This month I haven't managed to read as much as I'd have liked, but I managed to read two very interesting novels about the Second World War.
Now I've tended to avoid novels about this war because it always reminds me about the thesis I'm writing. Interrupting supposed leisure time with thoughts of work in other words ;) I always go on about my thesis but I'm not sure I've ever properly explained. Essentially I am researching the representation of the German military during the Second World War within post-war novels and films. I am comparing those produced in East Germany with those produced in West Germany in the 1950s, and I'm looking at it from a gender studies perspective - how these texts renegotiate masculinities, femininities, gender roles and relations in the shadow of the Nazi years, defeat and occupation. I've found it absolutely fascinating and loved it (mostly) :)
But anyway I digress.
This month I read 'Two Brothers' by Ben Elton and 'Interrogating Ellie' by Julian Gray. Both of these books are based on the authors' family members' experiences of the war, in Germany and Austria respectively, which I found really interesting. This was more immediately obvious in 'Interrogating Ellie' which was written in a more factual style, and Gray makes it clear from the start. Elton reveals all in a section at the end of his novel.
Two Brothers is about the fate of two twins. Otto and Paulus Stengl live in Berlin with their Jewish parents, Frieda and Wolfgang. Frieda is a doctor and Wolfgang a Jazz musician. The novel starts with the birth of the boys, which is the same day as the foundation of the Nazi Party in Munich. When one of the twins Frieda is carrying is stillborn she adopts an orphaned newborn baby without hesitation in the hospital. The boys grow up side by side, not knowing they are not blood related, and it is only with the increasing persecution of the Jews and the introduction of the Nuremberg racial laws that their parents reveal the truth. The novel follows the experiences of the twins from birth, alongside the beautiful millionaire heiress Dagmar Fischer, who they are both in love with, and Silke Krause, their maid's daughter. We see the exciting Weimar Berlin replaced with the restrictive and terrifying National Socialist rule, and the impact on this family, transformed from Berlin citizens like any others to persecuted outcasts. I don't want to give anything away, but I loved it. It's very well researched and I liked all of the characters (except Dagmar, if you read it you'll understand). The novel received very mixed reviews, but I found it a real page turner - I couldn't put it down!
Interrogating Ellie is about a British woman who married an Austrian and experienced the war living in Austria. Written by Ellie's son, the novel is quite frankly fascinating. You follow Ellie's movements following the breakdown of her marriage and her subsequent experiences of wartime Austria, including the occupation of Vienna by Russian soldiers in 1945. This website explains a bit more about the novel, and gives some background information. I really enjoyed the novel, I don't know much about wartime Austria, for instance I had no idea it was the Russians who occupied Vienna. It's an easy read and provides a fascinating insight into the Anschluss of Austria and Germany in 1938 and the experiences of ordinary people during the subsequent wartime years.
As always I'm linking up with Laura at Circle of Pines, head over there to see what everyone else has been reading :)