23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you read only one book this year, please make it this one...
Prepare to be startled. The last book I read by David Thomas was 1995's "Girl"Girl, the light, smart, thought-provoking story of an accidental sex change! It's fair to say that Ostland is an entirely different proposition. It's a compelling - but categorically not an easy - read. In fact, there are times when you feel like it kicked you in the stomach, ribs and heart, all...
Published 20 months ago by BrandAngel
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly disjointed
There is important material here and I wish I had been less annoyed by the way the three separate strands of the story never really came together. There are excellent insights into three very different periods of German history but the story-telling didn't quite build and it all rather dropped away.
Published 17 months ago by Alistair Scott
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you read only one book this year, please make it this one...,
Prepare to be startled. The last book I read by David Thomas was 1995's "Girl"Girl, the light, smart, thought-provoking story of an accidental sex change! It's fair to say that Ostland is an entirely different proposition. It's a compelling - but categorically not an easy - read. In fact, there are times when you feel like it kicked you in the stomach, ribs and heart, all at once... and you want to be sick, especially if, like me, your Jewish family suffered this unspeakable history first-hand. But it is extraordinarily powerful and technically - with its parallel storylines some 20 years apart - cleverly-constructed. The compelling serial killer tale at the beginning serves as a fairly comfortable prologue and contrast to the astonishingly uncomfortable, factually-based horror story that unfolds, in tandem with the moral unravelling of Georg Heuser, the main protagonist and ultimate anti-hero, thereafter. This is the first book I've read in ages that I can't stop thinking, talking and even crying about, even two books on (am currently reading the very wonderful "Revenger" by Tom Cain and mourning the end of the series). Why would you not spend ten pounds to read Ostland? An astonishing work and all the more gut-wrenching for its documentary real-ness, this deserves to win every available gong and I hope one day to see it on the global schools curriculum for 16-18 year olds.
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read...,
To simply label Ostland as a crime thriller would not only do a great disservice to the sheer power and scope of this novel, but would in turn devalue a book that truly encompasses the very best elements of both the crime and historical fiction genres. This is without a doubt one of the most affecting novels that I have read, so much so, that at times I had to take a breath, emotionally undone by the, at times, harrowing depictions of one of the greatest evils perpetrated in the history of mankind, which is so strongly brought to the reader's consciousness. This is not a book that just deserves to be read but a book that also needs to be read...
From its deceptive beginning as a seemingly straightforward and compelling crime read, Thomas not only manipulates our emotions to the central protagonist, Georg Heuser, but then allows us to bear witness to the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime during the latter stages of World War II. Opening with the real-life investigation of a brutal serial killer, stalking the S-Bahn network, Heuser makes his entrance as a young idealistic detective, driven by an innate sense of morality in the hunt for a killer. At the close of the S-Bahn killer case with the apprehension of the murderer Heuser tries to come to terms with his encounter with "a genuinely evil human being" and that to enter the killer's mind was to "enter a world of violence, degradation and filth, a world without pity, morality, or any feeling whatsoever for his fellow human beings- a world with which I had nothing in common at all" and a sentiment of the young Heuser that remained in my mind throughout the book. With the indelible links between the German security departments Heuser quickly comes to the attention of SS-Reinhard Heydrich and his cohorts, and being promoted to SS-First Lieutenant is despatched to Minsk, an area where half the population is Jewish and which quickly becomes a major processing centre for Reich Jews and the beginning point for Heuser's descent into evil, previously such an anathema to him.
What strikes me most about this novel is the adept way in which not only Thomas assails our sensibilities in his description of the harrowing processing of the Jews, using at times the most understated of images to convey the horror, but how the almost banality of murder imprints itself on the consciences of those despatched to accomplish this task. Hence, our empathies and reactions to Heuser are consistently manipulated and changed, as we bear witness to his actions, and through a parallel post-war storyline involving the bringing of war criminals to justice. Suffice to say that our original perceptions of Heuser as a formerly steadfast harbinger of morality are significantly coloured by the extreme brutality that we witness in the latter half of the book- a brutality that Thomas evokes so deeply in our minds through the powerful and affecting nature of his writing, that at times is almost too uncomfortable to bear but so necessary to read. Thomas' evocation of historical fact, and the prevailing atmosphere of evil, gives rise to some of the most powerful writing I have experienced, and a true study of the shifting nature of morality and its indelible role at the heart of our inherent instinct for survival.
