Behind the decision.
First Published: 1st March 2013
Date Reviewed: 22nd October 2013
Ziervogel provides a fictionalised account of the last days of Magda Goebbels – wife of Joseph – and her family, giving a voice to those history left out and illustrating the sort of thoughts that could have led to the action Magda took.
Magda is a short and exceptional book that offers a bridge to the historical gap and a poignant look into the feelings of the Goebbels children. Blending well fiction and fact, Ziervogel’s book is an emotional ride with a swiftness that makes the story all the more difficult to read.
This swiftness is an interesting one and bares detailing. Whilst this is Ziervogel’s first book, her background as a publisher has brought a vast amount of specialised experience into the creation of it. Magda is short, but it is far from lacking. Indeed the book never once looses its focus; there is no superfluous content whatsoever. Of course the language can take a few words, as literary fiction is want to do, but the structure, plotting, and the execution (pardon the use of this word) of the story is top notch. What Ziervogel has done is remove everything but the one event she wishes to talk about, exploring other occasions only when an explanation of the characters is required. It is true that this means prior knowledge of Magda and her final days is needed for the reader to fully understand, but it is only the basics that are needed. The lack of historical information we have besides the fact of the end makes this a book that can be read with little context.
Ziervogel has given the children of the Goebbels a voice. She has altered the ages a little, in particular of the eldest child, Helga, but the reasoning for this is obvious. In making Helga older, Ziervogel has afforded the maturity needed of a minor to understand enough of what is going on to have an impact on the reader – without enough understanding for Helga to escape it. Of course the children did not escape, so a fictional escape would not do – and it is easy enough to believe that even at her true twelve years of age, Helga may have had some understanding regardless. Much of the book is told through Helga’s diary, and this brings us to the next point.
Ziervogel’s characterisation is excellent. The characters feel as true as they were and as much as we might say that the actual history would cause this story to be plot-driven, Ziervogel has made a case for the people themselves. Inevitably this all means that rather than thinking about Hitler, the Nazis, and their hatred, the reader is given an insight similar to that provoked by Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief – although Magda is about the very leaders of Germany rather than Zusak’s innocent citizens, Ziervogel reminds you that there were still true innocents involved even high up. Was Magda innocent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Statements are made about her drive for wealthy happiness. But the children were far too young to be seen as anything other than innocent, unknowing victims of their parents’ choices. This is what the use of a diary for Helga creates; Ziervogel is not suggesting the reader should have a lot of sympathy for Magda – it is the children she weaves the emotions around.
However this acknowledgement of Magda is of course important. It is easy enough to see why Magda did what she did on a literal level, but otherwise we know nothing. Besides Helga’s diary, there are sections told by Magda’s mother to relate her childhood, and her childhood is also provided as a short of flashback by Magda herself. This is where the book is necessarily less concise.
Ziervogel doesn’t have answers – no one does. There were few witnesses and the event revolved around secrecy. But what the author does have is fair speculation for what might have gone on in the heads of those involved, and a feeling that we should consider the others who did not have a choice.
Magda is by its very nature a difficult read, but, as much as one can say so considering the subject, it is a stunning one.
October 23, 2013, 12:08 pm
I read this a while back for OurBookReviewsOnline and was really stunned by it. In the end, I felt I could understand why (possibly) Magda took the action she did, even if I didn’t agree with her.
October 23, 2013, 4:15 pm
This sounds really intriguing. I have been interested in finding out/understanding more about the Goebbels family since watching the film Downfall
October 24, 2013, 7:04 pm
I actually hadn’t known about Magda Goebbels until reading your review (and then I googled her name). Or if I did, I had forgotten. Surprising given how interested I am in World War II history.
I’d be interested in reading this one.
October 27, 2013, 6:09 pm
I’ve just read about this woman on Wikipedia and I’m astonished! I didn’t know her, so well, after your review I will definitely look for the book!
October 31, 2013, 11:51 am
Maryom: Me too, as shocking as it may sound, given the subject. That’s surely one of the best aspects of it, that you aren’t told why she may have done it exactly, but there’s a suggestion there that works. It’s so easy to just see her as the same as the party, and ruthless, but we don’t know much about her and who’s to know what is propaganda or not?
Jessica: I haven’t heard of that film, I’ll have to look it up. Though it may be fiction, I’d say this book would help you in your search. It really gives you something to think about and I’d expect that with the added knowledge you have it’d be quite a success.
Literary Feline: I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of Hitler’s wife or Magda or any of the women behind the men until I left school. They seem hidden in a way, though they must’ve been heralded in the propaganda of the time. There is such a focus on the men. This definitely adds something to study/interest, fiction or not.
Isi: I reckon this book is going to inform a lot of readers!