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Potsdam Station [Format Kindle]

David Downing

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Descriptions du produit


Franco’s furniture

April 6 –7

As they walked south towards Diedersdorf and the battalion command post, Paul Gehrts realised that he and his companion Gerhart Reheusser were grinning like idiots. The cloudless blue sky, warm sunshine and dust-free easterly breeze were responsible, banishing, if only for a few minutes, the grim anxiety that filled their waking hours. For the moment the occasional rattle of a distant machine-gun, the odd boom of a tank cannon or gun, could be ignored.

About five kilometres behind them, the Seelow Heights fell sharply away to the Oderbruch, the meadowlands which lay between the escarpment and the Oder River. Soon—in a few days, most likely—the men and tanks of the Red Army would storm across those meadows and throw themselves at the German defences. The Russians would die in their thousands, but thousands more would follow. It would only be a matter of time. But a sunny day was a sunny day, with a power all its own. The two men were approaching the first houses of the small town when they came upon a large group of soldiers spread out along the side of the road. Few looked older than fifteen, and one boy was actually passing round his army-issue bag of sweets, as if he were at a friend’s birthday party. Most had their panzerfausts lying beside them on the grass, and all looked exhausted—the disposable rocket-launchers were a crippling weight for all but the strongest children. Their troop leader, who was probably almost out of his teens, was examining a weeping blister on one of his charges’ feet. As Paul and Gerhard walked past he looked up, and offered them a brief rueful smile.

Almost all of Diedersdorf ’s usual residents had left or been evacuated, and were now presumably clogging the roads leading westward, but the town was not being neglected—in the small central square an over-zealous staff-sergeant was supervising another band of young recruits in sweeping the cobbles.

‘The madness of the military mind,’ Gerhard muttered, not for the first time.

As if to prove his point, a half-track drove across the square, sending eddies of dust in every direction. The sergeant endured a violent fit of coughing, then ordered his boys back to work.

The division mechanics had set up shop in the goods yard of the town station, close to where a large dug-out had been excavated in the railway embankment for the battalion command post. The corporal at the improvised desk in the goods shed groaned when he saw Paul’s machine-gun. ‘Don’t tell me—it jams.’

‘It does.’

‘How often?’

‘Too often for comfort.’

The corporal sighed. ‘I’ll get someone to have a look,’ he said.

‘Come back in an hour.’

Two bench seats from the nearby railway station had been left outside the battalion command post entrance, offering a place to wait and watch the war go by. The two of them had only been sitting there a few minutes when a captured Red Army jeep pulled up. A Wehrmacht major and two NCOs leapt out, shoved their manacled Russian prisoner onto the other seat, and disappeared into the dugout. He looked like an ordinary rifleman, with dark dishevelled hair and vaguely Mongoloid features. He was wearing a bloodstained kaftan above badly frayed trousers and worse-worn boots. He sat there with his mouth slightly open, his eyes gazing blankly into space.

But he wasn’t stupid. Catching Paul’s look he returned it, and his eyes, once focused, seemed full of intelligence. ‘Cigarette?’ he asked.

That, at least, was one thing the Reich wasn’t short of. Gerhart got up and gave him one, placing it between the Russian’s lips and offering a lighted match.


‘You’re welcome, Ivan.’

‘No, he fucking isn’t,’ another voice exploded behind them. It was one of the NCOs who had brought him in. He knocked the cigarette from the Russian’s mouth, throwing sparks all over his face, and swung round on Gerhart. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’

‘What I hope . . .’

‘Shut the fuck up. And get out of my sight.’ He turned away, grabbed the Russian under one arm and hustled him through the curtained door of the dug-out.

‘Wonderful,’ was all Gerhart said. He looked at the still-swaying curtain, as if contemplating pursuit.
‘Let’s try and find some hot water,’ Paul suggested.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Gerhart told him. ‘I’m not going to let a shit like that order me around.’

Paul shrugged and sat down again. There was no use arguing with Gerhart at times like this.

They’d been sitting in silence for about a quarter of an hour when shouting started inside. This went on for several more minutes, and culminated in a gunshot. A few moments later, there was another.

Gerhart leapt to his feet.

