Burgess, Anthony. Any Old Iron. New York: Washington Square Press, 1989.
Reason read: the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December. We remember the event every December 7th.
If you are familiar with A Clockwork Orange please put that out of your head when you read Any Old Iron. This is a completely different style of book (and somewhat easier to read; less cringe-worthy). Having said all that, you will need to hang onto your seats because in Any Old Iron Burgess will take you on a fifty year journey through history at breakneck speed. Along this journey you will travel with two families, one Welsh-Russian (told in third person), the other Jewish (told in vague and ghostly first person). You will careen through World War I, the founding of Israel, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War II, just to name a few historic events. All the while you are submersed in the Welsh, Russian, and Jewish cultures of these two larger than life families.
The title comes from word play as King Arthur’s sword also factors into the plot (as an aside, there is an old British music hall song of the same name of which I admit, I was less familiar).
Maybe I am making a generalization, but the thing about multi-generational sagas than span fifty years is that you tend to get attached to certain characters as you watch them age. I know I did.
Confessional: I had a “Natalie” moment when the aunt says of some illustrations they were “pornography in the manner of Alma-Tadema” (p 96). Thanks to the poem “If No One Ever Marries Me” I knew exactly what family the aunt (and Burgess) was referencing. Although Burgess could have meant Pre-Raphaelite Lawrence or his second daughter, Anna, who was also an artist.
Lines I liked, “I am no metallurgist, merely a retired terrorist and teacher of philosophy” (p 3), “Perhaps everybody was mad and war was the great sanitizer” (p 96), and “None had been taught to look at a map as a picture of human pain” (p 188).
Author fact: Burgess is probably most famous for A Clockwork Orange. As an aside, I had to watch ACO for a film class. It haunted me for
weeks months. I couldn’t get the fear of not being able to close my eyes out of my psyche.
Book trivia: Any Old Iron has been categorized as historical fantasy.
Nancy said: Pearl said “there are some moving sections about World War II” in Any Old Iron (Book Lust p 253).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Fiction” (p 253).
Shute, Nevil. Landfall: a Channel Story. London: Heron, 1969.
Reason read: the movie version of Landfall was released in May of 1949.
Roderick “Jerry” Chambers is a young and ambitious officer in the Royal Air Force. The story opens with Jerry meeting sweet Mona Stevens at a dance. This chance encounter proves to be a blessing in disguise for Jerry later in the story.
The early stages of World War II serves as the backdrop for Landfall. Jerry has been conducting air patrols off the southern coast of England. He’s a good pilot and on one mission he skillfully sinks what he thinks to be a German submarine, only to find all evidence points to it actually being British. While Chambers ultimately escapes disciplinary action, he shamefully retreats to a post as far away as possible from the disaster in northern England. Meanwhile, Mona has been eavesdropping on officers in the snack bar where she works. Despite the black mark on Jerry’s career Mona has stuck by him. Pretty soon she is able to discern what really happened with Jerry regarding the British submarine business. Only, it might be too late to clear his name. Jerry has been seriously wounded in an bombing experiment and rumor has it he may not make it through the night.
As an aside, all of Shute’s women (So far On the Beach and Landfall) are easy going and thoughtful with a keen sense of humor.
Best quote, “So let them pass, small people of no great significance, caught up and swept together like dead leaves in the great whirlwind of the war” (p 499).
Author fact: Shute had a stammer that hindered him from joining the Royal Flying Corps.
Book trivia: My borrowed copy had illustrations by Charles Keeping. They were cool.
Nancy said: nothing.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called, “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 199).
Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years 1942 – 1945. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1995.
Reason read: Victor Klemperer was born on October 9th. This is the second volume of his journal.
In the first installment of I Will Bear Witness Klemperer spent a great deal of time worrying about his health and borrowing money from one of his siblings. He stressed constantly about being in debt and dying of a heart attack. He didn’t know which was worse. In the second installment, as the Gestapo power grows crueler and crueler, Klemperer’s worries shift from paying the bills to getting enough food to eat and being “arrested” or called to the concentration camps. He is helpless with despair as he hears of dogcatching soldiers who are actually hunting Jews. Terror reins when friends are arrested and then shot “trying to escape”, and worse. Those unwilling to meet an unpredictable fate take matters into their own hands by committing suicide. In the face of all this uncertainty, little by little Klemperer and his wife lose simple creature comforts. When they move into their third and smallest apartment Victor is shocked by the lack of privacy; the promiscuity of everyone living so close to one another. Then the bombs fall. This is probably the most revealing of Klemperer’s diaries. How he and his wife escape is nothing short of miraculous. I held my breath through every page.
