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Gossip from the Forest Paperback – 1 Nov 1988


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; 2 edition (1 Nov 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340431040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340431047
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Extremely gripping, as well as important historical fiction (New Statesman)

As fiction it is absorbing and as history it achieves the kind of significance earned only by sympathy acting on deep knowledge...Keneally's book belongs...with those like Solzhenitsyn's AUGUST 1914, books that delineate the past in sympathetic depth and so urge the reader to enter it (New York Times Book Review)

I was intrigued, excited and sure that the vivid snapshots of private-versus-public emotion would coalesce into a moving, meaningful image (The Sunday Times)

Book Description

Thomas Keneally's critically acclaimed fictional recreation of the end of the First World War.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan Sanders on 7 Jan 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this a fascinating semi-historical account of the details of the signing of the armistice in November 1918. Some of the characters really come alive, as do the strains and tensions within each side. The sheer logistics of getting the German party past its own increasingly revolutionary troops and over an ill-defined front line really come to life.
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Format: Paperback
In 1945, when the Second World War ended with the surrender of Germany and Japan, everyone remembered how the First World War Armistice was signed by a group of low-level politicians and functionaries, so the top German and Japanese commanders were made to sign the instruments of surrender, so that their military leaders couldn't claim that they "weren't really defeated but were betrayed", as was the case by the Germans in 1918. After the Armistice was signed, Field Marshal Hindenburg who was the nominal commander-in-chief claimed that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" and that its retreating, but undefeated army was forced to capitulate for no reason other than betrayal by disloyal elements in the home front.

This fine book deals with members of the German Armistice delegation and how they confronted the unbearably painful responsibility of agreeing in the name of the German Reich to the practical disarming of Germany, including the destruction of its Navy and Air Force and weakening of its economic base.

As interesting as the book is, reading it raises a lot of unanswered questions, for example,

exactly how was it that it came to be that such an undistinguished group of men were chosen for this job. Delegation Chief Matthias Erzberger was an important politician, but as a member of the liberal wing of the Catholic Zentrum (Center) party, he was not involved in the actual decision making of war policy. The other men were basically unknown to the public. There are two possible answers: (1) the book states that outgoing liberal Chancellor Prince Max von Baden wanted the delegation led by a politician who supported the Reichstag's 1917 peace declaration which called for reasonable

peace terms.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 23 Nov 2005
Format: Paperback
Four years of the most terrible conflict in history came to an end in an isolated railway car. In a time when propaganda had learned to cudgel reason and "weapons of mass destruction" were first truly introduced, weakened French and British armies were told they were victorious. In truth, it was a sea blockade with it's attendant hunger and fatigue that had ended the battles. No matter, propaganda had done its job well. The Western Allies had convinced themselves that Germans were evil incarnate for starting the war and that the time for vengeance had come.
Even before the rise of Hitler, the Germans felt they'd somehow been betrayed. Unable to face a victorious enemy they considered inferior, German aristocrats delved into their Civil Service to find four men to face the wrathful victors to bring about a peace. Thomas Keneally has searched into the histories of these four, so poorly equipped to face such immense anger, resurrecting them to become the central figures in a drama of foregone conclusions.
Thomas Keneally has an unmatched talent for bringing the "small people" into literary prominence. Given the list of his works, you'll seek in vain for depictions of the like of Henry VIII, Elizabeth Tudor or the Sun King. Keneally won't waste his talent or your time on such artificial entities as hereditary monarchs or esteemed statesmen. Yet all of his characters, particularly in this book, are placed in positions of world-shaking importance. Mighty events hinge on the actions of these otherwise "common characters". More, he draws them with a vividness any medieval bard would envy. He has no axes to grind, but shows us how important it is for us to understand that history doesn't move at the whim of those who consider themselves important. "For want of a nail . . .
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nik on 14 Mar 2004
Format: Paperback
You feel as though you are a fly on the wall of this pivitol moment in world history. The conversations that take place are very real and you find yourself asking them questions. This is a very differnt book to normal stories but is well woth the effort to get to grips with the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Story Telling! 31 Mar 2008
By madhatter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Twenty years after the first time, I just reread 'Gossip'. Forgot what a stunning piece of work this is. Although little known, this book is by far his best work...way better than the more popular 'Schindler's Ark".

