Seriously, I didn't like this. Yeah, I like how Vladimir Nabokov writes but this book just doesn't have the sparkle, the humor or the polished writingSeriously, I didn't like this. Yeah, I like how Vladimir Nabokov writes but this book just doesn't have the sparkle, the humor or the polished writing of Lolita or Speak, Memory or other books by the author. It feels like a piece that still needs more work….or maybe you can work something to death. Look at the history of this book. Despair first came out in 1934 as a serial in the Russian literary journal Sovremennye. It was published as a book in 1936, translated by the author into English in 1937, but what exists today is the author's reworking of 1965. Clearly he did have time to rethink this.
Why doesn’t it work for me? Despair not only was a forerunner to Lolita, published in 1955, but it feels like that too. One can compare Hermann of this novel with Lolita's Humbert Humbert. Both are unreliable first-person narrators, but one is a shadow of the other. Not in who they are but in the strength of their characterizations. Lydia, Hermann's wife, doesn't come close to Lolita's Dolores.
So what is the theme of this one? It is a murder story, but more! It is really about doubles, about identity and what connects one person to another. Hermann is delusional. Anything he says has to be questioned. Of course that is true too of Humbert Humbert, but there it is easier to just see the facts presented as his point of view. In Despair the story is so much more complicated; you are thrown between the writing of a story, how authors write stories and what actually happens, i.e. the events of the tale. Too complicated! Not properly thought through. Similar themes but quite simply not as good.
There are also funnier and more noteworthy lines in Lolita. More to chuckle at. More to think about on all sorts of themes, having nothing to do with sex or murder.
Christopher Lane does a good job with the narration, even if occasionally when he personifies dubious characters of Russian origin it was practically impossible to hear the lines. Arrogance, self-satisfaction and delusional traits, as well as furious explosions of temper all are well intoned.
For me this was quite simple a forerunner to Lolita. That I gave five stars. ...more
I am not competitive and team sports do not enthuse me, yet still I got excited and was rooting for the American team. Crazy but true. Every darn reviI am not competitive and team sports do not enthuse me, yet still I got excited and was rooting for the American team. Crazy but true. Every darn reviewer says the same thing! I have to explain what I think happened to me.
It took me a while to feel the excitement. Half-way through the book I had an epiphany. The reason why I am not into competitive team sports is not that I couldn’t care less who wins, but that I am one who doesn't and never has enjoyed working together in a group. I am a loner. Give me a job and I will do it well, but please let me do it alone. To understand team thinking is hard for me
The author personalizes the Olympic win through Joe Rantz, one of the American rowing crew that won the Olympic Gold in Berlin in 1936. One of eight oarsmen, one of nine if you count in the coxswain. But you have to count in the coach, Al Ulbrickson. You have to count in George Pocock, he made the boats. These shells are not just any old boats. They are made with western redcedar (Thuja plicata), but more importantly they are made with love and care. You have at least eleven people working together and the only way to succeed is to forget your own self and become one with the others. THIS is what I had to understand. It didn't help to be told this, in the first half of the book, but finally I understood it, in my heart, in my being. That is the epiphany. The complete synchronism of a group is a beauty to behold.
By tying the Olympic win to these people the author makes you understand. Tell me, how many books can pull in a reader when the subject is a whole group of people? Brown succeeds. Particularly Joe Rantz and George Popcock, their life stories grabbed me, but plenty is told of the others so you understand how it happens they all became one. You cannot be told to feel what you don't feel. You cannot be lectured or threatened with, "Otherwise you will fail!" It just has to happen and the reader has to see it happen. Joe, he too had to have such an epiphany.
Topics covered - the infatuation with Hitler in Berlin in the 30s, antisemitism in Germany and the US in the 30s, the publicity stunt of Leni Riefenstahl, the Depression, a dysfunctional family, the beauty of wood and of course rowing. All of these topics are woven in bit by bit. They are not dumped on you, so you sink. You have to understand the art of rowing to understand the win. I had quite a bit to learn.
