Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Past is Myself (Christabel Bielenberg)

--The blurb--
"A story of a British woman, married to a German lawyer shortly before WW2 and her subsequent experience as a German citizen in the war under Nazi rule."

--The review--
There is certainly no shortage in the book market of war memoirs: as well as perhaps the most famous in Anne Frank, interested readers can also choose from those of Zlata Filipovic, Vera Gissing, and Christabel Bielenberg. While these four reflect various points of view of war from various different countries, Bielenberg's memoir differs in that it offers not just political insight, but also political involvement. The imprisonment of her husband, the execution of her friends and her interview with the Gestapo all cause readers to draw breath and admire the shrewd quickwittedness that is displayed by the author. An interesting extra dimension is also brought by the fact that Christabel is British and living in Germany with her German husband, as well as the fact that the memoir is not insular in terms of class (Bielenberg enjoyed a very middle-class upbringing, and this is highly evident, but she seems to slot in equally effectively with the rural working-class community of the tiny Black Forest village in which she lives).

The memoir is tightly-packed and full of plenty of good material from someone who is highly intelligent and humorous, and the quasi-nepotism that is exhibited in her entry to journalism is still grimly reminiscent of today's market. Bielenberg's skill in character development is also notable, which is perhaps further demonstrated by her introduction to the follow-up, where she explains that she has written it due to the curiosity of her readers as to what happened to her and her family next.

This does not mean that the memoir is without its faults: Bielenberg can be extremely vague at times, particularly on the more complicated points of the story, and this is something that also dogs the sequel. Nevertheless, this does happily not prevent the memoir from being an authentic, memorable and well-written piece of history, and should successfully spur all interested readers on to the next instalment.

Other work by Christabel Bielenberg
The Road Ahead (1992)

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