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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb novel that brings Berlin of the 1930s and 40s to terrifying life
It's 1920 and two baby boys are born in Berlin. Paulus and Otto are brothers, the twin sons of devoted and happy parents Frieda Stengel, a doctor, and her musician husband Wolfgang. As they grow, the two boys share everything in common except for one thing - blood. While this doesn't matter in the least to their family, as the years go by it starts to matter very much...
Published on 9 Nov. 2012 by Kate

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars it would in my opinion have been better written as a biographical account of Ben Elton's forefathers
I can't understand why this was written as fiction, it would in my opinion have been better written as a biographical account of Ben Elton's forefathers. At least I would have known what I was letting myself in for. We all know what happened in WW2. This book added nothing and did so with tedium and something bordering on the puerile. I only struggled through to the end...
Published 8 months ago by djh


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83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb novel that brings Berlin of the 1930s and 40s to terrifying life, 9 Nov. 2012
By 
Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
It's 1920 and two baby boys are born in Berlin. Paulus and Otto are brothers, the twin sons of devoted and happy parents Frieda Stengel, a doctor, and her musician husband Wolfgang. As they grow, the two boys share everything in common except for one thing - blood. While this doesn't matter in the least to their family, as the years go by it starts to matter very much indeed. This is because on the same night that the boys are born, another life screams into existence in Berlin, the National Socialist German Workers Party, and Frieda and Wolfgang are Jewish. Over the next twenty years, each covered in compelling and heart wrenching detail in this fine novel, we watch as their human rights are eroded one by one until, finally, the brothers have to use all their wits to survive.

This isn't just the tale of Otto and Paulus, though. Two Brothers is an immensely rich and captivating portrayal of the lives of many of the family's friends, relatives and colleagues, some Jewish, some not Jewish, but all compelled to play a part in the Nazi hell that is consuming their country and city. The stories of Otto and Paulus are entwined completely with those of two girls: Silke,a Christian, and Dagmar Fischer, a rich Jewish girl. The four children form the Saturday Club. As they grow into teenagers and young adults, this Club takes on a whole new significance and the ties between them become lifelines.

Years ago I remember reading Ben Elton's novels (particularly Stark and Gridlock) while both enjoying and being irritated by his stand-up humour during those hard years in the 1980s. Any doubts as to the pathos and tragedy that Ben Elton can instil into his humour were dispelled by Blackadder. Those same qualities are perfected in Two Brothers. Ben Elton has always been loud and a strand of that can be detected in this novel in its rare melodramatic scenes. But, without doubt, those moments, and they are few and far between, are the only minor failings in this wonderful book.

Reading Two Brothers was an enthralling, painful, emotional and glorious experience. It makes no pretences. Info dumps are avoided, instead the history is revealed through the novel's stories and people, in the most involving way, bringing the history to life. Have no doubt, though. This book is full of historical details and is steeped in atmosphere.

I read Two Brothers in two days and I'll read it again. Without doubt, one of my very favourite novels of the year. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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82 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little bit of historical satire?, 12 Nov. 2012
By 
Maryom (Derby, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
Two Brothers is a deeply moving, thought provoking look at life for a Jewish family in inter-war Germany. What makes this particular family different is that one of their twin boys has been adopted - and actually isn't Jewish. When the Nazis start to divide the country into 'true' Germans and 'others', the family find themselves faced with a terrible dilemma - which of their boys should be saved? It's a real page-turner, more serious than I would have expected from Ben Elton but not without its moments of bleak humour.
- and, in case you wondered, No it's not a little bit of political satire.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkably Good Novel, 26 Nov. 2012
By 
C. E. Utley "Charles Utley" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Two Brothers (Kindle Edition)
I must start with a confession. I embarked on this book fearing I would find it tedious. I'm not sure why. My guess is that I had a sort of instinct that yet another novel about the appalling treatment of Jews in Germany in the thirties and during the war would be too bleak and depressing.

Of course, there is a lot to be depressed about in the book. It would not be possible to produce a remotely accurate book on this subject without its being depressing. But Elton understands that bleak subjects can only be borne by readers if humour is included. It may seem odd to someone who has not read this novel, but knows its subject matter, to be told that this reader sometimes laughed out loud when reading it.

And then there is the fact that this is a love story, even more than a story about the Holocaust. The relationship, from very early childhood, of Otto, Paulus, Dagmar and Silke is beautifully described. Each of those characters is extraordinarily well drawn. One adores each and becomes infuriated with each at regular intervals.

The jumps between the pre-war and war years on the one hand and the 1950s on the other work extremely well. Who is Stone, we ask ourselves for at least half of the book. And we give different answers at different stages. But we know we won't be sure until the answer is finally revealed.

