June 24, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg
A biography of Eva Braun needed to be written. Sadly, this one is not up to scratch.
I have recently come to the conclusion that if you want to write a biography that runs to over, say, four hundred pages, you have to get permission from a special Biography Panel who judges whether your subject(s) actually need that much space. Eva Braun doesn’t. I got halfway through the 600-page book, and when I reached the halfway point, all I could remember from the first 300 pages was that Eva spent a lot of time:
– pining for Adolf, who completely ignored her in public and made everyone else do the same (assuming that these other people knew she wasn’t just a secretary);
– taking photographs of herself, but not being terribly accurate about labeling them when placing them in albums;
– attempting suicide.
So what took up all the space? While historical context is always necessary, Eva practically vanished for entire chapters while Nazi history came under discussion. This could have worked, in a feminist ‘I’m not going to focus entirely on one life in a spotlight but rather ground it in its wider social network’ kind of way, but that wasn’t the situation.
Instead, the book played up the fact that her life didn’t consist of much except being the hidden mistress, filling her days of boredom with sports and shopping, and having an unspecified (though probably fairly normal) sex life with the Fuhrer. She doesn’t seem to have been either a gold-digger or a monster, and she doesn’t even seem to have had a fling with any of the dashing young adjutants – but she comes across as a person who was only the slightest bit interesting because of the context she got herself into. It’s a real problem in a biography when the context overshadows the subject. Let’s face it: nice girls, even when they love dictators, do not make for drama.
Then there were the frequent asides into Lambert’s own family history. Okay, the parallels between Braun and Lambert’s mother (in the same demographic) were mildly interesting, but they padded the work without being enough of a control to definitively say ‘here’s what Eva Braun’s life must have been like.’ Yes, her mother had the same sort of mechanical pencil that Braun did, but what does that say about either of them except that this pencil was in common use? I would be interested to read a memoir about Lambert’s family history, especially its intertwining with the Third Reich; here, it got in the way of the story. What story there was.
Some of the research is solid, especially the unpublished memoirs. With the lack of hard evidence (and what exists being largely what other people said about Braun – and of course everyone else has their own agenda), these personal sources are essential and unique. Lambert insists on allowing the German-speaking reader to double-check her translations of many of the personal e-mails and excerpts she uses as evidence, which is admirable. But there’s no excuse to repeatedly quote Wikipedia as a primary source. Meanwhile, the length seems to have caused the author to lose control of her sources; I read one of the footnotes and said, am I having deja vu? Nope – it was the same quotation (with slightly different punctuation) as a hundred pages earlier.
Lambert’s style set my teeth on edge. Way too many little snide asides at the Nazis which simply weren’t necessary. Lambert tries to be analytical, but it simply doesn’t hold water when she analyzes (in two chapters) what Braun might have known and might have done about the Black Events (Lambert’s chosen term) and then switches back to her mother’s family, breezily announcing that they certainly didn’t know anything about it. Really? Why is this in a biography, anyway? And there’s a hell of a lot of leaning on Gitta Sereny’s interpretations, which only get queried in a footnote round about page 450. The occasional attempts to draw parallels with Our Own Times (about, say, torture of Iraqi prisoners and the abstinence policies of the Bush presidency) mostly fall flat.
I hate to sound so negative. I wanted this to be a biography that gave me a solid account of Braun and her space in the Third Reich. This isn’t it, and the clincher is the ending of the book. A biography that effectively ends ‘and then she died’ – or, in this case, wrapping up with brief shots of how the other major characters ended up – is a book which doesn’t leave itself the space to definitively establish that figure within their historical context, or judge how they’ve been reinterpreted.
I would like a biography of Braun that builds on this one, and I’m hopeful that it won’t bloat out to 600 pages.
Bookslut has a much more coherent review, but one which reminded me (by a comment about the work being badly edited) that I should have realized at the start that this book was not going to be solid: namely, in the two family trees that open the work (Braun and Hitler), Adolf’s first name is spelled in different ways.