Jump to content

The Last Book You Read

Recommended Posts

On 1/5/2020 at 2:05 PM, doc.fixit said:

May I suggest, 'The World Without Us', by Alan Weisman. Published by Virgin.

Probably the most thought provoking book I have recently read.


I bet it’s making you think even more now Doc. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...
  • 9 months later...

I’ve always enjoyed reading and every now and then pick out a serious novel to enjoy the storytelling.  Recently a professor of evolutionary biology, who’s website I read every day, wrote that he was enjoying All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski and my interest piqued I got myself a copy.  I’m glad I did, for it is a novel created by a master story teller.

There are multiple ways to tell a story and Kempowski tells his in the sparsest style imaginable.  His prose is full of space and absence to be filled in by the reader.  A Chinese painting is full of space for the viewer to place themselves into, and Kempowski’s prose, in almost a child-like manner, leaves the reader to read between his lines.  The result is a magnificent tension as you dread the story reaching its tragic crescendo.

You see the story is set in East Prussia in the snow covered January of 1945 and it is obvious it isn’t going to end well.  The Globig family are minor German gentry living in the Georgenhof, their manor house on the edge of an oak forest a few kilometres from a minor provincial Prussian town and the war so far has barely touched them. Admittedly, the husband has been called up and given a 3rd line bureaucrats job in the Army, initially in the Ukraine and now in Italy, but he has been a long way from the fighting and safe, while his wife, Katharina, and son, Peter, have carried on sheltered by their declining wealth in the increasingly decayed house looked after by Auntie, the spinster housekeeper, two Ukrainian maids, brought to Germany by the husband, and Vladimir, a Pole, his clothes marked with a P to mark out his inferior ethnicity.

For quite a portion of the book little happens, in a mundane rhythm visitors are brought to the house and the abnormality of the Nazi homefront seems to all simply the reality of life.  Prisoners of war, foreign workers, a Political Economist, a violinist entertaining the maimed troops, accompanied by a one-armed soldier on the piano, are envious of the large house and the sheltered life of its inhabitants.  Peter is kept from Hitler Youth duties by his mother’s insistence he has tonsillitis and the busy-body Nazi bureaucrat, Drygalski, living across the road, resentful of their wealth is too over-awed by her to object, for all his muttering to himself that he doesn’t approve. And all this time the rumours are that the Russians are getting closer.

The characters, in short snatched sentences punctuated with the occasional Heil Hitler, only slowly react to the increasing numbers of refugees passing the house; and the dark under-belly of the Nazi regime, beyond bureaucratic pettiness, is hardly visible, though there are whispered mentions of concentration camps, and Jews. I’m not going to give much more of the plot away, but we all know the evil that lurked in the Nazi East and the violence total war invokes, and Aunty, Katharina and Peter cannot remain isolated from it as mundane visitor after mundane visitor arrives at the Georgehhof.  As the tension mounts, Kempowski’s prose gains power through its simplicity.  It is childlike and sparse and the horror his characters are exposed to in the last chapters of the book is enhanced, not diminished by it being left almost entirely hidden within the text.  “’Oh, no!’ cried Peter”.

All For Nothing is a hugely powerful read, told in a masterly way.  The prose acknowledging the impossibility of explaining the horror of the Nazis and therefore leaving the space for the reader to fill it in themselves. There is humour, dread, fear, and a tiny amount of redemption. The most complex - and in the final moment most enigmatic - character being Drygalski, the low-level Nazi bureaucrat and busy body, with a Hitler moustache and jack boots. There is much to think on within the pages of this book.  I cannot recommend it more, though it is hardly an optimistic read. 


Link to post
Share on other sites

'Adam the Gardener', a Sunday Express publication from way back. Cost 5 shillings and read and used every year!

'Wayfinding', by Michael Bond a freelance science writer. The art and science of how we find and lose our way. Fascinating.

'To the Edge of the World', Christian Wolmar. The story of the Trans Siberian railway. Just started reading today.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, quilp said:

'The Man Who Was Thursday.' G.K. Chesterton. Haven't finished it and it wouldn't do to write a long and subjective resumé except to say I'd recommend it as a light and airy read...


ETA: Link to a free edition...

I remember enjoying it when I was on the dole, and it was one of those £1 editions of out of copyright classics they printed before the internet. 

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Walpole Avenue charity shop so long ago I can't remember but when I was cleaning out a chest of drawers last month, there it was. Don't even remember buying it but recall I was intrigued by the cover. And a quick search reveals there are so many different covers and even a couple of films based on it. It almost went in the box of stuff I'm taking to the same shop when it reopens. Obviously, the "light and airy read" description was a bit of a joke, as you'll probably know... 

The wiki page covering the book is quite extensive, more facts about the author's disposition at writing and how popular its influence has been since its publication. Didn't know any of it...




Edited by quilp
The wow factor.
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...