Almost a Childhood

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Hans-Georg Behr experienced a remarkable childhood in wartime Austria. His liberal, artistic grandparents belonged to the aristocracy; his mother was a celebrated opera singer; and his father a prominent industrialist. His parents were also rabid Nazis, and the high office his father held in the Ministry of Aviation brought the young Hans-Georg into contact with "Uncle Josef" Goebbels, "Uncle Hermann" Goring, and "Uncle Adolf" himself. As the war advances, their world begins to collapse, though the writer has only a child's grasp of the reasons why—his older half-brother confronts Russian soldiers with his air-rifle and Hitler Youth uniform and is killed, and his half-sister swallows cyanide. Later his grandparents' estate is wrecked by the advancing Russians, while his mother, no longer able to perform, ends up serving in a bar, where her son collects the glasses. The book was hailed as a literary triumph when it appeared in Germany for the way in which Behr recaptures the freshness of his own childhood perceptions and its flashes of darkly ironic humor.