Europe: 1939 to the Present
Recommended Novels, Films and Other Books
(accuracy cannot be guaranteed)


Black, Cyril, et al., REBIRTH: HISTORY OF EUROPE SINCE WORLD WAR II (Westview) - a country by country survey.

Kramer, Jane, UNSETTLED EUROPE - does a great job of using life stories to explore issues related to the breakup of colonial empires, multiculturalism in European societies, and the changes in labor markets that were sending guest workers north in the 1960s and 1970s. I've used it for a course called "The Contemporary World," and students have enjoyed it. I fear it may soon be dated, but it isn't quite yet.


Wegs, J. Robert, EUROPE SINCE 1945 (St. Martins) - Students like the Wegs book. It has good chapters on the economy and social structure, otherwise absent.

World War II and the Holocaust



Hoess, Rudolf, COMMANDANT OF AUSCHWITZ which Hoess wrote in early 1947 while in a Polish prison as he was about to stand trial for his crimes. This work must be used with obvious caution for it is rife with self-justification and is not always accurate, but it is fascinating and revealing. It is currently available under the title DEATH DEALER: THE MEMOIRS OF THE SS KOMMANDANT AT AUSCHWITZ, ed. by Steven Paskuly and published by Prometheus Books. Hoess says quite a bit about how the camp was organized, and how he felt about what he'd done.

KL AUSCHWITZ SEEN BY THE SS (Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1991). A segment of Rudolf Hoess' memoirs plus part of the diary of Johann Paul Kemer, and the remininscenes of Pery Broad


Lifton, Robert, NAZI DOCTORS (New York: Basic Books, 1986), includes some excellent personal material from doctors who worked at Auschwitz.

Moczarski, Kazimierz, CONVERSATIONS WITH THE HANGMAN. Moczarski, a postwar political prisoner, had the jail cell next to Juergen Stroop of Warsaw ghetto "fame."

Posner, Gerald, HITLER'S CHILDREN, contains the memories of the children of many high-ranking Nazi officials, and what they thought of their heritage and their parents.

Sereny, Gitta, INTO THAT DARKNESS: AN EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE, based on extensive interviews of Franz Stangl, Commandant of Treblinka, as well as extensive interviews of others involved in the Holocaust either as accomplices or victims.

Spiegelman, MAUS, two volumes

Wiesel, Elie, NIGHT. It is a short book, but very powerful. It gives the reader a sense of the horror of the Holocaust.


Film: THE SORROW AND THE PITY (Ophuls) has some revealing interviews with SS veterans as well as information on Vichy.

Breakdown of Colonial Empires





Cold War

De Porte, Anton, EUROPE BETWEEN THE SUPERPOWERS - De Porte and Grossner were once standards, but may now be out of date with the end of the cold war.



Soviet Union

National Public Radio has produced an hour-long documentary history of the Soviet Union. It was originally broadcast on All Things Considered. For information on how to order cassette copies, feel free to contact me by phone or e-mail.

Robert Rand
Senior Editor
Weekend All Things Considered
National Public Radio
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phone: 202-414-2141

Aikhmatov (sp?) DAY LASTS A HUNDRED YEARS - a great, but tough one from central asia in the mid-1970s

Baranskaya, Natalya Baranskaya, A WEEK LIKE ANY OTHER (the title novella describes the frantic workday week of a Soviet mother with two children and a job, c. 1970 -- other stories are valuable, too


Chukovskaia, Lydia, SOFIA PETROVNA - (1939, I think; available in tr. from Northwestern Press) is terrific: the story of an ordinary Soviet woman whose family experience makes her see what is going on around her. It reads fabulously with Akhmatova's 1936-1940 poem "Requiem," especially since Chukovskaia read her story to Akhmatova when it was barely finished, and Akhmatova recited pieces of Requiem to Chukovskaia as it was composed. Another opinion: The narrative is set in the final years of Stalinism, say 1950 or so, but is also concerned with recovering the narrator's memories of the late 1930's. This one is VERY good -- I'd say, better than Ship of Widows, which has great bits but seemed to me to flag towards the end.


