Absolutely excellent, descriptive writing. Writing that pulls the reader in. Characters that are fully developed and totally real. A book with humor.Absolutely excellent, descriptive writing. Writing that pulls the reader in. Characters that are fully developed and totally real. A book with humor. A book with serious topics to consider. A book about life’s ups and downs. Every time the theme changed I was astonished to once again see how this topic and that topic and every topic touched upon had something to say to me. A long book that does not drag.
I loved reading a book set in Germany before either of the world wars! The Revolution of 1948 and the war against Denmark are briefly featured. I enjoyed observing, with humor, cultural differences within the country, how the Prussians view the Bavarians and the Bavarians the Prussians. The setting is primarily Lübeck in the 1800s. Clothing, foods, furniture, beliefs and traditions of the era and place are all picturesquely depicted.
Here is a multi-generational novel where a large number of characters are introduced early in the story and stay around long enough so that the reader comes to know each one intimately. The characters mature yet each remains true to their distinctive personality. There are characters with widely differing traits, but usually there were both good and bad qualities in each individual, and this made each feel real.
Themes? There are so many. Loyalty to one’s family. Sibling relationships – jealousies, competitiveness and innate differences. Family enterprises. Moral standards. The importance of art and music. All of which can be weighed one against the other. Choices must be made.
This is a new audiobook; it came out in October 2016. The narration by David Rintoul is stupendous. When an audiobook is this well read it is impossible not to recommend listening to it rather than reading it. Fantastic intonations for the respective characters. Perfect speed. Perfect pronunciation of French and German dialects. A simply wonderful narration.
This is a classic to be read or preferably listened to.
After a bit more than 1/3:
I am liking this a lot!
Wonderful writing. Very descriptive, but in a good way. You see everything right before your eyes. There is humor. The events pull you in. When terrible things happen, even to people you dislike, you care, you need to know how the problem will be resolved.
It has been ages since I have read such a great multi-generational saga!
David Rintoul reads the new audibook wonderfully....more
Those interested in how it was to live in East Germany during the Cold War will enjoy this book. It is both biography and history lesson.
The author wThose interested in how it was to live in East Germany during the Cold War will enjoy this book. It is both biography and history lesson.
The author writes of her family, with the greatest emphasis upon her maternal grandparents, great-grandparents, mother along with her mother's eight siblings and the author's cousin named Cordula. It is a large family. By observing the whole family we come to understand the earnings and sorrows and triumphs of not just one but people of different personalities. The author was the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin. This was during the 80s. Her mother, Hanna, had finally escaped from East Germany in 1948, after several previous attempts. These sections keep you at the edge of your seat. Hanna later married an American officer in Germany and moved to the US. We come to understand Hanna's parents' behavior and that of her siblings. Her mother and father do not react similarly, and the siblings too all have different temperaments. We watch how each reacts to the takeover by the Russians and the totalitarian regime under Erich Honecker. World and German events that stand out from the Cold War era are clearly and concisely presented. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the arms race, even the exalted importance of sports in East Germany during the 70s and 80s is covered. Cordula was a member of the East German Olympic bicycle team. Cordula's mother, Heidi, had at the age of five been allowed to travel with her mother to Heidelberg. For two days the three met, the youngest and the oldest sisters and their mother, six years after Hanna had fled. The book reviews historical events through the lives of people living these events.
The story moves forward chronologically. Each chapter has both a title and a clear specification of the years the events take place in. The title “Forty Autumns” refers to the forty years of the East German state, from its conception after the war in 1948 to 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. The book doesn’t stop there, but continues to 2013 detailing the lives of the family members and the progression from a communist state to a western democracy. An author’s note specifies where and how she carried out her thorough research.
The audiobook narration by Cassandra Campbell is very good. It is clear, easy to follow and read with feeling, but never over-dramatized. Her voice intones both the personal and the historical events well.
I do recommend reading this book, even though I have given it only two stars! Remember two stars is a book that is OK! Read it for the new and interesI do recommend reading this book, even though I have given it only two stars! Remember two stars is a book that is OK! Read it for the new and interesting information it contains.
