This is a book I picked up at the library, expecting a light yet somewhat sleazy holiday read. Instead, I got a book that had been researched obvious...more This is a book I picked up at the library, expecting a light yet somewhat sleazy holiday read. Instead, I got a book that had been researched obviously over a period of years; many of the interviews were of people who had either been patients or otherwise directly involved in the events, as well as close family members of those involved.
Dr. Feelgood was the term that the Secret Service applied to Dr. Max Jacobson, a person who became involved with many celebrities and with the Kennedy White House after beginning to treat John F. Kennedy for back pain and fatigue. These treatments began after JFK's former roommate introduced the then candidate for President to Jacobson; all treatments were unnofficial and secret. Notably secret were the ingredients of the shots; Jacobson told everyone they were "vitamin shots" and at one point said "vitamins and hormones." Well not really. They were actually liquid methamphetamine in a fairly large dose (30-40 mg) combined with steroids. As Jacobson's huge ring of patients discovered, they needed more and more to maintain and some wound up self-destructing. How Jacobson kept going himself is unknown as he was also a meth addict for more than 30 years.
The book's strong points include a list of patients from Dr. Jacobson's records, with the ones who were personally interviewed for the book marked. The list of interviewees is extensive and lends authenticity to the claims of drug use and addiction. Footnotes also help clarify sources. Jacobson had many, many celebrity patients to whom he administered his miracle shots beyond JFK, including Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Nelson Rockefeller, Winston Churchill, Jackie Kennedy, Lee Bouvier Radziwill (interviewed), Harry S. Truman, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor (interviewed), and Frank Sinatra. When you look at the list, it is shocking to think of all of these people doing meth...especially since most didn't know what they were really getting. Further bolstering the authors' claims was the interview of the two New York Times reporters who investigated Jacobson in 1972. Jacobson, apparently well into a meth induced delusion, thought he was going to be recognized and rewarded for his work and wound up telling them everything.
The background on Dr. Jacobson is fascinating, including his claim that it was his recipe for meth that the Nazis distributed in tablet form (35 million) to soldiers, sailors, and pilots of the Reich at the beginning of World War II. Jacobson was Jewish and when he fled Germany, he claimed he was forced to hand over the formula. There are some historical problems in this section, though. The authors link Kristallenacht (1938) with the Reichstag fire (1933). To link the two directly I think is faulty with the time passage between them. Also, it seems very fortuitous that Jacobson met Jung, Adler, Freud, and Albert Einstein. All in all, Jacobson's background seems so touched with celebrity as to be a product of his meth addiction and his imagination. Finally, the Kaiser was a member of the House of Hohenzollern, not Hapsburg.
Where the book really falls down is the discussion of the assassination of JFK and the bullet entry and exit wounds. This, obviously, has been highly contested for years. But it just seemed that the book should not have strayed into conclusory territory about bullet exit and entry wounds as I don't believe either author, nor any contributor, is a forensic expert in this area. I think it undercut the book's authenticity in general. It is pretty clear that the CIA had motive to get rid of JFK. This book was published in 2013 but likely well before a documentary from PBS' NOVA was aired about the assassination ("Cold Case JFK," 11/13/2013). In that documentary, two forensic pathologists, a wound ballistics researcher, and a firearms expert (among others) speak to and show compelling evidence that it could indeed have only been Lee Harvey Oswald firing and using full-metal jacket bullets. The authors are definitely entitled to their opinions but that data may have been of interest. At any rate, the CIA definitely could have hired and set up Lee Harvey Oswald for just the reasons cited in this book. I just felt the foray into the argument about bullet wounds was not supported by the rest of the book.
There are also a few editorial errors that were annoying that did not alter my rating of the book but that indicate that the editors let the authors down. On one page the last name of Bob Cummings' second-wife-to-be is spelled both Fong and Font; on another, the German Chancellor's last name is spelled both Adenauer and Asenauer. There are a couple of puntuation goofs, a problem with a bibliography entry, and some run-on sentences that desperately needed to be hacked apart. That may be nit-picky but what those errors do is make the book look unprofessional and the story not as believeable.
