By Tam Francis
Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler by Trudi Kanter (originally self published in 1984, republished by Virago Press 2012), is part love story, part Holocaust, and very much vintage fashion and lifestyle memoir. We follow Trudi, a half-Jewish milliner, at the dawn of WWII as her country’s borders are closed when Austria is annexed to Germany and she and her family (mother, father, fiancé) are trapped.
Like a proud ostrich with his head in the sand, Trudi’s Walter can’t see the impending danger, refusing to leave his city, and love struck Trudi is too devoted to leave without him. Trudi takes charge and overcomes the obstacles that will not only bring her and Walter to safety, but her parents and many friends in their elite circle of chic businessmen, artists, actors, and socialites.
Through many “miracles” (badgering, letters, filing, pleading and who knows what else), Trudi is able to secure papers for herself, but has a more difficult time finding a sponsor and travel approval for Walter. With her sheer determination, intelligence, and feminine wile she finally gets them out of Austria, but must leave her parents behind.
Once in England Walter and Trudi strive to maintain their love and a semblance of a normal life while working towards bring her parents to England. Trudi finds work in hat fashions right away, but Walter struggles, adding to his lowering self-esteem and guilt about living off Trudi’s meager income.
Not long after successfully bringing her parents to England, her father and Walter are taken to an internment camp. Trudi polishes up her guns again and fights to get them back, eventually helping to secure their release.
With Walter keen mind and creative genius, he finally finds work and invents a key component for aircrafts that secures his place to become a nationalized citizen.
Some Girl, Some Hats and Hitler is the story of one women’s determination to live, love, and enjoy everything life has to offer.
What I like about it
- The poetic style of writing was much like reading a long prose poem and I love poetry.
- The use of present tense upped the tension and a bold choice for a memoir which are usually written in past tense. Anyone used to reading Young Adult fiction will have no problem following her as she jumps from past to present tense in her narrative.
- Her dialogue passages were right on the money with the character, tension and occasional humor revealed in pitch perfect pacing, one of her strongest writing attributes.
- Descriptions of fashion, scenery, décor, and architecture had this vintage gal drooling. Her travels and scene description of the Paris fashion scene is a must read for any vintage fashionista.
- Her delectable offerings of Viennese cafes and restaurants made me want to run to the kitchen and start cooking. I love to eat and love fancy food. The imagery was a great juxtaposition to the horrors arising around her.
- Her strong-willed, determined characterization of herself. Through her expertise of running her own business, balancing her creative life, and taking charge to secure their freedom showed her to be ahead of her time for women of that era. Not to mention self-publishing her memoir way ahead of the indie/self-publishing revolution.
- Little zingers that peppered her narrative. After the fact accounts of who died, how and when, or thoughtful insight that left my heart aching.
What I didn’t Like
- I wanted more depth to the some girls. We were privy to small glimpses of these gals, but I wanted more. I wanted to see the relationships between the girls, not just character description.
- More sex. Sure she hinted at it and the jacket cover teased us with her sensuality, but the love scenes could have been more fleshed out (pun intended).
- I felt like she glossed over some of the atrocities. It would have upped the ante even more if she could have juxtaposed more of the terrible treatment of human beings to give more depth and strife to her story.
- The jumps in time often left me confused, having to go back and remember who people were and how they fit into her life. These areas could have been expanded on for a better flow.
- It would have been nice to know what Tyrolean meant. BTW, it means the designating or typifying the peasant dress of the Tyrol, especially a man’s soft-brimmed, usually green felt hat with a peaked crown and a feather or brush ornament on the hatband. Tyrol is an Austrian State.
- I didn’t like the ending. Of course, he died and she is now dead, but for a story billed as a love story it was a very anticlimactic end to a roller coaster ride.
- I felt that she painted everyone around her in too good a light. I wanted more character flaws and more dimension to each person, especially the main players in her tale.
- Although I like the poetic aspect of her writing, more often than not, it was choppy and tedious to read in long sessions. And when I read, I like to devour.
Insight into her character
“I close my eyes. I remember my parents and I walking alongside a cornfield…I ran backward and forward, picking cornflowers for my mother…She smiled when I gave them to her. I loved her. A love that lasted all my life. Suddenly I realized how beautiful she was. Soft face, warm hair, shaded, gold; large eyes, the color and sparkle of well-cut sapphires. I saw that people smiled at her; I was envious and tried to copy her. I tried, like her, to walk with a slight sway of my hips. I didn’t succeed and was upset. No one looked at me.”
“Tell me about yourself. Are you happy?” he asks.
“I’m all right. You?”
“You?” I laugh. “Lots of girls are after you. You’re never alone.”
“I didn’t say that I was alone. I said I was lonely.”
Our food arrives. Cold lobster, a huge green salad, champagne.
“You are too young to have a broken marriage,” Walter says. “I saw you the other day with Pepi.”
“Do you know him?”
“Yes, and I like him a lot. Why do you want to divorce him?”
“Ask me why I married him.”
“Why did you marry him?”
“I thought I was in love.”
Wonderful Fashion Description
“In those days it was considered chic to wear Tyrolean outfits for sport and travel. Emerald green braid ran down each side of my slim, gray flannel skirt. My gray flannel jacket had a tiny emerald green stand-up color, wide revers and cuffs. The buttons down the front were made of horn. My blouse was white lawn. My small-brimmed, black silky velour hat was trimmed with a wide emerald green ribbon. Black flat-heeled crocodile shoes and black crocodile clutch bag completed the outfit.”
If you champion the struggles of WWII Jews and abhor the atrocities of the Nazi’s this is a good choice to read without being entrenched in gut-wrenching descriptions of the horrors. And if you like a little romance and a lot of lush descriptions of fashion, food and décor this book is for you! I found it best consumed slowly, like a five-course meal, so you can savor all the layered flavors.
Vintage Enthusiast Rating:
• Fashion: ♥♥♥♥♥
• Music: ♥
• Dance: ♥
Do you have a favorite hat, vintage item or any clothing that lifts your spirits. Trudi used fashion as her connection to life. How does fashion affect you? Do you think fashion is superficial, an art form or a means of self-expression?