Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz--German Literature Month

I read The Turncoat for Caroline's (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) German Literature Month/Literature and War Readalong for this last week of November, which is Lizzy Siddal's and Caroline's sponsored German Literature Month. (See Sidebars for Links, please).

The Turncoat fascinated me for many reasons. Siegfried Lenz, who had been in the German Navy and  served time as a prisoner of war, wrote this book with the go-ahead of his German publisher. When he finished the novel a couple of years later, his publisher informed him that it could not be published, because now, in 1951, the German public no longer wanted to read about the war. Lenz was told by the editor who had encouraged him just two years previously, "Your book could have been published in 1946, but not now." Of course, in 1946 Lenz had no manuscript because he was still a prisoner of war and had not even approached this publisher. 

The book begins in 1944 with a German infantryman, Walter Proska, who manages to miraculously survive an unsurvivable train explosion, crafted by partisans. When he becomes attached to a nearby German unit, taking shelter in a thrown-together wooden "Fortress," he has a hard time aligning to this motley group of disillusioned and disaffected and crazy, yes, mad dogs of hangers-on that know only that their days are numbered on the Eastern Front.  The absurd actions and speech of these individuals remind me so much of characters in the Americans' Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, though Lenz's book was written many, many years before these war novels. 

The "turncoat" element of the novel comes near the end of the novel, when Proska, after the death of his closest comrade, defects. He joins the partisans first, and then, after the war, becomes part of the Soviet bureaucracy, where he tries stubbornly to deny that his office co-workers are not disappearing daily. Proska, or the reader, realizes that as much as he was ensnared by the Nazi (Wehrmacht) command, he is entrapped by the Soviets. Freedom never existed, not for one moment.


Friday, November 13, 2020

Only Half-Trying to Remain "Composed:" On Living with Ignorance and Stupidity

 You all know me by now, at least in part. First of all, I blame our educational system. So unbelievably poor, and I participated in that. Not for my entire career, by any means. I taught sixth grade from 1975-1985. I was a writer and editor of American history from 1986-2008, and during that time I didn't feel I did anything that brought THIS MAN ADHERING TO THE HITLER PLAY BOOK to the fore, quite the contrary. But I can't help but feel culpable for the hordes of people who believe that "TRUMP IS MEIN FUHRER."  Only a person who has meticulously studied 20th-century European History can feel this unendurable pain, as I'm sure many of you, like me, have. Where did we as a country go so wrong that people are ready to discard the hallmarks of our democracy? 

In my county in northern New York, 30 percent voted for Biden and 69 percent for Trump. Many men in my town truly believe that DEMOCRATS are scheming to take away their hunting rifles. Ridiculous, but true. They are, in part, single-issue voters, but many more adore the way Trump flaunts authority, conventions, the laws. They eat it up!  Where are we all, considering this Mess?

Okay, okay, let's all skip along back to the bunker and to books. I'm thoroughly enjoying Julia Spencer-Fleming's 2020 novel, the latest mystery in her Russ Van Alstyne--Claire Fergusson series, Hid from Our Eyes. It's been a seven-year wait for this next installment, because of Spencer-Fleming's husband's illness and death to cancer, and the death of another of her close associates. I HEARTILY recommend this series and this latest installment. I hope Spencer-Fleming has more novels tucked away for us!   

My audio read of Inge's War: A German Woman's Family, Secrets, and Survival under Hitler by Svenja O'Donnell turned out to be one of my top five best reads of the year. But Inge wasn't just any German woman. She was a very, very young East Prussian woman, a teenaged mother, a refugee who barely survived the last year of the war and the early post-war years when there was next to no food available. Heartily recommend! And the parallels to Trump/Hitler are in abundance. 

Tomorrow I'll be beginning to read The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz, a German novel in translation. Lenz was born in 1926 and this novel delves into the life of a soldier on the Eastern Front, which as has been so clearly explained in Inge's War, was a death sentence for German soldiers, not to mention the atrocities they committed on their way to Stalingrad. 



