Review: Once (Once, #1) by Morris Gleitzman

Once
Once by Morris Gleitzman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that don’t let go of you once you’ve lived through their story. Once is certainly one of them, this haunting, bittersweet story managed to tell so much in a mere 160 pages that it has captivated me as a re-reader for life.

Pros:
– Gleitzman does an astounding service to both the readers of the story, by protecting them from some of the more extreme aspects of the Holocaust, and to the history, by not allowing protection to discredit the historical realities of the trauma suffered during, and as a result of, this time.
– This short book is so powerful it made me weep.
– One of the main characters, Barney, is based on an inspirational person, Janusz Korczak.
– The prose is simple but this can be misleading, this is a book with many layers of meaning making it suitable for all but very young (under 13 or so) readers.

Cons:
– Although the book is short, Felix’s initial naivete can be irritating in the first couple of chapters. Stick with this, it makes much more sense as you see his character develop.
– Though not a criticism of the book itself, its marketing and presentation make it appear as though it’s for young children. I don’t believe it should be read by anyone under the age of 13 without an appropriate adult mediator or learning support to supplement the material and discuss its content.

This book is incredible in what it achieves. I firmly believe everyone should read and discuss this book, particularly people interested in trauma and childhood, and I don’t say that lightly. Gleitzman’s brief novel promotes a great deal of deep thinking about the Holocaust, trauma generally, and children’s responses to trauma.
I’ve read this book twice within six months and after analysing it (alongside other books) for an essay on the representation of the Holocaust in children’s/YA fiction, I can’t emphasise enough what a compelling book it is. Saying too much more could ruin it or dampen it’s effect so I’ll avoid that and instead, ask that you read and reflect on Once. This book that can be read in under two hours will have a lingering, albeit haunting, effect on you.

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Review: Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch and Michael Geyer

Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories
Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch &amp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thought-provoking, clever and at times harrowing, this book is no light-hearted read but it tackles essential issues that anyone trying to understand German history will undoubtedly encounter.

Though the focus of the book is more about German identity and Germany’s place in historiography, its ideas are pretty accessible to anyone with a keen interest in knowing more about the 20th century and Germany’s place within it. It approaches many difficult subjects with a painful honesty that puts trauma under the microscope and investigates its causes and consequences.

While certain chapters of the book would be more useful if you’re studying a specific theme or period of German history, it’s really in the book’s completeness that it gives you a well-rounded perspective of the issues with looking at complex histories and identities which is an invaluable tool for any student looking to expand their critical thinking.

Shattered Past also has a goldmine of research to draw from which, when approaching the daunting swath of literature about 20th century Germany, is a vital yellow brick road through which to learn more about particular issues. What’s more, the book evaluates a broad range of literature and assesses their usefulness in turn which can save a student many hours of being slogged over articles only to find them of poor reputation.

After reading the book from cover to cover over a period of six months, my heavily annotated and underlined copy will have a secure home on my bookcase for a long time as it’s one of the most thought-provoking academic books I’ve read so far.

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Review: The Illustrated History Of The Nazis: The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

The Illustrated History Of The Nazis   The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler
The Illustrated History Of The Nazis The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with reviewing this book. It’s like going up to a someone who has lived their life swamped with WWII propaganda and asking them to tell you everything they’ve seen graffittied on the back of a toilet door about why Hitler was bad. I’ll give you an example here, at one point early on in the book the author delves into his own theory that Hitler was evil because he was emasculated by having one testicle. Given that a great amount of debate has been had over the controversy of Hitler’s genitalia, it seems far-fetched for the author to state this as fact and, even more ridiculous, to say that the Holocaust was solely caused by Hitler’s psychological reaction to his rumoured missing testicle. This was one of many problems I found with the author’s rants but it was one of the most notable due to the lengths the author went to try and back-up his theory.

Overall, this book is a pretty useless buy unless you want to look at the photographs (which, I’ll grudgingly admit, it does carry a half decent collection but there’s little there that you won’t be able to find on the internet). It’s the mental equivalent of asking a pub full of drunks at closing time that you’ll buy them a round if they tell you everything they know about Hitler and the Nazis. The whole thing is dramatized and fraught with inaccuracies (for instance, the author has also apparently figured out the mystery of who started the Reichstag fire, something again, that is often debated on by historians).
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