What It Was Like in Berlin, 1932

New book, started just today. It’s by a woman named Rebecca Donner, and the subject is her great-grandaunt, Mildred Harnack, who was married to a German, Arvid, whose fate is a family secret, because it was very bad: it seems she was imprisoned by Hitler and executed, and what family would want to talk about something like that?

Self only heard about Mildred Harnack from a book review in The Economist (August 2021). Self saved the review and now, finally, she holds in her hands All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler.

Mildred was from Wisconsin. She met Arvid when they were both students at the University of Wisconsin. In 1932, she was a part-time instructor at the University of Berlin, where she taught American Literary History.

It’s a good thing her great grandniece knows how to tell a story. She uses present tense, which hints that at least one of her goals is to make this story immersive: it’s not going to be a “Mildred did this, then Mildred did that” kind of thing. No, Rebecca’s actually going to put us in Berlin, which so happens to be a place self has visited, long ago, when she was invited to read from her book Mayor of the Roses by the House of World Culture. Just a few weeks ago, she was in Berlin again, this time April 1945 Berlin, through the eyes of Anonymous in A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City.

1932 Berlin is very different from 1945 Berlin (of course). Mildred would be two years dead by the time Anonymous began writing her diary (Self wonders if Anonymous would have heard of Mildred Harnack? Anonymous was a journalist, so in all probability she would have heard of Mildred’s arrest and execution). Here is Mildred walking through Berlin in 1932:

She reaches a wide boulevard: Unter den Linden. She turns right.

The boulevard takes its name from the profusion of linden trees flanking it, trees that are in full bloom now, cascades of tiny white blossoms perfuming the air she breathes. But all this beauty can’t mask the ugliness here. Swastikas are cropping up like daisies everywhere: on posters pasted to the walls of U-Bahn stations, on flags and banners and pamphlets. A white-haired, walrus-mustached man is leading the country right now, but just barely. President Paul von Hindenburg is eighty-four, tottering into senility. A politician half his age is growing in popularity, a high-school dropout named Adolf Hitler who, Mildred predicts, will bring “a great increase of misery and oppression.”

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 16

Story # 3, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy

the King, with eyes flashing with indignation, entered the room of the princess; and, waving his scepter, he cried out, “Christian Elias Drosselmeier, cure the princess, or die!” Drosselmeier began to cry bitterly, but little Princess Perlipat went on cracking her nuts. Then first was the court watchmaker struck with the princess’s extraordinary partiality for nuts, and the circumstance of her having come into the world with teeth. In fact, she had cried incessantly since her metamorphosis, until someone by chance gave her a nut; she immediately cracked it, ate the kernel, and was quiet. From that time, the nurses found nothing so effectual as to bring her nuts.

The Story of the Hard Nut, by E. T. Hoffmann, translated by Major Alex Ewing

The stories self has read so far: about a Princess who has been pregnant seven years; and about a boy half-hedghog and half man, who wounds his wife with his sharp quills because her father, the King, tried to trick him.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Short Story of the Day: “Crocodile Teeth” by Donna Lee Miele

Nine more days till the Redwood City Library online reading for ms. aligned volume 3! (Thursday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. PST) Much thanks to the library outreach staff, who gave us the slot and prepared beautiful flyers. And much thanks to series editor Pat Matsueda for coming up with the idea of a series focused on women writing about men.

Super-excited. Register here.

One of the readers on Feb. 25 is Donna Lee Miele. Self has just finished re-reading her fantastic story, “Crocodile Teeth.” From her Contributor Bio in ms. aligned 3:

  • Donna Lee Miele plays with characters, settings, and conflicts that evoke her mixed heritage and her parents’ experiences of war. While she also writes historical fiction, she finds greater freedom to explore (and greater fun) in stories with less concise settings, which was her intention with “Crocodile Teeth.”

An excerpt:

I was scared of Edward’s sister. After Edward’s parents got lost looking for work upriver, she took over their grandma’s house like she’d just been waiting for the chance. She bullied Edward, she bullied their grandma, and she even bullied the guys that started hanging around, who offered everything from repairs to the wornout old house to actual money for the chance to date her. They thought she’d be easy because she and Edward were orphans. She didn’t even pretend to be nice to them. She had a look so cold she could make the bag shrivel between your legs.

If you were one of those guys, and you tried to come up on her grandma’s veranda, she would stand on its edge, look down on you, and say something like, “Take yourself to the beach and remember me to your family,” meaning Last Beach, though even she wouldn’t say that right out. Last Beach is full of whores of every kind; and every one of them, of course, is someone’s family.

Place in Mystery Fiction: It Is Everything

Self is closing out 2017 with Tana French, and she is also reading Kelly Creighton’s Bank Hurricane Holiday, a super short story collection set in Northern Ireland.

Place is everything in the writing of these two women. She isn’t finished yet with Creighton’s book (just out from Doire Press) but she finished her first Tana French, earlier today: Broken Harbor. And she’s just started reading The Trespasser.

She’s very late in coming to Tana French, but why. She’s been coming to Ireland for years, if she’d had enough sense, she would have read Ms. French years ago.

Self loves mysteries. She especially loves the mysteries of: Henning Mankell, Morag Joss (only one book), Ruth Rendell, and Karin Fossum.

