I've been indulging in one of my favourite reading pastimes this last week - armchair travelling. First I went to Italy in the early 1920s and then on to the post-war Germany of the 1930s, so not just armchair travelling, 'time' travelling too.
First up, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim.
What a delight this book was. I loved Lotty and Rose and their daring spirits. Both were quite alarmed at what they'd done in leaving their husbands behind to go on this jaunt. From my 21st. century perspective this seemed acceptable but back in the 1920s it would be have been questionable to say the least. In Lotty's case I actually thought it served her husband right and loved how she blossomed in Italy. Very interesting hearing about life from Lady Caroline's point of view... how tedious things can be when you're very beautiful... she talks of people 'grabbing' her as though they own her, men never leaving her alone for two minutes, the envy of other women who assume she's after their husbands when she's not... quite the reverse in fact. On the surface this is a charming book about holidaying in Italy, but in reality it's much deeper than that. It's about different kinds of marriages and how women learn to cope and compromise and often rise above intense difficulties. And it's also about the magic of place and how that can have a huge impact on lives and events. Loved it. I've read Elizabeth Von Arnim's German Garden book but she's written a lot more and I'll be on the lookout for them now.
Next, Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd. This is my fifth book for the 2018 European Reading Challenge covering the country of Germany.
"Foreign visitors who concerned themselves with the plight of the Jews – and the majority did not – had to deal with an unanswerable question. How was it possible for these warm-hearted, genial people, noted for their work ethic and devotion to family values, to treat so many of their fellow Germans with such contempt and cruelty?"
What came over was how desperate ordinary Germans were for the British to approve of what was happening in Germany. The new government wanted a formal alliance but of course that didn't happen. What did happen was that right up the moment war broke out British parents were still sending their teenage children to Germany to take in the culture and learn the language. Author, Julia Boyd, is dumbfounded by this and I must admit I was surprised too. There's a lot to take in in this book but it's very readable indeed and I zoomed through it in a few days. For anyone thinking of trying to learn a bit more about WW2 this would be an excellent place to start as it explains a lot, puts various events into context and from it you can understand how war was inevitable. An excellent read and a keeper.
I gave both of these books a five star rating on Goodreads, not because they were perfect - they weren't - but because I couldn't stop reading either of them and was always keen to pick them up and read on. That says a lot because it's not always the case by any means.