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Book Review "No Foreign Sky" by John Farquhar

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  • Book Review "No Foreign Sky" by John Farquhar

    Usually, I try not to review historical novels as few of them measure up to my expectations. But, coming across a post by the author, on a discussion thread in amazon, of "No Foreign Sky" saying readers should look at his book in regards to the Eastern Front if they are interested in historical fiction, and saying that it was based on years of research (which the back also lauds) in Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, I personally wanted to see how true it was to the reality of what went on during Barbarossa until the fall of Berlin. Looking up reviews on amazon for this book, I noticed one reviewer saying that it should be required reading for high school students! So, here is a copied and pasted review from my review blog (which should appear on amazon sometime soon):

    (Corrections and opinions are most welcome)

    All in all this is the worst historical novel I've ever read. Perhaps that might not mean much to those who read this review, but I've read hundreds of historical novels and hundreds of non-fictional accounts of the Eastern Front. This book is a travesty. This review is written specifically because a reviewer on amazon mentioned that this book should be 'required reading' for ever high school student.

    Where to begin. First, a warning, I want to state that for those who finish reading my review and want to think that I won't be happy with a book that isn't 100% accurate, think again. Read "The Triumph and The Glory" by Rustad, he makes a few mistakes but is forgivable since his book is simply amazing, sadly, out of print. Then again I wouldn't recommend that book to be read by every high school student either.

    Coming back to the book at hand, Within the first 35 pages I knew this book was going to be a waste of time, even so, I finished it just to document the more glaring errors, and believe me when I say that I've left PLENTY out.

    Incorrect spelling and detail errors (although it's been brought to my attention that the transliteration might have simply been taken from German, when it came to Russian words and their spelling, in which case, what did those years researching in Russia really mean?):
    Tukhachevsky is spelled as Tuchachevsky.
    Shturmovik is spelled as Sturmovik.
    Uborevich spelled as Uborevitch.
    Apparently, the author also deemed it wise to make up a new victory for the Germans, that of Vyansk...unless of course he means Vyazma and has inadvertently joined Bryansk and Vyazma into one word.
    The author's Russian, in general, is also lacking.
    Army Group Center became Army Group Central (pg. 36).
    Kleist apparently commands the "Second Armored" army, in fact he commanded the 1st Panzer group which became an army after Kiev was captured.
    The chronology of events, like encirclements, if very much off.
    The PPSh is labeled a 'machine gun', no, it was a submachine gun.
    The Jewish character is first named Ivan Kulikov then Ivan Kalugin.
    Operation Uranus, the encirclement of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, occurs on November 13th, as best one can tell from the narrative, instead of the historical November 19th.
    According to the author German POWs served in the same camps as GULag prisoners, another mistake.
    Wilhelm Kube is mentioned to have been killed by a 'maiden' he was in fact killed by a 'maid.'
    Since when are Russians called 'Popov' instead of the regular Ivan? Both are apparent in this book but it's the first time I'm hearing of Germans calling Soviets 'Popov.' The usual stereotype consists of a first name, i.e. Fritz, Tommy, Ivan, not a last name like 'Popov.'


    The rest:
    The biggest issue I have with this book is the countless times the Wehrmacht and the main character, a German tanker, are lionized while the Red Army is dumbed down to illiterate peasants who can only rape girls and boys. While the SS and Einsatzgruppen carry the burden for most of the 'evil' deeds occurring in the East the Wehrmacht is practically never touched. This reeks of being a cheap attempt to whitewash the Wehrmacht when the reality of the matter is that they were just as guilty of war crimes as the SS. Overall the characters have little depth, they don't feel as if they are coming out of Nazi Germany in the early 40's but rather the US in the 21st Century if one follows the conversations they have throughout the book. Their line of thinking does not measure up to what we know today about the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union. How often does one think that Germans made jokes about being homosexuals in the 1930's and 1940's when Hitler and the German administration were sending all homosexuals to concentration camps? This book has plenty of them though. I don't even think I need to comment on the following statement "Kurt's hand dropped to Ernst's nipple and twisted it hard." (pg. 94)...really? REALLY? I find that a lot of this author's characters are school girls as they 'giggle' their way through the book. Throughout the book it seems as if the reader is supposed to sympathize with a man that likes to go off to war and kill others, he might not be aware of the Holocaust in his backyard, but that's OK, he embodies everything 'good' and 'valiant' in a German soldier. In reality, such a man would be out of place in Hitler's Wehrmacht, just because he kills soldiers and not civilians doesn't mean he isn't taking part in a genocidal war against the Soviet Union in one way or another. Throughout the book this character discovers what his nation is really all about and yet he still is not aware of what was going on around him before and during the war. Can such ignorance be excused just because deep down he's supposedly a good person? If he was, he wouldn't be fighting for such a regime, blocking out everything that doesn't fit into his Utopian vision of war, nor would he be thrilled by war.

