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The History of History

3.15 of 5 stars 3.15  ·  rating details  ·  200 ratings  ·  56 reviews
A ferociously intelligent debut novel about a young amnesiac’s descent into madness in contemporary Berlin, and a country wrestling with its dark past.

A young woman named Margaret stumbles one morning from a forest outside Berlin, hands dirty, clothes torn. She can remember nothing of the night in the woods, nor—she soon realizes—anything of the previous months. She return
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Stasiland by Anna FunderThe Berlin Book of Lists by Max HofstetterThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréBerlin Noir by Philip KerrThe Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
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The sad thing about this work is that Hattemer-Higgins is potentially a powerhouse writer. When she writes with focus, the page is on fire and the story gallops along like a madwoman escaping the asylum. She is brilliant. You just can't get enough of what she's going to say next, where she's going to take you. Unfortunately, there are just not enough of those pages to redeem the novel.

First of all, she tries too hard, and it is painfully evident in numerous passages. I felt, at times, that I was
okay so I didn't really check what this book was about before I read it. I thought that it was a book about world war 2 by a german author. it is... well... not so much about that at all. or it is kind of about that but only in the manner in which the past insinuates itself in the present. This is one of those books where you aren't positive what it's about until the very end, but I kind of like that. As opposed to sort of genre novels with a beginning, middle and end, it more is a book about th ...more
The way I see it, there are two kinds of books in this world. The first kind are entertainment. This is a broad category, filled with strange bedfellows. There are the fluff books we read for laughter, romance, thrills, escapism. But there are also books that we read, usually non-ficition, that expand our horizons. These are Malcolm Gladwell books, or Tony Horowitz's A Voyage Long and Strange, or A World Lit Only By Fire. We learn from them, and they are certainly not fluff, but they still fall ...more
There is a scene at the beginning of this book that I can't get out of my mind. Margaret, a young American living in Berlin, has had a period of amnesia, but having received a reminder in the mail of her yearly gynecological exam, she proceeds to the doctor's office. Although she does not recognize the doctor, ( a rather bizarre older woman) she cooperates with the process. Undressed, with her feet in the stirrups and the speculum clamped into place, she become nervous when the doctor then stumb ...more
I really, really tried to lose myself in this book. So many of the reviews were great, and the prose itself was, technically, quite lovely. However, the harder I tried to enjoy the book, the less I did. It was simply not my speed, not my "bag," and I wish I could explain why. It wasn't the writing style so much as...maybe the pace of the book? Maybe its mystical elements, at least in the beginning chapters I read? Not sure. I just couldn't rev myself up to keep going with this one, and I ended u ...more
This was a tortured read, dense and overlapping and ultimately amazing in it's ability to translate incoherence,anxiety, and rage into a deeper understanding of the second world war.
Great build up from the very beginning, but it takes a LONG TIME to unfold, and I'm not quite sure the payoff was worth the trip.
Oh, how I was touched and gripped by this very strange and wonderful novel. The passion with which this talented young author chooses her words and winds her character's tale is truly awe-inspiring.

Though I've never been to Berlin, Hattemer-Higgins brings that city literally to life in a way that can't be ignored.

The main character seems on the surface to be so odd and so crazy that there might be no way to relate to her. But in the end, it's her very real and familiar struggle with passionate l
I tried so hard to keep with this book - it had a couple of really good reviews and some great snippets on its dustcover. But after two weeks and 100 pages, it just could not keep my attention no matter what I did. I thought that maybe because of the mystical part of the story, it would start to engage if I read for 30 minutes without interruption. Didn't help. There was only one short chapter which was based in the present that I thought "Wow, now here we go." Then we went back to bizarre. I ha ...more
Dec 05, 2012 Natalie marked it as to-read

I couldn't finish it right now: in one way it's brilliant and in another way it all just falls through. It is ambitious - perhaps too ambitious - but not executed well.

I will say one thing though, the woman can write.
Rebecca Makkai
This was my favorite debut novel of 2011. It's probably not for everyone, but it's definitely for me -- the layering of personal and family and German history, the extremely unreliable narrator, the fabulous payoff of the revelations at the end... and sharp, original prose.