This is a short but shocking slice of American history. I cannot believe that there hasn't been more press about JFK having a psychotic break at The Carlyle Hotel in New York due to methamphetamine. I do really wish that the book had lived up it's unspoken celebrity promise and had discovered other "prominent" figures such as Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowell, Rex Harrison, Yul Brynner, etc who are all listed as patients. This is still a short but interesting read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the darker part of American history. (less)
Meticulously researched and written, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire is a rare look at the world of a politically powerful woman in late 18th Centur...more Meticulously researched and written, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire is a rare look at the world of a politically powerful woman in late 18th Century Great Britain. Born in 1757 to the lord who became the first Earl Spencer, and married in 1774 to the fifth Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana was positioned near the top of British society. Due to wealth and rank as well as an instinct for setting fashion trends, she was almost immediately elevated to the acknowledged leader of the ton (inner circle of society). But that was not enough for someone as intelligent as Georgiana as she also had an unerring political sense. She soon became the public ambassador for the Whig party (the more liberal party of the time). The times in which she ascended to prominence were during the American Revolution and immediately prior to the French Revolution.
Georgiana and the Whig Party in Great Britain supported the colonists in the American Revolution. This is largely unknown in the United States, in which many dismiss the British nobility of history as being frivolous and inconsequential. Georgiana may have spent frivolously and gambled excessively, but she was not inconsequential. She wielded power that very few men had attained in the late 18th Century; that power rapidly fled nearly all British women in the 19th Century (save Queen Victoria).
Simultaneously, Georgiana was great friends with Marie-Antoinette of France as well as being on good terms with the Marquis de Lafayette (without whom the American Revolution may have not succeeded). When the French king and queen were imprisoned, she had no trouble begging the Marquis (who was on the side of the revolutionaries) to intercede on their behalf. War broke out between Great Britain and France soon after the executions of the French king and queen, with most of the continent battling Napoleon. Georgiana clearly lived in tumultuous times.
Georgiana hosted a great number of dinners and balls on behalf of the Whig politicians and campaigned on their behalf. She became close, life-long friends with Charles Fox, MP and leader of the Whig Party; and lover of Charles, second Earl Grey (Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland from November 1830 to July 1834). Georgiana and Earl Grey had an illegitimate daughter, Eliza, whom Georgiana was forced to give up by the Duke of Devonshire so she could keep her three children with him.
At the same time, the Duke took as his lover Georgiana's best friend and had two illegitimite children with her. This woman, Lady Elizabeth Foster, was married to someone else with whom she had two sons. "Bess" lived with the Devonshires until after Georgiana's death in 1806 and eventually married the Duke. While Bess lived in the Devonshire household (the family name is Cavendish), Georgiana brought both of Bess' illegitimate children to live with them. She was unable to do so with Eliza since the Duke would not allow it, and Eliza resided with her paternal grandparents. Georgiana kept Bess as her close friend and confidante, and as a testament to the love Georgiana poured into all of their children, those children all knew each other and were friends throughout their adult lives.
From the events during Georgiana's life, it is clear that the Duke did not love or value her until near her death at age 49. Georgiana was not just a fashionable and wealthy lady; her legacy lingers because of her support of Whig politics that included the anti-slavery Slave Trade Act (finally passed in 1807); emancipation and voting rights for Catholics; and support of the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in opposition to the tyrannical and occasionally mad George III.
Georgiana was the great-great-great-great aunt of Princess Diana, formerly Lady Diana Spencer. Princess Diana's brother, Charles, is the ninth Earl Spencer.
A revealing look at Minnesota history, Scott Berg's work is a true eye opener as to the reality behind the events of the Dakota War and all of the fa...more A revealing look at Minnesota history, Scott Berg's work is a true eye opener as to the reality behind the events of the Dakota War and all of the famous names associated with it. As the old saw goes,"[H]istory is written by the victors." However in this case, Berg does a great job of presenting the view of events from all sides through an extensive knowledge of the people and places involved. I was absolutely stunned by the breadth and depth of his research of an enormous series of intertwined events.
This book goes well beyond simple historical finger-pointing as to the events leading up to the first clash in this war, and explains how Abraham Lincoln's background may have shaped how he handled it while being in the midst of the bloody Civil War. There is significant background included about the native tribes, Abraham Lincoln and his family, and all of the main characters involved whether in Minnesota, in Washington D.C., or on the battlefields of the East. With this detailed background information, it is much easier to understand many of the actions taken during this time (1862, and the aftermath reaching to 1864 and later).
