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This is an astonishingly good book: wonderfully written, craftily crafted and beautifully brutal. Firstly, that whole interwar period of the 1920's and 30's (especially in Germany) has always been a bit of a black hole for me, as history lessons in school were dominated by the World Wars, but here Ben Elton brings the Weimar Republic to life, with its extremes of poverty, decadence, violence and jazz. Secondly, it's also always been incomprehensible to me how the German public allowed the 'Final Solution' to actually happen, but as Ben Elton beautifully lays out here, it was a long, gradual, poisoning process that the nascent Nazi party put at the heart of its insane manifesto, and they took their time: small, ‘reasonable’ steps - all for the good of the nation - to bring it to its horrific conclusion. So the historical setting of the story had me from the very start, and so did the characters.
The family at the centre of the novel are wonderfully real (and having the twins being born on the same day as the Nazi party was officially formed was a genius touch). The cast of characters in the book range across the spectrum of classes in society yet everyone is drawn naturally and believably; they’re mostly people just caught up in the gale of the world, getting by as best as they can - none more so than the 4 children whose story we follow most closely. And the city too is used to reflect the changes each new era brings about: it brightens and comes to life in the boom years, then ages and darkens as Hitler’s spells wear off.
The plot is perfectly structured; it gives hints of things to come, while at the same time teasing you with false trails and dead-ends; this was that rare book that made me literally laugh out loud and cry in public (especially embarrassing as I’m a postie, and was listening to this on audiobook …).
So, overall, an incredible book - and beautifully narrated too - that’s going to stay with me for many years to come - thoroughly recommended!
21 of 21 people found this review helpful
I would of loved to hear Ben Elton read the book as he has done with prevues titles, although, it is well read.
As for the book itself, impossible to hit the pause button on. I was up late, sneaking chapters in at work and generally looking for any excuse to plug in my headphones and be transported into the gripping lives of these wonderful characters that I have fallen in love with. I have not been so fully absorbed by a book for a long time. A fantastic experience, one I did not want to end and highly recommended.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I certainly would. I'd say that Elton is in no sense a 'literary' artist but to get an idea of what it was like to be a Berlin Jew as the Nazis tightened the vice you could hardly do better than this.
What did you like best about this story?
It's absolutely gripping. I'm a historian and well acquainted with the period in Europe 1920-1940, and I've read many books about the rise of Fascism and the Holocaust. However, even the best historian has to deal in generalities. A good novelist/storyteller like Elton gives you the reality like what it really meant to be forced to lick the pavement by a gang of psychopathic SA thugs. There are many such moments in this book. Some of it reminded me of '1984' though in this case everything is factual & horribly realistic, made worse by Elton's gift for black humour, which he gives especially to Wolfgang. The book is very long but I didn't want it to end and I rationed my listening.
Have you listened to any of Jot Davies’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
No, but he was perfect for the job. All the characters were perfectly distinguishable and well-realised.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Many such moments, but I admired the way Elton conveys the very common response of the Jews of Berlin that they simply couldn't believe that the plan of the Nazis was genocide from the start. Inevitably I reflected frequently how I would have reacted.
Any additional comments?
I found the 'love' scenes between Dagmar and the brothers a bit tiresome and the analysis of their feelings for the 'Jewish princess' repetitive. Actually some quite unnecessary repetition is a weakness of Elton's style. Occasionally the plot strains the reader's credulity (eg when Otto arrives at the burning house just as Dagmar is pushing up the window to escape) but this is not often.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I fell in love with the characters and really enjoyed the narrators performance of each of them. The story moves fast and is compelling. It tugs at your heart strings and is full of unexpected twists and turns.