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Posts Tagged ‘holocaust’

A trio of #nonfiction Reviewed in #Haiku

anne frank

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates
By: Theo Coster

Summary:
Theo Coster was one of 28 Jewish Dutch students segregated into their own classroom by the Nazis. Another one of these students was Anne Frank. Theo gathers stories from other surviving students and himself both of their experiences of the Holocaust and their memories of Anne.

Haiku Review:
All together yet
Each experience unique
Grounding reminder.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
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crazyenough.jpg

Crazy Enough: A Memoir
By: Storm Large

Summary:
Storm knew growing up her mother was crazy so it was pretty scary when a doctor responded to her inquiry if she was crazy like her mother that she wasn’t yet but was going to be. Follow Storm through her journey of multiple diagnoses and a search to be more than just crazy.

Haiku Review:
A one-woman show
Reflects in the narrative
Left with some questions

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Publisher
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tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By: Marie Kondo

Summary:
Japanese cleaning consultant vows she’s never had a client relapse after following her sort everything once by category not by room and then organize it method. You may have heard jokes in social media about her sorting method being based on “does this spark joy?”

Haiku Review:
Some good tips mixed with
Animism but take it
With a grain of salt

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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Book Review: The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla

Back side of woman in Chinese dress holdng an umbrella.Summary:
After Kristallnacht, Franz Adler, a secular Austrian Jew, is desperate to save the remaining members of his family–his daughter Hannah and sister-in-law Esther.  The only place they’re able to find letting in refugees is the relatively border-lax Shanghai.

Meanwhile, Mah Soon Yi, aka Sunny, the daughter of a Chinese doctor and American missionary, is trying to deal with the partial Japanese occupation of her home city of Shanghai while working as a nurse in one of the large hospitals and volunteering in the Jewish Refugee Hospital.

Review:
It’s difficult to review a book that the author obviously put a lot of research effort into, as well as passion for social justice, but that I just personally didn’t end up liking.  The story itself isn’t bad, if a bit far-fetched.  Clearly based in fact and solid research.  I believe the problem lies a bit in the writing.

When I read historic fiction, I like seeing history through the eyes of one person (possibly two).  It brings the huge picture you get otherwise down to a personable level.  The problem with this book is that it kind of fails to keep things at that personal level.  There’s far too much contact with actual big movers and shakers from the historic events.  How the heck is this Dr. Adler in so much contact with the Japanese and Nazi elite?  One scene like that can be quite powerful in a book, but not multiple ones.  It takes it from the realm of historic fiction to that of fantasy.

Additionally, I feel that a bit too often Kalla tells instead of shows.  Two characters will be talking about something the reader doesn’t yet know about, such as how the city of Shanghai is set up politically, and instead of putting it into the dialogue, the book just says “And then he told him about thus and such.”  That makes for dull reading.

So, really, to me, the plot itself is unique in choosing a population and area of WWII that is not written about that much.  The author clearly did his research and has a passion for the time period and issues faced by the people, but the story would be better served if it was made more about the everyman and dialogue and action were used more effectively.

Overall, this is a unique piece of historic fiction that will mainly appeal to fans of the genre looking for a new area of WWII to read about.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

January 24, 2012 2 comments

Woma in red cloche hat.Summary:
It’s 2007, and Reba is a journalist living in El Paso, Texas, with her fiance, border patrol guard, Riki.  She hasn’t been able to bring herself to be fully honest with him about her dark childhood overshadowed by her Vietnam Vet father’s struggle with depression and PTSD.  Christmas is coming up, and she is interviewing Elsie, the owner of the local German bakery.  Elsie has some intense secrets of her own that show it’s not always easy to know what’s right when your country and family go wrong.

Review:
I have an intense love for WWII stories, and I immediately was drawn to the idea of intergenerational similarities and learning from an older generation innate in this book’s plot.  It is a complex tale that McCoy expertly weaves, managing to show how people are the same, yet different, across race, time, and gender.

Reba’s and Elsie’s tales are about two very different kinds of bravery.  Reba has a wounded soul that she must be brave enough to reveal to the man she loves.  She lives in fear of turning into her father or losing herself entirely in the love for another, the way her mother did.  She faces a struggle that I have heard voiced by many in my generation–do I risk myself and my career for love or do I continue on alone?    To this end, then, the most memorable parts of Reba’s story, for me, are when Elsie advises her on love in real life, as opposed to the love you see in movies and fairy tales.

I’ve never been fooled by the romantic, grand gestures. Love is all about the little things, the everyday considerations, kindnesses, and pardons.  (location 482)

The truth is, everyone has a dark side. If you can see and forgive his dark side and he can see and forgive yours, then you have something.   (location 844)

One issue I had with the book, though, is that although we see Elsie’s two relationships before her husband in stark clarity and reality, we never really see what it is that made her ultimately choose her own husband.  We see their meeting and first “date,” yes, but that’s kind of it.  I felt the book was building up to what ultimately made Elsie choose her American husband and move to Texas, but we only see snippets of this, whereas we see a lot of Elsie’s interactions with her prior two boyfriends.  That was a big disappointment to me, because I wanted to know how Elsie knew he was the one, and how she herself was brave enough to take the leap she encourages Reba to make.

