Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Nazis”

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.


Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #53: Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean

My very trustworthy mother loaned me this book, but even knowing that I’m pretty much guaranteed to like her recommendations, it still sat on my shelf for ages because it didn’t sound even a little interesting to me. A war book? About Nazis in the snow? With a bunch of soldiers? Not really my cup of tea. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

“Eight Allied agents…seven men and a woman…parachute onto a mountainside behind enemy lines in wartime Germany. Their mission: to rescue an American general before the Nazis can force him to reveal secret D-day plans. HERE IS WHERE THE ACTION IS.”

Where are the spaceships? Dragons? Magic? Clever detectives? Here is where the action is? Please.

I have (re)learned my lesson. When I finally started reading, these characters jumped off the page and I was hooked by page two. The book starts with the small group of soldiers huddled together in the back of a freezing cargo plane, being smuggled to the Schloss Adler (a remote castle controlled by the Nazi Alpine Corps), wondering how they got assigned to what is probably a suicide mission. General Carnaby has been captured, and the information in his head will change the path of the entire war if the Germans can break him. And, as the men on the plan keep ominously saying, “Everyone talks.” They must race against time to find the General before the torture gets too far, and hope he can last until they make it to the castle – which is guarded by soldiers, dogs, helicopters, and only reachable by cable car.

It’s a breathless, dangerous race, full of brave plans, foolhardy bluffs, disguises, surprising compassion, and brutal double-crosses. Major Smith and Lieutenant Schaffer are the main characters, and they are fantastic. Smith is wickedly smart and is always thinking rings around the enemy, and it’s a treat to watch Schaffer evolve throughout the (very brief) mission to become a capable right-hand man. I worried for them, up there in the snow in enemy territory, even when I wasn’t reading.

The writing is great too. You really get a sense of the urgency of the mission: their chances of success of depressingly low, but they have no choice but to try it anyway. There’s a lot of action (“here is where the action is!”) but it’s not all guns and fighting. Smith’s verbal fights are just as exciting, and there were a couple passages I had to re-read because Smith had left me behind while he was out-thinking the enemy (through my own denseness; not a fault of the writing). A sample sentence, from a chase scene with a bus with a snow plow attached vs. a squad of Nazi motorcyclists: “There was a thunderous series of metallic bangs interspersed with the eldritch screeches of torn and tortured metal as the snowplough smashed into the motorcycles and swept them along in its giant maw.”

The book was published in 1967, and Mom’s paperback says “Now a major motion picture!” I will have to check it out and see if they do Smith and Schaffer justice. And next time, her recommendations go to the top of my reading list.

ElCicco #CBR4 Review #44: City of Women by David R. Gillham

This novel is set in Berlin 1943. The tide of war has turned against the Nazis since the Battle of Stalingrad, and British nighttime bombings have resumed. The Nazis have stepped up their campaign against the Jews, rounding them up systematically and sending them to death camps in the east.

The main character, Sigrid Schroder lives in a flat with her insufferable mother-in-law and works as a stenographer while her husband Kaspar serves on the eastern front. Sigrid, like many Berliners, is detached from the political events that form daily life until a charismatic man named Egon and a young woman named Ericha present her with choices — to get involved, to care, to try to make a difference. Sigrid becomes involved in the dangerous work of hiding “U-boats” — Jews and deserters. In doing so, she encounters other ordinary women and men who use their meager resources to protect and transport these people out of the country, risking their own lives to do so. The Gestapo make it their business to hunt down people like Sigrid, but they aren’t the only danger — ordinary citizens like Sigrid’s co-workers and others who live in her apartment building could denounce her if they became suspicious, and even some members of the Jewish community have been turned into “catchers” — those who hunt down fellow Jews for the Nazis to protect themselves.

As Sigrid becomes more deeply involved in hiding Jews, her relationships with Ericha and Egon become more complicated. Ericha is a young German woman who simply hates the Nazis and will do anything required to help those in her charge. At the beginning of the novel, she is more worldly than the older Sigrid, but by the end, her youth becomes evident and Sigrid becomes more of the leader. The relationships that Sigrid has with Ericha, her mother-in-law, the women in her building, and a particular woman she is hiding, are the meat of the story for me. Due to war, Berlin is a city of women, and their relationships can be nurturing or combative.

Sigrid’s relationships with the men in her life are more troubling. Even before Kaspar left for the front, their marriage had become somewhat stale. Egon provides the passion that was missing, but the story of how Sigrid and Egon meet and become involved seems ridiculous to me, a male fantasy — two strangers hooking up in the back of a movie theater. Then there is Wolfram, the Nazi officer whose sisters live in the flat across the hall from Sigrid’s. Wolfram lost a leg in the war but not his charisma, and Sigrid becomes involved with him as well. Sigrid’s sexcapades just seemed sort of silly to me and not essential to the plot. Maybe it was supposed to demonstrate that deep down, she was always a risk-taker? Or that the author’s dream is that smart, beautiful women just can’t wait to do it with brutes who treat them like objects? As a card-carrying feminist, I veered back and forth between being aggravated by these passages and rolling my eyes at them.

The plot gets a bit complicated at the end and I felt that some details could have been clearer, but overall this was a pretty good book. Gillham did his research to get the details of life during wartime right, and Sigrid’s transformation from apathetic German trying to get through the war to a protector of the persecuted is convincing.

Siege’s #CBR4 #8: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

In which Siege feels a book about Nazis getting eaten by a monster should be a lot more exciting than this one turned out to be.

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