I’ll be back to normal posts soon, but I can’t resist celebrating the launch of M.L. Huie’s postwar espionage novel Spitfire, out today in the United States. It’s set in 1946 just like my book, so it feels like Spitfire and The German Heiress /Finding Clara are story siblings.
Spitfire is about a female spy and it has Ian Fleming in it too, so I’ve wanted to read it ever since I was lucky enough to meet Michael via a 2020 Debut authors group. Here’s the description from his website:
It’s the day of the London Victory Celebrations 1946. World War II is over, and former spy Livy Nash is celebrating with her third drink before noon. She went to war to kill Nazis. Dropped behind enemy lines as a courier, she quickly became one of the toughest agents in France. But her war ended with betrayal and the execution of the man she loved.
Now, Livy spends her days proofreading a demeaning advice column for little ladies at home, and her nights alone with black market vodka.
But everything changes when she meets the infamous Ian Fleming.
The man who will create the world’s most sophisticated secret agent has an agenda of his own and sends Livy back to France with one task: track down the traitor who killed the only man she ever loved. Livy jumps at the chance, heading back to Paris undercover as a journalist. But the City of Lights is teeming with spies, and Livy quickly learns just how much the game has changed. With enemies on every corner and ever-shifting alliances, she’ll have to learn to fight a new war if she wants to conquer the past.
I just downloaded Spitfire, and as a classic spy novel fan, I’m ridiculously excited to read it. I hope some of you will take a look too. p.s. Book 2 in the Livy Nash series should be coming out later in the year. Congratulations, Michael!
How does modern Germany present WW2 to school kids? As my kids have gotten older, I’ve wondered at what age they’ll begin to learn about the war and Germany’s responsibility for what it did to so many countries in Europe. I knew that high school-age kids learn about it, but how young can children be and still grasp what happened and why?
My kids haven’t gotten to it in school yet, but last week they had a chance to immerse themselves in the topic in a way they had never done before. Kika, German national TV’s children’s channel, launched a series called Der Krieg und ich (The War and Me) for 8-year-olds and up. Each episode follows a child from a different country as they struggle with their fate before and during the war. The stories come from Germany, Norway, France, Britain, Poland, the USSR and the Czech Republic.
This international focus really impressed me. It seems like the war is largely portrayed inside of national bubbles — the German experience seeming to have little to do with the Russian or British etc experience on a personal level. But the series manages to zoom out to show the war as the link between 7 different but in some ways similar dramas. These are all children. None of what happens is their fault, but they are growing up in a conflict that forces them to make hard and fateful decisions.
My whole family settled onto the sofa to watch the first episodes together. My 9-year-old is especially sensitive, and I watched how she reacted to the show. The first episode focused on Anton, a German boy who desperately wanted to join the Hitler Youth so he could have better clothes and belong to a group of boys who looked like true friends and wanted great things for Germany. He didn’t understand what the group truly stood for until he had to face a choice: betray the family of his Jewish friend, or stand by them, which would endanger his own family.
My 9-year-old is a bright kid, good in school, and very curious about the world. She’s asked about WW2 before, but not in great depth. As she watched Anton’s story, she couldn’t sit still. She climbed onto the back of the sofa, slid to the floor and hid behind it, peeking over the top as she continued to watch. The story scared her. Basically good people like Anton can end up doing bad things. This was only one of the lessons of the show, and it was a hard one to process.
After we turned off the TV, my daughter and I talked through some of these issues. It wasn’t easy. Germany is a very different country than it used to be, and many of its basic values are so different, I had to explain those before my daughter could make sense of what she’d seen. For instance, she wanted to know: why did people think the army and being a soldier was such a good thing? It’s a legitimate question in a basically anti-war country like modern Germany.
We told her that her great grandfathers on her Papa’s side fought for Germany, while her great grandfather on my side fought for the United States and the anti-Nazi Allies. She personally had nothing to do with the war, but as a half-German, she has a responsibility to know what happened and to try to prevent such a thing from happening again. Having the courage to speak out and take risks is hard for everyone, especially children. But Der Krieg und ich has done a good job showing kids struggling with those decisions and their consequences. A great introduction to WW2 that even adults can learn from.
This is a quick one to take my hat off to former US serviceman Geoff Walden’s website Third Reich in Ruins. Geoff’s father had taken so many photos while in the US Army after World War II that Geoff (thankfully) decided to share them with the world, identifying where the photos were taken and when, if he could. He’s added to the collection himself with some nice “then and now” photos – like the ones I linked to for Berlin — which show places like the Reichstag or the Zoo Bunker before, during or after the war. The site has been running for almost 20 years, so there’s a lot of great information to dig through for war/postwar buffs.
What’s a sucker? A gullible person pulled into a con by criminals who want something from you.
This War Office video from 1947 explains very well how Germany was turned into “a nation of suckers,” and how quickly this can happen anywhere — even in America. It’s fascinating to see how the War Office was still concerned about the seduction of fascism despite the total victory over Nazi Germany. And the video gives a good glimpse into how the US saw the rise of fascism as a problem every individual must recognize early, and reject.
Please pay attention to the discussion of how the Nazis “abolished truth.” That’s quoted out of the film, made 70 years ago. And we’re still talking about it today.
Discover how hatred of our enemies continues to create victims, even after the victory.
That’s how the Norwegian developers described the theme of their app game My Child Lebensborn. Right after World War II, you adopt a child, Klaus or Karin, and must survive in a small Norwegian town. I couldn’t resist taking a look, and downloaded the app on my tablet.
Two hours later, I was still playing, and on the edge of tears.
The artwork and gameplay are simple and wonderful, and the music a perfect soundtrack to the bittersweet story that unfolds. You’re a single parent raising your adoptive child; I chose the girl Karin, because I have a daughter the same age. It’s a hard life. I had to work hard to feed her, and Karin often went hungry, or was alone at home. The basic tasks of feeding and clothing and washing Karin would’ve been overwhelming on their own, but worse things happened.
Karin turned 7 and wanted to know who her parents were. And why was she so bullied at school? Why was she called a “Nazi-kid?” Why did the others call her a German as if it was the worst thing one could be? I had to help Karin struggle with these questions, and watched how she suffered under them.
That’s the lesson of this game, the power of adult prejudices to destroy an innocent, delivered in a powerful, interactive way. As Karin’s adoptive parent, I had to set out to find the answers to her questions about who she was. There are some heartbreaking scenes and situations, and you don’t have to be a parent to be moved by them.
When the game was done, I wanted it to keep going, as painful as some of it was. I didn’t want to let go of Karin.
The game pointed me to the existence of the research group Children Born of War, which studies the effects of war on children, particularly children of foreign soldiers and local mothers. This is a crucial and heart-rending postwar issue, and not just in Germany, as I saw and lived in My Child Lebensborn.