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Candlelight in a Storm by Naveen Sridhar ★★★★★

Candlelight in a Storm by Naveen Sridhar Candlelight in a Storm by Naveen Sridhar is the historical biography of his wife. Born during World War II and fleeing the violence there, later fleeing communist regimes as a teenager, and traveling the world, meeting her husband in Berlin, her story is at once colorful and harrowing. John F. Kennedy came to Germany and said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” signifying that Germany did not need to be forever tarnished with the legacy of the Nazi party, and there was a generation of Germans looking to establish peace and freedom in the country. Candlelight in a Storm is the ode to this generation.

There are a lot of books written about World War II, and, understandably, most are written from the perspective of the heroes or the victims of Nazi Germany. There are far fewer books written from the German perspective, who were often victims themselves, even if they were on the side of the aggressor. It was not the choice of every German for Hitler’s Germany to unfold as it did; they were at the mercy of their leaders. Candlelight in a Storm aims to fill in the gaps of this time in world history.

This is sensitive territory, because a figure like Hitler is not only portrayed as evil, but as a leader looking to protect his people. That “his people” fell under a very narrow criteria is what makes him a monster, but for those who were not cast out or murdered by the regime, they have a different perspective. In a war film, we cheer when the allies are winning. This is not really the feeling for anyone inside Berlin. In short, both sides of a war suffer deeply, no matter if there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” This is a core premise of Candlelightand it’s an important one.

Because of Sridhar’s respect and affection for his wife, he express her struggles with great empathy and warmth. Self-published historical memoirs can, at times, seem like a vanity project, i.e. something for the family to read, but less interesting for the casual, unaffiliated reader. Sridhar doesn’t fall into this trap due to the strength of his writing and the thoroughness of his research. As he makes clear in his introduction, he interviewed many people to prepare this book, so this is far more than a family history, it’s a history of an entire generation.

At times, the book does veer into minutiae that may be more interesting to the author, as the subject is his wife, than it would be to readers who do not know her, but overall Sridhar is admirably effective in depicting the bigger picture. He is clearly passionate about his subject: not just his wife’s history, but the way Germany has been tarnished as “the enemy,” when its culture is much more forward-thinking and diverse.

For anyone thinking of writing this sort of family biography, this is a textbook in how to do it: combine objective overview with subjective experience. It helps that Sridhar’s writing is so stylistically rich. The narrative manages to be both detailed and breezy, with enough dialog to make it really come to life, rather than being a turgid, fact-driven history. At times, the book reads like fiction, but doesn’t veer into territory where it seems patently made up and loses some of its historical weight.

If you are interested in World War II and haven’t gotten the “other side of the story,”
Candlelight in a Storm is a good place to begin, and succeeds in telling an oft-neglected side of the history of these events.

 
 

Pacific Book Review

www.pacificbookreview.com

Title: Candlelight in a Storm: Born to be a Berliner
Author: Naveen Sridhar
Publisher: AuthorHouseUK
ISBN: 978-1-5049-4454-0
Pages: 268
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: CC Thomas

 

Pacific Book Review

Author Naveen Sridhar has written a literary love story in Candlelight in a Storm which is partial memoir, partial biography. Sridhar’s connection with the subject of the story, his wife Renate, gives a unique and perspective about growing up in Germany during WWII and allows the readers a realistic perspective of what life was like behind the Berlin Wall. While most books about this time period focus on Allied soldiers and their families or the Holocaust, this book focuses on how the German people also suffered during this pivotal and haunting time.

Most historical books and novels focus on the heroes and daring exploits of famous characters. Yet, what are daily living conditions of regular men and women? Their stories are seldom heard. While reading an exciting spy or political thriller is always a good time, there are few novels which detail what happened to those who weren’t famous or didn’t get a medal. This novel details what life was like for ordinary Germans living under the rule of governmental policies and ideologies in which many could not be trusted nor believed in. What do regular people do in such extraordinary time as these?

They go on living as they always have, and their tales become as inspirational as those of traditional war heroes.

The story begins with a young mother whose husband has been deployed and is serving in the armed forces. She wants to stay in her home with her children and wait for his return, but simply can’t put off any longer the reality he probably isn’t returning. Renate and her family endure each challenge which came their way and their example is truly inspirational. Life on either side of the Berlin Wall was lived just as those who survived in the occupied territories—a constant fear of potential bombings, food rationings, daily sacrifices and feelings of disconnection with the rest of the world. This “shoot on sight” mentality created a civil war along with a prison for those citizens living within the walls.

What I especially loved about the story was the glimpse this gave into the unsung heroes – the wives and mothers who silently endured the pain and heartbreak of missing loved ones while keeping their country running. Candlelight in a Storm showed very clearly what happens to families with the realities of lives shaped by war. Sridhar’s depiction makes the heartbreak and confusion of saying goodbye to husbands and fathers who will never come back so real. It’s hard to imagine a loved one simply never being heard from again and watching the example of this family pick up the pieces and resume some semblance of a life was agonizing.

Another fascinating part of the book was looking at the difficulties citizens faced when traveling between East and West Berlin. Seeing how the country was divided because of a border wall and making enemies out of former neighbors really resonated and both topics made instant connections with today’s news headlines. While it seems as if history is stiff and cobwebbed, a careful look will show that modern people deal with these same issues. The lessons of diversity and acceptance, so new to us today, were also challenges for the characters during this time period. A modern reader will have a lot to consider and much to learn from Renate’s examples. At the end of the day, indeed, we are all Berliners.

