This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor
Downsizing

Tom Watson (Kyle Books: £14.99)

Tom Watson, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, tells how he lost a lifechanging eight stones. This is not a diet book, rather a motivational journey as Watson takes us from struggling to walk to Parliament, to gentle exercise in the local park, to running and frequent gym attendance. 

He becomes quite obsessive about his weight loss: he does weights and finds himself altering his diet to that of a weightlifter. Booze filled weekends at festivals are behind him. There’s no secret to his weight loss: low carb diet with plenty of exercise. As he acknowledges, it’s not for everyone and may not work for every body type: there’s an interesting explanation of the science. He describes how his friend Sir Nicholas Soames lost an admirable amount of weight by traditional calorie counting, although he suggests reduction from seven to five courses for dinner. However, Watson comes across as more contented and even more at ease with himself. This is an inspirational read.

 

Stasi Winter

David Young (Zaffe: £7.99; e-book £3.99)

Young brings us the fifth Karen Müller novel. At the conclusion of the previous novel, Müller had resigned her post as she had uncovered the secret Nazi past of her colleague and superior officer in the Stasi. A young woman's body is found in the deep snow on the Baltic coast during the worst winter to hit East Germany for a generation. Müller's resignation is refused and she is dispatched with her colleague to solve the crime. She is however being demoted; she faces losing her party flat on Strausberger Platz. 

On the Baltic she meets Irma Behrendt, whom we last saw in the opening book of the series. Irma is now living with her grandmother, her mother serving a prison sentence as Irma ratted on her to the Stasi. Irma becomes entangled with soldiers deployed to work on the coast, one of whom has plotted an escape from the Republic. There follows a tense chase across the frozen Baltic, as the youths seek to flee, taking the crew of a Russian registered nuclear icebreaker captive. While not as innovative as some in the series, the characterisation and sense of time and place are utterly authentic. We are left with an intriguing twist at the conclusion of the book which, if developed in line with reality, could take us in Young’s assured hands into some very interesting developments and story lines. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Hungry and the Fat

Timur Vermes (MacLehose: £16.99; e-book £9.99)

Vermes brought us Look Who's Back, a satire on the power of social media which saw Hitler reappear in the modern age and become a social media star: a thoughtful reflection on the modern use of the media pioneered by Goebbels. In this novel, he turns his attention to the recent immigration to Germany of 1.5 million refugees and its political outfall.

Nadesch Hackenbusch, a rather dimwitted media star hosting a popular TV programme, is despatched to an undisclosed southern land to follow the plight of refugees. She falls for one of the men in the camp, and together they lead an increasing number of refugees across a number of states, heading towards Germany. What began as reportage, with Hackenbusch being the “Angel in Adversity”, turns into a political issue for the ruling German CDU government. There is acute description of the role of Leubl, the Minister of the Interior, who is a realist to what is unfolding: speaking truth to power from power. His permanent secretary plays the role superbly of the classic civil servant.

There is superb description of the politics. The TV company faces a difficulty of what to do with the star, but faces accusations of milking the plight of the refugees for ratings and advertising revenue. This leads to the press turning on them. Finally, we witness the exploitation of the refugees, who are required to pay a daily rate to participate in the long march but who believe they avoid the people smugglers and risks of travelling by boat across the Mediterranean. There is less humour, but startling critique of the current issues facing states from mass migration.

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