I enjoyed this, but I'm not sure why exactly. This book, set shortly after German reunification, is ostensibly about a West German writer commissioned...moreI enjoyed this, but I'm not sure why exactly. This book, set shortly after German reunification, is ostensibly about a West German writer commissioned to write about potatoes. He goes to Berlin (the erstwhile east) in search of a potato archive compiled by a recently deceased East German researcher.
What the book is really about is the wall that still existed in Germans' heads, in spite of the tearing down of the actual Wall dividing Berlin. Wessis (Westerners) viewed the Ossis (Easterners) with condescencion alternately pitying their "backwardness" and disparaging them as rubes. Ossis reacted with a certain amount of antipathy. Though many people suffered under the old DDR, many in the East felt that their society had been stolen from them.
Timm writes with a sense of quirky oddness. His individual scenes are fascinating. Things seem a little disjointed, but it all connects in the end. (less)
I think it's always tricky to write historical fiction and do justice to both the history and the fiction. Philip Kerr manages to pull it off.
This boo...moreI think it's always tricky to write historical fiction and do justice to both the history and the fiction. Philip Kerr manages to pull it off.
This book is set in Berlin, 1938. Germans are wondering whether Germany will go to war over Czechoslovakia. Closer to home, a serial killer is targeting blue-eyed, blond girls. To stave off general panic Reinhard Heydrich, the SS secret police honcho, drags Bernie Gunther back into the Kriminalpolizei to solve the case.
What follows is a look at the weird social politics of the Nazi regime and the sick symbiosis Nazism had with the fringes of German culture, along with a solid, page-turning mystery. To advance the plot, Kerr uses the division within the SS between poisonous rationalism (personified by Heydrich) and the dangerous occult loopiness of Heinrich Himmler. Kerr does a good job of dealing with historical personages. He manages to capture the reptilian vibe that I always imagined emanating from Heydrich, and he accurately portrays Himmler who always seemed faintly ridiculous but who had complete power of life and death over almost every German citizen.
I thought that the climax risked going over the top, but Kerr wraps things up in the end. I don't want to be a spoiler, so I'll leave it at that. (less)
The first of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series is like Philip Marowe transported to Nazi-era Berlin. Like Marlowe's Los Angeles, Gunther's Berlin is...moreThe first of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series is like Philip Marowe transported to Nazi-era Berlin. Like Marlowe's Los Angeles, Gunther's Berlin is a city on the make. The title refers to those opportunists who jumped on the Nazi bandwagon after January 1933, but the biggest opportunists are the Nazis themselves.One quickly concludes that the jaded cynicism of the hardboiled detective is perhaps one of the healthier attitudes to take toward this world.
Gunther, a former police detective, specializes in missing persons cases. As the regime consolidated its hold, Jews, homosexuals, and the politically undesirable went missing everyday. Gunther cultivates a mercenary pose; he'll take his fee (plus expenses) knowing full well the missing person is probably in a concentration camp or floating in the Landwehr canal. As the story goes on, however, one realizes that Gunther is deeply affected by the evil around him.
While I enjoyed this book, there were a few things that put me off a bit. The sardonic, hardboiled detective, which definitely works in the right hands (Chandler, Hammett, et al.), can seem a little cliched outside of a 1930s pulp novel. Sometimes I felt like Gunther had a whiff of parody about him, with his constant wisecracks. Parody and Nazis are a tricky mix to pull off (Hogan's Heroes notwithstanding).
Also, historical fiction writers who bring well-known historical figures into a story run a risk of seeming unbelievable. Readers already have a sense of the historical figure and will be critical of a writer who gets that figure wrong. (For example, Caleb Carr's The Alienist lost me when it cast Theodore Roosevelt as a hyperactive goof.) Hermann Goering and Reinhard Heydrich figure into Kerr's book, and while I thought the author had made this work, I had my skeptical historian's anachronism detector up and running.
The story itself was entertaining and suspenseful enough to hold my interest. The book's real strength, however, is in the way the author captures a sense of time and place. I thought Kerr captured the combination of hyperactive social mobilization, the underlying, not-very-subtle threat of violence, and the unseemly scramble for goodies on the part of the March violets that marked the early years of the Nazi regime.(less)
An account of the 2006 World Cup, as well as a series of observations on what makes the sport so great and how FIFA seems determined to spoil it. This...moreAn account of the 2006 World Cup, as well as a series of observations on what makes the sport so great and how FIFA seems determined to spoil it. This book is worth reading, no matter if you like soccer or not.
