Ada Wilson’s Red Army Faction Blues made it to the longlist for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. In order to get on the shortlist it needed people to write a review and to vote for it. It’s wasn’t the most elegant of processes, and in fact many people couldn’t master the technology, but plenty of people did, and we are very grateful to those that managed to. It was a crowd voting system and Red Army Faction Blues just missed out on the shortlist
However, it did mean that lots of people got to express their love of the book. Here are a selection of the reader reviews posted on the Guardian website.
It’s a bit like the Tottenham riots, with Peter Green instead of rap and political ambition instead of looting. They were strange times, very confused, probably because of the LSD which is what does for Peter Green. It’s a great portrayal of Germany with the wall, double dealing and hippy ideology told well through the eyes of a double agent provocateur. It’s just a great shame the rest of the band didn’t fall into the hands of the gang instead of PG and we wouldn’t have had to listen to all that Fleetwood Mac pop music. A stimulating book that challenges and asks question about the genre of Faction. Well done Route and Mr. Wilson.
This is one of those books that have you googling events and characters every second page. It took me a while though, to figure out that the person who’s telling the story, the undercover cop Peter Urbach, must have been a real person too. Apparently he only died last year, still in semi-hiding in the States, and without ever having told his side of the story. The German 1960s in general, is a story that should be more widely known in the UK, because it’s interesting how it differed from here and at the same time, what it says about where we are now. The way the legend of Fleetwood Mac blues guitarist Peter Green is woven into events could perhaps seem far fetched, but given the known facts, is actually rather plausible.
The story of the Red Army Faction, not as a dry historical text, but as a novel. Narrated through the eyes of Peter Urbach, a man motivated (it seems) not so much by political conviction but by fascination with the people around him and a desire to get close to his hero, blues guitarist Peter Green. Dark, damp flats, smokey nightclubs and grim, grey streets all accurately create an atmosphere of overwhelming pressure to conform to post war German life as the revolution gives birth not to ideas, but phenomenal egos. Follow Urbach into to this dark world as he struggles to find his own identity perfectly mirroring the struggle for a new Germany.
A coalition government. A widely mistrusted ruling elite. Riots in the streets and heavy-handed police tactics. Sound familiar? But this is not Britain in 2010s, this is Berlin in the 1960s. Ada Wilson’s novel cleverly uses fiction based on fact to illuminate a period of recent European history that is not very well known outside of Germany, and in doing so skilfully links the current free-market obsessed corporate world we live in, cold war politics and the second world war in one coherent straight line. The appearance of Peter Green in the second half of the book seamlessly fits the radicalisation that happened in the West in the 1960s into this line and in very rich context. The revolution of the self was not as radical as it is often portrayed to be. In fact, nothing is at it seems. Highly recommended
I loved this book, it was refreshing to read something with some real politics and with a European perspective rather than the usual parochial and/or nostalgic perspective of much recent British fiction. So both interesting and a great read, I hope it gets the recognition it deserves through this prize.
I knew little about either Germany in the 1960s or the first version of Fleetwood Mac, before they did Rumours and had all those hits in the 1970s. What a sad story it is, really at the end of the day. A lot of the ideas in this book though, are pretty relevant now. Everybody’s pissed off at the bankers and politicians, but it seems it was all the same half a century ago. I can’t see how consumerism could be seen as such a problem when there was bugger all! And how it all led to the Baader-Meinhof extremism is hard to fathom. I don’t think most people in the West would be that committed today. We’ve got it too easy. Or are we just being cheated?
I ordered Ada’s book for my Kindle, books like this are few and far between in the bookstores down here. After reading a few pages I decided to put it down This wasn’t a story that would lend itself to little chunks of casual reading time- it deserved some dedicated time set aside. Later that week I saw The Baader Meinhoff Complex (2008) and settled down to make a Kindle night of it. The way that Ada Wilson weaves fact and faction is seamless and it’s often hard to separate the weft from the warp(ed), much like his blending and bending in his previous, more personal, novel Acme Terrace. Inevitably the Western victors not only end up writing history, but also the future. There is no invasion with tanks and guns, but instead the surruptitious soldiers of corporate consumerism trample over any other manifesto.
There’s a strange kind of nostalgia that comes from this book. It’s hardly looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses and, most odd, for a British book, it’s not even set there until the second half. But if you’re old enough to have lived through the 1970s, it feels kind of real. Most of the characters in it are real too – all of the Kommune 1 people and, of course, Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac. The one that intrigued me most though, was Owsley Stanley – ‘the LSD Millionaire’. He’s surely a candidate for a book of his own. Get writing somebody!
