Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Life during wartime

I am reading "A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City", an anonymous diary kept by a German journalist during Russia's 1945 occupation of Berlin.

The book was published in Germany during the 50's. It met with tremendous criticism: the author's unsparing account of mass rapes suffered at Russian hands was considered an insult to Germany's decorum. She withdrew the book, asking her publisher to wait until her death to release the it once more. He abided her wishes, and when he, too, died, his widow, Hannelore Marek, published the book in 2003. The English translation appeared in 2005.

In surfing the net I see reviews, all positive. The back of the book carries blurbs by Arundhati Roy, Entertainment Weekly (that bastion of lit crit), and the NYTBR. Yet the book is hardly the latest Harry Potter, nor even as popular as its thematic cousin, Suite Francaise. Why? Because it is impossible to read this book while mentally positing it as an improbable, long distant event. One doesn't read this book and think, this could never happen to me. Instead, you read it and realize it could indeed happen to you, is in fact currently happening all over the Middle East, often at the hands of United States military personnel.

The book is tightly written, the narrator dryly matter-of fact. She describes German citizens stolidly standing in food lines as bombs fall around them, the communities of apartment dwellers hiding in basements while their city is carpet-bombed (sound familiar?). She describes hunger, the hunt for edible weeds, parents burying their seventeen-year-old daughter in their garden. Then the Russians march in, and what couldn't possibly get worse does. The men drink and pillage; the narrator, raped multiple times, is shockingly dispassionate about her situtation. She wishes for a bath. Barring that, enough water to wash herself. She hopes she will not get pregnant. Her "roomate" a widow with whom she shares a bombed out apartment, promises to take to her friends who can perform abortions.

The book is simultaneously difficult to pick up and difficult to put down. I think our President might benefit from reading it.

Except I'm not sure he can read.

Non-fiction, Books, Book Reviews, War

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