Tag Archives: World War II

Finding inspiration from the other side

V2Phil: Have all the stories been told? Do we all need to churn out variations on the same tale?

No, we don’t. It’s just that finding the setting for your novel that is both plausible and recognisable to the reader gets harder every time another book plops out into the world. Imagination of course is infinite and sometimes you just need to, as the main character in our book would say, think outside the box.

Candice reviewed Dominion on Tuesday and this provides a good example. Set in an alternative version of history where Germany won World War II, the setting can be both familiar and totally alien to us.

I live in a perfect example of this. Leamington Spa would have become the capital of Nazi-run Britian. This is historical fact – there are plenty of documents to prove it. Thus, I can walk past a town hall that would very likely have been festooned with red banners bearing the swastika. Familiar but very alien.

Sticking with this theme, one of the books in my library is V2 written by Major-General Walter Dornberger. This describes the development of the German V1 and V2 weapons at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre from the perspective of the man in charge. The account, translated by the Special Scientific Book Cub, is a dispassionate account of the process. You see the whole thing from the point of view of those we traditionally refer to as the enemy.

There is no attempt to justify any of the actions – it’s just what a senior army officer did. Maybe the translators have produced a more dispassionate account that the original text would have us read but it’s no less fascinating for all that.

Chapter 15, Flaming Night, is the most interesting in many ways. Assuming the reader has made it this far, they are seeing people normally portrayed as monsters at least as human beings. The chapter describes an air raid by the Allies in August 1943. Suddenly, the bombs dropping are heading for the writer. It’s a novel perspective an d slightly unsettling as you find yourself hoping that everyone is OK. That’s not right – these are the enemy. As we know, they were carrying out acts of unimaginable evil – yet it’s more difficult to be on the side of the attackers than I feel entirely comfortable admitting.

So, maybe there is scope to write from the perspective of the other side? Not to justify actions but because on both sides of any conflict there are stories to be told from the perspective of ordinary people unable to influence things but still suffering the consequences.

Another options is to consider how history would be different if that air raid had been more succesful.

V weapon research might have been halted. Wernher von Braun and the other rocket scientists are buried under the rubble. Operation Paperclip, the spiriting out of the country of scientists “useful” to the Allies never takes place. Rocket science is put back at least 10 years.

How is the world different? Is the Cold War based on tanks rolling across Germany rather than people lobbing missiles at each other? Presumably, the aircraft based systems we built stay in service for longer but does this make the situation better or worse? Would the Cuban Missile crisis happen? Do we ever walk on the moon?

There are stories out there, we just need to change our perspective.

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I just don’t like endings

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Candice: I have finally finished ‘Dominion’ by C J Sansom.  That makes it sound like it was hard work, it wasn’t that bad but 700 pages takes time to read when you are a) falling asleep all the time, b) struggling for time around painting.  I did take it to work last week to read in my lunch break, then someone found me in the coffee shop and that was my reading break gone!

Anyway, the premise of the book is not something new.  It’s 1952 and the Nazi’s won World War II so Britain is running under a treaty from Germany.  It’s a shaky rule as the Brits are struggling with their feelings about it all, especially when the German’s start instructing for all the Jews to be rounded up.

Our protagonist, David, is half Jew but has kept it quiet all his life.  He is also struggling with his relationship as he and his wife lost a son a child a few years before and it has driven a wedge between them.  These two reasons mean he has joined the Resistance movement and with a University friend they are set a task, to rescue their other University friend who is currently in an asylum.  Why?  Because he had a break down after his American based brother told him a secret that could win the war for the Brits/Americans.

I got half way through the book while on holiday and was getting quite into it.  I’m not a historian and couldn’t tell you who was in power at that time and the idiosyncrasies of the war. This probably didn’t help me get into the book but once I understand a bit about the history, I got into the story.  However, once I came home I just lost the thread by reading just 10 or 20 pages a night and by the time it came to the end I thought it was quite poor.  I just didn’t see what it was so important, and I found the characters annoying.

I’ve read another book in the same style, ‘Fatherland‘ by Robert Harris. In fact, I’ve read alot of Robert Harris books and really like his style.  I can remember reading the whole of ‘Pompeii’ on a flight back from Turkey.  I haven’t read anything by CJ Sansom but when I mentioned the name to a colleague she jumped at the chance to read this book as she really liked his other stuff.

So, I’m not going to write this off totally as I think my lack of enjoyment in the end was partly due to the fact I couldn’t give the story the time it deserved, and I also know I am crap at endings.  I find most books a let down as I like to immerse myself in the world and then when it comes to an end I get quite deflated.

So, certainly give Dominion a go but do try Robert Harris if you are into historical drama, both are a good read.

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