World War Two Still Relevant

I’ve been listening to the Canada Reads discussion on CBC this week…finding some mundane chore to keep my hands busy as my mind follows along. Usually, I spend my mornings word crunching my own WIP. I haven’t yet read any (!) of this year’s shortlist…but I have every intention to read them all because each one sounds compelling. The conversation, as the panelists defended their choices, kept me sweeping and washing the kitchen floor. I even made cookies one morning…something I never do…just to keep my ear glued to the radio. (Don’t ask about my other options…the CBC has always been relegated to the kitchen.)

I’m delighted, although surprised, that By Chance Alone (Max Eisen) won. After all, there’s been so much written about the Second World War. Haven’t we heard enough? No, apparently the topic still needs attention. Now, just because I’ve been obsessed with this topic since my own youth, I didn’t assume that others would still find it so relevant. The participants of that hellish time are fading fast. Now is the time to listen to those personal experiences. 

For my personal journey, the focus in not on the victims, but on the perpetrators. Both my parents were active in the war…as Germans. For me, to understand the enemy, is to understand my family…is to understand myself. That’s why I’m saving my pennies and my nickels for this summer’s adventure overseas. I need to understand how my father, at eighteen, joined the Luftwaffe. I need to understand how my mother walked through the East Prussian winter to escape the Soviets. I need to understand why they left that bombed out world to start again in this country…a country that has itself been ravished by the violent usurpers who now govern.

So I have to read By Chance Alone and I have to read the others books. They’re relevant to my life and to the lives of my children who can’t help but take for granted all this good stuff…this free thinking and free moving society. The Canada Reads book discussion gives me hope. We aren’t all just navigating traffic around shopping malls. We're trying to understand why any of this matters.

Baltic Writers

I finished reading Günther Grass’s 2002 novel, Crabwalk, this week.  It’s translated from the German, Im Krebsgang,by Krishna Winston. Now, I might have a masters’ in 20thcentury German lit, but must admit, I’d never read any of his work. I was probably too obsessed with Heinrich Böll, one of my all-time favourite writers. What drew me to Grass now is Ruta Sepetys’s 2016 YA novel, From Salt to Sea. She includes a wonderful list of resource material at the end of her novel. 

Both books concern the sinking of the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Both books cover territory that my own WIP touches on. Because the German title has the word Krebs in it, which means cancer, I'd missed the war connection. But the title refers to the wobbly, unsteady way a crab walks. And so it is, with the plot. 

I recommend reading both novels, end to end.  What makes Grass’s book so compelling is his ability to connect the dots, and then transfer the issues that led to the 1945 tragedy into a modern and relevant internet-based story. While Sepetys’s book zooms in on the tragedy of specific victims, Grass focuses on the bigger picture. He seems especially drawn to the man for whom the German luxury ship—used for German vacationers through the Kraft durch Freude —(or Strength through Joy program) was named. The man, Wilhelm Gustloff, was a prominent Nazi, who was shot in Davos, Switzerland by David Frankfurter, a Jew in 1936. Gustloff’s birthday was January 30, (1895) —fifty years to the day that the ship went down (in 1945), the same day the main character, Paul, was born, and the same date (in 1933) that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, twelve years earlier.

Grass received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999. Another Baltic-based writer, Thomas Mann, received the same recognition back in 1929. Grass’s birth town was Danzig (now at #13 Lelewela in Gdansk) Poland while Thomas Mann had a summer home in Nida, Lithuania. More places to add to my Baltic itinerary.  Hope to share photos here on this blog.

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