The book reports up-to-date information about the complex, symbiotic networks underlying communication between trees. It stresses that trees should be seen not as separate entities but rather as parts of a community where individuals are aware of their neighbors, relate to them, communicate with them and help each other survive. Absorbing information about particular tree species, plants, fungi, insects and birds is provided. Anyone who appreciates nature, anyone who quite simply enjoys a walk in the woods, will find tidbits of interest.
So what was wrong?
The writing all too often lacks clarity. Ecological and natural processes were not clearly explained. I would follow an argument and not understand why a particular conclusion was drawn. I would see other alternative explanations. One example is the discussion of the respective amounts of CO² stored by young respective old trees. We are told that plants of the same species living in the same soil and under the same conditions do not act in the same manner. An example is given of three oaks that dropped their leaves at different times. What we are told is that this was an “individual choice, a question of character.” Ah huh……..no more explanation than that?! Later in the book it is said that plants of the same species often have widely different genetic composition. (It is interesting to note that the variation is much more limited in animals.) Anyhow, this must be the explanation but this is just my guess. It should have been explained more clearly.
Conclusions drawn should more often have been backed up with reference to particular scientific studies.
The writing reeks of anthropomorphic expressions. This became extremely annoying. It made the entire content of the book feel childish. Yet this is not a book for children; previous knowledge of plant processes is a prerequisite. I will give some examples. Beech trees are referred to as Beech & Co., Spruce as Spruce & Co. Perhaps this is amusing once, but not ten times. “Ouch” is interspersed frequently - when discussing a lesion in bark, the loss of a tree limb, a hit by lightning or any damage done to a tree. The upper branches of trees are called “the executive offices”. “Foolish trees” are said to have not obeyed the “tree etiquette manual”. A volcanic eruption is “the shuffling of cards in the game of life.” We read sentences such as, “If we think back to tree kindergarten……” Maybe it is me, but this type of writing switches the book from being a scientific book of merit to a book of farce. This is a shame. Let me repeat, the book has valuable content.
The content is poorly organized. Similar information is repeated in different chapters. The chapters are exceedingly short with ambiguous titles. Here are examples of titles: Let There Be Light, Street Kids, Burnout andDestination North. On completing a chapter you are left wondering what exactly had been the point of the chapter! What was its message? While there is definitely interesting information it is hard to absorb due to it being poorly organized.
Beside the main themes, what miscellaneous information caught my attention? How woodpeckers make their homes in trees, working on several at the same time and in conjunction with fungi. The parasitic plant mistletoe can kill a tree, but moss and algae aren’t usually dangerous. It is normal that you don’t hear lots of birdsong in forests. The value of and conditions found in “old growth forests” were interesting, as well as how long it takes to establish such forests and how they differ from commercial forests. Leaving fallen trees is important - they make it harder for herbivore to consume undergrowth and they are home to a multitude of beneficial insects. This is just a smattering of assorted information. Each person reading the book will find different points of interest. I don’t regret reading the book, but its organization, and the author’s way of expressing himself could certainly have been improved.
The audiobook narration by Mike Grady was clear and easy to follow. The German words are accurately pronounced.
The author is a German forestry manager, writing on ecological themes. The book closes with a note by Susanne Simard. She is a forest ecologist. She has worked more than thirty years in the field and is currently doing scientific studies such as those discussed in the book. She is at the University of British Colombia in Canada. Her research confirms most of Wohlleben's observations about the communication among trees. ...more
Did anyone else pick up the audible.co.uk daily deal HitlMy thoughts on completion are to be found below.
Thoughts having completed about ¼ of the book:
Did anyone else pick up the audible.co.uk daily deal Hitler on November 14th, 2016?
I was hesitant; it is so darn long (44 hours). Would it be dry? Would it be boring? But it only cost £2.99!! It is long, yes, but not dry or boring. I am reading it now in December 2016. I do NOT understand everything, but enough to hang on and learn more. When I get lost in the acronyms or who is who (and later code names) I do get a bit upset, but generally that isn't so often. So far I am thinking this is not a waste of time and am glad I am reading it. It is definitely good; you don't have to be an expert to read this.
It is clear, most of the time. I like very much that the author explains to the reader why, when given contradictory explanations, one is most probably more correct than another. Unbiased and thorough. I am learning a lot.
