I had the pleasure of reading this title for a book discussion club I look forward to attending every few months. Once again, this was a title I neverI had the pleasure of reading this title for a book discussion club I look forward to attending every few months. Once again, this was a title I never would have sought out on my own. However, once I began reading the first chapter, I was immediately engrossed. This is the great beauty of a book group! You are often lead to fascinating books which would have escaped your attention if you never broke out of your own reading niches. My reading niches are well worn...and I am always refreshed when I edge out of them.
I was a Seventies Kid and a weird little person, at that. So I was the kid who actually watched the news and read the papers from an early age. I read quite a bit above grade level and I have always been absolutely compulsive about reading...and reading anything. If I am not actively engaged in an activity (working, cooking, gardening, house cleaning, driving, etc) which makes reading impossible, then I am ALWAYS reading. A book...a web site...a magazine...a receipt...a random piece of junk mail. So, you get the idea. As a kid I picked up newspapers and magazines and read them, pretty much cover to cover, from about age 6.
Much of this information went over my head or got lost in translation. Guerilla fighters in Vietnam or Central America? I thought that the Viet Cong and some South American dictators actually had trained an army of gorillas to fight and use weapons...a la Planet of the Apes! Watergate? I thought it had something to do with spies putting bugging devices in bathrooms the way detectives planted tiny listening devices in potted plants on cop shows. And the Weathermen confused the hell outta me! The weathermen on Cleveland news always seemed so mellow and cheesy with their Ron Burgundesque four-laner polyester ties, their maroon suits and their comb-over hairdos. HOW could they suddenly change personas and go to the dark side? Kidnapping and planting bombs? It was a very simple time compared to today's amped up violence and insanity. Yet it was still a confusing time to be a kid planted in front of the old Magnavox for seventies-worthy TV marathons.
And sky-jacking? Oh, I remember hearing this term thrown around quite a bit in the early days of my life. I always pictured 'sky jackers' to be guys wearing balaclavas (all the TV bad guys in the seventies wore those...and they generally hung out in parking garages and climbed into second floor windows bent on mayhem and theivery) -- and parachutes on their backs. I knew that they took over planes with guns and made the pilot fly them places -- generally Cuba (also home to the genial Ricky Ricardo, which promoted even more confusion. In popular opinion of the day, Cuba was a terrible place run by evil. Yet Ricky was such a great guy. And he put up with so much crap from Lucy. How to reconcile the two?)
So, in a nutshell, the above paragraphs inform the reader of my knowledge of the late sixties/early seventies sky jacking 'fad' (if one can call it that) I was unaware of any of the personal stories behind the various sky jackers of the day and I had never heard of the couple, Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, who pulled off the successful sky jacking to Algiers which is featured as the main element of this book.
The Skies Belong to Us is an extremely readable and well paced history of the various sky jackings which comprised a shocking aerial crime wave for a few years in the late Vietnam War era. All of the stories are compelling reading. I was not aware, for instance, that a disturbed teenager in Cleveland was the first civilian on record in the United States who tried to sky jack a plane. It happened right here at Cleveland Hopkins Airport in 1958. And the pilot reacted to the kid's threat by immediately pulling out a gun and shooting and killing the kid. The pilot in question was haunted by the experience for the rest of his life. It is a shocking bit of local history I had never heard. And I grew up hearing so many Old Cleveland stories. Local history is my hobby, but this story was new to me. I bet most Clevelanders in my generation have no idea this happened.
Although each incident recorded in this book is fascinating in its own right, a bit more should be said in this review about Holder and Kerkow. Roger Holder was a disenchanted soldier who did multiple tours in Nam. He was a very successful soldier in many regards. However, he also saw the typical hell in Nam and had extra problems due to his blackness. Although Holder volunteered for several tours and was a good enlisted man, he made the mistake of trying to blow off some steam by the side of the road one day in Vietnam and he lit up a joint. This one little doobie got him busted and he ended up in a military prison. Some thanks for putting his life on the line several times over and enduring the usual racist indignities from his own side...thought Holder. He came home from Nam, like so many others, a disturbed guy who felt like nobody appreciated him.
