Holocaust Literature

I don’t have to say what a terrible period Nazi Germany was.It was a time we are not allowed to forget. It is important to remember in order to prevent something similar.

When I was in school, this topic was part of the curriculum every other year–and it was (I don’t want to say it, but…) “boring”. The second world war and all its terror were often reduced to numbers and facts, to alliances and long political speeches, to images of destruction.and world maps. I know, the topic itself cannot be boring. Nothing so terrible can be, but the lessons always were because the connection to the people was missing. Thankfully, we have books that show us what (at least) my teachers failed to do: That there were people, single individuums who suffered, not just numbers, not just names, but people with feelings, thoughts, and hopes. And so I’ve started to read some fiction and non-fiction about this period again.


(1) Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

  •  pages: 156
  • publisher HMH Books for Young Readers; Auflage: Reissue (2. Mai 2011)
  • recommended age: 10 – 12

As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the 7b490fb744-07c3-418b-b901-17d3a61277c87dimg400family.Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war. (Amazon)

I really enjoyed  that the book focuses on the Jewish population of Denmark. It is just incredible how they saved so many Jews. Annemarie was a lovely character. Her thoughts, her actions, her questions – everything was really appropriate for that age and for the target audience. I just didn’t like much that some part of the story were a bit to children book chlichè-y. Since I don’t want to spoiler , I just say: the cat and the incident with the mother near the end. I expected more fantasy from such a great author – but all in all, it is a really good book.

Rating: 4/5


(2) Maus by Art Spiegelman

9780141014081

  • pages: 296
  • publisher: Penguin; (2. Oktober 2003)

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.(Amazon)

This graphic novel was just breath-taking good. I couldn’t stop reading. The art and the story were a perfect combination. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic characters give the reader food for thought. It is so interesting that the Jews are pictured as mice (but only the head, the body is still human), the Polish as pigs, etc. – and I think it is just great because things that are unseen are suddenly made visible. In the end, it is a great way of showing that the people back then weren’t (sadly) seen as one human race.

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(3) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

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It is a must read in my country and so I read it when I was terribly young – too young to actually understand it. Now I’m re-reading her book and are surprised how honest, intelligent, and brave she was. It is not only a book about the horrific event back then, but also a kind of coming of age story. She was just about 13 when she started writing her diaries, but she did it with such a rigour and openness, especially with regard to her own feelings.

Rating: 5/5
Update:

(4) Once & Then by Morris Gleitzman

  • pages: 163
  • publisher: Square Fish; (19. March 2013)

Felix, a Jewish boy in Poland in 1942, is hiding from the Nazis in a Catholic or
phanage. The only problem is that he doesn’t know anything about the war, and
thinks he’s only in t51qucb2gxcl-_sx332_bo1204203200_he orphanage while his parents travel and try to salvage their
bookselling business. And when he thinks his parents are in danger, Felix sets off to warn them–straight into the heart of Nazi-occupied Poland. To Felix, everything is a story: Why did he get a whole carrot in his soup? It must be sign that his parents are coming to get him. Why are the Nazis burning books? They must be foreign librarians sent to clean out the orphanage’s outdated library. But as Felix’s journey gets increasingly dangerous, he begins to see horrors that not even stories can explain
. (Amazon)

Honestly, I  just read Once and I’m not sure if I’ll read Then someday. I just couldn’t connect with this book and I don’t know why. Am I too old to appreciate Gleitzman’s portrayal of a simpleharted boy or is Felix just annoyingly blind for the things that happen around him?. Every – and I mean it – every single meeting with soldiers or experience with murder or anti-Semitism are covered with stupid little excuses or stories in Felix’s mind . Very often it is just a misunderstanding, or the soldier ‘didn’t know’ that he was just a boy so he just got nearly shot by accident.  It annoyed me so much that I was glad when I finished the first part. Unfortunately my book contains ‘Once’ and ‘Then’ so probaly I’ll give the latter a second chance but not this year.

Rating: 1/5

Coming Soon:

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas by John Boyne

(I’ve watched the film quite recently and the ending nearly broke my heart…)

Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Every man dies alone) by Hans Fallada

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelly

Which book would you recommend?

 

 

The Comet Seekers

I received an Advance Reader copy of this book from NetGalley and Penguin Random House International. Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House International. 