The author has in this book put together his two earlier books Hitler, Vol 1: 1889-1936 Hubris and Hitler, Vol 2: 1936-1945 Nemesis. In the introduction he speaks of the changes made. Basically he is removing copious notes and has shortened a little bit on the general societal situation. He assures that the book is otherwise the same. I am happy that it is the author who has had control of the changes made. He emphasizes that the original two volumes will stay in print so the notes are accessible there. At this point, I certainly don't need the notes and find the information on the situation in Germany not only sufficiently but very well described.
Thoughts on completion:
I am glad I read/listened to this book. I learned a lot. If you are like me and have read tons and tons of historical fiction on the Second World War, well sooner or later you want to delve deeper. Non-fiction lures. First I read biographies of holocaust victims, then resistance fighters, then about specific battle arenas and assassination plots. Now a biography of the man who caused it all simply has to be read too; to do so becomes a given. This is an excellent book to choose. It focuses on the man and those immediately around him.
You do NOT have to be an expert to read this. There is no denying that the more you know the easier it is to follow, but you have to start somewhere. You simply can't learn everything about the war with one book! And how can one not read about this war?! It has shaped the world we live in and the people we live with today.
As the title so accurately indicates, this book focuses on Hitler. You see the war through his eyes. It starts with his youth. Did he study? Was he influenced by particular teachers? What subjects caught his interest? History, Norse pagan beliefs, renowned German leaders, art, architecture and music influenced him. Over and over his thoughts return to Frederick the Great, Wagner and Valhalla and of course the Jews. What were his relationships with his parents like? To understand him one must be aware of what shaped him. Both how his different policies developed and his career path toward becoming chancellor is followed. The war years focus on his intentions, goals, plans and control. Other books present Allied Forces and Japan’s war aims. The book is based on thorough and careful study of source material. The author rarely proposes psychological analyses; instead he presents the facts and leaves it to the reader to draw conclusions.
There are many quotes, from speeches, from letters and from what those closest to Hitler have said. I value these quotes. His decisions, actions and choices are minutely documented, from his early enthused, captivating rhetoric and military successes through the last days in the bunker when he and his newly wed wife took their lives. Goebbels, along with his wife and six children, chose to remain with him and to die with him. He said he would never capitulate, and he never did. His steadfastness must be acknowledged.
The words and actions of Göring, Himmler, Goebbels, Ribbentrop, Heinz Guderian, Martin Borrmann, Rudolf Hess, Karl Dönitz, Albert Speer and many other close accomplices are well documented. What is told about them is equally fascinating, mind-boggling and gripping! Rudolf Hess’ flight to Britain takes the cake. Always the events related are tied closely to Hitler; the book does not go off on long tangents.
Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination plots of 1944 are meticulously documented; other assassination attempts are mentioned but with less detail.
I find it hard to truly comprehend Hitler’s all-engulfing hatred of Jews. I was looking to understand where this hatred came from and how it arose. To get a handle on this it helps to hear his words, not just his most well-known and infamous speeches. The quotes were thus important to me. I'll be honest and state I still don't completely understand the source of his hatred. That his years in Vienna shaped him is clear, but in his youth he dealt with the Jews, he did business with them and the family doctor was Jewish! That the Jews were an easy scapegoat is too simple an explanation for me. His hatred of Jews, although the norm in those times, goes further and has a virulence that touches on insanity as do the ties he drew between Bolshevism and Jewry and his megalomania. Yet the author states that no psychotic disorder can explain his behavior. Really? Neither do I truly understand where his Pan-Germanism came from. Questions remain. Understanding World War Two must be tackled through book after book after book. Not any one is sufficient, but this should be one of those you do read.
A bit more on the women in his life could have been added. I never came to understand the emotional bond between Hitler and Eva Braun.
The audiobook is very well narrated by Damian Lynch. Most is read at a speed that allows one to absorb the facts, but occasionally he gets captured up in the excitement and read too fast. His German pronunciation is excellent, as well as his French. When an American speaks you smile; the contrast between American and British intonations will do that to you. The English here is predominantly British, but not exaggeratedly so. I cannot judge the pronunciation of Russian words. Reading with correct pronunciation both helps and confuses if you are not well acquainted with the languages. I was occasionally stumped when Lynch quickly spit out German names. Usually they are repeated several times and you can eventually figure out how to spell them, if you take notes as I do.
