ROW80 Check-in

Progress made as of ten minutes to midnight, Sunday, January 8:

– Posted a book review: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse;

– Revised about 10K words out of planned 20K. The 10k words shrank to about 7K after revision, and I re-wrote about 2k from scratch;

– Read about 1/3 of the book, Harvest of Despair by Karel C. Berkhoff.

Conclusion: I should not put off  my work on the novel until after dinnertime when my kid is most likely to ask for help with his homework.

The part I am working on involves a mouth organ, also called harmonica. A Wehrmacht soldier playing his harmonica is an age-old cliche in the Soviet WWII fiction. Still, I went for it because a harmonica works well for the suspense in my novel.

For the purpose of my story, the design of the harmonica needs to be flashy and easy to remember. After shuffling through pictures of 1930’s-1940’s harmonicas online, I came across this album of Art Deco harmonicas. My favorites in it are:

Rosenkavalier Luxe made by Hans Rolz, Germany

Dinora made by Emil Friedel, Germany

I am inclined to use a Rosenkavalier harmonica because the initial owner of it is anything but a chivalrous Knight of the Rose. On the other hand, the female character who sees the harmonica later is very likely to remember the word Rosenkavalier.


Book Review: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse

As I have said before, my novel takes off in 1945 Berlin. For a reader with an average knowledge of WWII that would bring to mind classic images of destroyed Tiergarten and popular depictions of the mayhem in Central Berlin as the Red Army fought its way to the Reichstag.

The reality is that the war effects varied across Berlin because the city was huge. Here is a comparison of the levels of destruction and civilian casualties for Berlin-Mitte (Central Berlin) and Berlin-Reinickendorf, a northern suburb, immediately after the Battle of Berlin.

Berlin-Mitte             Berlin-Reinickendorf

% of residences destroyed:          over 50%                       19.8%

% of population lost:                          52.6%                            3.8%

Source: Reinickendorf 1945/1946. Die erste Nachkriegszeit  by Ulrike Wahlich, Heimatsmuseum Reinickendorf, 1995

To develop the settings in my story I needed a broader view of the city and its dwellers throughout the whole war. The last months of the war were a mere culmination of the years of the Nazi regime. Each of my Berlin characters, even minor ones, had been shaped by years of life in the city.

This book is a good starter reading for those who want to learn more about wartime Berlin: Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse.

The book provides a ground-level view of daily life in Berlin: food rationing and foreign loot, press and radio, parades and air raids, popular enthusiasm and individual resistance, war profiting and survival struggle, humor and depression, and much more. Paradoxically, the residents of the Third Reich capital were among weakest Nazi supporters. I am inclined to attribute it to their proximity to the government apparatus and better awareness of the politics in the higher circles. Nevertheless, with the largely conformist attitude of the public, many Berliners eventually became complicit in the Nazi regime.

The author tracks changes in the moods of Berliners throughout the wartime and portrays a wide range of the city denizens: Jews, forced laborers from all over Europe and regular Germans. He draws on personal accounts and diaries to give us the emotional feel of what it was like for different people to live in Berlin.

I found it remarkable that, while the public knowledge of the Nazi concentration camp system was limited, the German populace largely ignored thousands of forced laborers brought into the city. Germans and foreign slaves lived in separate universes, although they walked the same streets and worked side by side in the same factories and institutions. It is truly sad to realize how certain types of popular culture and ideology could breed blindness and conformity. After all, was it so bad to believe that you belonged to the master race and could have the inferior races at your disposal?

Moorhouse’s narration is engaging and vivid, which makes his book an enlightening journey in time for a mainstream reader. It also provokes a lot of thoughts on how social order and ideology can affect a person’s sense of right and wrong.

ROW80 Goals


My main goal is to finish the first draft of my historical fiction, Scorched Earth, in 80 days.

I do not plan on specific word count to do per day or week. Instead, my weekly goal will be writing or revising a specific chapter. For me, NaNoWriMo worked great as a way to overcome the initial inertia and get myself in the process of writing.  However,  in the end I worked chiefly to make the word count.  The result was messy writing and word-padding. This time I want to use my writing time more efficiently. At this point I already have the whole story mapped out, which makes it easy for me to break it into chapters.

For this week my goal is to finish revising the part I wrote during NaNoWriMo (about 20K words remaining).

Deadline: Sunday, January 8th.

Location: Berlin-Reinickendorf, more exactly the garden allotments near Miraustrasse and then an apartment in Borsigwalde.

Timeline: April-June 1945,  just before, during and after the Battle of Berlin.

I have been doing historical research for my novel for over two years, and there is still a lot to research. My reading for this week: Karel C. Berkhoff, “Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule.”

I will post weekly reviews of books and sources I studied for my novel.

A Round of Words in 80 Days


Here it is: I am starting this blog to tell the world about the novel I am writing.  I wrote about 1/3 of the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2011. Although I made the required 50k words, my historical fiction is far from complete. Now I have signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days in a hope to finish the first draft.

The working title is Scorched Earth. As the story develops, I will most likely change the title. Here is the synopsis:

A Wehrmacht deserter and runaway Ostarbeiterin run into each other in heavily bombed Berlin of March 1945. Their looks marked by the grueling years of the war, they don’t recognize each other at first. The man and woman have met years before in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, but each of them suppressed the memory of that encounter.

As they scramble to rebuild their lives in postwar Germany, glimpses of recognition force them both to face their wartime deeds, tragedies and blind loyalty to the respective totalitarian regimes that nurtured them as soldiers in this war.