The only thing I worried about is how much of this "team spirit" credo was a creation of the author to make a good story and how much was what actually was going on in Joe's head then, back there in the 30s. I am a born skeptic. I assume this book is based on Brown's talks with Joe. I certainly hope so.
There is a succinct epilog that details what happens to all of the central role-players after the 1936 Summer Olympics. It follows each of them until their respective deaths.
The narration by Edward Herrmann was p-e-r-f-e-c-t! During the races, at least by the book's end, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, it was so very exciting. Clearly spoken and a good speed. Easy to follow.
Here is a Cinderella story in modern format. ...more
If you listen to music by Beethoven you simply cannot remain unmoved! How is this achieved? That none of us know, but after reading this book I do knoIf you listen to music by Beethoven you simply cannot remain unmoved! How is this achieved? That none of us know, but after reading this book I do know about the events of his life and which pieces he composed just then. It is insightful to hear the music he composed as you learn of these events. It is a sad story, and not just due to his impending deafness. I hope that is enough to whet your interest. I highly recommend audiobooks narrated and authored by Jeremy Siepmann. ...more
1 star I started listening to this. I have listened to two chapters and am not going to continue.
Why is it SO horrible? I rarely quit books.
1. The1 star I started listening to this. I have listened to two chapters and am not going to continue.
Why is it SO horrible? I rarely quit books.
1. The narration is by a chummy guy (Robert Greenberg) who thinks he is a great actor. The narration is over-dramatized. 2. Beethoven's music is explained, i.e. we are told how the tempo increases or decreases. We are given small portions of the music so we don't need to be told this; you hear it! 3. I want biographical details, not an explanation of why I should like or dislike the music. 4. The musical snippets are too short - some not even a minute in length. 5. The writing is repetitive, both within one sentence and between sections. We are told many times that "that" will be explained in more detail later. Then don't bring it up if you don't want to talk about it now. 6. The language used is childish, as well as that which is explained. Do you know what a metronome is? Do you know what tempo is? Well, that is what is taught. Do you like to be talked down to? 7. There is no organization to the chapters. A date is given but that discussed is not within the given time period. You writing is disjointed. 8. I think we are supposed to be amused by the snide remarks and stupid jokes……
I wanted to test the series of Great Masters. I did, and I will not be trying these again. As far as I am concerned this was utterly terrible. ...more
I think this is a fabulous book of non-fiction. It is clear, interesting from start to finish and the amount of detail is perfect. It is not dry, notI think this is a fabulous book of non-fiction. It is clear, interesting from start to finish and the amount of detail is perfect. It is not dry, not ever.
It follows the fall of the totalitarian regimes in the six countries of the Warsaw Pact: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. You come to understand why the USSR fell apart. It follows the significant role played by leaders and dissidents in these six nations and Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Regan, George H. W. Bush and Pope John Paul II. The events in each of these countries and their respective leaders are covered in detail. Soviet involvement in Afghanistan is also discussed because the disastrous military campaign there partially explains Soviet abandonment of the satellite countries.
I am not knowledgeable enough to check the accuracy of every detail; I read the book to learn. Nevertheless, I do not doubt the author's information - he is an English journalist writing for the London Evening Standard and he witnessed much first hand.
In the introduction the author states that he uses the terms Eastern and Central Europe interchangeably, as well as Soviet Union, Russia and the USSR. It would have been better had he simply stated which counties he classified as Eastern European and which Central European. In addition he uses the words socialism and communism interchangeable. This is sloppy, and in some lines the word choice is quite simply wrong. Socialism and communism cannot be used interchangeably; they are not the same thing! This frequently bothered me.