‘Let’s go and find that hot water,’ Paul said quietly.

Gerhart spun round, anger in his eyes, but something in his friend’s expression did the trick. He closed his eyes, breathed out heavily, and offered Paul a rueful smile. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘If we both take a bath, the war might stink a little less. Let’s go and find one.’

But they were out of luck. The only hot water in town came complete with a queue, and was already brown. A drink proved easier to come by, but the quality was equally dire, and after scorching their throats with a single glass neither felt thirsty for more. They went back to the workshop, but the mechanic still hadn’t got round to checking the machine-gun. Rather than return to their seat outside the command post, they pulled a couple of armchairs out of the empty house next door, and settled down to wait. Paul thought about checking the location of the nearest basement, but found he couldn’t be bothered. The sun was still shining, and it looked like the Red Air Force was having an afternoon off. If worse came to worst, they could simply throw themselves into the dugout across the yard.

Gerhart was devouring a cigarette, angrily sucking in smoke and flicking off ash while he wrestled with his inner demons. He was still pissed off about the Russian prisoner, Paul realised. Which might be admirable, but was unlikely to serve any useful purpose.

Paul had known him a long time. They’d been best friends at their first school, but Gerhart’s father had moved his family to Hamburg when both were nine, and they’d only met up again two years ago, when both were drafted into the same flakhelfer unit at the Zoo Bunker Gun Tower. Gerhart had persuaded Paul that pre-enlistment in the Wehrmacht made sense, partly because he wanted out of the flakhelfer, partly to avoid SS recruitment. Paul had resisted for one reason—the girl he had just fallen in love with was one of those directing the neighbouring tower’s searchlights. But after Madeleine’s mounting took a direct hit he could hardly wait to get away. He and Gerhart had started their compulsory labour service together, and then been called up as seventeen-year-olds when the age limit was lowered early in 1944. They were still gunners, but now they were soldiers of the 20th Panzergrenadier Division.

They had been with their Pak-43 88mm gun for almost a year, somehow surviving the collapse of Army Group Centre the previous summer and the winter battles in Poland. When they had left Berlin for their first Ostfront posting, Gerhart’s mother had taken Paul aside and asked him to look after her son, but if anything Gerhart had looked after Paul. Gerhart’s relentless negativity when it came to the war, the army and the Führer was sometimes irritating, but he never let it lessen his sense of duty toward his comrades. In fact, the one probably reinforced the other.

These days, Gerhart was the closest thing Paul had to family. His father John Russell had deserted him in 1941; his mother Ilse and stepfather Matthias Gehrts had died in a car crash the previous year. His stepsisters were alive as far as he knew, but Paul hadn’t seen them since their evacuation two years ago, and the relationship had never been really close. He hadn’t spoken to his mother’s brother Thomas since their argument about his father almost three years ago.

‘Here he comes,’ Gerhart interjected. A mechanic was walking towards them, the machine-gun over his shoulder.

‘Is it fixed?’ Paul asked.

The mechanic shrugged. ‘Seems to be. I just a filed off a few micrometres. Give it a proper test in the woods—random gunfire this far behind the front makes people nervous.’

Paul hoisted the gun over his own shoulder. ‘Thanks.’

‘No problem.’

They walked back through Diedersdorf ’s empty streets. The young recruits on broom duty had vanished, but a Waffen-SS staff car was sitting in the otherwise empty square, and the gruppenführer sitting in the back seat turned a surprisingly anxious pair of eyes in their direction.

‘He’s seen the future, and it’s not looking black,’ Gerhart joked.

The sweet-sucking youths had also moved on, and the road running north was empty. After about a kilometre they turned off into the trees, and followed the winding track to their position on the eastern edge of the wood. The unit’s two cruciform-mounted 88mm anti-tank guns were dug in twenty metres apart, covering the distant Seelow-Diedersdorf road, which curved toward and across their line of vision. The first few Soviet tanks to bypass Seelow would certainly pay for their temerity, but those coming up behind them . . . well, their fate would depend on whether or not Paul’s unit received another shipment of shells. They currently had nineteen, and two of those would be needed to destroy their own guns.