Goscilo, Helena, ed., BALANCING ACTS includes Luidmila Petrushevskaia's stories which give a better picture of life in the Brezhnev and post-Brezhnev period than anything else in print. Her 40-page story "Our Crowd" is a breathtaking, brilliant story about the ethical impoverishment of intellectuals. If you look further in "Balancing Acts," a terrific collection, you'll find other material from/about the same period.

Grekova, I., THE SHIP OF WIDOWS, (Northwestern University Press, 1994, $14.95 paperback, ISBN # 0-8101-1144-6) written in the early 1960s I think, but dealing with generations of women from the postwar period and for a few decades thereafter. It's realistic in its account, very straightforward, but quite effective with students. It's on the long side (maybe 150 pages?), and has the virtue of NOT being about the purges, which a lot of other material is. About WWII and the decades after it (into the early 60's). It has an introduction by Helena Goscilo that students might find either irritating or brilliantly enlightening.

Hiden, John and Patrick Salmon. THE BALTIC NATIONS AND EUROPE, ESTONIA, LATVIA, AND LITHUANIA IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. (Revised Ed) London and New York: Longman, 1994. pp. 202 The work has a major strength in its treatment of the three independent Baltic nations 1918-1940. The authors give considerable attention to the dark years of Stalin, Khrushchev,and Brezhnev and conclude with two chapters on the political awakening under Gorbachev. For the revised edition (1994) the authors provide a new final chapter which takes the story up to March 1994 when the three Baltic nations were again politically independent.

Iskander, Fazil, THE GOATIBEX CONSTELLATION is a wonderful satire of soviet scientific pretensions and also something set outside the Russian part of the Soviet Union

Konwicki, Tadeusz, POLISH COMPLEX, with some help from the instructor, this works well. It is set in the 1970s, but flashes back to the 19th century.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH (1961) novella describing Soviet labour camps in 1949

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, THE FIRST CIRCLE, the story of prisoner-intellectuals working in a secret institute



Voznesenskaya, Julia, THE WOMEN'S DECAMERON (NY: Henry Holt, 1985/Owl Book Edition, 1987--paper) - A wonderful epistolary novel, though it may no longer be in print, recounting the trials and tribulations of women's lives in post-WWII USSR.

Yevtushenko's AUTOBIOGRAPHY, I forget the title, is good

GENERAL FILM COMMENT: One thing to remember is that many of these films are quite graphic - beatings, suicides, etc. While I understand that such things may be reflctive of Soviet life, many students may be very disturbed by them.

Film: ADAM's RIB strikes me as a better movie in all respects (than "Moscow does not believe in tears"), and it is more up to date (3 generations of women in a single apartment, too, which makes for good cross-generational discussions). Another opinion: a story of women's lives in the last years of the Soviet Union, it is quite good


Film: BURNED BY THE SUN is good, the story of a privileged military man caught in the purges. (Utomlyeniye solntsa) is very good.

Film: FAREWELL MATYERA - directed by Ivan Klimov.

Film: FORGOTTEN TUNES ON THE FLUTE, which describes the decision of a Soviet apparatchik to abandon his career for a way of life that satisfies his soul. Romance is involved, of course. Also referred to as UNFORGOTTEN MELODY FOR FLUTE by someone else who liked it.

Film: THE INNER CIRCLE, which revolves around the life of a young man who is hired as the projectionist of films shown to members of Stalin's inner circle. Another opinion: From a student's perspective, INNER CIRCLE is a great film. The director is Russian and that comes through on screen. Plus the film is in English which can make a difference when it comes to paying attention to the film.


Film: Jiri Mendel, I think, is the director of a film version of Voinovich's LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF IVAN CHONKIN? (I may have the title slightly wrong.) It is really funny, though it deals with the immediate pre-WWII and WWII period instead. Maybe something to use for that section of a course -- if they bring it out with subtitles.

