Brandenburg

A Story of Berlin

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
463 Pages
Reviewed on 08/19/2018
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Author Biography

Cloud’s first grade teacher in 1943 was Jewish. Minerva Kohn was a loved and respected woman in Las Vegas, New Mexico. His memories of her led to an interest in Jewish culture and traditions. At the same time, his circle of friends and acquaintances included many people from the German-American community. The effects of World War II had a profound influence on him, leading to a lifelong fascination with these two cultures. He also developed friendships with many Jewish people during his years in Boston, where he worked at the Gillette Company.
The author attended the Institute of Arts in West Berlin during the Cold War years. While working as an interpreter, he developed an intimate knowledge of both East and West Berlin. Cloud later completed a Master’s Degree in German Linguistics and Literature at California State University in Fullerton.
More than forty years of teaching German and English as a Second Language brought him in contact with people of many nationalities and cultures. Cloud has attempted to bring together in this novel his impressions gained from interactions with these groups—most especially with German and Jewish people—and how they in turn have related to each other.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin by James Cloud takes us on a journey through the Germany of the early twentieth century, through the eyes of some ordinary and not so ordinary Berliners. Beginning with the declaration of WWI by Kaiser Wilhelm, we travel through the false bravado and patriotism of a nation at war to explore the horrors and senselessness of the killing fields of Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. With the war and the deprivations it brought almost over, the people of Germany must then face, along with the rest of the world, the ravages of the Spanish Flu. What follows is the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles, the incredible hyper-inflation of the early twenties, five years of relative prosperity to be followed by the share-market crash of 1929, and the perfect storm that would see the rise in Germany of two competing ideologies; Communism and its vicious and violent enemy, Nazism and Adolf Hitler. Through the eyes of a young Prussian aristocrat and his beautiful Jewish wife, along with their best friends, a working-class girl and her farming-stock husband, the author examines the class structures and the political pressures that were exerted on Germany during this period that would lead to one of the darkest times in world history.

I particularly enjoyed this simple story of love and family. Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin by James Cloud is set against the momentous events of the first third of the twentieth century. The author clearly is well versed in the city of Berlin and its history. I really appreciated his main characters that represented all stratum of German society. In Herbert, we could see the young, liberal Prussian aristocrat who wanted to go his own way and saw nothing unusual or wrong in falling in love with and marrying a rich young Jewess. That their best friends should be from a working-class and a rural background provided a wonderful counterpoint to the political turmoil that was happening all around them. That their families were able to generally reconcile and accept the breaking down of class, religious and political barriers within German society was well expressed by the author.

This book did a wonderful job, for me, in laying the groundwork for what was soon to plunge Germany and the world into further chaos, as Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933. That this story ended there gives me hope that there is a sequel coming, as I for one am excited to find out what happens to this diverse range of characters as Nazism takes over and dominates Germany for the next ten plus years. I highly recommended this read to all historical fiction buffs and readers in general.

Ruffina Oserio

Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin by James Cloud is an intriguing tale of a city, a WWI yarn that captures the flavor of early 20th-century Europe, following the lives of people living in Berlin in the period just before the outbreak of the war and during the war. Compelling characters such as Ursula Bellon and Eckhardt, Christina, Meira, Herbert, and many others are beautifully developed and the relationships between these characters are finely explored. The author captures the passage from the last summer of the “Belle Epoque” and plunges the reader into the challenges of WWI, exploring themes of family, politics, business, and survival.

With a keen eye for detail which will arrest the attention of fans of WWI history and the general climate in Europe during this turbulent period, Cloud weaves a tale that reads like history. The narrative begins with a large crowd waiting restlessly before the Berlin palace of the Hohenzollerns for the appearance of their Emperor, Wilhelm II, who is scheduled to appear on the balcony and make an important announcement about the ultimatum delivered to Russia. From this moment on, the city moves steadily into crisis and this story explores how lives are affected by the outbreak of the war.

