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The Song Before it is Sung

3.53  ·  Rating Details  ·  396 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
On July 20, 1944, Adolf Hitler narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. He had the main conspirators brutally strung up on meat hooks. Among the executed was Axel von Gottberg, a German Rhodes Scholar at Oxford who returned home in 1934, to the dismay of his Oxford friends, particularly Elya Mendel.

Sixty years later, Elya, now a distinguished professor, leaves behind a c
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 10th 2007 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2007)
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Aug 27, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel when it was first released and, on re-reading it, have to say that I again found it an extremely moving and interesting book. The story revolves around Operation Valkyrie; the attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and of the involvement of Axel von Gottberg, who was hung for his part in the plot.

Moving to the present, Conrad Senior (at 35, the same age as von Gottberg at the time of his arrest and trial) has been left the papers of the highly respected Oxford academic Elya Me
Apr 04, 2016 Tim rated it it was ok
This is one of those WW2 novels that seeks to shed light on wartime events through a co-existing contemporary narrative. Conrad Senior is handed the task of writing down the story of his philosophy professor’s youthful friendship with a German aristocrat who takes part in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler. (It’s a fictional take on the friendship between Isaiah Berlin and Adam von Trott.) Conrad becomes obsessed with the task and his married life suffers the repercussions.

I enjoyed the sect
Sep 20, 2015 Kelly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Picked by my book club this story is situated in 1944 when an attempt was made on the life of Adolf Hitler by the German resistance.
This novel was based on a true story inspired by a strained friendship through World War II of the Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the German aristocrat Adan Van Trott who took part in the failed assignation attempt.
Although the writing is at times powerful and it was interesting to get an insight in to the resistance I struggled to keep engaged in this book a
Jayne Charles
Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been my cup of tea, but I did decide, after reading the excellent ‘The Promise of Happiness’ that I wanted to read more by this author. This one was a bit different though -the early stages were so tough it was like trying to push a piano uphill. It was about eighty pages before things straightened out.

The story centres around a failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and is based on real events. A lot of effort goes into the analysis of the friendship between on
Marguerite Kaye
Jan 20, 2013 Marguerite Kaye rated it liked it
This was an excellent book but not an excellent read. Cartwright's prose is truly amazing, the kind of writing that makes me feel about an inch high as a writer myself. He has a way with words that at times is quite breath-taking, sometimes hysterically funny at others extremely moving. So in that sense, this book was a pleasure to read. But...

What I really struggled with was what he was actually trying to say. There are all sorts of philosophical ideas here about the nature of ideas themselves,
Leoni Hofmeyr
Feb 21, 2008 Leoni Hofmeyr rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone who appreciates command over ideas and language
A brilliant book. The main character, in true Cartwright style, is an isolated man, ever hopeful that some good will come of his life, but aware of the limitations of himself and human relationships. The range of other characters are treated with the (also so truly Cartwright/mixture) of pathos and cynicism. No proclaiming.
A complex story, with lots to think about in terms of conscience, good and evil, force of history/society vs personal choice, casual encounters and enduring love. The complexi
Dec 16, 2008 Alicia rated it it was ok
This novel was based on the true life cases of Adam Van Trott and Isaiah Berlin and the events of 1944 when a serious attempt was made on the life of Adolf Hitler by members of the German "upper class". This is a profoundly disturbing look at that time period (fictionalized, of course) and how a friendship was irrevocably changed by these events. As so often happens with books focused on war, I couldn't say that I enjoyed this novel but it was a novel to make you think. Highly recommended for th ...more
Jan 14, 2010 Sarah added it
Good, though hard to get into in the beginning. Suffer through the first 80 pages and you'll really enjoy it by the end.
Jun 03, 2016 Val rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: discuss-it
This is the story of a friendship between a German aristocrat, Axel von Gottberg, and a Jewish academic, Elya Mendel. They were close friends when young men and even shared a love interest (although Axel was by far the most successful with women).
Axel is a German patriot and shares the aims of National Socialism. He writes a letter to a British newspaper saying that he has seen no discrimination against Jews. He lobbies for the return of German territory stolen by the Versailles treaty, includin
Jul 28, 2012 Kiwiflora rated it liked it
In July 1944 an assassination attempt was made on Hitler by members of a variety of different groups within the German resistance. The failure resulted in some thousands being arrested and tortured, with apparently almost 5000 of them executed. Amongst those executed was one of the ring leaders, a high ranking Foreign Office diplomat and lawyer, Count Alex von Trott. Von Trott, only 35 when he died, loved Germany very much, hated the Nazis and the Germany they were hell-bent on creating, and saw ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Sara* rated it really liked it
The Song Before it is Sung is a historical fiction, based in the early part of this century, London. The story revolves around Conrad Senior, an Oxford alumnus who has not done much with his life post-graduation. While at Oxford he became quite close with his philosophy professor, whose death leaves Conrad with his life's ultimate task. His professor, Elya Mendel left Conrad boxes and boxes of papers and letters between a group of his friends in the time before the second World War, one of them ...more
Justin Cartwright's The Song Before It Is Sung is a fictionalized retelling of the relationship between the great political philosopher and Oxford professor Sir Isaiah Berlin and the German diplomat Adam von Trott zu Solz, who was executed for his part in the July 1944 plot to overthrow Hitler spearheaded by Claus von Stauffenberg.

