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Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 24, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062030310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062030313
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (403 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


Madeleine Albright on Writing Prague Winter

On the evening of February 4, 1997, I led the cabinet into the House of Representatives prior to the President’s annual address—the first woman ever to do so. Exchanging greetings with senators and other dignitaries, my heart should have been joyful; instead, I was stunned. That morning’s Washington Post headline had read: “Albright Family Tragedy Comes to Light.”

I was 59 when I learned from a reporter and from certain letters I had received that my ancestral heritage was Jewish and that more than two dozen of my relatives had died in the Holocaust. The revelation shook my deeply ingrained sense of identity, and prompted me to seek answers to questions that I had never before thought to ask. That search began with visits to the small towns in Czechoslovakia where my parents had grown up and to the ancient synagogue where the names of Holocaust victims are enshrined. Prague Winter is a continuation of that personal journey, but also a much wider tale concerning a generation compelled to make painful moral choices amid the tumult of war.

In 1939, when efforts by British and French leaders to appease Hitler had backfired, the Nazis invaded my homeland. I was not yet two years old. My parents escaped with me to London where my father became head of broadcasting for the Czechoslovak government in exile. Strangers in an embattled land, we endured along with our new neighbors the terrible bombing of the Blitz. Back home, the German occupation quickly evolved into a reign of terror under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, “The Butcher of Prague.” As preparations were made to exterminate the country’s Jews, Czechoslovak parachutists returned to their native soil with a mission: to kill Heydrich -- the only successful assassination of a senior Nazi during the war. In the months that followed that daring assault, Czechs suffered from Hitler’s vengeance, while Jews confined to the infamous Terezin ghetto struggled to retain hope despite overcrowded conditions and the periodic departure of fellow inmates on trains to the east. In England, Czechoslovak leaders maneuvered to reclaim their country’s independence; my mother and father agonized over the fate of loved ones who had remained behind.

From the day America entered the war, my parents and their friends were confident the Allies would win. As democrats from Central Europe, they prayed that the United States—not the Soviet Union—would wield the decisive postwar influence in our region. It was not to be. When at last the Nazis were defeated, Czechoslovakia became again a battleground between democracy and totalitarianism; before long, my family was forced into exile for the second time, finding a permanent home in America.

The story of Prague Winter is often as intensely personal as a mother’s letter, a father’s hidden sorrow, and the earnest artwork of an imprisoned ten-year-old cousin. The themes, however, are universal: loyalty and betrayal, respect and bigotry, accommodating evil or fighting back. What fascinates me is why we make the choices we do. What prompts one person to act boldly in a moment of crisis and a second to seek shelter in the crowd? Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity while others quickly lose heart? What drives many of us to look down on neighbors based on the flimsy pretexts of nationality and creed? Is it education, spiritual belief, parental guidance, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that causes us to follow the paths that we do? My search for answers compelled me to look back—to the time of harshest winter in the city of my birth.

Review

“A gripping account of World War II. . . . In taut prose, Albright weaves a powerful narrative that wraps her family’s story into the larger political drama unfolding in Europe.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

“In the crowded field of memoirs written by former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright’s books stand out. . . . Albright is a charming and entertaining storyteller.” (The New York Review of Books)

“Albright has supplemented a deeply researched history of World War II-era Czechoslovakia with a moving family narrative.” (The Daily)

Prague Winter is not only a family story-a proud and moving one-but a brilliant and multilayered account of how Czechoslovakia was formed along the most idealistic lines in the aftermath of World War I. An altogether fascinating and inspiring read.” (Michael Korda, The Daily Beast)

“Showing us villainy, heroism, and agonizing moral dilemmas, Albright’s vivid storytelling and measured analysis bring this tragic era to life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A genuinely admirable book. Albright skillfully returns us to some of the darkest years of modern times. Spring eventually came to Prague, but in much of the world it is still winter. The love of democracy fills every one of these instructive and stirring pages.” (Leon Wieseltier)

“I was totally blown away by this book. It is a breathtaking combination of the historical and the personal. Albright confronts the brutal realities of the Holocaust and the conflicted moral choices it led to. An unforgettable tale of fascism and communism, courage and realism, families and heartache and love. (Walter Isaacson)

“A remarkable story of adventure and passion, tragedy and courage set against the backdrop of occupied Czechoslovakia and World War II. Albright provides fresh insights into the events that shaped her career and challenges us to think deeply about the moral dilemmas that arise in our own lives.” (Vaclav Havel)

“A riveting tale of her family’s experience in Europe during World War II [and] a well-wrought political history of the region, told with great authority. . . . More than a memoir, this is a book of facts and action.” (The Los Angeles Times)

“A compelling personal exploration of [Albright’s] family’s Jewish roots as well as an excellent history of Czechoslovakia from 1937 to 1948. . . . Highly informative and insightful. . . . I can’t recommend Prague Winter highly enough.” (The Washington Post Book World)

