In the High Peaks

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Phyllis Whitney, the Joys of Life and Fate, and Striking Hitler Parallels to Today

Oh, how I'm enjoying the challenge of reading Vasily Grossman's novel  Life and Fate, which after the first 35 pages, is not all that challenging at all. It's a thick, meaty slice of Russian life and literature, sprawling, lots of characters bundled into various settings across Russia and--in the case of prisoners--across Germany. Mostly it's the story of one extended family, which has been evacuated from Moscow and other cities to the hinterlands to the west. They are largely the professional class, although there is a family of Communist Party Members and their ilk. I'm up to p. 140 (out of 880 pages), and I'm loving it. I look forward to my early morning and late afternoon reading bouts. No, no, absolutely not reading this before bed! I need my wits about me.
The following book cover has a photo of Vasily Grossman. Sounds like a fascinating book as well.

Before bed I'm reading Spindrift by Phyllis Whitney. The lead character is a young married woman, who suffered (supposedly) a severe breakdown after discovering her father's body after a grand party in a Newport (Rhode Island) mansion, owned by her father's very wealthy colleagues. Christy's husband is hopeless, distant, and ineffectual, and her mother-in-law a tyrant, who is willfully blocking access to their only son Peter. Everyone treats the young woman as a hopeless invalid. (This is the premise--I'm not giving anything away.) Of course, from the beginning, Christy has never stopped protesting that her father's death was not a suicide. Lots of challenges for her, and great atmosphere.

In case you've made it through my post this far, ahem! Please read on, if you've the time:

In Chapter 10 "The Motherland Overwhelms the Fatherland" in Andrew Roberts's The Storm of War (2011), I was overwhelmingly struck by the following passage describing Hitler's managerial style and approach to the War on the Eastern Front with the Soviet Union.

Note: The following is an excerpt from the German Franz Halder's private and well-hidden diary. Halder was Chief of Staff for Hitler's military operations.

Halder notes that when Hitler is presented with realism from his officers and generals, he...
      "explodes in a fit of insane rage and hurls the gravest reproaches against the General Staff. This chronic tendency to underrate enemy capabilities is gradually assuming grotesque proportions and develops into a positive danger...This so-called leadership is characterized by a pathological reacting to the impressions  of the moment and a total lack of any understanding of the command machinery and its possibilities."  p. 317

There is much more to report about Hitler's psyche during the Battle of Stalingrad, sure sounds familiar, in a way that makes me feel even more uneasy than I already am, as if that's possible!



  1. A Writer at War sounds so interesting--I'll have to add it to my own reading list. Frankly, not so much Spindrift, but that could just be my current mood.

    We live in unsettling times, that is for sure. Hopefully we will not forget to learn lessons from the past.

    1. I haven't read Writer at War, but I admired the cover for the wonderful photo of Vasily Grossman, author of Life and Fate.
      I agree with you that these are certainly unsettling times. I do wish to see an end to them, though lately I've been feeling pessimistic about that.

  2. I loved Phyllis Whitney books when I was a teenager, I'm sure I read Spindrift back then. Eventually Hitler came to a sticky end but it took far too long, fingers crossed that the US situation doesn't go so far. It's the political goings on in Eastern European countries and Austria that I find really worrying - they seem determined to repeat history.

    1. Katrina,
      Thanks for bringing me back to what's going on in eastern Europe and Austria. I will study further tonight and this weekend. I know about the isolationism (is that even possible in Europe?) and the determination to push out refugees. But I will look further.
      And Trump is getting so insanely crazy! Each day he blathers on when interviewed by the press, this time after addressing the NRA convention, that I am wondering if I am insane for realizing it is SO BAD. His mind right now is a very slippery slope, like an avalanche is sculpting away at what brain he has left.
      I think that's why Ken and I retreat, at least 3 nights a week, to watching Downton Abbey for the FOURTH TIME! We are in a sad way. Thank goodness for Sasha to remind us of what's important: food, walkies, and sleep! Best to you, Katrina!

    2. Oh yes, Katrina, and Phyllis Whitney. Back to a simpler era when all we had to worry about were nuclear warheads dropping on our heads.

    3. Yes and when I was about 11 I realised that we lived 7 miles away from a nuclear submarine base, so we would be first to be blasted. It was oddly comforting to know that there was absolutely no point in worrying about it.

    4. It's amazing that at 11 you were capable of not worrying. I actually did worry about nuclear bombs, just as I worried about The Boston Strangler coming to my bedroom window! I think I can attain being oddly comforted by the possibility of an asteroid colliding with the earth. Just pray to be vaporized instantly!

  3. I have not heard of Grossman or his novel Life and Fate but I like stories about families and it sounds very interesting. The length would be challenging for me.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      I've always been into Russian Lit, BUT I had never heard of Life and Fate or Vasily Grossman. I learned about this book not via a blog, but in a round-up of Russian novels set during the Soviet era. This one caught my eye.
      The length is formidable, I agree. I handle novels of this length, by chewing off 25-50 pages a day, and by having a couple of other books going. I view it as a "project," in a way. Really liked how incredibly well he does women's viewpoint. Amazing.