LOOK WHO’S BACK

TIMUR VERMES

Hitler wakes up in a back alley in Berlin in 2011; he can’t figure out what is going on. It is too quiet: no shelling, no shooting, no sirens. The people he meets believe he is a method actor always in part. Soon he is on TV and the people love his rants. One review is headlined: “Loony YouTube Hitler/Fans Go Wild for His Tirades!/The Nation Is Stumped: Is This Humor?”

Hitler misunderstands everything about progress. He attributes as much of it as he can to Aryan brilliance. What is this thing called Vikipedia? Clearly it’s Germanic, with the first part of the name a homage to Viking heritage. What about YouTube? At first he thinks it must be U-Tube, as in the U-boats that served Germany so well in wartime.“I realized at once that I held [a cell phone] in my hands a masterpiece of Aryan creative genius, and all it took was a few swipes of the finger to discover that — of course — the superlative Siemens company had been responsible for the technology that brought this miracle to pass.”

If you enjoy satire this is a book for you.

ABOVE US ONLY SKY

ONLY SKYMICHELLE YOUNG-STONE

This powerful novel takes the reader to the heights of angels and to the depths of comparing life under Nazi occupation and life under Stalinist Soviet occupation.

Prudence was born with wings. The doctors called them protuberances and amputated them when she was five months old. What she didn’t know was her aunt in Lithuania still had the wings she was born with. “I come from a long line of leggy bird women, women to whom I am allied by blood and birthright. The Old Man (her father’s father) knew our history. When we finally met, he told me about the birds.” Prudence learns the stories of her ancestors. The stories go into  the history to the struggle of native Lithuanians, who must fight Cossacks, suffer under the Nazis and endure Stalin’s harsh rule  Eventually Old Man takes the family back to Lithuania to discover their heritage.

This is definitely a must read.

THAT WOMAN; The Life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor

ANNE SEBBA

One of the great romances of modern times: the King of England abdicating the throne so he could be with the woman he loved.

A main theme running through That Woman is the likelihood that Wallis Simpson  was intersexed in some way. This is reason that she never had a child with any of her three husbands or her many lovers. All through her life she was plagued with abdominal problems. Sebba even suggests that King Edward VIII may have had his own intersex issues. She suggests his mostly hairless body, he only needed to shave once a week, and that all the women referred to him as the “little man.” Though he certainly was a ladies man before he met Wallis Simpson.

The Prince of Wales comes across as a liability. He was “a depressed adolescent… worryingly unsafe, he could be certified”, according to Lord Wigram, George V’s private secretary. “Certain cells in his brain have never grown,” murmured another courtier, Sir Alan Lascelles.

A real concern was the Prince’s chumminess with the Germans and pro-appeasement politicians. He and Wallis were feted by Mussolini in Venice, stayed at the Ritz in Madrid when Spain was run by Franco and visited Hitler in Berchtesgaden, where they were photographed among the swastikas. Walis actually curtsied before Hitler. The Nazis “were ready to exploit the King’s sympathies”, and even after the abdication there were plans to install him as a puppet monarch should Britain have been successfully invaded. Wallis saved England from having Edward as King. The ex-King was a petulant pipsqueak, who would have made a disastrous monarch, it does seem that everyone took it out on Wallis. She was generally vilified as a “prostitute, a Yankee harlot”, “sadistic, cold, overbearing, vain”, “mean and grasping” and, in the words of the late Queen Elizabeth, “the lowest of the low”.  Her mother-in-law refused to receive her son and his wife.

It is an interesting read but there are places that need skimming.

BY BLOOD

ELLEN ULLMAN

AKA: Portrait of an Obsession

This is definitely a must read.

The narrator is a disgraced professor who refers to “the terrible darkness within me” and his “morbid and afflicted” imagination — without showing us much evidence of anything other than something to do about a boy and hanging out where students gather. While under investigation by the university for some unspecified infraction, he’s installed himself in a rented office, where he intends to prepare lectures but there is not indication that actually happens. In the office next door, Dr. Dora Schussler, psychotherapist, sees her patients. For most of the day she has a machine that creates white noise but one patient requests that the white noise is turned off allowing the narrator to hear every word. Thus his obsession begins.

