Hide & Seek is BBC journalist Stephen Walker’s re-telling of the cat-and-mouse antics and escapades of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and the SS and Gestapo head Herbert Kappler, during 1940s wartime Rome. It apparently is a little-known story, and this is Stephen Walker’s effort to right that by giving this story its deserved place in the annals of World War II history.
Monsignor O’Flaherty was an Irish priest assigned to the Vatican, who set up and operated an escape route for Allied POWs and opponents of the Germans, using Vatican City as his base of operations. I have no trouble at all believing that the Monsignor was an incredible character, and his efforts undoubtedly saved many thousands of people, and therefore this story is indeed a story worth telling. The problem with this book unfortunately, is how the story is told.
The Musicians of Auschwitz is Fania Fenelon’s autobiographical account of her life and experience in the Birkenau concentration camp, which was the female “camp” in Auschwitz, and later of her time in the Bergen Belsen camp. This book was written thirty years after she gained her freedom, on the 15th April, 1945. The account is quite extraordinary, as it is really a dual autobiography – that of “die kleine Sängerin” Fania, and also the “autobiography”, if you will, of the life and existence of the orchestra of camp inmates she played and sang in.
This book also gives a terrifying insider’s view of the humanity and inhumanity, and of life and death, inside these concentration camps. The book is extremely well written in its own right, and Fania was assisted in the writing of it by Marcelle Routier. Hers is a nightmare tale of deprivation, starvation, cruelty and insanity but also of hope.
Jerusalem – The Biography, from the pen of Simon Sebag Montefiore, is a fittingly epic work chronicling the history of the city of Jerusalem. As you would expect from the author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, which was the most impressively researched biography I have ever come across, pieced together as it was solely from the actual correspondence of Stalin and his cohorts, this “biography” of Jerusalem is an incredibly well researched and authoritative account of this mystical city from approximately 1000 B.C through to present times.
It is a brave undertaking, as the sweep of history covered in this book is truly immense. Helpfully though, the author has employed a novel approach here, in that he treats Jerusalem as a biographical subject, and that Jerusalem acts effectively as a witness to the historical events that occur throughout this broad expanse of history. This keeps the historical focus squarely on events impacting Jerusalem, and acts as a sort of historical filter. This device works very well for the most part, and despite there being a few flaws with it, the reader is richly rewarded with not just a detailed, thorough, exciting and vibrant history of this city, but also having read it will likely emerge with an illuminated and refreshed view of world history in general.
Memory and Identity, Personal Reflections by Karol Wojtyla a.k.a. Pope John Paul II, could be described as a collection of philosophical essays, detailing the late Pope’s thoughts on various topics or subjects such as freedom, patriotism, democracy, to name but a few. When I say “thoughts”, I mean that in the heavy sense of the word – the thinking expressed in this book is truly impressive in terms of its broadness, depth, clarity and logic, and is firmly routed in the body of philosophical thought. Having said that I believe the aim of the book is to discuss these issues somewhat in layman’s terms, so to speak.
If I understand it correctly, I suppose you could say the central thesis of this book is the link between memory and identity, specifically how memory creates and shapes human identity, and how the memory of the Church, as the living body of Christ, impacts the identity of humanity.
When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me: Montaigne and Being in Touch With Life, penned by Saul Frampton, is an analysis and commentary on the 16th century philosopher/writer/connoisseur Michel De Montaigne’s vast body of work, known as his Essays.
Montaigne was a fascinating character, and his musings on life in general range over a vast array of subjects – from how best to avoid being shot, to the alleged beauty of the prostitutes of Florence. Continue reading
Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory by Chil Rajchman is probably the most powerful, and I would argue one of the most important, pieces of literature that exists. This isn’t just a book – this is a recording and recollection of the cruel murder of 800,000 people.
This book literally hit me like a kick to the stomach – I felt utterly compelled to read it in one sitting, and having read it, I actually felt sick in my stomach the next day. I can honestly say the world seemed tangibly different to me having read this book.
Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, is a real labour of love by husband and wife team Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, and is the result of many years travel and research on their behalf. So top marks for effort then, and the book is a physically impressive, weighty and voluminous tome. The actual content though, while certainly very entertaining and interesting in places, is unfortunately a bit lacking. I am always wary of books that are co-written, as they always have a higher than normal potential to be lacking in coherency and narrative structure. This is unfortunately the case here.
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S.Grant – book review and summary coming soon…