Archive for the ‘Lithuania’ Category

51eCX1AIs2L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I have now finished reading Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale, and the book is in the words of Anne Applebaum “the definitive history of the mass killing of this period”.  I have read many books on twentieth century Polish, Russian and German history but this superbly researched book brought home better than most the utter horror of the period. In a mere twelve year period from 1933-1945 the Soviet and Nazi regimes murdered fourteen million people. Fourteen million individual lives. 

I think Bloodlands should be compulsory reading for anyone in the west who was ever a Communist fellow traveller or a party member in the 1940s and 1950s; for those people who exhibit concern about the Bombing of Dresden: for anyone who thinks about supporting an academic boycott of a tiny country in the Eastern Mediterranean; and above all for those teenagers taken on school trips to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was not the whole story and they need to learn about the Einsatzgruppen, the mass shootings and burnings, Babi Yar, Bikernieki Forest, Katyn Wood, Gulags, deportations, deliberate starvations, the Great Terror……..

I learned a lot.

Concerning Shmuel Zygielbojm, who was the representative of the Jewish Bund to the Polish government in exile in London.

In a careful suicide note of 12 May 1943, addressed to the Polish president and prime-minister but intended to be shared with other Allied leaders, he wrote ‘”Though the responsibility for the crime of the murder of the entire Jewish nation rests above all upon the perpetrators, indirect blame must be borne by humanity itself.” The next day he burned himself alive in front of the British parliament, joining in he wrote , the fate of his fellow Jews in Warsaw.

And that as many Poles were killed in the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as Germans were killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945.

And perhaps even more stunning…

On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.  

Kerrie’s meme at Mysteries in Paradise that requires you to pick your best read of the month rather than leave it to a year’s end memory test is a good discipline. Although I will probably only read fifty to sixty books during the year my memory is such that it will make it much easier to pick a selection of five best reads of the year.

I really got bogged down in February, and did not read as much as I had hoped, but there was one outstanding read:

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. Lene Kaaberbol translated the book into English. The story studied the stark contrast between rich and poor , the plight of the undocumented and the vulnerability of women and children. 

February’s other highlights were reading Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason [not quite as good as The Boy in the Suitcase in my opinion] and watching a fine performance by Gary Oldman play George Smiley in John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If The Artist had not been the flavour of the month I think the Oscar might have gone to Oldman.

This Danish crime thriller was shortlisted for the Nordic Glass Key, and has among the very positive blurbs on the back cover one from Maj Sjowall, co-author of the Martin Beck series. I worry that such highly praised books sometimes don’t live up to my expectations, but in this case the book was a real thriller, and also had some cutting social comment very relevant to the situation in Europe. 

In the days before global warming when we were all worried about an imminent Ice Age. I remember reading that if the Ice Age did come the only two species that would thrive were mankind and the wolf, because both were particularly good at seeking out the weakest and the most vulnerable from a group and destroying them. 

The Boy in the Suitcase follows four main characters whose different story lines come together in a thrilling climax. 

With four subplots to follow the story is a little confusing at the beginning, but very soon the reader realises what is happening, and from then on the tension mounts.

Jan a wealthy Danish business man has agreed to pay for something; Jucas, a Lithuanian body builder wants to settle down with Barbara near Krakow, but first he must control his steroid induced rages and complete one more job. Nina Borg, is a Red Cross nurse, who is an adrenaline junkie and seemingly would rather help refugees in dangerous parts of Africa than look after her own children in comfortable Copenhagen. She is part of a secret network that helps undocumented refugees, and when her old friend Karin asks her to pick up a suitcasel from a left luggage locker in Copenhagen’s Central Station she adds pertinently “You’re always so keen on saving people aren’t you?”.

When Nina drags a suitcase back to her car and looks inside she finds a 3 year-old naked drugged boy. Has he been kidnapped, trafficked and sold ? When she goes to report finding the boy to the police, there is a commotion and she sees a very large very angry crew cut man kicking at a locker. The very same locker from which she had recently removed the suitcase.

But there hadn’t been any money. Every time he thought of the empty locker, fury sent accurate little stabs through him like a nail gun. God, he could have have smashed the bitch’s skull in.

Nina based on her experiences at work in Danish Red Cross Center Fureso aka Coal House Camp  does not trust the authorities to protect the boy. When she finds her friend Karin brutally murdered she knows she must stay on the run away from the very large man.