Film: LITTLE VERA, a Perestroika era film, gives a very negative picture of family life, focussing on an 18-year old girl.

Film: MESSENGERS FROM MOSCOW, a PBS documentary series

Film: MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS is good; it's worth showing; it's not great kino, but it's funny and fun, humanly interesting, and contains lots of great colloquial Russian plus information about life in the period of stagnation. Another opinion: it was very interesting but mostly as a period piece reflecting pre-glasnost sensibilities and cautions. More than anything, I think, it extols survival--in this case, of a set of friends (3 women?) over a few decades. Another opinion: I confess to detesting "Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears," but I've had to teach it several times in language classes and found its sentimentalism more than I can bear. On a first go-round it's probably easier to take.

Film: REPENTANCE, a Perestroika era film, the Soviet Georgian film surveys the rise to power of a local dictator and shows the devastation he causes.

Film: STALIN, starring Robert Duval.

Eastern Europe

Ash, Timothy Garton, THE USES OF ADVERSITY

Ash, Timothy Garton, THE MAGIC LANTERN

ASHES AND DIAMONDS or the postwar period in E. Europe, can't remember the author, it is wonderful. There's a fine film of it directed by Andrz ei Wajda. The book is available in English.

Drakulic, THE BALKAN EXPRESS, on the siege of Sarajevo

Drakulic, HOW WE SURVIVED COMMUNISM AND EVEN LAUGHED for eastern Europe and the Bosnian problem.

FATELESS deals with a teenage Holocaust survivor who returns to his native Hungary after the war and tries to return to a normal life.


Havel, Vaclav, "The Power of the Powerless" (essay in many of his books) - difficult but worth the effort

Kis, Danilo, A TOMB FOR BORIS DAVIDOVICH (not a novel but very powerful). It is set in the period following WWII, concentrating on the area from Hungary down through former Yugoslavia, and thematically shows lots of people (esp. Jews) being betrayed by the ideals of Communism. It's a collection of short pieces (maybe altogether less than 100 pages?) united by the time and theme. It came out in the early-to-mid 80's from Harcourt Brace [then] Jovanovich, in a series called something like "Writers of the Other Europe." It's definitely worth taking a look at.

Kovaly, Heda, UNDER A CRUEL STAR - a great read.


Milosz, Czeslaw, THE CAPTIVE MIND

Film: WHEN FATHER WAS AWAY ON BUSINESS on Yugoslavia, mid 1980s? a family coping with the father getting into trouble with the government and how they "hide" it from the neighbors

Film: LARKS ON A STRING, a Menzel-Hrabal production produced during the Czech thaw of '68 - it's a subtle satire of the ruling party.


Film: OPEN CITY, neo-realism,

Film: UMBERTO H., also neo-realism


Bienek, Horst's wonderful trilogy: THE LAST POLKA, TIME WITHOUT BELLS, and I forget the title of the third

Böll, Heinrich, ANSICHTEN EINES CLOWNS (1963) examines the post-war West German society through the eyes of a down-on-his- luck mime who can't reconcile the behavior of his fellow citizens in the post-war years with their behavior during the war.

Böll, Heinrich, BILLIARDS AT HALF-PAST NINE covers a single day in 1958 -- unremarkable except for a parade and a birthday celebration. But in a series of flashbacks several characters tie 1958-Germany (West, of course) into the German history of the entire half century. There are recollections of the grandfather dating back to the early part of the century, but the main flashbacks have to do with the later part of the Hitler years. There is also a bit of prescient writing, it seems, in that the grandson represents German youth at a crossroad -- go along with the consumer society or attack it as the RAF terrorists did a decade later. When asked which part of the construction business he wanted to be in -- demolition or construction -- the grandson says: "Bauen oder sprengen? das weiß ich noch nicht." And "sprengen" can be interpreted as either the expected demolition of an existing building (many historical buildings were destroyed in the first phase of German reconstruction before historical conservation took over) or the unexpected bombing of a building as a terrorist attack. Böll's novel plays with the concept of time, with an interweaving of past and present, and even a bit with the role of "rehabilitated" Nazis in German society. A few short Boell stories would make a nice supplement to "Billiards" without overloading the reading assignments.

