Thursday, 16 February 2012

Histoy of History: A Novel of Berlin, Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Publishers: Faber and Faber

Pages: 336 (Paperback 2011)

Main Characters:
Margaret Taub

History of History follows the life of Margaret Taub, an American student living in Berlin. The novel starts with Margaret waking up in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin, with no recollection of how she got there and with no memory of the last six months. After making her way home, Margaret finds a letter addressed to Margaret Taubner which asks her to attend a doctor’s appointment. Intrigued by the misspelling of her name and having no memory of booking an appointment with a doctor, Margaret decides to go along to the appointment. There the doctor shows Margaret a video that the doctor states, ‘in the Western world’s entire history, nothing produced has ever been more meaningful’. After this video, Margaret’s world is turned upside down as she starts to see things ‘more clearly’. She sees buildings not as bricks and mortar but as human flesh and believes she is been stalked by a hawk-like woman.
After watching the video Margaret becomes obsessed with two families which were killed during the war. One family is Jewish-German (Strauss family) and the other is one of the most powerful families in the Third Reich, the Goebbels. Even though these families seem worlds apart, Margaret finds they are linked in the method they were killed, they both committed suicide.  Margaret believes she is visited by the mothers of both families, as she becomes obsessed with the idea that there is innocence behind the deaths of the children in each family. In the case of the Goebbels’, Margaret tries to reason that Magda Goebbels killed her children to stop them growing up as Nazi’s. Margaret believes the Strauss children were killed to protect them from the imminent deportation to Poland. But to Margaret’s grief she finds that the suicides are much more sinister than she first believed (and desperately wanted them to be).
I first decided to read this book as a suggestion from another blog. The blogger there quoted it in their top five books for 2011 and suggested that if you were to read one book from their list History of History should be it.  The full title of this book is History of History: A Novel of Berlin, this title appealed to me because I have read other books that are set in Berlin and are based on historical events (e.g. Fatherland). However this book is something totally different. This book is all about psychology and is based around Margaret losing her mind. Don’t get me wrong, there is history in there and Hattemer-Higgins does an excellent job of painting a picture of the dying days of the Third Reich in 1945. But it was not what I was expecting.However, I still really enjoyed this book. The way Hattemer-Higgins portrays Margaret losing her mind is brilliant and is really creepy in some places as Margaret’s mind becomes more obsessed with the war. I also think Hattemer-Higgins makes some good points about how we look back at history.
As Margaret explains in the book, the history of the Holocaust is always looked on in the same light. An example would be that all people in the German army were evil. Margaret also explains that some parts of the Holocaust are overlooked as they tarnish what people want to believe. The example Hattemer-Higgins uses in the book is that in the Jewish work camps, men were paid with tokens they could swap to use in brothels which were made up of Jewish women who had been forced into them.  In the book Margaret states (to tourists she is showing Hitler’s bunker) that this is not what the people ‘want to hear’.
Another point I think Hattemer-Higgins makes is about the strength women have in times of crisis. All three of the main female characters take the lives of themselves and their families into their own hands at their time of peril. The mothers of the two families take the lives of their families into their hands to stop them becoming victims to the Nazis and the Russians. Margaret takes her life into her own hands when she needs to (won’t say too much, don’t want to spoil the ending).
All in all this was an excellent book. Although it wasn’t what I expected it was still brilliant. Hattemer-Higgins does an amazing job portraying the deterioration of Margaret’s mind and as I said above, the parts about the history of Berlin are brilliant. I’m not sure who I would suggest this book to but I think if you have an interest in psychology and mental illness it may appeal to you.
For author’s official website click here

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