Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Read: A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous

Synopsis: For eight weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman kept a daily record of life in her apartment building and among its residents. "With bald honesty and brutal lyricism" (Elle), the anonymous author depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity, as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. "Spare and unpredictable, minutely observed and utterly free of self-pity" (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland), A Woman in Berlin tells of the complex relationship between civilians and an occupying army and the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject--the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity.
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary is a war memoir like no other. Written by a then 34-year-old German journalist, it begins with the fall of Berlin, as the Russian army takes over. It is brutal and honest and written with an observant eye.The writer and the rest of the occupants of her building struggle to survive - hiding out in the basement, scavenging for food. But when the Red Army moves into the city, the rapes begin.

After being raped several times - and realizing that her neighbours will never come to her rescue - the writer realizes that in order to survive, she needs to find her own form of protection: "No question about it: I have to find a single wolf to keep away the pack. An officer, as high-ranking as possible, a commandant, a general, whatever I can manage."

The writer's willingness to write about her experience is truly admirable. And she writes about the rapes with the same strength and endurance as she writes about the rest of the degradation of society - it is after all, a matter of survival.
"What does it mean - rape? When I said the word for the first time aloud, Friday evening in the basement, it sent shivers down my spine. Now I can think it and write it with an untrembling hand, say it out loud to get used to hearing it said. It sounds like the absolute worst, the end of everything - but it's not." 
Reading A Woman in Berlin makes one thankful for the little things. I was having breakfast (tea and buttered toast) when I read this passage. My simple breakfast never tasted better.
"To round off the evening I concocted a small dessert. I took a teaspoon of what sugar was left in my bag and sprinkled it into a little glass. Now I'm dipping my index finger into the glass, slowly and deliberately, so that my fingertip picks up a few grains at a time. I look forward to every lick, enjoying each sweet morsel more than I ever did a whole box of prewar chocolates."
At the author's request, the book was published anonymously, although her identity was revealed in 2003, two years after her death. The film version was released in 2008.

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