In conclusion, I can only say that Ostland is a book that transcends our expectations as crime readers, and is a richly rewarding read. It effortlessly causes us to engage with it, never shying away from the realities of evil and the destruction of morality it brings in its wake. A novel that unerringly stimulates the thoughts and emotions of the reader, compounded by the harsh realities of human history that form its foundation. Quite simply, a must read.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force,
This book is a brilliant, heart-rending and utterly credible reconstruction of a reviled role in one of history's most horrendous events. For three days, I was unable to leave it alone; if I wasn't reading it, I was dreaming or imagining it. The fundamental dilemma - would I have done differently - is, perhaps, over-sold. But so carefully is the plot constructed that I found myself unable to answer the dilemma to my own complete satisfaction. A must read!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ostland,
This novel takes real events and weaves together the real and the fictional to create a thought provoking and haunting book. Georg Hauser was an officer of the Criminal Police and the SS and we follow his story, told mainly from his perspective, through two major events in his life. The first, as a young detective and the second as he is investigated for war crimes by the fictional investigators Max Kraus and Paula Siebert. Arrested in 1959, Hauser is a police chief and a man both popular and respected by his colleagues. Kraus and Siebert have a difficult task ahead to prosecute a man who, in 1941 Berlin, was involved in the investigation for the notorious S-Bahn murderer; the ambitious and keen right hand man to Wilhelm Ludtke, head of the Berlin murder squad. Most Germans believe that those being prosecuted for war crimes were just following orders; that they have committed no crimes since returning from the front and that they would prefer to forget the terrible events of the past.
Though the words of Hauser, we hear how he "grew up under the shadow of defeat" after the first world war. How, although never a party member, he thought the National Socialists represented a promise of pride and strength. Looking up to men, such as Heydrich, he longed not only to advance his career, but take a violent killer off the streets. However, the war meant that Hauser would not spend his time in Berlin and, although he arrived in the Reich Commissariat of Ostland as a decent young man, he "had left it a monster..." This novel asks what happened in Riga and Minsk during the years Hauser was there and what turned idealistic, normal young men into the killers of women and children - precisely the people he had sworn as a policeman to protect. At times, this is an unsettling read, but brilliantly done and wonderfully written. It would make a fantastic novel for book groups, with so much to discuss, and you will be unable to read it and remain unmoved.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal and brilliant,
I was fortunate enough to have read an advance copy of this last year- and it still haunts. Ostland is the (true) story of a detective who hunts a notorious Berlin serial killer during World War Two, and who is then himself twisted into becoming something far, far worse. Read it and decide if, under the circumstances, you would be any different. OSTLAND is brutal and brilliant, with a savage twist ending that hits like a punch to the kidneys.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic, yet harrowing story,
This is, quite simply one of the best books I have read over the last year, i could not disagree more with the review that only gave it 3 stars. Don't get me wrong, at times the story telling does have some - minor - faults, but they are outweighed by a gripping stroy that takes you on a journey into the human condition and its dark side. The book tackles this subject well - how do apparently ordinary people become involved in such brutal, inhuman acts? This book kept me thinking about it even when I wasn't reading it. Based on true events it a gripping read, yes its harrowing, yes its brutal, but I think this book handles this subject with dignity and depth. I read a lot of historical books (mostly on the Spanish Civil War) but I still found this book fascinating.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying but superb read,
I have read many books about the holocaust, both fiction and factual. This rates amongst the best - although that sounds a bit weird given the graphic and accurate depicting of the SS Death Squads in occupied Russia. You will not enjoy reading this - but you should read it.
