Prague Winter

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The past was to be deaf and dumb to them. It was neither heard nor spoken” – for many survivors this is the wretched life after war. This is the strongest emotion that drives us to be vigilant of our leaders and never to repeat the blunders of the past.

Madeline Albright, a Czech born American citizen who served as Secretary of State under the Clinton government revisits her roots in this remarkable story of adventure and passion, courage and tragedy set in the backdrop of World War II and communist post war Czechoslovakia. Although the book recollects all important incidents that shaped the nation one cannot dismiss this book as a war journal. (Just as we cannot dismiss Schinder’s list or Life is beautiful as war movies.)

It is no doubt an incisive work on history but one that delves deep into the human psyche. What prompts one person to act boldly in a moment of crisis like Maria did in sheltering the Czech parachutists or to succumb like Curda who turned against his peers? Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity like the countless survivors of Camp Terezin or Auschwitz while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Why do we make the choices we do? Is it our education, spiritual belief, parents, friends circumstances or an amalgamation of all of these?

Albright begins her book from the earliest place in her birth in her home country Czechoslovakia. The founder TG Masaryk, the shameful Munich pact, Hitler and sudetland, World War II, President Benes, Jan Masaryk, Allied forces and finally the Communist thrust.

Czechoslovakia stands at the cusp of east and west, nestled and nudged it has strived to act as a western democratic state but often courting eastern communist security. Even though history dealt a losing hand, the country and it’s leaders have risen to become a beacon of character and spirit. (The Velvet Revolution that scissored Czech and Slovakia and President Havel are mentioned throughout).But history transpired from the eyes and life of Albright, her family with her father in government service paints the picture vividly.

Prague winter is a book that details World War II with a breathtaking combination of historical and political perspectives. But the moral choices that hinges between the words and the confrontation of brutalities that ceases to end even today makes this book a must read.

Other recommended books on Prague – Prague by Richard Burton & Time’s magpie by Myla Goldberg.

All that I am – Anne Funder

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“Germans it seems are incapable of revolution. Because we cannot storm a train without first queuing for tickets”
There are places that captivate your interest endlessly. Germany for many has been that place. Having been there numerous times, I have seen first hand how people struggle to disassociate themselves from the past. They never speak about it. It is a stain that refuses to go away. They have managed to emerge successfull despite their tumultuous past but they never want to forget it. You can see why they are cautious – from Russia to EU they are the leaders and the mastheads but are rarely basking in the limelight. They prefer to stay out of focus.

Anne Funder’s book offers several insights into German life and it’s people.
The book itself picks up pace only towards the middle but there is no slowing down after that. We have often heard of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Gestapo. What about Germans within Germany who worked against the Führer? Were they complacent refugees after fleeing his dictatorship?What happens when your life is striped away by people in power? Politics is not just armchair revolution but also the defining purpose in life. In this case, a woman refuge embarks on a perilous mission to bring to light the mission of the Nazi rule but no one will listen to her.

The book alternates between two narratives and this brings out different perspectives very effectively. Ruth and Tolled are two individuals who are in constant company of the enigmatic Dora. How their lives take shape around her and how resourceful Dora herself is against Hitler forms the crux.

Incidentally I wanted to read Stasiland by Funder but ended up with this book. All that I am is also part of Oprah’s book club in 2012. To understand a country, it’s people and their culture – books often offer this noninvasive window that is a delight and a revelation. (For Germany ,apart from this book, I recommend The book thief & The zookeepers wife.)

The Zookeerper’s Wife

I read about this book in my friend’s blog and wanted to read this book forever. Everytime i went to the library optimistically searching for it, i would never find it. I even tried reserving it but somehow it never seemed to land in my hands. Finally i got lucky and when you get something you wanted for so long, you always get doubly lucky. I got a brand new copy of the book from the library and its always a tad thrillng to have a new copy in your hands.

Now for the book itself. There is something extremely alluring about World War II books and movies. I have seen some of the movies like Schinder’s List, Escape from Sobibor and Life is beautiful. When i was in Germany, i had this nagging thought of visiting Auschwitz but one of my friends who visited the camp told me that it needed a lot of emotional guts to walk that place.

World War II was not about war, killing. It was about extermination and going against evolution. What makes men kill each other without emotion or remorse. How can you hold a gun to another man’s head without knowing anything about the man except that he was a Jew.

I wouldn’t say the world is a better place now and i would never understand religious or racial hatred but reading this book gave me an insight on why people risk their lives and put them in the line of fire to save hundreds of innocent lives. Why people risk their own safety to protect people they had never known.

War is never justifiable but i had never read about the Underground or how Jews escaped Ghetto and scrambled off trains reaching camps. To read about it sends shivers down your spine and reading about how Antonina escaped near death experiences and how she protected Jews by hiding them in the basement and in cages makes your imagination run wild.

Diane Ackermann slows the pace of the book by getting into the details of the war but her detailed accounts of the animals and how Antonina communicated with them makes for a splendid read. This book is a splendid read and it gives you a peek into what happened during world war II.