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Title: The Comet Seekers

Author: Helen Sedgwick

Publisher: Penguin Random House International

Published: 25 August 2016

“There’s a comet predicted, she says. It’s going to be very bright.”

– The Comet Seekers

Sedgwick’s debut novel is a slow born, mesmerizing the reader best in the silent hours between dusk and dawn, when the world is finally slowing down.

The book follows Róisín and François while creating a net embracing their past, present, and future.

Róisín is the daughter of an astronomer, joining the science team to observe the fracturing of a comet in Antarctica. Francois is the base’s chef and soon they fall in love with each other, not knowing that their connection goes back further.

The most interesting part about the story is how Sedgwick switches back and forth through time to show the connections of the two main characters and the families to each other, which she beautifully crafted. In general, Segwick’s writing style is an outstanding feature of the novel because it is just so fitting and well-written. Sometimes the story is a bit dark with all the regrets/ past events, and the mixture of science and the supernatural (ghosts of the past) make this story appear surreal for some parts, which I did not like so much.

But all in all, the story is a pleasant read. Just take your time, find a quiet place to sit  and delve into the fascinating world of Róisín and François.

Rating: 4/5

 

A Study in Sherlock Holmes

9781409157243

7 March 2015

A Study in Sherlock Holmes:

A Comparison between Doyle’s and Horowitz’s Literary Portrayal

of the Famous Detective

            Even though Sherlock Holmes was not the first private detective who entered the world of fiction, he has become the most famous detective of all time. Designed with features of both Doyle’s lecturer Joseph Bell, who was “a master of observation, logic and deduction” (Miller 49) and  the eccentric and brilliant detective C. Auguste Dupin with whom Poe launched the genre of detective fiction (Miller 42), Sherlock Holmes has become the archetype of the amateur private detective.

Between 1887 and 1927 the Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four lengths novels featuring the unique hero figure of Sherlock Holmes, a detective with scientific knowledge and deductive reasoning, who has not only become a well-known literary figure, but also a cultural phenomenon (Smith 17). His enormous popularity is recognisable by the great number of essays and books which have been written analysing Doyle’s stories and characters, and the fact that Holmes is “the most filmed fictional character in history, with several hundred television and film productions to his name” (Smith 189).  Particularly after Doyle despatched Holmes in “The Final Problem” in 1893, before he reintroduced him in 1901, a high number of new Sherlock Holmes stories have been written by other authors in order to keep the famous detective and his companion Dr Watson alive (Johnson, Upton 182).

Down to present day the number of new Sherlock Holmes stories is vast and constantly growing. In this context Anthony Horowitz was asked by the Doyle estate to write a new Sherlock Holmes story (Horowitz 391). Since the book is also promoted with “The bestselling Sherlock Holmes novel” on its cover, Horowitz’s The House of Silk (2011) will function as a contemporary representation of the Sherlock Holmes stories in this essay. Hence, the objective of this essay is to analyse Horowitz’s literary realization of Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate that despite bearing some superficial similarities, the differences between the literary portrayal of Doyle’s original protagonist and Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes are remarkable, and eventually lead to two different characters.

According to Meyer, a fictional character can be defined by “a name, which suggests an individual, a bundle of character traits (psychological disposition), the internal activities of perception, emotions, thought and subconscious phenomena, and the external appearance and activities of speech and action” (93). This definition will serve as a basis for the following comparison between Doyle’s and Horowitz’s Sherlock Holmes.