To my mind, Trecker might be the best American journalist covering international soccer. He does a great job of describing the matches, as well as the whirl of beer-soaked partying that infused the tournament. However, this book goes beyond good sports writing and is also a brillaint evocation of the wonders and mind-numbing frustrations of travel.
Throughout, Trecker refuses to pull his punches. In chapters that have enraged some within American soccer, he gives a scathing criticism to the over-hyped, uneven play of the US team in 2006. While they were able to battle the Italians to a gritty, hard-fought tie, their earlier matches were mostly embarrassing.
Tracker goes beyond the immediate scope of Germany 2006, to look at the history and the culture of the sport. Any frustrated American soccer fan will appreciate his account of the hard work it takes just to follow soccer in this country. He gives a convincing explanation of why soccer continues to be the red-headed stepchild of American sports, giving equal blame to the yuppified "trophies-for-all" quality of youth soccer and the relatively low quality of the MLS.
Trecker's main criticisms, however, are reserved for FIFA, which seems determined to turn this greatest of athletic contests into a commercial, money-grubbing frenzy. Trecker worries that the game and the fans are becoming secondary to marketing and corporate sponsorship (by which FIFA makes a load of cash). He also discusses how FIFA runs the risk of seeing its premier event lose out to other, better-run tournaments, such as the UEFA Champions' League.
I realize that this review makes it seem that Trecker's book is mainly whinging and moaning, but it's not. He does quite a bit of kvetching, but he's also good at conveying the sheer mad joy of the game. From his accounts of the Korean fans who assume that everyone is following their side, to some of the artistry on the pitch, it's obvious that Trecker loves his subject.
It was OK. It's got a Nazi-connected mystery, a professor/amateur investigator as protagonist, and modern intrigue dating back to the aforementioned m...moreIt was OK. It's got a Nazi-connected mystery, a professor/amateur investigator as protagonist, and modern intrigue dating back to the aforementioned mystery. Plus, there are some Iranian spies running around (although they don't do much).
On the face of it, it sounds like a good read, but I found it kind of flat. Granted, it picks up the pace in the last third of the story, but all in all it left me disappointed. This is especially true, considering the quality of Fesperman's first book, Lie in the Dark. (less)
I read somewhere that, in recorded history, more people died in the first haf of 1945 than in any other year. I don't know how accurate that assertion...moreI read somewhere that, in recorded history, more people died in the first haf of 1945 than in any other year. I don't know how accurate that assertion is, but Bessel's account of Germany in 1945 indicates how it might be true.(less)
Some years seem to have more events and significance packed into them than others. The year or so from the Armistice ending combat in World War One to...moreSome years seem to have more events and significance packed into them than others. The year or so from the Armistice ending combat in World War One to the signing of the Versailles Treaty shaped the rest of the century.
The Allies had thought they would shape events, but after the German surrender, revolution was the main dynamic in Europe. From Lenin's takeover in Russia to the anarchy spreading through Eastern and Central Europe, Bolshevism seemed poised to fill the vacuum left by Germany's collapse.
For me, the most compelling parts involved events in Germany. Once they realized they had lost the war, the High Command quit and left the mess for the civilian government. The privations of war and the collapse of the old order left German society in turmoil. A moderate socialist government struggled to hold the center. In order to defend itself from Communist revolution, the government made a devil's bargain with paramilitary forces known as Freikorps, raised from returning veterans. These units tended to be right-wing and proved to be a future source of opposition.
The idea that the seeds of the Weimar Republic's eventual (though not inevitable) failure and the rise of Nazism lay in the immediate aftermath of World War One is not new. Watt's contribution is to detail events and introduce the characters who were caught up in and, in turn, drove those events. Watt reminds us that, while forces exist in history, the role of individuals is crucial. History often turns on individual quirks and eccentricities.
Watt's book is a very solid history of this period, with lots of detail, background, and profiles of the main historical figures. In addition, it's an interesting, entertaining read.
This came out shortly after German reunification. The author seeks to divine the new Germany's sense of itself and its place in the world. As illustra...moreThis came out shortly after German reunification. The author seeks to divine the new Germany's sense of itself and its place in the world. As illustration, she focuses on several people, including an army officer, a member of the nobility, a theatre director, a social worker who helps refugees, among others.
Overall, the book is interesting; however, her analysis doesn't go into much depth. Also, parts of the book feel a bit dated, which is understandable given the press of subsequent developments. A so-so read for someone interested in post-Cold War Germany.(less)