Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

It is a disconcerting thing hearing your own recorded voice played back. Who knew I was so high pitched and squeaky? Am I really that annoying and uncertain? Disappointingly, my tones are neither dulcet nor melodic. And as for my attempts at karaoke… let’s just say I sound fabulously Gwen Stefani-esqe under the hypnotic cocktail of a late night and one too many vodkas.

If it is possible to fall in love with a voice, then colour me cupid, I’ve been hit! This person, whom I’ve never met, could seriously lead me to drink the Kool-Aid á la Jim Jones or have me bailed up in a ranch á la David Koresh. Perhaps it is due to my aforementioned *cough* unforgiving pitch that sees me hold phonic gifts in such hard regard. Whatever it is. Oh my lord that voice!!!

Conversations with Richard Fidler is a radio show I listen to on podcast. Fidler, the mellifluously blessed one, interviews anyone and everyone, from those who are extraordinary or have been through extraordinary circumstances. For a person blessed with such an incredible intonation (YES I AM OBSESSED GET OVER IT), Fidler has an incredible capacity to listen. Fidler’s supreme skill is to hear what his guests are saying and then respond and ask questions accordingly. He quips when appropriate and also has an incredible capacity for empathy and understanding.

It was listening to this podcast that I discovered this book. My proclivity for all things German history is well documented (here and here). But having studied modern history in various guises for a number of years, it requires a truly original slant in order to pique my interest.

*cut to Blitzed *

The historical thesis posited by Ohler, if correct, makes Walter White look like an amateur. This text is compelling in an oh-gosh-like-what-the-actual-f*ck-way. In part, this may be due to the fact that the well documented and understood atrocities instructed by Hitler are so non-humane, that an explanation like drug use/abuse goes somewhere to give meaning to the unforgivable.

The research seems sound enough. Regardless, it is fascinating reading about the history of the various big German drug companies that are still dominating the market today.

But if you don’t want to read the book, listen to Richard’s pod cast.

And Richard, if you do want to get in touch, don’t email.




Atonement by Ian McEwan

The final act in my ‘books into films’ series : Atonement

If you have not read an Ian McEwan novel, you have not lived. While I struggle to choose an all-time favourite author, Mr McEwan is definitely on my most treasured list. Atonement was my second McEwan novel, the first being Amsterdam.

Atonement is for me, the hybrid of my great loves. History and Fiction. Neither compromises the other and they work together in perfect symbiosis. The novel is broken down into chronological parts, each using their historical setting as a backdrop and as a device to drive plot.

Atonement is heart-achingly beautiful. It encompasses deeply personal tragedies along with the tragedy of war and separation. Some of the characters are painstakingly frustrating. I want to shake Briony many times throughout the novel. In fact I did throw the hefty tome down at some point (– no book was harmed in the making of this review).

This is McEwan at his exquisite best and well worth the investment of time.

Stasiland by Anna Funder

Confession time. Since 2009 I have kept an excel spreadsheet of every book I have read. I list the name, author, category and date I finished it. A few years on, it has been fascinating what took my fancy at any given moment in time. As part of the spread sheet I have a separate tab ‘to read’ which lists all the books I want to read. This list is a discombobulated jumble of books either recommended by friends, book reviews or articles. This list obviously grows faster than the list of ‘read’ books and there is no rhyme or reason as to order. Some I fear may stay on the ‘to read’ list for many years!

Stasiland had been on my must-read list for some time but was regrettably usurped time and time again by other books. After reading this book in my Christmas break (a couple of Christmas breaks ago), I now realise what a diabolical mistake this was. Stasliand is brilliant. Funder manages to create a piece of non-fiction that reads like a novel. Her personal and touching anecdotes do not obscure depth or importance of the information presented, they add to it. (This is the polar opposite to how I felt about Laurent Binet injecting himself into HHhH but I’ll write about that another time).

The premise of Stasiland is to discover the untold stories of what it was like living under communist rule in the former East Germany. We all know the big picture: Germany loses WWII, the world is divided along ideological lines, so too does Germany become divided. But what Funder uncovers in Stasliand are the personal stories of those who didn’t necessarily share the dominant ideology in East Germany but are affected by its constraints nonetheless. The Stasi, or secret police, appear in every tale and anecdote with varying effects on those they subjugated.

I have come to believe that micro histories really do illuminate big macro histories. Any study of a moment in time is all the more richer for reading about the personal anecdotes of those who lived through it. Stasiland succeeds in proving the case for micro histories brilliantly. There is the irrepressible Miriam who became an ‘enemy of the state’ at sixteen. The death of her husband in custody is mysterious and unsolved. The brilliant Klaus, an aged rocker, who only wanted to make music but is now stilted and anti-social. And Hagen Koch – nice guy who joined the Stasi.

Anyone interested in European history, politics or personal tales overcoming adversity should read this book. The facts are compelling. The personal spin will grip your heart. And now I want to go to Germany.

Back to the spreadsheet.