Keneally does a great job of adding depth to the chief characters in the German delegation. The sense of despair drips from each page as these men come to understand they are there to sign their own death warrants. Although the book also explores the Allied side, it is four Huns that bring the raw emotion to this book.

Incredible story telling.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A different perspective on Matthias Erzberger. 1 May 2012
By R. S. Wilkerson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Gossip from the Forest focuses on the signing of the armistice which ended WWI and provides an interpretation of the character of Matthias Erzberger, the lead diplomat for Germany. The other characters involved in the signing are primarily used by Keneally to create Erzberger's character and provide the historical perspective. As Keneally interprets the situation, the threat of Bolshevism was so immediate that the Germans had little choice but to the end the war as quickly as possible. Significantly, Erzberger is instructed by the Kaiser and then by the President of the Republic, Friedrich Ebert, to sign the armistice. Erzberger, a commoner who represented the peace movement in the Reichstag was a relatively minor figure, but was sufficiently out of the mainstream military tradition that he could be blamed for the harsh terms of the armistice, the Treaty of Versailles, and the failures of the Weimar Republic. He is labeled a November Criminal and is viewed as the central figure who had "stabbed the military," and, by extension, Germany in the back, the myth the Nazis used to gain power and rebuild the military. The myth of the "stab in the back" blamed the Jews and Communists as well, giving the Nazis the necessary targets for their campaigns of hate and violence. Erzberger is assassinated in 1921 and the assassins not brought to trial until after WWII.
Keneally's account depicts Erzberger as a conscientious politician whose greatest concern is avoiding the total breakdown of government and a Bolshevik takeover of Germany and the possibility of civil war. While negotiations of the armistice are underway, their world undergoes drastic change: the Kaiser is deposed, the militarized government falls, and a Republic is formed, averting the feared takeover. Keneally portrays Erzberger as one caught in a great upheaval, unable to control the events around him, and as one who is doing the best he can under the circumstances. The reader gains a positive impression of Erzberger and perhaps a different perspective on the "stab in the back" myth.
Who Is Responsible for the "Stab in the Back" Lie? 7 Oct 2006
By givbatam3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In 1945, when the Second World War ended with the surrender of Germany and Japan, everyone remembered how the First World War Armistice was signed by a group of low-level politicians and functionaries, so the top German and Japanese commanders were made to sign the instruments of surrender, so that their military leaders couldn't claim that they "weren't really defeated but were betrayed", as was the case by the Germans in 1918. After the Armistice was signed, Field Marshal Hindenburg who was the nominal commander-in-chief claimed that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" and that its retreating, but undefeated army was forced to capitulate for no reason other than betrayal by disloyal elements in the home front.

This fine book deals with members of the German Armistice delegation and how they confronted the unbearably painful responsibility of agreeing in the name of the German Reich to the practical disarming of Germany, including the destruction of its Navy and Air Force and weakening of its economic base.

As interesting as the book is, reading it raises a lot of unanswered questions, for example,

exactly how was it that it came to be that such an undistinguished group of men were chosen for this job. Delegation Chief Matthias Erzberger was an important politician, but as a member of the liberal wing of the Catholic Zentrum (Center) party, he was not involved in the actual decision making of war policy. The other men were basically unknown to the public. There are two possible answers: (1) the book states that outgoing liberal Chancellor Prince Max von Baden wanted the delegation led by a politician who supported the Reichstag's 1917 peace declaration which called for reasonable

peace terms. The Allies had stated that they didn't want to deal with

the "militarists" and "autocrats" who had been running Germany during the War, thus Prince Max felt that keeping the well-known military figures out of the delegation might encourage the Allies to give better terms.

(2) On the other hand, it could be argued that the military figures ruling Germany (Hindenburg, Ludendorff and the rest of the reactionary Prussian military aristocracy that had the real power) were already looking for a way out of having to take responsibility for the disaster they had brought on Germany, and so, using the excuse of the danger of a "Red" revolution, they jettisoned the Kaiser, who was a liability, and installed a Social Democratic goverment, led by incoming Chancellor Friedrich Ebert (whose Socialists they despised) and thrust upon them the onus of signing the Armistice,

and by leaving important military figures out of the delegation, they left the door open for the "stab-in-the-back" myth.

