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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 12 January 2013
I am so sorry to be the only one that seems to have found this novel disappointing.

I do not make many reviews and the ones I do are all because I have enjoyed the book so much, and I am not a critical person by nature.Hey, anyone who puts themselves out there, whether it is music,art or literature, deserves nothing but praise.I also am fond of Ben Elton and I could see the passion in his afterwords when he talks about his own family and the links to characters in his novel.I actually feel a bit guilty in giving this just 2 stars.
The reason though is that I just did not like the writing.....I found it quite adolescent most of the time and full of cliches that really surprised me.The reference to'power corrupts..but absolute power corrupts absolutely' really shook my confidence in the narrative.It was such an obvious cliche and made me start looking for others,of which there were many. I also found the dialogue between the 'Saturday Club' quartet so false and Enid Blyton-ish, that I could not believe anything they said.It had no authenticity at all I am afraid.
I found myself skipping through lots of paragraphs, which is something I never do. I did get to the end though, much to the relief of my wife who was getting annoyed with me when I kept on reading out sentences to her that I was particularly frustrated at. I enjoyed the twist at the end though.

I wonder why my account is different from the other 92 on here? It may be due to the fact that I have read very widely about accounts of 1930's Germany, from fiction such as Hopeful Monsters(Mosely), the brilliant Philip Kerr 'Bernie Gunther' series, and the David Downing trilogy-these are excellent. I have also read an awful lot of non-fiction of the same period, and I would really recommend Michael Burleigh's The Third Reich.This starts, from memory, with this brilliant question-'How did one of the most advanced and civilized countries in the world, find itself being governed by a bunch of lunatic mobsters?'

I think that this book falls between these two stools and comes up very short in my opinion. It is not a particularly good narrative, nor a focussed enough piece of history. As such, I am very disappointed with it.Sorry Ben, but ,hey-ho, you do not need my endorsement for sure and lots of other people have really enjoyed it!!!

David
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on 15 November 2012
Two boys are born on the same day as the new Nazi party, brought up as twins, although one is born as a Jew and one is adopted into the Jewish family. The book traces their life in parallel to the descent of the German state into genocide. I found this a fascinating take on the experience of the Jews in Berlin, and the characters of Frieda and Wolfgang are particularly good. Some of the book was also confusing, and difficult to believe (no spoilers) but then again, at that time of history, truth was stranger than fiction. The author's note on how his family history sparked the story makes it all the more moving, and I bought this after visiting the mass grave of the Budapest ghetto, so it was particularly resonant. Thanks Ben for a good story that makes you think.
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on 14 April 2014
Felt this was a story with impressive ambition, let down by poor characterisation and prose. I felt little empathy with the main characters and some of the emotions and politics seemed heavy-handed and stereotyped.Like a number of other reviewers, I was a little more sympathetic to the authors motives once I read the epilogue, which raised my review by a star.
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on 19 January 2014
I bought this book because I like Ben Elton's writing and I'd previously read The First Casualty (brilliant book - give it a read). Knowing how he'd approached that book and that he was of Jewish decent I was expecting a pretty heartfelt approach.

The book cleverly interweaves the 3 plotlines of the rise of Hitler's National Socialist Workers Party ("born" on the same day as Otto and Paulus), someone called Stone being interviewed by M15 in 1956 and a couple in 1920s Berlin (Frieda, a Doctor, and Wolfgang, a jazz musician). Even though you don't initially know who Stone is and the chapters are alternating back and forth it's so well planned out that the story zips along with ease.

It starts with Frieda going into hospital to give birth to her twins, one of which is stillborn. A Doctor approaches her to tell her a single mother has died in childbirth and her son, not wanted by her poor family, needs adopting. Will she take him? And so Frieda and Wolfgang return home with Otto and Paulus - outwardly a Jewish family of 4, but carrying the secret that one baby is "pure Aryan". Something that will bring unexpected complications as the boys grow up.

The book is difficult reading but, to my knowledge, an accurate portrayal of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Berlin in the 20s and 30s. To slowly be stripped of all rights and possessions on the way to, eventually, having your life taken from you too.