Kerkow, on the other hand, was a groovin party girl, recently relocated to LA from Coos Bay, Oregon. She worked as a low level drug dealer and 'masseuse' at shady joints to keep a crash pad over her head. Her chance encounter with Holder and their subsequent affiliation is an amazing coincidence in itself. She and Holder had both spent time in Coos Bay as kids. Although they met one another but once...literally as Holder and his family were on their way out of town -- run out by the local racists. As young Roger Holder and his parents and brother were making their final trip out of Coos Bay, their belongings packed up with them, they stopped at an area park for a rest stop. Roger and his brother then briefly met up with young Cathy Kerkow who was collecting salamanders in a jar. The two would make this connection several years later, as young adults, after Roger showed up on Kerkow's doorstep looking for her room mate.
Cathy Kerkow's roomie was not that into Roger Holder. However, the quiet, obviously intelligent yet edgy Roger Holder held immediate attraction for bad-girl Kerkow. Cathy Kerkow was fixated on partying and the Black Panthers. In Roger Holder, she hoped to hook up with the real deal. Holder was vaguely into the Panthers but was equally tweaked by astrology. He was also obsessed with 'rescuing' Angela Davis and saving the radical professor from prison. Eventually, these various thoughts swirled around in Holder's mind and he concocted a plot to hijack a plane, demand that Angela Davis be released into his custody in return for the safe return of the plane's passengers and that he, Davis and Kerkow all be flown to Algiers where they would take shelter with Eldridge Cleaver. (which reminds me of another seventies-kid misunderstanding...WHAT was Eldridge Cleaver's relationship to the most whitebread family in America?)
Brendan Koerner tells this story with so much more style than I do in this review. What a tale! It is like one of those early or mid seventies TV movies in book form. Airport, 1972!! Starring Lee Grant and Richard Roundtree! If your memories of the seventies are a misty haze of childhood spent in front of the teevee with a box of Ho Hos, you will enjoy this book. If you have no memory of the seventies at all, you will enjoy this book. And even if you recall that decade in vivid clarity, I assure you that you will enjoy this book and learn some things you never knew. -- This real life story of a crazy caper that seems almost innocent in our Big Terror Age will fascinate you to the end. And the unsolved mystery you discover at the end of the book will make you wonder if the final chapter on this incident will ever be written....more
And the WWII stories keep coming! Seventy years have passed since 'the War' (everyone still knows which one) ended yet this theme continues to dominatAnd the WWII stories keep coming! Seventy years have passed since 'the War' (everyone still knows which one) ended yet this theme continues to dominate fiction. Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase is a polished little story about Mrs. Dorothy Sinclair and her WWII era romance with a dashing Polish flyer named Jan Pietrykowski. I was unaware of the presence of Polish squadrons in the RAF and picked up this little bit of WWII history from the book.
This is another in a line of stories I have read with a now extremely advanced in years elderly character, who mainly sits in the background while the action is propelled and narrated by younger family members who are trying to understand their elder's back story. In this case, the major voice is Roberta, Dorothy's grand daughter. Roberta is a prototypic British character (albeit one with a Polish surname) -- displaying restrained acceptance of her 'small little life' with the stoicism many American readers admire in stories like these. Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase seems tailor made for a reader such as myself: a British setting; a major Historic Event in the background; a stiff upper lip cast of characters; a book shop; a bit of redemption but not too much. I have read stories like this so often. I suppose they are derivative. Yet, I still enjoy them. I believe this is a viable sub genre that will continue until it simply becomes ridiculous.
As it stands, in this story's contemporary setting, the character of Dorothy is 110 years old! In order to supply her with a younger relative who fits into the acceptable 'young middle aged/vaguely thirty-something' category for main characters, the author had to make Roberta's father, John, a very middle aged guy when he and his ex wife conceived her. None of this detracts from the plot. Who was Roberta's grandfather, really? What secrets does Dorothy carry about her war time experience and her son's lineage? Will Roberta learn the truth before extremely aged Dorothy dies? -- But, the time has probably arrived where we either need to set these WWII stories in the past (like back in the 1940s, or, perhaps in the 1970s or 1980s when the GI Generation were society's majority elder population) -- or try to find another historic event that makes a good story. I can't see dragging too many more advanced centenarians into the mix. Yes, they exist. But in rather small numbers. And it is almost becoming distracting when reading these type of stories and doing the mental calculations about the actual number of decades which have passed since this period in history occurred.
