In the High Peaks

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 When he finished the novel a couple of years later, his publisher informed him that it could not be published, because now, in 1951, the German public no longer wanted to read about the war.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).