0

Penguin Moderns: Ralph Ellison, Jean Rhys, and Franz Kafka

The Black Ball by Ralph Ellison **** (#12) 9780241339220
Four of Ralph Ellison’s stories – ‘Boy on a Train’, ‘Hymie’s Bull’, ‘The Black Ball’, and ‘In a Strange Country’ – have been collected together in The Black Ball, the twelfth Penguin Modern book. These are ‘stories of belonging and alienation, violence and beauty, racial injustice and unexpected kindness, from a writer of searing emotion and lyricism.’ The majority of these stories have been taken from a collection published in 1996, and entitled Flying Home and Other Stories. I had somehow not read any of Ellison’s work before picking up this selection, but found it highly engaging. His prose is quite startling in places, and he is an author not afraid to poke into the darker elements of life. I am so looking forward to reading more of Ellison’s books in future.
9780241337585Till September Petronella by Jean Rhys **** (#13)
Unlike many readers, I have not yet been blown away by Jean Rhys’ work; thus, I was both looking forward to, and felt a little sceptical about, the thirteenth Penguin Modern book, Till September Petronella. This collection includes ‘four searing stories of women – lost, adrift, down but not quite out – that span the course of a lifetime, from a Caribbean childhood to ruinous adulthood, to old age and beyond.’

The stories here – ‘The Day They Burned the Books’, ‘Till September Petronella’, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel’, and ‘I Used to Live Here Once’ – were published in 1968 and 1976. I thoroughly enjoyed each of these searching and multilayered tales, and am very much looking forward to immersing myself into the rest of Rhys’ short stories in future; these are by far my favourites of her work to date.
Investigations of a Dog by Franz Kafka ** (#14) 9780241339305
I was not much looking forward to the fourteenth Penguin Modern, Franz Kafka’s Investigations of a Dog. I am not a fan of The Metamorphosis, and have not enjoyed the short fiction of his which I have read thus far. I am also far more a cat person than a dog one. However, I tried to go into this with an open mind. The blurb states that in this ‘playful and enigmatic story of a canine philosopher, Kafka explores the limits of knowledge.’ The story was originally written in 1922, and published posthumously in 1931.

Investigations of a Dog is told from the imagined perspective of a canine who has, it must be said, rather an impressive vocabulary. Whilst intrigued by the style of the story, it did not capture my attention as I was unable to suspend my disbelief enough. Investigations of a Dog is well written, but it was simply not enjoyable for me in terms of its subject matter. I also found it rather meandering as it went on. I may try another of Kafka’s books in future, but at present, I am of the opinion that he is not an author for me.

Purchase from The Book Depository

Advertisements
0

Penguin Moderns: ‘Three Japanese Short Stories’, and ‘The Veiled Woman’

Three Japanese Short Stories by Akutanagawa and Others *** (#5)  9780241339749
I have not read much Japanese fiction that I have really enjoyed to date; rather, I tend to find it a little hit or miss, and usually a bit off the wall in its plotting for my particular taste. I was intrigued by this collection, however; it consists of ‘three beguiling, strange, funny and hair-raising tales of imprisonment, memory and atrocity from early twentieth-century Japan’, all of which have been newly translated by Jay Rubin. Overall, I found the collection difficult to pin down; I very much enjoyed the first story, but was not much of a fan of the second or third.

‘Behind the Prison’ by Nagai Kafu is told in the form of a letter, addressed to ‘my dearest excellency’. The narrator is a thirty-year-old man who, after living in the West, has returned to Japan to live ‘in a single room on my father’s estate, which is located behind the prison in Ichigaya.’ He describes quite how this came to be, when his greatest desire was to hide away amongst people who have no knowledge of him, or of his family. I found the writing in this story poetic, and quite absorbing.

The second story, ‘Closet LLB’, is a third person perspective story written by Uno Koji. It provides an account of an unambitious law graduate, whose only wish lies in becoming a novelist. He has delusions of grandeur about his person, and is both self-important and self-obsessed. This story was not quite to my taste; I found the character almost loathsome, and the tone of the narrative felt a little off to me.

The third and final story collected here is ‘General Kim’ by Akutanagawa Ryunosuke. This is rather a short story in comparison to those by the previous two authors. It follows two ‘powerful Japanese generals, who had crossed the sea to assess military conditions in the neighbouring kingdom of Korea’. In some ways, this was quite interesting, but it was also, almost overwhelmingly, bizarre.

