A grown man reflects on how he felt abandoned by a grandfather/uncle character when he was a teenager, and that grandfather/uncle character agonizes oA grown man reflects on how he felt abandoned by a grandfather/uncle character when he was a teenager, and that grandfather/uncle character agonizes over all the people he abandoned during the war.
This book was worth finishing for its vivid descriptions of London during the Blitz (and 8000 people living in caves to the east of London). I also liked the teenager's eagerness to find a hero figure who fought back against the Nazis, the questions lingering in the minds of the pilots who dropped bombs on Hamburg, and the observations about fiction v. memoir. Finally, the hippie rabbi character was amusing, and the overall writing appealed to me.
So why only 2 stars? I just didn't connect with either character. Nothing in the story helped me really get in the head of a teenage boy who makes such big life decisions because he's so conflicted about women's sexuality. Plus the falling in love with a prostitute thing--why did she have to be a prostitute? The story would have worked just as well if Francoise were a woman who made her living some other way (and Poxl, in yet another fit of immaturity, ran away for some other reason). Both narrators annoyed me....more
I heard the author give an interview in which he said that he wanted to show that life on a reservation is not all misery all the time.
This novel stiI heard the author give an interview in which he said that he wanted to show that life on a reservation is not all misery all the time.
This novel still has its fair share of misery. But there are small moments of humor, characters who are different depending on who is seeing them (Felix in particular), some good questions about luck and choice, and a gorgeous sense of place. The lake and the resort, sure, but even small scenes, like Christmas Eve at the local bar/pub, with everyone gathered to have "Tom and Jerrys."
This is as close to a 5-star book as I've read in months....more
No new stuff here. Proust was an odd duck; Hemingway was a jerk; Coco Chanel was anti-Semitic; Operation Valkyrie backfired terribly. I had hoped forNo new stuff here. Proust was an odd duck; Hemingway was a jerk; Coco Chanel was anti-Semitic; Operation Valkyrie backfired terribly. I had hoped for a little deeper digging, maybe even interesting stories about the people who kept the Ritz going during such tough times. But this book stayed on the surface.
That's okay, I guess. Familiar stories have a certain comfort. What would be traumatic memories to someone of my grandmother's generation (for example, sniper fire in front of the Hotel de Ville) are just curiosities to me. Short paragraphs and chapters, nothing too challenging, beach-read history. 2.5 stars, really....more
Some great language, especially on the dialogue. I didn't care so much about the narrator's dithering between two potential girlfriends. I much preferSome great language, especially on the dialogue. I didn't care so much about the narrator's dithering between two potential girlfriends. I much preferred his relationship with his grandfather, with another grandfather-like figure, and even the fascinating scenes with Otto, the German claims reviewer....more
"Casablanca" set in China. This book included a history lesson I hadn't heard before: the Chinese (Nationalists) had a plan to save 100,000 Jewish ref"Casablanca" set in China. This book included a history lesson I hadn't heard before: the Chinese (Nationalists) had a plan to save 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe by settling them in Yunnan. I knew Shanghai took in many (25,000) refugees. I didn't know that, if Chiang Kai-Shek hadn't caved in, there could have been many more.
This was so surprising to me that I thought the author was making it up, to add drama to the last third of the book. While the first half or so of the book does a very nice job creating the setting and developing the relationships among the main characters, once Shanghai is taken over by the Japanese, the main characters are just sort of running around doing their own thing. So I assumed the Resettlement Plan was a fiction, made up to give one of those characters a compelling storyline and bring the three main characters back together (which seemed contrived). I had a few quibbles with the pace of the book and the believability of some of the characters.
The little slices of Chinese culture, however, were wonderful. I especially liked how the author showed how poetic and colorful the language is.
This is how I get my history now--reading family histories that incorporate world events. Here we start in the 1870s in a town famous for its yeshiva.This is how I get my history now--reading family histories that incorporate world events. Here we start in the 1870s in a town famous for its yeshiva. The children and grandchildren take us to New York's Lower East Side, to Jewish settlements in Palestine, and to some of the grimmest, bleakest places the Nazis created after they invaded the Soviet Union.
The last third of the book is hard to read. As Itel lounges in her "palace" on Long Island Sound, rich beyond belief from starting the Maidenform bra company, her cousins are trapped in Eastern Europe. It sound like the family in New York had one meeting with an attorney about whether they could get their relatives out of Europe, and did nothing more. I try to put myself back in that time--nobody could have imagined what would happen, quotas meant there really was nothing to be done--but still, when it was all over, what did they feel? Sounds like nobody talked about it. Ever.
Very well written. When the author had to turn to accounts of other friends or contemporaries, he wove them in smoothly, to make the settings more vivid. Fortunately, his family wrote lots of letters, which bring their voices alive....more
Eddie Feathers is a famous lawyer, now retired in the English countryside. Other lawyers at the clubs and Inns still talk about him, always concludingEddie Feathers is a famous lawyer, now retired in the English countryside. Other lawyers at the clubs and Inns still talk about him, always concluding that he played life rather safe and nothing ever happened to Old Filth ("Failed in London Try Hong Kong").
What they don't know is that Feathers still carries the scars of having been a "Raj orphan." He was born in colonial Malaysia/Malaya and sent back to England at age 6 or so to be brought up in foster homes and boarding schools. His younger years are full of abuse and rejection, and yet Feathers turned out to be successful, upstanding, really more like a caricature of a certain class of Englishman from a certain generation.