This is one of the most detailed history books I have read in a long time; it is not for the faint of heart or for the casually interested. All of the concentric circles of history that Berg links together create an intricate exploration of 19th Century Native American, political, and military figures. Berg's conversational tone and clear writing, however, make it the type of book that once you figure out what's going on, you have to keep reading. This is also a must-read for those interested in history who live in or around Minnesota, or who have, and want to know what really happened. There are no soothing tones of Dave Moore's voice discussing past architecture and events as in "Lost Twin Cities," nor the all-too-perfect recountings of figures such as Henry Sibley, Alexander Ramsey, or William Mayo in other local history productions. Sibley, Ramsey, Mayo, and Alexis Bailly are four locally well-known names; Berg pulls no punches and reports both the bad actions (quite a few) and the good (not nearly enough) of these well-known Minnesotans. (Mayo, a doctor, was involved in the grave-robbing of the 38 executed men* and kept the bones of Cut Nose for many years in a cast-iron rendering pot to use for lessons in osteology for his sons, founders of the Mayo Clinic; they later put the bones on display in their new clinic. Bailly kept slaves and young mixed-blood Native American servants which his wife beat "...to keep the household running smoothly.") Berg further recounts the actions of Civil War Generals Pope, McClellan, and Hooker and paints a remarkable portrait of each that at times includes stunning incompetence and irresponsibility. (Pope's reporting of the Dakota War to Lincoln transcends irresponsibility as all-out lying.)
This is an excellent book that I was recommending to others while I was in the middle of reading it. I feel well-prepared to read other history books on any of a number of specific topics relating to 1850's-60's Minnesota.
*Grave-robbing was something that many physicians of the 19th Century participated in, not only to get cadavers for dissection and learning, but also to get a skeleton for the explanation of diagnoses to patients. But it doesn't make it any less shocking that a name as big as Mayo became, dug up, stole, and desecrated one of these bodies, does it?
Author Paul Thomas Murphy reveals details of Queen Victoria's seven assailants in greater detail than would be expected by the book's title and subti...more Author Paul Thomas Murphy reveals details of Queen Victoria's seven assailants in greater detail than would be expected by the book's title and subtitle. Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy examines the political landscape, family and background of each attacker, and the assailant's motivations. After describing each incident in detail, author Murphy goes on to cover the pyschological evaluations and interviews of each of the men with particular attention to their trials and the effect on British law, with an emphasis on insanity pleas.
The book begins in May of 1840 with an introduction to Queen Victoria's first assailant who shot at her while she was pregnant with her first child. The reader is then brought up to date on Queen Victoria's life to that time, and proceeds with the first incident in detail. It continues on with the assailant's interviews, examinations, trial, and the result, as well as the effect on Victoria and her family. Murphy proceeds through all seven assaults in this fashion with an emphasis on the trials of each and what happened to each man.
There were seven men who assaulted Victoria: Oxford, Francis, Bean, Hamilton, Pate, O'Connor, and Maclean. All except Pate used a handgun to shoot at her; all of those used a flintlock with the exception of Maclean, who used a cheaply-made Belgian pistol that had a pin-firing mechanism (all of the guns seemed to be either old or in poor condition). Pate actually struck Her Majesty in the forehead with the metal ferrule (the silver top) of his walking stick, drawing blood and causing a lump which lasted as a scar for many years. In between assailants three and four was Daniel McNaughtan, who shot and killed Edward Drummond, secretary to Prime Minister Robert Peel. McNaughtan had seen Drummond riding in Peel's carriage in Victoria's entourage, and thinking he was Peel, stalked and murdered him by shooting him in the back. Maclean was the last assailan, but there was an additional plot to bomb the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 1887 which was thwarted by London's Metropolitan Police. That bombing plot involved five Irish-Americans, members of the American society Clan-na-Gael, who intended to cause terror during the celebration.
