Good People by Nir Baram
|Good People by Nir Baram|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A literary look at people who chose to collaborate rather than resist during WWII. Not an easy read but definitely worth the effort.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 421||Date: September 2016|
|Publisher: Text Publishing Company|
|External links: Author's website|
Thomas Heiselberg's self-focus pays off when he attracts the best clientele to the American advertising firm he helps establish across Europe from his German home. Meanwhile in Russia Sasha Weissberg is struggling with being in a literary, free-thinking family that doesn't go down too well with Stalin's regime. As World War II arrives, both of their worlds are shaken. As a result both decide to become collaborators rather than resistance fighters for different reasons and with far reaching effects.
Israeli author Nir Baram was born into a political family; something that shows in his passionate beliefs as well as his writing. He's not only a proponent for equal rights for Palestinians, he's a deep thinker whose ability to look into the psychology and connotations of complex situations became obvious from his first novel The Remaker of Dreams, written when Nir was 22.
Good People was actually his second book, first published in 2010 and, unsurprisingly, since translated into 10 languages.
The inspiration arose when Nir started thinking about a novel set in World War II from a different viewpoint to the norm. What of the wartime collaborators? Why did they do it? What did they feel while they were siding with occupiers and authors of atrocities? Indeed, who were these 'good people'? In this case they're two people who make conscious decisions for their own good as well as, in Sasha's case, the good of her family.
Sasha sees her whole family denounced and taken by Stalin's secret police the NKVD. Even her younger twin brothers are taken from her for rehoming. These traumatic events led Sasha to decide that the only way that she can persuade the authorities that she's a good citizen and so able to get her brothers back is to help the very people who took them. Thus she offers her writing skills editing the confessions of NKVD detainees. These hopes of a reunited family are what keep her going while she's pushed along by the consequences of her decision.
I must admit that I loved Sasha and was rooting for her every step of the way. Thomas, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish.
Thomas comes over as totally self-serving. He wants to be the best at all he does for financial gain and power. This leads him to build a nice empire for himself within the European branches of the US advertising company. When the war makes US/German trade impossible, he hops over to the new power brokers and effectively becomes a PR for the Nazis. He shows fleeting glimmers of compassion, as when he realises the consequences of the regime for his Jewish therapist for instance, but that wasn't enough for me to like him as a person. Yet he's so well written that, as with Sasha, I couldn't take my eyes off him.
There's a saying that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, as we watch the landscape and timeline of wartime Europe through these ordinary people (containing varying degrees of goodness) we wonder if they will do nothing. No spoilers but they do meet towards the end (this is in the book blurb) while Nir prompts some fascinating arguments for and against acts of redemption. (I'll leave you to discover the choices they actually make at that point.)
By the end of the book I found that I was actually talking to Thomas and Sasha... ok, sometimes yelling at them. That just goes to prove that, due to both the subject matter and Nir's high level literary prowess in places, this may not be an easy read in parts, it's definitely an affecting one.
(Thank you to Text Publishing for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like to further explore the war time experience through everyday eyes, we recommend The Conductor by Sarah Quigley and for further tales of the Russian secret police, we just as vehemently recommend One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
You can read more book reviews or buy Good People by Nir Baram at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Good People by Nir Baram at Amazon.com.
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