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Book Review: The Chancellor, by Katie Marton




German Chancellor Angela Merkel is famous for her simple but straightforward style. I have no charisma, she once complained to Tony Blair, and I am not good at communication.

She was wrong on both points. Her anti-ejection, in a crazy world, has become magnetic. In terms of communication, those invisible smiles, those subtle wrinkled eyebrows speak volumes.

When she shared flowers with Donald J. Trump, she rolled her eyes at him in disbelief, as if he were rubbing a string of detergent beans.

Merkel is a counterweight to ignorance and turmoil, and the free world will miss her when she leaves. (She will leave this year after four terms.) She rose to become its de facto moral leader by displaying mixed steel with a seemingly missing feature: humility.

Katie Martons’s new biography, Chancellor: Angela Merkel’s extraordinary odyssey, bears little resemblance to Merkel herself: calm, passionate, fearless to upset us. Many readers will find it a balm. It is instructive to spend time in Merkel’s competent and humane society.

Marton is the author of nine previous books, including The True Believer: Stalins Last American Spy (2016) and Enemies of the People: My Familys Journey to America (2009). She has been a NPR correspondent and was the head of ABC News’ office in Germany. She was married to diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who in 1993 and 1994 was the United States ambassador to Germany.

Writing a biography of Merkel is no easy task. She is a private celebrity. It does not use emails and rarely messages. Even employees from a long time have never visited her simple private residence. There are no books that tell everything. She pulls the respondent out of her life.

Merkel did not speak to Marton about the book. When the author receives a quote from someone close to Merkel, it is often a banality, such as one that is funny or that she likes to read. But give credit to Marton. She has persistently returned to Merkel’s footsteps and the story she brings is good.

Merkel, who was born in 1954, grew up in Soviet-controlled East Germany, eventually behind the Berlin Wall. Her father was a pastor who never fully endorsed her. Being noticed was dangerous in East Germany, so she learned not to do it.

She studied physics in college, she said, because even East Germany was not capable of suspending basic arithmetic and the rules of nature. She got married for the first time at the age of 23. It did not last long. Marriage was partly a practice, her ex-husband later suggested: Married students were more likely to get an apartment.

Credits …Billy Bustamante

Merkel’s most important reading during this period was history. The East Germans were fed up with a false story about World War II. They were led to believe that East Germany had resisted Hitler. Jews were rarely mentioned.

The truth was a shock. Merkel grew up realizing that Germany owed a permanent debt to the Jews, and this conviction of her sense of mistreatment led her to the moral decision, in 2015, to accept hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees into her country. .

Merkel moved only slowly into politics. She chose a right-leaning party; shed had enough socialist experiments. She honored America. Among its heroes was George HW Bush, for helping unite Germany after the fall of the wall.

I remember well when Angela came to our first meeting, recalls a contemporary. She was very reserved, very modest and looked younger than 35 years old. She was wearing a shapeless velvet skirt and some kind of Jesus sandals. Her hair was cut on a Dutch boy bob.

Within 15 years, after serving as environment minister under Helmut Kohl, she became Germany’s first female chancellor.

Marton tracks issues that matter to Merkel. She is a trained physicist who gradually phased out the German nuclear power program after the 2011 accident in Fukushima, Japan. We look at its struggle to keep the European Union united. We are witnessing the evolution of her attitudes towards immigration.

Are her close relationships with Barack Obama and Emmanuel Macron; her heated races with Vladimir Putin; her attempts to reach Trump by falling in love with his daughter Ivanka.

Marton calls this book a human rather than a political portrait, and personal details come to the fore. Merkel likes to stand up and cook coffee for her guests in a kitchenette, using the informal occasion to ask questions and break the ice. She does her grocery shopping. She is a football fan and tends to curse only for missed goals. Her husband, a quantum chemist, they have no children together, even though he has two grown sons from a previous marriage stands out from the crowd.

There are allusions to a more playful side. She is famous for her social stamina and, Blair once said, likes to stay up late and spend some time living. She is said to be a talented imitator, especially of Putin. She has been known to tell colorless jokes about an aspect of Putin’s anatomy.

Occasionally the Chancellor turns to hagiography, but she leaves again quickly. Marton is a critical observer, especially of Merkel’s tendency not to articulate her deepest feelings, her frequent failure to win hearts and minds.

German politicians, Merkel is aware, have reason to be wary of high oratory.

This book is a bedtime story of a kind of boredom, or so it may seem. It is as if Marton, through her theme, introduced the old liberal order and wished her a good night, for tomorrow she may die.




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