She thinks her love of mysteries in foreign landscapes began with Peter Hoeg’s mesmerizing Smilla’s Sense of Snow. (And now she writes dystopian fantasy set in snowy landscapes, what a coincidence)

p. 4, The Trespasser:

  • Murder works out of the grounds of Dublin Castle, smack in the heart of town, but our building is tucked away a few corners from the fancy stuff the tourists come to see, and our walls are thick; even the early morning traffic out on Dame Street only makes it through to us as a soft, undemanding hum.

Who doesn’t know Dublin Castle. Tourist mecca. Now, in her mind, Dublin Castle is the home of the Dublin Murder Squad. Love.

On to p. 5.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Dystopia: Tyrone Guthrie Centre, 2014

Self is trying to put together a collection. Which involves a laboriously slow process of selection. It is nice, though, re-reading stuff.

from Spores:

(Set in the far future. Very, very, very far. Society’s divided into classes:  Earthstar, Silverleaf, Shag, and Common. The main characters are a pair of lab workers named K and R. K is a girl, R is a boy. The story’s told from R’s point of view)

“We be needing foxes,” I said once.

“You lousy hedgehog,” the boss said, giving me a good one. My right eye swelled up almost immediately.

“You not be asking me to fetch, you lousy Common!” He gave me another good one on the way out.

K trembling there in the corner.

The voice was birthed while eavesdropping at the dinner table in Annaghmakerrig.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Advice for the Soldier Returning From Iraq

Don’t kill yourself. Don’t beat your wife.

— from the title story of Iraq War vet Phil Klay’s collection Redeployment

In Honor of International Women’s Day

Books that rocked self’s world:

  • Break It Down, by Lydia Davis
  • Empty Chairs, by Liu Xia
  • The Charm Buyers, by Lillian Howan
  • Yes (A screenplay), by Sally Potter
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
  • Night Willow, by Luisa Igloria
  • Palayok: Philippine Food Through Time, by Doreen Fernandez
  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
  • Memories Flow In Our Veins: Forty Years of Women’s Writings from Calyx, edited by the Calyx Editorial Collective
  • The Infernal Devices Trilogy, by Cassandra Clare
  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  • Going Home to a Landscape: a Filipino Women’s Anthology, edited by Virginia Cerenio and Marianne Villanueva

The Next 3 Books on Self’s 2017 Reading List

Self began reading Ape House, by Sara Gruen. It really plays with your head because right away, the bonobos are introduced with such clearly human traits, and we don’t see them as “animal.” (So what is the point? If they’re already human, why are we reading? Dare self say — because on p. 11 there are already seeds sown of a romance? Ugh. It’s not that self hates romance. It’s just that she wanted to read a story that was primarily about bonobos) But, no denying, Sara Gruen really goes for it. She bare-knuckles her story and you either buy her point of view or you don’t.

Self then began reading the next book on her reading list: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. And, OMG, he doesn’t pull any punches either. He goes straight for the mythopoetic, quoting from a book on American folklore (and, eerily, finding the exact quote to reflect what self has been thinking all these years, which is: why are there no tikbalangs or mangkukulams in the United States? Is it because these creatures cannot get on a plane?)

So, because self is always searching for certainty, and she just finished reading Peter Lovesey’s Skeleton Hill and it was excellent, and self thinks she might be on something of a run, she decides to be truly daring and pick up the third book on her 2017 reading list: Phil Klay’s Redeployment. And here’s yet another writer who doesn’t pull any punches. His stories of men fighting in the front lines in Iraq — they will not thrill you. For instance, the title story: “We shot dogs. Not by accident.”

Which to read first? In point of fact, self already has six books lined up: the other three books on her current reading list are by Mary Beard, Francis Parkman, and Edward Gibbon. Eminent historians, all. Self hasn’t read so much history in a very long time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Economist Books of the Year 2015

Yes, self is a year behind in her reading of The Economist. So pathetic.

Anyhoo, here are the books self picked to add to her reading list: four histories, three works of fiction, one book on Culture, Society and Travel.

HISTORIES

  • Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, by Susan Southard — “a searing account of five teenage survivors of the bombing of Nagasaki”
  • Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, by Bernard Cornwell — “a great and terrible story of a battle . . . fought 200 years ago, told with energy and clarity”
  • The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East — “how a multinational Muslim empire was destroyed by the first World War”
  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard — “about Rome from its myth-shrouded origins to the early third century”

CULTURE, SOCIETY AND TRAVEL

  • Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, by Rebecca Herzig — “a curious account of hair-erasing, and why people have tried clamshell razors, lasers, lye depilatories, tweezers, waxes, threading and electrolysis to try and free themselves from hairiness”

FICTION

  • Seiobo There Below, by Laszlo Krasznahorkai — Seventeen stories, “a fitting winner of the 2005 Man Booker International Prize”
  • Submission, by Michael Houellebecq — “France under Muslim rule,” 2022
  • An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, by Jessie Greengrass — a “spectacularly accomplished, chilly debut collection of short stories about thwarted lives and opportunities missed”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Lysley Tenorio

“It was always a bogus-looking act, but at some point I just assumed that Filipinos were somehow predisposed to believing anyone who claimed to understand their pain.”

— from the story “Felix Starro” in the Lysley Tenorio collection, Monstress

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