Category Archives: Books

Berlin Finale

This week, Simon from Maida Vale is reviewing Berlin Finale by Heinz Rein.  The book is part of the genre of “rubble literature”, stories of soldiers and home-front survivors trying to pick up their lives again in the rubble of a destroyed Berlin.  Over to Simon…

I recently read Berlin Finale by Heinz Rein. It covers the last two weeks of the second world war in Berlin as the red army closes in on the city. I believe that the writer, Heinz Rein was a resident of the city at the time so the book is a fictional account of the horrors he would have experienced at first hand. The focus is on the resistance movement in the city, such as it was. It starts with the character of Lassehn who enters the bar belonging to Klose.

Lassehn has deserted the army disgusted with the way the war is going and the behaviour of the Nazis. He is taken in and sheltered by the owner of the bar, Klose, who gradually introduces him to other Berliners opposed to the Nazi regime. Lassehn had been married to a young woman he had met on leave two years before, so he attempts a reconciliation with her.

The book is very evocative of the nightmare of total war and the end of the world environment of the bombed out and hostile city which is being targeted night and day by the British and American air forces. The writer gradually introduces more and more characters as the novel progresses who typify the various degrees of political thought from the anti Hitler characters who desperately want the war to end  soon and the Russians to defeat the Nazis, to the most virulent hate filled Nazi fanatics who are still loyal to a doomed and despicable ideology.

The story is interspersed with some of the ridiculous articles from government endorsed newspapers and proclamations from the Nazi hierarchy like Goebbels and Robert Ley, which paint a totally absurd story of the certainty of a last minute victory by the use of mythical wonder weapons or the arrival of non-existent relief armies.

As we know the city was “liberated” by soviet troops by the beginning of May 1945. At the time the book was written there was no inkling of the division and misery the city had to endure for the next 44 years.

Having recently visited the city of Berlin it added another layer of interest in visualising the scenes described, and indeed the city still bears the scars of the events of 75 years ago.

I believe this book has been relatively unknown and may have only been published in the English translation in 2019 as it says in the publication details, but unfortunately there is no forward about the author or publication story. At 661 pages it is an epic story but one which I found easy to read and it is a real page turner. The writer is excellent in describing characters and their motivation and brief history in a relatively economic way and I think with a greater audience it will be hailed as a classic of literature and I urge you to read it.

I think it was ordered by Nada at Maida Vale Library for our collection of classic European literature. Good choice Nada!

Berlin Finale is available to borrow in our libraries.  You just need your Westminster membership card, or if you are borrowing online, just your membership number.  If you are not a member, it’s super easy to join over here.

 

Recommended Reads

Our Book of the Week this week is A House Through Time by David Olusoga and Melanie Backe, which looks at British history through the lens of our homes. We have put together a list of similar non-fiction titles for you to look through and enjoy. Happy reading!

 

black and british book coverBlack and British, by David Olusoga

Published to accompany Olusoga’s BBC 2 series of the same name, Black and British calls for a re-examination of our nation’s history. Olusoga’s work illustrates how Black British history is all around us and has been for thousands of years. From Roman nobility, to medieval courtiers, to modern day street names, black and white Britons’ intertwined past is laid bare for all to read.

 

the anarchy book coverThe Anarchy, by William Dalrymple

In his in-depth examination of the East India Company, Dalrymple charts the transformation of the organisation from multinational trade company to aggressive colonial army. Within 40 years of its inception, the Company had amassed a security force of over 200 000 men, using them to subjugate the entirety of India by 1803. The Anarchy reveals the horrific exploits of the first global corporate power for a chilling account of Victorian colonialism.

 

love in the blitz book coverLove in the Blitz, by  Eileen Alexander

Told in letters, Love in the Blitz illustrates the lives of a couple, Eileen and Gershon, torn apart by war. Although Gershon’s letters have been lost to history, Eileen’s remain as a testament to their love. These letters are an incredibly intimate portrayal of life in London during WW2, particularly as they so eloquently illustrate the lives of women living and working during the Blitz. This is a must-read for any fan of wartime history, providing an inside perspective into the realities of living and loving through war.

in the land of men book cover

In the Land of Men, by Adrienne Miller

This fiercely personal memoir is Miller’s account of coming of age as a woman writer in the journalism industry. Miller was hired as an editorial assistant in her early twenties at GQ, dealing with misogyny and the unquestioned authority of powerful male egos on a daily basis. Miller’s book charts her journey to the top of her industry, making it an empowering read for any woman wanting to push the boundaries of her glass ceiling.

 

Some of these books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is a Westminster library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources. 

