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The Dancing Bear
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Moderator's Choice > The Dancing Bear by Frances Faviell (July 2018)

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message 1: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Welcome to the July 2018 moderator's choice discussion which complements our Berlin themed month and is about....


The Dancing Bear by Frances Faviell


The blurb...

Set in the first four years following the end of the Second World War, Berlin has been devastated by the Russians. It is a tragic city by day and one of revelry by night, a city in which cold, famine and sickness underline the physical and spiritual destitution of the German capital. This moving portrait of postwar Berlin is told through the eyes of a British officer's wife stationed there, as she becomes increasingly involved with the Altmann family. It is a story gives meaning to the dualistic character of Germany, in which the spirit of Mein Kampf lingers on in both the Communist faction and in the Nazi revival.




message 2: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments 'Berlin has been devastated by the Russians.' The 68,517 tons of bombs dropped on it by the RAF and USAF had no effect then?


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I don’t think that misleading line in the blurb is reflected in the book itself, Val, though I’m only a third of the way through.

I’m finding it a very powerful and disturbing read, as with the same author’s London Blitz memoir, A Chelsea Concerto.


message 4: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
I am nearly finished this, Judy. It is an interesting comparison to the Isherwood, as the two books, bookmark the war.


message 5: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Judy wrote: "I don’t think that misleading line in the blurb is reflected in the book itself, Val, though I’m only a third of the way through."
It is the blurb doing the book an injustice. I don't think it is something the author would have said.


message 6: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 30, 2018 12:30AM) (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I'm keen to read this, and have a copy lined up, however I am not sure I will be able to do it in the next few weeks. I have to prioritise other books (short term library loan + real world book group title) before I can get to it.

And, I am v conscious of our buddy read (a doorstop of a Muriel Spark biography coming up in mid-July)


message 7: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments I am reading several books related to Germany and the end or early aftermath of the war. This is a factual first-person account, but not just the author's impressions, as she reports what some Germans think as well and they seem to have been quite candid with her.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
What are the other titles about Germany at this period you are reading, Val?


Roman Clodia | 5698 comments Mod
I was a bit disappointed with The Dancing Bear: while it's great to get a first-hand view, Faviell tends to skim over important stuff. For example, she mentions the Nuremberg executions, but doesn't say anything else about the trials or how she or anyone else responds to them.


message 10: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
I felt much the same, RC. Sad to say I was not bowled over by either of our Berlin books. My fault, not the books, I am sure.


Roman Clodia | 5698 comments Mod
At least the book confirmed how interesting this period is in Berlin so I'm going to read The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany which also has a section covering the post-war reconstruction of Berlin.


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I've finished this now and was very impressed. I think Faviell's visual imagination as an artist comes across strongly in the way she repeatedly expresses the larger events going on around her through sharp visual details, such as the children playing with a swastika flag, or the one ragged, skeletal soldier returning from Russia.

I don't think it's quite as strong as her last book, A Chelsea Concerto, about her experiences during the London Blitz, which of course came before her experiences here although it was written afterwards.

Her own personality also comes across more in that book - she was clearly an extraordinary woman, an artist who studied at the Slade with Rex Whistler, who had travelled all over the world, spoke multiple languages and had a vivid sense of humour, but you wouldn't know all this if you come to The Dancing Bear without reading the Blitz memoir first.


message 13: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I've been looking to see if I can find a website about Faviell - Furrowed Middlebrow have reprinted all 5 of her books, and so far I've read 3, all of which I really liked - her coming-of-age novel set in France, Thalia, and the two memoirs A Chelsea Concerto and The Dancing Bear.

Sadly, it doesn't look as if there is a full website about her, but I did find this short bio:
http://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/auth...

Also, the Furrowed Middlebrow blog did this write-up about The Dancing Bear:

http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.co...

While googling, I was interested to note that the book's original title was The Dancing Bear: Berlin de profundis.


message 14: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Roman Clodia wrote: "At least the book confirmed how interesting this period is in Berlin so I'm going to read The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany which also has a section covering the post-war re..."

This sounds very interesting - I'd like to read it. I've been feeling fascinated by Berlin since visiting last year.


message 15: by Val (last edited Jul 01, 2018 11:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Judy wrote: "What are the other titles about Germany at this period you are reading, Val?"
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald about a Kindertransport child who eventually realises he needs to come to terms with his past, Magda by Meike Ziervogel about why Magda Goebbels might have decided to kill her children, The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm which shows life in Hamburg towards the end of the war and afterwards, and Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes which is a satire I thought I should only read after the others.
The first three are all fiction, but based on factual events.


message 16: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
I have read Magda, Val and another book about the same subject, Chocolate Cake With Hitler


message 17: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 03, 2018 04:04AM) (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I'm now about 20% into my real world Book Group choice which is Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Nightmare in Berlin opens in the immediate aftermath of WW2 with the populace awaiting the arrival of the Russians with some trepidation. Whilst not as good as the masterly Alone in Berlin, I am still really enjoying it. It was written as the events were happening so has a real sense of authenticity and immediacy.