I wish the book had covered the evolution of events in the Baltic States which also threw off Soviet tyranny. The author states that Yugoslavia is omitted because it deserves a book of its own.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Paul Hecht. Some of the Eastern European names are hard to catch, but most often I could still find these names with the help of Wiki. The narration is excellent. The reading is slow and clear. You need that in a book of non-fiction where there is so much to learn.
I really, really, really liked this book. I found it fascinating and clear. I just wish I could glue everything in my head so it never disappears. When you read a book that is this good, you don't want to forget any small detail.
(Please read what I have written below. You will find there additional important information.)
About 1/3 through the book:
I have listened to about 1/3 and am totally enjoying it. Absolutely fascinating. It starts in in the 1970s so you watch the disintegration of the Empire, not just the final fall. It is one of those books of non-fiction that IS NOT DRY. When a number is given it is compared with another so you understand its significance. You laugh at what you are being told; the author puts it so amusingly. For example, when he talks about the Stasi and the GDR he speaks of a spy who marries for the sole purpose of spying on the woman more efficiently! Everything had to be recorded on paper because there were so many power cuts. He talks of mountains of information and how stupid much was - such as the exact conversation of a guy buying a hot dog. "No the mustard isn't necessary, just the bread." The book is interesting and easy to read and read and read. Just the right amount of information to pique your interest. Not too much so it gets tedious.
I hadn't realized to what extent the dissension in Poland in the 80s was hinged upon the papal choice of Pope John Paul II.
All readers will recognize name after name after name. You learn about Lech Wałęsa, Solidarity (The Polish Trade Union), Václav Havel, Erich Honecker, Erich Mielke (German secret police official, head of Stasi), Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Gromyko and of course Mikhail Gorbachev. And I have only read a third of the book! ...more
I am not a gambler, so why am I reading a book about people obsessed with gambling? To understand those people, how they think, to see if I can undersI am not a gambler, so why am I reading a book about people obsessed with gambling? To understand those people, how they think, to see if I can understand their obsession, at least to feel this obsession. Furthermore I was interested in this book because it is partially autobiographical. Dostoyevsky was obsessed by gambling and he too was obsessed by a woman - Apollinaria Suslova. The book is based on his own addiction to gambling while he was in love with Apollinaria Suslova. The central theme of the book is namely obsession! The characters names are changed.
Do I now better understand the world of gambling? Yes, it is a whole other world of rules and regulations. A whole other way of being. While I can understand why you might try over and over again to recapture your losses, I could not understand the urge to win more and more and more. Horrified, I backed away and just wanted the winners to be satisfied. But they wouldn't, or they couldn't. They had to have more and more and more, until their luck had turned and it was all gone. Here it is roulette that is played. Is it a failure of the book that I couldn't understand that need for more?
Is there humor? There certainly is! When you start the book you are simply thrown in; you don't know who is who. Figuring this out is in fact fun. You soon understand how these people are connected, and then you meet "The Grandmother". She is a fabulous character. Wait till you see what happens to her?! Dostoyevsky throws about characters of many different nationalities. This is amusing too. The gambling occurs predominantly in Germany, in a fictitious town.
The narration by Simon Prebble was good too. There is quite a bit of untranslated French, and it is read quickly, so it helps if you can cope with this. I got satisfaction from understanding the rapid ejaculations in French. Prebble's voice for the Grandmother, is extremely base, but some older women can sound this way.
I did like the book, but I am not a gambler, and the topic is restricted to gambling and to obsession. Very glad I read it. Why? For its humor and for feeling the frenzy and craziness that captures a gambler.
Do I have to give it four stars to push you to read it?! ...more
All too few books about WW2 focus upon how the war impacted upon ordinary Germans. The central focus is instead on those discriminated against or theAll too few books about WW2 focus upon how the war impacted upon ordinary Germans. The central focus is instead on those discriminated against or the partisans, collaborators, spies, i.e. the people NOT like you or I. Here is a book that focuses on the anonymous, unsung participants of the war. Each one of us plays a role, has an effect, and leaves traces. I recommend this book because it speaks of the ordinary people's impact on history. And I am not talking about Hilde's dance with Erwin Rommel. For me, Rommel’s name was put in the title to flag our attention.