 

9780241339541The Veiled Woman by Anais Nin **** (#6)
I adore what I have read of Nin’s work so far; I have read a few of her books, but have much of her oeuvre left to get stuck into. Here, ‘transgressive desires and sexual encounters are recounted in these four pieces from one of the greatest writers of erotic fiction’. These stories were first published in the 1970s, three of them taken from <i>Delta of Venus</i>, and one from <i>Little Birds</i>.

Nin writes incredibly well; the scenes which she depicts have a vividness and vivacity to them. Her female narrators feel realistic, and impart their deepest thoughts and desires to the reader. Nin’s character descriptions hum with life and richness; for instance, from ‘The Veiled Woman’: ‘She was extraordinarily lovely, with something of both satin and velvet in her. Her eyes were dark and moist, her mouth glowed, her skin reflected the light. Her body was perfectly balanced. She had the incisive lines of a slender woman together with a provocative ripeness.’

Nin’s visions are strange and unexpected. These particular stories are all quite highly erotic ones; it is a genre which ordinarily I would steer away from, but there is beauty in these tales regardless. The four stories here are perfect examples of the kinds of tales which Nin’s reputation has sprung from.

 

Purchase from The Book Depository

1

Fairlight Novellas

A wonderful, and relatively new, publishing company has come to my attention of late, after publishing five interesting novellas set all over the world.  I have read three of the currently published, and wonderfully designed, five to date, and thought that I would collect my reviews together here.
There Are Things I Know by Karen B. Golightly ****
‘Eight year old Pepper sees the world a little differently from most people.
One day, during a school field trip, Pepper is kidnapped by a stranger and driven to rural Arkansas. The man, who calls himself ‘Uncle Dan’, claims that Pepper’s mother has died and they are to live together from now on – but the boy isn’t convinced.
Pepper always found it hard to figure out when people are lying, but he’s absolutely certain his mother is alive, and he’s going to find her…’

There Are Things I Know is an intelligent, well-wrought novella, which deals with the abduction of a young boy, and is narrated from his perspective.  The narrator, who goes by the nickname of Pepper, is naive at first, feeling trusting toward ‘Uncle Dan’, who calls himself a relative.  As time goes on, however, he begins to learn that things are not as they seem, and that ‘Uncle Dan’ has nothing to do with his family.  Pepper is an entirely believable character, with a lot of depth, who I felt so much empathy for.  The tension which is built here is great, and I read it in one sitting, loath as I was to put it down.

The Driveway Has Two Sides by Sara Marchant **** 38720247
On an East Coast island, full of tall pine moaning with sea gusts, Delilah moves into a cottage by the shore. The neighbours gossip as they watch her clean, black hair tied back in a white rubber band. They don’t like it when she plants a garden out front – orange red carpinus caroliniana and silvery blue hosta. Very unusual, they whisper.  Across the driveway lives a man who never goes out. Delilah knows he’s watching her too and she likes the look of him, but perhaps life is too complicated already…

Sara Marchant’s core idea in her novella, The Driveway Has Two Sides, really intrigued me, and I couldn’t wait to read it. I enjoyed Marchant’s writing a lot; there were some really lovely turns of phrase here, and the characters felt utterly realistic. Whilst not a novella in which a great deal happens – it is largely about relationships and gardening, which do make for an interesting combination – I found it highly compelling.
38720284Inside the Bone Box by Anthony Ferner ****
Top neurosurgeon Nicholas Anderton is morbidly obese.  He doesn’t mind the sweats, the sleep apnoea, or the fact that he can no longer see certain parts of his anatomy. Even the sniggers that come from his registrars, behind what they think are closed doors, won’t make him change. He is also inured to his wife’s scorn as their marriage slowly disintegrates.  But when mistakes are made and the clinical director starts asking questions, Nicholas knows that things are coming to a head…

I am really enjoying these thoughtfully curated, and rather unusual, Fairlight Books novellas. I did not remind myself of the synopsis of this one before I began to read, and was rather surprised at times by the multilayered story which awaited me. Here, Ferner presents an intimate portrait of a husband and wife, and the ways in which their relationship has shifted since the beginning of their marriage. I found Inside the Bone Box incredibly well written, and wholly absorbing.