Böll, Heinrich, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM isn't bad, and isn't too long (1970s, anti-terrorist panic). There's a movie of it, too. A "programatic" examination of the West German struggle with the balance between state power and the individual in the wake of the late 1960's protests.

Böll, Heinrich, DER ZUG WAR PÜNKTLICH (1944/45) Short stories presenting the common soldiers experience

Borchert, Wolfgang, (1945/56) all you can get your hands on. Short stories about that time.

Grass, Günther, CAT AND MOUSE

Grass, Günther, DOG YEARS

Grass, Günther, THE TIN DRUM which combines the history primarily during the war years with the post-war period. The film, by the way, covers only the former. It is excellent but a "tough" film. (I always warned my students that there were some vulgar scenes, and not all of them had to do with sexual situations!) Another opinion: this work (the novel) is demanding, but also offers an unusual glimpse into German life during and after the war. I would not recommend a screening of the film adaptation of Die Blechtrommel, since it completely ignores the protagonist's life after the war is over, and it removes the frame narrative of the original novel.

Evans, Richard, IN HITLER'S SHADOW. This book focuses on the historians' controversy that took place in Germany in 1986-1987. Although its focus is on historiography, it gives students a sense of how Germans are coming to terms with the Nazi Past. It is not jargony, and I think undergrads would not have any problems understanding it.

Hein, Christoph, THE TANGO PLAYER - a witty and powerful novel on East Germany, set in Leipzig in 1968, but published in 1989. Here's from the back cover: "Christoph Hein's novel is told through the eyes of Hans-Peter Dallow, an apolitical professor of history who has just returned to civilian life after 21 months in prison. His Kafkaesque 'crime': he was the substitute piano player in a student cabaret in which seditious verses were sung ('I was only the tango player,' Dallow says, over and over). Hein's chronicle of Dallow's return constructs a telling portrait of life in Leipzig--loveless sexual encounters, secret police harassments, professional intrigues, daily brutalities; he shows how a corrupt system perverts the most human interaction, and how lives are ruined by malicious caprice."


Lenz, Siegfried, THE GERMAN LESSON

Morgner, Irmtraud, LEBEN UND ABENTEUER DER TORBADORA BEATRIZ very intresting and complicated novel including many aspects of life seen from a perspective of a travelling songstress...

Plenzdor, Ulrich Plenzdorf, THE NEW SUFFERINGS OF YOUNG W. (Ungar, ISBN 0-8044-6656-4) a modern DDR re-telling of Goethe's Werther

Plievier, Theodor, STALINGRAD is useful.

Reiman, Brigitte, FRANCISKA LINKERHAND (1974) about the Wiederaufbau ! der DDR and a woman architect's problems.

Schneider, Peter, THE GERMAN COMEDY: SCENES OF LIFE AFTER THE WALL, a delightful book on German reunification (not a novel, but a collection of essays) which was published in 1991. Another opinion: is not quite as good as WALL JUMPER.

Schneider, Peter, THE WALL JUMPER is good, but I'm not sure it's in print in English at the moment, though it has been. 1980s, stories about divided Berlin, generally absurd and humorous. Another opinion: A very readable novel that gives the atmosphere of Berlin in the 70s on both sides of the Wall. I know from experience that students find it interesting.

Schubert, Helga, JUDASFRAUEN. Schubert researched the lives of women still alvie in the GDR ca. 1988 who denounced neighbors and colleagues. Schubert interviewed some of them. She was trained as a psychologist but makes her living now through writing (including fiction).

