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Two Brothers
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on 6 February 2018
The central theme is the experiences of a Berlin Jewish family and its close associates under the Nazis but BE draws on a wider canvas, stretching from 1920 to 1956.
In the course of it, through masterful writing, one can almost smell, see and feel the anarchy and lawlessness of the Freikorps era, the chaos and stress of the time of galloping inflation (this really resonated with me, as I remember Brazilian business acquaintances telling me how, around 1990, they had to pay their staff first thing in the morning and then let them go out shopping, because, by evening, their day’s pay would have been almost worthless), the self indulgence and libertarianism of the Weimar Republic, the creeping evil and oppression of the Nazi era and the renewed oppression under the Stasi and the DDR.
In the central part, BE answers the often asked question of why German Jews, once they saw the direction things were heading in under the Nazis, didn’t just pack up and leave; as he shows, first, the screws were tightened bit by bit and people told themselves at each turn that this is so bad and so inhuman that it cannot possibly get worse – each day it did get worse; second, it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a country that would take them; third, giving up everything, as people had to do to get out, is an enormous step and a step of last resort, when it was time for the last resort, it was too late.
I see that a number of reviewers criticise the language in the jazz scene part as being inappropriate for the time, not the words people would have used; it is correct that these are not the words people would have used (very few of the words in the book are, because they would have been speaking German) but I see this as part of BE’s accomplishment – the Berlin jazz scene would have had its own argot and by using the New York jazz scene argot, he recreates the atmosphere and ambience, without falling into the all too common writer’s failing of using the actual words in a pretentious, “look how clever I am” way.
This book really is outstanding and tells a great story
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on 1 April 2017
I've read all of Ben Elton's books and for me this one seemed atypical in that it didn't have some obvious hook (time travel, the environment, celebrity culture) to pique my interest. However the other excellent reviews and the fact that I needed a holiday book persuaded me to buy it.
It is the story of two boys growing up in Nazi Germany and beyond. Needless to say this isn't a bundle of laughs! In fact at times I found the book utterly sad and depressing, nearly to the point of wanting to stop reading. However I persevered and overall it is a very rewarding and engaging story. All the characters are likable and you really do care what happens to them in the clever storyline.
My personal knowledge of that time is mainly limited to Hollywood movies and TV documentaries. I will state categorically that this book drove home the horror of that period more than any of my previous exposure... imagine Schindler's List times 10! My father was a truck driver in WW2 and was at the liberation of some of the camps. However he would never talk about it. I think perhaps now I finally understand why.
I also loved that the book was full of historical detail that I felt was educational and rewarding and in no way detracts from the story. A fine book and I am glad that I have read it. However I do hope that his next book is something a little more light-hearted!
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on 21 November 2015
‘If it’s got the Brandenburg Gate on the cover, it’s guaranteed to be a good read.’ This throwaway comment, made by me when the book was given to me as a book group read, turned out to be spot-on, and this book is a firm contender for the best book I have read in 2015.

A couple of years ago, I read ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’, by Edmund de Waal, the true story of the fate of his Jewish ancestors at the hands of the Nazis, and am still haunted by the book. While Ben Elton’s book is a work of fiction, unlike that of de Waal, it is no less compelling and is a story that will grip the reader from start to finish, as he brings alive the progressive horrors visited on the Jews of Berlin under Hitler.

What struck me was the almost stoical acceptance of the older family members at each new onslaught by Hitler, maintaining that yes, this is bad, but things can’t get any worse and what more can he do to us? Unfortunately for the reader, how far Hitler went is already known, which makes the story all the more poignant.

I was slightly taken aback by a comment made by one of the surviving characters (I’m not saying who, as it would spoil the plot) in the latter pages of the book:

‘They still could not quite believe that the Nazis actually meant to murder them en masse. That’s why I have some sympathy for the Germans now when they say they never knew. After all, if the Jews themselves could scarcely believe what was happening to them, then why should the people who hurried by on the other side of the street, looking the other way?’

Did the ordinary German in the street know what was going on? Read ‘Two Brothers’ and come to your own conclusion.
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on 22 March 2018
Phenomenal book - nearly epic. I loved the way the story was told, the scene setting, the factually accurate pre WW2 Germany, and insight author Ben Elton was able to portray (through his own families’ life experiences) of the German people.

This is a tale of survival for two brothers in Nazi Germany and their love for a girl. It’s the kind of book that could end up a movie and / or on the school syllabus. It was powerful, well written and packed its punches well.

