I bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast bet...moreI bought a used copy of this coffee table photo book at AbeBooks.com and a few things hit me upside the head as I read it. First, the sad contrast between this young -- and apparently happy -- royal couple and the current one, knowing that the former's union was doomed from the start whereas Will & Kate are obviously here to stay.
The following is probably a bit of hindsighted psychoanalysis but it seems to me that Charles possibly considered, in these photographs that were snapped during very public functions, that all the attention being lavished on the two of them was for him. Or at least most of it. I'm sure it didn't take him long to catch on.
Diana, on the other hand, is absolutely glowing and her happiness seems to stem from the fact that she has taken on an exciting new role -- and the reader/viewer can see her growing into it as the photos progress -- because she's in love with her Prince Charming.
So I found the book heartbreaking but insightful. The narrative is full of details regarding the historical implications of the marriage but though it is well-written it is jarringly out of sequence with the photos. Not necessarily a big issue but it does seem odd at times.(less)
I've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it'...moreI've always thought the Solzhenitsyn course I took in college was all I'd ever need for an insider's perspective of Stalinist Russia. But although it's been decades since took that course, I don't recall being quite as thoroughly chilled by Solzhenitsyn's novels as I was with Rupert Colley's The Black Maria.
Perhaps this is because 1) Solzhenitsyn came to understand the evil of the system not as a civilian but as a respected military man before he was arrested and sent to a labor camp for criticizing, in a private letter, Stalin's handling of World War II; and 2) his most powerful works deal with imprisonment: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, In the First Circle, The Gulag Archipelago, for example.
Colley's protagonist, Maria Radekovna, on the other hand, is a civilian who is relatively free (although arrest and imprisonment are constant threats) and perhaps that is why I found her to be a more relatable character than many of those found in Solzhenitsyn's great works.
When her story begins, the reader finds Maria tightly bound by the tentacles of the secret police. Her brother Victor -- having recently returned from a labor camp an emotional vegetable -- is the reason she has been forced into a job that requires her to "out" someone every two weeks, someone who is (or isn't -- it really doesn't matter) being ever so slightly disloyal to the State. Victor's sad life would be over if Maria didn't keep making her twice-monthly reports against her fellow-citizens, most of whom haven't uttered a disloyal syllable. Their lives for her brother's.
Maria is also trapped in a loveless marriage with an insipid Party official because he knows something about her history. And in this real-life dystopia items in one's past that would be considered inconsequential from a western perspective could be absolutely devastating for those who were attempting to survive during this time and place.
On the horizon of Maria's bleak world there suddenly appears a handsome, independently-minded artist who is, for the moment, enjoying state-sponsored patronage only because Stalin can see the propaganda value in art -- "The artist is the engineer of the soul."
Passion, loyalty, love, betrayal, and death play out between a small cast of finely crafted characters within a page-turning plotline, as they always do in Colley's historical fiction. But this book kept me turning (er, clicking) the pages a bit faster than the others. Perhaps this has something to do with the book's construction or else because The Black Maria takes place in Moscow, in the heart of Soviet Russia (as opposed to a satellite Iron Curtain country like Hungary, the setting of Colley's My Brother, the Enemy). Moscow in the 1930's was Communism exactly as Stalin desired it to be and this book gives a close-up view of the constant terror Muscovites were forced to endure as Stalin's secret police waged their ideological war on their own people via purge after endless purge, denunciation after endless denunciation.
Colley, a former librarian, wrote The Black Maria after wading through multiple accounts of those who had witnessed the Soviet terror. It shows. He even -- quite chillingly -- is able to get into the mindset of those orchestrating this "war", phrasing it like this:
"We are fighting a war, and our enemy is an internal one, one that doesn’t wear a uniform. We must always be vigilant; we can’t afford to spare the rod, not until our work is done.’
They were, most unfortunately, true to their aims and the way in which Colley captures this piece of history will stay with the reader perhaps longer than they wish it to.