    Then, there is of course, the stereotypical mass infantry wave assaults against German machine gunners, this is recounted more than once and of course the valiant German soldiers are whispering 'please stop' to the "Russians" as they keep killing them. Cold War propaganda isn't enough to describe all this, it somehow goes beyond it. At this point we have the valiant German soldiers playing with Ukrainian children and getting along as well as they can with the local population, but wait, just a dozen pages back they referred to Ukrainians as 'inbred', now they're going out with the girls and playing with the children? Makes sense. I did enjoy the author letting me know that there were 'orders' against looting and to 'treat civilians with respect and courtesy,' then again, where is the implicit nature of the Wehrmacht in the genocide of the Eastern Front supposed to fit into all this? Apparently, the 14th Panzer division is beyond valiant, they even stand up to an SS officer who requests support for actions against Jews and other Partisans. Where is that mention of the 33,771 Jews who were shot outside Kiev at Babi Yar with 6th Army's support? Although Babi Yar is mentioned later on in the book as well as that 30,000 Jews were shot in 2 days time, not much is said of the support offered by the Wehrmacht at the time or any of the other actions that army personnel participated in, only the idea is kept up that the main character is somehow 'above' this. It was apparently the cold winter that turned the main character's division against the local population and thus they began to help the SS or simply turn their heads away from what was happening, that is certainly a new spin on what really happened. The German main character thinks a few degrees of frost drives all the Ukrainians in Kiev indoors...this coming from the man representing the armed forces who blame the winter for their failures in the Soviet Union...well, I doubt any of this should be a surprise after all the aforementioned mistakes (pg. 101). Just because something is fiction doesn't mean it has to be fantasy. "We do not shoot prisoners" the main character exclaims on pg. 90, how true is that statement in light of the Commissar order? Another incident, this time of a Soviet swimmer who is being shot at while swimming to the opposite bank from the Germans, if he's lucky to survive and reach land unscathed, the Germans apparently stop their shotting and applaud because "they were great sportsmen, after all' (pg. 134). I pretty much have no more words for such tripe.

    The author has a limited knowledge in regards to his history with the Red Army throughout the 1930's and 1940's yet chooses to talk about the purges and the commanders as if dropping names (Kork, Primakov, and Uborevitch [sic]) to show off his knowledge. Rokossovsky is mentioned, as is the fact that he was purged and sent to "Siberia" but then a comment is added about him being a great tanker before he was sent off to the Far East, how could this be if he only commanded Cavalry formations before being purged? The German success in the beginning of the Barbarossa is attributed mainly to the purges of the Red Army, while this did play a role, in more ways than one, it was not the sole reason for the Red Army's defeats. A Russian Captain is captured in 1941 who supposedly fought in a T-34 and Sherman tank, yet in 1941 there were no Sherman tanks on the battlefields of the USSR. In all some 35 tanks managed to arrive in all of 1941 via Lend Lease from the US, but that doesn't mean that they were incorporated into the Red Army the same year (sorry, I could go into more details, but suffice it to say, it's another mistake). The best line is of course found on pg. 70 by the aforementioned Russian captain "If we retreat, Commissars shoot us. If we advance, you will kill us." I'm sure commissars shot Russian tank captains, while they're in their tanks, all the time. Somehow after reading dozens of Red Army memoirs I've yet to come across this type of thinking. All I can see here is one stereotype being broadcast after another. Apparently Stalin "striped" the far east of its "armies", wrong, there were at least half a million men there at all times. Usually, to replace divisions sent to face the Germans, new ones would be created from the local population. Cold war stereotypes are rehashed, as per the usual in this book (pg. 131), "...prisoner battalions that clear minefields by walking through them", of which there are no recorded incidents, and of course "political officers stand behind men and shoot anyone who hesitates", again, wrong, NKVD or regular army soldiers were assigned to stop unauthorized retreats. Then there is the accusation that Red Army soldiers make children carry supplies as they are too light to set off mines, first time I hear of such things. While it is a fact that the Germans used the local population in Stalingrad to get water for them from the Volga so that the Red Army wouldn't shoot them. Just because this kind of utter nonsense is stated by a German character doesn't mean that it won't reinforce cold war stereotypes. Penal formations are claimed to have had 1 rifle for 3 men, reading the memoirs of an officer in a penal formation, which came out in English, gives a totally different version, the real version. The Red Army doesn't just rape women, but boys as well! I'm amazed the author didn't include animals too.

