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I chose this novel from the Amazon First Reads list for September, I leave a review of my own free will.
This novel tells the tale of Josef Anton Starzmann and his experiences during the Second World War. Age 18 he joined a friary and became Brother Nazarius, a friar teaching children with both physical and mental health issues, whom have been abandoned by their families, to play musical instruments bringing them a whole new world to explore.
As the Nazi party gains power it starts to eradicate anyone it considers "life unworthy to live" under the T4 bill. The friars are forced to hand over the children in their care, Brother Nazarius tries to pursuade the soldiers not to take them, and learns a stark lesson as to why so many Germans appear to have forgotten their own humanity; if they don't follow orders it's their own families who will be rounded up and taken to the death camps or killed as an example to others.
The friary and school are disbanded and he's conscripted to the Wermacht, where his feelings of devastation and guilt over having been unable to save the children are increased, being asked to take people's lives and then witnessing the despicable acts of the soldiers, burning a church amongst other things, he manages to escape the Wermacht by overplaying an injury acquired while parachuting into his first battle.
Desperate to be of help to someone and to avoid being forced to kill against his beliefs and instincts he responds to an advertisement placed by a widow and mother of three, seeking a husband to help bring up and protect her children.
Inexperienced in the complexities of relationships he marries Elisabeth Herter 2 weeks after meeting her and we follow their family through the remaining years of the war.
Anton finds hope, friendship, love and support in the small close knit community Elisabeth lives in but not everyone believes that the great Nazi Party is wrong and Anton faces being reported and worse from the gauleiter Herr Franke but the tide is turning and Hitler's days are numbered. Will Anton and his family be able to make it without being taken by the SS?
The tale unfolds lyrically, I literally didn't stop reading until I had finished, the scenery, their emotions and the complexities they both face are brought to life with such clarity you can feel them, almost reach out and touch them.
The crowning glory of this is that Ms Hawker is married to Anton's grandson and it's based in fact. I hope that she will share more stories from her family history in time as they are captivating.
At the moment the world is on the brink of forgetting that everyone is equal... No race, creed or political group should forget the mistakes made in the name of the German people by the Nazi Party extremists and the overwhelming power they obtained through violence and fear... Love, acceptance and tolerance are the way forward... No one should ever have to live through this again.
Within minutes of opening 'The Ragged Edge of Night' on my kindle, I was entranced. The writing is both poetic and compelling and the story flowed along, carrying me with it. Anton is a super sympathetic main character and I couldn't resist him. His story interested me so much.
This is a real testament to Olivia Hawker's writing skills, because Anton is a Catholic, an ex friar. My relationship with the Catholic church is cold at best, and I wouldn't normally read a book featuring a Catholic hero and a sympathetic priest. Ms Hawker managed to hook me within a page! So I had to go on reading in spite of my initial reluctance. And found that 'The Ragged Edge of Night' is just beautiful, so inspiring and full of love.
Page by page I was drawn further into the story and grew more and more worried about the fate of the characters, all suffering under the harsh rule of Hitler in Nazi Germany. The town of Unterboihingen is beautifully evoked and I couldn't face the thought that the terror would destroy this peaceful kindly place. No plot spoilers here, but I will say the last two sentences of 'The Ragged Edge of Night' are inspirational. Whatever happens there is always love.
I enjoyed reading this novel and was pleased to discover that it was based on a true story as I particularly liked the main characters. It is nicely written with enough drama to keep you interested but without the gratuitous sex and violence that too many novels rely on today.