Purchase from The Book Depository

1

Penguin Moderns: Allen Ginsberg, Daphne du Maurier, and Dorothy Parker

Television Was a Baby Crawling Toward That Deathchamber by Allen Ginsberg **** (#2)
9780241337622This new collection of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s work, Television Was a Baby Crawling Toward That Deathchamber, is the second book in the Penguin Moderns series. Whilst the poems have been printed before, in Ginsberg’s Collected Poems 1947-1977 (2006), they have not appeared in this particular selection before.

Throughout the admirable poems exhibited here, Ginsberg tackles many issues which were contemporary to him – atom bombs, the political system in the United States, Communism, the Cold War, propaganda, the state of the world, and oppression, to name but a few. With regard to their approach, some of the poems here are far more structured; others read like stream-of-consciousness pieces, or monologues. In Television Was a Baby Crawling Toward That Deathchamber, Ginsberg presents a fascinating and creative view of a bygone time, whose issues are still relevant to our twenty-first century world. Despite the vulgarity at times, the wordplay here is impressive, and there is such a variance to the selection which has been made.

 

The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier **** (#3)9780241339206
Daphne du Maurier’s short story ‘The Breakthrough’ has been reprinted by itself as the third book of the Penguin Moderns series. I have read it before, but was very much looking forward to coming back to it. Whilst not quite amongst my favourite pieces of her short work, there is so much here to admire. First published in 1966, ‘The Breakthrough’ still surprises and startles, even upon a second reading. I found this a chilling tale, and whilst I do not want to give any details of the plot away in my review, it is one which I would highly recommend.

 

The Custard Heart by Dorothy Parker **** (#4)
9780241339589The Custard Heart is the fourth book in the Penguin Moderns series, which I have decided to read in order after receiving the full boxed collection in all of its glory. The three stories by Dorothy Parker in this collection – ‘The Custard Heart’, ‘Big Blonde’, and ‘You Were Perfectly Fine’ – have all been taken from The Collected Dorothy Parker, which was first published as The Portable Dorothy Parker in 1944. Whilst I’ve not read any of Parker’s short stories before, I have read the entirety of her poetry output.

The descriptions in each of these stories, which are ‘tales of women on the edge’ are startling and vivid. From ‘The Custard Heart’, for instance, ‘… Mrs Lanier wore yellow of evening. She had gowns of velvet like poured country cream and satin with the lacquer of buttercups and chiffon that spiraled about her like golden smoke. She wore them, and listened in shy surprise to the resulting comparisons to daffodils, and butterflies in the sunshine, and such…’.

Here, Parker paints intimate portraits of three women, in a perceptive and introspective manner. Parker looks at ageing, relationships, emotions, and womanhood at different stages, amongst other things. ‘Big Blonde’, which shows the slip into depression and its depths, was as tense as it was fantastic. I found each of these tales immediately immersive, and am very much looking forward to reading the rest of her stories in future.

Purchase from The Book Depository

3

2018 Travel: Books Set in France

My final stop so far in 2018 is France, where I am currently enjoying the Easter holidays (thank goodness for scheduling posts ahead of time!).  Here are seven books set in France which I have loved, and which, I feel, round off the week nicely.
5894091. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (2004)
Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.  When Irène Némirovsky began working on Suite Française, she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. For sixty-four years, this novel remained hidden and unknown.
2. The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart (2007)
Barber Guillaume Ladoucette has always enjoyed great success in his tiny village in southwestern France, catering to the tonsorial needs of Amour-sur-Belle’s thirty-three inhabitants. But times have changed. His customers have grown older—and balder. Suddenly there is no longer a call for Guillaume’s particular services, and he is forced to make a drastic career change. Since love and companionship are necessary commodities at any age, he becomes Amour-sur-Belle’s official matchmaker and intends to unite hearts as ably as he once cut hair. But alas, Guillaume is not nearly as accomplished an agent of amour, as the disastrous results of his initial attempts amply prove, especially when it comes to arranging his own romantic future.
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006) 6238269
A moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.  We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building’s tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.   Then there’s Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.  Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma’s trust and to see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
4. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse (2009)
Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free rein. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence.

158618055. My Life in France by Julia Child (2006)
In her own words, here is the story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found her “true calling.” Filled with the black-and-white photographs that her husband Paul loved to take when he was not battling bureaucrats, as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so whole-heartedly. Above all, she reveals the kind of spirit and determination, the sheer love of cooking, and the drive to share that with her fellow Americans that made her the extraordinary success she became.

6. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007; review here)
Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.
7. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (1954) 1183167
Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950’s France with its portrayal of teenager Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and family to choose her own sexual freedom.  Cécile leads a hedonistic, frivolous life with her father and his young mistresses. On holiday in the South of France, she is seduced by the sun, sand and her first lover. But when her father decides to remarry, their carefree existence becomes clouded by tragedy.

 

Which of these have you read, and which have taken your fancy?

Purchase from The Book Depository

1

2018 Travel: Books Set in Austria

I have been incredibly lucky with my travelling so far this year, and was able to revisit beautiful Austria whilst based in Munich.  I hadn’t been to Salzburg before, but am absolutely in love with the city.  To honour lovely Austria, here are seven of my favourite books set in the country.

1. Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (2001) 1522423
The extraordinary memoir, praised across Europe, of a daughter’s final encounter with her mother, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.  In 1941, in Berlin, Helga Schneider’s mother abandoned her, her younger brother, and her father. Thirty years later– when she saw her mother again for the first time– Schneider discovered the shocking reason: Her mother had joined the Nazi SS and had become a guard in concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrück, where she was in charge of a “correction” unit and responsible for untold acts of torture.  Nearly three more decades would pass before their second and final reunion, an emotional encounter at a Vienna nursing home, where her mother, then eighty-seven and unrepentant about her past, was ailing. Let Me Go is an extraordinary account of that meeting. Their conversation– which Schneider recounts in spellbinding detail– triggers childhood memories, and she weaves these into her account, powerfully evoking the misery of Nazi and postwar Berlin. Yet it is her internal struggle– a daughter’s sense of obligation colliding with the inescapable horror of what her mother has done– that will stay with readers long after the book has ended.
2. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi (2001)
‘In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as ‘one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day,’ Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.  Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.  As funny and poignant as its predecessor, Persepolis 2 is another clear-eyed and searing condemnation of the human cost of fundamentalism.’

175696223. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal (2013 in English)
The Exiles Return is set in Occupied Vienna in 1954-5. It describes five people who grew up there before the war and have come back to see if they can re-establish the life they have lost.  The novel begins with Professor Kuno Adler, who is Jewish and fled Vienna after the Anschluss (the events of March 1938 when Hitler’s troops marched into Austria). He is returning from New York to try and take up his old life as a research scientist. We realise through his confrontation with officialdom and with the changed fabric of the city (the lime trees are there no longer, it is hard to know who behaved well during the war and who was a Nazi sympathiser) that a refugee who goes back has a very difficult time.  Next we are introduced to a wealthy Greek named Kanakis. Before the war his family had lived in great style with a coach and horses and many servants, and now the 40 year-old Kanakis has come back to try and buy an eighteenth-century hotel particulier, a little palais, in which to live a life of eighteenth-century pleasure. He meets Prince Lorenzo Grein-Lauterbach (who owes more than a little to Tadzio in Death in Venice). Bimbo, as he is known – and the nickname is an accurate one – is a 24 year-old who, because his aristocratic, anti- Nazi parents were murdered by the Germans, was spirited away to the country during the war years and afterwards. He is penniless yet retains an overweening sense of entitlement. Kanakis and he develop a homosexual relationship (a brave thing to write about in the 1950s) and he is kept by his older lover. But he has a sister, Princess Nina, who works in a laboratory, the same one to which Adler returns. She lives modestly in the attic of her family’s former palais, is a devout Catholic, loyal to her brother and the memory of her parents, intelligent and hard-working, but, as she perceives it, is stocky and unattractive. Lastly, there is 18 year-old Marie-Theres, whose parents went to America just before the war; they, and her siblings, have become completely American, but Resi (as she is known, possibly with a deliberate echo of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew) has never fitted in and is déplacée. So she goes back to her Austrian aunt and uncle to see if she can make a life in the home country (from her parents point of view to see if she can be married off) yet here too she is an innocent abroad, unable, to put down roots. Her tragedy is at the core of this moving and evocative book, which explores a very complex and interesting question: if an exile returns, how should he or she behave morally? Some have moral fastidiousness (Adler, Nina), some are ruthlessly on the make (Kanakis, Bimbo), some have no moral code because they have never been educated to acquire one (Resi).
4. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart (1965)
When Vanessa March arrived in Vienna she knew all about the white Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School. But she never expected to get involved with them or, indeed, with suspected murder.
5. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) 17738894
When a mysterious carriage crashes outside their castle home in Styria, Austria, Laura and her father agree to take in its injured passenger, a young woman named Carmilla. Delighted to have some company of her own age, Laura is instantly drawn to Carmilla. But as their friendship grows, Carmilla’s countenance changes and she becomes increasingly secretive and volatile. As Carmilla’s moods shift and change, Laura starts to become ill, experiencing fiendish nightmares, her health deteriorating night after night. It is not until she and her father, increasingly concerned for Laura’s well-being, set out on a trip to discover more about the mysterious Carmilla that the terrifying truth reveals itself.
6. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929)
Rainer Rilke is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. The letters in this book were written by Rilke to Franz Kappus, a 19-year-old student at the Military Academy of Vienna. Discouraged by the prospect of military life, Kappus began to send his poetry to the 27-year-old Rilke, seeking both literary criticism and career advice. After Rilke’s death, Kappus assembled and published the letters.  Although the first letter from Kappus asked for critiques of his poetry, Rilke gave him very little during their correspondence. He also discouraged Kappus from reading criticism, advising him to trust his inner judgment. Instead, the majority of the letters address personal issues that Kappus revealed to Rilke; their span is tremendous, ranging from atheism, loneliness, sexuality, and career choices.
61319957. The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (1982)
The post-office girl is Christine, who looks after her ailing mother and toils in a provincial Austrian post office in the years just after the Great War. One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which, if any, have you added to your list?

