Yes, I'm a month late in marking the start of 2018. Here is the reason: Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, a 1,184-page account of twelve years in the life of history's greatest mass murder. During the Terror of 1937-1938, Stalin signed off on the execution of one thousand people a day, mostly his own generals, commissars, intellectuals, secret police, and dutiful members of the Communist party. I needed the better part of two months to read it, and every hour was well rewarded. Stephen Kotkin makes even Stalin's greatest blunder — his calamitous failure to have the Red Army positioned to trounce the Germans in June 1941 — understandable. Indeed, it was inevitable, given the Soviet doctrine of "forward defense" (which is to say, counterattack!) that would serve the Russians so well in later years.
Robert Harris wrote the masterful Fatherland, about a 1940s Europe after Germany was victorious, not to mention a recent novel in which the new Pope turns out to be differently gendered. So perhaps I was expecting too much from Munich, his latest concoction. Alas, it turns out to be a rather conventional historical novel built around Chamblerain's sellout of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The events are seen through the eyes of two fictional characters, one German and one British, who provide the only bit of suspense. (The German helps translate for Hitler while carrying a Walther pistol in an inside pocket of his jacket. Alas, it never goes off, thereby violating Chekov's rule about the gun over the mantlepiece in the first act of a play.)
At last I have an excuse to celebrate Robert Fagles's magnificent translation of The Odyssey. The New Hampshire Humanities Council will sponsor two ten-week reading groups for veterans and their families, starting February 7 in Portsmouth, March 20 in New London. There's no charge, and the book is provided. (If it's not the Fagles translation, you can get it from Amazon.com for $10.19.) For more about this project, see Dialogues on War & Homecoming at the NH Humanities website. Be assured that a "facilitator" will be present at the weekly meetings, no doubt to comfort any vet who breaks down. It is a fancy of our time that if a man goes to war, he must come home a victim. But Odysseus was a hero, a chieftain, a survivor! "Sing to me of the man, Muse," Homer wrote of him, "the man of twists and turns, time and again driven off course after he had sacked the hallowed halls of Troy!" Not even Poseidon could bring him down. Blue skies! — Dan Ford
Or get a signed copy from the author ($20, US only)
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Posted February 2018. Websites © 1997-2018 Daniel Ford. All rights reserved.