Friday, March 10, 2017

The Man in the High Castle: Resistance Radio

If you haven't watched the alternative history drama, The Man in the High Castle, on Amazon Prime, then you are missing out on one of the best TV shows on any television platform, period. It is that good.

Germany and Japan have won World War II, and the United States is no more. The show starts in 1962. America has been divided into the Greater Nazi Reich from Nebraska to the east coast, and the Japanese Pacific States on the west coast. In the west, there is a strip called the neutral zone (it snakes up Montana,Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico), a buffer between the two empires.

The story centers on Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank). Juliana lives in the Japanese Pacific States while Joe Blake hails from New York City in the Greater Nazi Reich. Their paths cross in the neutral zone when Juliana promises her sister, who is in the Resistance, to deliver a film called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to the Man in the High Castle. This film depicts an alternate history, one where the Allies won World War II. In the neutral zone, she meets Joe Blake who supposedly wants to help her, but in reality, he's working for Obergruppenfurhrer John Smith (brilliantly played by Rufus Sewell). Smith wants The Grasshopper Lies Heavy for one reason: Hitler wants it (yes, the Fuhrer is still alive and well in Berlin). There are several other story lines, including Japanese Trade Minister Tagomi, Julianna's boyfriend, Frank (who is Jewish), Chief Inspector Kido of the formidable Japanese police, the Kempeitai, and others. But they all intersect.

It is chilling to see how the world might have been if the Axis powers had won. To see Nazi policy carried out on American soil, to see Americans being subservient to their Japanese masters, to see a Nazi flag flying where the American flag should be...it's disconcerting and jarring. 

Amazon has done a remarkable job in making this show. The sets, the costumes, the characters, the acting...it's brilliant. You are completely sucked into this alternative reality.

But here's something really cool.

Amazon just launched Resistance Radio, a website built as a radio that allows you to listen to DJs and radio hosts talk about the Resistance, make fun of their Nazis and Japanese masters, and work to keep the hopes alive of Americans seeking to find their freedom once again. It's pirate radio. They even have remade some of the most beloved classic songs of the period, putting a twist on them as if they were made under the boot of the Japanese and Germans. 

Ingenious.

They even sent me this amazing record player and a flyer for Resistance Radio. 

I've been listening to it all morning and if you close your eyes, you really can imagine yourself living in an America where the Nazis and the Japanese rule. It's eerie. 

Check it out here: http://www.resistanceradio.com/

I could probably write a thousand word essay or more on The Man in the High Castle. It's one of those shows that encourages debate and discussion, and I've had more than one conversation with fellow fans as we analyze certain character's motivations or try to determine where the plot will go next. It's great fun.

I don't know that I've ever been this excited over a show before and have recommended it to everyone I know. There are two seasons now, so you can binge watch it (and believe me, it will be very easy to do). Amazon is making a third season, and I cannot wait.

If you haven't taken the plunge, take it now! Immerse yourself in this alternative world and muse upon "what might have been." Then thank your lucky stars that the Allies won the war!

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Return to D-Day: 35 Men, 70 Landings at Normandy

The importance of recording the stories of World War II veterans cannot be overstated. Thankfully, there is a large push to do just that through several wonderful organizations and museums, incluing the National World War II Museum and The Greatest Generation Foundation. It is the latter organization that has put together this wonderful book to record the stories of 35 men who participated in the Normany invasion. The book is a result of these men's return to Normandy decades after the landings. From the back cover:

"Since 2004, the Greatest Generation Foundation has offered the opportunity for veterans to return to their battlfields at no cost to them. These voyages back to the battlefields are often emotional, providing aging veterans a long-overdue method of dealing with their war experiences, a chance to re-kindle pride in their service and sacrifices, and a venue to education others."

What an incredible, honorable mission.

Return to D-Day: 35 Men, 70 Landings at Normandy by The Greatest Generation Foundation and Warriors Pubishing Group profiles 35 men who were part of one of the most important military actions in history. Each story is accompanied by two photos: a current phone and one from when the veteran was in service. The book is divided into sections and concentrates on each force involved in the Normandy invasion: ground forces, paratroopers, naval support, air support, pathfinders, and those at Eisenhower's headquarters. The men's individual stories paint a harrowing picture of just how all-encompassing the Normandy Invasion was.



It's a moving, sobering look at how the past has shaped these men, proving once and for all that a warrior's spirit never dies.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation

There are many books written about France, and in particular Paris, during the Nazi Occupation. But few focus specifically on the women of Paris. Anne Sebba skillfully fills that gap with her well-researched book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation.

The strength of Sebba's work is that she covers a wide swath of women from every socioeconomic class, resisters and collaborators, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor and in-between. Each has a story. Each had specific reasons for acting the way they did. Through cold winters and hot summers, some women struggled to survive while others lived high on the hog, basking in the delights of their German lovers. Everything came at a price. For those who stayed strong in their convictions and fought against the Nazi Regime, they risked being arrested, sent to a concentration camp, or being shot. After the war, those who collaborated faced derision and hatred, even expulsion from their communities.

These are their stories. And there are many of them. This is, perhaps, the harshest criticism I have of the book. There are so many names and stories that it is difficult to keep track of them. It would have perhaps been easier to select a few women from each socioeconomic category and followed them throughout the war, comparing and contrasting their experiences.

However, this criticism could also be the book's greatest strength. The sheer amount of experiences recorded by Sebba offers a very comprehensive look at the book's central topic. Bolstered by an extensive biblography, this is certainly a valuable book for those studying women under the Occupation. Thus, academics will undoubtedly find greater value in the work than some general readers, but both audiences will come away with a far greater knowledge of this crucial moment in French history.


Monday, September 26, 2016

The Liberation of Europe: The Photographers Who Captured History from D-Day to Berlin

There are undoubtedly millions of photographs of World War II. A great deal of them have been published and are now familiar to us. Think of Robert Capa's harrowing photos of Omaha Beach or the Times Square kiss taken on V-J day in New York City.

But it's always a treat to see photos that have not been published or were not widely distributed, offering us yet another fascinating glimpse into this global war.

Photographers from The Times of London were part of the great media presence of the war, capturing images that helped us understand every stage of the fight to defeat Hitler. A collection of over 400 images, rarely seen or never before published, are available to you in this fantastic new book, The Liberation of Europe: The Photographers Who Captured History from D-Day to Berlinpublished by Casemate. Mark Barnes, a librarian at The Times, has taken on the mammoth job of compiling these photographs from The Times photo archives to create an incredible photographic history of the campaign from D-Day to Berlin.

Photos range from military commanders Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery to political leaders Winston Churchill and King George VI, but more often than not, they are of the average soldier and airman. Each photo caption includes detailed information and the name of the photographer. The photos are sharp and clear, the pages slick and glossy. It's an absolute pleasure to thumb through this book and see yet another aspect of World War II.

This is simply a must-have for anyone interested in The Second World War. It is already available in the UK and it will be released in the US on November 14, 2016, so it will make a perfect Christmas gift for the historian in your life - or for you!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Review: The Ups and Downs of a Gunner: My Life Story

Albert Figg has a story to tell, and it's a good one. His memoir, The Ups and Downs of a Gunner: My Life Story, is a quirky, no-nonsense look at how an ordinary man became caught up in an extraordinary time.

Born in Wiltshire, England, in 1920, Albert was the youngest of eleven children. His childhood was spent learning how to milk cows and harvest hay, frolicking in the fields picking blackberries and apples, going to school, and getting into mischief with his friends. But when Hitler came to power in 1933 and in the years that followed, Albert became intensely aware of the rumblings of war coming from Germany. And in February of 1939, to avoid being drafted, Albert enlisted with the Royal Artillery, 112 Field Regiment, of the Territorial Army.

During the war, Albert trained in preparation for the invasion of Europe, climbing to the rank of sergeant in less than three years. He and his crew landed on Gold Beach at Normandy on June 24, 1944, and would go on to be involved in the attacks on Hill 112 as part of the 43rd Wessex Division. Following his service in Normandy, Albert participated in Operation Market Garden and the Allied advance into Germany. After the war ended, he became part of the British Army of Occupation Rhine. He was discharged in Februrary of 1946.

