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The German Guard

I am as many know obsessed with History and the World Wars are especially close to my heart, because, well simply because I do not understand how men and women could have been so cruel to their own kind and secondly, most importantly, I am sometimes scared, that we as a species never learn from our mistakes and we are going down the same path! This urge to read up on the subjects leads me down to various paths of Fiction and Non Fiction and sometimes, I find myself with a book, I would not usually venture to read, had it not been set on this premises so close to my heart!

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink is one such novel. I have not seen the film, but I have heard rave reviews about both the novel and the film and both were highly recommended by many people whose opinion I respect. However I could not quite bring myself to read this one; the idea of sexual relations between a 15 and 36 year old, somehow seemed to have hints of pedophilia and even my broad, live and let live philosophy had trouble digesting! So I waited and procrastinated and then one Sunday afternoon, I found myself at lose ends, challenging myself to do something different and suddenly The Reader found me!

Set in the early years post World War II Germany, The Reader, traces the lives of Michael Berg, a lawyer and Hannah Schmitz, a former guard at Auschwitz. Micheal first meets Hannah, a streetcar conductor, when he is 15 and falls ill, near her house and she assists him with aid, before sending him back home. Once recovered, he goes to thank Hannah and they begin a relationship. One key aspect of the relationship is that Hannah expects Micheal to read to her, every time he visits. One day however, Hannah abruptly leaves town and Micheal is left with the guilt that it was his conduct that drove Hannah away! After a gap of several years, while attending a seminar that follows the trial of some of the former Nazi guards and soldiers, Michael meets Hannah again, only this time she is one of the accused, held responsible for the death of many Jewish woman and children, who died in a church fire where they were being held captive under the supervision of Hannah and several other women guards, when an allies bomb stuck the church trapping the women and children in a horrific fire, killing all most everyone. As the trial progresses, Micheal realizes that the evidence is circumstantial and a good lawyer, would have disposed off the whole thing in a couple of days. However, Hannah seemed to willfully volunteer information, that held her, more of the accused guards responsible for the death of those women and children and agree on matters that may not be wholly true. As the trial progresses, Micheal wonders about Hannah’s behavior and action, until stumbling on the secret that holds key to Hannah’s action and in protecting that secret, Hannah accepts all that is thrown her way, leading to unintended consequences!

Like I said, I was not comfortable with the premises of the book, because of which I held of on reading it for a long time. There is no denying that there is streak of eroticism that is there in the book, but as I rushed through its pages, I realized it so much more than that! The guilt of the war of the post war generation of Germans, comes searing through the pages, as Michael speaks for a whole generation, that could not believe that their parents were capable of the kind of brutality that Nazi Germany unleashed. Their struggle to ‘love and respect” the elders comes clashing with the historic reality of their elders and the struggle to somehow make peace or distance themselves from that past is heartbreaking! The burden of this generation with what to condemn and who to condemn and how to make sense of it all, is tragically and beautifully described by the author, capturing the pain, the guilt, the confusion and raging anger!Hannah’s secret that symbolizes the German population during the Nazi rule, is at the very heart of the book, that questions on how the common man could turn away from what was truly an abhorrence in the name of mankind and live to exist with it everyday! This sheer negligence of moral responsibility and how that generation tackled this, forms the very essence of this novel. Sensitively written, in some of the most heart rending prose, the book offers no apology for the Nazi Germany, but rather a bewilderment of how a nation and its people can go so wrong and its consequences that echo on the future generation. With a deep understanding of his country and the people, Schlink, wrote on what can only be called a masterpiece that makes us question our sense of morality and the option of “no alternative” that hides behind it the complete and utter failure of moral courage!

I did not love this book, but I was touched by it. It remained with me for a long time and I needed to distance myself from its overwhelming difficult questions, to write an objective review. It is not an easy read; I do not mean in terms of word count, but in terms of message it brings. But it fulfills the most important criterion of a novel, the ability to make the reader hold up a mirror to his or her face and question the most important principles of life! It is a book that needs to be read, if for no other reason, than simply because we need ensure that we do not commit the same mistakes as our predecessors!

The First Time of Everything – Top 10 Tuesday

I started this post on a Wednesday and then work came and intervened like never before and suddenly the next Tuesday is upon us! But we must finish what we started, so here goes neverthless….

I never ever do Tuesday Top  (hosted by The Broke and Bookish) simply because a. Its already Wednesday in my part of the geography and b. Tuesday and Wednesday’s are killer days at work! But I do love the lovely ideas our host always comes up with and keenly follow the Top 10 responses that my usual comrades in arms post – Cleo, O, Brona, Ruth and Helen. I love comparing their responses with mine and just in general chatting about books and more! I know this week was a throwback freebee, and I loved going down the nostalgia path of all my fellow blogging friends. But I really really loved the Spin that Helen put on it – of recounting top 10 books from her first year of blogging. Now this was a nostalgia trip, I simply could not pass up!  And though in 2012, I was still figuring out the nature of my blog because of which I only blogged about a few books, I added my own spin and added some books I read and loved that year but did not blog!