4.0 out of 5 stars "We are all damned and we know it...",
This review is from: Ostland (Paperback)
Georg Albert Wilhelm Heuser graduates from Police college with honours and is taken on by Wilhelm Ludtke as his assistant midway through the search for the notorious S-bahn murderer. He makes his name during the hunt for the perpetrator as an Assistant Criminal Commissar and he was to go on to crack the case. He was never a member of the National Socialist Party. Membership was by no means obligatory in either the police force or even the SS. He was clean-cut, young, an excellent detective, who rose seamlessly on terms of merit through the ranks, and brought to justice one of the most depraved and feared murderers of the times. How then was it that this paragon of detective talent was, in 1961 to stand trial for murder himself?
Equally, compelling is the mystery of how Heuser (pronounced Hoyzer) ended the war in shame and disgrace, when other officers of comparable rank did not. This is not a story that has a clear-cut explanation. Rather it is embroiled in the nature of Heuser's experience of war. Heuser has killed so many people that it defies belief - some of the shocks of this story are bound up in the facts of his career, but nothing anyone could comprehend matches the degredation of how his life progressed.
Even the facts of his final actions during the war cannot be seen as the apparent acts of mercy he would claim them to be. They were grades of finite calculation, measures taken to lessen the degree of condemnation with which he knew he would be faced. How did it happen? Was it an effect of (in those oh so banal terms) - merely following the orders of his superiors? And were there some genuine moments of repentance? After all, he saved the half-Jewish son and daughters of the Lang family. Was he sick of killing or was it yet another calculation? Certainly he used them to inform on the partisans.
This is a riveting story, one that rings true, and one that also horrifies. It is based on the facts of Heuser's life, and you may wish you had never read it when it comes to his activities and those of his fellow officers in Minsk.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at the flip side of the coin and the psychology of the criminal,
This is quite an exceptional read. One might think that is due to the nature and content, which is only part of the reason way.
Books about the Holocaust tend to be full of emotional triggers and are heavily laden with distressing images and graphic details.
What makes this one slightly different is the fact David Thomas has chosen to approach the subject from the flip side of the coin. The life of one of the perpetrators, and the view of the Nazi era and his crimes.
Thomas has constructed his story around facts, historical evidence, eyewitness statements and then added small elements of fiction to it. The end product leaves the reader pondering quite a few things.
Let me be clear on one thing though, the author in no way attempts to diminish the deeds or question the guilt of those involved in the Holocaust.
The main character is Heuser, and this actually is his story. We follow his progression and rise in the ranks to an officer of the murder squad in the German police. As most Germans during that era he was also affiliated with and had risen in the ranks of the SS. He actually helped to apprehend a serial killer, who raped and killed many women during the Nazi era.
The obvious comparison is then how Heuser becomes exactly the type of murdering monster he helped to catch as a policeman.
How does the normal law abiding ambitious civil servant turn into a man who shoots children in the back of head, a man who rapes women and then turns them over to the highest bidder, and a man who is responsible for the deaths of over 30000 innocent people.
That is of course one of the most compelling discussions in the aftermath of the Holocaust. How did a nation of normal citizens become notorious for the planning, execution and extermination of millions of people?
The reader steps forward in time to 1958 when Heuser was arrested for his part in the atrocities during the war. By that time he had risen to a high ranking police officer in the newly divided West Germany. Thomas goes on to make two very important points.
Proving the crimes committed during the Holocaust was difficult. The Germans and their many collaborators had destroyed most of the evidence, which includes eradicating the many living witnesses during the last months of war. In Heuser's case they actually had special troops come in to dig up the mass graves, so they could burn all the bodies, ergo getting rid of forensic evidence against them. Throughout the last months of war the focus was on destroying documents, gas chambers and survivors.
The trials of Nuremberg and all other subsequent Nazi war trials were often found to be lacking when it came to justice. They lacked physical evidence and eyewitness statements to convict. So despite knowing that those on trial were guilty, it was hard or impossible to convict them legally. It is important to say at this point that the legality of the procedure didn't sway into the same vigilantism or illegal criminology seen and experienced in the Nazi regime.
Unfortunately this also means that the majority of the war criminals were never brought to justice or convicted of their crimes. Heuser received 15 years for his part in the Holocaust, however he only served an unsatisfactory number of years.
