Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.16: World War II in Books; Half-Blood Blues; and German or British?

The demographically similar Jennys return to talk about World War II in literary imagination! We review Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), and we finish up by playing a game of Randon’s invention in which we must guess whether movie villains are German or British. You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly to take with you on the go.

Episode 16

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Here are the contents of the podcast if you’d like to skip around:

Starting at 1:16 – Why is World War II such a recurringly popular setting for literature? What are some of our most favorite World War II books in all the land? Weigh in if you wish, and tell us some World War II books we should check out! (Please forgive me for sounding a little like my mouth is full in parts of this segment. My sister had made lemon cream cheese king cake, and it was insanely good.)

4:03 – I had a professor in England who gave a lecture about the American Revolution, and he looked very woeful when he talked about how damaging the American Revolution was to the British psyche. I felt terribly guilty. I just want y’all to know that’s what I was thinking about here.

Starting at 15:22 (ish)We review Esi Edugyan’s award-winning novel Half-Blood Blues, a story about jazz musicians in Nazi Germany in 1940 and in post-Communist Berlin in 1992. Highly recommended!

18:10 – Here’s the bit of Half-Blood Blues I’m talking about:

“Boys,” he said smoothly. “I’d like to stand you a drink.”


I was in love. Pure and simple. This place, with its stink of sweat and medicine and perfume; these folks, all gussied up never mind the weather — this, this was life to me. Forget Sunday school and girls in white frocks. Forget stealing from corner stores. This was it, these dames swaying their hips in shimmering dresses, these chaps drinking gutbucket hooch. The gorgeous speakeasy slang. I’d found what my life was meant for.

Starting at 31:00 – Randon wrote us a game. You should play along because it’s fun. Randon describes a movie villain and his/her plan; and we must guess whether the villain is German or British; what the movie is; and the name of the villain. If you get the names of the villains, color us impressed. We struggled with that section.

Starting at 44:41 – Whiskey Jenny gives her recommendation for next time, The Golem and the Jinni! We’ll see you back here in two weeks to find out what we both thought of it.

Starting at 45:36 – Closing remarks and outro.

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall and comes from here.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak


You roll and watch it coming, realizing completely that this is no regular die.  You claim it to be bad luck, but you’ve known all along that it had to come.  You brought it into the room.  The table could smell it on your breath.  The Jew was sticking out of your pocket from the outset.  He’s smeared to your lapel, and the moment you roll, you know it’s a seven – the one thing that somehow finds a way to hurt you.  It lands.  It stares you in each eye, miraculous and loathsome, and you turn away with it feeding on your chest.

Just bad luck.

That’s what you say.

Of no consequence.

That’s what you make yourself believe – because deep down, you know that this small piece of changing fortune is a signal of things to come.  You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

I saw The Book Thief first when I was in England, staying in London with my family over New Year’s, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it or not (I wish I’d bought it then because it would have been more expensive BUT it had a nice cover and was hardback), so I picked it up and glanced at it, and something the sales person said led me to believe it was in translation.  So since I didn’t really have any spare money for a book that might not be good and was in translation anyway, and since I definitely didn’t have any spare space in my luggage, I didn’t get it.

What with one thing and another I checked it out of the library this past summer and read it almost all in one go, lying on my couch at home.  It made me cry.  So I didn’t read it again, and I didn’t buy it, and by the time I noticed that I was pining for it, it was too late and the Official Christmas Buying Embargo was on, and when I didn’t get it for Christmas (I got many other things though!), I went round to Bongs & Noodles and bought it with my Christmas gift card money.


Seriously, honestly, this book is as good as you’ve heard.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Markus Zusak, yay for you.  It’s about a little German girl who steals books and has a foster family and hides a Jew in her basement.  And yes, okay, the book is narrated by Death, and I know that might not be a draw for some people, but this book is just gorgeously written, and it’s extremely moving, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

But sad.  So if you have serious objections to bits of story that involve dead children and mums crying about it, and if those objections are serious enough that you actually cannot see past them, then okay, this book might not be for you.  For everyone else in the whole world though.  Yup.  Damn good book.  It made me cry, and although I tear up extremely easily, it is a much better trick to make actual tears actually fall out of my eyes, which is what The Book Thief has done both times I’ve read it.

Although I ordinarily cannot deal with Holocaust books at all, which I know this officially isn’t one of, but it kind of is.  And still I liked The Book Thief a lot.