They’d been here for over two months, and the dug-out accommodation was as spacious as any Paul had known in his short military career, three steps leading down to a short tunnel, with a tiny command post on one side and a small room full of bunks on the other. The ceilings weren’t exactly thick, but they were well buttressed, and even a direct hit should prove survivable. The halftracks they needed to move the guns were parked a hundred metres away in the forest, and heavily camouflaged against a sighting from the air. They had fuel enough for sixty miles between them, which seemed unlikely to be enough. Then again, if no more shells were delivered, the guns would become effectively useless, and they could all ride back to Berlin in a single vehicle.

It had been a quiet day, Sergeant Utermann told them. The artillery barrage had been shorter than usual, and even less accurate—nothing had fallen within a hundred metres of their small clearing. There’d been no Soviet air raid, and three Messerschmitt 109s had appeared overhead, the first they’d seen for a week. Maybe things were looking up at last.

‘And maybe Marlene Dietrich came home,’ Gerhart added sarcastically, once they were out of earshot. Utermann was a decent man, but a bit of an idiot.

Out in the clearing Hannes and Neumaier were kicking the unit’sfootball to and fro. Hannes had found it in a Diedersdorf garden the previous week, and had hardly stopped playing with it since.

‘Shall we challenge them?’ Gerhart asked.

‘Okay,’ Paul agreed without much enthusiasm.

Greatcoats were found for posts, and two men from the other gun team cajoled into making it three-a-side. Paul had played a great deal as a child, and had loved watching his team Hertha. But the Hitlerjugend had turned the game into one more form of ‘struggle’, and he had always gone to the Plumpe stadium with his dad. A wave of anger accompanied that thought, and before he knew it he was almost breaking Neumaier’s ankle with a reckless tackle.

‘Sorry, sorry,’ he said, offering the other boy his hand.

Neumaier gave him a look. ‘What happens to you on a football pitch?’

‘Sorry,’ Paul said again.

Neumaier shook his head and smiled.

The light was starting to fade, but they played on, engrossed in moving the football across the broken forest floor—until the Soviet planes swept over the trees. They were Tupolevs, although right until the last moment Paul was somehow expecting Sergeant Utermann’s Messerschmitt 109s. Like everyone else he dived for the ground, instinctively clawing at the earthen floor as fire and wood exploded above him. He felt a sharp pain in his left leg, but nothing more.

A single bomb, he thought. Turning his head he could see a wood splinter about ten centimetres long protruding from the back of his calf. Without really thinking, he reached back and yanked it out. His luck was in—there was no sudden gush of arterial blood.

Two large trees were in flames on the western edge of the clearing, where Gerhart had gone to collect the ball. Paul counted the figures getting to their feet, and knew that one was missing. He scrambled to his own and rushed across to where his friend should be.

He found Gerhart lying on his back, a shard of wood driven deep into his throat, a bib of blood spread across his chest. Sinking to his knees, Paul thought he caught a flicker in the other’s eyes, but they never moved again.

It seemed at first as if the DC-3 had landed in a forest clearing, but as the plane swung round John Russell caught sight of a long grey terminal building. The legend ‘Moscow Airport (Vnukovo)’ was emblazoned across the facade in enormous Cyrillic letters, beneath an even larger hammer and sickle. He had expected the Khodynka airfield, which he had last seen in August 1939, decked out with swastikas for the welcoming of Ribbentrop and the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He had never heard of Vnukovo, and hoped it was closer to the city centre than it looked. A wooden stairway on wheels was rolled out to meet the plane. It looked like something left over from the siege of Troy, and creaked alarmingly as the passengers stepped gingerly down to the tarmac. The sun was still above the tree line, and much warmer than Russell had anticipated. He joined the straggling procession towards the terminal building, a concrete edifice with all the architectural interest of a British pillbox. The constructivists would be turning in their graves, he thought, and they wouldn’t be alone. As Russell had discovered in 1939, trips to Stalin’s Soviet Union were guaranteed to disappoint those like himself who had welcomed the original revolution.

