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5.0 out of 5 starsAn Extraordinary Book
Reviewed in the United States on May 11, 2019
David Downing has chosen an unusual but effective way of making the reader a witness to the dramatic and horrifying events among a small number of people in Hitler's Germany in 1938. Seen through the eyes of an under-cover Comintern operative assigned to a small German town by his Moscow-based minders, personal tragedies unfold while other lives are thrown into chaos. The creeping tyranny and cruelty of Naziism are brilliantly portrayed. Anyone interested in this savage moment of European history will appreciate Downing's research, imagination and writing.
I found this read to be very interesting, given its time-frame of the late 1930's in Germany. Because it is written in the form of a diary, which is exactly what it purports to be, it does take some patience at times as the narrator relates his observations as an avowed Communist in Nazi Germany. That being said, cracks in his beliefs begin to appear, subtle at first and then more obvious as he becomes emotionally involved with the family who run the boarding house where he lives. How the novel came to be written is a fascinating epilogue and brings much of what happens together. The characters are well developed; the problems facing young teenage boys who sometimes do not share the propaganda they are forced to believe while in school are compelling; one has to be sympathetic, for any recourse to fight it or to deny it can lead to arrest and being sent to a concentration camp or worse. It's a good read.
4.0 out of 5 starsComplex, well-drawn characters struggle in Pre-war Nazi Germany
Reviewed in the United States on September 18, 2019
Joseph, a committed communist and a Soviet agent, is sent to pre-war Nazi Germany to organize a Fifth Column of saboteurs to damage Germany’s rail system in the event of war. Hired as a railroad dispatcher, he finds lodging at a middle class boarding house run by a widow taking care of two sons and her aged father. As Neville Chamberlain dithers over Czechoslovakia and Hitler’s regime steps up its attacks against German Jews, Joseph becomes increasingly involved in the lives of the family and his fellow borders as they struggle to navigate the new realities of what has become a very rigid and dangerous society. If you’re looking for a James Bond/Jack Reacher action-packed novel filled with cliff-hanging suspense, this probably is not the book for you. Indeed, the novel begins slowly; and it took me a while to get into it. But I was struck by the complexity Mr. Downing instilled in his characters. None of them are “cartoons” or cardboard cut-outs, as proved by the fact that the very likeable, even admirable, Joseph is also a spy, terrorist, and murderer. In the end, it was that complexity, as well as the characters’ humanity, that kept me turning the pages.
Reviewed in the United States on September 4, 2019
Not your typical espionage novel. What must day-to-day life have been like in 1938 Nazi Germany for a Communist undercover agent? Or just as importantly, for the average non-Nazi Germans with whom he lived and worked? A real gem of a novel that treats this setting in a far different but very human way than most spy stories. I've enjoyed all of David Downing's books, but this one is different, special, and very very good.
5.0 out of 5 starsWhat was life like in Nazi Germany?
Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2019
As a fan of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther character I enjoy historical fiction that doesn't venture far from reality. I found this an easy.read but a profound depiction of life for the everyday man in Nazi Germany
I have read and enjoyed many of Mr. Downing’s books. This one was so far the best of a great collection. The characters were immensely real and the method of telling the story was unique and compelling. It told about the horrors of the rise of Nazism in Germany as part of the every day life of its citizens. It really had an impact. A terrific read!
5.0 out of 5 starsAnother Great Book from David Downing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 8, 2021
I can't remember how or when I discovered David Downing but I'm glad I did. It started with one of his Berlin "Station" novels. It was very readable and I could hardly put it down. Within months I'd bought and read the other five. I'm presently waiting for the seventh in the series due very soon.
With lockdowns and shielding Amazon has been a Godsend, especially when I found "Diary Of A Dead Man On Leave". Unlike his "Station" series, this novel is based in pre-war Germany in the lead up to that dark period. It's written from the perspective of an under cover Soviet agent and his unofficial diary. Like all diaries, the entries are dated and there are gaps. I won't give away the story line beyond saying that he lodges with a German family where he befriends their youngest son whom he helps with schoolwork. His diary is kept hidden and many years later, long after he has disappeared, the diary is discovered. The young boy, now a grown man returns to his former home and the story is rounded off very nicely.
Because of the diary format, the book was quite easy to read. In fact it was hard to put down and after 3 days It was finished. It's not clear what happened to the diarist, so it's possible there could be further adventures in the pipeline. I really hope so. In the meantime I'm reading "The Moscow Option" another Downing book based on a 'what if?' turn of events around the Nazi invasion of Russia. David Downing can do no wrong!
Having enjoyed the authors ‘Station’ series, I purchased this book on Kindle. I was a little apprehensive given the relatively poor reviews of the more recent ‘Jack of Spies’ series. However, my fears were unfounded. This is a superb story set in 1938 Germany. The atmosphere of the time is conveyed brilliantly and, at times, almost reminds me of Christopher Isherwood in the portrayal of everyday life in a boarding house. The tension and drama of the story is right up there with the authors early work.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 10, 2020
I have read all the Station books but adverse reviews put me off the next series , so I gave these a miss. Have to admit that first impressions of D of a DM on L didn’t encourage me but after the first few pages I was completely hooked. This is a remarkable, sensitive and endearing book. I have no benchmark but like to think the observations are pretty well spot on in conveying the everyday atmosphere and feeling of people leading up to war. This is my best read of the year and delighted for the author.
5.0 out of 5 starsA flawed Humanitarian in Turbulent Times !
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 6, 2020
Number One best read in D of a D M O L this year , Read this in one sitting. A powerful statement of a flawed unintended humanitarian in Josef Hofmann who went against Comintern Agenda and saved lives knowing that his own may end in his own death thru Stalins Purges of the late 1930s. A great read that makes you feel happy after finishing it. Very highly recommended.
Extraordinary account of one mans’s experience of resistance in a small German town in the run up to the Second World War. The character development is outstanding and the inevitable day by day progression to war is riveting.