Along the way, we have WWII stories of Feathers surviving a dramatic sea voyage and later guarding Mary, the Queen Mother, when she was evacuated to Badminton. So, lots of things happened to Old Filth. I kept waiting to hear more about his wife, or about Hong Kong, but I enjoyed the writing....more
Interesting story, smooth writing. It's much more about cycling than about saving people targeted by the Nazis, although that's likely because after tInteresting story, smooth writing. It's much more about cycling than about saving people targeted by the Nazis, although that's likely because after the war Bartali was so modest about what he did and so careful not to let his celebrity overshadow the courage of all the other people involved in that rescue network. I wanted to hear more about the Goldenbergs (a family who hid in one of Bartali's houses), but I guess the photo of the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren says it all. ...more
Janine carried a torch for Roland for more than 50 years. They fell in love as teenagers in France when her family escaped Nazi persecution in FreiburJanine carried a torch for Roland for more than 50 years. They fell in love as teenagers in France when her family escaped Nazi persecution in Freiburg. Incredibly fortunate at many steps of their journey, Janine's family manages to get on one of the last ships carrying Jewish refugees out of Marseilles (sailing for Casablanca, Lisbon, and an internment camp in Cuba, before settling in the New York area).
Half of this book is about the family's experiences, and half of the book is about Janine's marriage in the U.S. to the author's father.
The author did a wonderful job presenting her own parents as independent people, with their own rich internal emotional lives and their own contradictions. For example, Janine, as a teenager, is brave enough to trick a Nazi officer into signing her family's exit visa, and yet as an adult, she has an irrational superstition about the 27th day of every month. The author's father is more complicated, but I enjoyed his almost comical obsession with Ayn Rand's "philosophy." I was impressed with the author's perspective on her parents' marriage. They probably never should have been together, but they did the best they could.
This is a very romantic story. It's about windows of opportunity that have enormous consequences. It's about the deep sense of obligation children of immigrants feel to their parents. It's about a daughter who really is her mother's best friend. The theme of loyalty (and betrayal) runs at many different levels.
I was struck by a sort of tangential point that came up in the author's visits to Freiburg in the late 1980s and on. She reports (as she did for The New York Times) on a range of behavior by people living there decades after the war. Some gave money and time to healing and education, and some still said astoundingly anti-Semitic things (even posed for a photo in front of a Hitler Youth sports award proudly displayed on a dining room wall). Most disturbing to me were the two acts of terrible neo-Nazi vandalism against the Jewish cemetery. One of those incidents happened in 2007.
I was reminded of two similar books (reconstructions of families' escapes (and non-escapes) from the Nazis, told in a fiction-like way): Vikram Seth's "Two Lives," and Edmund de Waal's "The Hare with Amber Eyes."...more
A very, very young woman parachutes into occupied France to help the Resistance. She also has the mission of smuggling out a nuclear physicist, with wA very, very young woman parachutes into occupied France to help the Resistance. She also has the mission of smuggling out a nuclear physicist, with whom she has old family connections. Before she leaves England, she's given a beautiful compact mirror, and a cyanide pill.
I couldn't get past the main character's immaturity during the build-up to her time in France. I just didn't connect with her, and the atomic weapons race plotline, while interesting, seemed forced.
Too bad, b/c Mawer's "The Glass House" was one of my favorite reads....more
Else's unconventional life in 1920s Berlin probably ends up saving her during the war. This is more family memoir than fiction (my library filed it unElse's unconventional life in 1920s Berlin probably ends up saving her during the war. This is more family memoir than fiction (my library filed it under fiction). The author/narrator is the youngest of Else's three children. An interesting and memorable story, told in an odd, raggedy way.
The best parts of the book were the years of exile in Sofia, Bulgaria. Both in character development and writing, I was most engaged when Else and her family were most uprooted. It was also very interesting to see how as the Nazis came to power, people of their class believed they were safe, kidded themselves, and let their avenues for escape close. The story of Else's son, and his principled stand against Nazism, is truly amazing. 4 stars for these parts.
Otherwise, the writing was dry, detached. Else was supposed to be a woman who lived by her feelings and passions, and yet the book gave such a clinical perspective on her. Like a case study of Early Twentieth Century Bohemian Woman. Lots of letters quoted at length. The wildness of the pre-War years didn't really come to life. Else's three great loves didn't really come to life for me either, or only in brief flashes. All of the marriages and affairs and remarriages could have been handled like a good Woody Allen movie...but it wasn't.
By the end, I disliked all of the characters, especially the author/narrator. To her credit, she didn't try to present herself in a good light. She didn't try to explain away the use of a racial slur in Else's post-war letters. While I appreciated that this book didn't go for the cheesy, soft-glow effects of historical fiction, I think everyone came across as a bit silly, peevish, and spoiled, especially considering how phenomenally lucky they were to have survived....more
More like 3.5. Lots of stories and backstories about people who stayed in France as the Nazis marched in. For example, I never knew that as all the FrMore like 3.5. Lots of stories and backstories about people who stayed in France as the Nazis marched in. For example, I never knew that as all the French officials left Paris that summer of 1940, they put the American ambassador in charge of turning the city over to the Germans. Stories about African American soldiers were fascinating (and shameful to read how other Americans treated them). Sylvia Beach is here too, of course.
Readable but still detailed--I could picture the buildings and streets, the Germans moving military equipment up Boul. St. Germain, the silence of Place de la Concorde as the occupiers approached. I had to read this in small-ish doses, and didn't finish before the library due date, but I'd get it again....more