David Downing is a master of establishing a keen sense of time and place. Even though I've never been to Berlin, much less anywhere in the winter of 1945, on every page of this novel I was awash in the crumbled ruins of Hitler's wrath. Strange choice of word, "wrath" - especially when used to characterize the Führer's dream of a utopian Germany? Well, there you are. That is Downing's voice, translated through protagonist John Russell. It's a voice that leaves me feeling as though the national leaders who engaged in World War II cared less about the safety and sanctity of people's lives than they did about the advancement of their cause. That Hitler might have preferred total destruction of the nation over sharing the country with non-Aryans becomes a logical conclusion one might draw here.
Because of Hitler's despicable actions and the subsequent involvement of so many...
Beyond the Book
Downing's portrait of post-World War II Europe highlights the wrangling that took place between political and economic leaders over who would get domain of which pieces of land, all rendered nearly unrecognizable by bombs. Indeed, history has told us that even during the thickest action of the world war these leaders kept themselves busy strategizing about what kind of post-war Europe would be in each entity's best favor. Thus, once a treaty was signed, all that was left, as they say, was the shouting. But while the dust settled, all was chaos. As freelance journalist Paula Fox writes in her memoir, The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe
The cold [in 1946 Warsaw] was so intense that like many others I took to wearing sheets of...