Purchase from The Book Depository

2

2018 Travel: Books Set in Germany

Germany is the third country which I have been lucky enough to visit so far this year.  My boyfriend and I travelled to beautiful Munich at the end of February.  Here are seven books set in Germany which I have loved, and would highly recommend.
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005) 893136
HERE IS A SMALL FACT:  YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.  1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.  Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with her foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.  SOME MORE IMPORTANT INFORMATION:  THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH.  It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.  ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW: DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES.
2. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (1995)
Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.  When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.
494653. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (2004)
For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.  Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.  Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.
4. Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008)
A house on the forested bank of a Brandenburg lake outside Berlin (once belonging to Erpenbeck’s grandparents) is the focus of this compact, beautiful novel. Encompassing over one hundred years of German history, from the nineteenth century to the Weimar Republic, from World War II to the Socialist German Democratic Republic, and finally reunification and its aftermath, Visitation offers the life stories of twelve individuals who seek to make their home in this one magical little house. The novel breaks into the everyday life of the house and shimmers through it, while relating the passions and fates of its inhabitants. Elegant and poetic, Visitation forms a literary mosaic of the last century, tearing open wounds and offering moments of reconciliation, with its drama and its exquisite evocation of a landscape no political upheaval can truly change.
5. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous (1953) 12238919
For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. The anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject–the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity.
6. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995)
‘From the Booker Prize-winning author of Offshore comes this unusual romance between the poet Novalis and his fiancee Sophie, newly introduced by Candia McWilliam.The year is 1794 and Fritz, passionate, idealistic and brilliant, is seeking his father’s permission to announce his engagement to his heart’s desire: twelve-year-old Sophie. His astounded family and friends are amused and disturbed by his betrothal. What can he be thinking?Tracing the dramatic early years of the young German who was to become the great romantic poet and philosopher Novalis, The Blue Flower is a masterpiece of invention, evoking the past with a reality that we can almost feel.’
95455457. The End: Germany 1944-1945 by Ian Kershaw (2011)
Ian Kershaw’s The End is a gripping, revelatory account of the final months of the Nazi war machine, from the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944 to the German surrender in May 1945.  In almost every major war there comes a point where defeat looms for one side and its rulers cut a deal with the victors, if only in an attempt to save their own skins. In Hitler’s Germany, nothing of this kind happened: in the end the regime had to be stamped out town by town with an almost unprecedented level of brutality.  Just what made Germany keep on fighting? Why did its rulers not cut a deal to save their own skins?  And why did ordinary people continue to obey the Fuhrer’s suicidal orders, with countless Germans executing their own countrymen for desertion or defeatism?

 

Have you read any of these?  Have any made their way onto your to-read list?

Purchase from The Book Depository