The Oblique Place by Caterina Pascual Söderbaum review – a family’s dark Nazi past


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A ‘castle of murder’ in Nazi Austria is at the heart of this semi-autobiographical family chronicle

Attempts to recreate the horrors of the Final Solution in film and fiction are mostly a “macabre indecency”, said the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. The Oblique Place, published posthumously in Sweden in 2016, offers no trite answers. In pages of restlessly enquiring self-examination, it captures a family’s long-term involvement in Nazism. Caterina Pascual Söderbaum, who died in 2015 at the age of 53, was born in Uppsala, central Sweden, to parents still in thrall to the swastika. Her book, a semi-fictionalised family chronicle that ventures into other lives and historical events , is an attempt to come to terms with a troubled and disquieting past.

Gertrud Söderbaum, the author’s Swedish mother, was related to Hitler’s favourite female actor Kristina Söderbaum, who played the leading role in the antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süss; ...

The Oblique Place by Caterina Pascual Söderbaum review – a family’s dark Nazi past


This post is by Ian Thomson from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




A ‘castle of murder’ in Nazi Austria is at the heart of this semi-autobiographical family chronicle

Attempts to recreate the horrors of the Final Solution in film and fiction are mostly a “macabre indecency”, said the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. The Oblique Place, published posthumously in Sweden in 2016, offers no trite answers. In pages of restlessly enquiring self-examination, it captures a family’s long-term involvement in Nazism. Caterina Pascual Söderbaum, who died in 2015 at the age of 53, was born in Uppsala, central Sweden, to parents still in thrall to the swastika. Her book, a semi-fictionalised family chronicle that ventures into other lives and historical events , is an attempt to come to terms with a troubled and disquieting past.

Gertrud Söderbaum, the author’s Swedish mother, was related to Hitler’s favourite female actor Kristina Söderbaum, who played the leading role in the antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süss; ...

The Oblique Place by Caterina Pascual Söderbaum review – a family’s dark Nazi past


This post is by Ian Thomson from Books | The Guardian


Click here to view on the original site: Original Post




A ‘castle of murder’ in Nazi Austria is at the heart of this semi-autobiographical family chronicle

Attempts to recreate the horrors of the Final Solution in film and fiction are mostly a “macabre indecency”, said the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi. The Oblique Place, published posthumously in Sweden in 2016, offers no trite answers. In pages of restlessly enquiring self-examination, it captures a family’s long-term involvement in Nazism. Caterina Pascual Söderbaum, who died in 2015 at the age of 53, was born in Uppsala, central Sweden, to parents still in thrall to the swastika. Her book, a semi-fictionalised family chronicle that ventures into other lives and historical events , is an attempt to come to terms with a troubled and disquieting past.

Gertrud Söderbaum, the author’s Swedish mother, was related to Hitler’s favourite female actor Kristina Söderbaum, who played the leading role in the antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süss; ...

Asperger’s Children by Edith Sheffer review – the origins of autism in Nazi Vienna


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In popular legend, Asperger was an Oskar Schindler figure who shielded his charges from euthanasia. The truth is more uncomfortable

In nursing homes across the Third Reich, children diagnosed with “autistic spectrum disorder” (as it might be termed today) were systematically murdered. Caring for these “useless mouths” drained the Aryan state. It was best they died by lethal injection (the so-called “nursing cure”). Not all Nazi attempts to cleanse society medically resulted in murder. In Vienna during the Anschluss, Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger had begun to view autism as a developmental condition rather than a form of “idiocy” to be eradicated. The juveniles in his care exhibited strange behavioural traits such as hand- flapping and other forms of “stimming” (repetitive body movements) that required unorthodox teaching methods commensurate with their “psychopathy”. In popular legend, Asperger was an Oskar Schindler figure who shielded his charges from euthanasia.

At the same time ...

The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945 by John Foot review – sparkling chronicle of a nation divided


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A lively and meticulously researched account of Italy’s political history, from postwar to present

Italy’s pro-fascist King, Victor Emanuele III, abdicated in disgrace in the spring of 1946. Mussolini was dead – but not quite departed. Neo-fascists had stolen the dictator’s corpse from its grave in Milan: the unburied body became a potent symbol of totalitarian resurrection. On 2 June that year, Italians were asked to decide by referendum if they wanted to become a republic. A clamour of books, films and newspapers exhorted them to join the democratic world. Raised under fascism, many Italians had never seen a ballot box before. For the first time, Italian women were allowed to vote. Armoured cars stood outside the polling stations in anticipation of violence; there was none.