The Ups and Downs of a Gunner also delves into Albert's post-war life. He details post-war Britain and the political upheaval that occured after the war, as well as his new role as a father and husband. In his later years after his children were raised and he retired, Albert focused on memorializing the 43rd Wessex Division and remembering the sacrifice of those who fought on Hill 112, a mission he still continues today at the age of 97.

What is most enjoyable about Albert's book is its folksy, down-to-earth style of storytelling. It's easy to imagine Albert telling you his tale while the two of you sit ensconced in wing-back chairs in front of a roaring fire on a chill English evening, with tea and biscuits close by. Albert is witty and charming in his descriptions of his life, and his anecdotes are vivid and at times, downright hilarious. Yet when the subject arises, Albert does not shy away from the horror of war.

This is a heartwarming, fun read about an Englishman's life before, during, and after World War II. Thank you, Albert, for writing your story.

For more information about Albert, please visit his website: http://www.albertfigg.co.uk/the-ups-and-downs-of-a-gunner/

Monday, June 06, 2016

D-Day - June 6, 1944

Today, 72 years ago, the world's largest invasion force hit the beaches and soared over the skies of Normandy. Thousands were killed. Thousands were wounded.

We remember them.

Below is a snippet of a Peanuts cartoon called What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (reviewed on the blog here) that shows Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Linus, Marcie, and Peppermint Patty exploring Omaha Beach and Normandy.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus

Meaty historical fiction is an absolute treat to read. When it is infused with the details of that time period and seamlessly integrates story and history, then you know the author has succeeded in their job. And James MacManus is no exception with his latest novel.

Set in Berlin in the critical years of 1938-1939, Midnight in Berlin follows the life of British military attache Colonel Noel Macrae as he tries to navigate the choppy waters of dealing with not only Hitler's government, but his own.

When Macrae arrives in Berlin with his wife, Primrose, neither are particularly anxious to be in a Germany overtaken by Hitler. Macrae was a sniper during World War I, and he has no desire to participate in another war. However, he is no fool and he sees the truth behind Hitler's pontificating speeches. Hitler wants war and he will have war.

Unfortunately for Macrae, the British ambassador in Berlin believes negotiating peace with Hitler and following a policy of appeasement is the only way to avoid a war. Macrae bangs his head against the proverbial wall time and time again in trying to convince his superior and others in the embassy to open their eyes to Hitler's plans for the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia. And though he is technically not a spy, Macrae finds himself playing the espionage game with Florian Koenig, a top general in the German Army (and Primrose's lover) who informs him of the Army's plans to overthrow Hitler. Macrae is walking a tightrope.

Things become even more complicated when Sara, a Jewish woman who works in the Gestapo's elite brothel, The Salon, asks him for his help in finding out what happened to her brother. Even though it's dangerous to be seen with her, he can't help but fall in love with her.

As the British government continues to appease Hitler and the months roll by with no peace in sight, Macrae becomes desperate for action and makes a choice that might seal everyone's fate.

The vast amount of research done for this novel is mind-boggling. At times, it reads more like a history of Germany in those years than a novel. In certain places, however, there was too much history and not enough story. Nevertheless, it wasn't a hardship to read these sections because they were written so well. But it did detract from the overall plot. The last quarter of the book also felt rushed, as if the author needed to hurry up and finish and didn't have time to write engaging scenes.

But what MacManus succeeds at, and admirably so, is showing the absolute diplomatic failure of the European governments - especially Great Britain. That they utterly failed to see who Hitler really was despite repeated warnings from those who could see the truth is maddening, especially in hindsight. But there were those, like Macrae, who accurately predicted Hitler's actions, and to see their warnings to their superiors discarded so easily is frustrating. Appeasement was indeed the order of the day, and we all know how disastrously that policy played out.

Midnight in Berlin is a terrific read, one that not only entertains, but educates. And that is the mark of a truly good piece of historical fiction.


Note: This review was done from the advance uncorrected proof. I did not receive any remuneration for this review.