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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Our novel selection for BERLIN

After reading Ben Elton's extraordinarily good novel "Two Brothers" set in Berlin we felt inspired to bring together several top reads which we feel will help understand how Berlin, over the course of the 20th century, came to be what it is today. The city has truly been at the heart of a roller coaster ride, experiencing 2 wars, mass destruction, terrible persecution of minorities, unrest, massive inflation, pomp and partition. And if you are about to visit the city, then these novels will echo with the footsteps of past generations: imagine what it was like walking under the Brandenburg Gate in the build-up to WW2, how full of life the decadent Berlin of the 20s was and how difficult it must have been for many folk living in the divided city until 1989. Enjoy our choices.

Two Brothers by Ben Elton - It is 1920 and this is the story of two boys who became brothers but who had different biological parents; and how the issue of birth in Germany came to mean so much in the build up to the Second World War. It is poignantly and realistically told, in modern parlance, which I thought would grate, but actually adds to the immediacy of the story. You can hear the footsteps on the streets of Berlin and feel the creep factor of oppression, torment and death. As a reader I felt I was there with the two brothers Ottsy and Paulus, and their Saturday gang made up of Silke and Dagmar. In tandem, as they grow up, the National Socialists are also growing - they were founded on the day of the birth of the boys, 24 Feburary 1920.

It is truly deserving of 5* for both atmosphere and story and setting; should I mention the two things that I thought weren't quite right? One was - a little bottle of olive oil was taken on a picnic at the Wannsee, and am not sure that would have been right for the period...I think olive oil was only used medicinally and not for culinary purposes in those days; and the other, attending a parade of the Freikorps at the Brandenburg Gate the parents, Wolfgang and Frieda have their little babies in a buggy. A commotion starts and Wolfgang commands that they remove the babies from the buggy for fear of being trampled underfoot, and raise the babies above their heads and run (nah, you wouldn't do that, you would cradle them to your chest to protect them). Forget my nit picking, though, it's a truly top read!
(Alexandrine Orff for TripFiction)

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin -  As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous double murder, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves.  There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self.

And our final choice to round off the the 20th century in this ever changing city is The Moment by Douglas Kennedy. Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine, in touch only with his daughter and still trying to recover from the end of a long marriage, his solitude is disrupted one wintry morning by the arrival of a box that is postmarked Berlin. The name on the box—Dussmann—unsettles him completely, for it belongs to the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin at a time when the city was cleaved in two and personal and political allegiances were frequently haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.

And our final suggestion to complement any trip to the German capital is the city-Lit Berlin guide, a compilation of authors who bring the city to life through words. Another wonderful way to soak up the atmosphere...
Brilliant … the best way to get under the skin of a city. The perfect read for travellers and book lovers of all ages’ Kate Mosse, best-selling author of Labyrinth

There are so many novels set in Berlin - please do share with us in the Comments Box the books that you feel really evoke the feel of city both past and present. And we feature plenty more novels set in Berlin here- if we don't feature your favourite novel, let us know. 

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