In this version, Berlin becomes Elya Mendel and Adam von Trott zu Solz is called Axel von Gottberg, who is given a (as far as I know, entirely fictional!) English mist
Oct 07, 2012 Nancy rated it liked it
For a few years I have been trying to gain a better understanding of the Nazi movement by reading some of the slew of contemporary novels riffing off this subject matter. Justin Cartwright's THE SONG BEFORE IT IS SUNG is certainly not the best, or most memorable, of those that I have read but it definitely packs a punch.

It rambles and meanders between the thoughts of a contemporary scholar who is obsessed by the correspondance between two friends who parted ways over the political future of Germ
Apr 19, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii-fiction
The interior lives of the narrator and the people he researches takes one on a journey at times idyllic and tragic. Based in part on the real friendship of Adam von Trott and Isaiah Berlin. Von Trott, a Rhodes Scholar, was hanged for his part in the bomb plot of Hitler in July 1944. Parts of the books remind me of this quote from Rumi.

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there. (-Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th century)
Mary Lou
Mar 10, 2015 Mary Lou rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This focus of this novel is the 20th July plot to assassinate Hitler, but is concerned more with the nature of friendships and relationships, personal responsibility and ability to control your own destiny.
The writing is beautiful, at times too philosophical for me, but always a pleasure. Raising issues of patriotism versus self preservation. Reminding of unspeakable horrors, the section on the execution of Axel is profoundly horrifying and disturbing even without any graphic detail.
Rachel Reilly
Dec 19, 2014 Rachel Reilly rated it really liked it
So I did and I didn't like this book. What I was really struck by was how beautifully written it was, there was some truly lovely passages that made me smile...simply because it was well-done. That aside, there were some trying and not necessarily boring, but not 'fun' parts to read. The beginning to the book is interesting enough, and grabbed me, but it seemed to take a lot longer than I wanted to invest in to finally get to 'the good part'. There was a lot of narrative switching, and it was ha ...more
ABK Fernando
Sep 25, 2010 ABK Fernando rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Song Before It Is Sung, written to reveal the story of Axel von Gottberg, is woven around Conrad Senior's life and his findings on the historic events related to Axel and his friend (who is also the professor of Conrad) Elya Mendel. Throughout the book the struggles of Conrad's own life are compared and contrasted against that of Axel's. While Conrad finds how Axel was trying to save Germany from dictatorship and keep up the friendship with Elya for the greater good, his marriage suffers and ...more
Jan 10, 2009 Shirley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating story of a friendship that started at Cambridge between a German student and a Jewish student that is torn apart just before WWII. The German student becomes part of the plot to kill Hitler which makes for very good reading. There are actually two stories here. The other is about the person who is doing the research to write the story between the two friends. Unfortunately one story far outshines the other which weakens the book. There are many things to recommend the writer howeve ...more
Sanja Tomas
May 18, 2014 Sanja Tomas rated it did not like it
A ja mislila da nema te knjige o Hitlerovoj Njemačkoj koja se meni ne bi svidjela ! - ali evo jedne. Dooosaaadnooo....
Sep 25, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it
Shelves: period-novels
I decided to stick with this book and I am glad that I did. I found that I did care, that I learned where it was going and that it became gripping and made me think.