The blurb has it thus.....

Nightmare in Berlin is an unforgettable portrayal by a master novelist of the physical and psychological devastation wrought in the homeland by Hitler’s war.

Late April, 1945. The war is over, yet Dr Doll, a loner and ‘moderate pessimist’, lives in constant fear. By night, he is haunted by nightmarish images of the bombsite in which he is trapped — he, and the rest of Germany. More than anything, he wishes to vanquish the demon of collective guilt, but he is unable to right any wrongs, especially in his position as mayor of a small town in north-east Germany that has been occupied by the Red Army.

Dr Doll flees for Berlin, where he finds escape in a morphine addiction: each dose is a ‘small death’. He tries to make his way in the chaos of a city torn apart by war, accompanied by his young wife, who shares his addiction. Fighting to save two lives, he tentatively begins to believe in a better future.

Written with Fallada’s distinctive power and vividness, Nightmare in Berlin captures the demoralised and desperate atmosphere of post-war Germany in a way that has never been matched or surpassed.





message 18: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I'd be very tempted to read Nightmare in Berlin, Nigeyb, since I was completely gripped by Alone in Berlin/Everyone Dies Alone. I keep meaning to watch the film version of that one starring Emma Thompson, which I think is on Netflix.


message 19: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Many thanks for listing the other titles you are reading about this period, Val. I must make a shelf in my TBR and read some more about this period - I'd also be interested if anyone has read a good factual book about Berlin's history, though I do get on better with books which have a lot of personal experiences.

I'd also be interested to see a documentary about it. On the subject of films, the ruined landscape of 1940s Berlin dominates the Billy Wilder film A Foreign Affair, starring Marlene Dietrich. I remember when someone asks her where she lives, and she says, "Third ruin on the left."


message 20: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
Berlin: The Downfall: 1945 Berlin The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beevor is excellent, as was The Last Days of Hitler by Hugh Trevor-Roper . For a more personal memoir The Work I Did A Memoir of the Secretary to Goebbels by Brunhilde Pomsel might appeal to you, Judy? Very personal and a little limited in scope, but totally fascinating.


message 21: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments There are William L. Shirer's diary and history books, if you can find reasonably priced copies. I haven't read any of them, but he was a journalist on the spot.


message 22: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin is meant to be good (haven't read it, but would like to).


message 23: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
Likewise, I have always meant to read Victor Klemperer's diaries. The first is, I Shall Bear Witness. Can't find the correct link - but this is for the whole thing: The Klemperer Diaries 1933-1945


message 24: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "I'd be very tempted to read Nightmare in Berlin, Nigeyb, since I was completely gripped by Alone in Berlin/Everyone Dies Alone. I keep meaning to watch the film version of that one starring Emma Thompson, which I think is on Netflix.."

Thanks Judy

I've read most of it now and it is very good. Not up to the dizzying heights of Alone in Berlin but still very insightful.

Nightmare in Berlin seems to be an unfalteringly honest and often terrifying insight into the difficulties faced and inner conflicts fought by Germans from April 1945 into the summer of 1946.


message 25: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I recently finished Nightmare in Berlin. Well worth reading. Review here....


https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Written in 1946, 'Nightmare in Berlin' is heavily autobiographical and draws on the author's experiences from April 1945 to July 1946. Like Dr Doll and his wife Alma, Fallada and his wife were both morphine addicts. You get the impression many other Germans cultivated a network of accommodating doctors to blot out their nightmarish and uncertain reality. Throughout the book, Doll's mood and motivation veer between determined optimism and drug addled despair.


message 26: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I'm now listening to Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler. I'm only up to the second chapter but it is fascinating.

Meth Amphetamine was a legal prescription drug marketed as Pervetin produced by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company and glowingly endorsed by addicted doctors. It seemed like a miracle at first and was taken by civilians and the armed forces alike.

Pervitin became colloquially known among the German troops as "Stuka-Tablets" (Stuka-Tabletten) and "Herman-Göring-Pills" (Hermann-Göring-Pillen). Side effects were so serious that the army sharply cut back its usage in 1940.