He joined the end of the queue, thinking that on this occasion a sense of ideological let-down was the least of his worries. First and foremost was the question of whether the Soviets had forgiven him for refusing their offer of hospitality at the end of 1941. After his escape from Germany—an escape which German comrades under Soviet orders had died to make possible—Stalin’s representatives in Stockholm had done their best to persuade him that Moscow was an ideal place to sit out the war. They had even plucked his old contact Yevgeny Shchepkin out of the international ether in a vain attempt to talk him round.

He had explained to Shchepkin that he wasn’t ungrateful, but that America had to be his first port of call. His mother and employer were there, and when it came to raising a hue and cry on behalf of Europe’s Jews, the New York Times seemed a much better bet than Pravda.

What he hadn’t told Shchepkin was how little he trusted the Soviets. He couldn’t even work out why they were so keen to have him on board. Did they still see him and his rather unusual range of connections as a potential asset, to be kept in reserve for a relevant moment? Or did he know more about their networks and ways of operating than he was supposed to? If so, did they care? Would he receive the Order of Lenin or a one-way trip to the frozen north? It was impossible to tell. Dealing with Stalin’s regime was like the English game of Battleships which he and his son Paul had used to play—the only way you found out you were on the wrong square was by moving onto it, and having it blow up in your face.

The queue was moving at a snail’s pace, the sun now winking through the pines. Almost all the arrivals were foreigners, most of them Balkan communists, come to lay gifts at Stalin’s feet. There had been a couple of Argentineans sitting across from Russell, and their only topic of conversation had been the excellent shooting in Siberia. Diplomats presumably, but who the hell knew in the violently shuffled world of April 1945? As far as Russell could tell, he was the only Western journalist seeking entry to Stalin’s realm.

For all his apprehensiveness, he was pleased to have got this far. It was seven days since his hurried departure from Rheims in northeast France, the location of the Western Allies’ military HQ. He had left on the morning of March 29th, after receiving off-the-record confirmation that Eisenhower had written to Stalin on the previous day, promising the Red Army the sole rights to Berlin. If Russell was going to ride into his old home town on a tank, it would have to be on a Russian one.

A swift exchange of cables with his editor in San Francisco had given him sanction to switch his journalistic sphere of operations, and, more importantly, some sort of semi-official fig leaf to cover up an essentially personal odyssey. Accompanying the Red Army into Hitler’s capital would prove a wonderful scoop for any Western journalist, but that was not why Russell wanted to do it.

Just getting to Moscow had been complicated enough, involving, as it did, a great swing round the territories occupied by the Wehrmacht, an area which still stretched from northern Norway to northern Italy. Three trains had brought him to Marseilles, and a series of flights had carried him eastwards via a succession of cities—Rome, Belgrade and Bucharest—all with the unfortunate distinction of having been bombed by both sides. He had expected difficulties everywhere, but bribery had worked in Marseilles and Rome, and broad hints that he would put Tito on the cover of Time magazine had eased his entry into Belgrade and, by default, the wider area of Soviet control. The rest had been easy. Once you were in, you were in, and the authorities in Bucharest, Odessa and Kiev had waved him on with barely a glance at his passport or papers. No doubt the various immigration bureaucracies would recover their essential nastiness in due course, but for the moment everyone seemed too exhausted by the war to care.

Moscow, though, was likely to be different, and Russell was half expecting orders to leave on the next return flight. Or worse. But when his turn finally came he was let through with only the most cursory check of his documents. It was almost as if they were expecting him.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

Praise for Potsdam Station:

A New York Times Notable Book

“John Russell has always been in the thick of things in David Downing’s powerful historical novels set largely in Berlin . . . Downing provides no platform for debate in this unsentimental novel, leaving his hero to ponder the ethics of his pragmatic choices while surveying the ground level horrors to be seen in Berlin.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Zelig, Russell, the hero of Downing’s espionage series, can’t seem to resist inserting himself into climactic moments of the 20th century ... Downing has been classed in the elite company of literary spy masters Alan Furst and Philip Kerr ... that flattering comparison is generally justified. If Downing is light on character study, he’s brilliant at evoking even the smallest details of wartime Berlin on its last legs.... Given the limited cast of characters, Downing must draw on almost Dickensian reserves of coincidences and close calls to sustain the suspense of his basic hide-and-seek story line. That he does ingeniously. It helps to read Downing’s novels in order, but if Potsdam Station is your first foray into Russell’s escapades, be forewarned that you may soon feel compelled to undertake a literary reconnaissance mission to retrieve and read the earlier books.”
Washington Post