I liked both the written text and the narration very much, so I’m giving both four stars. I learned tons. You do not learn much if an author bores you to tears. ...more
The book is interesting and I enjoyed it. It is thoroughly documented and researched. By studying the people who resided in a house 15km west of BerliThe book is interesting and I enjoyed it. It is thoroughly documented and researched. By studying the people who resided in a house 15km west of Berlin one gets a quick summary of German 20th Century history. It was built in 1927 as a summer residence, located on the picturesque Groß Glienicker See. Perfect for weekends, a place to relax, and that is exactly how it was used in the beginning. Then came the Depression and Hitler, ever increasing persecution of Jews, inflation, the nearby Gatow Airfield and the war. After the war itself, the ruthless take-over by Russians, the division of Berlin and all of Germany, the denazification process, the Cold War, the establishment of West and East Germany, the erection and fall of the Berlin Wall, border dramas, Stasi surveillance and finally the reunification of the country. Every bit of this is depicted through the lives of those living in the house, children and parents, owners and caretakers and those who leased the buildings, even vagrants. The lake which began as a pristine bathing spot on which the house was built became separated from the houses by the Berlin Wall itself! It became unreachable, unusable, polluted and held detritus from the war. It has since been sanitized and is again considered one of cleanest and most delightful spots in Europe.
The book concludes on a positive note. We observe as descendants of the family who built the house, had leased the house or had simply occupied the house return to clean up the property with nearby villagers and neighbors. It is a feel good story of people working together to forgive and heal last century’s transgressions. Do I find the house worthy of restoration? Look and judge for yourself: https://www.google.se/search?q=Gro%C3... (See the larger picture on the left.) My view? Perhaps not for “the house” itself, but for the healing process embodied in its restoration.
I didn’t give it more stars because I never came close to any of those living in the house; their fears and sorrows and joys never became mine. Parts are long-winded, over-detailed.
The history covered is a quick review of what can be found in other books on German history. One of the residents was a Stasi informant. There is little depth here. It is revealed that he was a heavy drinker, but nothing is said of his work as a Stasi agent. People interviewed say only what they wish to reveal. One has to keep this in mind as one reads the entire book. For more information on the secret police in East Germany I would recommend: Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall (4stars).
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Mark Meadows. I have no complaints. It was fine. Easy to follow, good German pronunciation. ...more
Does existentialism confuse you? It did me. Every time it was used a different idea was expressed. This is because the "existentialist philosophers" hDoes existentialism confuse you? It did me. Every time it was used a different idea was expressed. This is because the "existentialist philosophers" had divergent views and because their respective views changed with time. To be clear, when one speaks of existentialism one should state according to whom and when! The term itself began to be used in the 1940s. The existentialist thinkers date from the 19th and 20th centuries. Most were European. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are cited as some of the earliest, but the book does not focus on them. It begins instead with the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and phenomenology.
We follow closely the lives and thoughts of Husserl, whom I had never heard of and found to be one of the most interesting, along with Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) , Karl Jaspers (1883 – 1969), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 - 1961) and of course Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986). The radical ethical thinkers Gabriel Marcel (1889 – 1973), Emmanuel Levinas (1906 – 1995) and Simone Weil (1919 – 1943) as well as others such as Albert Camus (1913-1960) and Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999), although not covered as thoroughly, are discussed in relation to how they influenced the central theorists. The book moves forward chronologically showing how each of these thinkers influenced each other and how history, politics, place of birth and religion shaped them. Both the similarities and differences in the philosophers’ thinking are drawn. The book follows the thinkers to their respective demise. That existentialism blossomed during and after the war years is no coincidence. Heidegger’s Nazi ties are discussed without bias. Not only are the books and essays of the central figures thoroughly discussed, but also the political and cultural milieu citing the films, clothing, trends and lifestyle of the era.