    Then an incident with a KV 2 tank is described, the event in question is quite well known to readers of the Eastern Front. A lone KV 2 tank in the Northern sector of the front detains elements of a German tank division. In this book, the tank is magically transformed to the Southern sector of the Eastern Front, against a totally different German tank division, is described as simply a "KV" instead of a KV 2, a KV is obviously a totally different tank, is first given a 122mm gun, then a 155mm gun (in reality it had a 152mm gun). Then the KV 2 is supposed to have participated in the Winter War, no, the KV did, the KV 2 did not. Some of those reading this review might consider this too much nitpicking, sorry, if I read a historical novel about the Eastern Front I'd like to see some sense of history instead of convoluted ideas which take away from the reality of what went on during the largest invasion and the most gruesome fighting the world has seen. Similarly, if these details are added to the book then they should be correct, if you don't know much about them then simply omit them. Are details so hard to look up if they'll make a book more authentic? Apparently, for this author, they are. I would be fine if this event took place elsewhere on the front, but a totally erroneous history of the tank is simply too much.

    Totally ignorant of the reasoning behind the designation of Stalingrad as a target for the summer offensive in 1942, supposedly Hitler wants it because it has Stalin's name. The reality of the matter is that Hitler never designated that the city should be taken in the first orders for the operation, rather it could be surrounded and the crossing brought under artillery and air bombardment to stop river traffic. This author really likes to make up history. A "strategic" discussion ends with the apparent idea that the summer campaign isn't about oil at all, but rather a personal battle of "Stalin's city against Hitler's finest army." No, Stalingrad was attacked by 2 armies, 4th Panzer and 6th Army, and the 6th Army was not the "finest" army rather it was the largest army Hitler possessed at the time with something over 300,000 men.

    The latter half of the book will deal with the partisan movement, still, cold war propaganda about Ukrainian partisans fighting against both the Germans and Soviets to protect their land, etc, is spouted. Somehow I don't believe that killing innocent Red Army men who are fighting for their and their families survival can be considered an honorable thing when discussing the activities of the Ukrainian Nationalist partisan organizations. Quite a few chapters mention the famine in Ukraine but it is again a layman's knowledge that is presented. Eye witness accounts can only tell a person so much about what happened, the author has pretty much propagated what the cold war developed. Farmers were innocent, it was all the higher quotas, etc. The real story is much more complex than presented here. Also, a claim is made that reporters were invited to Kiev during the famine. No, Ukraine was shut off from all reporters and no one was allowed in or out so that the famine would not spread (even though Ukraine wasn't the only place the suffered from the famine at the time). It seems that if you're Russian you cannot be a 'hero' in this book, no matter what. While the author has apparently found one dumb German who doesn't know what's going on around him, all Red Army tankers run down their own countrymen who are actually trying to get away from the Germans to greet them! Even, at times, going out of their way to pursue fleeing civilians and run them over. What an imagination!

    The men of the Red Army who would eventually finish the war in Berlin are labeled "stupid" and illiterate...makes you wonder how does that kind of army win against that wonderful German Armed forces that conquered all of Europe? Stereotypes, propaganda, myths, I simply cannot count them all and list them all. This book is beyond a waste of time it will drown you in ignorance, forget that it costs money, you are simply throwing away reality for disturbed fantasy, truth for lies, myths, and omissions.
    "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
    "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
    "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

  • #2
    LOL! I take it you didn't like the book?

    Sounds like you had good reasons not to.

    Cheers
    Scott Fraser
    Ignorance is not the lack of knowledge. It is the refusal to learn.

    A contentedly cantankerous old fart

    Comment


    • #3
      Yea, you could say that.
      "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
      "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
      "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

      Comment


      • #4
        Is this a new book? Sorry I don't really want to look it up.

        Comment


        • #5
          Relatively new:
          Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (June 28, 2007)
          "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
          "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
          "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

          Comment


          • #6
            Can't argue with your review (never read the book and know less about the Eastern front then you) but I do know that Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier (though I highly doubt you're a fan of that piece of word) calls the Russians "Popovs"
            And it's over the mountain and over the Main,
            Through Gibralter, to France and Spain.
            Pit a feather tae your bonnet, and a kilt aboon your knee,
            Enlist my bonnie laddie and come awa with me.

            Comment


            • #7
              Sajer's book was the first book I read on WWII, about a decade ago. I would be interested to know the page, if you can find it, I'll definitely look it up. As I said, I've never heard of such a name given to the Russians in any German memoir that I've read and I've read plenty of them.
              "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
              "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
              "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

              Comment


              • #8
                I'll look it up but it might be a while; I've know I've read it, can't think of the page. My edition is the 1990 one-for clarification.



