Armageddon By Leon Uris
About the Author and the Book
Ever since, so to say Leon Uris burst upon the literary scene with his magnificent novel about the American marines ' Battle Cry ', he has been regarded as a supreme writer about significant events of our times. Battle Cry was followed by other equally great books like 'Exodus' and MILA 18, both portraying holocaust as no other. I cannot think of another writer who has the ability to bring out the depth and details of that dark period in the history of mankind. His next mega novel Armageddon , which I am now writing about and reviewing is a novel of Berlin and of the invincibility of free men when they stand defiant !
It is the story written about the origin of the Cold War in the strife ridden post-war Germany and more importantly Berlin. It is a historical fiction based on facts. Leon Uris himself was very much part of the second world war working with the 6th Marine regiment having been there and experienced the great war and the cold war that followed. His feelings were mixed, often questioning the outcome of the cold war and its after effects on the German people and the world in general. It is this conflict that he had within himself regarding the cold war that made him write this novel just so he could be fair in his analysis ,which in my opinion can easily be considered as one is of his best writings!
The Story in Brief
There are many people in Germany that I have spoken to, who are still angry and disturbed by the Nazi rule and even more so by the cold war that followed the defeat of the Nazis and after Allies took over. After I read this book I could clearly understand their feelings and empathise with them because they had to suffer when the war was on under the rule of Hitler and again later when the cold war began. During that period of cold war there was no shelter or security for the Germans either in their country, city or their homes , which was being invaded and looted by others.
It is very difficult to make this brief, since there is so much covered of equal interest and importance in this mega novel. The story is set in the year 1944, in the war torn Germany and Berlin. The country and the people coming to terms with the war and its losses, with insights and accounts of the past actions of the Nazis, the Russians and the Allies. It is also pay back time for those who suffered under the Nazi regime and those who were bitterly opposed to Hitler's violent rule.
It is the story of Sean Sullivan, a young American Commanding Officer, who has lost both his brothers fighting the war against the Germans, and who has developed a bitter hatred towards all Germans not just Nazis . He is sent to Rombaden (Germany) to investigate the horrors of Schwabenland camps, where 1,116,000 deaths certified natural by the Nazi authorities ,were recorded in a single week.
Once there, he realises this as an uphill task as all those connected with the camp feign ignorance and, in turn had taken it on themselves to exploit the American Soldiers with sex and disinformation. Sean feels that de-nazification, planned by his authorities, in reality would not work however hard he tried. In fact the situation in Germany was quite different to what he had been given to understand by his superiors back in America. The reality was shocking to Sean.
He is sent to Berlin, where power struggle was on between the Allies and the Russian forces, who were keen to have a Russian Berlin.. On the other side, there is Igor Karlovy , an officer of Soviet Red Air Force with his own disturbed past , spent fighting the war and still mourning his lost love . He is left only with his Patriotism. Now he waits on the other side of Brandenburg gate to claim Berlin for the Russian people. And as far as he is concerned Germans , Americans and other Allies are all his enemies.
Amidst all this unrest Sean meets Ernestine, a young and beautiful German girl with a Nazi background and connections, trying to survive and live in the aftermaths of war and its new horrors, now unleashed by the Russian, Mongols, Allies and practically everyone , on the defeated Germans regardless of the fact that most of them were innocent and had suffered under Hitler’s rule. Young German girls with a Nazi background were the most hunted , abused and tortured by everyone since there was little sympathy for anything that had a Nazi lable on it , including people and especially beautiful young girls like Ernestine !
Sean falls desperately in love with Ernestine , and she with him ,not knowing what the future holds for them. For the two lovers it is not at all an easy time and there are hurdles and of course for Sean it is a time for facing some hard hitting facts and truths about his own role and his country’s role in the prevailing cold war.
The Russians in the meantime are working on a secret plan detailing the harassment of the Western Allies in Berlin, all leading up to the final historical moment ' The Berlin Airlift'.
My views about this Mega novel
Any story based on Holocaust makes us stop and think hard but normally it is the horrors of war camps and the atrocities meted out to Jews , that we normally associate it with , not the cold war that followed it where scores of Germans suffered as much as the Jews for no fault of theirs .
Although this book had been with me since the past several years, I somehow kept putting it off not attempting to read it, mainly because of its size . It has 810 pages which in itself looked intimidating to me .However, once I decided to read the book, it was impossible to put it down. I got down to reading it only , after my entire family had read it and discussed it ,with myself, having nothing to contribute to the discussion but it also made me realise that I was missing out on something very valuable and interesting. After having read it, I sincerely regretted not having done so earlier. This is without any doubt a Superior novel written by a Supreme writer. It is like going through pages of history books, only a lot more interesting, real and human .
Talking about history, the author highlights the nature of German people and insights into their nature, that has been formed through centuries, and initially as Sean discovers more about this, his loathing for the Germans increases to even greater heights . At some stage Sean begins to feel that the longing to be the supreme race, the strange elation at the moment of death is so prevalent in the German culture. Probably that is the reason why they excel in every field even now .
The interactions between Sean and General Andrew Haisen are complex, his superior sharing a turbulent yet a strange kind of rapport , the superior ever critical of his junior, but at the same time trusting him above all the others in his hour of need. Leon uris's insights into human emotions and behavioral patterns is truly amazing.
It is lovely going through the pages covering Sean and Ernestine's early meetings, the impact they have on each other’s personalities , with Sean learning a more sensitive and human side of Germans through Ernestine. True love brings out all our finer emotions to the fore front . The slow build- up of Igor and Sean's camaraderie, and their growing respect for each other’s views , though being on opposite sides is very realistically and well portrayed.
Everything's fair in war and what followed after the war. The building up of events leading to the final victory of the Western world over West Berlin and the Berlin Airlift, which is one of the most important events of history, gave me a bit of history lesson that I was not thorough with. What shines through all this is the tender love story of Sean and Ernestine that unfolds amidst all the unrest , violence and hatred.
While Uris's portrayal of the atrocities committed around Berlin is violent and graphic, when he writes about the touching love story of Sean and Ernestine he is ever so sensitive, tender and gentle in his observations. The accounting of the horrors committed on the German people by the rest of the world after the end of the war leaves one cold, where life has little value and the victors exhibiting their own brutal side, almost like the Nazis did, and enjoying it too, like the Nazis did ! It is one’s basic instincts taking over when one’s enemies are down and out.
But again there are people like Sean, Igor, Ernestine who all come from the same background, yet feel the prick of conscience and try to make amends as and where they can. Leon Uris has touched upon all nuances of human emotions that came to the fore front in probably what was the most horrifying period ever in the recent past . He tells us a tale of a war torn country being ravaged by the four power occupations with utter disregard and respect for its people and their lives. After reading this book my admiration and regard for Germany and the German people grew higher!
A superb book , that leaves you with such an impact as never to be forgotten. Anything I write about this mega novel seems too little. This book is like a rare experience that leaves one asking for more and I highly recommend this novel as a must read for all book lovers.
To sum up, some innocents paid a heavy price for the atrocities committed by others of their kind, and, a lucky few were able to fight their wars, pack up and go home. But, for those who were unable to do so it was untold misery and the rest of the world simply overlooked them as if they did not matter and the cold war was of no consequence .
( image - book cover)
Like it on Facebook, Tweet it or share this article on other bookmarking websites.