A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary

Title: A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary
Writer : Anonymous
Published: 1945
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 4 on 5

 

There are countless books written about World War 2 – some are historically accurate while some are fictional accounts. Most of these books highlight the sufferings of the Holocaust victims, which is absolutely needed. Very rarely do we get a glimpse of people on the other side of the war – the Germans. Anne Frank’s diary gave us insights into the atrocities carried out against the Jews and how the general mass stepped up to help the Jews in whatever way they can. This book is a diary of a woman who lives in Berlin and her ordeal at the hands of Russians, long after the war was won by the Allies.

The author remains anonymous to the world, but we know she lived in East Germany, wherein women have made attics and basements their homes to protect themselves from airstrikes as they wait for something worse – Russians conquering Berlin and pillaging the city. The book chronicles the fear as the women wait for Russians to land at their doorstep, the disgust at witnessing the pillaging and rape which the Russian soldiers recklessly carry out and the bravery they show to going to any extent for survival, including striking deals with the soldiers. While the West Germany was conquered by sophisticated enemy of Britain and US, the East Germany people were not so fortunate as they were taken over by the hooligan Russians, most of them being illiterate and rustic.

The author strikes as a woman who is extremely self-aware of her own strengths and weaknesses and the bleak situation she is going to face. The writing is beautiful and tugs at your heart. I knew what to expect from this book – the violence, rapes, starvation, deaths – but this book still left me speechless. The levels to which a human can stoop to took me completely by surprise (or shock). This is not an easy read, definitely not a light one, as the book stays with you long after you have stopped reading it and one needs some time to come out of this painful phase.

Out of all the numerous World War 2 related books, this book stands out for the perspective it brings and its excellent prose. The book is grim and casts a cloud gloom on the reader, but this still remains a very important read.

Entry #3 for Nonfiction Reader Challenge 2020
Entry #2 for The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020

Freedom at Midnight

Title: Freedom at Midnight
Writer : Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre
Published: 2001
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

India’s independence was a moment of celebration, but also a painful memory as the country was partitioned and millions of people lost their lives. Every year as we take pride in raising the tricolor, our heads also hang in shame for the brutality which we caused in the name of religion. While every school teaches the children when India got its independence, very little is said about the events which led to this historical moment and more importantly, the violent events which followed this moment. To fill this void, I decided to read this book, well knowing, that neither of the authors are Indians and nor were they a witness to these events.

The book starts off heaping a huge praise on Lord Mountbatten, who apparently was influential in India attaining her independence. While there may be some amount of truth in it, the sheer adoration, the flowery praises are so over the top that one starts wondering if this book should have been named “An ode to Mountbatten”.

This book is a result of the interviews with Mountbatten and some archives which he had saved over time. This gives the book a very “English” perspective and can come across as biased in some places. Wish the authors had heard the other side of the story too. While the Mountbattens are admired for their bravery and leadership, we do not see the same treatment for Indian politicians. Gandhi is revered, Nehru gets a few notable mentions, Patel is largely ignored and Jinnah is painted as a monster.

This book did strike a chord with the chapters on the actual partition – the drawing of the line – the exodus that followed and the eventual murder of millions of people. The authors paint such a horrid picture of these ghastly events – the train full of corpses is still a haunting visual for me. The mindless pillaging, rapes, murders, mutilation of human beings by other so-called human beings is so mind numbing – one wonders how religion can become more important than human lives.

The book makes a segue into Gandhi’s assassination. This section of the book reads like a thriller – building up suspense, ending the chapter on a cliff hanger – and has all the elements of a page turner.  If you want an outsider perspective on the freedom struggle and eventual independence, albeit with a touch of fictional narrative, do read this book, by all accounts. If you want a more neutral perspective or even an insider view, then pick up a book by local authors, which is what I am planning to do next. On this point, any recommendations on what book I should read on this subject?

 

Entry #2 for Nonfiction Reader Challenge 2020
Entry #1 for The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020

 

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

Title: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
Writer : Lori Gottlieb
Published: 2019
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 on 5

Human psychology has always held a special interest for me and it was only natural that I picked up this book as soon as I read the blurb. Lori Gottlieb is a TV writer turned psychotherapist. As a practising psychotherapist, she witnesses the various reasons one can become anxious, addicted, depressed or suicidal in life. While Gottlieb could have stuck to describing these encounters, she instead puts herself in her patient’s shoes and describes her experience as a depressed soul seeking soul nourishing therapy. And this interspersal of her narrating as a therapist and as a patient is what makes this book so engaging and relatable.

Gottlieb goes through a bitter breakup with someone who she dreamt of marrying and this leaves her shattered and depressed. She continues to counsel as a therapist, but denies the deep rooted truth that she too needs to see one to get over her grief. What starts as a therapy session to get over her boyfriend turns into an eye opening series of discussions with her therapist which ends up with Gottlieb facing some bitter truth of her life.

I have seen a couple of therapists and psychiatrists in my life and none of these sessions came anywhere close to the kind of insightful, meaningful discussions Gottlieb has with her patients and her own therapist. The journey of her patients – especially the one who is facing her imminent death and is coming to terms with it – is such an emotional roller coaster that the reader starts cheering for every small win the patient makes and feels totally torn when they veer off the therapy track. This book re-convinced me that therapy is a much needed addition to anybody’s life, not necessarily the depressed and the oppressed ones. And it also helped me realize that the reason my therapy sessions weren’t that beneficial was because I haven’t found the right therapist for me yet.

The book pulls at your heart as the reader make a strong bond with every of Gottlieb’s patients, Gottlieb herself and even her therapist. To see therapist’s troubled past and how he deals with it while counseling Gottlieb is something I found interesting.

With all the troubled pasts and depressed patients, one might assume that this book makes for a heavy read, but it is anything but that. Gottlieb’s writing style is casual and breezy and this makes the book a very easy read. There might be places where you put the book aside and ponder over Gottlieb’s words, which happened often with me.

2020 has started on a high note for me, when it comes to reading (and reviewing – a review after a whole year!). Hope it only gets better from here.

Entry #1 for Nonfiction Reader Challenge 2020.