John Foot’s lively history of Italy since 1945, The Archipelago, describes how the referendum divided the nation grievously. The impoverished south remained monarchist; ...

Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister – review


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Nicholas Shakespeare’s flair as a novelist makes a gripping story of Churchill’s unlikely rise to power in 1940

Hitler died amid the flames of Berlin in April 1945. The most reckless criminal in modern history was no more. So long as “good” Germans are at the helm of Germany today, a Fourth Reich seems unimaginable. Yet Nazism really did happen, and it came close to engulfing Britain. The BBC sitcom Dad’s Army poked fun at the feared German invasion. In one episode, Private Godfrey’s sisters are seen to prepare their Regency cottage for the most charming of guests. “The Germans are coming, Miss Godfrey,” Lance Corporal Jones warns. “Yes, I know, so many people to tea. I think I’d better make some more.”

The second world war continues to fascinate young and old alike: how to make a familiar subject new? Several large, one-volume histories have appeared in recent years. ...

Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past by John Higgs review – the road to enlightenment


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This entertaining journey along an ancient road casts light on modern Britain and the national psycheIn 1964, following a lifetime’s abuse of vodka and cigarettes, Ian Fleming died of a heart attack after playing a round of golf on the Kent coast. He was 56. According to John Higgs, Fleming’s enduringly absurd creation, James Bond, was codenamed after the OO7 coach that ran from Kent to London. Fleming on board the OO7 National Express is hard to imagine. Like many Englishmen of his class, he was repelled by cheap mass travel, pop culture and indeed any manifestation of multiculturalism. His first Jamaican novel, Dr No, is distinguished by its disgusted (for the modern reader, perhaps disgusting) portrayal of Jamaica’s half-Chinese community as yellow-black “Chigroes”; an impure race, no less. The imperialist OO7 fantasias do not sit well with today’s leftwing, identity-laden politics. In Higgs’s view, the left’s ...

Passchendaele: A New History review – necessary reading on the battle’s 100th anniversary


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Nick Lloyd has unearthed a mass of new material for this harrowing account of one of the most infamous engagements of the Great WarPasschendaele has became synonymous with the carnage and perceived futility of the first world war. Between 31 July and 10 November 1917, some 500,000 men were killed or maimed. Such a “murderous shambles”, writes Nick Lloyd, was nevertheless hailed by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, as a hard-won victory for the allies. Lloyd, a military historian at King’s College London, has retrieved an abundance of new material from archives, libraries and Red Cross files across western Europe. The German army’s terrible suffering is duly explored, as well as that of Canadian and Anzac infantrymen. Published on the eve of Passchendaele’s 100th anniversary, the book is harrowing but necessary. Continue reading...

Arthur and Sherlock review – ‘diligent study of Holmes and his role models’


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Michael Sims investigates Conan Doyle’s real and fictional inspirations for his great detectiveThe best Sherlock Holmes stories were written before 1916, when Arthur Conan Doyle officially converted to spiritualism and took to table-rapping. A mishmash of new age mysticism and low church gloom, the pseudo-religion flourished amid the bereavement of the first world war and its aftermath; Conan Doyle had lost his adored son Kingsley to the flu epidemic of 1918. Had he dabbled seriously in mediums and moonshine before The Hound of the Baskervilles appeared in 1902, the fire-breathing beast of Grimpen Mire might really have come from the beyond, as we are led at first to believe. Instead, the novel is enlivened by marvellous corny humour. “I have ample evidence,” Holmes tells his client Sir Henry Baskerville, “that you are being dogged in London.” Complete with pipe, Stradivarius and magnifying glass (though not deerstalker: the hat ...

Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli review – physics versus certainty


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The author of the million-selling Seven Brief Lessons on Physics rails against Richard Dawkins and the science-arts splitCarlo Rovelli’s slim poetic meditation Seven Brief Lessons on Physics managed to clarify the troubling uncertainties of Einsteinian relativity, quantum theory and other physical exotica. Less than 80 pages long, it became one of the fastest-selling science books ever, and has now sold a million copies worldwide. Not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time had there been such a consensual success in the science book market; in the author’s native Italy the lessons even outsold Fifty Shades of Grey. Reality Is Not What It Seems – a deeper, more intellectually challenging meditation – outlines for the general reader some of the key developments in physics from the ancient Greek philosophers and the Roman poet Lucretius to the present day. In the Italian professor’s elucidation, physics goes deeper than any other ...

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper – review


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An absorbing new life of Luther portrays the theologian as an authoritarian fuelled by hatred – of Jews as well as the papacyJesus Christ, a Jewish rabboni, or “teacher”, alarmed the Temple authorities by daring to come back to life. “OK, so we killed him, but only for three days”, runs the Jewish joke. Christianity began with a crucified body that went missing – but was it really a Jewish body? Martin Luther’s austere, reforming personality would not allow for Christ’s Jewish blood because Jews fed off satanic excrement. “The devil stuffs and squirts them so full that it overflows and swims out of every place,” Luther preached. The German theologian was aware of the Hebraic roots of the Bible. (Matthew’s gospel, the most demonstrably “Jewish” of the four, seeks to show how every recorded act of Jesus is rooted in Jewish scripture.) Yet Luther called for German Jewry’s complete ...

The Fall of the House of Wilde review – Oscar’s family misfortunes


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Emer O’Sullivan traces the journey of the literary giant’s family from riches to ragsOscar (Fingal O’Flahertie) Wilde, the self-adoring dandy of Victorian letters, toured America in 1882 with a trunkful of lace-trimmed velvet coats and low-cut Byronic blouses. “If I were alone on a desert island and had my things,” the 27-year-old Dublin-born aesthete declared, “I would dress for dinner every night.” From New York to Colorado, audiences went wild for Oscar, whose applications of rouge and dyed green carnation buttonholes were so unlike anything worn by cowboys. The 6ft 3in Irishman had yet to write the great works that made him famous (The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Ballad of Reading Gaol). Yet by turning himself into a commodity he was able to be famous merely for being famous. Without Wilde’s very modern genius for self-promotion, conceivably, there ...

Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War by Ian Buruma – review


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Ian Buruma’s account of his Jewish grandparents’ experiences speaks volumes about modern Britain and asylum As a child I assumed my mother was English. Her spoken English was said to be peculiarly accented, but I never heard it. The suspicion that she belonged to another world was nevertheless unsettling (it would be unsettling for any child). Only now, 40 years on, can I see that her “English” identity concealed a tumultuous history of flight, concealment and self-invention. Her family, persecuted by Stalin in the Baltic city of Tallinn, had fled to England before their house was commandeered and turned into a Soviet textile factory. She had very little English on her arrival in London in 1947 at the age of 17, but doggedly set out to learn the language. All her life, though, she remained afraid of the slip in manner or speech that would betray her non-English identity. The ...

Umberto Eco obituary


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Italian writer and philosopher known for his medieval whodunnit The Name of the RoseUmberto Eco, who has died aged 84, was a polymath of towering cleverness; his novels occasionally had the look and feel of encyclopedias. They combined cultural influences ranging from TS Eliot to the Charlie Brown comic-strips. Linguistically technical, they were robustly humorous. For relaxation, Eco played Renaissance airs on the recorder, and read dictionaries (he was a master of several foreign languages). Eco’s first, landmark novel, The Name of the Rose, was published in 1980. An artful reworking of Conan Doyle, with Sherlock Holmes transplanted to 14th-century Italy, the book’s baggage of arcane erudition was designed to flatter the average reader’s intelligence. In reality, Eco’s medieval whodunnit was upmarket Arthur Hailey with ingenious modernist fripperies. Subsequently translated into 30 languages, it sold more than 10m copies worldwide, and was made into a film starring Sean Connery. ...

Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers by Frank Trentmann review – buying into the material world


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Our role as obedient customers is put under the spotlight in an ambitious 600-year history of global economicsJG Ballard’s last published novel, Kingdom Come, unfolds in a fictional London suburb called Brooklands, where a vast shopping mall fosters a bovine social docility. In the book’s wayward conceit, consumerism is a totalitarian device used to control people and their artificial wants. Fired up by dreams of wealth, Brooklanders indulge in Black Friday-style bargain hunting in their local Metro-Centre. Ballard was not the first to see shopping as a secular religion. Émile Zola, in his 1883 novel The Ladies’ Paradise, tells the rise of a department store in late 19th-century Paris and its role in the new mass consumption. With its silk counters and perfume department, the store looks forward to our age of indiscriminate purchase and credit binge. Far from aiding the French economy, Zola’s cathedral of commerce ...

King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia by Asfa-Wossen Asserate – review


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At last, a dignified biography of one of the 20th century’s most misunderstood figures Haile Selassie is one of the most bizarre and misunderstood figures in 20th-century history, alternately worshipped and mocked, idolised and marginalised. This magnificent biography by the German-Ethiopian historian Asfa-Wossen Asserate (a distant relation of Selassie), and translated by Peter Lewis, is diligently researched and fair-minded; he is at last accorded a proper dignity. The book is manifestly a riposte to Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, which portrayed the emperor, and indeed Addis Ababa’s entire Amharic elite, as a comic-opera laughing stock. Selassie came to power as regent of Abyssinia, later Ethiopia, in 1916, but many of the myths around him originated with Mussolini’s invasion of the country in 1935. Selassie and his armies resisted, but he was eventually forced into exile. In 1941, after six years of brutal occupation, the Italians were defeated by British and South African forces and Selassie was allowed to return ...

1956: The World in Revolt; 1956: The Year That Changed Britain; 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded – review


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Three books about the postwar era – by Simon Hall, Francis Beckett and Tony Russell, and Jon Savage – chart the end of the ‘great greyness’

Historians love to identify a particular year as world-shaking or otherwise important, and write a book about it. Recently, popular histories have appeared of 1913 (the “year before the storm”), 1968 (“the year of revolt”), and 1980 (the “year of free markets”). By comparison, the 1950s remain oddly neglected. Perhaps the decade is seen as too dreary or drab to have diverted the course of history decisively. Certainly 1950s Britain was a derelict, half-ruined place, where railway carriages were black with grime and bomb damage showed in the big cities. It was the world of the screenwriter Dennis Potter’s “great greyness” – the “feeling of the flatness and bleakness of everyday England”.

In fact, Britain was on the cusp of tumultuous change in the 1950s. ...

Kissinger: The Idealist review – an admiring, flawed study


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In this riposte to the great American cold warrior’s left-leaning critics, Niall Ferguson, seeks to rehabilitate the image of a man as much reviled as he is revered

In the winter of 1948 Graham Greene arrived in the “smashed, dreary city” of Vienna to oversee work on his screenplay for The Third Man. The city was divided into four, mutually antagonistic cold war zones controlled by Russia, the US, France and Britain. Everywhere Greene went he saw evidence of the moral and material ruins of Hitler’s collapsed Reich. East-west tensions intensified later that year when Stalin began to blockade access to western Berlin. The allied forces in the city, fearing a Red takeover, improvised an airlift for Berliners. A sense of insecurity now infected every level of the White House: at Harvard, meanwhile, a young German-Jewish political scientist called Henry Kissinger contemplated Moscow’s atomic capabilities: how long before a Red ...

A Very Dangerous Woman review – an enjoyably sensationalist biography


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The life of Moura Budberg – aristocratic spy and ‘remarkable liar’ – is hard to pin down, but there is no lack of colour

In 1934, Graham Greene spent some time in the Estonian capital of Tallinn “vainly seeking a brothel” that (he records in his memoir Ways of Escape) had been recommended to him by the “very dangerous” Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya, later Countess Benckendorff and Baroness Budberg, a Russo-Baltic exile living in London and mistress of, among others, HG Wells and Maxim Gorky. Moura, as she was affectionately known, had misled Greene: the brothel turned out to be an apothecary’s. In 1965, after another disappointment, Greene wrote to Moura at her address in Cromwell Road in London: “My dear Moura, You know that I love you very much, so you must forgive my telling you that you are being a bloody nuisance.”

Related: A Spy Among Friends ...