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The Bitter Taste of Victory

Shortlisted for the HWA Non-Fiction Crown 2017 As the Second World War neared its conclusion, Germany was a nation reduced to rubble: 3.6 million German homes had been destroyed leaving 7.5 million people homeless; an apocalyptic landscape of flattened cities and desolate wastelands. In May 1945 Germany surrendered, and Britain, America, Soviet Russia and France set about rebuilding their zones of occupation. Most urgent for the Allies in this divided, defeated country were food, water and sanitation, but from the start they were anxious to provide for the minds as well as the physical needs of the German people. Reconstruction was to be cultural as well as practical: denazification and re-education would be key to future peace and the arts crucial in modelling alternative, less militaristic, ways of life. Germany was to be reborn; its citizens as well as its cities were to be reconstructed; the mindset of the Third Reich was to be obliterated. When, later that year, twenty-two senior Nazis were put in the dock at Nuremberg, writers and artists including Rebecca West, Evelyn Waugh, John Dos Passos and Laura Knight were there to tell the world about a trial intended to ensure that tyrannous dictators could never again enslave the people of Europe. And over the next four years, many of the foremost writers and filmmakers of their generation were dispatched by Britain and America to help rebuild the country their governments had spent years bombing. Among them, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Marlene Dietrich, George Orwell, Lee Miller, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Billy Wilder and Humphrey Jennings. The Bitter Taste of Victory traces the experiences of these figures and through their individual stories offers an entirely fresh view of post-war Europe. Never before told, this is a brilliant, important and utterly mesmerising history of cultural transformation.
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A stunning cultural history of post-war occupied Germany from the critically acclaimed author of The Love-charm of Bombs


About the Author

Dr Lara Feigel is a Senior Lecturer in English at King's College London, where her research is centred on the 1930s and the Second World War. She is the author of Literature, Cinema and Politics, 1930-1945 and the editor (with Alexandra Harris) of Modernism on Sea: Art and Culture at the British Seaside and (with John Sutherland) of the New Selected Journals of Stephen Spender. She has also written journalistic pieces for various publications, including the Guardian, Prospect and History Today. Her most recent book, The Love-charm of Bombs, was published to critical acclaim in 2013. Lara lives in West Hampstead, London.


The Bitter Taste of Victory is more than a group biography. Threaded throughout is the role of culture in a nation's psyche ... Urgent, absorbing, and quietly devastating, The Bitter Taste of Victory is a superb achievement. Few books catch so well the strange energy of the war's immediate aftermath, the half-crazed adrenalin and slow-burning despair -- Frances Wilson * Daily Telegraph * Feigel entwines politics and passion, the wide screen of history and the close-up of desire among the ruins ... Always illuminating and richly textured -- Boyd Tonkin * Independent * In this panoramic book, which manages to blend a grand historical sweep with fascinating personal detail, Lara Feigel succeeds brilliantly in capturing life in post-war Germany, as filtered through the eyes of British and American intellectuals ... Feigel does a brilliant job of shining a spotlight on this complicated moral universe. Without pause or stumble she takes us from champagne receptions to bombed-out factories. Along the way we meet a fascinating cast of characters, all attempting to make sense of a unique historical moment, one where the distinction between good and evil is no longer clear for all to see -- Kathryn Hughes * Mail on Sunday * Stealing up from the mound of corpses and fallen masonry come glamour, famous names and an account of the collapse of the most famous literary relationships of the mid-twentieth century, the marriage between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn ... She [Lara Feigel] is excellent on the constant attempts to domesticate the evil that welled up on all sides ... the long-term cultural consequences of 1939-1945 are still being worked out, but this is a fascinating account of the early field work that kicked them into gear -- D. J. Taylor * The Times * Well researched and beautifully written -- Dominic Sandbrook * Sunday Times * An ambitious book, ranging across a sea of events and characters and filled with enjoyable details -- Caroline Moorehead * Literary Review * Feigel has an affinity with rubble... a scholarly and engrossing book -- Robert McCrum * Observer * A brilliant depiction of the Allies' encounter with the broken soul of Germany -- Juliet Gardiner Lara Feigel's absorbing book relives the era in all its uncertainty, and delves into the irreconcilable differences and contradictions that would come to thwart the project ... She makes a sympathetic narrator, and has certainly unearthed some fascinating material -- Anthony Quinn * Guardian * Innovative, entertaining and worthwhile * Daily Express * Inimitable ... In part, it is a story of personal reconstruction, particularly of the Mann family members, but in another sense it is a story of failure, of missed opportunity ... A masterful job ... This is uniquely nuanced history * Booklist * Compelling * RTE * A fascinating story, brilliantly told -- Simon Shaw * Mail on Sunday *

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