In the years after the war the opinion of the German population was 'that they had no desire to take over the ashes of the past or face the truth of what lies beneath the ashes', which explains the complacent attitude towards the Nazi criminals living amongst them.
I highly recommend this fascinating read, which offers an insight into the mind of a criminal of circumstance, as they are often called. It is also a harsh and necessary reminder that we should never let this history repeat itself, especially when you consider the rise of the far-right political parties, fascism, Nazi's and anti-semitism in the 21st century.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding - Unusual, effective and mesmerising,
This review is from: Ostland (Paperback)
It is February 1941 and a serial killer preys upon young women in the quiet carriages of Berlin's S-Bahn trains. The city is horrified and expects the murderer to be caught swiftly. Commissioner Lüdtke is in charge of the case, which drives him into the ground, falling asleep with exhaustion at his desk, but his methods are textbook. He becomes teacher to Georg Heuser, a new, young and idealistic police detective, who, in his very first week, is faced with a case that is in danger of defeating even Lüdtke. But Heuser has a natural talent for detective work - he rejuvenates the hunt, inspires his team, becomes obsessed with the drive to rid Berlin of this evil. It is no less than a personal crusade, a battle of intelligence and wills between himself and the S-Bahn murderer. But this is no ordinary case - how can it be? Controller of the police force is Reinhard Heydrich and this is the very heart of the Third Reich.
In 1959 lawyers Max Kraus and Paula Siebert have their own case to pursue - the prosecution of Nazi war criminals who committed atrocities on the Eastern Front, in Ostland. At last they have their target. They make a sensational arrest, a police chief known as the Beagle by his staff for his unfailing ability to track down the criminal. To Krause and Siebert he is a monster and his name is George Heuser.
When Ostland begins, the reader is soon nestled within the familiar world of the police procedural crime novel. We follow the clues along with Heuser, watch him learn his trade from Lüdtke, becoming a crucial member of this tired and dedicated team of detectives, falling in love with the female member of the team, on the hunt for a killer who preys on women, disturbing the calm of a vibrant and arrogant city. But it's not long before everything is thrown up into the air and the pieces scatter. Interspersed throughout the chapters set in 1941 are others set almost twenty years into the future. In these, Kraus and Siebert have to discover what it was that turned a good man into a man as evil as any produced by the Reich. What happened to Heuser?
The development (if that's the right word) of the monster within Heuser is mirrored by the novel's movement from west to east. Once Heuser attracts the attention of Reinhard Heydrich, the controller of Reich security (including its police forces), and is moved to Minsk the days are numbered for Heuser's morality but it is much more complicated than that. Everyone, including Lüdtke, has to `manage' the rise of Nazism in one form or another, but Heuser's degeneration is on another level entirely and his case throws open the diabolical truth of Nazism that many could have turned a blind eye against in the prosperous streets of Berlin during the early days of war.
The ironies are overflowing - that Heydrich could have been so appalled by murder in Berlin; that Heuser could have wanted to protect Berlin's women but held life so cheap in the East. Heuser tells his story in the first person and this makes it all the more horrifying, as the warmth grows cold. It's not often that I've read a novel where the reader's relationship with the narrator becomes increasingly antagonistic as he becomes more and more unreliable. Heuser is perfectly able to describe the police procedural of the early chapters but once he is in the East, the reader has to make use of his or her peripheral vision, watching around the edges of the narrative for the appalling truth. It's an extraordinary self-portrait of a man's disintegration.
The story of Max Kraus and Paula Siebert is inevitably overshadowed by Georg Heuser - his voice is just too compelling. But it is complete in its own right, with Paula in particular experiencing her own transformation, in her career and in her personal life. This is a time in which female lawyers were few and far between and to make matters more tense they are working in a Germany trying to come to terms with its past and to make amends.
Ostland is an extremely powerful novel. It races along as all crime fiction should but it is as harrowing as it is thrilling. We meet numerous people along the way, all of whom leave their mark. Its structure is clever and effective and it is a book that refuses to leave you for quite some time. Outstanding and near impossible to put down.
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Ostland by David Thomas (Paperback - 19 Jun. 2014)