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The History of History [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Ida Hattemer-Higgins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 18, 2011
A ferociously intelligent debut novel about a young amnesiac’s descent into madness in contemporary Berlin, and a country wrestling with its dark past.

A young woman named Margaret stumbles one morning from a forest outside Berlin, hands dirty, clothes torn. She can remember nothing of the night in the woods, nor—she soon realizes—anything of the previous months. She returns home to her former life.

Two years later, she receives a letter from a mysterious doctor, who summons her to an appointment, claiming to be concerned for her fate. Margaret keeps the appointment, but when she leaves the doctor’s office, the entire city is transformed. Nazi ghosts manifest as preening falcons; buildings turn to flesh; reality itself wheels.

This is the story of Margaret’s race to recover her lost history—the night in the forest, and the chasm that opened in her life as a result. Awash in guilt, careening toward a shattering revelation, Margaret finds her personal amnesia resonating more and more clamorously with a nation’s criminal past, as she struggles toward an awakening that will lead her through madness to the truth, and to the unanswerable agony of her own actions.

Ida Hattemer-Higgins has written a novel about amnesia—individual, cultural, historical—about memory and oblivion, fantasy and reason, myth and redemption in our time. An unforgettable story from a bold and prodigiously gifted young talent.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A promising premise flatlines in Hattermer-Higgins's overwrought debut. Margaret Taub, a young American woman awakens in a forest outside Berlin in September of 2002 with a several-month-long blank spot in her memory. Two years later, after a letter, addressed to a "Margaret Täubner," arrives at her apartment, confirming an upcoming appointment with a doctor Margaret has never heard of, she meets the doctor, a gynecologist, who treats Margaret with uncomfortable familiarity and insists on serving as her "memory surgeon." The next morning, Berlin has "transformed into flesh," and, as Margaret negotiates the menacingly alive city, she is plagued by a mysterious feeling of guilt, all the while becoming increasingly obsessed with Magda Goebbels, the wife of Hitler's propaganda minister, and the possibly parallel story of Regina Strauss, a Jewish woman who committed suicide along with her husband and children. It doesn't take long for this novel to come undone, its magical realism and overly precious tone mixing uneasily with its ponderous claims about ethics and memory. Also problematic are the final revelations about Margaret's past, which are intended to be shocking and enlightening, but are instead burdened with insistence on meaning. (Jan.) (c)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* The Holocaust is a dark star, forever pulling new writers into its orbit. First-time novelist Hattemer-Higgins dramatizes with phantasmagoric magnitude the crisis of conscience following the genocide, drawing on her experience working in Berlin as a walking-tour guide, a role she assigns to her protagonist. An American with a German father, Margaret Taub has survived a mysterious trauma that has erased her memory of recent months and left her afflicted with nightmarish visions. As she ushers tourists to Nazi sites, the city turns to flesh before her eyes, and Nazi Madga Goebbels, who murdered her children as military defeat loomed, stalks her in the form of a bird of prey. Margaret is also visited by the ghost of a Jewish woman who committed suicide after killing her children to save them from Nazi torture. Determined to regain her past, Margaret contends with a blind, knife-throwing “memory surgeon” and a spying neighbor. She knows she’s guilty, but of what? With unbridled imagination and exquisite command, Hattemer-Higgins explodes the concept of remembrance and confronts the “spiritual aftershock” of the Holocaust in a gloriously hellish and fiercely surreal dreamscape with echoes of fairy tales, Heinrich von Kleist, and Hermann Hesse, to create a bewitching and unnerving novel stunning in its artistry, audacity, and insight. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727277X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272775
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Nazis in the closet of the mind January 23, 2011
The History of History is a great read, a wonderful first novel. It's also a hard-working, ungimmicky, well-wrought book. These days every blogger can have a printout of his blogs stuck between two pieces of cardboard, wrapped up in a wax paper jacket and raced to Barnes & Noble so fast the publisher doesn't have time to include Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data, much less edit the damn thing. But this is a book into which the author obviously put care, passion, and, I will argue, authenticity.

This is a novel about an American who guides walking tours in Berlin, a city where the only history is Nazi history. One of the many oddities of contemporary Germany is that the concentration camps, the Hitler Bunker and other destinations are haunted by people who used to live and work there. They're all of retirement age now, and so they hang out for attention, for money, or just because they have nothing better to do. There are the old survivors, the old storm troopers, and the old crazies, and it's often not easy to tell the difference. One self-declared Dachau inmate in 1994 was enough for me, but Ida Hattemer-Higgins made her living in this twilight world for several years. Imagine a waxworks of horrors, with the real-life horrors regularly dropping in to visit. A Grand-Guignol theater with special guest performances by reanimated cadavers, real killers, and crazy people who think they died or think they killed. Imagine working there for a good long while. And imagine the whole country is a little bit like working there: ubiquitous, minor, passing, forgivable, utterly understandable complicity. Proud little stories.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A knock-out January 20, 2011
This book is amazing. It's a Surrealist rhapsody. Even when I find myself grousing about, disagreeing with, Margaret Taub's (protagonist's) philosophical quest and conclusion(s), I'm totally transported by the lyricism of the text--the way it sweeps along and takes me places that fascinate me. Not just Berlin--Margaret's Berlin--though that, too. Her mind. Her insanely beautiful imagination.