This book contains two of my favourite things ever, the cold war politics of Berlin, an island city state locked in a communist ocean and Peter Green the original guitarist of Fleetwood Mac. The novel mixes the cloak and dagger politics and youth culture of the time to create a heady mix of insight an cynicism, it suggests some fairly scary conclusions about the contemporary ‘war on terror’ and cultural warfare. The deflowering of the innocence of the sixties and the way in which the hangover of the Nazi period in post war Germany in attitudes are all presented here along with the state encouragement of drug use by the youth to nullify their political action. A powerful book on all my favourite subjects Music Politics and reality itself.
With the flat, teutonic, dispassionate prose of his Agent Urbach (it seemed always to rain, or be too cold, back then, i’ll say.’ ‘…and for detail, I will add that my father had very distinctive hands. …. as sensitive as a surgeon’s. That sounds about right.’) this fascinating and haunting work of ‘faction’ (pun intended) takes us into the violent world of left-wing terrorism in the dying embers of the late 60s/early 70s – the peace and love generation. A period in culture which would fuse together the seeming intellectual disparity between something as high minded as radical politics and something as lowbrow as rock music. Bombs and acid. They’ll blow your mind.
I confess a real interest in the German counter-culture of the 60s and 70s. Can I blatantly promote my art here? See my Considering Silesia paintings here: http://www.facebook.com/ConsideringSilesia It’s just a fascinating period, after the war in Germany and the mad conflict between the younger generation and its tainted elders. A lot of good seems to have been forged from it though. Is there a more searching and successful democracy than Germany today? As for Peter Green, well, that story is both extraordinary and probably 99% myth in the retelling. But sad too.
There’s no way, upon writing this, Ada could have known how far the similarities would go between the book’s late ‘60’s Germany and today’s UK but it’s launch couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Riots? Tick. A coalition government? Tick. A widely mistrusted ruling elite? Hmm. I doubt anyone would describe it as an easy read but it definitely got me thinking, days, weeks, months after I read it. That feeling of potential change simmering in the background got me excited, hopeful but a bit sad at the same time. It tells a very different tale than the history books.
This book changed my whole outlook on the connection between music and politics that happened in the sixties, and expanded my horizons from the very narrow idea of what we are fed about this decade of liberation. Ada Wilson brings in a new dimension, and the German perspective of British and American music as being ‘the music of the victors’ is just the start of that. This is a very intelligent book, and the use of an undercover agent-provocateur as narrator allows us to look at the bigger picture with astute – and suspicious – eyes. If you like the films ‘The Life of Others’ and ‘The Baader-Meinhof Complex’ you will love this book. I recommend Red Army Faction Blues highly.
Ada Wilson’s Red Army Faction Blues has been, without any doubt, one of the best reads of this year. It is a book that would appeal to a wide range of people: from music lovers to those interested in political history and social movements. However, the greatest thing about it is how well written it is and how much fun you have while reading it. The story goes increscendo until it gets to an amazing the final part of the book that will not disapoint anybody. I could not recommend it highly enough.
There were many unanswered questions in the late Sixties, some to do with politics, some to do with music. The disappearance of Peter Green, eminent lead guitarist and to some ‘god’, was for a long time a mystery. As was what losing two World Wars would do to nation of successful, efficient people. Ada Wilson’s meticulous research and personal insight shines a light on both these issues and for anyone interested in either politics or music (or better still both) his book ‘Red Army Fraction Blues’ is a revelation. The story is told well and the book reads easily. I can thoroughly recommend it to all generations and would have it in pride of place on my bookshelves or my coffee table.
Great story about rock and roll and radical politics. I enjoyed the pace and the drama of this police operation to uncover the heads of the left-wing extremists in West Berlin. The narrative style of Ada Wilson is vivid and amusing. Before reading this book I was very intrigued about the infamous happening in Berlin where Peter Green, the great blues guitar of the sixties with his band Fleetwood Mac, got spiked and never would be the same man. Here the reader will find some clues of what happened that night. One clue: Andreas Baader and his comrade Ulrike Meinhoff were there too. The background is the very hot political climate of Berlin in the sixties with a wall that divide two antagonist worlds but, in reality, the two sides West and East fight in the same direction to destroy a youth movement they couldn’t understand. The scars of war never really healed.
