Category Archives: Eastern Europe

Review of The Wall Between by Jesper Bugge Kold

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A gripping and moving story of the former East Germany.

Andreas lives in Copenhagen and receives a letter informing him that his father who he has never met has been stabbed to death in Berlin, and that he has inherited his flat. Keen to understand more about the father that his mother wouldn’t speak of he travels to Berlin to discover more.

Jesper Bugge Kold combines multiple timelines and characters to produce a brilliant story of the GDR, the Stasi and relationships. This book reminded somewhat of the film “Life of Others” and anyone who liked the film or is interested to the former East Germany should read this.

It’s tautly written but with some almost cinematic descriptions of Berlin. I found it an absolute page turner and read it within a day which is unusual for me.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free from Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review.

Review of ” Stealing the Future: An East German Spy Thriller (East Berlin Series Book 1)” by Max Hertzberg

A fascinating alternative history of the two Germanys as well as a gripping thriller.

Max Hertzberg has come up with a fascinating alternative history of 1989 and after for Germany. It’s 1993, the Wall is open, however East Germany hasn’t been subsumed into West Germany. It has decided to stay independent and run the country via a grassroots participatory democracy, resulting in decentralising most decision making to neighbourhood committees in which everyone participates. However, all is not well in the new GDR as dark forces are trying to destabilise it.

The story revolves around Martin Grobe, a former dissident and now part of the Republicschutz, a post 9th Nov 1989 counter-espionage service which has responsibility for monitoring attempts to undermine the new East Germany. He is investigating the murder of prominent politician at a mine in West Silesia, a region looking to join West Germany.

The author certainly knows Berlin and East Germany well and captures the period in great detail even down to way the 1980s era S-Bahn train doors operate. However, what brings the story alive are the characters struggling to keep alive their dream of freedom, justice and equality in the face of corruption, West German pressure for unification and the dark forces that enforced the old regime.

Whilst some may see this book as some sort of left wing fairy tale I found the book stimulating and vastly different from standard spy thriller fare with its parallel exploration of political self-determination and de-centralisation of power.

Further books in the series are planned and I for one will be keen to follow how Grobe and the “new” East Germany fares further into the 1990s.

This book is currently free (as of Jan 2016) on Smashreads, link here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view…

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Wow, what a book! Historical fiction at it’s very best.

Ruta Sepetys has put together a taut and gripping novel that has as it’s backdrop the harrowing exodus of German and Baltic civilians from the Red Army advance into East Prussia.

Told from the view point of its young characters this brilliant novel shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff where by one estimate, 9,400 people died, which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history.

At first I did find the device Sepetys uses of switching between each characters narrative a little confusing, but you soon get to know them intimately as their secrets and back stories are revealed. The chapters are very short, but keep you wanting more. With a particularly poignant ending this is a book I will remember for some time.

As well as being a gripping story it is also extremely well researched with notes at the end showing where the reader can find further information on the historical background.

This is the first book that I have read by Ruta Sepetys but will definitely be looking out for further titles.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

he Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James's, 1932-1943" by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

Review of ” The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, 1932-1943″ by Gabriel Gorodetsky (Editor)

A remarkable and rare insight into 1930s and 40s Anglo-Soviet relations.

Editor Gabriel Gorodetsky has compiled a fascinating account of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom using the never before published in English diaries of Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky.

Gorodetsky provides excellent background detail to the events that Maiskey describes making it easy to understand some of the diplomatic language as well as highlighting areas in the diaries where Maisky is somewhat “economical with the truth”. In order to “correct” Maisky’s account Gorodetsky has checked the diaries against various collections including private papers and reports of the Foreign Office.

Particularly interesting are the periods from before the Soviet non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939 and the intense anti-Soviet hostility as a result of this and the Winter War with Finland through to the start of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941

Maisky comes across as a humorous, affable fellow who succeeded in walking a tightrope between maintaining his integrity as a professional diplomat and surviving the vagaries of Stalin’s regime. Whilst adhering to the Soviet cause he independently tried to influence events in his own way by reporting back to Moscow his ideas as though they’d been presented by British politicians.

There’s some great candid pen portraits of Churchill, Chamberlain, Eden, and Halifax, Beaverbrook as well as Lloyd George and George Bernard Shaw.

Recommended for anyone interested in politics , diplomacy and the characters that made the key British decisions of World War 2.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review of ” Stasi Child (Karin Müller #1)” by David Young

Excellent and unusually located police procedural set in the former East Germany.

I can’t think of many English language detective novels set in the former East Germany and David Young has created a fascinating character in the damaged but tenacious Oberleutnant Karin Müller.

In most countries she’d be just a regular cop in charge of the murder team, however this is communist ruled East Germany and she’s a card carrying party member believing in “real and existing socialism”.

Investigating a teenage girl’s body at the foot of the Berlin wall Karin has to walk a political tightrope that adds an extra frisson to the story as she deals with her superiors and the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Whilst many police procedurals have conflict with superiors in East Germany conflict with superiors can mean at best dismissal then demotion to a menial job or at worst death.

David Young’s research is impeccable with fantastic attention to detail from the procedures in the Stasi remand prisons to the uniqueness of Volvo tyre tracks as well as capturing well the feel of 1970’s East Germany.

If you like police procedurals, strong female characters, along with an Orwellian landscape then read “Stasi Child”.

Review of ” Devastation Road” by Jason Hewitt

A lyrical and cinematic story of memory, redemption and the importance of belonging

Jason Hewitt’s latest book tells the tale of Owen who in Spring 1945 wakes in a field in a country he does not know injured and suffering memory loss. He sets out on a moving trek in search of his home, his past and himself.

Hewitt’s style makes you feel like you are watching a film. His language and imagery express deep personal emotion in a way rarely seen in writers and his writing is rightly compared with Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks.

A book that will stay with you as it builds to a powerful finale.

One of the best novels I’ve read this year.

Review of ” Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator” by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, Nora Seligman Favorov (Translation)

An excellent scholarly yet easy to read Stalin biography.

Oleg V. Khlevniuk has dug deep into the Russian archives to create this relatively concise by most biographical standards yet authoritative account of Stalin’s life.

Whilst I was familiar with Stalin’s wartime role I was less familiar with his rise and the circumstances of his death. The author cleverly uses the dictators last days to bind a wide ranging account to a common point of reference and uses the circumstances of his death to effectively show how he became so dominant.

Several standard Stalin histories are questioned and undermined by the lack of firm evidence that Khlevniuk has found in the archives as well as questioning the reliability of some of eyewitness accounts those histories have been based on.

An excellent easy to read biography of the man who by most accounts killed more people than Hitler.