Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What I've Been Reading

The Best of February

World War II is one of my go-to topics when I search for new books. This month I had three great books set in Europe during the war.

I found this amazing story in a list of bargain Kindle books and snapped it right up. It did not disappoint one bit. The courage of these mothers in hiding their children during the holocaust! The courage of the children! The courage of the hosts! Wow. I was on the edge of my seat! Also fascinating was the story of getting the word out about such "hidden children" and creating opportunities for them to meet each other, exchange stories and feel validated. I cannot even fathom how any of these people found the courage to do what they did. What an inspirational book. Such Good Girls: The Journey of hidden Child Survivors of the Holocaust by R.D. Rosen.

As an American I count myself lucky to have learned that  in World War II, France fell to the Nazis, that some resisted Nazi rule and that De Gaule became a hero. That's more than subsequent generations have learned. This book really fueled my desire to learn more. We think of the "French Resistance" as artsy types blowing up bridges when trains carrying Nazi bigwigs are crossing them---just like Hollywood depicts them. This time, though, they are women. Wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girl friends. And, though not Jewish, they ended up at Aushwitz and Ravensbruck starving, being humiliated, mistreated, gassed and left to just plain die. This group of French women on that train in winter, however, did all they could to survive. The hardest part of the story was learning that the women my age--gulp! the oldest in the group--died within weeks of boarding the train.. From the few who survived the war, we can learn much about resiliency, the courage and strength true, caring friendship can create and just how much the human "will" can accomplish. As my area was enduring record cold while I was listening to the audio version of this book, I could all too painfully shrink in horror at the thought of standing for hours from 3 am onward in total darkness in subzero temperatures in cotton clothing and maybe not even shoes let alone warm socks or boots. The point was death--to force people to die. But these women did everything they could to persuade and sustain each other in their desire to LIVE.
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.

This third book is also about courage--albeit of a different sort than that which lets a woman survive Auschwitz or hide a Jewish child from the Nazis. Aimee, an American, met an married a German aristocrat (albeit one whose family had been in Russia until the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution) before the Nazis came to power. They decided to stay in Germany. Their life was not nearly as hard as she thought--they lived on a large estate, he did not work, though he tried repeatedly to enter the diplomatic service, and they had all sorts of household help. When the war came, while not a Nazi in belief, the husband being of the correct age, served as a junior officer in the Nazi army. The story is told by this couple's youngest daughter--the daughter with the fewest memories of "before" the war who drew on her parents letters for the early parts of the story. Upon learning that, due to American law for the years of their birth, some of her children were "German" to the United States while the youngest ones were "American" made this all even harder for Aimee. Her courage came to the fore in getting her family out of the way of the Soviet Army. In this she acted almost fearlessly and saved her family. There were other very difficult choices, but she faced them. This was an interesting memoir, but it lacked "something." Only in the final days of the war were they really, truly in danger. They were subjected to rationing like everyone else, but still had help, still lived on their estate. She suffered no repercussions for refusing to allow her son to attend one of the "prestigious" Adolph Hitler Schools--an "elite" system of military boarding schools. I truly liked what I read of the husband who served on the Eastern front and had nothing what so ever to do with the concentration camps. He seems to have genuinely NOT been a believer in Hitler which is typical of the old German aristocracy. Still, after reading the other two books at the same time, I just wasn't prepared to see this family's struggle as that big of a deal.
A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae.

Another fun widower book!

I happen to have LOVED Major Pettigrew's Last Stand --the gold standard of widower's tales. Look out Major, Ove is here! Saab-loyalist extreme-o, Ove finds life without his beloved wife to be, well, not worth living.  But then the neighbors get in the way! To say more would be to spoil it all. The ending was a trifle too P.C. but still believable for today's world. We need more men like Ove that's for sure! A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, is not to be missed.

The Rest of February

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite contemporary authors. That makes it even harder to say that this book was a big let-down. Maybe it was the way too-familiar teenage dating angst? Or maybe it was baby-obsessed character? Or the ridiculous carnival guy? Hmmmmm. Can't quite put my finger on it. Her books always have a wonderful not-quite-magical whimsey to them that I thoroughly enjoy. This one just plain lacked that. Technically it is a sequel to her first wonderful book, Garden Spells, but it lacked all the feeling of that story. Her last book, Lost Lake, was much better too. While this book did end better than I anticipated, part of the ending was simply too predictable. I hope her next book is back up to her usual wonderful standard. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen.

Like A Year of Living Biblically, Rachel Held Evans decided to follow the Bible's "teachings" [some say "commands"] for women as literally as possible. She also drew on the novel, the Red Tent, a completely fictionalized "Bible Story" for her discussion of a women's "time of the month." I did not over-analyze this book--I just laughed and kept reading. Her theology can be debated by those better informed than little old me. I just thought it was a fun read and gave thanks that she wasn't a pencil-thin Manhattan-ite out to make fun of women who believe.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Please leave me a comment and tell me what you've been reading or link to your own reading post. I love to see what other's are enjoying or what I might wish to avoid!

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