Still everything else pales in comparison. My own parents, now dead, were WWII kids. Their stories of black out windows and ration coupons, spam dinners and fear of airplanes (which certainly all contained bombs) and Hitler piggy banks and victory gardens -- well, they make my own charmed and care free childhood spent at the mall seem bland and colorless in comparison. My own daughter asks me for tales from my childhood and I am hard pressed to tell her much. I had 'fun'. I had very little stress. I didn't do much. I bought jeans and records and ate junk food. I watched a lot of TV. The end.
So this is why we keep reaching back to the War Years for our big stories. Almost anything seems more vivid, more exciting and more emotive when set against that tapestry of disaster and gallantry and shocking violence and upheaval that affected most of the planet.
The contrast of this technicolor 'epic' period and the quietly brave and 'make do' characters that inhabited it in our imaginations is too powerful to resist. So we keep telling various versions of this story over and over again and we continue to enjoy them.
I realize that I did not say very much about the specific activity in this book. It is enough, for a certain sort of reader, to know that it is a bit of a family saga, that it is a bit of a tragic romance, that it revolves around a character who was shaped by WWII and who has never been able to let that part of her life go and that her story resonates through the succeeding generations in her family. In other words, yet another solid addition to the British Experience During the War Years canon of fiction....more
I finished this beautiful and raw tale of a Pakistani family living in Milwaukee in the eighties right about the time that the smugly loathsome formerI finished this beautiful and raw tale of a Pakistani family living in Milwaukee in the eighties right about the time that the smugly loathsome former star of Growing Pains strutted back into the public spotlight to manspain his Bronze Age take on marriage and a female's subservient role within this venerable institution. Normally I would have moved on to more relevant fare and dismissed Mike Seaver's retrograde views on human relationships with a snort. Sorry, bruh. That ship sailed a long time ago and you missed it. But recently I had just spent a decent portion of my day living with the Shah family in American Dervish and I had my back up and my temperature raised about the role women are forced to assume in cultures where male dominance rules the day and where women are routinely abused and killed for 'infractions' they may knowingly or unknowingly commit against these tyrants and their fragile egos.
No, I do not routinely 'male bash'. But this was a bad week for adult women who want to be, well, perceived and treated as adults...So yeah. My head exploded. Kirk Cameron would fit in beautifully at the local mosque he and his fundamentalist friends probably want to fire bomb off the face of the planet. (But they would never be able to wrap their heads around the qualities they share with some of the less savory characters I encountered in Dervish.)
All this has been gone over time and again...the religiously insane of all stripes, sharing the qualities of violent intolerance, smug superiority over their fellow humankind and constant rationalization and exception applied to their unconscionable behaviors. But it certainly seems relevant to explore this problem in today's world of ISIL, Trump Rallies and cheezy 80s and 90s celebs re-making themselves as brownshirts. Or am I being redundant and merely mentioning Trump twice in the same sentence? If so, this is two times too many and I apologize for giving him more public mention.
American Dervish, on the other hand, is deserving of several lines of copy. I was immediately drawn into the Shah family dynamic and became an invisible guest at their table. The story is told through the point of view of Hayat who begins the story as a college student looking back on his childhood and recalling the events which lead to a break with his Muslim faith. Hayat is the only son of Naveed and Muneer Shah. Naveed is fierce in his secular view and runs his home without the rituals of the Muslim faith he left behind in Pakistan. He is a physician who does medical resarch with his best friend, Dr. Nathan Wolfsohn -- a Jew. Naveed maintains his 'man in charge' role at home by philandering with the 'white women' he meets at work, to the constant rage and dismay of his well educated wife, Muneer. Muneer, although bright, well read and outspoken, is singularly obsessed with Naveed's chronic infidelity and, unfortunately, brings Hayat into her psychological turmoil. Hayat must often be a sounding board as his mother cries and complains about his father's lack of respect for her and his roving attentions. Muneer's goal in life is to raise Hayat to be respectful and loving toward women in general and his future wife, specifically.
