Elise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna before World War II. Her parents realize the danger they are facing and make plans for the family to leave the...moreElise Landau is a Jew living in Vienna before World War II. Her parents realize the danger they are facing and make plans for the family to leave the country. They must all go separate ways and Elise ends up working as a housemaid on an estate in England.
Being from an artistic family in the upper middle class, Elise finds it hard to adapt to life as a housemaid. It doesn't help that she desperately misses her family and barely speaks English. But things start to change when the master's son, Kit, comes home from college and starts tutoring her.
The book was charming and delightful but there were some things that just weren't perfect for me.
I felt that there was a bit too much of an influence from Rebecca and Jane Eyre. I love both books, but I don't want new books to feel like them; the new books will only suffer in the comparison. "When I close my eyes I see Tyneford House." Compare that to, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." It wasn't just language, it was faint echoes in the scenes as well. It's hard to explain but it's there.
I also saw exactly where the book was going from very early on. I had moments where I thought I might be wrong but I wasn't. I wish it had been more of a surprise.
Otherwise, I did like this story of a house in World War II. I enjoyed seeing Elise go from an immature nineteen-year-old to a formidable woman. Her growth felt very natural. As she grew into her potential, I liked her more and more. Tyneford is loosely based on a real village called Tyneham. The things that happen to Tyneford closely shadow events at Tyneham. I had never heard of this place but it's a sad story. I never knew what life was like on the coast for British people during WWII either. Watching German planes and the RAF fighting air battles, sending out fishing boats to evacuate soldiers from France--life must have felt chaotic but it seems that the British people faced it with grace.
Having discovered Downton Abbey in the past six months or so, I was delighted to read about life among the servants. Inevitably, Wrexham the butler looked and sounded like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Ellsworth was Mrs. Hughes. It just added to the draw of the book for me.
I do recommend this book. It's a bittersweet romance with some very serious undertones. Fans of Downton Abbey should enjoy it as well.(less)
Louie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned his...moreLouie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned his life around. People were taking notice of his times and the Olympics were in his future. He made it to the Berlin Olympics in a distance that was not his specialty. He didn't medal but at least he gained some experience. He started training in earnest for the next Olympics but then WWII broke out. He was soon flying in bombers over the Pacific Ocean. And then his plane went down.
Wow. I am in awe Louie's survival instincts. I read this on vacation in Jamaica and I have to say that I was not paying attention to the beautiful beach around me; I was fully present with Louie in his life boat. I periodically read bits from the book to my husband and at one point I looked up and said, "If I'm ever in a life boat in the middle of the ocean, I want this man to be with me. You won't believe what he just did!" and launched into that story. I won't spoil it for you but I remember it vividly.
I was thinking that this would make a good gift for my dad but by the time I finished, I wasn't so sure. Louie just goes through so stinking much. I got so frustated! "Why can't this guy get a break?!?!" was on a constant repeat in my head. It was one thing after the other and just when I thought he was going to be okay, things actually got worse. And worse. And worse. I'm not so sure that my dad would handle it all that well.
I thought I would like this because I so enjoyed Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand's first book. She is an excellent narrative nonfiction writer. She is able to put me right there in the middle of her story and make me care about things that aren't normally on my radar. I don't care about horse racing and I was manically cheering for a little knock-kneed underdog. I do like WWII books, but I tend to stick more with the Holocaust end of things rather than the actual fighting and have only rarely, if ever, ventured into the Pacific Theater. I definitely felt my ignorance here. I was a little embarrassed at myself. Pearl Harbor...atomic bomb. A whole lot of fighting in between. That sums up what I know. I got a little crash course here.
Hillenbrand also knows when to stop writing. That feels like a rare gift sometimes. She goes into some of the "afterward" and just when I was starting to get worried that she was going to lose me by going too far, she wrapped things up. Her story is about WWII so there's no great need to go past that in my opinion. Thankfully, she seems to agree. I'm sure that Louie's life has always been interesting (he's a rare man, how could it be otherwise?) but let's stick to one story. She did.
