Sunday 25 June 2017

Novels about the Third Reich, Part II: Jessica Shattuck’s Women in the Castle

This review, originally appeared in Critics at Large, is reproduced on this site since a central theme of this novel is to what extent can people across that line of darkness and still retain their humanity.

Author Jessica Shattuck. (Photo: Grace Kwon)

Two pivotal scenes, spanning over sixty years, remain in the mind long after reading Jessica Shattuck’s character-driven, historically-informed (with excellent sources acknowledged at the back), and emotionally moving Women in the Castle (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2017). The first occurs in the prologue set in 1938 Germany, on the cusp of Kristallnacht, in a Bavarian castle during the von Lingenfels’ annual family party. Although some of the guests sport Nazi insignias, a number of others are assembled in the study of the host, Albrecht, plotting active resistance to Hitler’s zealotry – fearing that if things go wrong, their families will suffer. His wife, Marianne, interrupts and fully cognizant of Hitler’s madness and thuggery, challenges them to take action. When her charismatic childhood friend, Connie Fledermann, appoints her the “commander of wives and children,” she accepts.

Monday 12 June 2017

Novels about the Third Reich, Part One: Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue

This review, originally published in Critics at Large, is reproduced on this site because Kerr's novels on the Third Reich reinforce the themes I discussed in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, (Encompass Editions, 2013.)
Novelist Philip Kerr. (Photo: Alberto Estevez)

A new release of a Philip Kerr novel is always a welcome addition to an oeuvre of more than thirty books, including his highly-received Bernie Gunther novels. From the 1989 publication of March Violets to Prussian Blue (Marian Wood Books/Bantam, 2017), Kerr has now churned out twelve novels about the acerbic-tongued German detective who has led a checkered life from the trenches of World War One, then as a homicide Berlin cop working for Kripo (the criminal division of the German police), as a private detective, a reluctant member of the SS during World War II, a Soviet POW, to being a fugitive living under aliases in places such as Argentina and France. Throughout, Kerr’s historical research is impeccable enabling him to convey vividly the atmospherics of the times and delineate adroitly the historical actors. Because his focus is on character and hard-boiled Chandlerian dialogue – the cynical wise-cracking Gunther rarely abstains from verbal jousts with often powerful personalities – Kerr astutely avoids providing unnecessary expository information unless it is revealed through the characters and is vital to our understanding of the period.