1913: The Year Before the Storm

Friends who give you great books are priceless.  I have savored and just completed 1913: The Year Before the Storm, by Florian Illies.  Sadly, my German language skills are nil, but I read an excellent translation, thanks to the skills of Shaun Whiteside and Jamie Lee Searle.  This amazing book offers a month-by-month description of selected events that took place before “the war to end all wars.”  Henry Ford put a conveyer belt in his car factory, Louis Armstrong picked up a trumpet, Chaplin signed his first movie contract, Proust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring–the list goes on.
Some quotes:
from Thomas Mann:  “And how greatly and severely war is felt as a crisis of moral cleansing, as a grandiose stride of life’s seriousness beyond all sentimental confusions.”  His reference was the war of 1870-71.
from Thomas Mann (again):  “Give us today our daily sheet of paper.”  All writers should relate to that comment. On the same subject:  “I need white, smooth paper, fluid ink and a new, softly gliding pen nib. To prevent myself making a mess of it, I put a sheet of lined paper underneath.  I can work anywhere; all I need is a roof over my head.  The open sky is good for unbridled dreams and outlines, but precise work requires the shelter of a roof.”
Illies shares a story from June 20, 1913, when an unemployed thirty-year old teacher, Ernst Friedrich Schmidt walked into a school “draped in weapons.”  He went on a shooting rampage with loaded revolvers.  Five girls, aged 7-8, died; eighteen children and five adults were severely injured.  A passer-by overpowered him.  His rationale?  He was protesting not finding a teaching position.  It seems that mass shootings are not as new as we think.
And from Illies, talking about Thomas Mann:  “…but only by the sea does one have an uninterrupted view of the soul–and of the mountains before it.”
May we all write with such grace.

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