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.

MISCHLING

AFFINITY KONAR28664920

Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who not only sent countless men, women and children to the gas chambers, but also performed grotesque experiments on selected prisoners — especially twins, whom he eagerly sought out upon arrival. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited, twin narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the story of their efforts to survive: Pearl, once the more outgoing of the sisters, becomes more methodical, more focused on memories to get through each day; while Stasha grows feistier and more cunning — “a creature capable of tricking her enemies and rescuing her loved ones.”

Once inseparable, the twins are broken in different ways by Mengele’s repulsive experiments, which damage Stasha’s hearing and sight; and leave Pearl in an isolated cage, her ankles snapped and her feet smashed.

Mischling is a dark book but light radiates in the girls’ strength and will to survive. It’s a great read.

Forgiveness “did not remove my pain or blunt my nightmares. It was not a new beginning. It was not, in the slightest, an end. My forgiveness was a constant repetition, an acknowledgment of the fact that I still lived; it was proof that their experiments, their numbers, their samples, was all for naught — I remained, a tribute to their underestimations of what a girl can endure. In my forgiveness, their failure to obliterate me was made clear.”

Mischling (“mixed-blood” in German) was the German legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

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THE PLUM TREE

plumELLEN MARIE WISEMAN

Christine Bolz is a young German woman in love with her employer’s son Isaac Bauermen, a young Jewish man. The date is 1938, just before World War II. Unfortunately the author gets bogged down in long descriptions of the town and its citizens delaying the time the narrative gets to the meat of the matter. So skim the first half of the book. It gets interesting when Isaac is take away by the Nazis. He is brought back to his hometown to do forced labour. Christine helps Isaac escape and hides him in her attic without letting her family know what she is doing. The house gets searched as all houses in the village are. Isaac is not found. But months later the nazis are back for another search and he is found. Both of the young lovers are sent to the SS‘s death camp at Dachua. Christine is assigned to clean and cook for Jorge Grunstein one of the commanders. She spends the day cleaning, gardening and cooking for the Lagarkommandant. Grunstein relays to her is story of trying to tell the world about what was happening to the Jews in the death camps but no one would listen.

amenGrunstein’s story is much better told in the movie AMEN by the wonderful director Costa-Gavras. The book is about a young woman. The movies is about Grunstein. The movie is a must see. The book is alright.

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.

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.

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.”