Historian Lukasz Kamienski says "A soldier going to battle on Pervitin usually found himself unable to perform effectively for the next day or two. Suffering from a drug hangover and looking more like a zombie than a great warrior, he had to recover from the side effects." Some soldiers turned very violent, committing war crimes against civilians; others attacked their own officers.





message 27: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
I loved Blitzed, Nigeyb. Here is my review:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 28: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
I'm loving it too Susan - remarkable aspect to the Nazis and WW2 that I had never considered, and very entertaining too.


message 29: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
The author was interviewed on Dan Snow's History Hit a while back.


message 30: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10401 comments Mod
Thanks, I'll check it out Susan


message 32: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Getting back to The Dancing Bear. I thought it was interesting to see the appeal of Stalinism to some younger former Nazis like Fritz.

I also find the title very resonant - the bear image is still everywhere in Berlin.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 424 comments I still need to start this--have been falling behind on reading--and plenty of catching up to do. Hope to be able to join in soon.


message 34: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Judy wrote: "Getting back to The Dancing Bear. I thought it was interesting to see the appeal of Stalinism to some younger former Nazis like Fritz."
Yes, that was interesting. Both Fritz and Max were still drawn to totalitarianism, although different sides. Perhaps the short-lived experiment in democracy between the wars was seen as a failure by some Germans. (It was a failure economically, but there were many reasons for that.)


message 35: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
It did show that boys like Fritz were unclear about what exactly they were marching for, or about. The Russians were clever and just attracted such boys with 'marching songs.' I agree that Fritz was fascinating. Also, the fact that the Germans were very judgmental compared to both the English and the Russians we met. For example, when the young man returned from Russia and the German servants did not want to let him in the house.


message 36: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Yes, Max is fascinated by totalitarianism too. I think there seemed to be quite a lot of judgmental attitudes among the Allied Forces, embedded into regulations - for instance the rule against giving lifts to Germans, which the narrator disobeys at the start of the book.

The book does show just how terrible life was for ordinary people in Berlin after the war, with the lack of food and heating, and so many people dying. The descriptions of the children's hospital are devastating.

I've been meaning to read The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel, which I think will have a lot more information about all this - this is a sequel to The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War, about authors in the London Blitz.


message 37: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
Ooh, definite Buddy Read at some point, Judy?


message 38: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Could do, Susan - it is quite a tome though! I'm up for it anytime. :)


message 39: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
August, September or October, if you don't feel over-whelmed? I would love to read it, as I loved The Love-Charm of Bombs.


message 40: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
August is looking a bit full, so I'd prefer September or October. September would be quite good for me as I have a holiday then, so hopefully extra reading time.


message 41: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
September sounds great, Judy.


Tania | 1075 comments I have started this book now. Finding it very readable, and realising how little I know of post war Germany.


message 43: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan | 10654 comments Mod
I have read a few books about post war Germany (we do have The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich The Bitter Taste of Victory Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel also coming up in September). I do think that memoirs such as Dancing Bear are useful, as they were written at, or very close to, the time. They have an immediate feel that history books don't have.


message 44: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1709 comments Susan wrote: "I do think that memoirs such as Dancing Bear are useful, as they were written at, or very close to, the time. They have an immediate feel that history books don't have."
They are useful for that reason, but they are not often enough on their own.


message 45: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I agree, Susan - I think The Dancing Bear is vivid and immediate. Also interesting to read it alongside Isherwood's Berlin Stories, since it shows how some elements of life in the city, like the frantic nightlife, continued on from the pre-war world.


message 46: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Val, I agree it is good to read a variety of books to get the full picture. I'd like to read a history of Berlin over this period.


Pamela (bibliohound) | 534 comments This was an interesting memoir, although I agree Faviell has a tendency to sweep over some historical events. I thought she described the Berlin airlift well though.

I liked the idea of focussing on the Altmann family, as they represented different aspects of life in Berlin at that time - the black market, Communism, etc. Stampie was quite a character too, he seemed to be involved in everything that was going on.


message 48: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I suppose as she was writing for readers at the time, they would have known about the big news events already and she decided to concentrate on personal experience of life in the city.


Tania | 1075 comments I like the relationship with the Altmanns, it allows us to see both sides.
I have just got to the conversation with Fritz where he talks about how the British treated Churchill, saying in Germany, he would have been showered with honours, but we just kicked him out of office. "Even as an enemy we admire him enormously"


message 50: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Pamela wrote: "I liked the idea of focussing on the Altmann family, as they represented different aspects of life in Berlin at that time - the black market, Communism, etc. Stampie was quite a character too, he seemed to be involved in everything that was going on ..."

Yes, I thought this was great - I did wonder if she might have fictionalised and combined characters at times, as Isherwood did, because of the way she gets so much in.


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