Meanwhile in Lithuania Sigita Ramoskiene is recovering from a fall down the stairs, that has resulted in a broken arm. Apparently Sigita was drunk even though she does not drink. When she realises that no one knows the location of  her little boy Mikas, and he has not been taken by his father Darius, she feels all the terror that a parent feels in such a situation. Sigita is determined to leave no stone unturned in her search for her child, and begins a journey that will take her back over her past life and forward to Denmark.

Lene Kaaberbol, usually writes fantasy books; Agnete Friis is a journalist, and writes books for children and young adults. They have co-operated brilliantly, with Kaaberol translating The Boy in the Suitcase into English, to produce an excellent and slightly different twist on the standard crime thriller.

The most important factor in a thriller is that it should thrill this most certainly does, and the characters especially the women are well drawn and sympathetic. The authors take us right into the mind of Sigita and we can feel her panic, and her sorrow. Nina is a harder character to like and the contrast in her attitudes to her children with that of Sigita  is perhaps mirrored in the contrast between rich Denmark and poor Lithuania. 

Amidst the excitement of Nina on the run in Denmark, and Sigita’s search for evidence and the suspects in Lithuania, the authors give us a lesson in the realities of open borders between the rich and poor. In the context of the narrative it is not too preachy, just a sharp dose of common sense. 

Nor was it especially difficult to lure Eastern European girls into the country and sell them by the hour in places like Skelbaekgade. A few beatings, a gang rape or two, and a note bearing the address of her family in some Estonian village-that was usually enough to break the most obstinate spirit. 

And the real beauty of it all for the cynical exploiters was that ordinary people didn’t care. Not really. No one had asked the refugees, the prostitutes, the fortune hunters, and the orphans to come knocking on Denmark’s door. No one had invited them, and no one knew how many there were. Crimes committed against them had nothing to do with ordinary people and the usual working of law and order. It was only  dimwit fools like Nina who were unable to achieve the proper sense of detachment.

Powerful stuff, and this could equally apply to England. But I think that when ordinary people raise difficult questions about the level of crime caused by the exploitation of immigrants, they are shouted down by the ruling elites and sections of the media. 

The Boy in the Suitcase is just sort of superb book that has brought Nordic crime fiction to the fore over the past few years. It is a well written thrilling story, blending several sub plots carefully together, featuring complex characters while making us think deeply about the vulnerability of the poor, women and children in our so-called civilized societies. 

I had promised myself that I would be a kinder more gentle blogger this year, but that New Year resolution hasn’t lasted long. So here is the first in a new series of opinionated posts entitled Nuts and Bolts that might be a bit off topic at times, but hopefully will show that crime fiction is still making the sort of relevant social comments that made Maj Sjowal and Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck series such as success back in the 1960s and 1970s.

In “Nuts and Bolts” I will be giving my opinions on things that I have read in crime fiction books, or something I have read in a review. 

Recently  I have started reading the Danish best seller The Boy in The Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol [who is also the translator] and Agnete Friis.  

“Tivoli!” she said. “Could we go there?………………”

They paid a day’s wage to get in, and ate a pizza that only set him back about seven or eight times as much as it would have cost him in Vilnius.

It seems to have taken our homegrown politicians, and Brussels bureaucrats totally by surprise that people from Greece [surely about to default] or Lithuania can’t live at the same standard of living as the Danes, the Dutch or people living in South East England. In the 1970s I spent several holidays touring the Greek Islands, and apart from Hydra, it was clear that Greece was a poor peasant society, whose people were very friendly towards the Scandinavians, Americans and Brits, and not quite so friendly towards the Germans. 

When the countries of the former Soviet Bloc became members of the European Union we were told that only about 15,000 Eastern European workers would come to England to look for work! Wages and standards of living would equalize throughout the EU, that would make it unnecessary  for large numbers of people to migrate. How this equalization was to be achieved we were never told. But obviously the plan was to move factories and jobs  from high wage countries to the low wage economies of Eastern Europe. We have vast differences in household income between London, the South East England, and the rest of the UK, so how anyone believed citizens of Lithuania, or Greece could live at the same standard of living as people in Denmark, or the Netherlands is quite beyond me.

I feel incredibly sorry for the ordinary people in Greece, as I do for those in Iceland and Ireland, who are paying the price for the folly that is the Euro and the program of European political integration. What kind of life will it be for ordinary people under the Greek government’s new austerity program? And which country will be next in line.

I always take any statistics with a pinch of salt, but by being a selective they can be useful to emphasize or exaggerate a point.

GDP per capita [IMF 2011]

Netherlands $42,330, Denmark $37,741, UK $35,974, Greece $27,624, Lithuania $18,338