Walser, Martin, EHEN IN PHILIPPSBURG (1957) which has probably been translated, but you might not want to deal with that because it features abortion as a major plot element.

Walser, Martin, HALBZEIT (1954/55) A fat novel, depicting the normalcy of the early fifties

Wolf, Christa, ACCIDENT: A DAY'S NEWS (Noonday, ISBN 0-374-52254-5) raises the twin issues of Chernobyl and cancer, again from a DDR perspective.

Wolf, Christa, GETEILTER HIMMEL about East/West Berlin/Germany division within family/love ... this is an early one by Wolf and still has more pro-regime efforts than her later ones...

Wolf, Christa, KINDERMUSTER about WWII and after effects on Germans from the now Polish territories.



Film: GERMANY, PALE MOTHER on coming to terms with the NS-Zeit

Film: DIE GOLDENE STADT, an actual wartime movie, is good, but I have no idea whether it's available anywhere--I saw it as part of a retrospective at the Berlinale a few years back. Nazi soap-opera plot and nice footage of (occupied) Prague.

Film: Fassbinder's THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN - The students said that they liked the film very much, as it's quite entertaining. The film gives an excellent sense of West German recovery, relations with black American GIs, the hunger years, materialism, and the whole "wir sind wieder was" phenomenon.


Film: THE NASTY GIRL, but it's in German and the subtitling is pretty awful (too many scenes have white background behind the lettering.) can squeak into a 90-minute period.

Film: ONE, TWO, THREE, by Billy Wilder, "My favorite film on postwar Germany" Don't know whether I'd show it to a class or not, but if you haven't seen it you should.

Film: THE RESTLESS CONSCIENCE, a documentary about the German Resistance, has always generated useful discussion.

Film: Wolfgang Staudte: ROSEN FUER DEN STAATSANWALT. (1967) preparing the public climate for the collapse of authority after 1968 .

Film: STUNDE NULL covers around the exact end of the war.

Film: Helmut Kaeutner: UNTER DEN BRUECKEN (1944) A simple story, very similar to Jean Vigo's L'Atalante. Made when Germany fell apart under the war, expressing the illusion of a peaceful past.


Mulisch, Harry, THE ASSAULT (there is a film of this, too)--I believe the original date of publication was 1982, and it deals with a wartime incident in occupied Holland and its effects in subsequent years on the participants--quite good on the issue of how different people give different spins to the same historical experiences, depending on their political leanings etc.


Camus, Albert, THE FALL to discuss the postwar intellectual climate. The novel is short and the language fairly straightforward, but it allows the students to talk about spectator guilt, the resistance, and the philosophy of existentialism. Besides, it's far less dreary than Sartre. Another opinion: I have always had a weak spot for Albert Camus's THE FALL (1956). I always thought it did a marvelous job capturing the angst created in post-Second World War France, especially in light of the loss of Indochina and the escalating conflict of Algeria (with which Camus was intimately acquainted), not to mention the deepening political crisis of the Fourth Republic and the growing alienation many felt towards the newly emerging European order. The story is essentially about an outwardly respectable man who commits a series of morally questionable or downright despicable acts and then asks his reader to understand his reasons for committing them (in fact, the reader should empathize with the protagonist). The novel has the virtue of being relatively short and it should set the stage well for an examination of the intellectual movements of the 1960's.

Camus, Albert, THE PLAGUE

de Beauvoir, Simone, THE SECOND SEX, which, among other things, serves as a nice counterpart to the male existentialist perspective of Camus.

Etcherelli, Claire, ELISE OU LA VRAIE VIE

Labro, Philippe LE PETIT GARCON, available in English under that title, talks about growing up in occupied France and coming of age after the war. The novel covers the whole span of time until the early 1990s and gives a good look into the life of the provincial French bourgeoisie and the conflicts between Church and free-thinkers.

