A Village in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd & Angelika Patel

Not my usual sort of read, but I’ve joined an online library, and to be honest, I don’t read nearly enough history, so I thought this was worth a shot. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are A LOT of books about the war, and quite a few of them examine the Germany during the conflict. (You’re probably familiar with the saying: The first country the Nazis invaded was Germany).

I made it to the end (even read the endnotes), which I rarely manage with historical non-fiction, which made me wonder what set it apart from similar books that I struggled to finish. Two things spring to mind:

  1. The people. Rather than looking at Germany as a whole, or the Nazis in particular, the writer has focussed on a small number of ordinary folk from very diverse backgrounds, going into great detail on how individuals coped with the country’s rapid slide into fascism, the impending war, the defeat, and the aftermath. The villagers were an eclectic mix of die-hard Nazis, persecuted Jews, nuns, heroic mountaineers (drafted into the German army’s elite Mountain Division), and members of the National Socialist Party who did their best to save the Jews living in the village.
  2. The Location. The village in question (Obersterdorf) is located in the mountainous southern region of the country (Bavaria). It’s extremely cold, remote, and breeds the kind of folk who are tough, self-reliant, and loyal. Being so far away from the country’s main population centres meant that it was difficult for the Nazis to know whether their laws were being obeyed or not. Even the mayor was applying a fairly soft version of Nazi doctrine.

The book was a fascinating read, and though it was very firm in its criticism of the Nazis (quite right too), I think it was also sympathetic to the party members whose loyalty lay with their fellow villagers.

Through recorded anecdotes, diary entries, and newspaper articles, the authors covered the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, through to the outbreak of war, and the eventual fall of Germany. By focussing on the stories of individuals and families, the book provides a surprisingly intimate, non-judgmental view of how the times affected the average citizen.

Unsurprisingly, A Village in the Third Reich is a lesson in how fascism can rapidly become the norm without the vigilance of ordinary people. Case in point: here’s a review snippet from taken from the book’s opening:

Contains many amazing anecdotes . . . It warns us that we, with our all-seeing hindsight, might ourselves have been fooled or beguiled or inclined to make excuses, had we been there at the time. I can thoroughly recommend it as a contribution to knowledge and an absorbing and stimulating book in itself.

Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

Bit of a strange flex for the Mail on Sunday.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

The word “curmudgeonly” was invented for Ove, the central character in this extraordinary comedy set in Sweden.

A Man Called Ove

Following the death of his wife, Ove decides to end his life. Unfortunately, everyone else’s life seems to get in the way. One person of his neighbours is pregnant and has a husband who is a little useless; another neighbour has a husband who suffers from dementia; and then there’s the neighbour with the annoying dog. Ove hates all of them, and people who drive BMWs.

So what changes him? Well that’s what the story is about. Ove’s life is detailed through flashbacks which are conveniently kept as separate chapters from the present. A simple trick that makes the whole story easy to follow. Likewise, the prose is simple, straightforward and very funny. And I do mean funny; I found myself laughing out loud at pretty much every page. The characters were well drawn and consistent, occasionally unpredictable, but not in a bad way. Sometimes, people surprise us.

Ove is funny and heartbreaking. A brilliantly exploration of life and loss. Definitely worth a read before the Tom Hanks movie lands.

Manorism by Yomi Ṣode

Yup, poetry …

I don’t read a lot of it, and the little I do read, I understand about thirty per cent of it.

So, I opened an early Christmas present, discarded the note that said, “Yeah, I know, poetry. Just bloody read it, will you?”

And I read it …

And thought, Ah, okay … poetry.

Continue reading “Manorism by Yomi Ṣode”
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