FINISHED

This past weekend, I finished up three books I was reading concurrently. I often read more than one book at a time with no confusion; however this time, one was historical fiction, very close to fact, set in WWII, so keeping the characters straight from the non-fiction characters in the diary made reading harder than usual.

This one begins with two women, prisoners in a German war camp,Greta and Mildred, who are charged with activities that aided the resistance fighters in Berlin under Hitler. They exchange a glance in the prison exercise yard. One woman is eventually executed, and the other is liberated from the prison by the Americans. The “meat” of the book tells both their stories, describing “the courage of ordinary people.”

The other WWII story deals with what happens to the women of Berlin during the Russian occupation. It is a true diary, published only after the anonymous author’s death, which describes April of 2945 through June of 1945. In the diaries, Anonymous, a 34-year-old journalist, casually tells how women who had not seen each other for a long time, greeted one another with, “How many times were you raped?” It is a story of rape and sexual collaboration for survival that is brutal to read and a horror to have lived through.

Finally, another horrific story, a memoir about the childhood of Mary Kaur,

was at times unbelievable, others down-right strange. Growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill , sometimes suicidal mother, Karr “speaks” in the “gritty, unforgettable voice of a seven-year-old. It is set early on in Texas, and later follows the mother and two daughters to a home in Colorado. The title comes from the b**sh**ting her father and his friends do at the local bar while seven-year-old Mary sits and listens. “Appalling” is the word that come to mind to describe the author’s earliest memories.

These three are not books one would read for pleasure, but ones that kindle our imaginations about the resilience of the human spirit.

WHERE LIGHT AND SHADOW MEET, a memoir: Review

Almost everyone has heard of Oskar Schindler, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, “Schindler’s List.” This, however sheds new light on his life, for it is written by his wife, Emilie Schindler, and it is her story.

Born in 1907, Emilie Schindler and her husband Oskar helped rescue thousands of Jews from the hands of the Nazis during WWII, but according to Emilie, it was her idea and she who set it in motion.She begins the prologue, thus: “Some of you will generously forgive me if this story is not precisely what you expected, but I trust that, in the end, you will thank me for not lying to you…the facts depict my husband as a hero for the century. This is not true. He was not a hero and neither was I. We only did what we had to do.”

Written at the end of 1994, the book at first seemed a rant against her dead husband. According to this memoir, the marriage was not a happy one. Oskar Schindler was a womanizer, and yet the love of Emilie’s life. Their marriage was full of passion and betrayal, and it was a hard life for her once Oskar had settled her on farmland in Argentina while he was luxuriously wining and dining contacts in Germany and Europe. Emilie states that it was she who kept them going and did so by the hardest work and most sacrifice of the couple.

No, the story was not “precisely what [I] expected,” but it was a fascinating read.

More than one unexpected revelation in this memoir…

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND BRAVE by Hazel Gaynor: A Review

I love historical novels set in WWII.

As the cover on the large print copy of this book advertised, it is “a story of courage and strength.” If anyone is courageous and strong, it is a Girl Scout, or Girl Guide as they were called in England. Their motto was “Be prepared,” which the teachers and students at the China Inland Mission School were not. Unprepared as they were for Japanese occupation after the attack on Pearl Harbor, both teachers and students made the best of a bad situation.

Alternating chapters from the point of view of Nancy, an eight year old student, and her teacher, Miss Elspeth, Gaynor describes the take-over of the school housing and teaching children of missionaries, ambassadors, and other workers in China, then their march to and confinement in an internment camp for six years. It is a story of the hardships the children and teachers faced and their relationships with their captors, some kindly like “Home Run,” and others vengeful and sadistic like” Trouble.” It is the story of the friendship between Nancy (“Plum”) and Joan (“Mouse”), as they become young women while under the watchful eyes of the Japanese soldiers. One of the girls’ many chores was to deliver and pick up books to readers who borrowed them from the “lending library” set up by Ms. Trevellyan, a woman of questionable reputation in the camp. The following highlights the girls’ love of books:

“We sometimes found corners of the pages turned down, and passages marked and underlined. Mrs. Trevellyan didn’t seem to mind, although I thought it spoiled the books.

‘I’d never write in a book,’ I said. ‘It makes the pages look messy.’

‘It does if you look at it one way,’ she clucked as she put some books on the shelves we couldn’t reach. ‘But it also makes them look loved. It means that someone stopped and thought about that sentence, or that paragraph. Books aren’t museum pieces to be admired from a distance. They’re meant to be lived in; messed up a little.’ “

This is a very well-written page-turner that should make us appreciate what we have today and the struggles our relatives went through during WWII. It’s a darned good read!

F I WERE YOU, An Audiobook by Lynn Austin

This is a new audiobook by Lynn Austin, read by Sarah Zimmerman. It is labeled a “Christian Romance,” but it does not preach or chide; it just teaches by exampled. One critic calls it “a novel of sisterhood and self-discovery.”

Set in WWII and in 1950, just after, the novel compares the stories of Audrey Clarkson, “born to the manor,” and her servant, Eve Dawson. Opening at the impressive Wellingford Hall, the novel has an “Upstairs/Downstairs” quality about it as it traces the lives and activities of the two women. Then comes the war.

Although they have lost track of each other, the two women make contact once again in 1950 under the strangest of circumstances. I don’t want to give the plot away, but it involves an act on the part of one which normally would be unforgivable to the other.

This is a splendid “read” and makes for easy listening.

