To Go: 85
11. Blue Monday — Nicci French
12. Mrs. Kennedy and Me — Clint Hill
13. The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
14. The Rage — Gene Kerrigan
15. Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler — Trudi Kanter
If you follow me on Twitter, or know me outside of this blog, you’re probably aware that I’ve actually read several books recently, but just haven’t posted the reviews. Because of school and work, I haven’t had time to review the books I finished, and now I’m up to five back-logged reviews. So Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, which I read in mid-April, is the first of several to come.
Before I start, I want to tell you how Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler came to be published for the second time. When Trudi Kanter wrote the book in 1984, it was released by a small house, went out of print, and was quickly forgotten. Linda Grant, who wrote the foreword to the republished novel, suggests that it was partially due to a low demand at that time for stories about surviving the Nazis, and partially because Trudi’s story isn’t purely one of suffering: a chunk of the book also focuses on fashion, desire, and the story of how she and her second husband, Walter, fell in love.
Years later, a British editor was looking through a used bookstore, and found an old copy of Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, and decided to republish it. If that isn’t a magical story, I don’t know what is. And I’m so glad for the fortune of that editor; without her, I wouldn’t have had the chance to read one of my favourite stories of 2013 (and perhaps ever). I know it’s early in the game to say this, but I think Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler will end up on my top 10 list when I round up this year’s reading.
In Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, Kanter, a prominent hat designer in Vienna, recounts her life with her second husband, Walter Erhlich, from a chance encounter on the street up until his death in 1960. For most of the novel, their romance is set against the backdrop of the advent of the second world war, and the Nazi invasion of Austria.
Kanter wasn’t born a writer—she took writing classes later in her life, but prior to then didn’t seem to have much interest in it—but she could write circles around some well-known authors. Her choice of words and descriptions in Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler have an almost magical quality to them. She has a very distinctive, light prose, and reading it felt like floating over the words. And Kanter’s special attention to detail, like the clothes she and Walter wore and the furniture they owned, helped to bring the reader right into 1940s Vienna, and later London.
Though her escape from Vienna takes up a large portion of the story, a considerable chunk is devoted to her marriage with Walter. Even though it’s clear they were in love, Kanter is brutally honest about the flaws they each had within the relationship. She described her husband as vain and a blatant flirt; herself as prone to jealousy. But they loved each other fiercely, and it shines through the book—especially in how hard she fights to get him safely out of the country.
I don’t think Kanter fancied herself much of a hero, but she was, in a very different way from the norm. If she’d left the escape to Walter, she admits, they never would’ve survived—he was naive and almost a little helpless, and didn’t truly believe they needed to leave Vienna. So Kanter took matters into her own hands, using her hat-designing business and her connections with diplomats to secure safety for herself, Walter, and her parents. I doubt that she was the type of hero that publishers were looking for in the 1980s, but she was a formidable lady, and I admire her drive and tenacity so much.
I want to end this review with my favourite quote from Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler. It was on page nine, and it broke my heart:
“After you died, I kept your wardrobe locked, with all your clothes inside, all your lovely ties. The scent of you. I sat inside this wardrobe when I missed you so much.”
Next book: The Drowning — Camilla Lackberg