November’s book: Berlin: the journal of a foreign correspondent by William L Shirer

This month’s theme was “diaries” and it was a tie between this book and Adrian Mole. In the end, a passing staff member had to choose.

Berlin: the journal of a foreign correspondent by William L Shirer

berlin

Here is the first uncensored and intimate account of Germany in the Second World War. Here is the private, personal, utterly revealing journal of a great foreign correspondent, in which he tells the things he saw and experienced during the seven terrible years in which Hitler rose to power and conquered most of the continent. Millions of Americans who listened to William L. Shirer’s remarkable broadcasts from Berlin and other European cities can read the things that couldn’t be said through censored microphones. Nowadays, the name of William L. Shirer is virtually a household word among those interested in the study of his era. This is because of the publication in 1960 of his authoritative masterpiece, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”.

Shirer had been virtually the only correspondent able to report on the startling events which occurred during the period 1934 to 1940, with the rise to power and eventual domination by Adolph Hitler. Shirer had been near to Hitler during this period and he almost alone was able to report first hand on the startling events of that period. Shirer was the only Western Correspondent in Vienna on March 11, 1938 when the German Troops marched in and took over Austria. Shirer alone was the one who reported the surrender by France to Germany on June 22, 1940, even before the Germans reported it. During this entire time, Shirer kept a diary, a record of events many of which could not be publicly reported because of censorship by the Germans. In December 1940, Shirer learned that the Germans were building a case against him for espionage, which was punishable by death. Shirer did the right thing: He escaped and fortunately was able to take most of his diary with him.

Other choices this month were:

  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
  • The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

 

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October’s meeting

Well, well. In comparison to last month’s complete DUD of a book (seriously, don’t read The Road to Oxiana – it’s time you’ll never get back) book club’s benevelont dictator was rather looking forward to this month’s conversation. And we weren’t disappointed. One of the best book club sessions we’ve had in a while. Go team!

This month, the group read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. While we do have a strong core of Atwood groupies, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the general love there was for this book. It stormed to the top of “Lausanne Book Club’s best-of” chart with a staggering 8.5/10, knocking poor old George Orwell down into 2nd place.

Generally, the comments on the book were incredibly positive (as you’d expect with the score). Readers loved the “patchwork” of stories and how the narrative was stitched together. Some felt that the changes in point of view was…er… on point. There was an air of mystery around the book and, despite some of the characters having major flaws, the group felt Atwood had written them to be hated. Her experimentation with technique was lauded as was the complexity of the tale. Some of the group admitted to having a little crisis when they realised that they couldn’t really trust any of the narrative… but we’ll get onto that later.

As there were 12 of us, it seemed only right that we act as judge and jury for poor Grace. If she’d been tried in 2017 at a busy bar in Lausanne, she may have had better fortune with only 3 of the group believing she was guilty.

The biggest revelation of the night came from May.

Do you think Mary actually existed? No one ever seems to speak to Mary apart from Grace. I think Grace invented Mary because she needed her. Everything that happened to Mary actually happened to Grace and she needed a way to disassociate herself from it. Could that be the reason the book is called Alias Grace? Grace is the persona that hides Mary from the outside world.

There was quite a lot of conversation around Dr Jordan and how creepy he was. Any man who looks at people and considers what they’d be like as prostitutes probably has some issues that they need to work through. Personally, I was torn between how Jordan looked.

Just for my own pleasure, I’m erring the side of devilishly handsome (albeit with some…peccadillos). Some of the group questioned what exactly happened to Jordan during the civil war. Atwood was frustratingly (or purposefully?) vague simply mentioned that he had a head injury. It was suggested that the head injury happened before the war actually started.

The group explored why Jordan was so obsessed with mental health (while, at the same time, applauding Atwood for tackling the tough issues). Some felt it was just a sign of the times with the general population being fascinated with the topic. Others felt it was an opportunity for Jordan to have control over people – having been controlled so much by his mother for most of his life.

The murder arc in Alais Grace takes part over the course of two heady weeks of summer (imagine having to write the obligatory “What I did over my summer holiday” essay that year). We discussed whether this was realistic (no firm conclusion) and what the hell was going on with McDermott (was he gay? Was he messed up in the war? Did he just suffer from a case of the dickheadedness disease?)

There was a little chatter about quilting (you can read a little history about quilting here) and, once again, I think it May who proposed that quilting was a way of Grace to take control. When discussed the Tree of Paradise quilt Grace mentions at the end of the book we realised that she changes the traditional form of the quilt and amends it to suit herself. Through the quilt, she hides who she really is – only she will know that there are snakes hiding in the quilt. Deep. (You can buy your own Tree of Paradise quilt from a real life Armish woman here)

Random phrases of the meeting. A couple:

  • Old people having sex stinky (ed: I hope am sure this isn’t the case)
  • The colour of salami is so disgusting (ed: I think this is a reference to Jilly Cooper?)
  • Women are always expected to provide

A great meeting this month. Here’s to another one similar next month please!

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