He is taken with one patient: a young lesbian, also left nameless. It’s love at first listen, and not just because of the patient’s “creamy alto.” It’s her predicament. She is adopted and just beginning explore the secrets obscuring her origins. Our narrator comes from dreadful suicide-smitten stock — “My aunt Selma once said I had the temperament of Uncle Harry: Did this include whatever bad thing he had done with his gun?” — and this patient fills him with admiration. “Why,” he asks, “could I not learn the art of being parentless from these adoptees: these very models of self-creation?”

Assisted by the narrator’s discreet and creepy stage management, the patient’s inquiry will lead her to a group of Jewish orphans at Belsen in the last days of World War II. In Israel, the patient will also encounter something like a parallel self, an unsuspected sibling—also adopted—whose story of her own reunion with their mother casts light on the terrible meaning not just of why the patient was given up for adoption as a baby but why her mother never sought her out later on.

I AM DAVID

ANNE HOLM

David is a well crafted jewel that will touch your heart.  It was written for young adults but has lots to say to adults.

David is twelve years old. All his life he has lived in a concentration camp in Eastern Europe. It is a terrible place. David knows nothing of the outside world except those things his one good friend and mentor, Johannes, now dead, told him. He has no story, no memories to hold on to, he doesn’t know the names of his parents, or whether they are alive or dead even, what his religion is, or from which country he comes. It is not even clear to us, the readers, whether the camp is Nazi or perhaps post-war Russian. David knows only one thing: that he is David. It is not much upon which to build a life, is it? But it is all he has. And on the day that The Man, one of the camp guards hated by David, but one who has always been strangely protective of him, offers him a chance to escape, his name is the only thing he has to take with him. The Man has provided him with a compass, a bottle of water, and a bar of soap, David himself has only his name to bring.

He must go south to the coast, find a ship bound for Salonica in a place called Italy, and then go north, until he gets to Denmark. That is all he knows. And he is on his own, accompanied by only his determination to get to Denmark, his terror of being recaptured and losing this new, sweet freedom, and the confusion of his thoughts. For David, the world is not only a frightening place, full of danger and menace, but also an incomprehensible one. He doesn’t know what an orange is, what a sandwich is, or even how to smile. He has no concept of beauty or pleasure. He doesn’t even understand truly what colour is, and when he finds colour it is overwhelming: “David was familiar only with various tones of grey and brown, and of course the blue of the sky. Well, yes, he had once seen a little red flower that had strayed inside the camp wall. Apart from that colour was something he had only heard of… He did not know how long he stayed there on the mountainside, sitting motionless, just gazing… only when everything grew strangely misty did he discover that he was crying. Far below him lay the sea, a sea bluer than any sky he had ever seen. The land curved in and out along its edge: in and out, up and down, all green and golden with here and there the red of flowers too far off to be clearly seen. Beauty.”

A must read. It is a slim volume so doesn’t take much time.

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Germany

ERIK LARSON

William Dodd was an academic, a history professor busy writing a detailed history of the South when he was approached by Roosevelt to be the ambassador to Nazi Germany. He reluctantly took the position and moved his family including his adult children to Berlin. Beasts takes place largely in Berlin from 1933 to 1937, examining the path to World War II and the Holocaust through the experiences of the American Ambassador to Germany and his family, particularly his vivacious daughter, Martha. Initially the Ambassador, who had gotten his Ph.D. in Leipzig 40 years earlier, was very sympathetic to Germany’s new Nazi government, and believed reports of brutality and anti-semitism to be exaggerations. Martha loved the lean,tall, handsome men in SS uniforms and was very sympathetic to the Nazi’s for a long time. She had many suitors and took many lovers. She even had an affair with the then head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels, and Soviet attache (and secret NKVD agent) Boris Vinogradov who recruited her to work for the Soviets against the Nazis later in her time in Germany.

Although Dodd was  brought back to the states early. History remembers him as a man who realized more throughly than others what was actually happening in Germany.

Quote: “By the time of the Dodd’s arrival violence against Jews had begun to wane. Incidents were sporadic, isolated. “It was easy to be reassured,” wrote Dipple of why many Jews decided to stay in Germany. “On the surface,much of daily life remained as it had been before Hitler came to power. Nazi attacks on the Jews were like summer thunderstorms that came and went quickly,leaving an eerie calm.”

On renting a house: “They found many properties to choose from, though at first they failed to ask themselves why so many grand old mansions were for lease so fully and luxuriously furnished, with ornate tabled and chairs, gleaming pianos, and rare vases, maps, and books still in place.”