At first glance, Doyle’s and Horowitz’s Holmes share many things in common. Most notable is the use of the same name, which suggests that both authors refer to the same fictional individual. This impression is supported by the description of the external appearance. While Doyle’s Holmes is “rather over six feet [and] excessively lean [with] sharp and piercing eyes, a hawk like nose” (V1 11), “thin lips” (V2 769), and “heavy, dark brows” (V2 462), Horowitz describes his Sherlock Holmes in similar adjectives as “distinctly lean and [of] cadaverous physique [with] sharp eyes accentuated by his aquiline nose” (10). Both characters can occasionally be found to be wearing Persian slippers (Doyle VI 604, Horowitz 24), and holding a tobacco pipe (Doyle V1 653, Horowitz 9) or even a syringe containing a seven-per-cent-solution of cocaine (Doyle V1 123, Horowitz 100). However, not only the external appearance of Horowitz’s Holmes is described similarly to Doyle’s, but also the fictional world in which the detective lives – including Victorian London (Horowitz 8) and Baker Street (Horowitz 7) as predominant settings – are the same. Horowitz even imitates Doyle’s stories to an extent that he reintroduces already known characters like Wiggins from the Baker Street irregulars (68), Lestrade from Scotland Yard (57), Holmes’s brother Mycroft (154), Stamford who introduces Holmes to Watson (3), and Professor James Moriarty (259) in order to recreate a traditional Sherlock Holmes story in the mould of Arthur Conan Doyle. The integration of The House of Silk in Doyle’s universe is also supported by direct or indirect references to former cases given by Watson within the narrative. For example the statement: “Only a week before […] I had observed him [Holmes] helpless and delirious, supposedly a victim of a coolie disease from Sumatra” (Horowitz 179) refers not only to Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” (V2 430), but also makes the exact temporal assignment of Horowitz’s story possible. With further references to “The Red-headed League” and its “three pipe problem” (Doyle V1 430, Horowitz 131) as well as “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs“: “[…] I remember that there would be another occasion, ten years later, when I would be hurt in the company of Sherlock Holmes” (Horowitz 123), the illusion of Doyle’s own world is created as a basis for further exploration.

However, both characters differ noticeably in three major character traits. First of all, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” Watson describes Holmes as someone “who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul” (Doyle V1 239). Hence, Holmes is presented as unsociable. His bohemian, independent life is completely taken up by his detective work (Doyle V1 130). Even social relationships are neglected in order to expand his scientific knowledge and to focus on his observation and reasoning skills (Doyle V1 585). Merely Watson becomes Holmes’s “intimate friend” (Doyle V1 398) while sharing rooms at Baker Street. Despite being friends, Holmes produces an inhuman effect upon Watson: “Sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon, a brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was pre-eminent in intelligence” (Doyle V1 682). Nevertheless, Holmes is capable of displaying emotions (Doyle V2 624). Since emotions, however, interfere with clear reasoning, he deliberately behaves cold and unemotional (Doyle V1 135). Horowitz, on the other side, portrays his Sherlock Holmes as sociable and emotional. Instead of seeing clients as a “mere unit, a factor in a problem” (Doyle V1 135), Holmes develops an interest in their life and feels responsible for them (Horowitz 129). The strong manifestation of the emotional bond can be seen when Ross, one of the Baker Street irregulars, is killed. “Would I have allowed a young boy to stand alone outside a hotel in the darkness had it been your son or mine?” (Horowitz 129) Holmes does not only blame himself, but he also considers leaving his profession (Horowitz 130). Since Doyle does not usually portray children sympathically (V1 184, V2 608) – even the boys from the Baker Street irregulars are treated sternly and condescendingly by Holmes (V1 184), Horowitz’s positive depictions of children as well as Holmes concern for their well-being appear out of character. Additionally, Horowitz disposes Holmes of the ability to suppress his emotions in order to operate analytically. In fact, he creates a detective who acts on a personal level with children and clients. Secondly, Doyle’s Holmes is smart. He has acquired profound knowledge on chemistry, botany, geography, anatomy, the British Law, and sensational literature (V1 14). His greatest strength are, on the one side, his accurate knowledge of London (Doyle V1 140), and, on the other side, his logical and perfectionist approach on important information, e. g. his own index in which he categories information on “men and things” (Doyle V 246). In comparison, Horowitz describes a Holmes whose knowledge is more limited. His index, namely, is not filled with information regarding the House of Silk (125), albeit it is “a criminal enterprise that operates on a massive scale […] that its tentacles have spread out to ensnare government ministers and police officers” (174). Furthermore, he is not aware of the fact that the House of Silk is located in London, and that it functions both as a drug den, supplying drugs to London, Liverpool, Portsmouth, and all the “other outlets in England – Scotland and Ireland” (Horowitz 174) as well as a place where wealthy customers can rent boys (Horowitz 339). Obviously, Horowitz’s Holmes’s lacks the immense knowledge of Doyle’s detective. This is particularly evident when Holmes admits that the answer to his questions, and therefore, the solution to the case have been in front of them all the time, an early success merely prevented by his failure of realization (Horowitz 348). Lastly, Horowitz’s Holmes is not only less smart, but also less observant. Instead of relying on his power of observation, and his reasoning and deduction skills, he chooses to be guided by his instinct and by coincidence (Horowitz 118, 338). Doyle’s Holmes, however, is described as a reasoning machine, trained to observation and analysis (V1 16). Instincts, on the other side, are attributed to women (Doyle V1 480, 510, V2 260), and are in contrast to the male intellect in Doyle’s stories.

