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review 2015-09-15 14:38
PferdeStärken: Die Lebensliebe der Clärenore Stinnes
PferdeStärken. Die Lebensliebe der Clärenore Stinnes. - Michael Winter

Have you ever heard of Clärenore Stinnes?


Well, before picking up this book I had not. As some of you may know, I rather like reading about travel. What's more, I have a keen interest in reading about women travelers in the first half of the 20th century. And yet, I had not heard of the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a car. That was Clärenore Stinnes' claim to fame.


The trip was a phenomenal feat. Not only were there hardly any roads in large parts of the world when Stinnes started the trip with her crew in 1927, but there were also wars, civil unrest, political intrigues (who would fancy a trip through Stalin's soviet union where one could be arrested at any time?), natural disasters, limited resources, no telephones, and other difficulties. Stinnes and her companion nearly died a few times along the trip. The fact that they lived to tell the tale is down just as much to luck as to sheer determination.


The fact that they hardly spoke about their trip afterwards is just as intriguing as the trip itself. Stinnes did write an account of the trip (Im Auto durch zwei Welten) but once this was published both she and her companion (later husband) seem to have withdrawn from the public spotlight.


PferdeStärken (tr. "horse power") is a fictionalised biography of Stinnes, but what is more, it is a phenomenal work of historical fiction which portrays not only Stinnes' life but also the lives of her father, other famous industrialists, politicians of the time and even the wider social circumstances, economics, and political events of the times that the book is set in. 


Starting with Stinnes childhood, the book starts in the early 1900s and leads up to the 1970s. Therefore, the author, Winter, takes on the rather ambitious task of writing up one of the most tumultuous eras in modern history. It is an endeavour that reminded me of Ken Follett's most recent trilogy which I hated reading with a passion. I have even less patience for Follett's attempt at writing a history of the world now that I know that this book, PferdeStärken, exists and shows how intelligent and enjoyable historical fiction can be when written well.


The strong point of this book for me was that it did not patronise the reader. In contrast to Follett, Winter did expect his readers to be familiar with historical figures and a timeline of events in history, geography, and also different aspects of predominantly German society and culture. Of course, the purpose of Winter's book was different from Follett's trilogy and I am not dismissing Follett's work on the basis that it may have read like a watered down history text book. What made PferdeStärken a much more enticing read for me, however, was that it offered the historical context as just that - context, a canvas against which the story of the Stinnes clan was told. 

If I wanted to find out more about a specific event or person, there is nothing stopping me, but it was just nice to have characters like Walter Rathenau, Gustav Stresemann, and even Harold Nicolson, being woven into the story without any kind of info dumping. This actually helped make the story read like biography rather than fiction - it gave the story credibility.


I have been debating with myself whether I should post a review for this - and whether to draft this post in English or German. This book, PferdeStärken, was never translated into English. Even its German edition is unlikely to be re-issued or even re-printed at any time. However, I felt that, even if this excellent book should disappear at some point, it is worth making the story of it known to others who may also want to know about Clärenore Stinnes - the first woman driver to circumnavigate the world in a car.   


Many thanks to Martini for recommending this book!


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review 2012-04-23 08:08
It's funny how things change in 60 years
Five Go Adventuring Again - Enid Blyton

I must say that I still haven't quite made up my mind about this book: is it a captivating mystery or is it incredibly predictable? The problem with me making the claim that it is predictable is because I have read it a long time ago, and as I read it again, I remember a number of the things that happened in the book. First of all I worked out where the secret passage was and secondly I worked out that the tutor was up to no good. However, it is difficult to also claim predictability since it was written a while ago and there have been a number of stories that have had similar plots. However, I did find this novel to be quite captivating in places, despite the fact that I had worked it out a third of the way through.

Now, something that I did not mention in the first novel that I will mention here is George. Now, some have suggested that Blyton's characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, designed to spur the children's imagination. I am not so sure of that though, but first of all let us consider George. When we meet George in the first novel we are told that she is a tom-boy, however the language that Blyton uses made me instantly think that she was a lesbian. Personally, we are talking about a pre-pubescent teen here, so it is difficult to actually say what she is about. However, it is very clear that George hates being a girl and really desires to be a boy. However, back in those days, homosexuality and transgender operations simply did not exist (well, homosexuality did exist but most people pretty much pretended that it didn't).

Some have suggested that in the past women could get away with it where as men could not, namely because there was no possibility of penetration. I am sure lesbians today would violently object to a statement like that. However, once again we see discrimination between the sexes, what was illegal for men was perfectly legal for women. Remember, if men were caught in homosexual acts it was not simply face ridicule but gaol terms. Even today, in some countries, homosexuality carries the death penalty. Now, I am not going to fall into either camp where it comes to homosexuality. I have my own position on it, however I do not believe that I have the right to make judgement on anybody else's position. While I am not a homosexual (men just do not have the same parts that women do), and while I am a Christian with orthodox Christian beliefs, I do not believe that it is my job to pass judgement on a non-Christian that chooses to live a homosexual lifestyle. While it puzzles me in part, and puts me off in others, I hold no grudge or hatred towards those who are.

Now, the other interesting thing I have noticed in these novels is the extensive use of the word queer. It is not used anywhere near the extent that Blyton uses in this book. To me, once again, the work queer conjures up images of homosexuality (and by now you are probably thinking that I am repressing innate desires, but as I said before and as I will say again, men simply do not have the equipment that women have and as such I simply cannot see another man in such a light). It is interesting to see how language has changed over the past sixty or so years and I doubt anybody reading this book when it was released to have the same images that conjured up in my mind.

I now wonder if I give away the plot or not. As I said to me it was predictable, however it partly had to do with me reading it before, and also that it is a children's book. However, I do not think that the book being a children's book justifies predictability in any sense of the word. I believe it is possible to write a children's story and not be predictable, however I guess writing a book and not being predictable can be a challenge in itself. I guess I will leave it here and move on to what I am planning on doing next. Hey, it's a good book and a good story, and that is why I gave it an 8 (4 on Goodreads), but not as captivating as some of the other books that I have read.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/317350580
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review 2009-01-23 00:00
Five Go Adventuring Again - Enid Blyton An enjoyable tale, this one
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