“Albright’s book is a sprightly historical narrative of this long decade. . . . Her account of the destruction of inter-war Czechoslovakia, both as a geographical entity and as an idea of democracy, first by the Nazis and then by the Communists, is balanced and vivid.” (The Economist)

“A blend of history and memoir that reveals in rich, poignant and often heartbreaking detail a story that had been hidden from her by her own parents. . . . The beating heart of the book is Albright’s searing account of her intimate family saga.” (The Jewish Journal)

“An extraordinary book. . . . Albright artfully presents a wrenching tale of horror and darkness, but also one in which decent and brave people again and again had their say.” (István Deák, The New Republic)

More About the Author

Madeleine Albright is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Madam Secretary, The Mighty and the Almighty, Memo to the President, and Read My Pins. She was U.S. Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. Her distinguished career of public service includes positions in the National Security Council, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and on Capitol Hill.

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Customer Reviews

Her style of writing makes for very easy reading.
75yr olld reader
There is so a great deal that we can learn from the choices that people made during this time.
prisrob
This book by Madeleine Albright is interesting and informative.
obermert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

165 of 176 people found the following review helpful By Erik Gfesser VINE VOICE on March 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this work, the former U.S. Secretary of State brings a relevant blend of history and autobiography to the reading lists of anyone interested in the shaping of modern Europe due to the second world war. While the bulk of the first several chapters serves as a backdrop to the first memories that Albright, born in 1937, begins to share in chapter 12 ("The Irresistible Force"), the author also provides thoughts from the files of her father, Josef Körbel, a Czechoslovakian diplomat who served from London as an advisor to Edvard Benes, the exiled Czech president, until the National Socialists were defeated in Germany, and as the country's ambassador to Yugoslavia before being forced to flee to the U.S. after the Communist coup in 1948.

To some degree, what Albright provides in this dense, 400-page text is reminiscent of the format that Fritz Stern uses for "Five Germanys I Have Known" (see my review), albeit from the viewpoint of Czechoslovakia before, during, and after World War II, but most of the author's insight comes later in the book, in retrospect, rather than from the years covered, due to her young age at the time. She covers considerable ground, and although it might be helpful for potential readers to have a general understanding of what happened during that time period in Europe at large, in my opinion Albright writes well and potential readers should not have difficulty understanding what she attempts to convey, even if one has not been exposed to Czechoslovakian history.

Admittedly, it is never trivial writing a review for texts covering such weighty content.
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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By C. Stephans VINE VOICE on April 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My initial response to Prague Winter by Madeline Albright echoes the back cover blurb by Walter Isaacson, "I was totally blown away by this book." I was expecting something along the lines of a sentimental family memoir set in the WWII context. What Albright delivers is a first-class history lesson on the WWII era primarily from the Czechoslovakia perspective. The historical narrative reads like an intriguing novel that precisely details the dynamics leading to WWII, during WWII and the aftermath of WWII. The personal quality of the book flows from the involvement of Albright's family in Czechoslavakia's politics and foreign affairs. Her father was a foreign affairs officer who opposed the Nazi's and the Communists. Readers will hear both researched history and Albright's families history that serve to draw readers into the story. I believe Albright shares unique insights into the political dynamics and war machinations during this historical period.

What strikes me about Albright's book is how revealing it is for our own times. The historical lessons that can be ascertained from reading this type of history can save us from falling into the same traps that gave rise to fascists and communists. Near the end of the book, Alright writes, "Few choices have proved more damaging to the future than teaching children to resent the past." Albright's account of even the most horrific circumstances always finds a way to highlight some redeeming quality among the people whether it is the Londoners during the bombings, the Jews singing requiems over mass graves, or Jews finding a way to have community within a Nazi ghetto, or believers in democracy holding on to faith that diverse people can come together.
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68 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Grandma TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, was born shortly before World War II. She grew up with Christmas trees and Sunday mass. Too young to even remember her Czech grandparents left behind when her parents went to England (her father was part of the Czech Provisional Government during the war), she never knew until nearly six decades later that the family they had left behind in Czechoslovakia was Jewish and that nearly all of them had died in the Holocaust.

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 is the story of Albright's personal journey of discovery. Those who study World War II, even superficially, all know that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain essentially signed away the nation of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, an act that has made Chamberlain the very symbol of appeasement ever since. Albright gives us the story behind the story.

Madeleine Albright's father was Josef Korbel, a prominent Czech diplomat. Because of her unique access, both as a former official of the United States of America and her father's daughter, with access to the wealth of material he left behind, Albright provides us with an interesting and engaging history of Czechoslovakia that goes far to fill in the often sketchy and superficial gloss that too often colors the importance of this little corner of the world during the War years while also telling the story of her family.

Well illustrated with pictures from her family collection and superbly footnoted, I found Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 a compelling read, very hard to put down. If you're a history buff, this one's for you!

Highly recommended.
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