These two remarkable books, picked up at random, deserve to be reviewed together for reasons that will become apparent.
'The Moon is Down' is a Steinbeck work that I'd never heard of let alone read. Its a brilliant and timeless tale, deserving to stand alongside 'Nineteen Eighty Four' and 'Brave New World'. There's a war on and enemy troops have invaded and taken over a small riverside town in an unnamed country that could stand for anywhere. Several of the citizens die in the fierce fight to take over the town. The invaders then settle in and plan to subjugate the inhabitants by force and fear. What they hadn't bargained on was the strength and spirit of the people. This metaphorical and symbolic story will never age. Which reminds me of something the great late foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski said to me: "Human nature doesn't change. That's why Machiavelli and Shakespeare are contemporary works."
The book was initially published in 1942 at the height of the Second World War and the Introduction this Penguin edition by Donald V. Coers, explains in some detail the extraordinary impact the book had in the Occupied Territories of Europe. He writes:
'In spite of the Nazis' efforts to suppress The Moon Is Down, hundreds and thousands of copies of the Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and French clandestine editions circulated through the occupation. It was easily the most popular work of propaganda in occupied Western Europe. The efforts put forth by the resistance and by ordinary citizens to distribute the novel within their respective countries, and the risks they took doing in doing so, bear witness to the importance they attached to it.''The Seventh Gate' by Richard Zimler is about a very specific time and space: Berlin in the period during the rise of Hitler, the establishment of the Nazi state and the persecution of the Jews. Its a riveting tale by a master story-teller told through the thoughts and experiences of a young Aryan girl who hates the Nazis and befriends a group of Jewish intellectuals and circus performers. The characters live and breathe and the atmosphere of the times are skilfully and movingly portrayed. There are love affairs and deeply disturbing violent episodes that bring home the terrors and horrors in a visceral non-cliched manner. Beautifully written, full of darkness and beauty, magic and brutality, its a book that will live on in my imagination.