[Feigel's] narrative is a fine balance of political insights, cultural observations and tabloid fodder. Many of these luminaries, she argues, came to the demolished country to help it rebuild, but in the end they were changed far more by Germany than Germany was changed by them ... The many private letters that Ms. Feigel cites prove to be particularly effective in capturing the artists’ feelings and the mentality of the time. She also skillfully represents the predicament faced by these figures—and indeed by the civilized world. What could be done? Who was guilty? And how should the perpetrators be punished?
Artists and writers would put shoulders to the wheel to help rehabilitate the country and its people – to cleanse its poisoned soul. That was the theory. Lara Feigel’s absorbing book relives the era in all its uncertainty, and delves into the irreconcilable differences and contradictions that would come to thwart the project ... The most compelling section of the book – its moral centrepiece – is devoted to the tribunal at Nuremberg ... Feigel observes that for cultural ambassadors the occupation had been “a tragically wasted opportunity”, though one wonders if their high-flown ambitions for change were realistic in the first place.
[A] superb new book ... The author’s dramatis personae include screen legend Marlene Dietrich, returning to her broken homeland, and director Billy Wilder; poets W.H Auden and Stephen Spender; journalists Martha Gellhorn and Rebecca West; and photographer Lee Miller. George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh have walk-on parts. Feigel writes acutely about the soul-searching of Thomas Mann, the exiled elder statesman of German letters, and his children, who all felt the oppressive burden of squaring the achievements of German culture with the barbarism of the Nazis.