There are parts of the book that will upset some people, I'm sure. There's one scene in particular that Louie described as the worst thing he saw in the war (I'm 99% sure on this) that has kind of haunted me. It's a little event in the big scheme of things that shows a lot about the man who did it and what kind of men Louie found himself surrounded by. It still bothers me, just thinking about it now. People sensitive to degradation and utterly meaningless violence should probably steer clear.
Hillenbrand is a heckuva writer and she found a fascinating man to write about. I feel honored to have read his story and encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to read it too. You won't be disappointed.(less)
Lina Vilkas is a normal teen girl living in Lithuania in 1941, starting to think about boys, drawing all the time, and preparing fo...moreOh, where to start?
Lina Vilkas is a normal teen girl living in Lithuania in 1941, starting to think about boys, drawing all the time, and preparing for art school. Then a knock comes in the middle of the night. The NKVD (apparently an early form of the KGB) have come to take her and her family away. Lina and her younger brother Jonas don't know why. All they know is that they have 20 minutes to gather what they can. They leave the house in terror and are eventually loaded onto cattle cars with many, many others. The cars label them as "thieves and prostitutes." They seem to be the people who weren't cowed when Stalin took over Lithuania and are therefore seen as a threat. They don't know where their father is, but their mother keeps their spirits buoyed with talk of everyone being together soon. They don't know just how long their journey is going to be.
Oh my goodness. How did I not know about this? I've come across vague statements about how many millions of people died under Stalin's regime in the past. I didn't realize the scale of it, if that makes sense. I somehow thought it was smaller groups of "dissenters" killed across many, many years and across a vast country. I didn't realize it was genocide.
Lina and Jonas and their mother made this unthinkable tragedy real to me. Lina had such a distinct personality--feisty, dreamy, artistic, hopeful, angry--yet she was so easy to relate to. Watching Jonas grow almost overnight from a boy to the virtual man of the house was heartbreaking. Where did his childhood go? And still, I was so proud of him. Yes, proud of a fictional character.
Lina's terror and dreams kept me turning pages at a pace that has been unheard of for me recently. I just couldn't stand not knowing how everything was going to turn out. I very much had a case of the "Just One More Chapter"s. The writing was so immediate; it just grabbed me and didn't let go. I even consciously stopped at one point to see if it was written in present tense and I just hadn't noticed. Nope. I was just so fully present with Lina that I felt what she felt.
This is a such a tough read, but so important. The Soviets were in power so long, they almost managed to silence this. Brave survivors of the genocide who didn't live to see the USSR fall still left behind written and oral records. Those who outlasted the regime have bravely shared their stories. And still, 20+ years after "the wall came down," I'm just now learning what happened. My thanks to the author for sharing a story that impacted her family so deeply. Those who endured it must be so proud of her.
Read this when you're feeling brave enough to bear witness to a human tragedy of epic proportions. We can't let the victims be forgotten.(less)
Morgan McClain and his brother are shipping out to Europe in the last year of WWII. They spend their last night in the States at a USO dance where the...moreMorgan McClain and his brother are shipping out to Europe in the last year of WWII. They spend their last night in the States at a USO dance where they meet Liz Stephens. Liz and Morgan immediately feel a connection, despite the fact that Liz is practically engaged to someone else. Complicated circumstances arise, as they do, and Morgan unwittingly finds himself dancing with Liz's friend, Betty, although he doesn't know the two women are friends. Betty promises to write him overseas. Flighty Betty asks Liz to help her write to Morgan. She intends to write one letter and be done with him. But when Morgan writes back, Liz receives the letter and can't get the author out of her head. She continues to write him as Betty throughout the war.
It sounds more complicated than it is. It's a Cyrano story set in WWII. 3.5 stars.
I liked it. The writing could be more polished, but I liked the characters and cared what happened to them. The snooty non-romance reader inside me would occasionally scoff at the likelihood of some of these events ever happening, but mostly I was able to shove that voice down and enjoy a charming story. We all need a dose of romance now and then, whether we admit it or not. And who am I to say this would never happen? We all agree that truth is stranger than fiction, right?
I really liked Morgan. He has no pretensions of being anything other than he is--a farm boy, albeit one with above-average intelligence. His ambitions are small and homey, and his interactions with others are honest and sincere. Liz was a good match for him, but the tone of her letters was overblown. I found myself rolling my eyes at her prose sometimes. Betty just might have sneaked her way in as my favorite character, at least right up until the very end. She takes an unexpected path and surprises herself at the inner strength she finds. Her actions at the end seem very out of character and I wasn't happy with that. There's another story about a third friend, Julia, and her sailor-fiance, Christian, but that took a backseat for me. I liked Julia though and I liked the way her story showed the way that women's roles in society were changing during this time.
If you're in the mood for a nice romance and you like the backdrop of WWII, go ahead and pick this up. I was left with a smile on my face. (less)
Primo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he...morePrimo Levi was a young Jewish man living in Turin, Italy when he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Due to a combination of luck and calculation, he survived.
I truly, truly hate to give any Holocaust memoir less than five stars. They are all important and they should all be read.
Somehow I never got drawn into this book. It took me two weeks to read a book that is 190 pages long. Crazy, right? I can't put my finger on what my problem was. Bear with me as I try to work it out.
Maybe it's that I'm more of the "feeling" personality type and Levi seems to be more of a "thinker." He does have some very astute observations to make about humanity. I started to lose interest in a chapter titled "The Drowned and the Saved." This chapter was almost like a primer for how to survive in such horrific conditions. I have concluded that I wouldn't make it. I don't understand anything that resembles economics. So descriptions of schemes to trade 1 piece of bread for a coupon that somehow turns into 4 pieces of bread left me scratching my head. I don't get it. My eyes glazed over.
I did finally get more interested in the very last chapter, "The Story of Ten Days." This felt more personal to me. Levi and some fellow prisoners are trying to survive in the abandoned camp until the Russian army arrives. They immediately lose the "survival at all costs" mentality and start to look out for each other again.
In looking back through this book for my review, I see a lot of passages that seem pertinent and that provide a lot of food for thought. Maybe this was just a bad time for me to read this particular book? I don't know.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that most of this memoir was a little too analytical and distanced. When it got more personal, I tuned in, but then it was finished.
Again, I still recommend this and all other Holocaust memoirs. I personally just didn't click with the style of this one.(less)
In Annexed, author Sharon Dogar imagines what life in the Annex with Anne Frank must have been like for young Peter. We know all about Anne's thoughts...moreIn Annexed, author Sharon Dogar imagines what life in the Annex with Anne Frank must have been like for young Peter. We know all about Anne's thoughts and feelings, but surely Peter needs a chance to tell his side of things too. The novel begins as Peter is dying and looking back on his life, desperate to tell someone his story.
The first part of this book was really about 4 stars for me. It wasn't anything hugely different from what I would have imagined, but it was nice to see a different perspective on the other housemates. Anne frequently used her diary as a place to vent, so we tended to see the worst parts of everyone. In this book, Mrs. van Pels is shown as a caring mother who frequently says inappropriate things to help draw attention away from shy Peter. She steals the Franks' sheets to help him out too. His dad makes his awful jokes as a way to try to break tension. Mr. Frank is a wise, understanding mentor. Margot is inscrutable, but Mrs. Frank and Mr. Pfeffer are still pretty difficult to live with. Anne herself isn't always easy to live with, with her high ideals and mercurial personality, but she always makes life interesting, even within the confines of the Annex.
The second part left me feeling shattered.
Anne Frank's diary is a difficult read, because you do know how the story ends. But the diary just stops and, in the edition I read anyway, there was a very dry summation of what happened to the inhabitants of the Annex after their capture. If you've read any Holocaust literature at all, you can fill in the blanks, but it's easy just to not think about it and feel sad that Anne didn't live to make the mark she wanted to make on the world. (I'm not saying that she didn't make a mark, I'm saying that she would have chosen to live and write more life-changing books)
This book takes us into the camps.
We follow the Franks and the van Pelses onto the trains and into Auschwitz. Peter is separated from the women very early on, so we don't have to actually watch Anne suffer, but Peter spends a lot of time imagining what is going on with the women. He also tells us how hard life is, and we're there with him as he loses his father and as he himself almost, almost makes it through. I finished this on a plane and it was all I could do to keep from sobbing. I conveniently hadn't thought about life after the Annex, at least not much, but this book helped me mourn their loss.
Here are some quotes, both from the book and the extra material. These are taken from an advance copy and might have changed or been taken out of the final copy.
"As I write this, Anne Frank (if still alive) would have only been in her eighties. She might still be writing stories, still be reminding us of what it means to stay alive to the beauty of the world when all around you lies evidence of death, hatred, and destruction."
"I find a satchel and a spare jacket with a star sewn onto it, but then at the last minute I decide not to wear it. If this is my last walk through the city I'm going to do it free--as me--and if anything happens, if they find me--then let them."
"Today is the eighth of November. I'm sixteen....Last night [Mutti] came into my room. She didn't say anything. She sat on the bed and held my hand. After a while she left. Sometimes there's nothing that can be said."
"Trains. A platform. That was the beginning of our end. The selected. It is hard to believe there was ever a before. Or that there could ever be an after. Is there anybody left? Is anyone listening?"
"Because this is not a story. This is the truth. These things really happened. This is what all of us here long for you, outside, to know. That we went gently, most of us. We walked into the night of the camps in long lines not knowing where we were going. We went in trains, wearing all of our possessions like hope. Once, we were legion, now we are few. Now our naked bodies lie in piles. Our bones are ground to dust and we are...ashes. That is the truth"
"Now do you get it? This is what I did. This is how I lasted. For some of us survival was luck. No, for all of us it was luck. But for most of us it was because we learned to cheat and lie and steal and stand by--and watch while others were beaten and died. In this way they etched their hatred upon us."
"We are standing together. It is the day they took my father. I cannot speak. 'What is left of him?' Mr. Frank says. 'The clothes that came back were not his, the number on his wrist was not his.' 'There's nothing left,' I whisper. 'You!' he says. 'You are what he has left. You will remember. You will survive. You will tell his story.'"
A recurring theme throughout the book is the German word, Wystawach. It means, "Wake up!" This is appropriate in so many ways. It woke me up to the horrible reality of the deaths of the Annex residents. This book, and Anne's diary, are a wake up call to us to remember and honor those we have lost. They're also a wake up call to remind us to be vigilant and prevent genocide and hatred. But we should also wake up and see the world around us. As the author wrote, we need to "stay alive to the beauty of the world."
This might not be for everyone. Anne Frank is not presented as a perfect girl here, so that might offend some people. Also, Peter is a teenage boy. What do teen boys think about? You got it. He spends some time fantasizing about a girl he lost. It's not graphic, and it doesn't take up much space in the story, but it is there. To me, both these points add some realism to the novel. If you don't like the ideas, you might want to stay away.
With the two caveats I listed above in mind, I absolutely recommend this as a companion to Anne Frank's diary.
Thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an early copy via Netgalley.(less)
The Postmistress is a novel of if. "If I tell this story in exactly the right way, people will hear it and act on it," thinks the reporter. "If I don'...moreThe Postmistress is a novel of if. "If I tell this story in exactly the right way, people will hear it and act on it," thinks the reporter. "If I don't make mistakes, the system will be perfect and chaos and random chance will be kept at bay," thinks the postmistress. "If I think hard enough about my husband being safe, he will be," thinks the woman left at home as her husband goes off to London during the Blitz. But if is a double-edged word and sometimes it falls the other way, and we're left thinking, "If only I had done this or hadn't done that, then this other thing would never have happened."
Beautiful. I opened this novel, already in love with the cover, and fell in love with the writing contained within. It's not a beauty that keeps you at arm's distance. It's a beauty that seductively whispers, "Come closer. Read what I have to say. See what I'm showing you." And then it shows you the chaos of war, and how helpless we are before it. It shows you how it's human nature to avoid seeing what we don't want to see, or to avoid acting when it's easier to stay safely at home with our heads in the sand.