This is a marvellous book, with beautiful phrasing and a compelling story which has an important message - that simple love and goodness can defeat evil. The story of a Franciscan friar working with children with different disabilities through the power of music is catapulted out of this through the unimaginable and horrific policy that was the start of the evil within the Nazi ideals. The children are not seen as whole and are taken away to be euthanised. Anyone's guilt at not having done more to protect the innocent haunts him throughout his life. He is expelled from his calling and in answering an ad in a newspaper, his life changes, but for one thing...His resistance to the party. He married a struggling widow with three children, providing for them. He becomes involved with passing messages for the resistance, placing himself and his family in danger. I loved the fact that this resistance filled him with fear, but he did it because he felt it was the right thing to do - true bravery. His plan to prevent the indoctrination of the children into the party's message of hate is brilliant. The final poke in the eye, was the hiding of the bells from the SS. I loved this book, made even better when it was revealed that this happened and so richly demonstrates the part that a few can do to resist the evil that some people do. It is the epitome of the phrase "for evil to succeed, it only requires good people to do nothing"
I did enjoy the book the afterword not so much. I wish the author had not tied her political views in the afterword to this beautiful story. The United States does not parallel Nazi Germany in any way. We do have groups that do believe along those lines but that is because we have freedoms in this country. I personally do not support these groups in any way but these factions do not decide the policies for our nation. It just left a sour note after an enjoyable read with a joyful ending. I wish I had stopped reading at the end of the story.
I didn’t really enjoy this book. The revalation it’s based on a true story in some ways helped, as otherwise it’s inexplicably dull. The comparison to Beneath a Scarlet sky does that book a disservice. Though that book’s writing style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the story is compelling, relentless and ultimately ruthlessly tragic. It left an impression.
This has none of that. I was expecting something to happen and it never did. It’s not quite “stuff happened, it was quite tough, and we all lived happily ever after” but it’s about as close as a WWII book can get. I also can’t forgive the use of ‘Fall’ to describe Autumn.
I can’t recommend it. It’s okay but that’s not really a compliment.
A slow burner of a novel, telling the story of Anton Starzmann, a former Franciscan friar, strongly anti-Nazi, who moves to a small village near Stuttgart to look after a widow and her children. Once there he is recruited into the Red Orchestra, an anti-Hitler resistance movement and defies the local Gauleiter by forming a brass orchestra of local children to avoid them being recruited into the Hitler Youth. The author paints a contrasting picture of a typical German community to that conventionally painted of a Nazi complicit population, who do their best to offer passive resistance, despite the risk. As attempts on Hitler's life fail, the resisters wonder if they will ever be free of the yoke of Nazism and a moving picture is painted of the impact on ordinary Germans. The story is all the more powerful for being based on the real life of Anton Starzmann, with only minor details altered to suit the confines of a novel. At a time of increased fascist, Nazi sentiment, especially in the USA, the story is a salutary lesson of the dangers such sentiments represent.
One of the best books I have read this year, and an absorbing story of the triumph of love over evil, set in a small rural village in Nazi Germany. Only at the end do we discover that it is a true story based on the wartime exploits of the maternal grandfather of the author's husband. It was during the 2016 US election that the author knew that the time had come to write the novel: "As I watched the US I thought I knew devolve, seemingly overnight, into an unrecognizable landscape - a place where political pundits threw up Nazi salutes in front of news cameras ... a place where swastikas bloomed like fetid flowers on the walls of synagogues and mosques - I knew the time had come." Also, as the author remarks, "history is never far behind us .... on the night I finished this book, there was a march at the university of Virginia, a show of power by a faction of white supremacists. They chanted, 'White lives matter' and 'Jews will not replace us'. They chanted 'Blood and soil', the same words the Nazis spoke ..." This is a timely novel indeed!
This book is certainly not my usual kind of reading, but it was recommended to me so I decided to broaden my reading experience and give it a try. I spent a long time, while reading, wondering where this was going. Waiting for some major event to happen that would cause the plot to spring into fast paced action, but this actually doesn't really happy until close to the end. And it doesn't matter. Despite this feeling of waiting, I kept turning the page and found myself drawn into a world I hadn't ever thought of before - small village life in wartime Germany. It's easy to think of the German people as a homogeneous whole, but this book gives a fascinating insight into what it was really life for people living in fear of their own supposed protectors. A touching story full of veracity and touching detail. And the author's note at the end is also fascinating - I wish I'd known that at before beginning the story.