 

 

Blueink Review

Candlelight in a Storm: Born to be a Berliner

Naveen Sridhar  AuthorHouse, 263 pages, (paperback) $19.76, 9781504944533 

(Reviewed: February, 2016) 

 

This memoir/biography shows what happens when cultures and political systems grate  and clash against one another, as an Indian-born husband examines the course of his  marriage by exploring the biography of his German wife.

Born during World War II in Berlin, Renate spends her childhood battling for an  education against the barriers placed in her way by the police state that was East  Germany. After manipulating her way to West Berlin, she meets and falls in love with  the author, who had recently immigrated to Germany, then travels to India to introduce  herself to his relatives and returns to Germany, marriage and family life.

The book is filled with events that cry out for fuller exploration. The xenophobia shown  by West Germans toward immigrants, for instance, is touched on but never really  examined. Similarly, the difficulties Sridhar experiences as he tries to advance his career  as a chemical engineer in a new culture is given short shrift, as are the social  complications inflicted on a mixed marriage.

Still, some details linger. A description of the couple’s travels through East Germany  during the Cold War, the aftermath of a near fatal automobile accident, and frequent  bureaucratic impediments stand out. Most memorable, though, are insights into the  compromises any couple must make to survive as one, including the author’s recasting  of the family (after the two sons complete dance training) as a traveling magic act.

The third person narration presents an unusual — and not always successful —  approach. A first person voice would seem a better fit in places. Nonetheless, the  volume effectively portrays the hardships of life in Germany, both East and West, during  the Cold War. Most of all, it shows how the sustained love of two people can surmount  any adversity imposed by society and its institutions.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

 

 

Foreword Reviews

Clarion Review

Candlelight in a Storm: Born to Be a Berliner
Naveen Sridhar
AuthorHouseUK (Aug 19, 2015)
Softcover $19.76 (280pp)
978-1-5049-4453-3

 

This touching, optimistic account of one family’s experiences in postwar Germany enlivens a scantly explored period  in history. 

Candlelight in a Storm by Naveen Sridhar is the lucid biographical account of a German family from the  Second World War to the end of the century.

This careful portrait of a lesser-known story—that of Germans who fled life under East Germany for West  Berlin—focuses most on the author’s wife, Renate. She is a woman with an adventurous, resilient nature. Renate’s  optimism and conviction that events will work themselves out breathe life into a series of travels and everyday events.

Renate’s father, like many Germans, joined the Nazi party in its early days, before the extent of the party’s  crimes could be known. He was lost at the front, leaving Renate’s mother, Erika, to care for their children. Under these  strained circumstances, the family journeyed from East to West Berlin. Candlelight in a Storm skillfully stitches  together the facts of those years with memories, allowing Renate’s life to move alongside history.

When cultural figures, such as Harry Belafonte and Marlene Dietrich, and political moments, such as the  raising of the Berlin Wall and a 1963 visit by President Kennedy to Berlin, intersect with Renate’s days, the period is  richly enlivened. Smaller moments, however, exemplify her experiences: a neighbor tasked with denouncing others  turns a blind eye at the right time; currency exchanges between the East and West turn out in Renate’s favor; and an  impassioned discussion with her brother, Dieter, spurs him to flee East Berlin. Seemingly commonplace details offer a  singular glimpse at the Cold War and its aftermath.

At times the focus shifts from the complexities of living under a restrictive regime to Renate’s engagement and  marriage to Naveen—who, in one memorable instance, takes the reins of the story in a first-person account of  meeting her family—but such interludes add warmth to the loosely chronological telling. Other noteworthy moments  feature Renate’s first six-week excursion to Naveen’s home in Bangalore; the trip highlights her spontaneity and  broadens the work to include influential experiences outside of Germany’s borders.

Sub-themes on belonging and displacement emerge through a quotation on the bitterness of the Berlin Wall,  as well as through passing remarks. Still, the book avoids bleakness.

Sridhar has a talent for highlighting the good in these accounts, and he creates a charmed story with continual  reinventions. While it’s tough for any single person to emblematize a generation, Candlelight in a Storm is an  accomplished tribute to Renate’s confidence, luck, perseverance, and spirit.

KAREN RIGBY

 
 

The US Review of Books

 Candlelight in a Storm: Born to be a Berliner
by Naveen Sridhar
AuthorHouse

reviewed by John E. Roper

 

“But, right now, this was a moment of leaving all that was dear to her, a moment to close the door. To move, to escape, to flee.”

Renate was only three when the bombs began to drop in Berlin, shattering homes and lives as the Allies worked to bring Nazi Germany to its knees. Her mother, Erika, realizing that the time to leave had finally come, bundled up her two children and fled to the town of Apolda. This would be the first of many such significant moves in the young girl’s life. Eventually, World War II ended, but another more subtle war would soon begin between the capitalist West and its former ally to the East, a conflict that would help shape much of the young girl’s future.

Sridhar’s biography of his wife, Renate, is much more than the history of one individual; it is a window onto the struggles ordinary Germans faced during the Cold War years. Education, for example, was not a simple matter. Because her father had been a member of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party during World War II, Renate, now living in East Germany, was denied the right to go to school after the eighth grade. This led her to flee to West Berlin for her schooling, the start of an exodus that her whole family later made. But even in the West, life still had its challenges, as evidenced by her battle to remain with her Indian husband in her homeland in a time period when a woman’s rights were not as recognized as they are now.

As a biography, the author’s book is an excellent account of his wife and her many adventures. But as a chronicle of Cold War Germany, Sridhar’s well-written and informative narrative sheds new light on the often underreported trials of its citizens and foreign residents.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review