Haunting. I am going to be haunted by Frankie's story for a long time. I should perhaps relate more to the wife than the reporter, but Frankie's stories have left a mark on my soul. She's in London, and then she's in Europe in the refugee trains, and all the time she is beating against the world's indifference, shouting, "This is happening, and it's happening in numbers you can't imagine. And it's getting worse every day. Pay attention! Please, just pay attention." And the world doesn't pay attention, and the horror worsens.
Read it. It's not always easy; war stories never are. But we still have a duty to pay attention, even--or perhaps especially--to the past.(less)
This is the continuation of the true story of Vladek Spiegelman's survival as a Jew in WWII Poland.
Most of what I wrote in my review of Maus I still s...moreThis is the continuation of the true story of Vladek Spiegelman's survival as a Jew in WWII Poland.
Most of what I wrote in my review of Maus I still stands, but there’s a bit more of the author’s feelings included. You can see the catharsis he’s going through as he writes this novel. He’s painfully honest about the conflicting feelings he has toward his father and his mother.
Again, most of Vladek’s survival relied on luck, but I was left in awe of his ingenuity and his talent for survival. But the man would drive me crazy. I was left wondering if he was the way he was because of what he went through or if he was just born that way.
This book touches on prejudices we still have today, even people who should know better.
I have to admit that I was welling up before I had read one word of the story--and I'm not a crier.
Maus I and Maus II are just such powerful books. Still highly, highly recommended.(less)
"'I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.' I know that this was a bold statement and a sweeping judgment, but since tha...more"'I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.' I know that this was a bold statement and a sweeping judgment, but since than I have restated it on many occasions. While I am periodically challenged on this premise, I believe I have the facts on my side."
So writes Tom Brokaw in the introduction to this book about the World War II generation, and he proceeds to make his case by telling individual stories of survival, courage, leadership, and trail-blazing.
I pretty much loved this book. I have always liked reading books centered around WWII, but I haven't actually read much non-fiction, and especially not exactly like this. I got what I expected and more.
I expected stories about the heroes, both celebrated and unsung, and their exploits in the war. I may have even expected stories about the women on the home front.
I did not expect Brokaw to tackle some of the issues this generation had to overcome. He did not shy away from segregation, both in civilian life and the military. He confronted the issue of the Japanese internment camps. He took a close look at the women in uniform during the war and the paths they had to forge to get anything that even resembled equality. I was impressed that he included those topics, and I learned a lot from the personal stories he used to make his points about these issues.
I also didn't really expect the personal stories to dwell so much on life after the war. I was a little disappointed at first; after all, the war was what drew me to the book. But I quickly got over it and realized that this generation didn't let one major event define their lives completely. They moved on and shaped the world in the ways they thought best. And that is part of what makes them great.
I'm struggling to find a way to say what I mean with this next thought. Here goes. The people who told these stories all came home to live successful lives, in big ways and small. There had to be people who came home and just couldn't adapt to civilian life. It felt like, in order for the picture to be truly complete, some of that should have been included. Of course, who wants to be interviewed about why they started drinking too much and wound up homeless, right? Or maybe those guys mostly passed away before this book was written. The point could be made that including that kind of thing would weaken the book's central argument, I know. But ignoring the facts doesn't make them go away, and addressing all the facts makes your case stronger. It's a small thing, but I noticed it because of the thoroughness of the rest of the book.
This was also an interesting study in how times have changed. This generation was very much about patriotism, duty, honor, and personal sacrifice. They had widely experienced crushing poverty during the Depression, and they never forgot the lessons they learned in those times. In comparison to our current society, where we just have to have the newest phone/video game/book, or whatever, it made me feel shallow and small. I don't think that's bad at all. Sometimes we need to be reminded about how blessed we truly are.