From these differences in their character traits arise the different ways in which Doyle’s and Horowitz’s Holmes investigate. First of all, with his predilection for showmanship, Doyle’s detective is known for holding back the solution of the case until the very end, when he explains all deductions and his chain of reasoning in one dramatic revelation. This can be observed in stories like “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”, in which Holmes served up the previously missing treaty and the solution of the case as breakfast (Doyle V1 731), in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”, in which Holmes and the police feign a fire in order to smoke out their missing witness from behind a wall (Doyle V1 801), or in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”, in which Holmes is asked to find a man who shatters plaster busts of Napoleon, but at the moment the last bust is found unharmed, Holmes shatters it himself to reveal a valuable piece of jewellery (Doyle V1 942f).  Secondly, he always places reliance on his mind and on his ability to observe. “[…] without any help save a few very ordinary deductions I was able to lay my hand upon the criminal within three days” (Doyle V1 115). Eventually, Holmes needs no help as long as he can rely on his mind. Relying on his mind also excludes guessing since it is “destructive to the logical faculty” (Doyle V1 129). However, to ensure that his mind works at its best and without interruption, he scarcely eats or sleeps while his mind is occupied with investigations (Doyle V2 559, 561). Lastly, Doyle’s Holmes has shown himself a master of disguise. For instance, he appeared as a seaman in “The Sign of Four” (Doyle V1 195), as an old Italian Priest in “The Final Problem” (Doyle V1 746), as a dying man in “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” (Doyle V2 442), and even as a woman in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” (Doyle V2 559). By comparison, Horowitz’s Holmes shows no predilection for showmanship. Albeit Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade are able to track down the owner of the House of Silk, the detective cannot draw his final conclusions regarding the murder of Ross from the Baker Street irregulars as well as the function of the House of Silk independently. The solution, therefore, is presented by the offender, Fitzsimmons, who not only admits the deed himself, but also explains the function of the House of Silk (Horowitz 352 – 55). Aside from that, the success of his arrest is  reduced by the fact that the case does not come to trial since a royal family member is involved, and Fitzsimmons will soon be free again (Horowitz 355). Even the solution of the second case regarding the “Flat-Cap-Gang” is presented in a conversation between Holmes and Mr and Mrs Carstairs (Horowitz 374 – 80). In this particular case, Horowitz’s Holmes indeed imitates Doyle’s detective and holds back his chain of reasoning until the end. His revelation, however, is not dramatic, but surprising since the second leader of the Irish gang is not as presumed a man, but a woman, namely Mrs Carstairs. Furthermore, instead of dramatic revelations, Horowitz relies on dramatic narrative elements like a wild chase with hansoms (Horowitz 343), or gunfights including injured and dead persons (Horowitz 342, 345). Thereby, Horowitz differs intensively from Doyle, who uses the same basis plot in most of his stories. This plot starts with a conversation between Holmes and Watson discussing former cases, followed by a visit of a client who explains his misery, while Watson makes a wrong deduction, he and Holmes visit the crime scene. There, Watson shares his thoughts with the reader and Holmes observes, putting the clues together, before he reveals the solution of the case in one dramatic speech. Obviously, Doyle avoided inordinate action in order to foreground Holmes’s brain power. Horowitz’s Holmes is even arrested after visiting a drug den while investigating (Horowitz 224). Therefore, he has to rely on the help of Dr Watson and Dr Trevelyan, a former client but now friend, in order to escape from prison. Eventually, this is achieved through Dr Trevelyan’s support and Holmes’s ability to disguise perfectly. However, while Holmes is in a precarious situation, Watson has to investigate on his own. Surprisingly, he gets help from James Moriarty. The criminal mastermind gives Watson the key to Holmes prison cell and admonishes of danger regarding Holmes’s prison life (Horowitz 262f). This behaviour appears out of character since Doyle’s Professor Moriarty wishes death upon Holmes and has a desire for vengeance (V1 765). Yet, Horowitz introduces this character for this scene only by what the impression is created that Horowitz merely introduces the character because he is the well-known villain in the universe of Sherlock Holmes.  Additionally, Horowitz’s Holmes tends to guess (Horowitz 83), instead of relying completely on reason and mind, and therefore, is occasionally at his wit’s end when he cannot piece together the clues gathered (Horowitz 83, 97 118, 174), albeit he fasts on cases in order to stimulate his mind (Horowitz 165) like Doyle’s detective does.