Historical events are mentioned so you can follow the flow of the war, but these are not the central point of the book. Instead the author is presenting here, in the guise of a book of historical fiction, the life of her mother Hilde, a German living in East Prussia, close to the then Polish border. Later she moves to Berlin, the Harz Mountains and Hildesheim. She marries and has five children. This is about her life before and through the war years. It is about her family and friends. Her husband, Karl, is a an officer in the German Army serving under the famed German field marshal Erwin Rommel, but it is Hilde who must remain in war-torn Germany. It is her life that is the central focus of this book. The book includes only a smattering of facts about Rommel, where he fought and his death by “suicide”, linked to the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. The book begins with the “suicide” and then jumps back in time. This may be confusing if you are not already aware of the facts surrounding his death; a bit more detail is added later. I wanted more about Rommel! He is known for his skillful command of desert warfare in the North African Campaign. He is regarded not only as a skilled commander but also a humane one. “He ignored orders to kill Jewish soldiers, civilians and captured commandos.” That is from Wiki; I had to know more since the book gave so little.
The author insists this is a book of historical fiction. So what is fact and what is fiction? There is no author’s note at the end to give clarification. Some of the time flips are confusing. (view spoiler)[ There is an episode in the beginning referring to a beer bottle used as a hot water bottle, followed by a bloody bath scene. What is all that about? Is a miscarriage hinted at? Is a love relationship hinted at? (hide spoiler)] Is this to increase suspense? Is this fact or is it fiction?
There is little humor. All books are improved by humor.
One word about the audiobook narration by Nancy Peterson: lovely! She sounds like Marlene Dietrich. One sees Hilde as a sweet, kind, loving, considerate person. I think she was, and I am referring to the author’s mother, not the fictional character. Actually I would have appreciated a teeny bit more about her shortcomings. Her behavior after the war, after the fifth birth when she totally let her house fall apart, did make her more real to me. I need to know not only about a person’s good characteristics but also the less admirable ones. This makes them human.
What this book does VERY well is show the life of an ordinary German mother during the war. That is reason enough to read this book, and I recommend it.
This is a difficult read - difficult because although it is fiction it speaks the truth and without exaggeration. The theme here is the Second World WThis is a difficult read - difficult because although it is fiction it speaks the truth and without exaggeration. The theme here is the Second World War seen from the perspective of Germans, ordinary Germans. There are an abundance of books relating the events from the winner's point of view, less from the German point of view, and a book such as this is needed.
I respect an author that draws a fictional story that is accurate, that is realistic, that is credible, and doesn't succumb to the pull of sweetening the ending. I found not one detail off. This book focuses on a German marriage contract practice of which I knew nothing about. German soldiers were given 'honeymoon' leave when they married and the woman a pension if her husband should he die on the front. These marriages were arranged through 'marriage bureaus’ between couples who had never met. You chose your spouse from a photo and an elementary description. You chose from a book. The act was finalized without the couple having ever set eyes on each other. Peter, in this story, got a ten day leave from the Russian front. Katharina got that promise of a pension and a way out from her parents' control. But did she? The book switches between Peter's infantry platoon fighting along the Russian front in Poltava and then in Stalingrad and Katharina's experiences at home in Berlin. The time setting is the summer of 1941 through the early fifties.
The war scenes follow eight people, of whom the reader comes to know well. You come to understand their weaknesses and strengths. This is much better than following a large group of characters. The same is true of Katharina - you follow her, her family and the closest acquaintances. Each one becomes a person that you may not like, but still understand who they are and why.
The audiobook is narrated by Suzanne Toren. She is one of my favorite narrators. She speaks slowly and clearly and with a strong voice, but she does not use a different intonation for different male characters. This is not necessary.
