The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith (2017. Audible. ISBN 978-1439140246)
So, this was another book I “cheated” on as a book club assignment. I listened to most of this while walking the track at the local YMCA and finished it listening in my car. The seminal question, given I’m in the process of tackling my own Holocaust novel set in Slovenia during WW2 (with scenes set in Croatia, Poland, Norway, and Austria as well) is this: Does the world really need another novel about the destruction of Europe’s Jews? The answer is a qualified “yes” and this book meets my qualification.
Smith has given us a story set in Venice, and unravels an uniquely interesting and unexplored peek into the Holocaust during the last days of German rule during the time-frame of Mussolini’s fall, capture, and death. The story’s main protagonists are as follows: Cenzo a reluctant Italian soldier who comes home to resume his life of a fisherman after being discharged for refusing to use poison gas on African villagers; Guilia Silber, the always in jeopardy, obligatory Jewish beauty; and Giorgio, Cenzo’s actor brother who is at times, his brother’s foil and at times, his savior. There are a host of other minor characters who populate the tale but the plot rests upon the well-muscled, strong shoulders of Cenzo. The plot is engaging. The historical details are well researched, well placed, and don’t bog the story down. And the action is unrelenting. My only critique is that Cenzo, supposedly a somewhat downtrodden, ignorant fisherman, speaks and thinks more like a college professor, making him Giulia’s equal, than like a peasant. But that aside, I loved the read and would recommend this book to other book clubs not exhausted by the plethora of Holocaust books (hopefully, mine included) that have been released in the past decade.
My qualification for a new read based upon the Holocaust to be worthy of a read is that it cover new ground regarding that topic in engaging and riveting fashion. This book meets that requirement.
4 and 1/2 stars out of 5
The Long Norwegian Night by O.M. Magnussen and Kaare A. Bolgen (2013. Fern Hill. ISBN 978-1-48403244-2)
This book is actually an English translation of a memoir by Norwegian POW O. M. Magnussen, a member of the Norwegian resistance to Nazi occupation of Norway during WW II. Bolgen includes Magnussen’s original artwork, drawings done on scraps of paper by Magnussen in various prison cells and concentration camps where he was interned during his long incarceration. The main reason I purchased this book was as background for a novel about the Holocaust and its aftermath in the Balkans that I’m currently researching and writing. One of my characters in my novel is transferred from Croatia to Norway, arriving at the Falstad Labor Camp, before being sent to Grini, another concentration camp run by the SS and its Norwegian counterpart, and a camp that Magnussen spent time at.
I’ll be candid: I tore through this memoir in a few days, reveling in the details and the storytelling that make it a very captivating read. As with my review of The Girl From Venice (above), as I write a fictional rendition of what Yugoslavians went through during. the war, including brutality against Jews, Roma, Serbs, Communists, and others by the Ustaše (Croatian Fascists), the seminal question I ask myself is: Does the world really need another Holocaust novel? The answer, so long as it covers new and unique ground is “yes”. This book satisfies that requirement. It’s also well written and engaging though, given it is one man’s experience at the hands of the Gestapo and the SS, it’s of limited scope. For my purposes, it was a fine addition to my research and anyone who has an interest of what took place in Norway during the war would be well served to pick up a copy and read it.
4 stars out of 5