The fragile understandings that hold the Shah family together become unmoored with the arrival of Muneer's best friend, Mina Ali, newly arrived from Pakistan to escape a nasty ex husband who has threatened to take away her young son, Imran. Mina is beautiful and spirited. Back home she had been beaten for the act of reading too much. She loves literature and learning and thrives in Milwaukee when she first arrives to stay with the Shahs. Mina begins to train as a hair dresser and makes new friends. She also becomes attracted to Nathan Wolfsohn, who immediately falls for her when they first meet at a summer barbeque at the Shah's.
Hayat also adores Mina and is in love with her the way an adolescent boy loves the first beautiful woman who pays him any attention. Mina begins to read the Quran with Hayat and is his first Islamic teacher. Her interpretation of the passages is both delicate and thoughtful. She is deeply religious yet also expansive and open. Mina is a character who shows those who are skeptical of organized religion (such as This Reader) how uplifting a religious practice can be and how it can manifest growth and positivity in a life if practiced with intention and ethics.
Sadly, the crew of batterers and big mouths over at the Islamic Center have plans for 'fresh mouth' women like Mina and the hated Jew who loves her. Tragically this web ensnares Hayat and twists his own thinking. And in between the luminous Mina and her wisdom and grace and the thoroughly crappy Iman and his followers there lie an entire spectrum of nuanced characters with various degrees of tradition, faith, unbelief and uncertainty. Each character becomes fleshed out on the pages and the reader begins to know them like neighbors and colleagues and just individuals. And these are Muslim characters. And not enough of us in this culture know Muslims as people outside of the newsreels. It is not a person's culture or religion that define them as people as much as it is the degree to which they allow their culture and religion to define them...and whether they use these defining qualities for good or for ill. And this, Kirk Michael Seaver, is what defines a decent human being.
American Dervish is filled with basically good human beings who screw up and make some fairly bad mistakes (the Shah family) but then live with those decisions in a conflicted state of regret for the rest of their lives. In this way, they are the sort of family that is relate-able to almost all of us. I encourage you to pick up this wrenchingly narrated family story. The fates of the characters will remain questions that desire more information. We learn Mina's story in American Dervish but I hope Ayad Akhtar considers telling us more about Hayat, Muneer and Naveed in another book someday. --American Dervish is a 21st century coming-of-age story right up there with the best aspects of a classic Philip Roth novel (but updated for contemporary life)...more
Perhaps I am burning out, just a bit, on Nice Middle Class People Who Kill. We have seen several of them during the past few years. Now that I think aPerhaps I am burning out, just a bit, on Nice Middle Class People Who Kill. We have seen several of them during the past few years. Now that I think about it a bit more carefully, fiction has long been populated by nice, average, even timid and mousy people who commit murder. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl seemed to usher in a wave of successful young married murderers. These folks have everything going for them, but still! They want more! And their scruples are limited.
In The Husband's Secret, the events occur in Australia, one of my favorite locations on earth. I was all set to really sink my teeth into this one and enjoy the latest exurban sociopathy. But, this story, although competent enough, seemed a bit formulaic. I just really wasn't that into it this time around.
As the book begins, Cecilia Fitzpatrick -- the 'have it all/do it all' Superwoman of her suburb, comes across a letter her husband wrote to her after the birth of their first daughter, but never gave her. It was to be opened, stated the lettering on the envelope, only upon the event of his death. Of course she would have been better off not knowing. Of course she is tempted to open it. However, Cecilia is nothing if not scrupulous. Her husband, John Paul, is not dead. He is only away on business -- far away in Chicago -- and she resists the urge to open the sealed letter and read it. She does, however, mention the letter to him when he calls home later that day. John Paul's weird response and urgent plea that she NOT read the letter only adds fuel to her curiosity. Still. Cecilia resists temptation.
