Archive for the ‘Germany’ Tag

Another Look at Churchill and Others   Leave a comment

Erik Larson’s 500+ page look at Winston Churchill’s first year as prime minister in The Splendid and The Vile is, no surprise, exhaustive. The author did his homework. Focusing on the time frame of May 10, 1940, to May 10, 1941, is smart. After all, much has already been written about the man who instilled hope in a daunting time.

The work is subtitled “A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz.” Of the three, the sections about members of the family and those who worked closely with the prime minister are the most interesting – especially about his younger daughter, Mary; his daughter-in-law, Pamela; and one of his private secretaries, John “Jock” Colville.

Although there’s little interaction between Mary and her father during this time frame, as Larson chronicles. Yet, her love for her father and her realization of the changes facing her comfortable, upper class lifestyle are compelling as told through excerpts of her diary; she turned 18 in September 1940.

From the beginning, Churchill knew U.S. involvement was necessary for Germany to lose the war. His efforts to maintain calm in his country, while appealing to Franklin Roosevelt for assistance and enduring the devastation of London being bombed is well documented.

Interspersed with accounts from and/or about colleagues and family are brief sections about Hitler and his cohorts in Germany. Perhaps photos are all that’s missing. History buffs and anyone concerned about history repeating itself more than it already has should find this book of interest.

The Splendid and the Vile
Four Bookmarks
Crown, 2020
585 pages, includes sources, acknowledgments and index

Tasting for Evil   Leave a comment

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History has already documented the atrocities of World War II at the hands of Adolf Hitler. In addition to the horror, his idiosyncrasies and his death are well detailed. Nonetheless, author V.S. Alexander has one more story to add to the fiction side of the scales: The Taster.

Magda Ritter is adrift in war-torn Berlin. With no job or romantic prospects, her parents send her to Berchtesgarten in the German Alps to escape the bombing – to ensure her safety. Their efforts succeed but not the way Magda imagined. She’s assigned to taste Hitler’s food to ensure it’s safe for him to eat.

Alexander describes the bucolic life at Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Berghof, where much of the novel is set. It’s a stark contrast to other parts of Germany. Initially, Magda is frightened by her responsibilities, but she soon realizes they are keeping her and her family alive. Still, she is repulsed by the knowledge that by tasting Hitler’s food she is keeping him safe.

The focus of Alexander’s narrative is Magda who falls in love with Captain Weber, a conspirator within the SS. The cook, other tasters and Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, are among the interesting characters with whom Magda interacts. Feelings of mistrust, a constant cloud of fear and the blind devotion so many had toward the Fuhrer are well developed.

Alexander notes this is a work of fiction, and his research is chillingly thorough. Knowing Hitler’s death is imminent does little to dispel the thriller he creates.

The Taster
Four Bookmarks
Kensington Books, 2018
320 pages

Insights   4 comments

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Although I read a lot, it’s been a while since I held a book I didn’t want to put down. Even at 500-plus pages, I hated to turn the final one of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Doerr is garnering a lot of well-deserved attention including being named a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and  #1 New York Times bestseller.

This story is about hope and connections, those that are tangible and those we simply know exist. Marie-Laure, a young girl in Paris, is blind. Her story is told in turns with that of Werner, a German mining town orphan with an aptitude for science and gadgets. The novel jumps around the years just before WWII and during the August 1944 bombing of Saint-Malo on the French coast.

From the onset, there’s a sense the two youths will meet, but how and when leave much to the imagination. Werner builds a small, crude radio from scrap parts. This ability ultimately earns him a spot in Hitler’s army. Marie-Laure relies on her father who builds small models to recreate, first, their Parisian neighborhood and later Saint-Malo where they flee. The hand-crafted items are meant to aid communication with good intentions in a world rife with evil.

Doerr’s work is easy to embrace for its vivid descriptions of the kindness and fear individuals extended or induced during the war. Mostly, though, the characters are so finely fashioned that they come alive in the mind’s eye.

Five Bookmarks
All the Light We Cannot See
Scribner, 2014
530 pages