2020, ALPHABET SOUP CHALLENGE, author version LETTER “M”

ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820  In attempting to whittle down my TBR shelves, an on-going goal, I checked there first for a book whose author’s  name began with an “M.” I was rewarded with The Song of the Jade Lily, a 2019, hefty 450 paged novel by Kirsty Manning. It took me a while to read it, but its mysteries and family secrets that were revealed kept me turning pages. The novel was formatted in one of my favorite ways: alternating chapters set between1939 Shanghai where Romy, a Chinese girl adopted by Jewish parents flees Germany and 2016 present-day Shanghai where her granddaughter Alexandria, visits seeking her grandmother’s story after being notified of her beloved grandfather’s impending death in Australia. What he says to her, telling her to seek out “Li” and the evasiveness of her grandmother, whose silence often suggests hidden secrets rather than the mere grief of losing a spouse, present the opportunity for mystery, war stories, romance, and the finding of identity.

Themes of friendship, love, family loyalty, heritage, and stories of what happened during the War abound as the true facts of Romy’s life and background are peeled away like the numerous skins of an onion by Alexandria. The difference this investigating makes in both their lives is not only significant but also life-direction changing.

MY FAVORITE NON-FICTION WRITER

shopping I’ve read several non-fiction books this summer, and my favorite so far is Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile. As a fan of novels set in WWII, and a baby born during that war, I’ve always had a fascination with Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt and especially their relationship as heads of nations so dependent on each other. This book was written just for me.

I’ve read other Larson books, Issac’s Storm, The Devil in White City and Dead Wake, but this one not only reads like a novel (as do all Larson’s books), it characterizes the major figures of the war as well as any novelist does. We see the first impressions, the interplay of personality, and the desire to present one’s country in the best light in both Churchill and Roosevelt. Splendid/Vile focuses on the period of the blitz and the stamina and character of the English people. It focuses on Roosevelt’s desire to keep America out of the war but to retain Britain as a “sister nation.” Through this focus it tells an amazing story of politics, war strategy, and change as the war progresses. Sources used (diaries, documents, and once secret intelligence reports, some released fairly recently) and research done are a testament to the author’s desire for detail and correctness.  It is an amazing read, and also amazing is the way Larson is able to pull everything together to offer the reader a “darned good read”[ing] experience.

I DID IT!

shopping-1ALPHABET-SOUP-2020-AUTHOR-EDITION-BE-820 I did it!! All 500+ (800+ for large print) pages!! And what a delight it was. There were many “faces” I’d met in documentaries and historical books about WWII, and the stamina of the English citizens made me proud for my grandmother’s people.

Larson never ceases to amaze me; his non-fiction facts are strung together in a way that makes his books read like a novel, tracing threads of family drama, political intrigue and biographical characterization.  I have read and enjoyed several of Larson’s books, but this one was as fascinating as it was informative. I never lost interest or was bored. I loved following the career and love-life of Churchill’s daughter,Mary and was entertained by the excesses his wife, Clementine put up with from The Prime Minister.

Any WWII fan will enjoy this book, but so will readers who enjoy a “darned good read.”

TUESDAY TEASER

Grab the book you’re currently reading and type in a few lines to give us the “flavor” of your book. You may need a few lines to explain the context of those lines, but no spoilers, please. Here’s my “teaser” for 4/21/2020:

After the first huge attack on London, “Beaverbrook saw grave warning in the September 7 attack. Upon his return to London, he convened an emergency meeting of his top men, his council, and ordered a tectonic change in the structure of the nation’s [England’s] aircraft industry… [he] grew concerned about how his newly built aircraft were stored before being transferred to combat squadrons.”

Prior to this time, the RAF planes had been stored in private barns, large storage buildings and anywhere they would fit. At this point in WWII Churchill and his cabinet are frantically scurrying making changes and assuming power/measures never before seen to make an effort to win the war in the air.

This is from Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile, a non-fiction look at the Blitz that reads like a detailed novel. I must say I have not been bored at any point.

SATURDAY MORNINGS FOR KIDS ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Cynthia Kadohata’s YA novel, A Place to Belong (published 2019), is set at the end of WWII and tells the story of a young Japanese girl, whose family had been interned recently at a camp in the U.S.,and has decided to take advantage of the “deal” the government gives them to return to Japan after Hiroshima. Having spent her whole life trying to appear more American and less Japanese, the teenager must now act less like the “spoiled, American teen” and learn her family’s Japanese ways. Japan, the family finds, is not the Japan her parents longed for, but the poverty-stricken, occupied shell of their home country.

This Newberry Award-winning author of Kira-Kira, a hit with both middle school students and early high-schoolers, once again deals with YA angst, relationships, and trying to “fit in.” Kadohata explores the Japanese concept of kintsukuori, “fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever.” This young woman’s broken spirit is mended, and her character is molded into something strong and beautiful as she deals with the situations and circumstances which occur in the page-turner.

I give this one 5 stars out of 5 stars!

NO ORDINARY TIME by Doris Keans Goodwin: A Review

After reading several novels set during WWII, I wanted to read something non-fiction about the war years, especially the war years in the USA. Goodwin’s well-researched book is both historical and biographical and deals with the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Their “rule” over American politics and society is a phenomenon I often heard my parents discuss.

The book delivers interesting sidelights to both the Roosevelts’ relationship and their individual personalities. Bringing in the adult children’s information from letters, interviews, and writings concerning their parents was a device the author employed well. Descriptions of life in The White House during WWII appears, as did descriptions of the Kennedys, the Fitzgeralds, and Winston Churchill.

Less interesting to this reader, but probably of central interest to true history buffs was the coverage of war strategies, battle plans, diplomacy at conferences, and treaties formed during this period of America’s ascendance as a world leader. Eleanor’s “social and civil work” was tantamount to a whole sub-theme of the book. Friends and advisors of both Franklin and Eleanor were a fascinating cast of secondary characters populating the anecdotes given throughout.

As I read, I felt like an “insider” during a very serious time in American history and was given a taste of what it felt like on the American homefront during the War.