It is only when John Paul returns home as quickly as is possible (and that is one long flight, my friends...take it from someone who has flown from Cleveland to Chicago to California to Sydney) after the phone call that Cecilia starts to think something really odd must be going down with her, up until now, perfect husband. (This and the other weird signs she now starts to realize she has been noticing, but pushing to the back of her mind.) -- When John Paul arrives back in Sydney and realizes that she has not opened Pandora's Box, so to speak, he visibly relaxes and they spend a wonderful night together (including the sexy time that has been lacking recently in their marriage) After sexy time is over, Cecilia falls asleep blissfully, but awakens, later on, to find that John Paul is nowhere to be found in their bedroom. Nope, she hears him upstairs, in the attic, frantically searching for that letter. Cecilia, not quite committed to respecting John Paul's privacy, however, still has the envelope in her possession. At this point, she can no longer contain her need to read the words her husband is desperate to prevent her from seeing. She opens the letter and the content changes her life irrevocably.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Cecilia's former classmate, Tess O'Leary Curtis is hearing a tabloid tale of betrayal from her cousin, Felicity and her husband, Will. Tess, Felicity (formerly obese but recently svelte and blonde and hot) and Will have been an inseparable three-some for years. Tess and Felicity have been best friends, as well as cousins, for life. When Tess married Will, they all got along well and decided to go into business together. They formed their own ad agency and Tess was happily working with her spouse and her best friend and being a mom to her son, Liam. It all seemed picture perfect until -- wait for it, Oxygen Channel readers!--Will and Felicity announce that they have fallen in love. Now Tess is headed back to Sydney on the first plane out, Liam in tow, and her marriage and friendship status in charred ruins. Can she start over in Sydney (with the rekindling of an old flame?)
Add the Crowleys to the mix, and the main characters are in place. Rachel Crowley is a widow who has never gotten over the death of her teenage daughter. She has an adult son who can just never live up to her golden dreams of her dead daughter. And Rachel's entire life has dwindled down to her focus on finding out the truth behind her daughter's death.
These sad people all interconnect eventually and their problems do as well. This is not an uninteresting story. I guess I just found it a bit too much like one of those 'dark secrets of the suburbs' soap operesque movies. And, as I stated at the beginning, although fun for awhile, I believe I have had my full of them lately. If I had read this book a year ago, I might have enjoyed it more. I believe readers who enjoyed Girl on a Train might find this Australian take on such things enjoyable enough. ...more
My favorite thing about this fascinating little book is a quote that was not even included in the text. Allow me to explain. I first stumbled into theMy favorite thing about this fascinating little book is a quote that was not even included in the text. Allow me to explain. I first stumbled into the story of William Patrick Hitler over 25 years ago when I learned, anecdotally, that Hitler had a 'brother' who lived in 'New Jersey'. Seriously? Hitler? It was really difficult to imagine this arch villain even having a family. And, if somehow he did...New Jersey? Hitler's brother was some guy who lived in the Garden State, probably off of some highway exit, running a deli or a dry cleaning business or something. The notion was too surreal and also too mundane for words. Certainly 'historic' people (be they good or the very definition of evil, as in Hitler) begin life as Ordinary Joes. But it becomes so hard to look at them in this way after they achieve fame (or infamy.)
When I heard this tale, we were still living "Before Internet". I was intrigued, but I did not easily have the means to prove or disprove that story. I did, however, tuck it away in the back of my mind. A few years later, the Internet became a thing and I started looking up all of the arcane fragments I had heard in my earlier life in a less connected era. I was able to rule out a 'brother' in 'New Jersey' and began to feel 'had' by that story. Urban legend, no doubt.
Recently, I thought to look again. And imagine what I have missed out on, regarding Hitlerian genealogy! Google spat up a wealth of information in record time and I was almost immediately linked to the title of this book, and also to several articles written about its subject -- William Patrick Hitler. William Patrick Hitler? -- you may ask! Who the heck is HE?
He was, in fact, nephew of Adolph Hitler. He was the son of Adolph's half brother, Alois and Alois's Irish wife, Bridget Dowling Hitler. Many may be as unaware as I was that Hitler's brother was married to an Irish woman and resided in Liverpool for 4 years before deserting his family and returning to Germany. (The Hitlers, as is more commonly known, were Austrian. As adults, however, most of them spent much of their time in Germany, for obvious reasons.)
