I did it again, and I enjoyed it as much as always: A Literary Cocktail. This time, two books by two completely different women, both describing their experiences of the WWII, both magically complementing each other. Trudi Kanter’s “Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler” and Simone de Beauvoir’s “Wartime Diaries”. Ursula Doyle, the editor of the new publication of Trudi Kanter’s book found a copy of the book in a British bookstore in ‘80s. Trudi died in 1992, she had no children and all traces of here are lost. How she managed to write a book in English in her ‘80s is a mystery. Trudi was a hat designer, a truly independent woman who ran her own workshop with 20 employees on stylish Kohlmarkt 11 when Nazis marched into Vienna, forcing Trudi to turn the world upside down to escape together with her new (handsome but and completely useless) husband. Her book describes pre-WWII Vienna, its elegant people, cafés, shops and restaurants, trips to “Heuriger”. If you’ve been to Vienna, Trudi will take you to a charming journey back in time, spiced up with some romance. But what is more fascinating – and why the book is worth reading – is Trudi herself. Yes, this is her memoir and we all know not to take a memoir too literary – it is way too easy to omit a few facts of one own’s life (in a few places, I clearly read “bribery” between the lines. I also wondered how hard can an escape from a war-tormented Vienna be if one manages to take their skis, rugs and watches with them….) or ad a nice shade (or two). Trudi is very kind to both herself and her husband. The closest she will get to self-criticism is “Sometimes I get a bit hysterical.” When the husband is not home at 1 AM or flirts with his secretary, she simply chooses not to say anything. (Or this is what she chooses to tell us.) Still, Trudi is a truly motivating woman. Her description of how she used her charm, her boldness, her stubbornness (and yes, her high-class connections) to save lives is a fantastic lesson in fighting for yourself. You want Trudi for your best friend, you want to be able to pick up the phone and ask her “Trudi, how do I get a publisher in the UK/US?” And I bet she’d say: “Well, my one of my client’s husband is…..”. But since we can’t have Trudi, we can only decide to try to be Trudi (check me out, suddenly daring to send queries to agents and editors! Thanks, Trudi!).
Very charming – and refreshing – is Trudi’s unpretentious, simple, yes, superficial style. Trudi is definitely missing what makes great literature – having the guts, the courage, the capability and the vocation to pull her heart out of her chest and serve it to her readers.
And here comes Simone’s attempt. Oh, what a wonderfully tedious read! While Trudi will tell us her whole amazing life story on 258 pages, Simone will tell us what she ate, drank, whom she met and what she wrote on every single day between 1 September 1939 and 29 January 1941 – on 461 pages! But this is why I wanted to (and why I enjoy) read this diary: To learn about the everyday life of this big intellectual; about her worries and her struggles. You will think there is no charm here – actually it exists, but well hidden beneath detailed notes, observations, descriptions. In contrary to Trudi, Simone is full of self-doubt, introspection, deep analysis. Trudi will put on a pretty dress and go out while bombs are dripping like rain to save her husband while in the same time, Simone will sit in her favorite Parisian café and discuss love and war with her intellectual friends. And yes, like all of us who write, Simone will get depressed when she is not writing, but also struggle to start again. And like us, she will be overfilled with joy when she does: “Ein guter Tag: Ich bin zufrieden, die Arbeit wiedergefunden zu haben und die Neigung zur Einsamkeit und ein Lebensziel, etwas, das von mir selbst abhängt.” I love her for this sentence.
And while I read Trudi’s book in 2 days, and enjoyed it a lot – I am still struggling with Simone. But no, I don’t want to abandon her. There are too many valuable lessons hidden behind too many words….