Category: World War II Page 1 of 3

Jana Bodnárová: Náhrdelník/Obojok (Necklace/Choker)

The latest addition to my website is Jana Bodnárová‘s Náhrdelník/Obojok (Necklace/Choker). This novel tells the stories of two Slovak women – Sara and Iboja – who meet in their hometown after Slovak independence in the late twentieth century. Their stories and the stories of their families are the stories of Slovakia as we follow them and their families from the 1930s to the post-independence era. Both came from well-to-do families but suffered from the Holocaust, the war, exile (Sara is in Germany, Iboja’s mother and father went to France while she stayed behind with her grandparents). Both families suffered bitterly under communism with Sara’s father, a painter whose paintings were not approved, going to an early grave and Iboja’s grandfather being arrested for being a bourgeois parasite. Bodnárová shows how much the area has lost, something that can never be regained, while the two women – aged fifty-five and seventy respectively – can only look back with sadness.

Willem Frederik Hermans: Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder (A Guardian Angel Recalls)

The latest addition to my website is Willem Frederik Hermans Hermans: Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder (A Guardian Angel Recalls). Our hero is Bert Alberegt, a Dutch state prosecutor. In a hurry to get to a trial, he takes a short cut going the wrong way down a one way road and accidentally kills a young girl. He hides the body, and spends the rest of the book wondering whether he will be found out. However, he has a guardian angel who keeps telling him to do the right thing but the Devil is also giving his point of view. These two spend the book advising Bert what to do and what not to do which gives a flippant edge to a serious book. Before killing the girl, Bert had put his girlfriend – a German Jew and Communist – on a ship to England and he is eager to join her but cannot find a way to do so. Things get more complicated when the Nazis invade the Netherlands – it is May 1940 – and Bert barely avoids being killed but is now more eager than ever to flee to England, particularly as it turns out that his best friend has been helping the family of the dead girl. Hermans cleverly mixes the very serious – the Nazi invasion and the death of the girl – with the less serious (the guardian angel vs the Devil) and manages it superbly.

Maurizio Maggiani: Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]

The latest addition to my website is Maurizio Maggiani‘s Il romanzo della nazione [The Novel of the Nation]. Despite its somewhat arrogant title, it is, in fact, primarily the story of the author’s family and, particularly his father, a man who fought in World War II, became a Communist, is austere and never shows any affection – indeed barely even talks to his wife and son. The key event for his son is the death of his father, though we learn a lot more about the father (a secret poet!) as well and other family members as well as about father-son relations, not showing affection, a life well lived, then and now, old age and its problems and, of course, death. The book has not been translated into any other language and, I suspect, may not be, as it is a mishmash and very Italian.

Miljenko Jergović: Rod (Kin)

The latest addition to my website is Miljenko Jergović‘s Rod (Kin). This is an 800-page family novel, as the author calls it, but do not let that put you off. It is essentially the stories (mini-novels) of, primarily, his mother’s family, going back to the beginning of the twentieth century but also of his extended family, friends and neighbours, set over a hundred years, ending in 2012 with his mother’s death. We cover a large range of languages, ethnic groups, a few religions, plenty of divergent political views, different overlords and, of course, a few wars. The author tells his story up to the death of his mother in 2012 (he had moved to Zagreb, she was still in Sarajevo). The key event in her life was the death of her brother, Mladen, who died when she was seventeen months old, killed while fighting for the Germans. Her mother never forgave her for living while Mladen died and she, too, was far from a perfect mother. Above all, however, Jergović tells us a host of mini-novels, some funny, some sad, some involving famous people, but many involving ordinary people but all fascinating, colourful and highly imaginative.

Gabriela Adameșteanu: Dimineață pierdută (Wasted Morning)