More reading about William Patrick lead me to a fascinating story. William Patrick Hitler managed to antagonize Uncle Adolph, escape to Holland despite this fact, and land on Long Island (NOT New Jersey!) when England would not take him back. His younger life had the element of picaresque. However, his post-war life (he enlisted in the US Navy!) was an unsolved mystery after he successfully faded into obscurity and anonymity.
How Hitler's nephew managed to conceal his identity, marry his German girlfriend and raise 4 sons in a Leave it to Beaver post war idyll makes for a fascinating study. The author of this book, British journalist, David Gardner, began to pick up the pieces of the tale back in the mid 1990s when his employer asked him to hunt down the 'Last of the Hitlers' for a piece which would mark the 50th anniversary of Adolph Hitler's death. Gardner was immediately hooked on the mystery and did not realize that the solving of it would consume several years of his life. Initially, his research lead only to dead ends and he was not able to furnish this story to his paper in time for the Hitler anniversary edition.
However, he was compelled to continue his investigations between assignments and throughout the course of several years. Eventually his research bore fruit. (I do local history research and I am familiar, on a very small scale, with the excitement and obsessiveness involved in tracking down facts.) Gardner located the social security death records for Bridget Dowling Hitler and opened a door to the past which had remained closed and locked for 40 years.
Readers of my age group will be fascinated by this bizarre historic tangent. And this brings me back to the line I read in one of the online articles about this book, the accompanying documentary, and the case of Hitler's lost American family. A Long Island neighbor was interviewed and she was quoted as repeating something she had heard her father tell her mother back in her childhood when 'Pat' Hitler and his family were her neighbors. Her dad said, "You know, I just saw Pat outside mowing his lawn. And, for a minute, he looked just like Hitler!" -- That quote really got my imagination fired up. I remember what it was like to be a kid in latter post war America. In the 1970s, WWII was still very fresh in the minds of the adults around me. They had either fought in the war themselves, had a spouse involved, or, like my own parents, had their childhoods shaped by the war years. We were all raised on 'WWII stories' told to us by older relatives. In our imaginations (and on TV and old war movies, which were still a network staple) the Nazis raged on. We generally believed stories about Nazis hiding out in South America...Hitler escaping the bunker and going into permanent hiding...and children being raised as 'spies' to resurrect the Reich. -- Any neighbor who bore even a slight resemblance to der Fuhrer would be fodder for rampant speculation, enjoyable fear, and neighborhood gossip amongst the kids.
In this one particular case, the all American kids next door actually WERE Hitlers! (Although living under an assumed surname) Maybe you have to be a Cold War kid to still have the fascination. (I recently talked to one of my daughter's friends who has made it deep into fifth grade without having the slightest idea of who Hitler even was.) Perhaps one of the more striking qualities of Gen X is that we are the last generation to be so affected by WWII (even though it ended 20 years before our births) -- The fact that one of William Patrick Hitler's sons is only one year my senior really brings this point home. This kid no doubt grew up watching Happy Days and listening to Led Zeppelin and eating Hostess snack cakes...just like me. But his uncle was Hitler!
Oh the twists and turns of history and fate. I am also directly related to Austrians of Hitler's generation. My own grandfather was in the same age group with Adolph and Alois Hitler. He also fought in the Austro Hungarian Army in WWI. He also fathered a child (my dad) well into middle age and had a grandchild born in the mid 1960s. Luckily for me, this relative (I never knew him) was an obscure Austrian who slipped out of the country in the 1920s. I have no idea if his brother, who stayed behind, was pro or anti Nazi. Because of the protection of time and their status as everyday people, not notorious tyrants, I can go on with my life completely unaware of the war records others in my immediate family line my have left behind. The American Hitlers had no such protection from the verdict of history and have had to hide, their entire lives, from the stain of Fascist genocide. As I devour the few tidbits that have been collected about their lives, I feel a small sense of voyeuristic shame --but not enough to let the story alone. I believe I am moving on to the documentary now!...more