The closest thing I can liken the book to is Murakami, but I actually hate Murakami. I always feel like I've been listening to whole-tone jazz with no tonic, and his novels seem to end arbitrarily, no better than if they'd end
Feb 03, 2012 Claire rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Claire by: Slate:
The History of History was the type of book that made me want to flip right back to the first page after I'd finished reading it. Hattemer-Higgins intertwines so many subplots, themes, and half-fictive, half-historical characters that I'm certain one could approach this book several times and notice a new thread running through each reading. This imaginative and unsettling novel tells the story of Margaret, a twenty-something American in Berlin grappling with gaps in her recent memory as the c ...more
Marc Nash
A dizzying trip through Berlin and its recent history as the heroine tries to get inside the mind of two women who killed their families, one a Jewess and one being Magda Goebbels in Hitler's bunker. Both take their decisions to prevent their children from suffering, but the two women strike very different chords. Winding in between these two historical women, is the strange, slightly hallucinogenic experiences of the heroine in modern day Berlin. This aspect reminded me of both Kafka and Elias ...more
A singular, fictional perspective on the Holocaust, guilt, innocence, revenge, love, family, modern Germany -- East and West...
I am a pretty literal reader and had to push myself past the fantasy in this novel. The symbols were not easy for me. I'd love to discuss this with someone. If I belonged to a book group maybe. Yeah, this would be a great book for a group to dissect. There are some amazing scenes here, especially being stuck in the doctor's office.
If this is at all your area of interest
Greg Zimmerman
The History of History, Ida Hattemer-Higgins' debut novel, is, simply put, an awe-inspiring piece of fiction. The genius of this fiercely intelligent novel — other than the fact that Hattemer-Higgins' prose is absolutely gorgeous — is that it's an unconventional, postmodern (fractured narrative, bizarre dream sequences, unreliable narrator) tale that still crackles with mystery and page-turning intrigue. It's the kind of novel you really only should read 20 to 30 pages at a time and then put dow ...more
This first novel by Ida Hattemer-Higgins is subtitled, “A Novel of Berlin,” and the city literally seethes and breathes on every page. Margaret Taub is a tour guide, with an intimate knowledge of its streets and the ability to describe not only what is seen on them but what the streets themselves have witnessed. For any modern novel of Berlin must have a memory, unspeakable memories, and a voice to reveal them.

But Margaret has amnesia - a limited case of amnesia, covering a period in 2002 and 20
Despite my rating of this book I still might give Ida Hattemer-Higgins' second book a try. It seems to me that beneath this pretentious book there is the potential for an interesting and meaningful writer.

In The History of History the author over-exerts herself and tries much too hard to be clever and sophisticated. She pushes so much into the book, that reading it gave me the bloated feeling one gets when over-eating. She also makes sure time and again that the reader gets it. Well, the reader
Meh. It's trying to hard to be satirical and serious in a roughly Joycean fashion, but as if Pynchon were writing a Vonnegut novel, and the mix simply doesn't work. There's rich material here buried in prose simultaneously dense and simplistic, which may be the point, but the author intrusions kicked me out far too often.
Maria Bache
Even though this book ended up being slightly less marvelous than it looked for a long time it's none the less a great read. It is for those of open minds as one has to accept that the main character's past is partly hidden, partly shows itself in very odd images or hallucinations. She's an American expat living in Berlin, studying history, and making a living by giving history tours on foot. Gradually the city transforms in her view or perhaps rather mind's eye from a beginning with a mistaken ...more
In this odd novel linguistic playfulness matches a darker whimsey. Gothic, Kafkaesque, like a Grimm folktale, this subjective nightmare of the holocaust is disturbing but unlike the classics, without rewards.
Jim Leckband
The subtitle is "A Novel of Berlin", but it could also be "A Novel of Freudian Vienna" because of the intense psychological and symbolic turmoil in the book. Margaret Taub, The very unreliable narrator (heck, the point of the narrator's quest is to find out *why* she is unreliable), wakes up in the forest outside Berlin with no memory of the last two years and tries to piece everything back together. Except she is kind of whacked-out and doesn't do it like a normal person would.

