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Winnie and Wolf Hardcover – International Edition, September 25, 2007
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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Winnie and Wolf is the story of the extraordinary relationship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler that took place during the years 1925â40, as seen through the eyes of the secretary at the Wagner house in Bayreuth.
Winifred, an English girl, brought up in an orphanage in East Grinstead, married at the age of eighteen to the son of Germanyâs most controversial genius, is a passionate Germanophile, a Wagnerian dreamer, a Teutonic patriot.
In the debacle of the post-Versailles world, the Wagner family hope for the coming, not of a warrior, a fearless Siegfried, but of a Parsifal, a mystic idealist, a redeemer-figure. In 1925, they meet their Parsifal â a wild-eyed Viennese opera-fanatic in a trilby hat, a mac and a badly fitting suit. Hitler has already made a name for himself in some sections of German society through rabble-rousing and street corner speeches. It is Winifred, though, who believes she can really see his poetry. Almost at once they drop formalities and call one another âDuâ rather than âSieâ. She is Winnie and he is Wolf.
Like Winnie, Hitler was an outsider. Like her, he was haunted by the impossibility of reconciling the pursuit of love and the pursuit of power; the ultimate inevitability, if you pursued power, of destruction. Both had known the humiliations of poverty. Both felt angry and excluded by society. Both found each other in an unusual kinship that expressed itself through a love of opera.
In A.N. Wilsonâs most bold and ambitious novel yet, the world of the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany is brilliantly recreated, and forms the backdrop to this incredible bond, which ultimately reveals the remarkable capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.
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I don't care much about the idea of humanizing Hitler and I wouldn't be reading it if the book was about him. Having recently visited Bayreuth, I read the book in order to get a closer insight into the life in villa Wahnfried. As far as my objective, the book was entirely satisfying and I wish I had read it BEFORE going to Bayreuth and not after.
The premise, that Winifred carried on an affair with Hitler and bore his child, is absurd, but it doesn't matter. The author's observations about life in Bayreuth after it was usurped by Hitler is accurate to the finest detail. I strongly recommend reading it after you've finished Brigitte Hamann's suberb Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth. You will see how faithful the novel is to history, and you will have more context to understand the cast of characters such as Hans Tietjen, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Friedelind Wagner, etc.
Mesmerizing, hypnotic, touching and ripe with keen insights into German history and philosophy and music, not to mention human nature.... Well, what more can we ask for? As I headed into the last 50 pages or so I started to read it more slowly, sometimes reading only one or two pages a night before bedtime, because I didn't want it to end. A book to cherish.
Wilson hangs his novel on a framework of having the novel writen as a memoir of 'N', Siegfried and then Winifred's personal assistant which N later in life will give to his adopted daughter the biological child of Winnie and Hitler. By using this device we become privy to private conversations between Winnie and Hitler, Winnie and Tietjen, Winnie and Toscanni. But more importantly it makes vivid the everyday life of Germans in Weimar Germany who then witness and then for the most part deliriously support the rise of their ultimate Leader, Hitler and Nazism. N finds himself torn between his love of Winnie and of Wagner, and his ambivalent feelings towards the charismatic Uncle Wolf who reguarly visits Bayreuth and who reads fairy tales to the Wagner children and adores dogs. It is N's theory that the Uncle Wolf of Bayreuth and the Hitler of Munich and Berlin are two conflicting beings inhabiting one body, an interesting psychological premise.
The device of the narrator works superbly in allowing the reader to view the rise of Hitler through the eyes of everyday Germans. However, the premise of Winnie's and Hitler's 'love' child seems silly and unnecessary. Did the author think such an outrageous premise would spark the book buying public to purchase more books? If so he is wrong. This is definitely not a book for the general reader, but for those who are already well acquainted with the music of Wagner, the history of the Bayreuth Festival and the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler.