Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

 

Read by Danika Fairman

Description: In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited and East Germany ceased to exist. In this book, Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany, including the story of Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III.

Read her two books the wrong way around. This non-fiction is superbly written, and she really does have stories that need relating to help us understand DDR because let’s face it, no matter how many time the history is read the subject remains hard to get one’s head around.

DDR was a paranoid place and awful things happened to ordinary people and Funder has pinned the subject matter smack, bang to the , erm, wall.

I mentioned that I read her books the wrong way around – ‘All that I Am’, a novel based on factual events, did not resound so well, maybe I am just a non-fiction kind of girl at heart.

Astounding read worth five checkpoint-charlies even though there are some flaws.

Surfy Googling yields some interesting piccies:

Alexanderplatz. We stayed in the Hotel up those stairs on the left, and that square was full of Christmas market. How it looks today:

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Authoritarian Sociopathy: Toward a Renegade Psychological Experiment by Davi Barker

bookshelves: essays, nonfiction, summer-2014, fraudio, anarchy, psychology, boo-scary, bullies, casual-violence, games-people-play, gardening, gulp, how-to, lifestyles-deathstyles, mental-health, ouch, politics, published-2014, rid-the-world-of-tyrants, totalitarian

Read from July 14 to 21, 2014

 

Description: Numerous studies have shown us that those given authority are more likely to lie, cheat and steal, while also being harsher in their judgments of others for doing these same things. Science tells us people with power feel less compassion for the suffering of others.

Previous experiments also show us that those who are obedient to authority are capable of the worst forms of murder, and tolerant of the worst forms of abuse. They will even chastise those of us who resist corrupt authority. They become facilitators of evil, believing that obedience to authority absolves them of personal responsibility.

This is the fifth draft of a renegade psychological experiment on authoritarian sociopathy, specifically on police brutality. We aim to show the world beyond a shadow of a doubt, that power corrupts absolutely, and corrupt authority deserves no obedience.

Interesting front about plagiarism being about love, and who wants love policed. Hmmm

Stamford experiment just got worse
Milgram experiment
– Government has the monopoly of violence in a designated area

Nothing new here, really. Refresh yourselves with the videos linked to above so you don’t forget how we can all act like either laboratory rats or merciless tyrants.

Just the two hazard signs as rating

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ― Aristotle, Metaphysics

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

bookshelves: lit-richer, britain-ireland, published-2014, wexford, period-piece, net-galley, e-book, summer-2014, bellybutton-mining, aga-saga, families, lifestyles-deathstyles, politics, newtome-author

Read from July 15 to 18, 2014

 

Description: It is the late 1960s in Ireland. Nora Webster is living in a small town, looking after her four children, trying to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. She is fiercely intelligent, at times difficult and impatient, at times kind, but she is trapped by her circumstances, and waiting for any chance which will lift her beyond them.

Colm Tóibín’s Nora is a character as resonant as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary and Nora Webster is a novel that illuminates our own lives in a way that is rare in literature. Its humanity and compassion forge an unforgettable reading experience.

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy in 1955. He is the author of seven other novels, including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master and The Testament of Mary, all three of which were nominated for the Booker Prize, and Brooklyn, which won the Costa Novel Award. He has also published two collections of stories and many works of non-fiction. He lives in Dublin.

Opening: ‘You must be fed up of them. Will they never stop coming?’ Tom O’Connor, her neighbour, stood at his front door and looked at her.
‘I know,’ she said.
‘Just don’t answer the door. That’s what I’d do.’
Nora closed the garden gate.

A quiet and intense character study, beautifully written and utterly compelling as I sit in my ‘Babette’s Feast’ of a rented cottage far from civilisation, with the Danish mist swirling in the twilight; close by, the swish and babble of small waves on the shore. However, not everyone will have the pleasure of being in such an evocative atmosphere when they crack this one open and, right there at that point, they will ask for more of a story than is offered here.

No need go into the storyline, there is enough of that in the description, yet I can tell you the atmosphere built up over even the smallest of encounters is deliciously unsettling, claustrophobic and brittle, and you will want to hug those two boys to your chest until they relax their pent up worries within the safety of encircling arms. Preposterous as it sounds in this Wexford slice of life on the tragic side of the track, there are some amusing parts where you find yourself smiling along with the schadenfreude and oneupmanship on display: no one here is unflawed, and that includes the titular persona.

By the end and against the back drop of the troubles there is real character growth in all the players involved, and some of these transitions leave their marks, which is the way of life; things have a way of working out. Three and a half reduced-price shop-display turntables, upped to four because I was thoroughly anxious for the wellbeing of the family.

Today, 18th July 2014, ‘Nora Webster’ is number thirty three on the listopia Man Booker Prize Eligible 2014 and doesn’t look the strongest Irish contender. We shall see next week, 23rd July, just which make it onto the longlist.