“The echo of the Allied bombings and the crash of the boots of the invading Russians permeate the pages in which David Downing vividly does justice to the drama... The book is a reminder of what happened and those who allowed it to happen...The book lives up to the others in the Russell series, serving as yet one more reminder of a world too many have entirely forgotten.”
Washington Times

“Downing is brilliant at weaving history and fiction, and this plot, with its twists and turns—all under the terrible bombardment of Berlin and the Third Reich’s death throes—is as suspenseful as they come. The end, with another twist, is equally clever and unexpected.”
Toronto Globe and Mail

“Excellent period work.”
Tulsa World

“The main attraction is the tragic mis-en-scène of a once-beautiful city undergoing the ravages of modern warfare, a wide-angle synthesis of scenes and snapshots from the history books. A wide canvas painted with broad strokes.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Gripping ... Downing convincingly portrays the final days of the Nazis in power, and his characters are rich enough to warrant a continuation of their stories, even after the war.”
Publishers Weekly

Praise for the John Russell Series:
"Epic in scope, Mr. Downing's "Station" cycle creates a fictional universe rich with a historian's expertise but rendered with literary style and heart."
—The Wall Street Journal

“Will have readers clamoring for a sequel.”
“An extraordinary evocation of Nazi Germany on the eve of war, the smell of cruelty seeping through the clean modern surface.”
—C. J. Sansom, author of Revelation
“Wonderful…. Downing’s mingling of history and thrills makes this a must read.”
Rocky Mountain News
“A beautifully crafted and compelling thriller with a heart-stopping ending as John Russell learns the personal faces of good and evil. An unforgettable read.”
—Charles Todd, author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge Series
“An atmospheric tale.”
St. Petersburg Times

From the Hardcover edition.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 827 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 300 pages
  • Editeur : Old Street Publishing (1 septembre 2010)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0077AZUTM
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  87 commentaires
71 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A wrenching end--no spoilers! 15 juillet 2010
Par AMK - Publié sur Amazon.com
As I enjoyed the three previous *Station* novels, I ordered this from Amazon UK as soon as it was published there and was glad I got my hands on it. That said, I was initally a little disappointed that the action had skipped across some three years from the previous volume, and that this installment picks up in 1945. It brings together all the key protagonists as the Reich contracts to its core, Berlin, and from the start, the level of suspense is high.

This book, even more than its predecessors, must have been a challenge to write. Downing has to work hard to orchestrate his characters, bringing Russell back from the US [via Moscow] and his son back from the Russian Front. The latter is relatively simple--he retreats--although that is not without its many dangers; the former is more complex and while the plot is more than plausible, its twists and turns ratchet up the plot to a higher level of physical action than the series has seen before.

I thought I had seen and read enough about Berlin in 1945 to have had a sense of time and place, but this account takes the challenge of survival to a whole new level. The noise, smells and sights are piled on, almost to breaking point--as indeed they were for the German population, who were waiting either to vanquish their enemies at the last moment, as Hitler promised, or instead to die, as most expected.

By the last third of the book, I was virtually unable to read ahead or put the book down--the tension was almost too much. It seemed impossible that the characters could survive the SS, the Red Army or the USAF bombs (and of course, in reality, many did not]. As the Thousand Year Reich shrinks to a city, then a few districts, the familiar characters are aligned, find each other, lose each other and .....well, you need to read it yourself!