Part of her probl
This was such an enjoyable read. Having visited Berlin a few months ago, I did all the typical sites like checkpoint charlie, the place has a veneer of fact/fiction/real/unreality that has been masterfully captured. Likewise its citizens. I totally believed Margaret's obsessions and was surprised by how stunning it was to read. Its bold exuberance of language glided its way to convey difficult and at times, harrowing content. The theme of madness is seen through a surreal landscape where hints a ...more
Joanne Merriam
[Full disclosure: I know the author slightly from the Poets & Writers Speakeasy forum. We've never met.]

I read this book several months ago and am still thinking about it and going back to my Kindle to reread passages. It's a haunting book, and best read all at once. Most of it is very mysterious until the end, when much that was confusing earlier becomes clear. I've never been to Berlin, but found it easy to imagine given the lush descriptions of Margaret Taub (the protagonist) whose Berlin
Adrianne Mathiowetz
I'm not really sure how to review this book, for two reasons:

1.) It took me like 3 months to read it, when it should have taken me a week. This is not the fault of the writing: it's a fast-paced, surreal mystery combined occasional forbidden romance combined with NAZIS. But I get all weird with hardcover signed books and only read them in bed, and I don't take them traveling. Which hasn't worked out so well for me lately.

2.)The author went to elementary school with my booooooyfriend! They're all
I read this book very quickly while traveling, and it was a very entertaining read. As a History teacher myself, living in Europe, I found the questions on the city's "perfect pregnancy" and the expectations that people have in the study of history very poignant and interesting.

I was drawn into the narrative(s) and much appreciated the changing narrative voices. I also found myself wondering at points if Margaret was really insane or if these visions were really appearing to her...and was happy
Det er en af de mærkeligste bøger, jeg har læst. Det var svært at komme ind i historien, men da jeg så var der, blev jeg suget ind i den, så jeg vil gerne anbefale den - svinger lidt mellem tre og fire stjerner.

Jeg tror, at bogen er bedre, hvis man selv er visuelt-sindet, der er så mange billeder.

I det store og hele synes jeg, at oversættelsen var god. Men af og til blev jeg lidt irriteret. "Hans øjne var rettede mod hende". Suk. Og nogle steder var det tyske grammatisk forkert. Jeg ved jo så
I have never read anything like this. I generally have very little patience for surrealism, but I found this craaaaaaaaazy good. I mean, I am kind of done reading Holocaust novels but they keep sneaking onto my reading list somehow. I wouldn't call this a Holocaust novel anyway, exactly, even though it is very much about the Holocaust. An original take on guilt and memory and love. Whatever. NOT for everyone. Also the language was very strange at times, almost as if it had been translated, which ...more
Aug 27, 2014 Susan marked it as to-read
Shelves: wishlist
Slate Best of 2011
This is an interesting one, about an American living in Berlin that experiences the emotions and sights of 1940's Germany taking over her mind. Hallucinatory images are everywhere as buildings turn into breathing skin, people transform into birds, etc. It's got a lot of brilliant moments and the emotions are strong, but the protagonist doesn't have much you can identify with. It holds the power of the story at an arm's length, but this is still a fascinating journey.
A young woman suffers from amnesia. As she is trying to figure out who she is, she keeps going back to a time during World War II. It's as if she lived during that time, but of course that is not possible. While living in Berlin, she discovers more than she wanted to know about herself and her family. This is like no other book I have read. The author weaves the two timeperiods together very well, even changing the language to reflect the changing times.
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Ida Hattemer-Higgins was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied German and Chinese literature in New York, then left the United States in 2001. In the time since, she has lived in Japan, India, and Sweden, and for the past seven years has been a student of literature in Berlin, where she has also worked as a walking-tour guide and translator. She now divides he ...more
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“She stood in the mirror portrait very near Margaret, close next to her, good as a mother or a friend.” 2 likes
“Going around in life using German, which Margaret had learned only a few years before, was like walking around in high heels--although it drove up the aesthetic rush of going out on the town, it was dreadfully uncomfortable after a while, and there were certain places you couldn't go” 1 likes
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