote has been one that has always stuck with me for this very reason. I watched a Kershaw interview recently on YouTube, in it he was asked if he ever became desensitized to the horrors of the Nazi regime through decades of research. He responded that he did not. But for me that has always something that has been in the back of my mind a little. I've spent a lot of time studying horrific regimes. Inevitably when writing long essays on such things you come across sections of material with particularly harrowing stories of famine, torture and death. 

 

These studies have definitely shaped my views on humanity and what people are capable of. When you look at some of the worst things people have done, it is hard not to have your world view impacted. At the same time I tend to put a positive light onto it. It sheds away any naivety you might have about the world around you. I don't ever regret studying heavy topics or history in general. Without it I would not have the depth of world knowledge or the critical mind that a lot of other people simply don't have.

With that in mind I'll kick off this review of Ian Kershaw's Hitler, by simply stating that if any of you have an interest in Hitler or the Nazi era, this is a must read. I think this is the first time I've ever used the word masterpiece to describe anything. This is the culmination of one man's knowledge, learnt through decades of research into Nazism. Every section is painstakingly structured yet written in a way that is not only easy to read, but genuinely gripping. I think this is the best we're ever going to get.

 

One of the problems with studying this era is that the person and the actions he orchestrated are almost unimaginable. The Second World War and the holocaust are only 70 years in the past and yet the Europe of today seems an absolute far cry from the conditions that allowed Hitler and his party to rise to power and conduct such horrors. You kind of sit there at first and go wait a minute; this is something that happened pretty recently?

 

What this book does so well is to strip down the pantomime and the over dramatizations of his character and show us who the man actually was. It suggests what might have motivated him; how it was he came to be that person and what his personality was like. The result is that Hitler becomes very real. The villain is cast aside and you delve deep into the persona of the human being.

 

The downside of the book is that so little is known about Hitler's early life that even though it is still insightful and meticulous, we will probably never know for sure what it was that made Hitler such a pathological, anti-Semite. There are theories of course, but as he goes on to say in this biography, there is nothing concrete enough to conclude definitively what it was that shaped Hitler in this way. This is probably the last great burning question I have with regards to Hitler. What was it that made you so hateful? So unrelenting in the lengths of which you'd go to in order to annihilate Jews?

 

But ultimately that's not a statement to take away from what is totally an insightful masterpiece. My understanding of the man and the regime has progressed massively through reading Kershaw's account of Hitler's life. If a book can still give you a fresh perspective on a topic that you've studied for years, then you know it is an important one. In a perfect world this would be something that everyone who studies the Nazi regime at any level reads. It is that accessible and that insightful.  

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review 2015-05-01 20:34
City of Shadows
City of Shadows - Ariana Franklin

Sometimes you read a historical novel which turns out to be a real eye-opener. It will be set in a period you thought you knew and deal with a situation you have been familiar with for years – and you find you were quite mistaken. It is like travelling back in a time-machine: oh, wow – so this is how it really was!

 

City of Shadows teleported me back to Berlin in 1922, and then, in Part II, 1932. The terrible post-war poverty (exactly the same as in post-war Leningrad – I've been reading a biography of Anna Akhmatova), the black market and the racketeers, the first ominous indications of the rise of Hitler and nazism: then ten years later, the organised brutality as Hitler makes his bid for the Chancellorship while his personal army smashes all opponents and gradually takes over even the police force, meaning that the many murders they commit will not even be investigated.

 

One such racketeer is "Prince Nick", a self-styled member of the defunct Russian royal family living in exile in Germany. In fact, of course, he is just a con-man with a pseudo-elegant veneer and – now – a lot of money. His secretary / personal-assistant, based at the largest of his chain of night clubs, is Esther Solomonova, a multilingual Russian Jew who is extremely beautiful when seen in profile from the right, but had the left side of her face smashed by an axe in one of the two progroms she miraculously survived.

 

She does not approve of Nick's activities, but has little choice. It is work for him or starve in the streets.

 

She is particularly disapproving when Nick decides to take up the cause of a young woman named Anna Anderson, a patient in a mental asylum who claims to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the only survivor of the massacre of the Czar and Czarina and their children.

 

Nick's only interest, Esther knows, is Anastasia's claim to the Romanov family fortune deposited in a bank in London.

 

But Esther comes to feel responsible for Anna when she realises that someone actually is hunting the poor woman, that it is not just paranoia, a fantasy, and that this "big man" who appears regularly once every six weeks, will stop at nothing to kill her. Anna claims that it is the Cheka, the Soviet hatchet-men, who have marked her down for assassination because she is the heir to the throne of "all the Russias".

 

Esther does not agree.

 

Neither does Detective Inspector Schmidt, whose task it is to catch the assassin when he starts killing those around Anna in order to get to her. Schmidt is a good man caught up in a terrible situation where everything he believes in – freedom, equality, justice – is being systematically replaced by tyranny, racism and injustice.

 

In Esther Solomonova, the good man recognises the good woman.

 

But is Anna Anderson Anastasia? Other books have been written about her, arguing the toss one way or the other. And that doubt remains in this book right till the last pages. I have no intention of revealing the stunning ending, though I must say there are clues in the earlier chapters I should have noticed. Look for those clues, but don't cheat and go peering at the back of the book – you will ruin the story for yourself!

 

I must also say that when I picked up this book I knew it would be well written, but I didn't expect it to be as good as the wonderful Adelia books (Mistress of the Art of Death and its sequels). In fact it is even better. It is one of the half-dozen or so best historical novels I have ever read. I only wish the author, Ariana Franklin (pen-name of Diana Morgan) was alive to hear me say that. And to write more books like it. She will be greatly missed.   

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review 2015-04-01 15:11
Vienna Blood
Vienna Blood - Frank Tallis

On the face of it, this is simply a police procedural where the sleuth, Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt, is assisted in his investigations – the search for a serial-killer – by a psychiatrist, Dr Max Liebermann, and it just happens to be set in in Vienna in 1902.

 

We soon realise there is more to it than that.

 

Liebermann is a Jew – as of course was Freud, whose disciple Liebermann is – and this is a society in which Jews are generally looked down upon, and a significant proportion of the population sems to be fanatically "racist" in a nordic, Wagnerian, proto-Nazi sense. The way of thinking that resulted in Freud having to end his days in London was already widespread.

 

Faced with an insult from an army officer, what is a Jew supposed to do? "A Jew is born without honour, and therefore is not entitled to demand satisfaction" – and that is official.

 

The author, Frank Tallis, has certainly done his homework, and it is an eye-opener.

 

We witness the first appearance of a symbol no one recognises until Freud, an expert on ancient eastern religions, discovers that it is called a "swastika".

 

At one point they are discussing a painting:

'Do you remember Olbricht's depiction of a vast barbarian horde?'

'Yes – a great sea of minute faces.'

'If you had studied them more closely you would have noticed that each one was a miniature essay in xenophobic predjudice. The horde was comprised of crude charicatures of Jews, Slavs and the southern races: the enemies who must be defeated in order to protect and preserve the ancient German bloodlines.'

And a visting Englishman delivers a lecture in faultless German to an admiring audience, among whom is Baron von Triebenbach.

"When the time comes, thought von Triebenbach, we shall certainly be able to depend on the English."

Dramatic irony indeed.

 

And the story itself? The story is a perfect example of the historical mystery, but I have to say that the two protagonists, Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and Dr Max Liebermann, did not exactly set my heart beating faster. Like Holmes and Watson without the entertaining – and endearing – eccentricities. Read it though, for wonderful evocation of time and place: you are present at the birth of nazism. And you are horrified.

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