Hello all. I hope my June post finds you well. I am writing this in my bedroom which is hotter and muggier than the sun. I am also sipping raspberry leaf tea in the hope that it might kick start labour. Naughtily, I am eating a packet of haribo that I stole from my daughter’s party bag. I should feel guilty but I don’t. I just feel sweaty and cumbersome.
Reading wise things have changed this month. No longer do I have two books on the go. Two books definitely worked better when I was commuting into work and sitting in the dressing room. Two out of three books this month have been MASSIVE. I usually avoid huge books for fear of reading boredom. Just by chance all three books have been set in the 1930s and onwards.
- Out of the Hitler Time by Judith Kerr. 3.5-4⭐️.
- Judith Kerr born 14th June 1923.
Anna was a German child when she had to flee from the Nazis before the War. By the time the bombs began to fall she was a stateless adolescent in London, and after it was all over she became a happily married Englishwoman who had put the past behind her – or so she thought.
In Judith Kerr’s internationally acclaimed trilogy When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away, we see the world through Anna’s eyes as she grows up – from her much loved family to Hitler’s Holocaust.
The death of Judith Kerr on 22nd May last month was so sad. Her books are utterly beloved. I remember reading Mog and The Tiger Who Came to Tea as a child and I now read them to my own children. I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit when I was a teenager and really enjoyed it but I had no idea it was semi-autobiographical or indeed that it was the first book in a trilogy. I am not someone who tends to read a series in one fell swoop. I tend to get distracted by what else is out there. However, this is a trilogy that I believe really benefits from reading in one go. My only concern would be that for me, as an adult the books became progressively more interesting but I think as a teenage reader, the opposite would be true.
Pink Rabbit was much as I remembered it. The Kerr family fled Germany in 1933, just as Hitler became Chancellor. Anna (Judith’s) father was a theatre critic and author. He was known as a controversial writer and a man who wasn’t scared to say what he thought. As a result he was wanted by the Nazis. The family escaped across the border to Switzerland, then later to Paris and ended up in London.
Kerr writes of her parents:
Their lives were destroyed. My brother and I agreed that the childhood we had was infinitely better than the childhood we would have had if Hitler had never happened and we’d stayed in Germany. We loved the change, the interest of different places and learning a language.
Whilst reading Pink Rabbit I was struck by how resilient Anne and her brother Max were. This was was undoubtedly due to their parents:
“But it won’t be the same – we won’t belong. Do you think we’ll ever really belong anywhere?”
“I suppose not,” said Papa. “Not the way people belong who have lived in one place all their lives. But we’ll belong a little in lots of places, and I think that may be just as good.”
As a parent myself, I can only imagine the fear that Alfred and Julia went through….trying to protect their children whilst at the same time trying to give them as normal a childhood as possible. Indeed, in the novel, Anne says that as long as they are together, then they don’t really feel like refugees.
The middle book, The Other Way Round, is also aimed at teenagers but I think has more appeal for adults. Anna is now 16 and the Kerrs live in London. The book chronicles the Blitz, Max at university, Anna having a job, joining art classes and falling in love. Alfred and Julia are living in a hotel in London with other refugees. Although, now safe from the Nazis, the impact of their refugee status cannot be denied. Thanks to their language skills, Anna and Max are able to transition to London life relatively easily. Alfred’s lack of English leaves him unable to work so Julia is the sole earner, earning almost too little to live off. I was struck that because of the effects of the war, the older generation were still just ‘surviving’ whereas life for the younger people kept on going. The exhaustion of the previous years, keeping the family safe, losing loved ones, causes a divide between the younger and older citizens and that is something I had never really thought about:
Many weeks later she heard that Mrs James had become too ill to work and her scheme had been taken over by a charitable organisation.
“What made her suddenly break down after all this time?” Wondered Anna.
“Four years of war,” said Mrs Hammond. “And the news being better.”
When Anna looked at her without understanding she said impatiently, “The thought of peace – when there’s no longer any point.”
The above quote really made me think. While there were obviously many who rejoiced in the ending of the war, I had never thought about how bleak life was for those who had been so damaged by war that life no longer had any meaning. I guess the prevalent word is ‘hope.’ Younger people like Max and Anna has hope for a brighter future – marriage, children, lifestyles etc. For people like their parents, life would continue to be a battle to survive.
“You remember,” he said, “what you used to say in Paris? That as long as you were with Mama and Papa you wouldn’t feel like a refugee?”
“Well, now I suppose it’s the other way round.”
“How, the other way round?”
Max sighed. “Nowadays,” he said, “I think that the only time they don’t feel like refugees is when they’re with us.”
