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A Postcard from the Volcano: A Novel About Pre-war Germany

4.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  119 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Beginning in 1914 and ending on the eve of World War II, this epic story follows the coming of age and early manhood of the Prussian aristocrat, Max von Hofmannswaldau. From the idyllic surroundings of his ancestral home to the streets of cosmopolitan Breslau menaced by the Nazi SS, Hofmannswaldau uncovers the truth about his own identity and confronts the modern ideologie ...more
Paperback, 520 pages
Published January 1st 2009 by Ignatius Press
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Feb 15, 2010 Colleen rated it it was amazing
This beautiful book has entered into my very difficult "top ten" favorite books. I am a huge reader, 1000s of books in my over 40 years of life. Oh, I did I love it! I savored every moment. I'll admit, I am very interested in the time period between WWI and WWII. I'm a Catholic and may have Jewish blood. So, I'm a little biased. Boy did this book speak to me. I love the story line, tears, tears, tears. I love the philosophy and history. Wow, I just loved this book. Really, the question is HOW DI ...more
Oct 09, 2015 Lisa rated it liked it
This is an interesting historical book. Know before you read that much of it is about the philosophical and political questions that led Europe into the second World War. Many pages are filled also with religion, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant. Much of it pretty deep. This is what dragged for me, the philosophy and politics. I much preferred the story line about the boys who grew up during these years, Max von Hofmannswaldau, the Prussian aristocrat and Adam Zapolski, the Polish count. Beginni ...more
Jan 16, 2010 Dee rated it liked it
This is an important book because of its subject matter, the history of Germany between 1914 and 1934.

We should always be aware of the State and its ability to overrun personal freedoms. It is easy to write this in the U.S., but you never know when the political arena will change. Tyranny from the right or the left is always dangerous to human life and freedom. This is the lesson she teaches.

I only gave this book three stars because, although I connected with the characters, I think the author
Aug 11, 2012 DROPPING OUT rated it it was amazing
I am not certain where to begin! I have been most fortunate to know so many individuals who enriched my life, individuals who came to America as refugees from Hitler or Stalin. While they all were proud to be American citizens, I knew in their heart of hearts their hearts and minds were elsewhere - at a place and in a time long gone. Most had benefited from what we today call a "Prussian education" in the liberal arts: Greek and Latin, philosophy, literature, and history. They are all now long g ...more
Carmen Hinkey
Nov 18, 2014 Carmen Hinkey rated it it was amazing
My first Lucy Beckett, and I was completely absorbed. It came close, too, because my parents were German Jews, completely assimilated, and who escaped with their lives by the grace of God. They converted to Christianity, and some of Adam's struggle in this story is similar to what I heard from my parents. I'm not quite finished, but I don't want it to end.
Sep 17, 2014 Maureen rated it really liked it
I just fell into this book. My grandparents grew up in this time period, and in fact were kicked out of Germany in 1937 because they refused to vote for Hitler or support the regime, or give up their Jewish friends. If they and their friends hadn't had Americans visiting, at a time when the regime wasn't keen to have their tactics broadcast, they might not have been lucky enough to be merely kicked out. So a lot of this narrative sounded familiar in a haunting way, due to their stories. It truly ...more
Robin Taylor
Jan 23, 2014 Robin Taylor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book provided all sorts of insights into how Hitler was able to take over Germany and manage to convince people that their friends and neighbors--honest, hard-working Jews, Gays, and other people "in the way"--were the enemy, and how decent Germans were powerless to stop him. It is cleverly told as a coming of age novel as a young German count grapples with his classical education and the new philosophies and discoveries he encounters. One of those books that I wish had gone on...
Richard Jones
Aug 23, 2013 Richard Jones rated it it was amazing
I actually read this book a couple of years ago, but I feel compelled to recommend it to others. It is a very literary work that deals with the great themes of life: human dignity, depravity, despair, sacrifice, and redemption. Keenly capturing a sense of the times in which it is set, as well as the prevailing philosophies of the day, the reader gets to know and care about characters whose lives move relentlessly toward their historical destinies.
Apr 16, 2015 Paul rated it did not like it
It must have been around 2010 when I got this from Ignatius press, whose catalog I'd occasionally peruse looking for Catholic fiction. It caught my eye due to the protagonist's name, "Max von Hofmannswaldau"(badass!) & the setting in Germany(cool, my ancestral home!)
Alas, I was to be disappointed.

TL;DR Synopsis: Young German lad discovers a hidden family secret - he's actually Jewish! Makes a Polish friend during the summer; has a gay dream about said friend, then life goes on. He plays the
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
This started out a bit slow for me and was at times rather didactic and occasionally I found myself wondering if there was just a little too much knowledge gained in hindsight at play but I kept picking it up and reading on until i came to care rather a lot for the main characters and learned even more about the period between the two wars, filling in some of those holes in my education. This well written story of two young men growing to adulthood and even more importantly becoming thinking bei ...more
Apr 07, 2009 Stephen rated it really liked it
Oh the humanity wasted in those not-too-distant times. The Art, medicine, legal and theological advances that were lost and never found. The book kept me engrossed in the life of a Prussian count and his friends during the depression, and up to the war. The growing bigotry of the Germans, Russians, Poles, Catholics against the Jews is examined from both a young students idealistic point of view as well as the wise old school masters historical truth-is-the-answer viewpoint. Excellent book. Excel ...more
In London in 1961, a young violin student visits her teacher for the last time. He is dying, and he gives her a postcard with a list of names and dates of birth and death. The postcard is from an in-between time and place: Prussia in the time between the two great wars. The student’s task will be to learn and pass on the story of the friends whose names are listed on the card, her teacher among them.