On November 8, 1943, an Allied plane that was transporting 13 female nurses and 17 male medics—all members of the U.S. Army's 807th Medical Air Evacua...more On November 8, 1943, an Allied plane that was transporting 13 female nurses and 17 male medics—all members of the U.S. Army's 807th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron—on its way to an Italian location was forced to crash-land due to bad weather, a German plane, and loss of radio contact. The members of the medical team didn't even know where they were until approached by a local partisan fighter: they were in German-occupied Albania. The months-long odyssey that ensued is the subject of Cate Lineberry's book, The Secret Rescue.
During World War II, Albania was first occupied by the Italians. After Italy surrendered to the Allies in September, 1943, the Germans moved in, allowing the Albanians a measure of self-government while launching fierce reprisals against partisan Resistance fighters. Then the tensions that already existed between the two main factions of the Albanian Resistance, both of whom wanted to control the country following the war, exploded into violence.
Crash-land some unarmed and unprepared Americans into this hotbed of civil strife and world war and you have a pretty exciting story, a close-up view of one section of the Balkan campaign, and a tale that hasn't previously been given full-length treatment. Although the reader knows from the outset that the team will make it out (the word "rescue" in the title sort of gives this away), author Cate Lineberry has organized the book in a manner that allows the reader to experience each new twist and turn just as the nurses and medics did. Guided by partisans who promise to help them connect with agents of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Americans make their grueling trek on foot from one impoverished village to another, most of the inhabitants trying to be as hospitable as possible by sharing what little they have but all facing deadly German reprisals for doing so.
Lineberry's own odyssey is a researcher's dream. After she "stumbled across" the story in an old newspaper, she obtained two related memoirs then accessed various declassified documents and letters (the American government forced the rescued team to remain silent about their ordeal for decades) before tracking down the one remaining member of the team, 89 year-old Harold Hayes. Lineberry claims that Hayes had a sharp memory, and there's no doubt of that; although the narrative has the ring of truth—nothing seems exaggerated or fictionalized—there are some startling details here, especially regarding the Germans who are, so to speak, constantly just offstage. At one point they charge into a village where the Americans are staying, leaving most of them barely enough time to scramble out. Later, one of the officers of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who becomes involved in the rescue sees a group of Albanian partisans wearing German boots and carrying German weapons. "Every partisan I met," he said later, "claimed that he alone had killed eight to ten Germans."
Lineberry has done a fine job shaping all the various testimonies into a cohesive narrative while also giving a good description of each character. That's no mean feat, because the book has quite a cast. Yet all the nurses, medics, agents of the SOE and OSS, and Albanian partisans are described with enough detail to give a clear picture of the individual without bogging down the narrative flow.
Only once or twice did I get the feeling that the author possibly hadn't done all of her background homework. For instance, while briefly comparing the aims of the British SOE and the American OSS, she states that "OSS training distinguished itself from SOE training by focusing less on strict military discipline and formalities between officers and enlisted men and more on self-reliance and initiative." The SOE was huge on self-reliance and initiative and wasn't populated by actual military personnel (although each agent was assigned a faux military rank in hopes it would save them from being shot as a spy if captured). But since those two organizations are tangential to the story, this is a relatively minor issue. Bringing this great tale to light is a major achievement on Lineberry's part, and The Secret Rescue is a thrilling nonfiction read.
Turbulent historical setting? Check. Vivid descriptions? Check. Realistic and likeable central character? Check. Page-turning excitement? Check. Heart...moreTurbulent historical setting? Check. Vivid descriptions? Check. Realistic and likeable central character? Check. Page-turning excitement? Check. Heart-stopping denouement? Check. Passion, heroism, betrayal? Check, check, and check.
It all adds up: My Brother the Enemy is an excellent work of historical fiction from Rupert Colley (his first written, my second read), this one set in Hungary, beginning a few years post-WWII and moving through the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The book follows a set of Jewish twins, Janos and Lukacs, who have managed to escape from the Nazis during the war only to be forced afterwards by the communists to relocate to an impoverished little village where they attend a state-run school and watch their once-prosperous father drink himself into oblivion and inebriated rages. A few years later they manage to attend university in Budapest where they take an active role in the revolution.
Janos and Lukacs may be identical twins but their strikingly different personalities and love for the same woman create the book's central tension and keeps those pages turning throughout the novel's vivid historical settings. However, just occasionally, the verisimilitude of those settings cracks when Colley lets slip a Britishism or two. Words and phrases such as "buggered" "sod off" "bloody liar" " the f-ing lot of them" "things were a-changing" (OK, that last one is as American as Bob Dylan), might have been replaced by more generic terms or even possibly Hungarian words with translations somehow neatly tucked nearby.
But this is just an occasional issue. For 99 percent of My Brother the Enemy I nearly believed I was closely observing the conflicted lives of two brothers as they experience the dreary oppression of post-war communist Hungary and the heady thrill of its mid-century revolution.
This oversized book is filled with beautiful sepia-toned photographs of European royal houses in the decades prior to the first world war. Most of the...moreThis oversized book is filled with beautiful sepia-toned photographs of European royal houses in the decades prior to the first world war. Most of the dynasties photographed here were "discontinued" in the post-war clamor for self-government. The ones that remained were eventually stripped of any significant power.
The introductory text by Robert Massie is quite lengthy and gives a detailed description of the following houses during the last decades of their regencies: The Saxe-Colburg-Windsors, The Hohenzollerns, The Romanovs and The Hapsburgs.
The bulk of the book, as the title suggests, are photographs accompanied by text and the monarchs of the following countries are represented in this section: Great Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Prussia, The Lesser German States, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, France, Scandinavbia, Iberia, Italy and The Balkans.
As a folk tale fan, I found the royal families of "the Lesser German states" particularly interesting: suddenly the first sentences of all those fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers make perfect sense -- so many little German kingdoms, so many little German kings, so many royal princesses.
As many of these dynasties were intermarried, the genealogical table at the end of the book is very helpful.
The book provides a fascinating glimpse of 19th century European royal houses during the second half of the 19th century before they were lost to the tumultuous changes of the 20th. (less)
I found this in my library's cookbook section but it is really much more. It's a charmingly told but very real slice of Italian-American history, the...moreI found this in my library's cookbook section but it is really much more. It's a charmingly told but very real slice of Italian-American history, the sort of-memoir of Clara Cannucciari who grew up in Melrose Park, a Chicago suburb once home to many Italian-Americans.
Often when hearing of how people had to "make do" during the Great Depression, it doesn't really hit home to generations born after. In this book, however, it does and not only because of the many reminiscences scattered throughout but because the author shares the extremely economical recipes that she grew up on. Not the most enticing dishes I've ever encountered, perhaps, but they were obviously created by a loving and clever Italian cook who used them to keep her family healthy during very tough times.
Loved the vintage photos of Cannucciari's family.(less)
This Time Tomorrow is historical fiction involving two brothers and a girl they both love set in the midst of the British experience of the First Worl...moreThis Time Tomorrow is historical fiction involving two brothers and a girl they both love set in the midst of the British experience of the First World War and its aftermath.
Colley, founder of the History-in-an-Hour Harper Collins series, is able to keep the reader interested in his characters as we follow them through their various war-related experiences. The descriptions of trench warfare are particularly heart-stopping.
There was one scene that is told via flashback during an interview set in 1988 that at first didn't seem to make sense to me: why have this peripheral "future" character suddenly describe the book's next major scene? Why not leave it on the timeline?
But then I realized that it made perfect sense to show that the horrific event in which this character was forced to take part continued to haunt him well into his 90's. And after reading this section I almost wished there had been more scenes like this one that switched back and forth between timelines -- it was extremely effective.