I definitely recommend this book. It is fiction, but it tells a real story! ...more
It is not good when you start a book and don't believe in the feasibility of the characters' first actions. These actions didn't fit the characters' pIt is not good when you start a book and don't believe in the feasibility of the characters' first actions. These actions didn't fit the characters' personalities. Once this feeling was lodged in my head I could never throw it off. The characters, their relationships and their actions were not credible.
This is a book of historical fiction that depicts the first years after WW2 in Germany. The setting is Hamburg and the year is 1946. What saved me from giving the book only one star is the accurate and interesting description of the situation in Germany at this time. It was split into four zones, controlled by the English, the Americans, the French and the Russians respectively. The political tensions between the nations are emerging.
The dramatic ending is cinematic in tone. It was NOT to my taste. Talk about unbelievable! Talk about cute! Talk about tying up all the strings into a neat little bow!
I don't mind sex in a book, but every darn relationship was propelled by sex. This too was not believable. Did the author do this to attract contemporary readers?
I liked the historical but not the fictional content of this book.
I highly recommend this book. What it does in an exemplary fashion is show the reader who George, Nicholas and Wilhelm were. You learn not only of theI highly recommend this book. What it does in an exemplary fashion is show the reader who George, Nicholas and Wilhelm were. You learn not only of their actions, but also of there varying temperaments. This is a biography, not a dry history book. It is well researched, and will be fascinating to those of you who want to look at the personalities of these three cousins. At the same time you will come to understand why WW1 occurred; why in fact it was practically inevitable. Political disputes and family disputes are intertwined. I loved learning about Queen Victoria, the three cousins' grandmother. This book whets the readers' interest in numerous other historical figures too, such as Queen Victoria, Bismarck and Vicky, Wilhelm's mother. If you have not read about the Archduke Franz Ferdinand you will need to read other books that focus on him! (I liked The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World. You simply cannot find just one book about all of the people and events leading to WW1!)
The book is well researched. It is filled with many, many quotes that reveal the idiosyncrasies of each character. They are not cardboard figures. The beginning of the book starts with three chapters, each respectively about the childhood of the three cousins. As adults their interactions and others' roles are detailed. The political climate is carefully depicted. What was happening in not only the Balkans but also Africa, Japan and China. Of course, Great Britain under Queen Victoria and her offspring, Russia under Alexander II and III and Germany - all of this is covered. The historical facts are interwoven with family celebrations, marriages, birthdays, shared summers together and deaths. As in any family there are disputes and happy memories. Jealousies, competition and family quirks.This is a book about political and familial tensions. The book covers the time-period from the middle of the 1800s through the war and after the war until each of the cousins' deaths. What happened to Kaiser Wilhelm after the war? It is all here. Of course the Russian Revolution too, Nicholas' abdication and his family's death, Rasputin and Alexi's hemophilia.
I didn't love the book as much in the end as I did in the beginning. Why? I am not quite sure. Maybe it is because I listened to it rather than read it? Let me explain. The narrator, Rosalyn Landor, used one theatrical voice, a gruff "British" male voice, for all the different men. For me, I associated this voice with Wilhelm, but in fact she used exactly the same intonation for all of the quotes voiced by men. I became confused and unsure who was speaking. Is this George or Wilhelm or Nicholas, or in fact somebody else? WHO is talking now? I would have to rewind. (And why did I always assume that it was Wilhelm speaking; he is German!) Usually, I try and rate the written book, but here the narration caused me confusion and affected my appreciation of that written. For this reason it has influenced my rating. The confusion doesn't happen in the beginning of the book; the reader knows exactly who the author is speaking of. I wish Landor had just read the book without adding a theatrical presentation. If she wanted to dramatize the voices she should have used different intonations for the three cousins.