Friday, November 6, 2020

In the Bunker with Me and My Dog and Books and Knitting

I have definitely decided to start over at  WordPress. The timing is uncertain. First I have to get out of Bunker-Mode to do the changeover, and that may not happen for a while yet, and certainly not while CHAOS looms.

In the meantime, I'll continue to report on my reading (in the bunker). I do emerge from my nest to take long walks. And to do food shopping. But that is it. And, of course, I'm knitting like a fiend. Thinking of Madame DuFarge  in The Tale of Two Cities. She is my idol for the moment. I feel a definite kinship with her.

I'm so glad I decided to read/listen to Inge's War: A German Woman's Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival under Hitler by Svenja O'Donnell.  O'Donnell is a journalist specializing in Russian affairs, frequently stationed in Moscow and Leningrad, and she is Inge's grand-daughter. O'Donnell's father is Irish and  her mother German, yet Svenja grew up in Paris. What makes this book unique: Inge. Svenja's grandmother, was born and raised in East Prussia, a province of Germany bordering the Baltic Sea and surrounded completely by Poland.

In 1944, toward the end of WWII, East Prussia was the first part of Germany invaded by the Russians. And, due to the Yalta Treaty, this land was forfeited to the Soviets. Millions of Germans in East Prussia were forced to migrate to other regions of Germany, but not before at least 2 million of them perished due to starvation, a cruel winter of historic proportions, and Russian revenge. 

What I also have appreciated is how O'Donnell was able to recreate the beauty and culture of East Prussia in the years between the wars, through the reminiscences of her grandmother. Another lost culture to WWII, of which there are so many. This book is unique because  there is not another that reveals the lost culture of East Prussia as this book does.

Another Aspect I Appreciate: O'Donnell makes clear how Germans in East Prussia were afraid to counter Hitler and his edicts.

And I say, Hey! If I'm afraid to put a Biden sign on our driveway, for God's sake, maybe I have an inkling why people were afraid of the terror of the Brown Shirts and the Nazis. I am sorry to say I get it. Lots of Trump followers here are armed men. At least where I live.  That's all we need.  And haven't you noticed?? NO ONE dares put a Biden  political bumper sticker on their car. I remember Ken had an Obama bumper sticker on his truck years ago, and we were corralled by an enraged truck driver local pub. Just sayin 






Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day Night and Reading is Comfort Plus!

I retired to my reading comfort nook at an earlier than usual hour today. It seemed the only thing to do on this Election Day. We've had two bouts of snow, the last being last night, and I enjoyed hiking with Sandy on our trails this morning, though she was terribly disappointed that the snow had buried all scents of interest to the canine mind. And I mean very, very disappointed!

In the midst of everything I've been reading Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, and I recommend it highly, even though it is not the masterpiece that I considered American Wife to be. I have 65 pages left out of 417 pages. Still, Rodham is enormously interesting to women of our mutual age and era. DO read it, and I can assure you it will not be a waste of your time. So grateful a friend urged me to read it.

I have finished listening to The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007) by Jeffrey Toobin, and it was a revelation. I learned so much, and it has only piqued my interest to read more and more about the COURT and its Supreme Justices. Listened on audio, the narration was magnificent, so I highly recommend it.

Ah! And on the lighter side, where would I be this time of year without a dip into a few Christmas-themed novels? I have been very choosy this year after a few literary disasters last Christmas 2019. However, I am pleased to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying Sarah Morgan's One More for Christmas (2020), particularly considering I couldn't even finish her 2019 offering Christmas Sisters last year. The latter was just so tedious.   

Another Christmas Novel Disaster in 2020: I returned One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts in early October. It was so terribly bad, I could not endure it, though its reviews and description had sounded positive.

I do have loads of other Christmas novels lined up, and I will report immediately if I find a good one.

And, do you know, I have the acclaimed historical novel Hamnet (about Shakespeare's family) by Maggie O'Farrell on loan for 11 more days, but as much as  I'd like to read it at some point, I've got other reads I feel I must get to this year first.  So I'm postponing Hamnet, though I hope to get to it in early 2021. 

