Book Review: Two Brothers

I thought I’d start off the new month with a book review of my book of the month from February.

Two brothers is a novel written by Ben Elton, it follows the lives of two brothers, one Jewish and one Gentil, growing up in Berlin in the 1920s/30s. As most of you may know, this is during the time of the Nazi uprising. The story starts with the birth of the two boys, which coincided with the birth of the Nazi party, and takes readers through the key events in Hitler’s consolidation of power. The book, although hard to read at times, does not include any gruesome scenes from concentration camps, which I’m thankful for, as I may not have been able to read it otherwise.

What I love the most about the book is the diversity of personalities. Elton outlines the fact that being a victim does not stop one from exacting evil unto others. Although one sympathises with the characters and the unjust and horrific treatment that is being directed at them, you are still given the freedom to hate the characters themselves due to their treatment of others. One example of this were the Jewish Jew-Catchers, who were both victims and collaborators of the Nazi regime. It is clear to see how the need for survival drives one to betray not only themselves but the people they love.

The novel also emphasizes the question of passivity from the “Aryan” German populous. Although there were small scales rebellion against the Nazi regime by Communists, Christians, Jews and such, there was no mass scale, organised uprising against the Nazis. The masses were content to turn on their neighbours and friends. Whilst reading, there were chapters that I raced through as I could not stomach the passivity of the German people or the wilful aggression that they demonstrated towards those deemed as non-Aryans.

It is important to point out that the Nazis did not wake up and decide to murder 6 million Jews. Instead they started off slow, with small restrictions, and each time taking away from the rights of German-Jews. Even the Jews themselves would never have imagined in 1933, when Hitler first came to power, that by 1945, 6 million Jews would have been brutally murdered.

On the other hand, I must criticise Elton’s writing of ethnic minorities. He uses one to facilitate the overuse of the N word whilst giving the other an unnecessary accent. The book gives no other character an accent, although there were Germans who migrated to England and would have had German accents. It was a needless addition to a great story. Furthermore, the women in the story were left with very little character development throughout the novel, with chapters upon chapters describing the occupation of a husband and a few lines assigned to that of his wife. Mothers especially were given zero interests outside of their maternal roles.

Overall, I would recommend this book as it is a startling reminder of the atrocities that we, as a society, are capable of. Learning about the Nazi regime in school did not paint the full picture of the struggles and injustice that individuals faced, how each restriction placed by the Nazis hindered on their victim’s ability to provide a life for themselves and for their families. The novel is funny and gripping, it breaks your heart and by the end of the final chapter, mends it back together. I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

Thank you for reading.

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