Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Germany”

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR4 Review #36 – In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

In 1933, William Dodd is appointed America’s ambassador to Germany in the year that Hitler rose to power.  He and his family witness the rise of the Nazis, and see how Germany changed completely.

Dodd’s daughter, Martha, is one of the main characters here, and if I didn’t know this was based on historical record, I wouldn’t believe that she was as involved as she was. Martha’s kind of a slut, and gets involved with a bunch of Nazi boys, including the first chief of the Gestapo.  She gets very deep into the “New Germany,” but as she witnesses the mounting violence, she realizes that things aren’t as great as she thinks.

Dodd sees what’s going on, and tries to tell the State Department, who isn’t listening. Jews are attacked, the press is censored, and new laws are being passed that make it clear that Germany is not safe.

Larson, as ever, does impeccable research, and writes a non-fiction book that reads like a novel.  The book is interesting, and made me want to learn more about all the people involved.  I hit Wikipedia very hard whilst reading.  Highly recommended.

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Karo’s #CBR4 Review #25: Novemberasche by Anja Jonuleit

At some point over the last few months I started explaining why I chose each book I read (as if one ever really needs a reason), and with this novel, the backstory is the only interesting bit of my review. I found it on a doorstep, in a box labelled “Take me home” or “Please take”. I knew what I was getting into, since it was clearly marketed as local crime, with a butt-ugly cover, but honestly? How can you not rescue a book from a box on a doorstep? Funnily enough, only a few weeks later a friend asked me whether that was a typical German thing, leaving things you don’t need on your doorstep, and yes, it is. I love it – it’s like a small pop-up charity shop!

I took it home because it was a book (see above) and because I thought it might amuse me for a while. I’ve read local crime a few times before, and in most cases these are a laugh, with the author trying their best to cram in as much local colour as possible while not being particularly skilled in both crime writing and just plain… writing. (Before you hate me – I wrote one myself for NaNoWriMo, and I admit that mine is terrible, too.) Anyway. Novemberasche is set in furthest south-west Germany, an area I don’t know at all, and so the local colour obviously wasn’t meant for me. If anything, the descriptions of endless roads and roundabouts near certain supermarkets made me giggle. Maybe Aldi pays for namedropping in novels.

An amateur sky-diver dies when his parachute doesn’t open, and a high-school student is found dead in a graveyard, his wrists showing marks of barbed wire, and a small piece of paper is found stuffed in his mouth, with only 3 identifiable words. The sky-diver is the brother-in-law of the police inspector on the case, and so both cases are connected before we find out just how connected they are. Which of course is obvious before the book has even started. The inspector now has to deal with his heartbroken sister and her best friend Marie Glücklich (Yes. Mary Happy.), who OF COURSE has only just recovered from a previous run-in with the same inspector and a crazed murderer (presumably axe-wielding, and presumably called Hans Horrible). It’s all set up so neatly. Oh, and of course Mary Happy and Inspector Sommerkorn (It may sound German, but NOBODY is called Sommerkorn in Germany. It sounds totally made up while trying to be authentic.) are in love. But they can’t find the heart to confess to each other. I forgot what the case was all about. Oh yes, neo-nazi high school students, computer games and helpless parents. It doesn’t matter. We are meant to care about it just as we are meant to care about Mary Happy and her man, only we don’t. In the end, after having been saved by him, Mary-injured-in-hospital suddenly decides she doesn’t want him after all, because he’s “too narrow-minded”. Huh? If that’s supposed to be a romantic cliffhanger, it doesn’t work. Because I don’t care.

Worst of all, Novemberasche isn’t even over-the-top bad. There are no laughs other than the ridiculous names, an escape from a mental hospital, which turns out is just a case of getting up and leaving through the front door, and some very cliche stylistic means. It’s just the kind of book you read quickly and then put in a box on your doorstep.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #52 The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

During the great book search of last month, when I had to make absolutely sure that the mail thief had struck again and I hadn’t just misplaced The Golem’s Eye, I found out I actually had bought two copies on this book.  What can I say, it’s the cat silhouette.  And an intriguing back cover description.

