Recently, thanks to a rummage through an Oxfam bookshop, I picked up Joseph Kanon's The Good German. It is set in Berlin in 1945 and falls into the spy thriller category but also taps into some intriguing historical themes that go far beyond a good page-turner. I can highly recommend it for its portrait of a ruined city and the early days of partition. I was particularly fascinated because the Nazi round up raises one such difficult question for me. Had I had the misfortune to be born a Berliner in those years, what kind of German would I have been? I hope that I would make all the right choices, but a good novel like Kanon's confronts me with the very real possibility that I would not.
It is easy to imagine everyone on the 'enemy' side was bad - it helps make the history books cleaner, more white hat/black hat as Hollywood prefers in its superhero movies. But history isn't clean or simple. Last week Deutsche Welt ran an article by Anne-Sophie Brandlin - translated and reported in The Week under the strap line: Grow up, America - we aren't all Nazis. The writer is tired of the lack of nuance with which the events of WWII are portrayed and argues that Berlin 'is packed with reminders of the past' whereas in Washington in the National Mall there is not a single memorial to non-American victims of the Vietnam War. I don't know if that is true and the contexts are very different, but I get the point Brandlin is trying to make. Most Germans are not slow to acknowledge their 20th century faults but they also need to be allowed to portray recent history in its full complexity without being accused of trying to bury ugly truths.
That was why it was intensely moving this week to read Clive James' essay on Sophie Scholl in his Cultural Amnesia - an amazingly broad and erudite essays collection on 20th century thinkers. If you thought he was only a TV critic, think again.
|Sophie Scholl with brother Hans and Christoph Probst,
leaders of the White Rose resistance - photo from US Holocaust Memorial Museum
We are running a theme of cranky ladies this month on the blog but Sophie is too great to be saddled with that title. She was 'cranky' in the sense that word is often used to attack women: those who refuse to fit in, make themselves awkward for their society. Good for you, Sophie. I can only hope I would display a fraction of your courage if ever I had to make such a difficult moral choice.