Every once in a while I thought Colley was setting up his characters along conventional lines but then they would do something completely surprising; they are very real people.
The difference between non-fiction and good historical fiction is this: non-fiction presents the facts while historical fiction brings the reader into the room, so to speak. Colley manages to do both: the historical setting is perfectly accurate and the reader sees it up close. If you want to learn about the Great War, go ahead and read Colley's World War One in an Hour (or for specific British issues, Hochschild's To End All Wars). But if you are up for a cinematic view of British soldiers on the Western Front and the devastating issues they faced in the trenches and out, read This Time Tomorrow.
When the pressure of a book deadline pushes my nerves to the breaking point I do what many writers do: I shop at AbeBooks.com and Amazon for used how-...moreWhen the pressure of a book deadline pushes my nerves to the breaking point I do what many writers do: I shop at AbeBooks.com and Amazon for used how-to books on crafts I'm never going to learn, fantasizing about all the time I'm going to have post-deadline to work the other side of my brain and attempting through it all to make constructive plans for the sense of disorientation that tends to follow the completion of a long, intense writing project.
While gazing at postal art books this time around (as if! I can't even draw!) I somehow managed to stumble into the Audrey Hepburn section on Amazon (I'm really not sure how that happened -- perhaps my eyes wandered from the computer screen to my Audrey Hepburn wall calendar). Yes, Audrey has her own Amazon section which came as a pleasant but not-so-surprising surprise.
A long-time fan of her films, I was glad to find within my price range a few well-reviewed books devoted to Hepburn-inspired frivolity. The first to come in the mail would have been superficial if it didn't have a photo of Audrey on every page and if the text wasn't so clever. So Audrey: 59 Ways to Put a Little Audrey in Your Step places tongue-in-cheek fashion advice opposite somewhat relevant photos of Audrey. For instance, next to a photo of Audrey decked out in her Roman Holiday regalia is text that reads "Let a standout necklace do the talking." Opposite a photo of her "Moon River" scene in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" are the words: "Whether torn for effect, stone-washed, or dyed indigo, nothing beats a great pair of blue jeans."
The book that came next, How to be Lovely: The Audrey Hepburn Way of Life, although similar in size (they're both fairly small) and style (the clever page headings pose as advice and the book includes many photographs), it packs more depth and biographic material, using copious direct quotes from Audrey and those close to her, all of it organized around the particular themes of the 10 chapters: Happiness, Success, Health, Love, Famiy, Friendship, Fulfillment, Style, Fame, Humanity.
More than anything else How to be Lovely proves that Audrey was indeed lovely and wise and that the beautiful person on the screen was an extension of her own personality (she never went to acting school, one of the many things I learned from reading this pithy little book).
This biography is a skillfull combination of excellent writing and meticulous research. While highlighting the life of Flora Sandes, obviously, it als...moreThis biography is a skillfull combination of excellent writing and meticulous research. While highlighting the life of Flora Sandes, obviously, it also brings to light the life and work of her fascinating sometime-associate Emily Simmonds (of whom there is currently little written).
This is an extremely well written, solidly researched book that brings a slice of WWII history brilliantly to life. I've read similar titles that are...moreThis is an extremely well written, solidly researched book that brings a slice of WWII history brilliantly to life. I've read similar titles that are no more than dull summaries of troop movements but because Kershaw makes generous use of personal interviews and letters, his writing is peppered with first-person narrative quotes that make the reader feel as if they were there.