The author has since her youth been drawn by philosophy. She explains her own thoughts about each respective philosopher as well as those of others. She guides, clarifies, questions and opines. One feels as though you too are sitting at that table in the café with these theorists discussing ideas, throwing out questions and contemplating what being and living and experiencing life is all about. This book offers a fascinating discussion of ideas, to which there are of course no definitive answers. Yet the book goes further. It looks at the thinkers’ lives because “ideas are interesting but people (and their relationships) are vastly more so”. This is a quote from the book, but I have added that inside the parentheses because this book is about how the thinkers influenced each other. None stood alone. The author makes each of these individuals come alive. She makes what they were thinking about relevant still today.
The audiobook is superbly, fantastically, magnificently read by Antonia Beamish. She makes what could have been a difficult to book to follow simple. She reads so you understand. She emphasizes and pauses enhancing the written text. You hear the questions, laugh at the humor and her pronunciation of French and German words are perfect. She manages to produce a reading that is clear and beautiful. I am going to have to classify her as one of my favorite narrators.
Books on philosophy can be so esoteric. This isn't. ...more
This book is based on the author's paternal grandfather. The following is to be found on the author's web site:
The Book of Harlan was inspired by theThis book is based on the author's paternal grandfather. The following is to be found on the author's web site:
The Book of Harlan was inspired by the life of my paternal grandfather; Harold Isaac McFadden (pictured on the cover).
I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.
In many ways, this book is the culmination of twenty years of family history research.
From this information I cannot determine which of the events in the story are fictional and which are factual. There is no author's note at the end of the audiobook offering further clarification.
The end of the book takes an unexpected turn, which of course can be captivating in a book of fiction. Yet this book is supposed to be based on the author’s grandfather, making it important to differentiate fact from fiction. For me too many events were improbable, too coincidental! In the book Harlan is sent to Buchenwald and there he comes in contact with Ilse Koch, the wife of Karl-Otto Koch, the first commandant of Buchenwald. Both husband and wife were convicted Nazi war criminals and their fate is to be found in history books. In this book the author fabricates history when Ilse is said (view spoiler)[to be living in New York, disguised as a man and killed by Harlan (hide spoiler)]! Playing with historical events in this manner is unacceptable to me.
Even before the dramatic ending, I struggled. I wasn’t convinced the story could be true. My only explanation was then that fact can be more surprising than fiction, but now having completed the book and having seen how the author altered historical events I believe nothing! I am only left with questions.
The audiobook narration by Robin Miles was very good. Her narrations are always exemplary. ...more
Interesting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the lifeInteresting and well written. Filled with pertinent information, yet a bit long-winded at times.
The book is not merely a biography covering the life of one man, Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). It starts with a description of the world he was born into - Prussia, Pre-Romanticism and the eminent philosophers, poets and writers of the time, i.e. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich von Schiller, to name but a few. Humboldt came to spend long hours with Goethe. These prominent thinkers influenced who he was to become. Their lives and the lives of others Humboldt associated with are discussed. Another two such men are Simón Bolívar and Thomas Jefferson. Humboldt’s theories, experiments, books, travels and companions are covered. The book does not conclude with his death. It continues, showing how he directly influenced others, in particular Charles Darwin, George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel and John Muir. It is through these men that ecology, conservation and preservation has become what it is today. Others are mentioned too. The book ends with the hope that we reclaim Humboldt as our hero or at least re-acknowledge the importance he has played in how we view nature. Humboldt's thoughts and writings lie at the beginning of a chain of men who have brought us to where we are today in the field of environmentalism.
How much do we learn about Humboldt’s personality? Well he never kept his mouth shut, and he was indefatigable. In a conversation you couldn't get a word in edgewise. Being with him must have been quite a strain. Whether he was homosexual or not is unclear. How he could have possibly had time for anything other than his artistic, philosophical and scientific pursuits is the prime question. He seems to have had neither the time nor the interest for a lover. He was a fervent abolitionist.
The audiobook narration is by David Drummond. I found it too fast, particularly in the beginning. There is just too much information to absorb. Later it gets easier. Some words are unclear. Narration does not influence my rating.