As an aside, I wish Klemperer would have shared his thoughts on I,Claudius by Robert Graves. It’s on my Challenge list.
Author fact: Using the confusion following the Allied bombing of Dresden, Klemperer and his wife escaped.
Quotes to mention (and there were a few since Klemperer was so profound). First, early on: “The feeling that it is my duty to write, that it is my life’s task, my calling” (p 12). Then later, “Religion or trust in God is a dirty business” (p 110), “But the inheritor of today is the evacuee or murder victim of tomorrow” (p 167), and “” ().
Book trivia: I Will Bear Witness is also known as To the Bitter End and is actually the second volume in a three-volume set. I am not reading the third installment, The Lesser Evil (1945 – 1959). In fact, it was never mentioned in Book Lust at all.
Nancy said: Nancy said Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130). Note: There is a typo in the index for both volumes of I Will Bear Witness. Both are indexed as I Will Beat Witness.
What happened in November? I finished physical therapy. But really, PT is not finished with me. I signed up for a 5k in order to keep the running alive. As soon as I did that I needed x-rays for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my hip and groin. Like stabbing, electrocuting pains. Diagnosis? More sclerosis and fusing. Yay, me! In defiance of that diagnosis I then signed up for a 21k. I am officially crazy.
Here are the books finished for the month of November:
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (AB/print)
- The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison
- Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Beaufort by Ron Leshem
- Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
- No Villain Need Be by Vardis Fisher (finally finished!)
- Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel
- I Will Bear Witness: the Nazi Years, 1942 – 1945 by Victor Klemperer
Early Review for LibraryThing: nothing. I jinxed myself by mentioning the book I was supposed to receive. Needless to say, it never arrived. So I never finished it. Ugh.
Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.
Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.
No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.
From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.
Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.
Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).
Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.
Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.
Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).
I have been in physical therapy for my hip for more than a month now and here’s the sad, sad thing. I don’t feel much different. I still have trouble sleeping a night (last night I woke up every two hours) and runs haven’t been that much easier. I managed over sixty miles for the month and finally finished the dreaded half (the one I have been babbling about for months now. Yeah, that one). I definitely made more time for the books. Here is the ginormous list:
- Aristotle Detective by Margaret Anne Doody (finished in a week).
- All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams.
- Discarded Duke by Nancy Butler (finished in a week).
- Beautiful Children by Charles Bock (AB / print). Word to the wise, don’t do it!
- Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison (AB / print; finished in less than a week).
- Sense of the World by Jason Roberts (AB / print).
- I Will Bear Witness: a Diary of the Nazi Years (1933-1941) by Victor Klemperer ~ in honor of Mr. Klemperer’s birth month.
- In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy
- We are Betrayed by Vardis Fisher.
- Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman ( finished in four days).
- Henry James: the Treacherous Years by Leon Edel (Can you believe I actually finished this within the same month?).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina (read in four days).
The month had finally arrived for the half marathon, my first and only of 2017. Enough said about that.
Here are the books I have planned:
- The Aristotle Detective by Margaret Anne Doody ~ in honor of Greece’s Ochi Day
- All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams ~ in honor of what else? Halloween.
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison ~ in honor of the first safari leader’s birth month (Major Sir William Wallace Cornwallis Harris born October 1848. How’s that for a name?) (AB / print)
- Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler by Jason Roberts ~ in honor of James Holman’s birth month (AB)
- The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman ~ to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents Day.
- Henry James: the Master by Leon Edel ~ to continue (and finish) the series started in April in honor of James’s birth month
- We are Betrayed by Vardis Fisher ~ to continue the series started in August
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina ~ and we are back to nonfiction.
If there is time:
- Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe (fiction)
- The Discarded Duke by Nancy Butler (fiction)
- In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy (nonfiction)
- I Will Bear Witness (vol.1) by Victor Klemperer (nonfiction)