Fulbrook, Mary. Dissonant Lives: Generations of Violence through the German Dictatorships.

Author:Hare, J. Laurence
Position:Book review

Fulbrook, Mary. Dissonant Lives: Generations of Violence through the German Dictatorships. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xii + 515 pages. Cloth, $65.00.

More than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the study of the lives of ordinary Germans in the former East Germany has moved more firmly into the purview of the historian. Armed with decades of archival research and a growing collection of autobiographies, memoirs, and letters from former citizens of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), scholars have at last found themselves in a position to assess the experiences of those who dwelled under the communist dictatorship. Such inquiry has coincided with fresh approaches to similar questions about past generations living under that other German dictatorship in the Third Reich. What has remained unexplored, however, are the continuities across the two periods. What was it like, we might ask, to live through two brutal but disparate dictatorial regimes? This is precisely the question that Mary Fulbrook's Dissonant Lives sets out to answer as she examines the generations of Germans who lived through both regimes and whose accounts reveal the surprising links between the two.

In this extensively researched volume, Fulbrook, a professor of German history at University College London, shows her skill at rendering broad questions about the German past accessible for the uninitiated while still making significant contributions to the thornier academic debates within German history. She draws on statistical studies to identify a number of so-called "sore thumb" age cohorts that stood out during the years of the Third Reich and the GDR. For Fulbrook, the goal is not merely to prove that these generational groups played disproportionate roles in the respective regimes; rather, she wishes to learn why they were so salient. "To explain this remarkable loyalty and to under stand the different experiences of other generations no amount of statistical analysis will be sufficient: we need also to look at people's subjective experiences" (p. 258). This leads Fulbrook to take a "history from within" approach that traces the ways in which individuals participated in or responded to the shifting regimes, beginning with the Wilhelmine German Empire after 1900 and ending with the reunification of Germany in 1990. In many cases, she is able to follow her subjects across multiple eras, thus revealing the ways in which individuals fashioned their...

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