If Not The Booker Prize is a celebration of the kind of books generally ignored by the Man Booker prize, and to give that esteemed prize a little poke in the eye, then Red Army Faction Blues is your ideal winner. This is a book that tries something a little bit different, and beautifully uses fiction to weave together multiple strands drawn from recorded facts, myths, history and personal stories. Ada Wilson’s original question was ‘I wonder what happened to Peter Green at that party in Munich where everyone says he took too much LSD?’ This simple question led him to a whole new world of German politics and set him off on an exhausting period of research, mainly in a language he’s not over familiar with. Whatever battering his mind took in undertaking the work, he’s pulled together something extraordinary for his efforts. Music and politics, East versus West, Cold War, Germany history, Middle Eastern politics, terrorism, state control, consumerism, philosophy, Masonic practices and much more combine in this ttory of a working class Pole and a simple Jewish butcher’s son from the east end of London who, through the talent in his fingers and the noise in his head, ended up thinking he was Jesus. At one level, the story is of an undercover policeman who gets involved with a group of young political activists and by following orders he systematically helps to undermine their credibility. Somehow he bumps into Peter Green at a party in Munich and offers him a present too. But beneath that story, there is much more to be found.
Can’t say I was too aware of what went on in Germany in the 1960s before grappling with this. It must have been really hard for that generation growing up with what went before, and what some, if not many of their parents did. This book is not an easy read by any means, but you learn a lot from it. The Peter Green story is tragic from any perspective, especially given the amount of talent he had. It’s strange that there’s so much to be got out of a period that in the UK you get sick of hearing about, the so-called swinging sixties
I’ve read Red Army Faction Blues several times and with each read, something new becomes apparent. There are a lot of ideas in here and these ideas collide off of each other and create something new in the reader’s mind. With music being such a big theme of the book, and Ada being a musician himself, there is a real sense of music to the rhythm of the prose and this becomes hypnotic after a while. You have to applaud Ada for his ambition, not many writers have the stamina to pull something off like this, a book that works as a straight thriller for the casual reader and as lesson in politics and music for the student of European history.
I first found this book on a market stall in Manchester city centre. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. Of course I knew about the story of Rudi Dutschke, and Rainer Langhans remains a celebrity in Germany (he was on the German version of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ recently) but I didn’t really know the story of how everything connected. It was an amazing experience for me to read about German history through the eyes of a British writer, I learnt a lot. What made it extra interesting was the perspective of an English man writing about the German perspective of the English. It makes your head hurt if you think about it too much.
I must say I found Ada Wilson’s Red Army Faction Blues to be a really great read. Peter Urbachs infiltration into the Baarder Meinhoff was gripping. All the cohabitating, demonstrating and so on kept my attention one hundred per cent. Stuff The Cold War was made of. Suspense. But here we got to know what it was like from the inside. I really liked the Peter Green connection too. Right from getting off that plane (what a fantastic sight that must have been) to his later days in the UK. While I was reading the novel I had to check quite a few things out on the net, which for me is a sign that I’m really into a book. When a book brings out the curiosity inside me (no matter what the subject is) I know it’s a clear sign I’m having a great read. The intrigue kept me on my toes and I found it impossible to put the book down. And really well written too. All I can say is well done to you Ada. I’ll be looking out for your stuff in the future.
Whatever happened to Peter Green in Munich that tipped him over the edge? Addled ex-Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan gets a walk-on part in former-Strangways frontman Ada Wilson’s latest novel, long enough to explain how the man who wrote ‘Albatross’ sold his soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Then there’s the encounter with Green himself. January 1990. He’s waiting in a battered Land Rover in a deserted Essex rail station – ‘ancient wise and long beaten’. He meets a man who calls himself Peter Novak, a former agent provocateur who infiltrated the Red Army Faction, an unlikely undercover antihero, ‘a ragged scarecrow of a man in a battered hat’. Betrayal seeps from his pores like sweat through his suit. They talk in a pub called ‘The Bells’. Peter Green recalls LSD-guru Owsley Stanley, and the Grateful Dead. How acid opens the filters of perception on the path to total freedom. The Dead, he says, were like a school of dolphins, or owls or bats. They could feel each other. The Peter Green that ‘Novak’ meets is not the one I recognise from my own meeting with him. Far too together. Too articulate. But this is a novel. Green provides the thematic thread drawing the novel’s diverse elements into focus, mapping out the constant points of this fascinating reimagining. As though the Green God has the answers. The code to what happened. To why the urban guerrilla youth-quake all went wrong. Brilliant stuff!
On reading Red Army Faction Blues, I felt that this had to be a prize-winner. The description of how far Peter Urbach penetrated is fascinating, and the way in which Wilson gradually reveals this is technically most impressive. One learns from the book too: the historical-political background is one of its many strengths. Both form and content make this a book that deserves re-reading. The narrative is taut and moving, and tells the story of man leading a secret existence far more effectively than a portentous, and overrated, work such as Javier Mariás’s Your Face Tomorrow. It is also a fine piece of music history, and very good on atmosphere and detail. And its own implied politics are of great interest. Red Army Faction Blues may put you off revolution as effectively as Dostoevsky’s The Devils!