Merle, Robert, DERRIERE LA VITRE turns around the May 68 events. This produced discussion about most of the issues surrounding May 68 and youth culture, including women's role/sexuality, university overcrowding, race, etc.

Ousmane, Sembene, BLACK DOCKER (1956--story set in 1940s) to discuss contemporary race problems in France. It is short and lends itself to discussion.

Perec, Georges, LES CHOSES

Perec, Georges, W - OULE SOUVENIR D'ENFANCE (sp?) highly recommended (It is in translation) - an amazing a novel intertwining a fictional story of an island where sports and competition are all that matter and his own personal story of childhood during the Occupation. They both end up telling the same story about authoritarianism in the end.

Perec, Georges, THE THINGS about the rise of consumerism and Americanization. I was discouraged by the high cost or absence of English translations.

Queneau, Raymond, ZAZIE about the rise of consumerism and Americanization. I was discouraged by the high cost or absence of English translations.

Rochefort, Christiane, LES PETITS ENFANTS DE SIECLE about a large family growing up in the council estates of urban Paris, and how their environment dehumanises them.

Ross, Kristin, FAST CARS, CLEAN BODIES, as a text on the Americanization of French culture.

Rousso, Henri, THE VICHY SYNDROME discusses how France has dealt with the Vichy period.

Sagan, Francoise, anything

Sartre, Jean-Paul, THE WALL

On Film: Robin Buss, THE FRENCH THROUGH THEIR FILMS (Ungar, 1988); Susan Hayward, FRENCH NATIONAL CINEMA (Routledge 1993); Jill Forbes THE CINEMA IN FRANCE (Indiana 1993).

Film: Truffaut's ARGENT DE POCHE about school children.

Film: AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS , It's a fab. film, avail. on video, about the friendship of two boys, one Catholic, one Jewish, at a French Catholic boarding school in WWII.

Film: Luis Bunuel's LA CHARME DISCRETE DE LA BOURGEOISIE, really good, though bizarre, 1972 film.

Film: Truffuat's THE 400 BLOWS. My students greatly enjoyed it. Released in 1959 (?), it captures the kind of irreverent, anarchistic mood of the 'New Wave' filmmakers.

Film: LA HAINE, closer to the present, might provoke an interesting discussion of youth culture in contemporary France, especially as compared to American culture.

Film: MASCULIN/FEMININE - a good (if slightly bizarre) film for ca. 1968 and the whole sexual revolution

Film: MAY FOOLS for May 1968 events, my class loved it

Film: NIGHT AND FOG, on Vichy


United Kingdom



MacInnes, Colin, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, (1959) - 1958 Notting Hill Race Riots, lots of hip lingo

MacInnes, Colin, CITY OF SPADES (1957) - English twit and Nigerian are ruined by colonialism in England

Mortimer, John, PARADISE POSTPONED, the series based on this novel is too long to use in class but is brilliant and funny and one of the best things I can think of

Naipaul, MIMIC MEN, students weren't as engaged as I'd hoped.

Sillitoe, Alan, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTRANCE RUNNER from the 1950s (I think) is not a bad choice. It's helpful on the issue of the social disenchantment of postwar Brits dealing with economic stagnation.

Films: Apted's "35 UP" or "28 UP"

Film: BLOW UP for London in the 60s is a treat

Film: THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER (1980s) does double duty as an attack on Thatcher and a peek at the UK avantgarde art scene.

Film: THE CRYING GAME has IRA, urban, and other themes


Film: HOPE AND GLORY about World War II on the Home Front

Film: I'M ALRIGHT JACK, a Peter Sellers skewering of class relations in postwar Britain


Film: MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE lets you look at post-colonial urban life

Film: THREADS (1980s) is a bitter, unrelenting and unsentimental look at the aftermath of nuclear war. Not only is it a fine film, but it embodies many of the issues of the antinuclear movement at the time, as well as some odd glances at domesticity.


Yglesias, Jose, THE FRANCO YEARS (1977) ISBN 0-672-52352-3