In explaining the contemporaneous political and legal landscape during these assasination attempts, Murphy details other assasinations and attempts. He gives the reader the background and incident of Charles Guiteau fatally shooting President James Garfield on July 2, 1881 and how that influenced the yet-to-come trial of Roderick Maclean. He also discusses the political upheavals of the time, especially the 1880's forward, with the assasination of Tsar Alexander II, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and President William McKinley. This is a vast job to tie all of these things together, but Murphy manages to do it.
There are a number of things that I learned for this book; the most obvious was that there were seven men who actually tried to kill Queen Victoria in addition to the Golden Jubilee bomb plot. Victoria's son Prince Alfred, while serving in the Royal Navy in 1868, was shot in the back while helping to raise funds at the Sailor's Home in Sydney, Australia (the bullet missed his spine by inches and he recovered). An assassination attempt was made against Victoria's oldest son Bertie, Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII). Victoria had a chainmail lined parasol in the 1840s, which is now deep in the vaults of a London museum (and probably wasn't used very much at 3 1/4lbs). I knew that Typhoid Fever killed Prince Albert, but I didn't know that their son Bertie nearly died from it as well (from dirty drinking water, it is the bacterium Salmonella typhi). And, that prisoners convicted of serious felonies wound up being transported to Van Dieman's Land, now known as Tasmania.
Perhaps the most notable revelation of the book was that the Victorian era in England ushered in the era of modern-day terrorism. The Clerkenwell bombing of 1867 was intended to blow a hole in a prison wall so that one inmate could escape; the amount of dynamite was seriously miscalculated and 6 died immediately, 6 more died of their injuries, and the fronts of housing facing the prison were demolished. Unintentional terror was spread throughout Great Britain. Later, in January of 1881 came the real beginning of modern terrorism: the army barracks at Salford were bombed with the intention of spreading terror and commemorating th Manchester Martyrs. That bomb also demolished a butcher's shop, injuring three adults, and killing a seven-year-old boy.
This was an interesting book that did ramble somewhat. However, I think that it was the author's attempt to give the reader a true overview of world events in Britain, Europe, and the U.S. that caused it to shift focus from time to time. Overall, I found it to be a very interesting explanation of how and why things happened in Victorian England. I would not have wanted to undertake the task of tying together the events in all of these places to explain why the assailants may have been motivated to try to kill Victoria; of course, this motivation is in addition to the serious mental illness that most of them clearly had. I have to say I was glad for my courtroom experience as a litigator which made reading the trial sections easier and faster; otherwise, the book might have bogged down during those passages. But, I don't think the author could've achieved his goal without them. A very thorough work. (less)
This is a work of both historical fact and historical conjecture set in the 14th and 15th centuries. The main focus is on the queen of the title, Yol...more This is a work of both historical fact and historical conjecture set in the 14th and 15th centuries. The main focus is on the queen of the title, Yolande of Aragon, Queen of Sicily, and mother-in-law to "the Dauphin of France." ("The Dauphin" was later crowned Charles VII of France.) Joan of Arc is "the Maid" of the title, and the author's conjecture revolves around how an illiterate peasant girl was able to gain an audience with the Dauphin of France, much less become his champion against the English and the Burgundians. The author's hypothesis that Yolande of Aragon heard about Joan's (Jeanette's) visions and maneuvered her into an audience before the Dauphin is the central point of this work.
Although Joan of Arc (her name in French is Jeanne d'Arc) is a well known name, Yolande of Aragon has been lost in the mists of time. Yolande, born in 1381, was the daughter of King John I of Aragon and his queen, Yolande of Bar. She married Louis II, King of Sicily, Duke of Anjou, and Count of Provence. Together, Yolande and Louis II, King and Queen of Sicily, had five children: one daughter, Marie, who became the Queen of France by marrying Charles VII while he was still dauphin. As you can see, Yolande of Aragon was intimately involved in the royal family of France. She also had French territories to protect from the English and the Burgundians, who not identifying themselves as being French had allied themselves with the English. The overarching conflict of the time was the Hundred Years War, involving all of these parties with the English Kings Henry V and his son Henry VI (during Yolande's life) claiming lands in France. (One source in the UK states the time of this conflict as 1337 to 1453.) And, just to make it interesting, King Charles VI (b.1368 d.1422), was apparently schizophrenic for most of his life, with at least one pyschotic episode in which he attacked his own troops. For the main of his life, Charles VI had disabling episodes which rendered him unable to rule, and in which his queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, and others, spent extravagant sums of money and generally took advantage of the government and the people of France. Mix this all together and you have an unstable central government, invading English, civil war, and the nobility murdering each other. And Yolande had both a husband and a son spending years and a tremendous amount of money trying to retake their hereditary interests in Sicily.
