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Red Love: The Story of an East German Family Paperback – October 28, 2014
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Leo’s memoir of family life under the German Democratic Republic begins in the hospital room of his maternal grandfather, Gerhard, a Berlin-born Jew, French Resistance hero, and stern GDR loyalist. Gerhard has had a stroke; what thoughts he can express come out better in French. But for the first time that Leo can remember, his grandfather is able to express emotions, a “helpless, loveable man” who was happy to see him. And for the first time, Leo wishes that he could go back to the GDR so that he could understand it as he never could before. Opposite Gerhard is Leo’s paternal grandfather, Werner, the Wehrmacht soldier who returned from the war broken and ready for something new to believe in. For his grandfathers, says Leo, the GDR was “a kind of dreamland” in which “trauma turned to dream” and the past could be eclipsed. The family portrait gets more complicated when we meet Leo’s father, Wolf, an artist who defines himself against, but does not truly reject, GDR orthodoxy, and his mother, a journalist whose disillusionment with the state only strengthened her love for the ideals to which it aspired. Viewed together, their stories present an uncommonly nuanced look at a nation that no longer lives but continues to exist, like a “ghost that cannot find peace.” --Brendan Driscoll --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Absolutely enthralling . . . Mr. Leo vividly evokes the second-rate nightmare of repression, intolerance and low-level menace dramatized in the film The Lives of Others.” -- The New York Times Book Review
"In this winner of the European Book Prize, Leo not only produces a moving family memoir, but also a probing exploration of the human need to believe and belong." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Leo’s experience as a journalist shines throughout the memoir; he is at times distant and objective but also compassionate and inquisitive about his own history. His family’s story, spanning from both sides of his parents to his grandparents and their families, is extraordinarily compelling. . . Translator Shaun Whiteside marvelously captures Leo’s distinct voice; the writing is clear and poetic. . . Leo’s memoir humanizes this history and offers readers a glimpse into a different past." -- The New York Daily News
"Maxim Leo has produced a lucid, dispassionate, and altogether extraordinary account of three generations of his German family as Big History kicked them around and they, for the most part, made sterling attempts to kick back." -- The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Beautiful and supremely touching… Leo’s memoir was the winner of the European Book Prize, and deservedly so… It is a moving saga of people who love one another but are doomed never to get along, and it is also an unbearably poignant description of a world that no longer exists." – Keith Lowe, Sunday Telegraph Book of the Week, 5-star review
“[Red Love] gives us extraordinary, intimate access to East Germany when the state was not just in the family apartment but locked within the minds and aspirations of all its citizens.” – Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year
“A family narrative that is simultaneously gripping and meditative, an engaging and thought-provoking portrait of a disappeared world.” – Natasha Tripney, Observer
“Compelling ... [Leo] is terrific at elucidating the slow, incremental steps by which people come to lie to themselves... guile, guilt and disappointment drip from these pages and Red Love is all the more affecting for it.” – Marina Benjamin, New Statesman
“Written without political rancour or historical revisionism… With truthful tenderness and wry humour, Maxim Leo looks back not in anger but in an effort to understand the past.” – Iain Finlayson, The Times
"In a wry, laconic style, [Leo] uses childhood memories to demonstrate how absurd 'grown-up' behaviour can be – and how easily absurdity can morph into tragedy." – Maggie Fergusson, The Economist, “Intelligent Life
“Honest and sober... a convincing depiction of what everyday life was like and the legacy it has left... illuminating.” – Metro
"Leo uses the intimate scope of his family to explore the turbulent political history of East Germany from a perspective that has not been seen before. The result is an absorbing and personal account that gives outsiders an insight into life in the GDR." – Shortlist
"Leo draws upon family interviews, diaries, letters, poems and even declassified Stasi files. He rigorously reflects mirror images — World War and Cold War, fascism and communism, east and west, conformity and rebellion — to obtain that objective picture. . . [T]he book’s brilliance stems from Leo’s prioritizing of personal drama over national tragedy. Gerhard’s war years are thrilling, Anne’s agony of living for the right cause but in the wrong country is poignant, and Wolf’s tiny acts of subversion — dyeing his hair, dancing to contraband Elvis tapes — bring smiles." - Minneapolis Star Tribune
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Top Customer Reviews
an amazingly diverse family. I had spent a lot of time in (East) Berlin and the DDR in earlier years, and every word of
this book feels authentic to me. It also gives a portrait of the city as it was then in the years before the wall
fell, and what everyday life was like for its citizens. I recommend this book to anyone interested in German
history, of course, but I mostly I recommend it because it's a wonderful human story.
I have no credentials for book-judging, but, in this case, I'm making a recommendation simply because I was
actually very moved by what I read.
The book started a bit slow, but stick with it as the last 2/3 of the book is very interesting. We learn of Gerhard's involvement with the French resistance, the suspicions and spying in East Germany, and the ultimate demise of the Wall and the reunification of Germany.