Olga is an orphan raised by her grandmother in a Prussian village around the turn of the 20th century. Smart and precocious, she fights against the prejudices of the time to find her place in a world that sees her as second-best.When she falls in love with Herbert, a local aristocrat obsessed with the era’s dreams of power, glory and greatness, her life is irremediably changed. Theirs is a love against all odds, entwined with the twisting paths of German history, leading us from the late 19th to the early 21st century, from Germany to Africa and the Arctic, from the Baltic Sea to the German south-west. This is the story of that love, of Olga’s devotion to a restless man – told in thought, letters and in a fateful moment of great rebellion.
As Governor of Galicia, SS Brigadesf?hrer Otto Freiherr von W?chter presided over an authority on whose territory hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed. By the time the war ended in May 1945, he was indicted for ‘mass murder’. Hunted by the Soviets, the Americans and the British, as well as groups of Poles and Jews, W?chter went on the run. He spent three years hiding in the Austrian Alps before making his way to Rome and being taken in by the Vatican where he remained for three months. While preparing to travel to Argentina on the ‘ratline’ he died unexpectedly, in July 1949, a few days after having lunch with an ‘old comrade’ whom he suspected of having been recruited by the Americans. Here, Philippe Sands offers a unique account of the daily life of a Nazi fugitive, the love between W?chter and his wife Charlotte, who continued to write regularly to each other while he was on the run.
On Boxing Day 1962, when Juliet Nicolson was eight years old, the snow began to fall. It did not stop for ten weeks. It was one of the coldest and harshest winters for 300 years. The drifts in East Sussex reached twenty-three feet. In London, milkmen made deliveries on skis. On Dartmoor 2,000 ponies were buried in the snow, and foxes ate sheep alive. It wasn’t just the weather that was bad. The threat of nuclear war had reached its terrifying height with the recent Cuban Missile Crisis. Unemployment was on the rise, de Gaulle was blocking Britain from joining the European Economic Community, Winston Churchill, still the symbol of Great Britishness, was fading. These shadows hung over a country paralysed by frozen heating oil, burst pipes and power cuts which are explored here.
Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasising about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though, of course, it was never meant to be.
Ava, newly arrived in Hong Kong from Dublin, spends her days teaching English to rich children. Julian is a banker. A banker who likes to spend money on Ava, to have sex and discuss fluctuating currencies with her. But when she asks whether he loves her, he cannot say more than ‘I like you a great deal’. Enter Edith, a lawyer. Refreshingly enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, Edith takes Ava to the theatre when Julian leaves Hong Kong for work. Quickly, she becomes something Ava looks forward to. And then Julian writes to tell Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong. Should Ava return to the easy compatibility of her life with Julian or take a leap into the unknown with Edith?
1957, south-east suburbs of London. Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and – on the brink of 40 – living a limited existence with her truculent mother: a small life from which there is no likelihood of escape. When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys.
An immeasurably influential female voice in post-war Japanese literature, Kono writes with a strange and disorienting beauty: her tales are marked by disquieting scenes, her characters all teetering on the brink of self-destruction. In the famous title story, the protagonist loathes young girls but compulsively buys expensive clothes for little boys so that she can watch them dress and undress. Taeko Kono’s detached gaze at these events is transfixing: What are we hunting for? And why? Kono rarely gives the reader straightforward answers, rather reflecting, subverting and examining their expectations, both of what women are capable of, and of the narrative form itself.