A gripping war diary

Written by Anonymous, a 34-year-old journalist and editor, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City (newly available in paperback), tells a civilian’s story of the Russian occupation of Berlin in diary entries dated from April 20 to June 22, 1945, just before and after the defeat of Nazi Germany.

It’s payback time — and retribution is extracted, in large measure, on the female half of the population in this bombed-out, starving, desperate city.

What unexpectedly makes this slim book so absorbing is how contemporary it feels. The writer’s actions and responses — particularly in regards to her precarious, psychosexual negotiations with the Russian victors — feel entirely modern, improbably compassionate, and sometimes even darkly funny.

When a new English translation appeared in hardcover last year, some critics inadvertently made it sound like history homework — a sort of lost text about wartime atrocities in a country still coming to grips with its national guilt.

But in the end, the true reward of this unprecedented memoir is getting to know the author — who died, in 2001, at age 90, still anonymous.

“>BUY A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous (Picador; 261 pages)

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A gripping war diary