About 25% in I must admit I almost gave up as it is a long book and the topic so depressing (I know, what did I expect). I only mention this in case someone else feels the same - because it picked up speed from around that point and I got drawn into the plight of the characters and wondering whether they would be one of the ones that would make it through. Stick with it - it's worth it.

And the characters are what makes this book sing. Without being overly tedious Ben takes the time to paint pictures of the decadence of the Jazz babies (buying a nightclub at 18 with money made on someone else's misery), the uncomprehending denial of the older Jewish population as things start to get frightening (why would they do this to us? they are the authorities), and the bond of the "Saturday Club". The Saturday Club being twins, Dagmar and Silke - who initially see each other every Saturday when Dagmar's father pays for Wolfgang to teach her music.

I notice one reviewer say she felt "all German people were painted as bad". I actually felt the portrayals were well balanced, having seen documentaries in the past were Germans have admitted they were dancing in night clubs and having a ball and didn't worry about what was going on - until it was too late. And by then the fear of the boots in the night and the constant propaganda did (mostly) make them deny their Jewish friends and neighbours. True, it wasn't all Germans (thinking of Schindler/Anne Frank and so on here) but this was a story told from the perspective of a small number of families and their friends and it deals with the fact that the majority felt they HAD to follow orders...or they themselves would suffer the consequences.

But I felt he was brave enough to make some of the Jewish characters less than perfect. I disliked Dagmar, for example, from early in the book and liked her less and less as the pages rolled by.

To wrap up - I normally only give 5* to books I would read again, but I'm not sure I'd want to put myself through this a second time as there is so much sadness along the way. But I couldn't deny Ben the 5 as it's really a marvellous book and we should be encouraging as many people as possible to read it. Yes - I'd have the odd little gripe about the tone of some of the writing (could almost hear Ben screaming about Mrs Thatch) - but perhaps that's because we know his voice only too well.

Ben - if you never write anything ever again - this (and The First Casualty) ranks up there with the best.
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on 22 February 2013
This book was highly recommended by a friend and I really struggled with it. I think the prose is out of character with the period and that the protaganists are much too modern in outlook for the 1930s setting. It is an interesting story but I can't help thinking it would have been a better novel written by someone else using about half of the research or better still a film script. The author seems to be in too much of a hurry to record the facts of the story almost as though its someone's memoir which really detracts from the writing.
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This tale of twin brothers and the different paths their lives take during WW2 is one of Ben Elton's more serious novels, but there's still enough of his trademark humour to keep fans happy.

Paulus and Otto Stengel were born in Berlin in 1920, co-incidentally on the same day as the National Socialist Party which was to have such a devastating effect on their lives also came into being. The story follows their childhood in a poor but loving Jewish home, and their family's struggle to comply with the harsh restrictions and curfews placed on Jews as the Nazi's stranglehold on German society grew.

As well as the storyline following the boys through their childhoods and into early manhood, there's another thread set in 1956, with one of the twins (it's not clear at first which one) living in London and being drawn into a mysterious MI6-style operation after his childhood sweetheart makes contact from beyond the Iron Curtain.

Although shocking in places it's a more simplistic telling of the horrors of Nazi Germany than some other novels I've read and I felt the language in the 1930s thread was a bit too modern at times, but the 1950s storyline was very atmospheric with its coffee bars, beatnik kids and shadowy London streets. Overall it's a moving and engaging story, which is based on the wartime experiences of Elton's father and his cousin. My favourite Elton novels are still his very early ones (Stark and Gridlock) and The Last Casualty (set during WW1), but this is certainly one of his best and I hope he continues to take these little forays into historical fiction as well as writing more modern, Zeitgeist-based novels.
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on 5 August 2013
I was given this book as a present and expected the worst. I'd liked most of Elton's early novels, but had stopped reading at Past Mortem, where he seemed to just be trying to satirise the latest trend and his writing was becoming cliched. His recent BBC1 sitcom also had me despairing, and the thought of a 500+ page novel by him on a weighty theme filled me with dread, even though I was hoping, as much for his sake as for mine, that this would be a book to prove his critics wrong.