Another problem that I have with the book is that author doesn't give any reference to the sources he used, so the reader can't tell what personal observations and quotes are stated in the text are real and which are "extrapolations" of the author.

Yet another problem I have is that although the author does put us inside he "head" of delegation Chief Erzberger, we are told very little about the other members of the delegation, for example, how is that a "lowly" Captain (Vanselow) is chosed to represent the Germany Navy (at least the Army did send someone of the rank of General (von Winterfeld), but couldn't the Navy at least find an Admiral, even an unknown one?) and why they specifically were chosen.

At the end of the book, we are told how Erzberger came to be assassinated, something that he feared ever since the Armistice, but I would have like to have know if the stain of being a "November Criminal"

stuck to the others as well and what happened to them. The author does mention in passing that Erzberger's murderers were finally apprehended

and convicted after World War II, but I also would have liked to find out who they were and what their sentences were.

Finally, I detected an error in the book near the end where it states that Erzberger felt a sense of relief when he heard that Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau was assassinated, since Rathenau was a Jew, leading Erzberger to think that the right-wing extremists were now after Jews and not "the November Criminals". The only problem is that Rathenau was assassinated a year AFTER Erzberger.

In spite of these drawbacks, I still recommend the book, even though the question of whether it was the German's military's machinations that really led to the delegation's composition or Prince Max's sincere belief in the possibility of Allied leniency is not resolved by reading the book.

A final note- I recall seeing a film version of this book many years ago, and I think it would be worthwhile to re-release it as a DVD.
The origins of World War II 20 Jan 2001
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Four years of the most terrible conflict in history came to an end in an isolated railway car. In a time when propaganda had learned to cudgel reason and "weapons of mass destruction" were first truly introduced, weakened French and British armies were told they were victorious. In truth, it was a sea blockade with it's attendant hunger and fatigue that had ended the battles. No matter, propaganda had done its job well. The Western Allies had convinced themselves that Germans were evil incarnate for starting the war and that the time for vengeance had come.
Even before the rise of Hitler, the Germans felt they'd somehow been betrayed. Unable to face a victorious enemy they considered inferior, German aristocrats delved into their Civil Service to find four men to face the wrathful victors to bring about a peace. Thomas Keneally has searched into the histories of these four, so poorly equipped to face such immense anger, resurrecting them to become the central figures in a drama of foregone conclusions.
Thomas Keneally has an unmatched talent for bringing the "small people" into literary prominence. Given the list of his works, you'll seek in vain for depictions of the like of Henry VIII, Elizabeth Tudor or the Sun King. Keneally won't waste his talent or your time on such artificial entities as hereditary monarchs or esteemed statesmen. Yet all of his characters, particularly in this book, are placed in positions of world-shaking importance. Mighty events hinge on the actions of these otherwise "common characters". More, he draws them with a vividness any medieval bard would envy. He has no axes to grind, but shows us how important it is for us to understand that history doesn't move at the whim of those who consider themselves important. "For want of a nail . . . " is the key concept behind nearly all of his writing.
If ever there was a man to envy, it's Tom Keneally. He has an ability to get inside the minds of his characters, presenting them to us with unchallenged validity that most writers cannot equal. But if you're not a writer trying to emulate this talent, you may pick up this book fully confident that you have encountered a writer of special strengths. There is no aspect of this book that warrants criticism, with but one possible exception. When this book was recommended to a friend, she came back with the complaint that "it isn't fair to write about real people. How would you feel if one of these people was your uncle?" Keneally's very next book, A RIVER TOWN, was based on the life of his own grandfather. Would you have the courage?
Highly-strung, historic days in the forest 9 Aug 2012
By Harry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
An interesting `insider's view' of the signing of the Armistice in the forest at Compiegne in 1918 and a character study of the now largely forgotten signatories. This was an occasion with far-reaching consequences, bringing WWI to an end while laying groundwork for a reprise through WWII - and Keneally's interpretation, albeit from a novelist's perspective, provides a new, personal depth to this historic event. Well written, well paced, with just enough back ground to whet the appetite for further delving into the subject. The book can also be read as a case study on negotiation skills - tactics and strategies - and a reminder to keep the eye on long term goals. Revenge can be sweet, but watch out for the terrible consequences.
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