The latest addition to my website is Gabriela Adameșteanu‘s Dimineață pierdută (Wasted Morning). The novel gives a panorama of Romania and its sufferings from the beginning of World War I to 1975. Much of what happens we see through the eyes of the seventy-year old Vica Delcă, who has had a hard life. Her father went off to fight in World War I and, while he was away, her mother died, leaving the eleven-year old Vica to bring up her siblings. Things improved briefly when she was able to open a shop, with no help from her useless husband, but that was closed by the Communists twenty years ago and now she struggles on a meagre pension and help from friends, with useless husband stuck in front of the TV. In her morning she goes to visit her sister-in-law (widow of Vica’s favourite brother) and her friend Ivona Ioaniu, whose family mirror the changes in Romania, from a well-to-do French-speaking bourgeois family to Ivona struggling on her own with an unfaithful husband in a big house. Adameșteanu shows the hardships many Romanians have endured over the years. It was big success in Romania.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Gestern war heute [Yesterday Was Today]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Gestern war heute [Yesterday Was Today]. The novel follows fifty-five years in the life of Gabriele, from her birth in 1923 to the birth of her granddaughter in 1978. Unlike her mother and previous generations of women in her family, Gabriele seeks far more independence but very much struggles with her own role, both as a teenager (teenage angst) and then later when she, too, becomes a wife and mother. While we are following her struggles and search for identity (as well as those of other women), we are also following events in Germany and the world, particularly the rise of the Nazis and World War II. As Gabriele and her family are in Berlin, they particularly suffer, even though Uncle Bruno is a Nazi. Above all, however, the focus is on Gabriele and her search for her own identity and role in the world.

Sándor Márai: Szabadulás [Liberation]

The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s Szabadulás [Liberation]. This novel is set during the siege of Budapest at the end of World War II as the Russians attack and the Germans and their Hungarian allies defend. Our heroine is Elisabeth. Her father is wanted by the Germans and their Hungarian allies, Arrow Cross , so she struggles to keep him hidden, changing his hiding place regularly. The second part of the book is about how Elisabeth and her neighbours hide out in the cellar, listening to the bombs and shooting and waiting for the arrival of the Russians. There are two Jews with them, hiding from the Arrow Cross and Gestapo and we learn of their experiences. Above all, Márai gives us an excellent portrait of a city under siege and the reactions and feelings of the people inside the city.

Siegfried Lenz: Der Überläufer (The Turncoat)

The latest addition to my website is Siegfried Lenz‘s Der Überläufer (The Turncoat). This novel was originally written in 1951, Lenz’s second novel. However, it was not published then, partially for political reasons, and forgotten, only for the manuscript to be found in his papers after his death in 2014. It was published to great acclaim in Germany in 2016, It tells the story of Walter Proska. We first meet him as a German soldier, returning to the front near Kiev from leave. His train is blown up but he escapes and then joins a German troop guarding the railway, not very successfully. The troop is eventually captured and, at the instigation of his of his comrades, Walter joins the partisans and is with them as they come to his home town just across the former German-Polish border. After the war, he works for the Soviet-controlled Germany, the future East Germany. However, he learns that he is about to be arrested. Lenz tells an excellent story, particularly the first part with the troop with it s colourful members and nasty corporal.

Francis Nenik: Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century)

The latest addition to my website is Francis Nenik‘s Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century). The book is a narrative non-fiction. It is the biography of a forgotten German writer, Hasso Grabner (link in German) who had something of a colourful life. He never knew his father, became a Communist early in his life, opposed the Nazis in the 1930s but ended up in Buchenwald and then as part of a punishment battalion in Greece, where he tried to sabotage the German war effort. After the war, he was in East Germany, working to build socialism but, because he was less than ideologically pure but very efficient, he was at one minute an ordinary worker and the next head of a major industrial combine. Eventually, he became a writer but, even then, clashed with the authorities. Nenik tells the story at a furious pace but makes plenty of comments and writes Grabner’s story as a novel not as a formal biography , which makes it highly readable and enjoyable. This is a book from new imprint V&Q Books, , headed by Katy Derbyshire, translator of this and many other fine German works.

Dola de Jong: De thuiswacht (The Tree and the Vine)

The latest addition to my website is Dola de Jong‘s De thuiswacht (The Tree and the Vine). This book became famous as it is about lesbianism at a time (1954) when respectable Dutch women did not write about the topic. Bea is a sensible and responsible young woman. She meets Erica, an erratic and unpredictable young woman. Both are trainee journalists. It is 1938. They soon become close friends and move in together. Bea finds Erica’s behaviour both trying yet fascinating. They fall out when Bea’s boyfriend, Bas, and Erica clash. Erica wins and Bas is gone. It is only halfway through the book that Erica admits to Bea that she is lesbian and feels sure that Bea is too. Bea is certainly spellbound by Erica but she is resolutely heterosexual. The two continue their up and down relationship but Erica is half-Jewish and a German invasion is imminent. The book has now just been published for the third time in English and clearly the lesbianism helps but what makes it, is the complex and unpredictable relationship between two very different women.

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