My goals: Read The Thursday Murder Club (for sure), The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz, just recently translated from German into English, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, which is about Boris Pasternak and Olga, who was his inspiration for Lara in Dr. Zhivago. Must read that. (4.2 on Goodreads).

Tomorrow I have to do a HUGE food shopping, but then I just want to retire to my reading nook in these difficult days, though of course I'll be walking and hiking with Sandy (and sometimes Ken).






Saturday, October 24, 2020

My Reading While Coping with Insanity

There is no doubt that I may be going mad.

Well, who isn't these days, with all the craziness going on? I know my brain has been hit hard, and I apologize if I haven't visited your blog recently. I hope to catch up with you soon!

Yesterday I finished Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, published early this year, and which received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Have you read it? I appreciated its originality, most of all. In the first two short chapters, the narrator introduces himself and relates that he once published a blogpost for his bookstore, which described, as he sees it, eight perfect murders in crime fiction. And the tale explodes! (literally) from there. My suggestion to anyone interested in this premise: Download the sample onto your Kindle or Nook or other e-reader. A sample will include the intro and the titles and descriptions of the eight novels in case you wish to read any before you tackle the novel. You don't NEED to do this to enjoy the novel. It's a quick read, by the way. Entertaining, though a bit creepy as more and more unfolds, especially at the end, but I really enjoyed it.  The setting is Boston and environs, and spreads out over New England in WINTER. That part was loads of fun.

I am reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and am nearing the end. It's not a comfort read, but it is so true and real that it makes up for its lack of what we usually think of as "comfort." I do recommend it. A Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way. If you are feeling very, very shaky, then don't cross it off your list, but postpone it. The writing is brilliant.

I just started reading Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld this morning, an imagination of what Hillary Rodham's life might have been like if she had decided not to marry her friend Bill Clinton. It's so good!! I'm really loving it. Sittenfeld makes Hillary Rodham come to life, and so identifiable, at least to me. I'm so glad a friend urged me to read it.

Still listening to The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Lots more to go!



Friday, October 16, 2020

ELEVEN WEEKS to New Year's Day!

I've read more than my usual number of books this year, but I must admit that many were not of high quality. Perhaps I was madly chomping on junk food in a bunker? Yes, most assuredly so!

By the way, I've made a very cozy bunker. It's in my bedroom and has a beautiful view of trees and sky. I feel safe from the outer world up there. Before 2 pm, I do all my housework and loads of dog walking, and then I traipse upstairs with Sandy and the safety and calm of my comfy bedroom, where I read and read, followed by knitting to audiobooks.

After reading the Gothic HORROR novel Mexican Gothic (over  the top),  I've realized I'm dying for substantial meat and potatoes fare--high-quality fiction and nonfiction. And it's whetted my appetite for more.  Gosh--I didn't know Mexican Gothic was Gothic HORROR! Who knew? No review told me, thank you very much.

So what am I reading? I'm at the very end of a wondrous book by the noted Canadian author, Michael Christie, entitled Greenwood. I have truly enjoyed reading it, and because underlying all of its themes are trees and forests, and the history of trees and forests in Canada, which parallel those in the U.S., I've loved it especially. It's a sprawling epic, 500 pages, beginning in the year 2038 and reaching back in segments to the year 1908, then  catapulting forward again through the years to 2038. Different! Incredibly interesting. Highly original.

Listening while knitting: I happen to be knitting a very complex cable pattern to make a sweater vest that accentuates the shoulders, a style I selected especially because I have small shoulders. But while doing this complex craft, I decided I must listen to Jeffrey Toobin's The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, published in 2007. I also managed to purchase the e-book as well, so I can go back and "re-read" sections that described court cases or incidents that are difficult to fully comprehend while listening to audio. This book explains so much of the background behind the Court today. I would like to learn more. Highly recommended.