Rivers, minerals, lakes, parks and many, many places are named after this Prussian. I didn't even know who he was! It is stated that more places have been named after this man than anyone else. His views have shaped our very concept of how we see nature. He realized back in 1800 the interrelationship between all aspects of nature. He understood that nature is one unified whole, and that an interdisciplinary approach is essential to solving problems, one such being climate control. ...more
Review to come. I have to figure out why I cannot give this more than three stars. I know I liked it, but how could it have been improved? What was miReview to come. I have to figure out why I cannot give this more than three stars. I know I liked it, but how could it have been improved? What was missing? Please remember that three stars is nevertheless a book I can recommend to others.
I didn't know much about Louisa, the wife of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the US. He was the son of the more famed John Adams, the second US President. What I knew I had learned from John Adams by the fantastic author David McCullough. It is very hard to succeed as well as McCullough; having read one book on a related topic you tend to make comparisons between the two. John Quincy, the son, was also a diplomat, a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. As a diplomat he played an important role in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812. He was stationed in Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. As President he couldn't do very much, having a Senate that opposed him. As the Massachusetts member of the House of Representatives, for the last seventeen years of his life, he is known for his opposition to slavery on moral grounds. Equality was to be afforded all Americans. He feared that the issue could lead to dissolution of the Union and bloodshed. There is the husband in a nutshell.
This book focuses on Louisa, and while it touches upon historical events, they are the backdrop rather than the central focus of the book. I would have appreciated more about the War of 1812, more about Adams' rival Andrew Jackson. He became the seventh President. In relation to Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans is mentioned and then dropped. I am not an historian; I wish more facts had been filled in. Interesting side issues are touched upon, such as the electoral process for the Presidency, but that is dropped soon too. Only as Louisa becomes more interested in politics does the book focus on historical events. Even if this is a book about Louisa, it is possible to also deliver on both husband and wife and on both the personal and historical events. Often different interpretations of the known facts were presented. This I liked, but at the same time I wanted the author to more often conclude with a summary of that presented, to help me interpret these facts.
So the central focus is Louisa. She is a difficult person to study. One minute she is strong and then she is weak. One minute I felt sorry for her and the next I felt like wringing her neck. You can take just about any of her statements and find contradictions. How do you draw an accurate picture of her? She did an awful lot of griping in the beginning, on her travels and when she was first married. This was one point where I wanted to wring her neck. I thought, "Appreciate what is given to you. How many women were able to travel like this?!" I know the travels were difficult. We are told she is sick often. We are also told that she says she is sick sometimes when she is not, to get out of something she doesn't want to do. Having been told that I was often left wondering if she was really sick or not! Much is drawn from Louisa's correspondence. You can say whatever you want in a letter; it does not have to be true! Do you understand why I sometimes was left wondering how to interpret the facts?
By the book's end I feel I came to know Louisa, not by what she said, but more by watching her actions over her entire life. She was a social creature. She certainly seems manic depressive. One minute up, next minute down. She had a hard life, (view spoiler)[the loss of three of her four children and the numerous miscarriages (hide spoiler)], but she also was also given many fabulous opportunities for enriching her life! She was contradictory in most every aspect of her being. She loved her husband and hated him. She was self-reliant and then collapsed in a heap. She had feminist views....but certainly not always. Many statements in the book can be debated and discussed. This makes for an interesting book.
The audiobook narration by Kirsten Potter was good. I grew into liking it. In the beginning I disliked how her intonation reflected her view of what was stated. You could hear what she thought of the events. Her views are those of a modern woman. I prefer a more neutral reading, and I don't want to view historical events through a contemporary lens. Yet, it wasn't hard to follow and the words were clear. It was easy to differentiate between quotes and the author's own lines. A bit too fast sometimes. The last hour of the audiobook could be notes. I recognized that sentences throughout the entire book were repeated. Nothing new was added. ...more
This is a light romantic comedy - a timepiece capturing Germany at the turn of the 19th century. Supposedly illuminating that ripeness and death are nThis is a light romantic comedy - a timepiece capturing Germany at the turn of the 19th century. Supposedly illuminating that ripeness and death are necessary preconditions for rebirth. The book concludes with a short postscript that discusses the author's life, his works and the central themes of the book. I appreciated that it shows how events from the author’s life are drawn in the book.