I think I found the last book A Small Person Far Away the most moving and I’m sad to say that I lost a bit of patience with Anna during reading. Alfred died in 1948. He had a stroke and his wife helped him to commit suicide. In this last book, Anna returns to Germany to look after her mother in hospital who has also tried to take her own life. Anna spends the majority of the book wanting to return to London to be with her husband rather than wanting to look after her mum. I found this really difficult and very frustrating. Julia’s fragility after all she has gone through is very sad. I guess humans can only fight for so long before they are just so exhausted. Julia fought to keep her children safe but as they grew up and needed her less she felt redundant. I can only imagine how exhausted she must have felt:
I’ve made enough new starts. I’ve made enough decisions. I don’t want to make anymore.
I loved all three of these books but my lasting thought was not for Anna and her brother. Naively , when you think of the war ending you think of scenes of happiness and celebration. Of relief and new opportunities. I am ashamed to admit that I have never really thought about those whose lives were so damaged by war, that there was nothing left to live for.
Although the first book is aimed at teenagers, the last two definitely mean more to me as an adult and parent. Definitely worth a read.
- The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell. 4⭐️.
- Nancy Mitford died 30th June 1973.
Even if the six daughters, born between 1904 and 1920, of the charming, eccentric David, Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney has been quite ordinary women, the span of their lives – encompassing the most traumatic century in Britain’s history – and the status to which they were born, would have made their story a fascinating one. But Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo, ‘the mad, mad Mitfords’, were far from ordinary.
“I am normal, my wife is normal, but my daughters are each more foolish than the other.” Lord Redesale, father of the Mitford girls.
Each month I am now trying to read a non fiction. If it manages to tie in with my slightly OCD idea of reading authors who were born or died the month we are in then so much the better. This one does. Nancy Mitford died 30th June 1973.
It was my mum who first peaked my interest in the Mitford girls. She received the hardback of this book a few years ago and I remember her telling me about Unity’s infatuation with Hitler. Now as a soon to be mum of 3 girls, anything about mad, interesting, female heavy families peaks my interest. This book has it all. On Goodreads it’s subtitle is Thr Saga of the Mitford Family. This is definitely a saga and reads almost like the plot to a soap opera set during one of the most interesting times in UK history. We have fascism, communism, suicide, fertility, infertility, illness (due to the fact that Mama Mitford was utterly against vaccinating her kids).
Ultimately, I found this quite a sad book. Although the Mitfords had happy times, by the end of the book, there were so many estranged relationships that it was hard to keep up. On our journey back from Cornwall this month, my husband and I listened to Diana Mosley’s Desert Island Discs. This was broadcast in 1989. My husband who knew nothing about the Mitford’s was utterly appalled by Diana: her denial of how many were killed in the Holocaust and her fascination and respect for Hitler. Even 40 years after the war, she was still unable to grasp the sheer horrors of those who suffered at the hands of the fascist regime.
My husband is currently a little worried about his house full of girls so this is one I’m not going to let him read! It’s a saga and a half and well if you love a complicated family, this is definitely one for you.
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Apologies to New Yorkers but we appear to have lost the top of the Chrysler Building. 😱😱😱😱😱😱Rules of Civility by Amor Towles was our book club pick. Expectations were pretty high. Reviews have always been amazing and I was really looking forward to reading it. But…………..🧐🧐I am sure this will make me pretty unpopular but it left me a little cold. I just felt a little, well, meh. 😕. I didn’t really warm to any of the characters and the plot was a little lacklustre. Maybe it just wasn’t plot driven or character driven enough for me. It was an almost read for me….the characters and plot were almost interesting enough but not quite. I just didn’t really care!!!
The writing was beautiful and flowed really well. The lack of speech marks did begin to bother me after a while. Call me a stickler for grammatical convention but I like a speech mark. “I like the fact that they are used to add commentary to conversation,” Ella complained. Complained is an important word here. Without this word it’s up to you, the reader to decide how I said it. You might make the wrong choice and think I said it jokingly. !?!? My point is do you lose an idea of the character without?? Is this why I didn’t really feel for any of the characters?? Did I interpret the conversations wrongly? In hindsight, I don’t think so but it did get me thinking. Also, for me, lack of speech marks makes conversation flow much quicker….too quickly I think, which then results in me skimming.
I feel doubly disappointed because having listened to a lot of podcasts about the book, Amor Towles sounds like the most lovely man. He even writes at the back of my copy that if your book club meets near his house, he will try to come along!! ❤️I am sorry to have failed you Mr Towles it’s obviously not you, it’s me.
As always, thank you for reading. Really looking forward to July….tons of good authors.