As it is, this was a mixed bag of a book for me. The first 100 pages were slow going as you wait for a hint of a plot amongst all of the scene setting, and also despair about the dialogue which has so many words, expletives, and phrases that are completely out of place in the time period.

After that however, it got going and I was hooked. The depiction of the destruction of Germany and the persecution of Jews during the early years of Hitler's regime, were compelling reading, capturing the overall effect and taking it down to a very individual and human level. The parallel story set in 1956 was also intriguing, making me want to know what had happened to the Stengel family and the other members of the Saturday Club since the 1930s. Only the dialogue was still jarring, with Elton's attempts at West Indies dialogue coming across as particularly ill-conceived, unconvincing and frankly embarrasing. But aside from that, I now really wanted to read on.

Unfortunately, the last 150 or so pages were also a bit of a letdown. The two brothers obsession with one girl (Dagmar) and their willingness to do anything for her, including throw away their own lives, didn't really convince as there was nothing to make her seem like the sort of person people would do that for. Several other later revelations were too easy to guess at least 30 pages before they happened, and most importantly for me, towards the end of the book I began to feel that the more interesting story here was not that of the two brothers, but of Dagmar herself. The later chapters where her life story is revealed sound like there is a whole other novel that could have been written, as well as much of this one being re-written from her perspective.

So all in all, its a book that is a long way from being the embarrassment I thought it might be, but which could also be improved with more attention to getting the dialogue right, and more development of some of the other characters and storylines in it.
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on 11 November 2013
The plot of this story is good and gives one a vivid idea of what it must have been like to be Jewish in Germany before and during the war, but I found the style didn't match the subject and the dialogue was much too modern - it grated. I've read other Elton books and they've been fun and the style has been appropriate, but in this case I think he missed a trick and could have made a really gripping and meaningful impact with a more serious writing style.
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on 30 December 2014
This was an excellent book. Not something you would normally expect from Ben Elton, but a really good read - in a shocking sort of way. Based of the sad reality of what went on in Germany by Hitler towards his own people, particularly the Jews, but a lot of people suffered greatly in Germany in between the first and second world wars - things that many of us probably didn't realise as there is a tendency to think it all went horribly wrong during WWII. A really compelling read with some plot twists that are certainly not obvious before you get to them. People should read this book from a historical perspective as much as for the good story.
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on 25 January 2013
Just finished Ben Elton, Two Brothers. I should say first that I have enjoyed all Ben Elton's writing but I would observe I hope objectively that the quality of his writing has improved over the years, this book is possibly his best yet.

Weaving biographical and historical detail into a story focused around the personal lives of those in Germany growing up through the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, it made me realise how little I knew of the internal aspects of Nazi Germany. I would have considered myself fairly well versed in the external factors and the historical context, but beyond asking the obvious question of how could a nation have done what Germany did, I knew little hard fact and did little to acquire it.

The small detail of this book, evidently researched and fact based, has spurred me on to read and investigate. I think now I begin to understand the situation a lot better, for example I had never seriously considered the impact and meaning of Socialist in the National Socialist, I didn't even realise that word Nazi was derived from the German for National. The spectre of people comparing everything extreme to the Nazis has obfuscated the facts and stands in the way not only of our understanding but also of our ability to resist the forces that would make that darkness happen again.

Surprisingly for Ben Elton, this book has a complete absence of polemic, but then the historical facts and the fictional people's real emotions speak loud enough for themselves. The story is a good one: two brothers brought up from birth in 1920 as twins by a jewish family, one an adopted non-jew, grow up through the rise of Hitler, living and loving as normal people an in extraordinary situation. Doing what must be done to survive, observing those who do not. The background mystery that unravels through the book provides a subtext that draws the story to the modern day. However incredible it may seem at times, each step is credible and - as the biographical note at the end confirms - much has been extracted from Ben Elton's own life (his father was called Ehrenberg, originally).

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all.
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