Evi Kurz’s book – following her TV programme – on Walter and Henry Kissinger has now been translated into English, although no translator is named. It got a glowing review in the Sunday Times. I suppose it’s true that she had a rare success in getting Kissinger to talk about his childhood, and had she been more critical, it wouldn’t have worked.
This is a magnificent story about boyhood, identity and belonging. When Kurz began making the programme six years ago, Henry kept ducking out of his on-camera interview on the grounds that he was too busy, even though he is now more than 80, and, frankly, not that indispensable to the Chinese and other governments that pay him so well. Kurz painstakingly gathers the material of the brothers’ earlier lives with Walter’s help, and finally appears for her interview with Henry, who claims he can spare her only 20 minutes in his Stygian New York office.
As the cameras are readied, however, Kurz disarms him by presenting him with leaves she has brought with her from Germany from a damson tree in his grandparents’ garden. Kissinger, the self-important Manhattan hired gun who will provide corporate advice for anyone for a negotiated fee, is briefly caught emotionally off-guard and his voice falters as he thinks of his family who perished.
The publisher’s blurb says:
‘No interviews about my private life’ has always been Henry Kissinger’s response to curious journalists. But journalist Evi Kurz from Furth, from the Kissingers’ home town in southern Germany, proposed a family portrait and eventually managed to win the trust of both brothers. This is the story of two Americans of German-Jewish descent: one of them a key figure in Cold War diplomacy and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the other a top businessman – two lives which are exemplars of the American dream. When Louis and Paula Kissinger’s sons were born – Henry in 1923 and Walter in 1924 – the Kissingers were part of a flourishing Jewish middle class in Furth, a large market town in northern Bavaria. But then Hitler came to power. Evi Kurz describes the gradual but remorseless destruction of Furth’s Jewish community in the 1930s; the Kissinger family’s emotional farewell to Germany in 1938 and their escape to New York; the family’s war years in America; and the hugely successful careers in postwar America of both brothers, who nevertheless remembered and cherished their German home and roots.
I was reading Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, but it was fairly heavy going and I seem to have stopped after Child.