Here’s a confession – I didn’t actually read any full books in April! *gasp* 😧
However, I am right in the middle of (some of) my A level exams right now, so inevitably I’ve had to prioritise schoolwork/revision even more so than I usually do! I also discovered a whole bunch of amazing YouTubers in April/May, so I spent more time watching videos than reading books – but it’s good to diversify what you’re doing a bit, and it’s important to still have fun, even during intense revision! 😜 Anyways, over the last 2 months I have managed to read 3 books, so I thought that this would provide me with enough scope to do another BIRTM (Books I’ve Read This Month) post, so here it is! Enjoy 😊
#17: Red Love: The Story of An East German Family by Maxim Leo
Although it took me a month and a half to read this book (which is unusual for me, as at normal pace I usually read one book within one or two weeks), I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I started reading it on the plane to Berlin when I went there at the beginning of April (you can read about this awesome trip I had here and here). Prior to reading this book, I already had quite a lot of background knowledge about life in the GDR, due to my studies of this time period in my German lessons, including in-depth research and analysis of the film Good Bye, Lenin! (a really good film, by the way, I thoroughly recommend it!). However, seeing yet another documentation of what life was like in the GDR, this time in the form of a book and 100% non-fiction, as opposed to Good Bye, Lenin!, which was just based on facts, inevitably strengthened my grasp of it.
What I really loved about this book was the openness that Maxim Leo shows about the experiences of both himself and other members of his family. He explains in much depth the thoughts that all of the people documented in the book have during various stages in their lives, which gives the reader a valuable insight into what life was like not only in the GDR, but also in times and places occurring prior to this. Furthermore, I liked the amount of context which was given before moving to the present and main focus of the book (the GDR). Leo’s family was not presented simply as a family living in the GDR: both histories of this parents’ respective families had been explored also. I did find it slightly strange, that a book that was meant to focus on the GDR explored so many other aspects also, at the time of reading it, but in hindsight, having read the whole book, I can now see why he presented it this way.
Something that occurred to me whilst reading Red Love was how Germany was, and still very much is, a hybrid nation. By this, I mean a nation composed of a diversity of peoples, which couldn’t really be more opposite to the simplistic image of one (Übermensch) predominant race which the Nazis envisioned during the Third Reich. This socially diverse Germany, of course, is much due to the fact that Germany, in the grand scheme of things, is a relatively new country, which was unified as late as 1871. Now, my knowledge of German history during this time is much limited, but as far as I understand, before this, it was composed of several kingdoms and small states, which inevitably would also have been socially diverse, largely because it covered a much larger geographical area than it does at present. Leo’s own family even had Jewish roots, as did many other German families, both in East and West. Red Love also reinforced for me the fact that during Hitler’s rise, very few Germans actually agreed with the true Nazi idealism: they were just brainwashed into thinking that this was the only way forward for Germany after such a politically disastrous period of the Weimar Republic following WWI, and were only shown one side of the picture: the side that would persuade them to choose the Nazi Party. Moreover, although authorities at various stages in the history of Germany have made significant attempts to encourage extremely narrow-minded thinking, at the end of the day, this simply has not worked: we are all human, capable of our own independent thoughts, and no external influences can completely stop any of us from thinking as we do.
Red Love focusses on an East German family who just happened to feel quite openly rebellious, but just like everyone else, had their own opinions on politics and philosophy, whether or not they would have coincided with the GDR’s overall ethos. This book has really opened my eyes even more about what it was like to live in a “communist” state, and also how living in this way can affect the thoughts of an individual.
I’ll just finish off my review of this book with my favourite quote from it, said by Leo himself as he recalls when he was about to return to East Berlin after travelling to the West for the very first time:
“I’m not sure which journey I prefer. The one to the East, to the prison that is my home, or the one to the West, into alien freedom.”
I’d definitely recommend this book to people interested in politics or the history of Germany, or to people who simply want to find out more about what life was like in a country which is no longer in existence.
#18: The Suffragettes (Penguin Classics) by Various Authors
This is a short but nonetheless valuable collection of arguments not only for, but also against, the Suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – a major contributor to the far more equal society which we enjoy in Britain today. It contains three short sections: Suffrage (arguments for women’s voting rights), Anti-Suffrage (arguments against) and finally Victory (how women’s equal rights were finally implemented into society). What I really love about this book is that it contains a variety of different media types in order to convey the different opinions of people at that time – from the text of Emmeline Pankhurst’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech, to a variety of propaganda posters representing both arguments, to the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League Manifesto.
I’d recommend this book to all those who like looking at both sides of an argument before reaching their own judgement on a subject – no matter how interested you actually are in politics! I think that everyone should read this, as it’s an important piece of our history, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the Suffragette Movement.
#19: Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall
I had seen a lot of hype about this book in the months preceding when I eventually gave in and purchased it, to see what all the fuss was about! And WOW – all I can say is that all the hype about it really is justified!
You don’t really need a spectacular grasp on contextual knowledge of world history, geography and politics in order to understand what this book is saying – Marshall really does explain all the essential concepts and theories in a simultaneously simplistic but fulfilling way. I’d say that Prisoners of Geography has really made me more conscious of happenings in the wider world around me, and also the complex backgrounds to all the atrocities of terror and disaster in the world which we hear of on the news all too often, especially nowadays. This book also really brought home for me the fact that the deeply rooted causes of so many international conflicts in places such as the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and Africa are often down to their historical European ties. Early activities by Europeans (and latterly North Americans also), such as colonisation, brutal dismissing of native peoples in newly discovered lands and, of course, the slave trade, are often the fundamental reasons why so many places in the world today are so politically and socially volatile. This means that, in effect, one could argue that a good chunk of such instability that we see in the world today is down to Europe’s historical selfishness…
I would 100% recommend this book to anyone who is constantly asking themselves the question, “why?” when they hear of everything that’s happening globally. Prisoners of Geography is also a great book for explaining in-depth how the world’s human and physical elements interact with each other, and how an equilibrium in this is absolutely crucial for all-round stability. I guarantee you’ll learn something new for sure, if you read this book!
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post! If you’d like to see my reviews of all the books I read in March (which was a lot more) then click here!
Have you read any of the books I’m mentioning in these BIRTM posts? If so, I’d love to know which ones and what you thought of them!
See you next week, and hopefully I’ll see you next month also with another post on books I read in June – we’ll just have to see how much time I’ll have to actually read books!! 📚