Eastern Front

Some weeks ago I rediscovered the Quiller series, a set of books written by Adam Hall, in the great British tradition of Deighton, Le Carré, Fleming, and Forsyth. Quiller is an intelligence agent with the mix of intellect and action that appeals to both sides of the fence.

Intellectuals identify with the cerebral part and secretly admire the ruthless killer instinct, whereas men of action replay the combat segments and secretly wish they too could claim such depth of thought.

These are clearly men’s books, much like Atmos Fear. I know gender-typecasting is dangerous ground,  and there’s surprisingly little publicly-available data to travel this road.

I’m sure Amazon and other digital sellers know exactly what proportion of each author’s readership is male or female, and likewise can tap into various databases to link sales to age, ethnicity, and employment.

The closest I came to any clarity is a survey by Goodreads which tells us that in 2014 90% of books preferred by women were written by women. The statistic for men is identical.

Books by gender, from a survey by Goodreads, an Amazon company, of 40,000 active members (equal number for each sex).

Books by gender, from a survey by Goodreads, an Amazon company, of 40,000 active members (equal number for each sex).

This doesn’t answer my primary question, but some of the comments below the survey article refer that the author’s gender is immaterial, only the content matters—that seems fair to me, and it matches my general comment because (for instance) male authors are more likely to write war stories.

I can tell you that women enjoy The India Road as much or more than men, and I’m sure that will be the case for my second historical novel Clear Eyes, which will be out in early 2016.

So here’s a poll for you.

The first Quiller  book I ever read was a paperback I found at home when I was twelve. It was a post-Nazi thriller set in Germany—I thought it might have been the Quiller Memorandum, but the scenes I remember so vividly don’t match the digital words I read last month.

Addictive as these books are to me, which means I gobble them up in a day or two, somewhere in the middle of that I picked up a copy of Anne Applebaum’s most recent effort, entitled Iron Curtain—The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956. I have been unable to put it down.

Applebaum started me on the gulags last year, and this book looks equally fearsome, with its stories of the postwar Soviet rape, in every sense of the word, of Eastern Europe, Germany, and Austria.

This dove-tailed with an article that appeared in Der Spiegel, in a style best described as post-modern angst, discussing the fourth Reich.

Adolf Merkel, a Der Spiegel depiction of a particular European view of Germany.

Adolf Merkel, a Der Spiegel depiction of a particular European view of Germany.

One of the direct consequences of austerity is that I stopped buying newspapers, but not reading them, like those guys who give up smoking and spend their time bumming cigarettes.

One of the unintended consequences of the limitations on free reading is that I read far more broadly: on a given day I might pick articles from The Times of India, The Boston Globe, El Pais, The Ugandan Observer, or The South China Morning Post.

It was actually the International Herald Tribune that led me to the new German Reich, and that in turn led me to a text by Joseph Goebbels called The Year 2000.

I know you come here for a digest of some of my mental vagaries, but the links are there if you want to get down and dirty. The only thing I recalled offhand about Goebbels was an old wartime jingle on gonads, still popular when I was at school.

Hitler, he only had one ball,
Goering, had two but very small,
Himmler, had something similar
But poor old Goebbels, had no balls, at all.

Regardless of the testicular situation of Hitler’s propaganda minister, which given a recent biography detailing his womanizing, seems improbable, his 1945 article looking forward to the millennium is curious. In it he predicted England would have only twenty million people by the year 2000, but also that Europe would be united.

He speculated on the Soviet Union’s competitiveness on world markets, due to its low wages and disregard for the welfare of its people—in actual fact, it was China that filled that niche.  And he wrote:

Germany will not be occupied by its enemies in the year 2000. The German nation will be the intellectual leader of civilized humanity.

Of course the supposition was this would happen after Hitler won the war, which by February 1945 was clearly impossible. Nevertheless, this discussion is relevant in 2015, when Germany not only runs the biggest export surplus in the world, 263 billion dollars, but the old arrogance is back—the prominent CDU politician Volker Kauder recently said “Suddenly, German is being spoken in Europe.”

Before the euro, the German mark could not be blamed for poverty in Southern Europe. Those nations had their own coin, policy, and debt, and were free to set interest rates and devalue currency. Now all this has changed.

What fascinates me, though not in a good way, is how fast many of these changes took place. It has taken no more than fifteen years to see German economic and financial hegemony emerge in Europe, and an equivalent military balance in Russia. To see the Mid-East at a higher level of tension than in the last fifty years, with declared and undeclared wars raging.

Russia and Europe (but which Europe) again on the brink. History is clear: through the last centuries there have been many tipping points like this one, where most people thought nothing would tip.

Germany is the fatted calf. But does Putin believe he is the prodigal son?



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