I wasn't captured by the writing. I found it wordy and repetitive. Individuals are described with a phrase, but repeatedly with the same phrase. We are reminded continually that one has a husky voice, another a raspy voice another has childish, small features, another sucked incessantly on his upper lip. The writing isn't beautiful, instead it's unnecessarily detailed, details that didn’t interest me. I am only interested in descriptions of characters if the characters themselves pull me in. None of them did.
Much of the humor is hard to grasp. I felt I was supposed to be laughing but I wasn't sure what exactly the joke was.
I state that this is a love story and it is, but you have to wade through half of the book for the two to even meet, for the plot to heat up. It's too sweet, too ordinary for my taste.
In the beginning I guessed that the central figure was based on Kaiser Wilhelm since both have a deformed left hand and both were potential heirs to a kingdom. There the comparison ends.
Put simply, I was bored much of the time.
The audiobook is narrated by Simon Vance. Sure, it was fine. Most importantly it is easy to follow. His intonation for English versus American dialects is amusing, but I don't feel he does the voices of women as well as men. Finally, he read the postscript too quickly, and that I wanted to listen to carefully!
Beware - this book does not cover Marlene Dietrich's entire life. She was born in 1901 and died in 1992. The book starts with her school years. It abrBeware - this book does not cover Marlene Dietrich's entire life. She was born in 1901 and died in 1992. The book starts with her school years. It abruptly ends after the Second World War. It just stops! I was so surprised, I went back and checked if I had downloaded the whole book! Is there a follow up planned? I do think readers should be warned. You are left hanging without clear information, for example of her sister's fate. After the war Marlene searched for her sister. She was thought to be in Berlin. She wasn’t. She demanded help from Marlene. She and her husband had run the canteen and films at Bergen-Belsen. Collaborators or just one of the many "doing what they were told to do"?! So, too abrupt an ending and readers are not told the book only covers half of Marlene's life.
Her acting, her singing, the movies she made, her relationships with famed co-stars, directors and authors - it is all here. Her love life is covered in detail. There is a lot of sex and it is explicit. She grew up in Berlin of the 20s. The cabarets were home to her and to transvestites, lesbians and men homosexually inclined. Marlene's bisexual appetite is expounded. Marlene tells us her own story. How she felt about sex and how she used sex is a central theme. Because she had so many relationships with so many men and women, well each relationship kind of loses its force! Just another in the stack of the many. Yet we do come to understand Marlene, or at least how she probably viewed her own life. The acting profession is one of selling oneself. The reader has to be prepared for that. I felt the atmosphere of the cabaret life, of Berlin in the 20s, was well conveyed. I found the details of each of her productions a bit tedious, but understood they had to be there.
The chapters about Marlene's engagement in war efforts, her singing and entertaining of the Allied troops, were one of the best parts of the book. She made two extended tours for the United Service Organization, traveling to Algiers, Italy and Belgium. I was pulled in. She had found a cause to fight for, a cause more important than herself. She gave herself wholeheartedly, without reservation. Looking at how she behaved and how other Germans behaved and viewed themselves is interestingly explored.
There is no author's note, at least in the audio version. You are not told if the author has altered known facts. This is disappointing. I assume the author has stuck to the known facts and simply invented conversations.
The audiobook is narrated by Bernadette Dune. It is easy to follow and she uses different voices for characters of different nationalities. Her American accent is best. German is OK and French bad. "Mutti", sounded like Moody. I was totally stumped until I figured out Marlene was speaking of her mom! Heck, you do understand, so the narration is not bad. ...more
I chose to read this book for two reasons: 1. I gave the author's earlier book Between Shades of Gray five stars. 2. I wanted to learn about the sinkiI chose to read this book for two reasons: 1. I gave the author's earlier book Between Shades of Gray five stars. 2. I wanted to learn about the sinking of the German passenger ship Wilhelm Gustloff in WW2. With its loss of 9000 lives 5000 of which were children, this is the largest maritime disaster of all time, dwarfing the numbers killed at the sinking of either the Titanic or the Lusitania. Both books are classified as historical fiction for young adults. I personally deem neither to be solely for the young. The central characters in both are fictional, yet both contain important historical information concerning WW2 that all adults should be aware of.