I can't say this was a fun summer read. It goes well beyond the minimalist action of comparable novels by Alan Furst or Phillip Kerr and offers up instead an inferno of intense experience that feels entirely convincing and is clearly based on extensive research, like the other three volumes. For this reason, as author and reader have invested so much on these characters, it would be a shame if David Downing now abandoned these people; just as Bernard Gunther has become a more interesting character after 1945, I hope we get to see what happens to this cast in the post-war world.
31 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The vortex of war--Berlin, April 1945--a fine new book by David Downing 31 août 2010
Par Blue in Washington - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Author David Downing has previously written three first-rate war/spy novels in the "Berlin Station" series that feature Anglo-American journalist, John Russell as protagonist. The books chronicle Russell's struggles to survive the prewar political and espionage whirlpool and to protect his German family as the increasingly aggressive and xenophobic Nazi regime prepares to launch WWII in the mid-1930s. These stories have been wonderfully researched, are full of well-sketched characters and a landscape detailed with great accuracy, and always high in nervous energy and, above all else, are highly entertaining. They are all well worth reading. The fourth book in the series, "Potsdam Station", may be the best in the series as author Downing notches up the action of the story to a level well beyond intelligent and cerebral that characterized the earlier books. It's a great action/thriller read that I had difficulty putting down after the first couple of pages.

The time period in "Potsdam Station" jumps ahead to the closing days of the war in Europe, as the Allies are closing in on the German capital and the Nazi armies have mostly retreated to a perimeter of a few miles around Berlin. John Russell, after escaping from Germany in 1941 to avoid interment after the entry of the U.S. into the war, has spent most of the interim in America and with American forces in Britain and France, working as a war correspondent. He has been cut off from news of his family and loved ones in the Reich--his fiance Effi Koenen, his son Paul and his in-laws. Desperate to reach all of them before Germany falls, Russell convinces the Soviet Government to allow him to enter Berlin with their forces. The deal is made only after he agrees to perform a service to the Soviets that would smack of treason to his own and other Allied governments if they learned of it. The core of the novel then becomes the question of whether Russell can reunite with his family and protect from the likely post-defeat horrors that await the German population at the hands of Soviet forces hell bent of victory and revenge.

Meanwhile, the stories of Russell's son, Paul, and fiance, Effi, both battling for own lives in or near Berlin, are told in harrowing, day-to-day detail. Effi's underground existence and resistance activities are engaging and have the ring of authenticity, but it is Paul's story, as a young soldier with the shattered German defense forces around the capital that is really grabbing. Paul's metamorphoses from Hitler Youth true believer to political atheist bent on simple survival convincingly evolves as the Soviets move closer to Berlin and the Third Reich implodes.

This is an exciting story by a writer in top form. You will find it at least on a par with Furst, Steiner, Kerr and Shriner. Highly recommended.
18 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Potsdam Station 29 avril 2011
Par Stephen M. Smits - Publié sur Amazon.com
This World War II novel centers around three related lives that have been separated by the tumult in and around war time Berlin. John Russell is an Englishman who resided in Germany for many years prior to the outbreak of the war with Russia. Russell, a journalist who earlier in his life became a Communist, escaped from Germany in 1941, leaving behind his girlfriend Effi (described as a well-known movie star before the war) and his son, Paul. Effi chose not to leave, instead involving herself in resistance efforts to rescue Jews from deportation. Paul, once a member of the Hitler Youth, is now a teen age soldier serving with the retreating German forces during the Russian advance on Berlin.

The story parallels the events of the three characters in the last days of the war. Russell is trying to return to Berlin via the Red Army's advance to reunite with Effi and protect her from the likely depradations of the Soviet troops. Paul, who was estranged from Russell after his sudden flight from the country, is closely involved in the desparate last battles against the Russian advance. Effi is threatened with exposure and goes underground to escape detection by the Gestapo.

The book is a convincing thriller. The characters nearly miraculously escape the destruction and death that others fell victim to on a massive scale. The author has close knowledge of war time Berlin and his descriptions of the characters' movements around the city create in the narrative a vivid sense of place. The novel succeeds in several dimensions: the storyline's progression is exciting, the scenes and places are realistic, and one feels fully fixed in the times, as opposed to a retrospective perspective of times gone by.