I have only read two chapters, but am impressed and totally captivated. The first was on Wilhelm's youth, the second on George's and now comes Nicholas'. You really feel like you get to know the families of these three cousins. I love learning about Queen Victoria, their grandmother. The author makes their lives interesting and fills the book with interesting facts. There is a lot to learn here. I am even tempted to start over again to hammer into my head more of the details. I do believe that one's personality is largely influenced by childhood experiences. How did these three leaders, (King, Czar and Kaiser) come to be shaped? This author presents the facts in such a manner that the reader wants to know more and more and more and is interested in what is presented; in other words the text is not dry even though it is chock-full with facts.
Why write a review if I am such an atypical reader?
I will keep this brief since I feel most readers will not react as I have, but isn’t it important tWhy write a review if I am such an atypical reader?
I will keep this brief since I feel most readers will not react as I have, but isn’t it important that all views are voiced?
All readers must agree that the flipping back and forth between different time periods makes this book more confusing. I believe it must be said loudly and clearly that the current fascination with multiple threads and time shifts is only acceptable when they add something to the story, when employment of such improves the story. In this book they do not improve the story. Perhaps jumping from one scene to another can increase suspense, but must one also flip back and forth in time? In addition, more and more books are made for audios, and this is not helpful when you cannot flip back to see where you are. Finally, time switches unnecessarily lengthen the novel.
Secondly, be aware when you choose this book that the book is not only about WW2 but also a diamond that some of the characters, quite a few in fact, believe has magical powers. Those who possess the stone will not die, but people around that person will come to misfortune. This is all stated in one of the very first chapters; it is not a spoiler. This aspect of the book turns the story into a mystery novel. Where is the gem? Who has it? The result is that you have a heavy dose of fantasy woven into a book of historical fiction. I have trouble with both fantasy and mystery novels. Maybe you love them. (I would have preferred that the diamond was woven into the story as one of the objects stolen by the Nazis.)
Let's look at how the book portrays WW2. It is set primarily in Brittany, France, and Germany and a little bit in Russia and Vienna. Its primary focus is about what warfare does to people, not the leaders, but normal people. I liked that you saw into the heads and felt the emotions of both Germans and French. Some of the Germans are evil but you also come to understand how living in those times shaped you. To stand up against the Nazi regime was almost impossible. There are some who try. These events are gripping. You also get the feel of life in Brittany versus Paris. They are not the same. I enjoyed the feel of the air, the wind in my face and the salty tang on my lips in St. Malo. I do wonder to what extent my appreciation of Brittany as a place is more due to my own time there or the author's writing. Am I remembering my own experiences, or am I seeing it from the words of the author? I am unsure about this.
In any case, I was very disturbed by the blend of fantasy with gripping WW2 events.
The events of WW2 are those portrayed in every book. If you have read about WW2 in numerous other books of fiction or non-fiction you will not get much new. Rape by Russians felt like the author had to include this simply so it could be to be togged off his checklist. I do think the book moves the reader on an emotional level. You get terribly angry and shocked, and this is achieved through the author's writing, his excellent prose.
And this is what saves the book – its prose. The descriptions of things and places, the particular grip of a hand, movement of a body and what characters say. Very good writing. Beautiful writing. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you feel that wind on your skin or the touch of a shell against your fingertips or smile at the oh so recognizable words of a child. Children often see far more than adults, but they also talk in a clear, simple manner. What they say is to the point - could that diamond be thrown away? Of course not. As remarked by one of the French children, "Who is going to chuck into the Seine a stone worth several Eiffel Towers?" Even if the gem has dangerous powers!
People love reading about kids and one of them here is blind. Who wouldn't be moved by such!
The narration by Zach Appelman didn't add much, but neither did it terribly detract from the story. I appreciated how he read some lines with a beat, a rhythm which matched the cadence of the author's words. Pauses were well placed. French pronunciation was lacking.
Oh my, once I got going I told you what I felt. I believe this book will be popular, and many will like it, but it was just OK for me. ...more