After a stuttering start I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. Hard to say what it was about other than an historical friendship with shattering consequences. A life from history that refused to be hidden by time until fully understood and learned from.

I recommend this book.

My original comments, part way into the book were:
Hm, not
Johannes Bertus
Oct 08, 2012 Johannes Bertus rated it really liked it
This was the first book of Cartwright's I have read and I will certainly read more of his work. Reading the rest of the reviews of this book, I think I am probably the only person who liked the part of the narrative set in the present day, but I do agree that the historical part was stronger. It's a philosophical novel, a clash of two ways of thought - Oxford secularism versus German idealism - which I think Cartwright portrayed convincingly. The author persuaded me of the value of skepticism an ...more
Gary Brooks
May 27, 2014 Gary Brooks rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: phsychology students and professionals
very thought provoking and very well researched.the human condition under the most extreme conditions.
Gloria Ngu
Apr 02, 2015 Gloria Ngu rated it really liked it
Absolutely mindblowing. Love these sort of books that make me think.
Oct 04, 2013 Jan rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, beautifully written novel based on the lives of Oxford professor Isaiah Berlin and the German diplomat Adam von Trott zu Solz, who was subsequently hanged as one of the conspirators who tried to assassinate Hitler. Through letters, a student of the now deceased Berlin tracks the story of von Trott, his development towards his political beliefs that resulted in his death, and the effect on the friendship between the Jewish Professor and the outwardly pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic von Trott. ...more
Lisa Lazarus
Dec 28, 2012 Lisa Lazarus rated it really liked it

If you are fascinated by the insanity of Nazi Germany and enjoy well written fiction based on historical incidents read this book. I was completely captivated by the relationship between the English Jewish and German intellectuals and their stories set between Oxford, Berlin. I also like the South African connection and found the way Cartwright wove the tale between the present and past very skillful. I recommend this book highly and will definitely be reading more of Cartwright's novels in the
I started this book and put it down after 30 or so pages. I was thinking I didnt want to read another book about Nazi Germany. Before turning it back into the library i opened it up again and saw something I wanted to highlight. I ended up going back to the beginning and "really" reading it. Great writing! It's the most highlighted book I've read in a long time. The very first page when the story teller is flying and thinking random thoughts. I dont think I could have listed that many thoughts i ...more
Ann Weisz
Nov 15, 2013 Ann Weisz rated it liked it
I struggled to read more than a few chapters at a time and am not sure if I should be rating this book a 5 or a 2. Whilst the subject matter is fascinating - 2 friends from Oxford - who find themselves on opposing sides during WW2, I battled to understand whose " side" the author was advocating; the British Jewish intellectual or the pro German anti Nazi Government Minister. I found the parts about Oxford and German resistance movement interesting but was left with a sense of unfinished business ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Wendell rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Big pretensions, meager delivery. In short, a bit of a bore. Cartwright does something with his characters to empty them of life and leave them standing there like paper cutouts; and that's how this novel felt to me: a beautifully dressed stage on which not much actually happens because all the real action takes place in another time, in another location, in someone else's life. A classic case of a novel that it's more interesting to talk about than it is to read.
Nov 07, 2010 Sandy rated it it was ok
Based on a true story of a friendship between Oxford friends in the years leading up to and through WWII, one a British Jew and the other a German who was brutally executed for his part in the assassination attempt on Hitler. It is weighed down by a slow beginning and is often too introspective and self-consciously analytical of themes of friendship. loyalty/betrayal, nobility, etc. Ultimately, I'm glad I read it, but it's not one I'd pick up again to re-read.
Feb 15, 2014 Louise rated it it was ok
Not really anything I liked in here, quite slow going, and I didn't give a hot about ANY of the people in either parts of book.
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Justin Cartwright (born 1945) is a British novelist.

Justin Cartwright
He was born in South Africa, where his father was the editor of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper, and was educated there, in the United States and at Trinity College, Oxford. Cartwright has worked in advertising and has directed documentaries, films and television commercials. He managed election broadcasts, first for the Liberal Pa
More about Justin Cartwright...

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