Chosen by Alastair Giles
Ok, I know I’ve cheated here as this is not a new book… It was published 3 years ago, but I only discovered it this autumn and I can’t in good conscience showcase any other book that I have read this year over this one.
It is a work of genius that transcends the thriller fiction that it emulates so spectacularly. Intertwining a personal journey of ancestral discovery with an astonishing tale of huge importance and surprising revelation in early-to-mid 20th Century Europe.
The author, a professor of international law, unearths an incredible number of coincidences surrounding the city of his grandfather’s birth; Lviv. Polish now, but once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and more significantly once part of the Third Reich. Once named Lemberg and also Lwow and once located in Ukraine or Russia, it is a city with an identity crisis we in our island race can’t empathise with easily.
His grandfather grew up in Lviv, alongside Hersch Lauterpacht, who later created the term ‘Crimes against Humanity’ and Rafael Lemkin who fought hard for the phrase ‘Genocide’ to be remembered and utilised. Both became two of the principal architects of the Nuremberg war trial, though hardly ever mentioned in news reels of the time. This unique first trial of international law is way more important than just the show trial of the Nazi hierarchy left alive in 1945, that it became.
The legacy of the events of the 11 month affair in Courtroom 600 of the Palais de Justice in the heartland and birthplace of National Socialism still resonate today, whether in Bosnia, Rwanda or many other countries of the world.
The 75th anniversary of the start of the tribunal, was less than a month ago and yet it passed with little fanfare (another good reason to break the rule over new books and give this book such currency).
I can’t remember when I last read such a fascinating or well written book of such interesting and important historical detail woven into such an emotional and personal family journey. I was moved to anger, pity and astonishment over the threads and scars outlined between generations.
Gripping, profound and, despite the content, not at all a depressing read. A masterpiece.
ISBN-13 : 978-1474601917
Publisher : W&N; 1st edition (31 Mar. 2017)