This wasn’t supposed to be one of my vacation reads, but being at my parents’ house, they had it out of the library, so I read it during the few days I’ve spent home in August.
First of all, I am a huge fan of Kati Marton’s writing. I am also a huge fan of political biographies, so this book was definitely on my list for later reading. My only complaint is that if I’ve waited, I would have probably wanted to read it in its original language, and not in Hungarian (its Hungarian title is simply ‘Merkel’), but I loved it still, the book itself did not disappoint.
I knew very little about the chancellor’s life or upbringing before reading this book, and while I am never particularly curious about people’s private lives, I was interested in the surroundings and circumstances that led her to become one of the most influential world leaders of her time. No interview was made with Merkel herself, but she let the author be around her team and even interview people. Knowing how protective she is about her private life, I think this is as close as we will ever get to her in terms of a biography.
The book follows her path from the very beginning, growing up as a pastor’s daughter in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). Spending her first formative years under Soviet socialist rule, being cut away from better-off-living relatives by the Berlin Wall shaped her political thinking. Whenever being asked, she always refers to her first 35 years that she spent in a “system lacking freedom” as a major component of her later personality.
She studied natural sciences at university and became a successful scientist in her field, yet she left it to become a politician right around the fall of the Berlin Wall. I liked the short narrative of everything that shaped her until that, but the story started to get interesting for me at this point forward. She started pursuing a political career, that through several ministerial posts, finally led her to the leadership of CDU and chancellorship.
Kati Marton had conversations with not just Merkel’s own people, but politicians from around the world who could add to the stories in the book. There appear several anecdotes of Merkel’s relationships with her immediate surroundings, her closest colleagues, as well as world leaders. Her relationships with President Obama, President Sarkozy, then President Macron and of course the more difficult ones, President Trump and President Putin were legendary. Many still believe that Putin would never have gone this far had she still be in power.
Speaking of her legacy, one cannot forget about the 2015 migration crisis, when Merkel basically welcomed masses of migrants that wasn’t welcome anywhere else in Europe. A move that eventually led to a lot of critisism, especially after terrorist attacks in Germany, and also the creation of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Germany’s far-right party. It might be a matter of fact that AfD is a product of the Merkel era, more particularly of her migration-policy, but I think it’s rather debatable whether the strengthening of the far-right and xenophobic views in general would have happened either way as it seems to be a world-wide trend, even if she never opened the borders of Germany.
The chancellor herself is interested in the historical perspective in this matter, fearing that we are nearing the one generation mark since WWII, meaning that one generation grew up and passed since the end of WWII, so soon there remains no-one around who witnessed the horrors of war and unfortunately humanity’s memory is short in this way. I personally find it sad that we can’t learn from history books all the same, we have to witness it in order to believe it is something we must avoid.
All in all, I loved this book. I gained a new level of understanding and respect for this unique political figure and learned a lot about recent history too. Kati Marton’s person is guarantee for the authenticity of the writing whether her subject spoke to her or not. I definitely recommend the book to everyone interested.