Recommended Reads

This week’s Book of the Week is The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was born on the 21st July 1899, this week marking his 121st birthday. We have put together a list of similar titles for you to look through and enjoy.

 

life of pi pic

 

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

The Patel family have decided to sell their zoo in India and sail to Canada with a few remaining animals. Suddenly, tragedy strikes in the form of a horrendous storm, leaving the Patel’s son Pi as the sole human survivor. However, Pi is not alone in the ocean; a fearsome Bengal tiger has also survived the storm. The pair must learn to trust one another over the coming months if they are to last their voyage.

 

the great gatsby book cover

 

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s most famous work, The Great Gatsby, has been heralded as a modern American classic. When young and impressionable Nick moves in next door to extravagant millionaire Gatsby, he is drawn into a series of events leading to catastrophic consequences. Gatsby spares no expense in his attempts to win over childhood love Daisy, now married to old-money brute Tom Buchanan, and Nick can only bear witness to his friend’s downfall.

 

the alchemist book pic

 

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Originally written in Portuguese, The Alchemist has become an international bestseller. It is an allegorical novel, following the life of an Andalusian shepherd named Santiago who dreams of finding treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. Believing his dream to be prophetic, Santiago journeys to Egypt to seek his fortune. There, he experiences love, loss, and adventure in a powerful and moving tale.

 

if beale street could talk book pic

 

If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin

Set in Harlem in the 1970’s, Baldwin’s classic is a love story following the lives of Fonny, a sculptor, and Tish, the book’s narrator. When Fonny is falsely accused of rape, Tish, 19 and pregnant, must help their families win justice for her lover. Past and present mingle to form a passionate and powerful novel, widely regarded as an essential read for our time.

Some of these books are available to download from our cloudLibrary here.  All you need is a Westminster library card and if you are not a member, don’t worry,  just click here – it’s completely free to join and use our resources. 

Books we love

For a different view this week we have reviews from the readers taking part in the St John’s Wood Library Book Club.  Two members have reviewed The Long Song by Andrea Levy, which was a  finalist for the Booker Prize in 2010 and has since been made into a BBC TV series.

“Set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed, this novel follows the life of July, a slave girl, who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity.”

This is a summary of answers given by Louise to the reading group questions:

“An excellent book in general, but I must say that I did not like the structure at all. She tries to make it similar to the oral tradition (as she says) but it does not work  on the page “Dear Reader” sounds very clumsy and I found it very irritating.   The book is about people and history, particularly about people. The history is lightly treated.   She has given the slaves a voice which can be heard, and certainly a tribute to their resilience.

She evokes scene and atmosphere with all the details she provides. The horrible details of the manure sliding down the face and into the eyes and nostrils from the basket as it is being carried in for instance.Her life with Thomas provides a good counterpoint to her life on the plantation. Her version of events is shown to be faulty at the end of the book, where she makes a different narrative at the time.

Robert Goodwin is still a bit of an enigma to me. A “good” white man who is swayed by his father and the power of the church, but in fact I think the second half of the book is rather rushed and his character not explored fully.

I thought the humour was good and was pleased and surprised by it.”

Farangis says:

“I did manage to finish the “Long Song” and really, really liked it, even though I found the beginning a bit puzzling and difficult to understand. I did quite a lot of reading afterwards and eventually got the gist of what was going on. I even researched to see if it was based on a true story, and no, it is not. All characters invented!

However, reading further about the writer, I still think there is a hint of it being based on someone’s ancestral experience. Whether or not, I still loved it and was truly touched.”

 

Books we love

As Rachel travels on the same commuter train each morning and passes the her old house, now lived in by her ex-husband, his new wife and their baby.  As Rachel struggles to accept the loss of her previous life, she looks on into the lives of others as the train makes its way into the city.  The one day she witnesses a shocking scene brings the lives of the three women in the story together.  A multi-national best-seller and major film, The Girl on the Train is a page turning thriller.  Her is Rachel from Mayfair Library with her review.

If you are looking for an escape from the present situation, you may find “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins does the job. Many of you will, of course, already have read this thriller as it was a global bestseller but, for those who haven’t, I’m sure you will find this to be an easy and interesting read.   I found it to be imaginative, gripping and enjoyable.  I really liked this novel as it was light enough for me to read wherever I found myself – in the garden, in the lounge or even on a train!  At the same time, I found it to be a true page turner.

Rachel, Mayfair Library

The Girl on the Train is available to download online here.  All you need to download the app is your Westminster library card number.  Not a member?  No problem.  Membership is free and can be done online here.