While I'm no intellect, I have read a bit. For me, Ida Hattemer-Higgins is like Thomas Mann, and Franz Kafka! But--American. Her Margaret Taub is the quintessential American Abroad: daring, rushing in where angels fear to tread, drawing her own conclusions, and devil take the hindmost. It's such a pleasure to follow Margaret's mind, even when it delves into dark and dangerous history, and especially when it plunges into her own, dark-and-bright imagination.

If you love Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, you will love this work. If you love this work, you will love Thomas Mann. In any case, THE HISTORY OF HISTORY is a wild, breath-taking ride. Highly, highly recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great September 24, 2011

One of the things that attracted me to this book was the prose, which is beautiful. However, I also found it troubling. Although the language is poetic and aesthetically-pleasing, it seems to be lacking meaning, or at least, lacking sense. Consider the following excerpt:

"The image of the face held Margaret and mesmerized her. ... And yet--and here is where Margaret dragged her charcoal back and forth, craving the curve: something, something in the young face was still bleeding, still searching for metaphysics, and Margaret carefully traced every softness and hardness. She felt her disgust stretching, becoming a concentration that was almost tenderness." (p. 49)

What does it mean to say that the charcoal sketch of a face is "still bleeding" or "still searching for metaphysics"? How does disgust "stretch" into concentration? How is concentration akin to tenderness? I often felt while reading that the author was self-consciously trying to impress me by mashing together abstract concepts willy-nilly. It felt sloppy. And it's something that can't be attributed to character development. The unreliable protagonist - neurotic, amnesiac, and copiously intellectual - is not the narrator of her own thoughts: there's an interpretation, a translation going on, which is also clear in the excerpt above ("and here is where Margaret dragged her charcoal..."). The narrator tells us Margaret's thoughts and feelings, but it's not how Margaret herself would express them.

This leads into the second issue I had, which was that I was often in the dark as far as Margaret's reasoning and motivations, and I think this is in part due to the vague writing. There are hundreds of instances I could cite, from the momentous to the trivial.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madness and the world around you. April 3, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ida Hattemer-Higgins's debut novel, "The History of History", is a brilliant look at both the madness of an individual and the madness of many. And how that "madness of many" can insinuate itself into the family line until it becomes the "madness of one".

Set in early 2000's Berlin, the story is about a young American woman, Margaret Taub, who moves from the United States to Berlin in the late 1990's to seek life in her father's original home city. He was originally from East Berlin and was able to flee as a young man to the United States where he met Margaret's mother and begin a life there. He dies in an insane asylum and his daughter moves to Berlin, by now a joined-city after the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall. Margaret becomes a guide for English-speaking tourists as she studies at the Frei University. She also makes a life for herself in the city, and, eventually, begins to go a little mad herself.

No description of the plot of Hattemer-Higgins's novel will do it justice. The reader will just have to recognise that whatever happens will have some explanation further along in the story. So, if I can't talk about plot, I'll have to talk about characters and in the creation of her characters, Hattemer-Higgins shines. As in many novels with a tinge of mystery, most characters are not always as the seem. Whether by dint of insanity or the perils of history, Hattemer-Higgins's characters are always interesting and worth reading about. This is not an easy book to read and might not appeal to some readers. But Hattemer-Higgins manages to combine the history of Germany - from the 1930's to the 2000's - and psychology into a power-house of a novel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars too many associations
I found this book too full of symbols and associations in one book . I felt that the author tried too hard to incorporate too many messages. Read more
Published 5 months ago by ruth
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Came in very good condition
Published 5 months ago by aliya kedem
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writing. Suberb idea
Brilliant writing. Suberb idea. Some times too complicated couse of layers on layers of thoughts that make the lightweight but still complicated and interesting plot. Read more
Published 8 months ago by ARNON NAVOT
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, incredible imagery
I loved the surreal imagery in this book. It's like a David Lynch plot.

I find that the best way to make reviews helpful is by adding a list of books I love and books I... Read more
Published on November 19, 2012 by Buyer Now
2.0 out of 5 stars history of history
This is not a book for readers interested in a good story. The reader is kept in the dark about what really happened to the main character, Margaret, a young American eking out a... Read more
Published on January 19, 2012 by Victoria
5.0 out of 5 stars A difficult, mesmerizing book.
[Full disclosure: I know the author slightly from the Poets & Writers Speakeasy forum. We've never met. Read more
Published on January 1, 2012 by Joanne Merriam
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is nothing like fear to make one begin to see oneself mirrored...
I must preface this review by saying that The History of History is a very difficult book to review, not because the writing of Ida Hattemer-Higgins is anything less than... Read more
Published on May 21, 2011 by Evelyn Getchell
5.0 out of 5 stars High-Concept Fiction of the Highest Order
The History of History, Ida Hattemer-Higgins' debut novel, is, simply put, an awe-inspiring piece of fiction. Read more
Published on April 21, 2011 by Gregory Zimmerman
5.0 out of 5 stars Wunderbar
This is a wonder of a book. In her first novel, Ida Hattemer-Higgins displays a thoroughly literate, wholly-formed voice and style which draws - quite appropriately here - on a... Read more
Published on March 9, 2011 by Gail M. L. Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars No doubt this book will be winning several literary awards this year
So its 1926 and your local book store is trying to sell a debut novel by the name of The Torrents of Spring. Read more
Published on February 17, 2011 by Amazon Customer
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