James Cloud’s novel is a classic, a vividly and skillfully rendered story that captures the heart of a city during the war, rife with historical references, seething with compelling and interesting social and political commentaries, and featuring historical personages. Details are relevant and the scene setting is done to perfection. An expert, sensational story that unveils the face of Berlin during WWI. Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin is well researched, entertaining, and hard to put down for fans of historical novels with hints of romance and intrigue, and a setting against the backdrop of the war.

Melinda Hills

Four young Germans meet and pair off as couples at the beginning of WWI in Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin by James Cloud. With idealism and pride in their country, the two young men go off to war and the two young women, one of whom is Jewish, are left to deal with things at home. These things include racism, food shortages, family issues, the loss of loved ones and the constant fear regarding their boyfriends. When the war is over, life slowly returns to some semblance of normality, but new challenges arise with the worldwide depression and the rise of the Nazis. Life is not easy and change is rapidly separating people and their traditions. How will these different families cope with the new realities of German life?

Historical fiction can be a tough balancing act but James Cloud writes superbly, blending the two into a stunning and vivid portrayal of roughly 30 years of life in Germany in Brandenburg. A former teacher of German and someone with an intense interest in the cultures represented, Cloud brings depth and realism to his characters and offers an incredible view of the changing scene in the country’s capital and surrounding areas. Historical fact is artfully interwoven into the story as the characters witness and react to their surroundings and events that transformed not only Germany but all of Europe. Without ‘taking sides’, Cloud presents a straightforward account of life at the time while allowing you to feel every triumph and tragedy along with the characters. The writing is clear and impassioned and the descriptions take readers to the places mentioned. Well written and deeply moving, Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin is a wonderful story that should definitely be read and shared.

Jamie Michele

Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin by James Cloud is a historical fiction novel that portrays the rise and fall, then rise again of Germany in the early to mid 20th century at the dawn of World War I. The book begins with Emperor Wilhelm I declaring, “Germany is now at war with France and Russia!” This is immediately met with jubilation, but as the realities of war begin to settle in, jubilation quickly descends into discord. The backdrop of Brandenburg weaves seamlessly between the front lines and the daily life of everyday families in Berlin, portraying the deep struggles of all who fought and those who were left behind.

Brandenburg is exquisite in both its style and its substance, particularly as James Cloud takes a compassionate approach in the portrait painted of individual German families. Not only is the book rich with historical detail, but it also shows the emotional toll through the points of view of four main characters and chronicles their lives and those of their families. I loved how thoroughly fleshed out Cloud's protagonists and, truly, all of his characters are. It takes a skilled narrator to engage a reader to a young teenager who jumps at the opportunity to fight for the axis power, his home, the fatherland. But to go beyond simple curiosity and to draw such emotion that a reader feels a genuine kinship? That is the type of story that anyone who enjoys historical fiction wants to pick up and read. Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin has a gorgeous intensity to it that cannot be missed. Highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin is a work of historical fiction by author James Cloud. Focusing on the specific history of a city rather than any one individual who inhabited it, Cloud selects a period from the breakout of World War One in 1914 up to and including the takeover of Adolf Hitler. Connected to this are the economic, political and social decisions made by the essential people involved in these events, as well as the impact it had on the people and the buildings of Berlin itself. Four families in particular are connected to the various conflicts and tensions of the time, and Cloud uses them as prime examples of life from the German perspective during this important historical time.

I am fascinated by the city of Berlin and its clash of cultures, and James Cloud’s deep and detailed explanation of history and attitudes really shed some brilliant light on things that I’ve wondered about for many years. It’s clear that Cloud has a wealth of authentic sources and information when describing Berlin, both at war and in recovery from war, but he picks and chooses his moments well so that no moment is ever overloaded with facts. At the heart of everything is the city and the impact on its culture and inhabitants as a whole, presenting a holistic view of real experience that places no blame or bias anywhere. Overall, I’d definitely recommend Brandenburg: A Story of Berlin to fans of wartime research as well as those interested in the shaping of culture.

Steven Huffaker

This book was amazing. I couldn’t put it down. I now have a much better understanding of how a seemingly civilized society could collapse and allow the rise of the Nazi party.