>Well, it’s more of the same, and eventually I’ll exhaust this genre, but in 2010 I found a few new books on the shelf.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Between The Woods And The Water”
This is Part 2 of an intended trilogy (the third installment never got written, I assume the trip took some unexpected turns) about a journey on foot from London to Istanbul — this book covers Hungary to the Iron Gate on the Danube — in the early 1930s. There is so much to recommend. Not only is Fermor’s personality and writing style interesting (he’s all over the place with historical accuracy, but admits it, and the mental journey is just as much fun as the physical one), but it’s a nice, long glimpse into a lost world of pre-war/pre-communist eastern Europe.
Erich Maria Remarque “Zeit zu leben und Zeit zu sterben” (“A Time To Live And A Time To Die” and “Der Funke Leben” (“The Spark Of Life”).
Sandor Marai “Die Glut” (“Embers”) A man’s novel, in the way people describe Hemingway. Two old former friends meet and remember the day they “broke up”. Of course it was over a woman, and of course they never spoke of it and never got over it.
Count Hermann Keyserling “The World In The Making” This one literally fell in my lap, as the Beau picked it up at a used book sale. I did not think much of it (hard to follow, among other things) but it was also a window to another lost world — the discussion of where Europe is headed, right before the Nazis started getting major press (1927).
Lally Horstmann “Nothing For Tears”. Horstmann lived with her older, rich diplomat husband outside of Berlin and documented the day-to-day horrors of the Soviet occupation of eastern Germany. Despite being half Jewish, she seems to have survived the Third Reich quite well (how is not discussed, although her husband was anti-Nazi enough to quit his post in protest in the 30s) but the villagers and Russian soldiers took out their revenge for the war on them in many ways. The lesson of this memoir ends up being, leave the damn stuff behind and get yourselves out while you can. Horstmann got out, too late, and broken. Her husband died of starvation in a Soviet camp.
Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen “Tagebuch eines Verzweifelten” (Diary Of A Man In Despair). Ah, now this was one of my favorites of the year. An old monarchist, trying to keep to himself during the 40s on his Bavarian country estate, lets out his vitriol for Hitler and all things Nazi in his diaries. Their existence would have been enough to get him executed for treason, but in the end not even necessary. A few things said in letters and noticed by neighbors were enough to get him denounced and arrested. He died in Dachau Concentration Camp. The diary stands as an example of helpless rage in a time far too dangerous to let it show.
Ulrich Frodien, “Bleib übrig” (literally, “stay left over”, meaning “don’t get killed”) Frodien served as a young man in the Wehrmacht and went on to write for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. This book chronicles his experiences in the military, and his escape with his father from besieged Breslau (where all were commanded to fight to the death) into the west and American war captivity.
Helmut Schmidt, “Kindheit und Jugend unter Hitler”(“Childhood and Youth Under Hitler”) The former German Chancellor is still alive and kicking, and still giving interviews on television, always with a cigarette in hand. He’ll be 92 on Thursday!
Sebastian Haffner, “Von Bismarck zu Hitler” (“From Bismarck To Hitler”) You may already be tired of this topic from reading the list alone, but this was one of the best books on German history that I have ever read. Haffner writes clearly and succinctly, in a way that helps the reader see how things progressed, without being dry and boring about it.
Stig Larsson”, The Girl Who Played With Fire”. Picked up in the airport before a long flight. It did not make me want to read the third installment.
Isabel Leighton, “The Aspirin Age”. Lots of good stuff here, a collection of writings (from 1949) about the years between the two world wars in America. The essay on Father Coughlin alone was worth the purchase. Out of print.
Gavin de Becker, “The Gift of Fear”. Advice columnist Carolyn Hax has recommended this book countless times, and while it does have some good advice in it, I wanted de Becker to get deeper into the dynamics of controlling behaviour. Possibly it’s just enough for the reader who needs to read this book, and that’s OK.
William Shirer, “Berlin Diary”. Still working on finishing this one.
Stephen Crane “The Red Badge Of Courage”, and Ernest Hemingway “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. In the latter, I found the implied transliterations and the intentional censorship (“I obscenity in the milk of thy tiredness”) tiring, and the way the protagonist’s full — first and last — name is always used a bit pretentious. (This kept reminding me of that godawful “Bridges of Madison County”.) In fact I just gave up at one point and skipped to the end.
I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction in the past several years, and losing interest in novels. Maybe just waiting for the right ones to fall into my hands.