I will start with what I liked. For me the description of the final catastrophe, the words used in describing the horror were excellent. I saw all before my eyes. There is a scene with dead infants bobbing in the water and one character singing. Heart-wrenching, moving and h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e, but pure art. The song sung has reference to earlier events and is for this all the more moving. The most horrendous events, (view spoiler)[bombings and drownings and difficult births, (hide spoiler)] are what the author describes best.
The beginning portions of the book have much less descriptive force and less eloquent are the philosophical musings of the four central characters: “Fate is a hunter,” says Florian. “Guilt is a hunter,” says Joana. “Shame is a hunter,” says Emilia. “Fear is a hunter,” says Alfred. I found this simplistic and scarcely profound. On the whole one reads to find out what happens, not for the beauty of the lines.
The characters are not all equally well drawn. There are four primary characters – a Lithuanian nurse named Joana, a Nazi supporter Alfred Frick from Heidelberg, an art restorer Florian Beck from Königsberg and Polish Emilia from Galicia. I felt more empathy for minor characters - a “wandering boy” called Klaus, a blind woman called Ingrid and a “shoe-poet” called Heinz. There are historical figures such as the Gauleiter Erich Koch and an added mystery element built around the Amber Room. Hitler’s theft of art is another feature of the story, but for me this all felt less believable, an add-on to attract readers of mysteries.
The chapters are very short, sometimes only a sentence or two, each telling us the thoughts of one of the four central characters. The audiobook is thus narrated by four separate narrators, one for each of the four characters: Will Damron for Florian Beck, Jorjeana Marie for Joana, Cassandra Morris for Emilia and Michael Crouch for Alfred Frick. I found Will Damron’s clear, strong voice very good. His voice fit the character. Jorjeana Marie captured well Joana. I found Cassandra Morris’s reading too thin and too immature, poorly corresponding to Emilia’s inner strength. Michael Crouch for Alfred was particularly difficult. I felt this character verges on insanity, yet I did not hear insanity. His belief (view spoiler)[in Hitler never cracks. His clinical manner and cold, unfeeling relaying of facts never wavered (hide spoiler)]. He was for the author a convenient figure through whom details about the ship could be relayed.
One reads this story to find out what happened at the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff. For plot. For excitement. For a touch of romance. Less for understanding the fictional characters and less for the lines. Two stars means that I thought the book was OK, not that it was bad.
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
This book is good, but the author's Any Human Heart is better.....and they are so darn similar.
In both you get the history of the 20th century, althoThis book is good, but the author's Any Human Heart is better.....and they are so darn similar.
In both you get the history of the 20th century, although not the same historical events. Historical facts are always correct!
In both you visit places all over the world. Here it is England and Scotland and Paris, as well as Provence, and Berlin and Basel, Switzerland, and Vietnam and the US. The essence of each locale as well as the historical events that took place in each are well documented.
In the other book we follow Logan. In this we follow Amory, a photographer. Both are sexually active. Her behavior and character make complete sense. We follow her through her entire life. We come to understand her. The choices she makes are completely logical given her experiences..... But here is the problem; no other character has such depth as Amory. No other character do we come to fully understand. The story is really just about one person, just Amory. I happen to agree with her views on how one's own (view spoiler)[children must be allowed to make their own lives. (hide spoiler)] I also agree with her views on life, taking chances and one's own death. There is a lot in this book I agree with, for example the long lasting effects of war on the people that live through wars. You think when the peace treaties are signed the war is over.....but it is not so! Repercussions play out for decades.
There is nothing wrong with the book, but it simply is not a new story from Boyd. I wanted something different, something new.
I did not like the narration at all. As usual this does not influence my rating. Jilly Bond narrates the audiobook. If you like dramatizations then you will love it. I want to listen to the words and form my own opinion on the each respective character's personality. I don't want this to be spelled out to me through intonations. There are Scots and English and French and Americans and Australians. The dialects are sometimes ridiculously exaggerated and other times quite simply wrong. Bond had me giggling when I wasn't supposed to be. In my view the narration gets in the way of absorbing the written lines. ...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