Friday 15 November 2013

What Would You Do?

cabaretThe musical ‘Cabaret’ is set in 1930’s Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power. Many people remember Liza Minelli as the heroine Sally Bowles, singing the title song. One of the other songs is sung to Sally by Fräulein Schneider, her landlady, who has just broken off her engagement, on discovering her fiancé is Jewish. She decides it’s safer to be single…

With time rushing by, what would you do?
With the clock running down, what would you do?
The young always have the cure- being brave, being sure
And free,
But imagine if you were me. Alone like me,
And this is the only world you know.
Some rooms to let—the sum of a lifetime, even so.
I'll take your advice. What would you do?
Would you pay the price? What would you do?
Suppose simply keeping still means you manage until the end?
What would you do, my brave young friend?
Grown old like me, with neither the will nor wish to run;
Grown tired like me, who hurries for bed when day is done;
Grown wise like me, who isn't at war with anyone—
With a storm in the wind, what would you do?
Suppose you're one frightened voice
Being told what the choice must be.

Go on; tell me, I will listen. What would you do?
If you were me?

The film is all about moral choices – and particularly taking a stand against the evils of Nazism. Whilst recovering from a heavy cold, I spent yesterday [in between sneezing and dozing] reading a book which tackles many of the same questions.

sansom dominion

I have reviewed a C J Sansom book before [here – another post written to the accompaniment of Lemsip!] He writes all those splendid Matthew Shardlake novels set in  Tudor times.

Dominion is different – this is set in 1952, post WW2 – but an alternative scenario – one where Britain surrendered to Hitler after Dunkirk, and is now living under dark authoritarian rule.

I found the book quite absorbing, despite feeling under par. It is extremely well researched, with some very clever plotlines. At the end there are a couple off addenda [historical and biographical notes] and CJS mentions Robert Harris’ “Fatherland” – which he considers the best alternative history novel ever written. Personally I liked that book, but enjoyed this more. [Sansom himself was born in 1952 – to an English father and Scottish mother, and his comments in the addenda about the SNP are fascinating.]

The main character is David, a Civil Servant, who has been recruited as a spy for Churchill’s Resistance Organisation. His marriage to Sarah is struggling following a family tragedy, and she knows nothing of his espionage activities. When she notices discrepancies in his explanations, she suspects an affair. Further complications ensue when he is required to rescue Frank, an old friend, who knows vital secrets, and help get him out of the country. And a member of the Gestapo has come over from Germany for Frank too.

Meanwhile the British Jews are being rounded up and deported – and people who try and prevent that are imprisoned or executed. This too has implications for both David and Sarah.

Sansom’s scenario is imagined – but the rise of Nazism, and the outbreak of WW2 is fact – and many people had to choose how they would respond to Hitler’s regime.

Two of my real-life heroes are my own Mum, who did secret work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, and my Dad, who faced a tribunal [and possible imprisonment] to explain why he would not join the Army and fight. And then there’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose Christian faith led him to publicly oppose Hitler, and ultimately to execution. I thought of these three as I read the book – people for whom their strong faith affected and guided their moral choices.

For me this was a real page-turner, and found the end was …satisfying. I’d award this book *****

What would I do if I were faced with such choices?


  1. It sounds fascinating...but slightly uncomfortable...reading. Living here in France, which DID suffer from occupation during the war, and in one of the "villages of the just" - recognised for its part in rescuing Jewish people - I do wonder quite how I would have behaved in these circumstances.

  2. Oooh, it sounds great! Must read it! X

  3. So hard to know how brave I'd be. We discussed this a bit in an English class today. Arose from class reading refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah- do you know it? I find it distressing. I think I'd like to read this one just for the SNP comments! Hope you're feeling better. We're half-way through the month of daily blogging, you'll be glad to hear!

  4. Ang, I saw this and thought of you. I am not sure if you "know" Michelle

    She is looking for Christian Women bloggers in the UK or UK expats.

  5. Thanks Jen - don't know this one, will check it out!

  6. Currently being read in our house, agree that Fatherland was also good - have you read Philip Roth 'The Plot Against America'? Let us know what you think! xxx

    1. Don't know that one, I will check it out! thank you

  7. Oh that does sound good. I was once watching a documentary about the Holocaust. Dad put his arm around me and said "there but by the grace of God go we". We then had a really great discussion on how our lives would have been if the outcome of the war had been different.
    Jane x

  8. This sounds very good- I was just reading Harold Nicholson's letters to Vita Sackville West and they had suicide tablets to take if the Germans invaded. That really brought it home, too .

  9. I've never seen Cabaret, and now I want to! Thanks for the description of the book -- it sounds almost too nerve-wracking for me to handle. What horrific choices to have to make! And millions had to make them. I find myself bemused and puzzled sometimes when I read news reports that show how many Europeans actually DID know what was happening, and did nothing, and looked away. The truly heroic are amazing. It is not good for us, in our comfort, to guess what we would do. We're merely saying what we WISH we would do. The heroes are not unearthed until the moment arises. I wish no one were put to that test.


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