The Tower: A Novel by Uwe Tellkamp

d-piece

Read from July 09 to 13, 2014

 

Translated by Mike Mitchell

Dedication: For Annette and Meno Nikolaus Tellkamp

Description: In derelict Dresden a cultivated, middle-class family does all it can to cope amid the Communist downfall. This striking tapestry of the East German experience is told through the tangled lives of a soldier, surgeon, nurse and publisher. With evocative detail, Uwe Tellkamp masterfully reveals the myriad perspectives of the time as people battled for individuality, retreated to nostalgia, chose to conform, or toed the perilous line between East and West. Poetic, heartfelt and dramatic, The Tower vividly resurrects the sights, scents and sensations of life in the GDR as it hurtled towards 9 November 1989.Uwe Tellkamp was born in 1968 in Dresden. After completing his military service, he lost his place to study medicine on the grounds of ‘political sabotage’. He was arrested in 1989, but went on to study medicine in Liepzig, Dresden and New York, later becoming a surgeon. He has won numerous regional prizes for poetry, as well as the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for The Sleep in the Clocks. In 2008, he won the German Book Prize for The Tower.

Opening: The pedagogical province: I: Ascent: The electric lemons from V E B Narva decorating the family tree were faulty, flickered on and off, erasing the silhouette of Dresden down stream.

Dresden Castle and Cathedral.

The painting secured for Richard Hoffmann on his fiftieth birthday was entitled ‘Landscape during a Thaw‘ and that title could easily double up as a strapline for this story set at the end of Cold War East Germany.

It took a while for me to get into step with the writing style, yet I am pleased to have persevered because The Tower is a glorious, eye-opening period piece rendered with insight and infinite care. At times the writing reminded me of Celestial Harmonies, and at other times, because of the attention to detail, My Struggle, yet KOK is just another self-pitying, belly-button mining first-worlder who chose to rip apart those around him rather than love and respect those close to him. Here, the uncomfortable circumstances had to be endured and pandered to, for fear of the ever watchful secret services and their boot-lickers.

So yes, similarities spring to mind, however by the end, the discovery is that nope, this little bit of history has never been revealed to me quite as intimately before and I was checking details, dates and images as the story progressed. So to re-cap:

– 896 pages
– challenging writing
– engrossing insights into DDR
– satisfying more than enjoyable

3.5 Dresden Opera Houses

NOTES: ‘They came to Turmstrasse, the main though-road of the district, and from which it derived its popular name of the ‘Tower’.’ (page 12)

re the cover image: ‘he also touched – a superstition, the origin of which was lost – the wrought-iron flower on the gate, a strangely shaped ornament that could often be seen up here.’ (page 19) Meno named it a bee lily, and it is on the gate to the house with a thousand eyes.

‘Bruno, or On the Natural and the Divine Principle of Things’

Christian
Meno (uncle)
Ulrich (Christian’s other Rohde uncle)
Anne – mater
Richard Hoffmann – pater. Surgeon.
Robert – brother

Brezhnev died 1982

Andropov dropped off in 1985

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn, Petra Couvee

4 of 5 stars bookshelves: radio-4, summer-2014, biography, nonfiction, poetry, fradio, published-2014, slavic, politics, history, books-about-books-and-book-shops, spies

Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from June 20 to July 11, 2014

 

BOTW

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b048jflr

Description: Thanks to the superb David Lean film, Doctor Zhivago is known to millions. However, few know the full story of the publication (or non-publication) of the novel. For this revelatory and fascinating tale, Peter Finn and Petra Couvée obtained previously classified CIA documents that shed light on an unknown aspect of one of the 20th-century’s greatest books.

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a highly successful poet and translator in Russia before he penned his first novel. In 1956, while he was living in Peredelkino, a writer’s colony created by Stalin, he sent the novel to one of Russia’s most esteemed journals, Novy Mir, but it was rejected because it was deemed anti-Soviet.

Pasternak felt Doctor Zhivago was his greatest work and wanted it widely read; however, since 1929, no Russian author had broken the rule against foreign publication without approval from the authorities. When the opportunity to publish the book in Italy came along, the manuscript was smuggled into Milan and published in 1957. In 1958, the CIA’s books program printed a special Russian-language edition and secretly distributed it in the Vatican’s pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels. Copies began turning up in Russia, and additional copies were given to students, tourists, diplomats, even Russian truck drivers and sailors, to smuggle into the Soviet Union. This represented one of the first efforts by the CIA to leverage books as instruments of political warfare. The book’s growing popularity infuriated the Soviet government, and when Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, he had to decline it–had he accepted it, he could never return home. –Tom Lavoie, former publisher

1/5 Pasternak’s poetry is receiving rave reviews, and the Soviet leadership soon takes note.

2/5 Pasternak begins an affair with Olga Ivinskaya, which proves a dangerous move.

3/5 The Russian-language manuscript of Dr Zhivago arrives at CIA headquarters.

4/5 Illicit copies of Dr Zhivago are in great demand at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

5/5 Pasternak is awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature but is forced to renounce it.

A rating of four Nobel medals

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Munro Clark

bookshelves: summer-2014, published-2014, radio-4, war, wwi, politics, nonfiction, fradio, balkan-root

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from June 20 to 27, 2014

 

BOTW

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03th7pn

Description: Professor Christopher Clark unpicks the complex sequence of events during the July Crisis, leading to outbreak of the First World War, from the perspective of the key centres of decision-making – in Berlin, Paris, St Petersburg and London.

He analyses how these countries reacted to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 and casts fresh light on the causes of the First World War, offering a new interpretation of the catastrophe.

This short-run crisis was the most complex event in modern history – yet Professor Clark argues that, far from being a slow sequence of events in which bungling leaders walked blindly to war, it was a fast-paced crisis that contains lessons and parallels for our own world. There was no ‘slithering over the brink’ as Lloyd George later claimed, but rather a sequence of clear-eyed steps. The July Crisis of 1914 was a ‘Month of Madness’, not because the men who made it were themselves mad, but because its outcome was completely catastrophic and completely unnecessary.

Producer: Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4

Episode 1: SARAJEVO: Professor Clark travels to Sarajevo to tell the story of extraordinary chances that led to the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek on 28th June 1914, conveying a sharp sense of the dramatic sequence of events that day and how they were shaped by the geography of the city.

The repercussions of the assassinations – comparable to the effect of 9/11 – exemplify the transformative power of a terrorist event. But the murders were not a pretext for a war decided in advance – nor did they make conflict inevitable.

Episode 2: VIENNA: Professor Christopher Clark explores the mind-set inside the Austrian administration during the tense days of July 1914, where he says, a ‘militant group think’ seized hold of the decision-makers, bent on settling their old scores with Serbia.

Episode 3: BERLIN: Professor Christopher Clark reconsiders why the German administration made this bold offer. He shows how the administration was divided. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German monarch, urged restraint in the New Palace at Potsdam, but to no avail as his power was limited. His generals pushed for war. Yet, Clark argues, they envisaged a fast and quick local war and did not believe the situation would escalate.

Episode 4: THE FRENCH IN ST PETERSBURG: Professor Clark travels to Paris. He discusses why Raymond Poincare, the French President, and the Russians under Tsar Nicholas II, extended the remit of their alliance, to cover the eventuality of a ‘war of choice’ in which Russia would attack Austria-Hungary on behalf of a Balkan client state.

St Petersburg and Paris thus created a geopolitical tripwire that made a general war highly likely if a quarrel were to break out between Austria and its turbulent neighbour – an extremely dangerous thing to do in Europe in 1914.

Episode 5: LONDON: At the centre of the events in London was the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. Of all the politicians who walked the European political stage in 1914, he was the most baffling. Professor Clark shows how the last-minute British decision to enter the war on the side of France and Russia, and to declare war on Germany, was a decision of world-historical import that transformed a local conflict into a global struggle.

No good me sitting here in my belovéd stuga in the forest slowly shaking my head at the stupidity of decisions that lead to WWI. No matter how many times I have read this brew-up it never fails to leave me feeling anything but desolate. I think Prof Clark has giving the ultimate documentation: the version that is the Platonic Ideal, if you will. It is accessible and erudite.

5* The Guns of August
5* Three Emperors
3* July Crisis
5* The Sleepwalkers

EXTRA EXTRA: Film clips from the Month of Madness

The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

bookshelves: biography, nonfiction, history, autumn-2012, tbr-busting-2012, fraudio, gambling, georgian1714-1830, filthy-lucre, lifestyles-deathstyles, published-1988, debut, politics, recreational-drugs

Read from September 16 to 19, 2012

 

British Aristocracy – 18th C. Unabridged.

From wiki: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (née Spencer) 7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806 was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, the 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. She is an ancestor (via her illegitimate daughter Eliza Courtney) of Sarah, Duchess of York. She is also related to Diana, Princess of Wales, who was her great-great-grandniece.

What a shame that Diana hadn’t studied her family history then she may not have mirrored the unloved brood mare profile, having to share her husband in a three-way marriage.

Lots of fun moments à la ‘the past is a foreign country’: she was so calmed by being bled that she slept peaceably all night, however the authorial whitewashing of destructive behaviours and coaxing us to sympathise, renders this otherwise brilliant biography, flawed.

Great debut.

********

Yeehaw! There is a 2008 film to look out for:

Keira Knightley … Georgiana
Ralph Fiennes … The Duke
Charlotte Rampling … Lady Spencer
Dominic Cooper … Charles Grey
Hayley Atwell … Bess Foster
Simon McBurney … Charles Fox
Aidan McArdle … Richard Sheridan
John Shrapnel … General Grey
Alistair Petrie … Heaton
Patrick Godfrey … Dr. Neville

 
Althorp’s entrance front in the 1820s. The appearance of the house from this angle is almost unaltered today.
 
The Three Witches from Shakespeares Macbeth by Daniel Gardner, 1775: Lady Melbourne with the Duchess of Devonshire and Anne Damer”
 
It was perfectly legal for a man to beat his wife so long as the stick was no wider than his thumb
 
To the rescue.”