Yolande of Aragon was an intense and highly intelligent woman. A master diplomat and tactician, she readily took over running their lands in France when Louis went to war to retake Sicily. She had a master network of spies as well as a fortune with which to spend to make things happen. Over her lifetime, she gained power within the kingdom of France rarely achieved by any man of her time. Author Nancy Goldstone makes the case from contemporary sources that Yolande strategically manouvered Joan of Arc into the court-in-exile of the Dauphin to bolster his flagging ability to fight the English. It is clear that Yolande had the expertise, as well as the personality to look out for her daugter and son-in-law's interests for most of her life.
Goldstone also makes a strong case from contemporary sources about how Joan of Arc was essentially purchased by the English from the Burgundians who captured her. The English proceeded, with the full knowledge and assistance of the Catholic Church, to treat her very brutally when compared to the ongoing laws of chivalric behavior toward a captive that had been established. The English wanted her dead so they could hold the French throne in a dual kingdom of England and France. High ranking members of the Catholic Church obliged while lining their own pockets with gold. Joan was pronounced a witch and a heretic and burned at the stake, an unusual punishment for one who had been a military leader. But then she had worn men's clothes when riding into battle, and that became one of the strongest arguments for her execution. From Goldstone's recitation of medieval sources, it sounds like that was an even greater sin at that time than hearing the voices of female saints who urged her to rescue France from the English.
I was not well acquainted with French history but this book is well researched and written with an occasional seasoning of wry humor. The author has added to the back a very necessary diagram of the genealogy of the French royal family, as well as Notes and a Bibliography. Also included are contemporary maps and illustrations. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Joan of Arc or in Medieval French history. (less)
Religious fundamentalism was not created in the Twentieth Century. The Fatwa is not a new declaration of war. The political smear campaign is is olde...more Religious fundamentalism was not created in the Twentieth Century. The Fatwa is not a new declaration of war. The political smear campaign is is older than the Bible. But most importantly, Jezebel was framed. Lesley Hazleton does a thorough job of explaining how and why Queen Jezebel was depicted as she was in the context and psychology of her time. And times haven't changed that much, as many writers through the ages have built on the mythology of Jezebel the Harlot.
The real Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab of Israel in 872 B.C. to ensure peaceful relations between the two countries. She was a 15 year old who would be crowned queen consort of the polygamous king, and the only wife who was ever mentioned in the chapter of the Bible called Kings. She was polytheistic, worshipping Baal and Astarte among others, while Ahab was a monotheist who worshipped Yahweh. That Ahab showed respect and tolerance for his Queen Consort by building a temple to Astarte and allowed her priests to follow her from the city of Tyre, seems to be the beginning of all of their trouble with the prophets Elijah and Elisha. As Hazleton reveals, not only did these prophets bring about her downfall, they also brought about the downfall of Israel.
Jezebel's real name was Itha-Baal, or "woman of The Lord" in her native language. In Hebrew in the re-telling of her story, it was changed to I-zevel, or "woman of dung," and that is what has stuck. History is written by the winners, and the history that was written greatly favors the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The original conflict centers around Jezebel and Elijah, with Elijah prophesying that Jezebel "[S]hall be eaten by dogs by the walls of Jezreel." When this conflict is broken down to its basics, it's a battle between polytheism versus monotheism, between cosmopolitanism and detente versus absolutism and confrontation. The picture painted is that Elijah and Elisha are the religious terrorists of the Ninth Century B.C. and not the benevolent figures that at they have become through hundreds of years of editing (especially Elijah).
Hazleton's research and explanations of what probably did occur at the time, and what was made up as cautionary tales and included in Kings, is fascinating. One thing that is evident is that the biblical tales concerning her were written long after the events, and that numerous changes and additions were made to the saga of Kings by later writers adding in extras that aren't logical under scrutiny. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand what most likely happened to inspire the tales of the Bible and the Koran.