Pia becomes a social pariah at her school in a small German town when her grandmother combusted while lighting the Advent wreath.  Yes, the book starts with flambeed grandma.  Pia is left with only Stink Stefan, the class loner, for a friend.  She and Stefan begin to visit Herr Schiller, a friend of Pia’s dead grammy.  He tells them vivid fairy tales of the town during their afternoon visits.  Soon it appears the fairy tales are becoming real when a girl from the town goes missing.  Other girls begin to vanish.  Pia and Stefan sleuth through the town’s history in an effort to stop the evilness.  Their research leads them to find another tragedy hidden in the town’s past, which has connections to the present vanishings.

Back when I reviewed My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, I wrote a bit about fairy tales in our modern world.  With all of our science and technology, we, as a civilization, can still be driven by myths and superstition.  When the girls of the town go missing, everyone is quick to point fingers are the crazy old guy, because crazy old guy is the modern day witch.  While it’s a fact that most molested children will be assaulted by a family member, society Big-Bad-Wolf-erizes pedophiles.  Because The Other is the real threat; things that aren’t us will harm us.  While these lessons affirms a community, bringing we and we closer together, in the long run xenophobia and blithely ignoring issues in your own community to focus on attacking those that are different, has long term consequences.

Karo’s #CBR4 Review #7: Deutschlandalbum by Axel Hacke

This book landed on my doorstep completely unannounced, and made me realise that I had missed World Book Night. And although I would probably not have picked this for myself, I read it and liked it. Sometimes you really have to be nudged into the right direction.

I know Axel Hacke from his hugely popular collections of misheard song lyrics, but for Deutschlandalbum, he attempted something a bit more serious: to create a collage of all things German, of ordinary people’s stories, poems, photographs and just the right amount of ridicule for what we all take to be “typically German” (Yes, this means over-the-top recycling). Given that this is a more than ambitious project, he manages well, with more sadness than expected, and quite a few bits of razor-sharp insight. Starting from his own experience as the son of a withdrawn WWII veteran (and I suppose this has a complete different connotation for the intended German audience), he describes what most people feel for their country, which is more shame than pride, and more private comfort than big patriotism. Germans, he notes, are prone to talking themselves and their country down, which is no wonder after having caused (again, as a country, but in the case of Hacke’s own father and his generation, personally as well) so much pain and devastation in the past. It’s popular to regard all things German with suspicion, while still being quite happy with your own circumstances. I have always seen it that way – while I love my hometown, I feel I have no right to speak for the whole country, and although I’m doing my best to raise my children as Germans, I wouldn’t dream of feeling even the tiniest bit of national pride. It’s a strange situation, but it’s hardwired into the brains of most Germans. Later on in the book, Hacke uses the acute sense of guilt his father’s generation felt after the war to explain the famed German sense of order: Terrified of what they had done to others, and being forced to rebuild their country after their own acts of destruction, the survivors of WWII clung to the sense of order as their only means of controlling the fear they all felt. Only systematic ordering would stop them from feeling helpless and afraid of what they were capable of. There, in just a few pages, Hacke sums up an entire nation’s psyche.

There’s more to Germany than the war, and even the Berlin wall. In Deutschlandalbum, we meet the winners and losers of the recent past. There’s the high-flying banker who lost it all and can’t afford to pay for his lunch, the divorced woman who ended up in a hostel, the poor drunk guy who eventually disappears, unnoticed by his drinking pals. But there’s also the shrewd Saxon entrepreneur who manages to adapt to the ever-changing markets, and the butcher who believes in his vision of ethically sourced meat for everyone. Although most of the people Axel Hacke meets have heartbreakingly sad stories to tell, most of them retain a sense of pride and resilience. For me, it’s the stories of East Germans that move me most, because they are familiar. But even the tramps and the drunks are portrayed as just as worthy, and Hacke shows his incredible talent for showing a person’s humanity. And he’s funny, of course. There is a chapter about the German man and the sea, which is absolutely hysterical and probably applies to all men everywhere. And the recycling of course, which, to be fair, hardly needs the dramatisation.

Overall, Hacke achieves what he set out to do: To tell the stories that make up a country. I don’t feel any closer to patriotism, but I’m once again reminded that everybody has a story to tell, and there is never just black and white and clear characterisation.

(Enough with the German books now. I’ll read something in English next.)

CynicalJerk’s #CBR4 Review #04: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

In The Garden Of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts is the latest book by Erik Larson, who is still best known for his breakout book, The Devil in the White City, about a serial killer and the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.  In his newest book, he turns his attention on Berlin during the 1930s, and manages the dubious feat of making the Nazi Party less intimidating than a single 19th Century serial killer.

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