For me a few extra chapters could have provided a stronger ending to wrap it up. But other than that this is a stellar read that won’t disappoint.
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on 8 April 2018
I really tried to persevere with this book as I was interested in the time and the setting but, whilst I recognise that there is some literary licence as a novel, this was written in a “boy’s own” style that I found offensive to the memory of the victims. Did kids of that era really use the F word so liberally? Would they have spoken to their parents so disrespectfully? Would their parents have tolerated it? I very much doubt it and the amount of silly bravado they used in what was a horrendous episode in our history had no credibility at all. Childishly written and the factual content is limited and not well presented.
I rarely give up on a book but I have to this time ( more than half way through); i am saddened that the author has used the topic as a money making vehicle without any apparent empathy for the horrors that ensued at that time.
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on 22 January 2015
I Really don't know what to make of this to be honest. It's an OK storyline - interesting enough to make you want to read on and find out what becomes of the characters, but the characters themselves are not very well written at all. Elton is writing about the lives of people - Jewish people mainly - who lived in Germany in just before the outbreak of WWII. If this was not explained - and he does this by writing at the top of each section/chapter what year it is and where - one could believe themselves to be reading about people living in [20th/21st century] London. On the one hand he has this character Billie, a Jamaican woman living in London circa 1956, and he 'writes' in her accent - trying to lend authenticity to the character, and then on the other hand, he has a Jewish family and their immediate friends living in Germany circa 1930 onwards and he hasn't bothered to lend any authenticity to the way they speak and this means there is no 'atmosphere', no sense of being there with these people during that time and experiencing what they went through, and there's no sense of culture. It's because of this that the book becomes bland and unbelievable and the characters, in many ways, annoying, not least because he has them giving one another cloying pet names like Ottsy Dags Silks Pauly Freddy. I have enjoyed some of Ben Elton's comedic novels, but both of the more serious ones - Two Brothers and The First Casualty - have had bad or annoying characters and failed to draw me in so that I 'experience' the life beyond the text, which is what all good/great novels do.

Overall, not a bad read, but definitely not unmissable.
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on 19 February 2018
This book is not a comfortable, relaxing read. Although it is fiction it feels like reality, and it is hard to read the stories of what people are capable of. Yes I know the history, yes I am old enough to remember post war Britain, but this book is not history, it is far more immediate than that, it has the flavour and feeling of the time.
To add to the discomfort of reading Two Brothers, there are some truly worrying parallels between Elton's brilliant evocation of the early years prior to the rise of the fascists and the current, 2017/18 brexit years. Facism is not in control but it is alive and well right here in the U.K. and still too many people choose not to see it..
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on 23 October 2016
My first encounter with Ben Elton as an author was in 2002 whilst lying on a dull beach on the horrendous island of Zakynthos in Greece. It was the holiday from hell. Far too hot and accompanied by someone I was not happy with. It was also my first holiday abroad and thus, I made the terrible mistake of taking four books with me thinking that they would last me the fortnight. The first book I picked up was ‘Dead Famous’ by Mr Elton. It was an incredible read and probably the first book I ever read in one sitting, devouring page after page over three wonderful hours. Since then, I have enjoyed most of Elton’s books and have enjoyed his move from observations on popular culture to his more serious works set in the most horrible periods of twentieth century European history.

‘Two Brothers’ is one such book. It begins with Paul Stone, a mid-thirties man who works as a civil-servant in the British Foreign Office. On a night out with a young female friend, he relates the story of two ‘twin’ brothers born in 1920 and their families and friends as they grow up during the rise of Hitler’s National Socialists during the twenties and thirties. Indeed, the Nazi Part was ‘born’ on the same night as the brothers.

Elton has crafted a labyrinth of a story where we are party to the horrific events of the Third Reich. We are shown first-hand how terribly the Jews were treated starting off in small, inconvenient ways and rising to the most terrible methods of all, the death camps in eastern Europe. The chapter depicting the events of ‘Kristallnacht’ in 1938 is one of the most difficult I have ever read in any book.

The characterisation in this book is remarkable and not just for the elaborate and ingenious ways in which they try to protect themselves against what is happening. The two brothers could not be more different. Otto is strong, forthright and acts before he thinks. He is the one who wishes to fight back with strength and violence. Paul is the intelligent brother, thinking and calculating, relying on strategy and tactics to survive and locked in an eternal battle to get his brother to see things his way. Their father is a broken man after spending some time in a labour camp and his deterioration which leads to the sons having to become the ‘patriarchs’ of the family is most upsetting and invokes echoes of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, ‘The Plot Against America’. Dagmar, the object of the boys’ desire and love however, is one of the most complex characters I have ever encountered and the manner in which the horrors of the time, define, mould, lead and change her is compelling reading. One goes through many emotions as one reads the final chapters of the book and various revelations are admitted.
The book reads both as a fictional novel and in some ways, as a vivid history text. Elton gives us insight into the horrors of 1930s Berlin in ways in which I have never read or seen before.

There are moments of humour, the relationship between the two boys for example when they are very young does provide some light-relief and their ‘chalk and cheese’ characters are amusing, thought-provoking and sometimes frustrating. However, for me, it is the character of Dagmar that will forever draw me to this book – a book that you will forever be grateful for reading.
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on 21 November 2014
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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on 30 January 2018
I have to admit that I tried telling myself that I would not enjoy this book. How could a man who wrote the incredible Blackadder write a serious story about a sensitive part of our history. Two brothers certainly changed my opinion. What a story!

Well done Ben, held me engrossed from beginning to end.

Thank you, what an incredible family you have
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