Like a skilled archeologist on a dig, Schiff brushes away the centuries of myth and lies about the Queen of the Nile. In her book, Cleopatra: A Life,...more Like a skilled archeologist on a dig, Schiff brushes away the centuries of myth and lies about the Queen of the Nile. In her book, Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff covers all the ground work in detail about Cleopatra VII's ancestry, family, and first-century Egyptian life before detailing the queen's life and struggles. In it, Cleopatra comes alive as a flesh-and-blood human being and a methodical, intelligent, and decisive ruler. Cleopatra's ability to lead her people and to keep the Roman Empire at bay become's vividly apparent. She was no ordinary queen of the ancient world; she was the equal or better of all surrounding her including Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony, and Octavian (later Augustus Caesar). Schiff is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), as well as many other prestigious awards and the Academy Award in Literature, from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Cleopatra's life is a vivid torrent of a river, starting long before Julius Caesar arrived on the shores of Egypt. Married in succession to both of her brothers, and deposed by one, her secret delivery to Caesar is more amazing in it's actual circumstances than the on-screen scene portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor. Above all, Cleopatra was a survivor. As a young and vulnerable queen, she enlisted the most powerful man and empire she could find to put her back on the throne and keep her there. Whether her relationship with Caesar was based on love, there is little evidence. What it undoubtedly was based upon was survival and power, both games she played to win.
Cleopatra lived in luxury compared to the Romans, and enjoyed a fine education and equal rights with men to own property and transact business. The one hindrance was that she needed to jointly rule with a man, a problem that was solved with her placement of her son with Julius Caesar, Caesarion, as co-regent. Schiff's comparisons between Royal Egyptian (which was actually Macedonian Greek) and Roman society is highly illuminating; clearly, Egypt was the far superior society for women to live in, as even non-royal women of Egyptian blood could own property and engage in trades. Roman women had really no rights and were subject to the whims, and sometimes violence, of their husbands. Written commentaries of the time of Rome needing to conquer Egypt to introduce civilization are ludicrous in retrospect. Life in Rome was barbaric compared to life in Alexandria, but history is written by the victors. With Octavian's defeat of Marc Antony, and Cleopatra's later suicide (much later than what has been popularly portrayed), the rule of the Ptolemies was ended. Caesarion was murdered, and Cleopatra's other three children with Marc Antony were sent to Rome to be raised by Antony's former wife, Octavia.
Schiff's detailed notes and bibliography support her reconstruction of Cleopatra's life and rule. Further, Schiff's analysis of the competing sources of the ancient world, as well as when their accounts were written, is invaluable in determining the bias in their accounts of the great queen. All in all, this is one of the finest history books that I have ever read. I look forward to reading all of the books that Schiff has written.
I received this book as a part of a Goodreads Giveaway, and I appreciate the fact that the author took the time to autograph it. I read it upon recei...more I received this book as a part of a Goodreads Giveaway, and I appreciate the fact that the author took the time to autograph it. I read it upon receiving it, but due to an unforeseen workload as a small business owner I was unable to write a review until now.
This is a historical biography of an individual named Isakjan Narzikul who was born in 1923 in Jizzakh, an area historically known as Turkistan. This was in the center of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. The author gives a brief preface on the history of this area, as well as a “Cast of People” and a brief Prologue prior to the start of the story.
(Spolier Alert) Isakjan Narzikul (“Isakjan”) grew up under a Soviet dominated government, viewing Russian tourists as curiosities but believing all of the propaganda that all citizens were equal. His was a farming family although anything of value had been confiscated by the State. The area was entirely agrarian and he distinguished himself by working as a clerk until he was admitted to the Tashkent Teacher’s School. After studying there and not wanting to return home, he applied to the Tashkent Military School with an altered school transcript. After persuading the military interviewer that he was a very hard worker, and even though he did not speak Russian very well, he was admitted to this school. He was to learn that not all Soviet citizens were created equal, as this school admitted mainly the sons of the affluent from places like Moscow and the Ukraine and he was a “fish out of water.” However, because of his ability to work very hard combined with an unassuming personality, he still did very well.