In conclusion, it can be said that Horowitz imitates Doyle’s famous character with regard to his look and name, his friends and living conditions. It is, however, obvious that they differ in their character traits, and in their activities of speech and action. Doyle’s detective is famous for being a cold-hearted reasoning machine, gifted with great intelligence and a sense for locality, especially London. The detective work is his life, and therefore, his assistant Dr Watson is his only intimate friend. Doyle’s Holmes enjoys dramatic revelations after observing every detail of a case since he is flattered by appreciation. Horowitz’s Holmes, on the other hand, shows limited knowledge and abilities regarding his observation and reasoning skills. He relies on his friends and assumptions while chasing criminals through London. Clients are not only pieces of puzzles, but human beings he feels responsible for. Hence, Horowitz’s detective differs from Doyle’s – particularly in his core personality. Since the core personality of a character gives the audience an expectation about how the character will act, it must persist in order to recognise the same character – even without giving its name and description of its outward – otherwise they are perceived as two different fictional characters. It is obvious that Horowitz has created his own fictional character with its own traits, merely borrowing the famous name of Doyle’s detective. This clearly demonstrates how Doyle and his fictional character “Sherlock Holmes” are affiliated with each other, and how the use of his famous detective by Horowitz leads to the creation of a distinct detective.

 

Bibliography:

Primary Literature:

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. New York: Bantam Classics, 2003. Print.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 2. New York: Bantam Classics, 2003. Print.

Horowitz, Anthony. The House of Silk. London: Orion Paperbacks, 2014. Print.

 

Secondary Literature:

Johnson, Roger, and Jean Upton. The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany. Stroud: The History Press, 2012. Print.

Meyer, Michael. English and American Literatures. 4th ed. Tübingen: Francke, 2011. Print.

Miller, Russel. The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle. London: Pimlico, 2008. Print.

Smith, Daniel. The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide. Rev. ed London: Aurum Press, 2014. Print.

 

Slade House by David Mitchell

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  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 28, 2016)
  • Language: English

First of all, I have to admit, I’ve never read a David Mitchell book before. I’ve heard of Cloud Atlas (of course) and I know (now) that Slade House is the sequel to another book .
Nevertheless, I picked this book at my favourite bookstore because the cover of the Sceptre edition is really beautiful and interesting to look at. Descriptions like “a deliciously creepy story” and “with your heart racing” convinced me to buy this book because I really wanted to feel my heart racing.
The book started out very promising. I really enjoyed the first “story” and was disappointed to detect that the book consists of various short stories that are somehow entangled. So I continued just to find out that story 2 and 3 follow the same pattern as story 1. That was really boring but chapter 4 and 5 were even more boring because the characters talked a lot. Everything needed to be explained, I know, but characters who are just sitting there and talking were really exhausting to read. And the end was really… predictable?! I don’t want to spoiler, so I leave it at that.
All in all, I perceived the story as uninspired and boring. My heart was not racing because I nearly fell asleep. I needed four days to finish this short book and I’m glad that I did finish it after all so that I can now pick another book.

Rating: 2/5

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Since I cannot go to London and see the play, the play has to come to me – and it did.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is described as Harry Potter book #8, but I rather see it as a standalone book far away from the other 7 books because it is so different.
The story focuses on Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the children of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy.
To sum up the story: two outcasts become friends and have to go through some adventures together. Okay, that sounds interesting.

However, the problem is that well-known characters act so differently that I sometimes don’t recognise them but for their name. And this has nothing to do with growing up and being mature. Ron, for example, is just a sidekick, a comic relief that isn’t even funny. Harry says unforgivable things to his son and a character (I won’t say who) appears who is so cheesy and different that I had to stop for a moment wondering how this can be possible. (HOW? And what was that with the trolley lady? Really?)
In the end, I have to admit that I had my laughs. The script is funny to read and Scorpius is a really sweet character, but a lot of things weren’t really thought through and Rowling’s magical world couldn’t shine as much as in the past books

Rating: 3/5