In pre-WWII Prussia, a small group of friends from different backgrounds and having different po
Jul 08, 2010 Nick rated it really liked it
When reading historical novels like this, I've found they take a while to pay off. This can go one of two ways: one, you keep waiting for things to get interesting, and they don't, but you have enough of the book read to keep telling yourself there might be a really great ending, and you finally turn the last page to find that there's nothing more to read. Two, there's an authorial flourish at the end that imbues the whole thing with an unexpected profundity and weight. What's incredible about t ...more
Jun 24, 2010 Diane rated it really liked it
Beautifully written Catholic historical novel about a young Prussian aristocrat growing up in the years prior to World War II. The book opens when he is a child with his tutor, just before World War I, and covers the period through the rise of Hitler, and ends just as the Second World War is beginning.

The book is heavy on philosophy, specifically examining how many of the bad philosophies of the 19th and early 20th centuries led to the war. So, much of the book is dialogue in which the character
Jun 26, 2014 Jill rated it it was amazing
I need to read this again as it seems like history is repeating itself. Nothing we can do stop it, but it's good to be psychologically prepared. This is an excellent read.
Jack Haefner
Jan 01, 2015 Jack Haefner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I put this book down close to a year ago only to pick it up again very recently. Wonderful, but sad book. Highly recommend.
Nov 07, 2011 Sandy rated it it was amazing
A devastatingly clear picture of the years preceeding WWII in Germany and its neighboring countries that is like looking into the wrong end of a telescope--which helped me grasp more of something which has always been overwhelmingly beyond my understanding. Each of the main characters was the synthesis of a much bigger ideology which was a brilliant way to handle an immense, complicated process. Although this was a tough book to read because so much of what had to be written was morally repugnan ...more
Sep 06, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it
Yes, it's a little too pedantic, the author "having a conversation with herself," but so what? The point was to lay out the philosophical mix that brought Germany from WWI to Hitler though the lives of her characters and she did it brilliantly. If you care about that--and especially if you are a Catholic with Central/East European Jewish ancestry--you must read this novel.
Nov 04, 2014 Adele rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 16, 2009 Andrea rated it liked it
This book took me a very long time to read; it's extremely dense, packed with history and philosophy that took me a long time to process. It made me wish I knew more about the music described, and also taught me a whole lot about the various political incarnations of Germany/Austria/Poland/Russia between the two world wars. And after all those many long treatises about religion and philosophy, the end was jarringly abrupt. I think I like this book overall, but I'm still not sure. . .
Ted Viva
Oct 27, 2014 Ted Viva rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and gut-wrenching. Very likely one of the greatest novels I have ever read. I didn't want it to end.
Margaret Mary
Mar 21, 2012 Margaret Mary rated it really liked it
There were four major themes in this book, pre-war German history, classical music, philosophy, and Catholicism; all worked together in an interesting way. Excellent characters and presentation of human nature. The one thing I didn't like was the ending, and especially how it fit in with the prologue. Without giving anything away, I felt like the ending was a little disappointing.
Sep 14, 2011 Josie rated it really liked it
I actually listened to the audiobook version and would highly recommend that format. It's fairly long and the conversational parts can seem more like thorough expositions of the different ideologies of the characters, so listening helped me be able to stick with it for long periods of time while sitting at a desk or riding the bus and thus remain engaged.
Dec 17, 2009 Misty rated it did not like it
Lord, this is badly written. Started it for a bookclub. There is no characterization, minimal setting. The "dialogue" is really tedious and pedantic monologue peppered with questions or comments by Max to propel it. Ugh. It is obviously Catholic propoganda, and I'm a devout Catholic, but couldn't bare it's obvious, base apologetics. Avoid this book.
Jennifer Courtney
Nov 29, 2010 Jennifer Courtney rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at the philosophies that led to the rise of the Third Reich and the affects on people throughout the German empire (including Austria-Hungary and Poland.) Most WWII books I've read are from the perspective of the Allies, but this one allowed me to see the impact on dissidents within Germany.
Jun 09, 2014 mary rated it it was amazing
this is a well written book about Germany from the point of view of the upper classes Not a subject generally seen Interesting to me. I wanted to add that there are scenes in this book that come back to my memory not a haunting but when I read the same era book. It is a book I will remember a long time.
Jul 24, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling look at the philosophies that gave rise to the Nazi party and the lives of several friends were radically changed by World War II. Very interesting descriptions of classical education in the German gymnasium schools.
Mary Catherine
May 07, 2010 Mary Catherine rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy historical novels, this is one for you! An interesting work that allows you to visualize pre-war Germany through the eyes of a young man, who watches his beloved country change in just a matter of years.
Samantha Smith
Sep 07, 2012 Samantha Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book is amazing! So well-written and a fascinating period in German history that I know little about. The characters are well-developed and the grim reality of WWII lurks in the shadows.
Colleen Littleton
Aug 15, 2012 Colleen Littleton rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, such a unique historical depth and perspective. Really appreciated it's quality, especially how it weaved in Hamlet
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“it’s not my business to worry about the reason. God knows the reason. One day I may discover what it was. Or not. It doesn’t matter. All I know now is that I can’t stake a bit of my life on it being true, the story. If it’s true it requires the staking of the whole of my life. And that’s because it’s not only a story, as you and I have always called it. It’s something that happened in reality, to reality, and changed it forever. It’s something that asked a question that, once we’ve heard it, we have to answer.” 2 likes
“When they were all ready, Halpern again counted them in, and the lyrical clarinet line floated over the strings and, Max felt, out of the open window and on, out and out over the hot, dusty July city like summer rain.” 1 likes
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