  1. Three Comrade by Erich Maria Remarque – Now what has become one of my all time favourites, this book was procured after much fanfare from my roomate and a lot of difficult logistics, since it was a copy was not available locally. However all the trouble was worth it as I followed the joys and tragedies of three young men in a country gone crazy on eve of World War II
  2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell and her brilliance in 2012. I always knew she was someone I should read but my first attempt of North and South had left me unhappy. So the last minute rush before the library closure and a hurried decision to pick this book turned out to be a life changer. As we travel around Cranford with Ms. Gaskel and the denizens of this town, we discover joy, laughter and just rollicking fun. The book turned me into a devotee and I would go on too read North and South and many other books by Ms. Gaskell with much love and absolute wonder!
  3. London by Edward Rutherford – I love historical fiction but there are not too many authors who can keep your attention over a 1000 pages as you wander over the initial beginnings of London to modern day World War II setting, following the lives and fortunes of 4 family. Edward Rutherford managed to this and more, he managed to create brilliant novellas connection the past and the future with a page turning plot line and minute attention to detail. One of my all time go-to books!
  4. The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye – Yup! This was the first time I posted about this novel and since then I have not slowed down, rounding it off with a Read Along his year! Let’s just say I and this tale of Mutiny and loyalty in 1857 India have come a long way!
  5. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thorton Wilder – This was another one of those; I began with hesitation and ended of falling in love with the time defying wisdom of this simple tale set in 18th century Peru where a bridge collapses and the narrator helps us look deeper into the lives of those who died in the accident and discern the subtle from the obvious!!
  6. The Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay – Poetry, ballad and an ethereal love story of a trust that went wrong, this lyrical book set in Stalin ruled USSR brought about the harsh realities of a toleterian state and the most beautiful prose ever to describe a land of innumerable secrets and beauty!
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – There has been so much that has been written and said about this book that I cannot write or add any more praise to this book! All I can say, what a wonderful lovely read!
  8. The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Yet another story set in Stalinist Russia, a modern cult classic that was denied publication when originally written. Part allegory, part love story, one of the most captivating and ingenuous piece fiction that I have ever read!
  9. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling  – Ms. Rowling showed us again the imagination and versatility can even make a plot based on the mundane sounding town council election a gripping, hard hitting and a humanitarian tale!
  10. Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman – Bunch of kids out to save the world, with a support of a demon who went good and a somewhat eccentric angel, in a battle of Good vs. Evil – what is there NOT to like???!!!

When I look back on my 31st Dec post of the best books I have read through that year of 2012, I see that so many books endured in my memory, translating to many re-reads and yet so many faded away! That’s time and that’s nostalgia for you!

And In September….

September is here, which means, October and by that extension, Fall is around the corner and atleast for next couple of months, Winter, lovely Winter is in season!! Yay!! Another Summer gone and another year is coming round! Time does fly , but I honestly cannot say that I want to go back to January 2017 and would much rather move to December 2017! But there are still some months to go and some more books to read!

As I have repeated time and time again, this is has been an overworked year where work pressure and studying for a certain certification has taken away a number of reading hours from me and therefore once again my reading plans are limited and I am leaving options to read basis my mood and level of tiredness, to make some real time reading plans. Having said that there are some books, that I am already in the middle of or read alongs that need to be completed and at the very least those, I can list down to make some sort of sketchy plans!

To begin with, there is the marvelous The Pickwick Paper Read Along hosted by O, heading for its conclusion soon! When I had first read this wonderful novel by Charles Dickens, I had not liked it much; but this re-read, maybe because of the timing or whatever, I really really loved and now look forward to the last few chapters! I also continue with Yasmin Khan’s The Raj at Work  – A People’s History of India’s Second World War. Just to make things a bit more interesting, I have decided to pair it with The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara. I also recently stated reading the much appreciated and  applauded history of mankind, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and am finding it a very interesting read,with some very interesting and unique hypothesis. Finally, Jane as usual got me interested in some little known works and I have downloaded Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye Smith and The Rector by the brilliant Margaret Oliphant. That is all I have mapped out as reading plans for the month.

This is the month of many Hindu festivals, so I am hoping for a little more of time off and a little more reading progress than what the previous months have shown, but knowing how things go, I am keeping this optimistic prognosis as a prognosis and we will see how things pan out as they pan out. I the meanwhile, I leave you with some shots of monsoon in India, specifically, of the grey skies and the blue black ocean, along the western coast of India, where I spent glorious, 10 days road tripping through last week!

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