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A Woman in Berlin

Scribbled in a few notebooks with a pencil stub by a 34-year-old journalist in the spring of 1945, A Woman in Berlin is an astonishing record of survival. While it may seem like oft-covered terrain, the author’s description of living in her decimated apartment building with the Russian army bivouacked literally outside the front door is a fresh contribution to the literature of war. In one staggering scene of mass rape by Russian soldiers, the author is sexually assaulted, then her rapist and his pals sit around her table eating herring and singing songs. When it was first published in the 1950s, the book failed; one critic called the author immoral for mentioning the subject at all. In a fluid translation by Philip Boehm, the voice of Anonymous emerges as both shrewd and funny. Upon finding a passionate prewar love letter hidden at the back of a drawer, she writes, ”Evidently a sophisticated, discriminating love life requires three square meals a day.” Fortunately, a sophisticated, discriminating diary can be composed under more dire circumstances.

A Woman in Berlin
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