Maybe it was hard of me to give the book only four, not five, stars. But I must explain my decision. And I acknowledge I may be quite wrong. It just seemed to me that the portrayal of ordinary German men and women was sometimes too cruel. Elton's account suggests that, almost overnight, pretty well every non-Jew German became a violent Jew-hater. Is it really possible that all Germans were as evil as he suggests? If he is right, the only conclusion one can draw is that there was something uniquely evil about the German people. In a way, of course, that would be quite an optimistic view to hold. So long as we keep a close eye on Germany, there can never be a repeat of the atrocities of the Third Reich. But I suspect things were not as black and white as Elton suggests they were.

There must have been a great many Germans who were horrified at what Hitler was doing (and they would not only have been communists like Silke). Some of them, we know, did what they could to help their Jewish compatriots. Most, inevitably, were too frightened. The one thing missing from this novel was any depiction, other than in passing, of decent, ordinary Germans who were appalled at what the Nazis were doing.

But I am being too fussy. This really is a masterpiece. It is a story of the most horrific period of modern European history. It is a sublime love story. It is also a gripping thriller. And, amazingly for a modern author, Elton understands that we sometimes need to laugh.

This novel, I confidently predict, will be read and enjoyed for many decades to come, maybe even for centuries.

Charles
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For me, a must read !!!, 25 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
When a book can take you back to that part of history, where it makes you think of the time,where you are feeling the time,it for me makes it a classic. So visual, so painful, yet so moving. When you've. Read a few books and start to get disgruntled, then finally a true read comes along it makes you feel refreshed.. Just please somebody,, turn it into a film. Such a critical part of history that all generations should still be taught..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Brothers, 21 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Two Brothers (Paperback)
I am not a fan of Ben Elton and when I realised the book I had bought was written by him I wasn't sure if I would like it or even be bothered to read it. I was very surprised, the book was brilliant, set in pre war Germany and throughout the war this is the story of two brothers, Otto and Paulus and through an incident at birth one German and one Jewish, but these were brothers and they loved and fought for each other. These brothers saw themselves as both Jewish and proud of the fact, the book takes us through the atrocities commited against the Jewish people in Germany at that time and the relentless struggle for survival that sees one child forced to join the SS and the others escape to England. Without disclosing any more of the plot I suggest taking the time to read this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite honestly the best thing I ever read, 7 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
I've always been a fan of Ben Elton and his novels (bar Chart Throb) but this superb piece has trumped anything he's written previously and anything I've ever read. I have just completed this in 2 days such was the compelling page turning nature of the book. Set in 2 periods, primarily Berlin between the wars and London in 1956, the book flicks between the two times charting the events in the lives of the Stengel family, the Fischer family and the family of the fourth member of the Saturday club, Silke. The main premise is around the Stengel twins, one a natural born Jew, the other an adopted Jew joined to the Stengel family by both a tragedy at birth and a stroke of good fortune and extreme kindness. It then charts the struggles of the characters through 1930s Berlin as the society changes around them and they become pariahs as Germany succumbs to its brutal, cruel and misguided strong arm leadership. Elton builds the characters superbly, but colours the ambience of Berlin like a master painter,capturing the heady mix of sleaze and hedonism perfectly alongside the pragmatism and courage (sometimes rather stupid courage in Isaac Fischers case) of families seemingly barely aware of the impending peril bought on them by their faith. The London character of Paul Stone remains an enigmatic mystery until 75% of the novel has passed, even when that character lapses into an honourable but unwanted act of violence in a pub. I had genuine tears welling at the end, but even more so on reading Eltons own personal epilogue after the denouement of the novel, which in itself looks back into the novels events some 70 years previously. This is a serious book, light on humour, but it's a serious subject that opened my eyes to the events leading up to the power that became Nazi Germany. I'm sure there are many other non-fiction books that can relate this, as well as some fictional stories as well, and I may check them out, but only because Ben Elton made Otto and Paulus Stengel, Silke and Dagmar, Wolfgang and Frieda et al take my hand, my mind, heart and soul on a truly harrowing, sad, tragic and uplifting journey. Highly recommended reading and my cap is duly doffed towards Ben Elton for his magnum opus.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His best yet?, 27 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
I've read all of Ben Elton's books and thoroughly enjoyed them - whatever the subject matter, there's always a wry humour present. Two Brothers is somewhat different; although there is some humour, it's not as prominent and is overshadowed by the book's main theme, namely the events developing and unfolding in Berlin and Germany generally from 1920 through to the mid- 1950s and how they affect the brothers, their friends and their families and the population at large.

Ben Elton chronicles the rise of the Nazi party very effectively. Its use of the media of the day to disseminate misinformation about the Jews and to use them as scapegoats for Germany's dire situation following the First World War brings to mind what most likely happened in more recent times in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and currently the Middle East, where neighbours and friends are set against each other because of different faiths or origins and religious and humanitarian beliefs are distorted by governments to serve their own ends with little or no thought for the population at large. Additionally we're made aware of the exploitation of inexperienced youth to achieve a ruthless domination of a nation. The phrase, "I read/heard it in the media therefore it must be true", is one of which we should all be aware as an indicator of lack of awareness and diminished perception.

The book maintains the reader's interest throughout and provides much food for thought, even for those of us living in so called developed and civilized nations, so congratulations to Mr Elton for a book that informs and entertains but leaves one with a slightly uncomfortable feeling at its happier than expected ending.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrible truth within frightening fiction, 30 Mar. 2015
By 
Laurence Paul (Ancient Kingdom of Northumbria) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
For me personally 'Two Brothers' is creatively Ben Elton's most personally profound novel to date. Its candid story grips both heart and mind from the first chapter. The author's ability as a storyteller is well proven but his skill in engendering page-turning addiction needs to be experienced here to be appreciated. He possesses a remarkable talent to deliver to us history's distasteful verity in an almost untroubled style. His creation of Paulus and Otto as two finely characterised and convincing twin brothers who, despite being born from different genetic origins and faiths, is a literary joy. It is this authentic and wonderful relationship that pulls at the heart strings, as it struggles for survival within the time frame encompassing Weimar Germany's surrender to Hitler's nightmarish Third Reich. Human existence and emotions are showcased lucidly and intelligently, as family ties, marital love and longstanding friendships are all severely tested as the entire Jewish race faces the realities, brutalities and extreme prejudices of an entire German people gone mad with murderous extremism. I drew some favourable comparisons with Len Deighton's `Winter,' although I believe that Ben Elton's work develops an even greater authenticity as it mirrors and reveals the lives of more ordinary Berlin Germans. The book is an outstanding success. I wholeheartedly recommend that you read this Elton tour de force. Ignore those very few misguided reviews which criticise Ben's writing style and his inclusion of spoken bad language. If the reviewers who offered these unreasonable comments had experienced what Jewish people endured for years inside Hitler's Nazi terror regime, then they would better appreciate that the characters within this moving story had reached the end of their human tether. On occasion, therefore, they verbally express themselves in an entirely fitting manner. More power to your ability to record truth within fiction, Mr. Elton.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four stars because I'm feeling generous, 23 Sept. 2013
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Two Brothers (Paperback)
Anachronisms, clichés, clumsy writing, a horrendous attempt to portray a Jamaican accent, DNA testing referred to in 1956, when it didn't start until the 1980s, this book is full of terrible errors that make one guffaw in disbelief (in 1938 I doubt very much that women were referred to as `birds' that didn't start until at least the 1960s. The same applies for expressions such as "solid gone" which is pure 1960s). A bad error on one page when Elton says, "Now Otto's you and you're Otto," Which makes no sense at all. Elton, might at least have tried to gen up on the kind of language people used in 1938.

Beginning to read this book with doubts creeping in at all sides, I gradually became reconciled because the events were so gripping. The atmosphere of the book got to me, and I read every word with a mixture of horror and excitement. You have to hand it to him in the end because to reject the effects of reading this book would be extremely ungracious. I agree, however, with the reviewer on Amazon that the portrayal of ordinary Germans is prejudicial in the extreme. Most just tried to get on with their lives, and not every German was under Hitler's murderous spell, though I would concede that it might have seemed like that at the time. Perhaps the love story seems at times a little wearying, and Dagmar is beautiful but also quite unsympathetic to everyone else's problems, consistently so, which is a feature of the story that speaks of realistic characterisation. The two brothers are well-contrasted too.

A qualified success. I enjoyed the book and was caught up in the terrible events of the run-up to the war. I just wish Elton had worked that bit harder to get crucial details consonant with the times being portrayed. In the hands of a better writer this might have become a real contribution to war fiction. As it is, it's not a patch on The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, which is told from the point of view of a German soldier. I'd recommend both books, but Littell's is much the more interesting perspective and one of the very best books about WWII.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars it would in my opinion have been better written as a biographical account of Ben Elton's forefathers, 10 Aug. 2014
By 
This review is from: Two Brothers (Hardcover)
I can't understand why this was written as fiction, it would in my opinion have been better written as a biographical account of Ben Elton's forefathers. At least I would have known what I was letting myself in for. We all know what happened in WW2. This book added nothing and did so with tedium and something bordering on the puerile. I only struggled through to the end because I hate to waste money. There are so many better fictional accounts of both World Wars which describe the futility and horror. If this was meant to be an introduction to this topic for teenagers then it should be in the teen fiction section and I wouldn't have gone near it.
Two stars - because I'm in a good mood.
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