There are surprising tales of heroism on all fronts, both during the war and in the years following. Tom Brokaw makes a strong argument that the WWII generation was truly the greatest generation. (less)
Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Jew living in Poland in WWII. He made it through, and Maus I is Spiegelman’s story of his father’s life, as wel...moreArt Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Jew living in Poland in WWII. He made it through, and Maus I is Spiegelman’s story of his father’s life, as well as an exploration of the way the lives of the survivors and their family members were never the same.
Okay, let’s look at the fact that this is a graphic novel first. It absolutely works. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the French are frogs--you get the idea. This is a young adult book, so I think that helps kids/teens deal with the story a little better. A skeletal mouse is alarming enough, but it would be so much harder for a child to deal with if it had been a photo of a skeletal person. As an adult who knows something about what happened, I found that the form made me see with new eyes. We’ve all seen “Schindler’s List” or read one of the books written by survivors. But this form somehow hit me a little harder, almost as if I were learning about the Holocaust for the first time.
It still stays true to the horror and atrocity. Some of it is sort of passed over, but the moments when the violence is shown stand out that much more. I’ve read quite a few Holocaust novels, but the moments of random violence in Maus I hit me hard. Spiegelman took the “less is more” approach and it worked.
There were so many things I liked about this book. The historical part of the story opens with Vladek as a reasonably prosperous young mouse marrying into a wealthy family. I liked that this is where it started. I got to see how everything was slowly stripped away until they were desperate for any shelter and any food. That stripping away is something that I haven’t come across very often. I also liked that Vladek’s ingenuity and bravery played a part in his survival, but it was obvious that the biggest factor was just dumb luck. He built or found many different hiding places. The author includes drawings of these, and I’m so glad he did. I can make sense of a picture, but a description of a complicated system for hiding usually just leaves me confused. Vladek doesn’t skip over the fact that there were some Jews who sold out others in an effort to secure their own safety. That’s not something you come across very often either. Vladek tells his own story in his slightly broken but very readable English. I liked that too. I felt like I was hearing the story instead of just reading it. I got so wrapped up in the story that I was scared every time Vladek was trying to decide whether or not to trust someone. His very survival depended on making the right judgment.
This also looks at how the Holocaust affected those who came after. Vladek survived, but did he really? He and the other survivors have a lot of psychological problems that stayed with them for life. Their problems in turn affected the children they had later, to the point that the children feel survivor’s guilt and they hadn’t even been born in WWII.
I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a bit of a fresh look at a survivor’s story. I’d also recommend it as an introduction to the Holocaust for older children and teens. If you do decide to read this, have the second one nearby. Maus I ends on a cliffhanger.(less)
When Michael Berg is 15, he has an affair with Hanna Schmitz, who is over twice his age. The affair does eventually come to an end, but their lives ar...moreWhen Michael Berg is 15, he has an affair with Hanna Schmitz, who is over twice his age. The affair does eventually come to an end, but their lives are intertwined afterwards.
This book should have been passionate, challenging, and emotionally wrenching. But I just felt too distanced from everything. I’m trying to decide if this is because it’s told from Michael’s point of view and he’s a detached kind of guy, but mostly I don’t care. I see what it could have been versus what it is and I’m frustrated.
I think the big conflict at the heart of the novel was supposed to be condemnation versus understanding and how hard it is, or even impossible, to feel both at the same time. I think I was supposed to question what I would have done in each character’s place, but I was too aggravated with Michael to have room for introspection. I was too busy wondering if the jackass was ever going to grow some balls and help Hanna out. (Sorry, Mama. But it’s true.) I wanted to smack him. He let her down in so many ways and somehow always found a way to make it her fault. Hanna wasn’t perfect either. In fact, they destroyed each other in round about ways, when they really could have been each other’s salvation. That may have been part of the point of the book also, but that’s not my kind of thing. I’m a die hard fan of the happy ending.
Readers not requiring too much of an emotional attachment to their books will like this one. I think if I were that kind of reader I would definitely have enjoyed it more and been willing to think more about the conflicts it contains. But I’m not and so I’m left disliking it.(less)