Berlin, The Downfall 1945,
Antony Beevor, Viking, 2002|
It was inevitable, after the success of Stalingrad, that Beevor's next book should
provide the final episode of the epic struggle on the Eastern Front. Hell bent on the annihilation of each other, the clash between the Russians and Germans in the
Second World War was extraordinary in its ferocity. The sheer moral chaos and hatred generated in this conflict fuels a morbid interest
to find out more. There are few more appalling examples of man's inhumanity to man. No-one should doubt that the
Eastern Front was where the war was won and lost. Dunkirk
saved an army, the Battle of Britain saved a nation and D-Day liberated France, but the German army never recovered from the fighting that turned Operation Barbarossa into Hitler's most
bloody and costly setback. Such was the scale of the fighting, and so heavy were the losses on both sides, that it is hardly surprising Stalin made it his unbending goal to be the first to Berlin.
The story of the Red Army's advance, climaxing in Hitler's suicide in his bunker, is as shocking as it is readable. Beevor skilfully recounts how our 'gallant' allies, fed by the Soviet propaganda of their instructors, raped and murdered their way to Berlin. As extraordinary is the incredible defence provided by a German nation on its knees, and the continued zeal of Hitler to send anyone, be they young or old, man or woman, to stop the 'subhuman' invaders.
It is the personal touches rather than the heavy military strategy that make this such a worthwhile read.
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Author of the Quarter
Thank you for agreeing an interview with MQ. Was your goal, even in the early stages of your career as an officer in the 11th Hussars, to be an author?
No - I joined the army genuinely, and intended to stay in it. In retrospect, I think I joined because I had bone disease as a child and suffered from a physical complex so wanted to prove myself. It was only when I was given a boring posting in Wales that I started to write a novel. It turned out to be autobiographical and thankfully wasn't published.
Both 'Stalingrad' and 'Berlin, The Downfall, 1945' have
been based on the Eastern Front. What first led you to write about it?
first mentioned the idea, and my heart sank as I had no idea if I would be able to get material for it. The archive research posed the major headache.
How did you overcome this problem of language and distance? Language was the major problem. While Norman Stone, the historian, assured me I could learn Russian in six months, I was less certain! A cousin of great friends, and a family friend, called Luba is my research assistant. She actually did a doctorate in Plant Biology so doesn't filter the material and approaches the material with a fresh eye.
What is your next project and after that? It's a secret!
But the next big one after that is on D-Day.
Your wife, Artemis Cooper, is also a well-known author. To what extent do you bounce
ideas off each other? A lot! It's a huge advantage. A writer's life is incredibly lonely and, unlike a painting, a book can lose shape and direction. She's my first editor and I'm hers.
Have you got a preferred place of work, and a favoured writing routine? We've each got a study in our London flat. If I have a heavy duty writing assignment I retreat to the country to get away from the telephone and other distractions. I have been known to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning. On the whole though I don't work well in the evening, especially after a few glasses of wine!
What do you do to relax? I love spending time with my children and, of course, I like reading novels.
What are you reading at the moment? A book called 'Natasha's Dance' for a review. It's a cultural history of Russia.
Who is your favourite author?
I have many but Ian McEwan has developed into a great writer. At a time when British fiction writing is disappointing, he shines through. His novel, 'Atonement' ranks as a classic and will remain so for a
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