I'm not sure what moved me to love these Madeleine books so much but it must have been a combination of the quirky artwork and the lyrical story. I ac...moreI'm not sure what moved me to love these Madeleine books so much but it must have been a combination of the quirky artwork and the lyrical story. I actually tried to fill in the background of one of my 2nd or 4th grade art projects with a Belamans-inspired squiggly line and got marked down for it. :) (less)
Weintraub''s book is based on a series of personal testimonies, fictionalized accounts written post-war, and letters home that told of the truce, the...moreWeintraub''s book is based on a series of personal testimonies, fictionalized accounts written post-war, and letters home that told of the truce, the latter being the main reason word got out about these soldiers crossing no-man's-land to play soccer, exchange Christmas treats, and create very short-term friendships before their superiors would inevitably force them to start shooting at each other again. Often they didn't have to because the normal rotations would push them back to the supportive lines behind the front but when they were forced to resume the war, some of them just fired into the air so they wouldn't have to kill their new friends.
I found the sections regarding the Germans (mostly the Saxons) complaining to their new British friends about the Prussians very interesting. In this line of divided German sentiments, Weintraub includes some info about Corporal Adolph Hitler who, when asked by his Bavarian compatriots if he would join in the Christmas activities with the British across the line, responded with "Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honor left at all?" He would have been much more comfortable with a Prussian regiment at such a "frivolous" moment.
It's all very interesting, heavy on the personal testimony (which I found fascinating), and if nothing else makes one realize that the Great War was completely ludicrous, this book about the temporary friendships formed so quickly with enemies will certainly help move things in that direction.
Rasia Kliot, a Lithuanian Jew, was a teenager during the summer of 1941 when the Germans invaded her town, shot her father, and forced the rest of the...moreRasia Kliot, a Lithuanian Jew, was a teenager during the summer of 1941 when the Germans invaded her town, shot her father, and forced the rest of the family into a ghetto. Rasia’s Aryan looks enabled her to pass in and out of the ghetto where she sought refuge wherever she could find it while trying to alleviate the suffering of her ghetto-trapped family.
After the war, Rasia married a Greek and raised their daughter Helen as a Christian. It wasn’t until Helen was twelve years old that her mother finally admitted that she was Jewish and began to share, little by little, the details of her wartime experiences. But the ramifications of what officially ended in 1945 went on for years and that is the crux of this dual biography. Rasia – subconsciously or not – taught her daughter the survival skills that Rasia had been forced to learn on the spot during the Holocaust. Only there was no Holocaust in post-war Phoenix, AZ where Helen grew up.
Waltzing with the Enemy – named for a terrifying incident wherein Rasia is temporarily forced to dance with a German officer who doesn’t realize she is Jewish -- is unique among Holocaust memoirs for a couple of reasons. Most obviously, it illuminates the generational ramifications of the Holocaust. But unique as well is Rasia’s account, the book’s first half. Instead of being confined to one location, such as a ghetto or a concentration camp, Rasia was constantly on the move, traveling from place to place, seeking shelter, avoiding the constant threat of discovery by the Germans (and rape by a large percentage of Lithuanian men she encounters) all the while constantly burdened with desperate concern for her family back in the ghetto. This gives the reader a fascinating if terrifying look at occupied Lithuania through the eyes of a young Jewish woman who found a way to move in and outside the walls that imprisoned her fellow Jews. And the amount of detail Rasia includes -- exhibiting an impressive amount of recall on her part – brings into sharp focus the sheer exhaustion of survival.
I thought that the second half of the book chronicling Helen’s attempts to work out her own related issues got a little bogged down towards the end but all in all, Waltzing with the Enemy is valuable original source material on the long-term affects of the Holocaust.
I have been given the great honor of blurbing this book! Here's one of my attempts:
Mullenbach has done a great service in telling the stories of these...moreI have been given the great honor of blurbing this book! Here's one of my attempts:
Mullenbach has done a great service in telling the stories of these pre-Civil Rights women who had to fight through racial injustice in order to win the right to fight Fascism. The humiliations they had to endure makes for tough reading but their inspiring determination shines through every page.
But this is what I actually sent in on Monday:
"Cheryl Mullenbach has done a great service in telling the stories of these determined black women who fought racial injustice two decades before the Civil Rights movement in order to win the right to fight Fascism alongside their fellow Americans. Double Victory is at once heartbreaking and inspiring.”