Next Up: I'm definitely going to read Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld next. And, a mystery alongside it. Not sure which mystery I'll pick at this moment, but I'll keep you posted.

I TRULY REGRET that Blogger has made it IMPOSSIBLE to offer links. I do hope that if you're  you will follow via Google whatever name or link you'd like  to follow.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Four New Books in the Mail Today!

I so enjoyed my hardcover purchases in September (Monogamy by Sue Miller, The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves), that I bought another hardcover bunch, which arrived today.

My dear friend from Boston and her husband, who first introduced Ken and me to the Adirondacks, came to vacation in the area last week. She is a journalist, and more to the point of this discussion, was a former Boston Globe Book Review contributor of many years. Jan and I always  figure out a way to share books. When we met last week, she highly recommended Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I believe was published earlier this year. We  sat in the sun and discussed how much we both were surprised by and loved Sittenfeld's American Wife. She urged me to read Rodham, which is a novel about Hillary Rodham's life, as if she had never married Bill Clinton. I will read it soon, though I am in the midst of a chunkster at the moment.

Other books in today's UPS haul: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, recently published, and which is reputed  to be lots of fun and well done. "In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly discuss unsolved crimes." And soon become knee-deep involved in one.

Then the recently translated German post WWII novel about warfare on the Eastern Front The Turncoat by Siegfried Lenz. Lenz was born in East Prussia in 1926, a land that became part of Poland after WWII. He was a deserter from the Wehrmacht in WWII. Lenz has won numerous prizes in Germany. This was published in Germany in 2016, and was just published in the U.S. this month.

My last book was an impulse purchase: Love in the Blitz: The Long-Lost Letters of a Brilliant Young Woman to Her Beloved on the Front by Eileen Alexander. I would so love to say more but Blogger is giving me fits.  I should stop complaining and do something about this blogging situation.



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Just a Few Words

It is extremely clear that Google does not want Blogger to continue. It is clear that this platform is very primitive. It's not user-friendly, and they rolled out this monstrosity of a platform with no guidance available. So I will be ditching it. Not today.

On another note, I LOVED my trip to Barnes & Noble in Saratoga Springs. Yes, 50+ miles away, but worth it. My first bookstore visit since November 2019. There is a great market nearby, so it makes the trip worth it. I enjoyed browsing around, but what I bought, actually, were a number of magazines, rather than books. So nice! 

In Reading: I simply loved The Darkest Evening by Anne Cleeves, the 9th Vera Stanhope mystery. I thrilled to it. It was exactly what I wanted to read. Ken is loving it now.

I am nearing the end of Monogamy by Sue Miller, published in early September. Extraordinary writing, and of all the books I've read of hers, this one cuts closest to the flesh. Extremely nuanced family relationships, equally nuanced dialogue and internal dialogue.  If I had read a review, I never would have read it. BUT I am so glad that I picked it up, not knowing what was to follow, and being surprised over and over again. So good to have a novel from Miller--she is at least a decade older than I, so I'm not sure how many novels we'll see from her in the future.

Also reading Mexican Gothic--marvelously gothic, creepy, and edgy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Books in the Mail--the Actual Mail--Today

Just a word...the new Blogger is threatening  to undermine this platform in every way imaginable.
But! While I still HAVE a viable old platform, I will announce that two new books arrived in the mail today.
First of all is Monogamy: A Novel by Sue Miller, which was published in early September. I have loved all of Sue Miller's novels. While I Was Gone was probably one of her most well-known novels, and I loved and admired it. So much depth!  I will have to dig back to name the other novel she wrote since that title that I also liked very much. I also loved her novel The Senator's Wife, which was also top-notch. I listened to that as an audio, and I simply loved it, but at that time  I was not as finely tuned a listener, so I don't remember it well.

The other novel that arrived, and which I'm looking forward to reading, is The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves (the latest Vera Stanhope mystery).  Think murder mystery. Think BLIZZARD. Think Northumberland, northernmost England. Think perfect for me. This has had excellent reviews, not to mention several starred  reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Can't wait to read it.