A Crime In The Family by Sacha Batthyany

The Blurb On The Back:

In the spring of 1945, as the Red Army approached the village of Rechnitz in Austria, Countess Margit Batthyany hosted a party in her ancestral home.  Around midnight, the guests – German aristocrats and SS officers – left the castle and shot 180 Jewish labourers waiting in the village below.  The bodies disappeared into a mass grave: the massacre remained a secret for decades, until Countess Margit’s great-nephew began to ask questions.

This is the story of those questions, and of the answers Sacha Batthyany found: of how an atrocity was concealed and how it was uncovered.  It is a story of Nazi Germany, of the gulags of Siberia, of Budapest in the darkest days of the Cold War, of an Auschwitz survivor alive today in Argentina, and of whole generations of Europeans: monsters and heroes, executioners and victims.

A Crime In The Family is a singular and heart-rending true story, told by an extraordinary writer confronting not only his family’s past but humanity’s. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

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Symphony For The City Of The Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson

The Blurb On The Back:

In September of 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history – two and a half years of bombardment and starvation.  More than a million citizens perished.  Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, the relatives of the dead having neither the means nor the strength to bury them.  Desperate citizens burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and – eventually – even one another to stay alive.

Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogised, and commemorated his fellow citizens – the Leningrad Symphony.  This testament of courage was copied onto microfilm, driven across the Middle East, and flown over the deserts of North Africa to be performed in the United States – where it played a surprising role in strengthening the Grand Alliance against the Axis powers. 

This is the true story of a city under siege: the triumph of bravery and defiance in the face of terrifying odds.  It is also a look at the power – and layered meaning – of music in beleaguered lives. 

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Truevine by Beth Macy

The Blurb On The Back:

Two brothers, a kidnapping and a mother’s quest: a true story of the American south.

The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia, the heart of the Jim Crow South, where everyone the Muse brothers knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.

George and Willie Muse were just six and nine years’ old, but they worked the fields from dawn to dark.  Until a white man offered them candy, and stole them away to become circus freaks.  For the next twenty-eight years, their distraught mother struggled to get them back.

But were they really kidnapped?  And how did their mother, a barely literate black woman in the segregated South, manage to bring them home?  And why, after coming home, did they want to go back to the circus?

At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era.  But the very root of their success was in the colour of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even ‘Ambassadors from Mars’.

The result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Truevine tells the extraordinary story of what really happened to the Muse brothers for the first time.  It is an unforgettable tale of cruelty and exploitation, but also of loyalty, determination and love. 

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