This is one of a series of novels about John Russell, not apparently the first. While the story is self-contained there was some lack of clarity about events and motives that must have been laid out in previous novels. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent on its own terms 29 avril 2011
Par GirondistNYC - Publié sur Amazon.com
Having finished this and run through the earlier books, and having read the rather polarized reviews for the series on Amazon by others who share my interest in the period and genre, I thought it might make sense to put down my thoughts. This is an excellent conclusion to a fascinating series. It is not Kerr's Bernie Gunther books, nor is it Alan Furst. I don't think the author intended them to be in that category. While the other authors (brilliantly) take the conventions of noir crime and espionage genre fiction and set them in the darker corners of Nazi Europe (and in Kerr's case the aftermath) Downing is I think doing something much less plot and atmosphere dependent. Kerr and Furst could be turned into wonderful movie thrillers, but Downing is rather more of a sprawling BBC series where the characters and what occurs to them over time is the lens by which the horrors of the Third Reich are examined. These books are basically about what happens to a group of essentially likeable but rather lucky and privileged characters from 1938 to the fall of Berlin who are not hard-bitten detectives, professional spies or heroic resistance figures. I can see why people expecting a taut plot and epic confrontations would be bemused by the rather meandering route the characters take and the sections describing the heroes watching soccer, having a picnic or a long lunch in some detail, but at least for me that was one of the strengths of the book -- Russell isn't a conventional hero or antihero, just a fairly decent person in a world gone mad. The scenes with him lounging around with Effi or taking Paul to Hertha are necessary (a) because Russell's primary motivation for almost all of his actions involve Effi and Paul, and they're critical to establishing why he does what he does (the moral weight of which increases exponentially over time) and (b) along the way, they provide wonderful period details (the lunches move ever downward in quality with rationing, the Hitler Youth starts eating away at the Hertha games, etc.). For me, at least, this approach worked very well indeed because the interpersonal relations were sufficiently well drawn by the end that I really cared about what happened to them, and watching these non-heroic, rather sheltered and occasionally self-absorbed people go through the Nazi period succeeded in illuminating some of the historical and moral questions of the period in a new light. The drawback of this approach is that this series in particularly ill-suited to being read out of sequence: You really need to read them all, because taken in isolation the plots and period details aren't perhaps up to the competition's -- the strength is watching what happens over time (e.g. the trainspotter's and Baedeker guide aspects of the descriptive passages on Berlin make more sense by the time the last book comes around and the shelters are in the U-Bahn). I'd also say that the series occasionally strains credulity with some of its plot twists, and this for me came perilously close to breaking the willing suspension of disbelief by the time I got to Potsdam Station, which is why it only gets four stars. Still well worth reading this, and the series, on its own terms though -- I positively hated the choice Russell made at the conclusion, but I understood why he did it, and that is a pretty good result for character driven historical fiction (cf. Kerr's otherwise excellent Field Grey, where I still don't know what Bernie was bloody thinking at the end).
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fastmoving story as our characters try to survive the fall of Berlin 16 août 2014
Par Daniel Berger - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
I've enjoyed David Downing's John Russell series, but this book is particularly fine. Historical novels set at the fall of Berlin in 1945 are particularly grabbing for me, because of the fatefulness of it all, and also because of its grayness. More on that later.

For three books Downing dealt with John Russell's complex intrigues in prewar Nazi Germany. Now he has put together a series plot which allows him to look at Berlin's fall from three different perspectives simultaneously.

Russell escapes Germany in the previous book, "Stettin Station", in 1941 after Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war makes the Anglo-American journalist an enemy alien. A war correspondent since then, now in April 1945 he goes to Moscow on a dangerous long-shot bet - that he can cover the Red Army's entry into Berlin, ostensibly to write about it, but really because he wants to find girlfriend Effi Koenen. Russell doesn't know if she's alive but if so she'll be in danger when the city falls. The NKVD first jails him, then make him an offer he can't refuse - parachuting into Berlin with a spy team charged with bringing back Germany's atomic secrets. Russell's intimate familiarity with Berlin makes him a good guide.

His son Paul Gehrts was a 14 year old Hitler Youth when Russell left. He's now in the Wehrmacht, and at 18, after a year at the Eastern Front, a war-weary artilleryman trying to stay alive as his unit falls back towards Berlin. He's lost all his naïve Hitler Youth gung-ho and idealism. He sees Nazism as the lie that it is, and its war effort a lost cause. His mother and stepfather are dead. So is his first love. He's angry at his father for having left.

Effi Koenen, a onetime movie actress, lives under assumed names and continues to do what she's been doing since Russell fled: Helping Jews and others escape the country. She works closely with a Swedish diplomat who gets them on ships to neutral Sweden. It's harrowing work: if any of her charges are caught and tortured, they will tell what they know of her to the Gestapo. She uses all her acting ability to disguise who she really is. As the Russians advance, she finds herself with a new charge - an 8-year-old Jewish orphan who has somehow managed to survive this long, and has no one else.

So we're looking at this simultaneously from all three perspectives. Russell sees what's happened to the city he left more than three years before, and suspects his NKVD keepers will kill him once the mission is complete to keep their new secrets, secret. (And because, well, that's how the NKVD rolls.) He has no idea if Paul or Effi or any of his other former or almost relatives - his former brother in law Thomas, Effi's sister Zahra, Paul's mother Ilse - are still alive, or how to find them in a huge city now in ruins. Meanwhile the SS still roams its streets executing anyone deemed a deserter or traitor. Every decision he makes about where to go and how to get there - this subway station or that? this person's house or that? streets or rails or through the woods? - will affect whether he survives or not.

Effi experiences the fall of Berlin as other civilians do. Most of the people left are women. Food is in increasingly short supply. Her real identity and Rosa's are still too dangerous to disclose to anyone. Every other building has been reduced to rubble by relentless Allied bombing and now Soviet shelling. Goebbels' propaganda machine still spreads propaganda about secret weapons, about a surprise peace deal bringing the US and Britain into the war against the Russians, about German armies poised to relieve Berlin, and a few people actually still believe it. Many people flee to the West towards Allied lines, knowing the Red Army will rape every German woman they can find.

Paul, as his own unit is decimated and he finds himself without orders, must steer clear of insane SS types while still seeking to do his duty as a soldier - and wondering what, exactly, his duty now is.

The odds for any of them - German soldier, German woman, Anglo-American journalist/spy - surviving this cataclysm are iffy.

Downing keeps ratcheting up the tension, and the story moves fast as the net closes on Berlin. The reader knows each day brings the war significantly closer to its finish and its aftermath. Russell, Paul and Effi and circle around in the dying city, and you wonder when and how they will finally meet one another.

What makes this series great is its understanding of the shades of gray created by dual citizenship, by competing ideologies and dictatorships, by marriage, by blood, by familiarity. The beginners course on World War II is about good guys and bad guys. The advanced course gets into all the things blurring that.

Like the Jewish informers still, in 1945, working for the Gestapo, walking the streets and fingering other Jews they recognize who are living in hiding.

Or the American agreement not to enter Berlin. Is it to let the Red Army have its day after fighting the brunt of the war against the Nazis? Or is it to continuing letting them take most of the casualties, with the postwar lines of occupation already decided? Are the Communists heroic anti-fascists and partisans, or part of a death machine as formidable as Hitler's? Amidst this all, individuals just try to survive.

Russell is mostly English, a Tommy fighting in the trenches in World War I, but has U.S. citizenship through his mother. He was a Communist in the 1920s, but has long since walked away from that. Germany may be the home of the Nazis, but it's also home to those he loves, like Paul and Effi, and more widely to a city, Berlin, whose style, sophistication and sarcasm had always held it a bit apart from the Nazi ethos.

And his circle embodies the pros and cons - former brother-in-law Thomas, whose business protects Jewish employees until well into the war; Effi's sister Zarah, her husband a fanatical Nazi to the end; Paul, whose heart is torn as a child by wanting to be as German and patriotic as his friends, while having a father who's a foreigner and quite skeptical of this whole Hitler thing.

One vignette has Russell encounter a German Communist railway worker who helps hide him and a scientist on his spy team. Russell realizes what romantic and idealistic views the man holds about Communism - having been isolated from it, and the terror state it's become, for decades - and how disillusioned he'll become once seeing his beloved revolution in action.

And while the liberation of some cities is overwhelmingly positive, the fall of Berlin is darkened by our knowledge of what will follow - the violence against helpless civilians, the rape of the women, a new dictatorship succeeding the old one, the gulags and POW camps in the East replacing the Nazi death camp system. Only the choice of victims will change.
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