It was during his time at the Military School that Isakjan started to discover racism from Russians and Uzbeks political life. This part of the book was a little difficult to read as there were so many characters and facts to assimilate that I hadn’t been exposed to before. At the same time, it was very interesting to read what the political views of these people really were. This book definitely presents a perspective different from most books and television shows about World War II.
The story continues with Isakjan’s graduation from the Military school in 1941 and immediate commissioning into the Soviet Army with service to be in the Baltic Region: Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. This part of book bogged down a little, but picked up again with a terrible battle and with Isakjan being captured by the Germans. I would note that some of the battle descriptions were a little too wordy and read as if they had been edited by a different person than the one who had edited the beginning of the book. I only mention this as there were some changes in narrative voice throughout the book but not enough to keep me from being interested in what happened to Isakjan.
After being captured by the Germans, Isakjan survived by being useful to the guards in working extra, learning German, and by being personable. He also discovered that the Germans were murdering Soviet Muslims because they thought they were Jews. During this time, Isakjan (who had been raised essentially without knowledge of being a Muslim although his family had been Muslim) as well as other Muslims helped Jewish POWs escape being murdered by teaching them Muslim prayers and by convincing German guards that they were indeed NOT Jews. Isakjan’s risking his life for his comrades was to pay off as one of the lives he saved was of an undercover KGB officer (or for the forerunner service prior to the KGB). At this time, the book continues to follow the fortunes of the Turkistani government in exile and its political figures to explain the political climate and how Isakjan becomes a part of the Wehrmacht. The German Army decided as a political move, to recruit and train former Soviet officers from Turkistan to fight the Soviet Army. These Turkistanis were re-educated by the Nazis as against their former government and told that they were freedom fighters for their people. The Turkistanis believed the Nazis were liberators; we see later in the story that others preferred the Nazis to the Soviets as well. In December 1941, Isakjan became a Master Sergeant in the Turkistani Battalion of the Wehrmacht.
This part of the book had my attention. Never in all of the information that I have absorbed about World War II was there a mention of a Turkistani Battalion, nor of the pure brain-washing that these men went through at the hands of the Nazis after being brain-washed by the Soviets. I kept wondering about Isakjan; was he doing this purely to survive, or did a little part of him actually believe this? I marveled at his willingness to believe people throughout the book mostly to his detriment. But in spite of all of this, he seemed unsinkable.
The book continues to follow Isakjan’s service throughout the War, including the unbelievable change of the Turkistani Battalion form Wehrmacht to SS. He was promoted to Captain and was one of the highest ranking Turkistanis in the SS. Why have I never heard of him before? His service ends with being caught up in an end-of-the-war plot by other Turkistanis to return to the Soviet Union. Instead (and luckily), he winds up in the hands of Partisans. This is just another twist in his life; and by now, I have to believe he is doing whatever he can to survive, but with an aspect of honor.
Isakjan then acts as a Partisan; he meets an ethnically German well-to-do family living in Czechoslovakia, marries one of the daughters, and becomes a citizen. He is pursued by Soviet Intelligence. He does very well until he is jailed for interrogation by Soviet Intelligence and is forced to escape and flee to West Germany. Once again down on his luck, he survives by getting a German driver’s license and by working for a U.S. Army Captain. By claiming he was part Gypsy, he is allowed to emigrate to the U.S.
The book follows his life in the U.S. when he starts as a sweeper in a union factory, and works his way up the ranks once again. He also does a little bit of work for the CIA, but is disgusted by the lies told by a colleague from Turkistan. He then opens his own business and is successful. He also seems to finally be successful in his family life. I found the personal part of the end of his story to be both satisfying and sad. I found his devotion to hard work and not giving up to be inspirational, but his overly trusting personality to be unfathomable.
As I have stated before in this review, this book presented me with entirely new information about World War II and that is why I liked it. The drawbacks to this book included different narrative voices or editing styles throughout the book and wordiness in the descriptions of the battles. The shifting of descriptions of “Uzbek” and “Turkistani” were a little confusing but perhaps that is due to my lack of knowledge about this part of the world. However, I would still recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about this very little known aspect of World War II and especially the beliefs of the people involved. I found it shocking that anyone would view the Nazis as liberators; but them I come from an entirely different time and place.