Category: World War II Page 1 of 2

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.

Stefan Chwin: Hanemann (Death in Danzig)

The latest addition to my website is Stefan Chwin‘s Hanemann (Death in Danzig). Hanemann whose name is the title in most languages, including the Polish original, is a professor of anatomy in Danzig. He is to perform a post-mortem when he discovers that the body is of his lover, killed in a ferry accident. We then switch to the end of the War and the Germans are fleeing Danzig. Hanemann looks as though he is going to leave but then stays. We are never sure why. The family of the young narrator, Piotr, like Chwin’s own family, arrive in what is now Gdánsk and move in to a flat below Hanemann. The rest of the book is about their relationship with this enigmatic man, suspected by the Polish authorities of being a spy, a man who is living partially in the past, a German who speaks fluent Polish and has no desire to return to Germany but embraces German culture and a man who helps his neighbours and gets on with them. We never really learn who he is and nor does he himself.

Olga Tokarczuk: Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night). The novel is set in the Polish town of Nowa Ruda, south-west Poland (Tokarczuk lives in a nearby village). It used to be in Germany but became Polish after the war. It is on the Czech border. The female narrator tells stories of herself, her neighbours, the other inhabitants and people who visit the town, including the German occupiers in the war. We go back to the local saint Wilgefortis aka Kümmernis, who had a woman’s body but the face of Christ (with beard) and the two world wars and up to around 1980. Most of the inhabitants are somewhat eccentric. However, we are not spared the horrors of wars and multiple deaths. All the stories are highly imaginative and original, with mystery and otherworldliness hanging over them. It is another first-class work from Tokarczuk.

Olga Tokarczuk: Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times). This is the second of Tokarczuk’s novels published in English. It tells the story of a quasi-mythological village in Poland called Primeval. The village has fairly precise geographical coordinates but does not exist in real life. We follow the Niebieski family and their relatives from 1914 to approximately 1980. In some cases we get realistic accounts, e.g. of the two world wars and their effect on the village, and in other cases, Tokarczuk uses fantasy or magic realism to show other aspects of the village, in the way that Gabriel García Márquez does in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude). The whole story mirrors the suffering that Poland has experienced during the period, from the two world wars to Communism and its corruptions. It is a superb introduction to Tokarczuk’s work.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén