Review by Booklist Review
Reading his late father's scrapbooks from the 1930s, Wall Street Journal Europe editor Kempe found they contained signposts about his relatives' attitudes toward and relationship with the Nazi regime. Combining his familial research with his reporter's observations of how "normal" contemporary Germany is, Kempe produces pointed perceptions on how the past continues to overhang that country. In one chapter he's chatting up the German officers and men detailed to NATO's Bosnia force; in another he's reading the postwar investigatory files the East German Stasi assembled against his great-uncle, an SA leader with a gruesome record, so repugnant Kempe only need let the files speak. The attitude toward Nazism of another uncle, a Stalingrad survivor, and of his own father, a German Morman who emigrated to the U.S. in 1927, requires more nuanced explanations: why did Father collect pro-Nazi pamphlets and clippings? Kempe's reflective journey through his extended-family's experience brings intimate immediacy to that general question of why Germans approved of or acquiesced in Hitler--and whether "bad history somehow made the Germans a better people." --Gilbert Taylor
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Two emotionally weighted projects inform Kempe's thoughtful exploration of present-day Germany. In one, Kempe, editor and associate publisher of the Wall Street Journal Europe, travels throughout Germany searching for the present and future of the country poised to regain its position at the political center of Europe. In the other, he examines his own family's links to Germany's Nazi past. The two-track structure works. Kempe, who was raised in America by German-born parents, introduces us to a fascinating array of characters: ordinary Germans who play on his basketball team; leaders of both the secular and Islamist German-Turkish community; German-born citizens who display thinly veiled racism. His personal search, meanwhile, leads him to look beyond the pro-German sympathies of his father and to uncover the past of a relative who was more involved in WWII atrocities than anybody in the family ever cared to know. Yet this is not a book that dwells on German guilt. Instead, Kempe struggles to understand how Germany understands itself as it steps back on to the center of the European stage so soon, historically speaking, after its total degeneration and defeat. He raisesÄbut does not answerÄthe question of whether Germany's regeneration is as deep as it has been rapid. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A joy to read, in fact, a book so good one doesn't want it to end. Kempe, editor and associate publisher of the Wall Street Journal Europe (Siberian Odyssey: A Voyage into the Russian Soul, 1992), has written an engrossing account of the new Germany of the 1990s while delving deeply into his own German-American history, a history in which he discovers some disturbing evidence that his family, like so many others in Germany, is tainted by its Nazi connections. The account that ensues includes fascinating portrayals of casual acquaintances and intimate friends Kempe has made through years of working as a foreign correspondent. It's through interviews with these associates that Kempe explores to what degree Germans are different today than before their historic reunification. Through that significant event, as well as the NATO dispatch of German soldiers to Bosnia and Germany's support for the euro, Kempe tries to answer questions of Germany's normality, and how Germans live on a daily basis with the burden of their Holocaust-laden history. He shows in detail how Jews have come back to Germany over the years. He also addresses how Turks, the largest minority in Germany, struggle with acceptance in a land of opportunity and promise that is at times also a land of bigotry and violence. The questions of Germany's role in the new Europe, as an economic powerhouse in the global economy, and as a bulwark of democracy, are deftly handled. For Kempe, the links to America are crucial to Germany's continuance on the road to normality. Kempe has written a piece of contemporary history as it should be written, in clear, engaging prose, and with judicious and sensible arguments. He has expertly handled the history of modern Germany, and given us insights into the German soul, including his own, that are crucial for an understanding of our modern world.
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