                Edit: I remembered one time was around "THE GROSS DEUTSCHLAND" I've got it on page 175 "'But it's not too bad, either,' said the veteran of a little while ago. 'At least we can sleep in peace. At Smolensk the Popovs' holes were less than a grenade's throw from ours.'"

                He also uses "Ivan" or "the Bolsheviks" a lot.
                Last edited by Tankboy; 25 Jan 08, 01:14.
                And it's over the mountain and over the Main,
                Through Gibralter, to France and Spain.
                Pit a feather tae your bonnet, and a kilt aboon your knee,
                Enlist my bonnie laddie and come awa with me.

                Comment


                • #9
                  At least Forgotten Soldier, despite the quibbling in the past, is more or less real, and the character was more sympathetic because he was just a bored teenager who thought the war would be an interesting adventure.

                  What follows is my comment of a review about No Foreign Sky:

                  It is sickening to see such glorification of the Nazis. You feel that you were cheated in history class Mr. Hayes? You are not alone. But I highly suggest not relying on novels for historical information. The occupation of Ukraine was brutal beyond the imagination of most westerners, and yet to this day, like a whole slough of other ridiculous lies about Soviet history, it is still perfectly acceptable to write that the Ukrainians "embraced the Germans" as liberators. As a person of Ukrainian descent I can think of few greater insults. These authors, be they novelists or historians, need to be held accountable for retransmitting Nazi propaganda. If these hacks, and I am particularly referring to Western historians like Max Hastings want to put quotes on a world like liberation, in reference to the Soviets entering various formerly occupied nations, then they could at least do the same for the Ukrainians, given the historical facts. One need only compare the number of Nazi-embracing Ukrainian nationalists to the number of Ukrainians killed, those in the Red Army including the throngs that mobbed recruitment centers in 1941 to volunteer, and those among the partisans, to see exactly what side Ukraine was on.

                  While I don't deny that such things happened, mainly due to fear, the idea of a love affair between a Nazi soldier and a Ukrainian girl is equally sickening and insulting when one considers the Nazis forced sex-slavery imposed on women from Eastern occupied territories(mostly Poland, and the occupied USSR), a practice which sadly picked up again after the collapse of the Soviet Union with all the suffering that entailed. To date it is estimated that 500,000 Ukrainian women and underage girls have been trafficked worldwide as literal slaves in the prostitution industry.

                  I highly recommend you read a few memoirs of Soviet Partisans, Victims, Victors, and Red Road from Stalingrad to see exactly how the Ukrainians really acted. Do not be fooled by this hack novelist, but rather seek out the testimony of those who saw these events with their own eyes.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I for one am getting sick of writers and game designers who claim to have done research in Russia or Ukraine or wherever, and then produce something that is full of stereotypes, many of them traceable to certain films or books. When I hear that, I want to either check their passports for a Russian visa or Ukrainian stamps, or ask them exactly what "Russia" or "Ukraine" did you go to? The local Blockbuster video where you rented Enemy at the Gates is not "Russia."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the warning Kunikow, I will if I ever by some strange reason get my hands on a copy use I willuse it for target practice.
                      Last edited by Erkki; 25 Jan 08, 15:11.
                      “For there is nothing more serious than a lunatic when he comes to the central point of his lunacy.”

                      Max Sterner

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Dear Mr. Farquhar,

                        I found your novel to be highly inaccurate and insulting. If you want to write another novel about the Eastern Front I suggest you do some research first. I suggest starting with this link.


                        Sincerely, some anonymous guy....


                        Just an idea about how to wage war on crappy authors, game designers, and filmmakers.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Tankboy View Post
                          I'll look it up but it might be a while; I've know I've read it, can't think of the page. My edition is the 1990 one-for clarification.



                          Edit: I remembered one time was around "THE GROSS DEUTSCHLAND" I've got it on page 175 "'But it's not too bad, either,' said the veteran of a little while ago. 'At least we can sleep in peace. At Smolensk the Popovs' holes were less than a grenade's throw from ours.'"

                          He also uses "Ivan" or "the Bolsheviks" a lot.
                          This is from Sajer's book or another book?
                          "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
                          "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
                          "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cmde.Slavyanski View Post
                            Dear Mr. Farquhar,

                            I found your novel to be highly inaccurate and insulting. If you want to write another novel about the Eastern Front I suggest you do some research first. I suggest starting with this link.


                            Sincerely, some anonymous guy....


                            Just an idea about how to wage war on crappy authors, game designers, and filmmakers.
                            Comrade, that's quite funny, "Rick Roll" em.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              What's the Rick Roll pun here? I don't get it....

                              Comment

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