I am sure most people will most intensely react to the story of Elsie’s actions to attempt to save a Jewish boy during WWII and may even wish that was the only real story told.  Elsie’s life during wartime Germany.  It is definitely the stronger of the two stories, but I so enjoyed the lesson in valuing and listening to those older than you that we see through Reba meeting and learning from Elsie that I must say I like the book just the way it is.  Is it different? Yes.  But that’s part of what makes it stand out in a slew of WWII fiction.  Elsie did this brave thing, and her whole life she never knew if it really made much of a difference.  She just lived her life, married, had a daughter, was kind to a journalist.  In a sense, it makes her story seem more realistic.  Less like something from “The Greatest Generation” and more like something possible to accomplish for anyone with a strong will and willingness to make up her own mind.

One critique I have that slowed the book down for me and made it less enjoyable are the insertion of letters between Elsie and her sister, Hazel, who is in the Lebensborn program.  Compared to the rest of the book, the letters were slow-moving and only moderately interesting.  I can’t help but feel shorter letters would have gotten the same message across without slowing down the story quite so much.  Yes, the inclusion of the sister was necessary to the story, but I feel like she got too much stage time, as it were.

I also have to say that I really hate the cover.  It reflects none of the spirit or warmth of the book itself.  The story is wrapped in warm ovens, scents of cinnamon, and bravery, and yet we get the back of a woman’s head with an inexplicable gingham strip at the bottom? Yeesh.

Overall, this is a life-affirming story that teaches the value of connecting with the older generations and cautions against thoughtless nationalism.  I highly recommend it to fans of literary and WWII fiction alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the S.S. and Gestapo by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel

July 20, 2011 7 comments

Nazi flag and photo of Himmler.Summary:
Manvell and Fraenkel conducted years of meticulous research both with primary documents and those who actually knew Himmler to bring about a biography of the man infamous for being in charge of the S.S., Gestapo, and concentration camps that made the terror of Hitler’s reign possible.  They seek to provide a well-rounded look at Himmler’s entire life for those with some familiarity with the events of World War II.

Review:
This was a fascinating and difficult book to read, not because of the writing style or the atrocities recounted, but because the authors succeeded in putting a human face on Heinrich Himmler.  In the intro to the book, the authors state:

The Nazi leaders cannot be voided from human society simply because it is pleasanter or more convenient to regard them now as outside the pale of humanity. (location 31)

In other words, the easy thing to do is pretend the Nazi leaders or anyone who commits atrocities is something other than human.  That they are monsters.  When in fact, they really are still people like you and me, and that should frighten us far more than any monster story.  What leads people to do horrible things to other people?  What makes them bury their conscience and humanity and commit acts of evil?  This biography thus does not say “here is a monster,” but instead says, “Here is this young boy who became a man who committed himself to a cause and proceeded to order acts of evil upon others.  What forces came together to mold him into someone who would do these things?”

One of the more fascinating things brought to light in this book is that Himmler was never actually fit into the ideal of a top-notch Aryan male he himself advocated.  In fact throughout his life he was sickly, pale, and scholarly.  He tried in school to fit in with the athletic boys but never succeeded in anything for any length of time except fencing.  Instead of accepting who he was, he continually pushed his sickly body past its limits throughout his life, trying to force it to fit into his ideals of what it should be.  He actually enlisted his own personal healer, a masseuse trained by a talented Chinese doctor, throughout the war.  This masseuse, Kersten, was working as a spy for the Allies and was instrumental in convincing Himmler to release various people from concentration camps throughout the war.  His sickly body then not only opened him up to the Allies for a convenient spy, but also was key in how he related to the world.  He projected his own insecurities about the ideal body onto everyone else.

Himmler’s anxiety to destroy the Jews and Slavs and place himself at the head of a Nordic Europe brash with health was a compensation for the weakly body, the sloping shoulders, the poor sight and the knock-knees to which he was tied. (location 2189)

This physical weakness and obsession does not mean he was a weak man, however.  He was profoundly intelligent and detail-oriented.  He easily became obsessed with ideas he came up with and would search for proof of them excluding any and all evidence to the contrary.  Those of us who went to liberal, private colleges where we were taught to adjust our worldview for new, challenging ideas may be surprised to learn that Himmler read obsessively.  The fact though is that Himmler sought out in his reading sources that would simply support his previously established, prejudicial worldview.

Like Hitler, he [Himmler] used books only to confirm and develop his particular prejudices. Reading was for him a narrowing, not a widening experience. (location 2547)

Thus we cannot depend on reading alone to prevent close-mindedness.

As the Nazi regime continued on, Himmler grew more and more committed to his obsessions.  Those who knew him well described the frenzy and meticulousness with which he worked over every detail toward his final goal of the “Aryan race” being in control of Europe.

Himmler’s need to rid himself of the Jews became an obsession. The ghosts of those still living haunted him more than the ghosts of those now dead; there were Jews everywhere around him, in the north, in the west, in the south, in the areas where his power to reach them was at its weakest. (location 2074)

The information on Himmler at this time period certainly sound like a man suffering from intense paranoia.  Think of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind and how he firmly believed government agents were all around him persecuting him.  The difference is that this physically weak, close-minded, paranoid man was given immense power over the lives of millions instead of simply being a professor. It is easy after reading this book to see how Himmler could easily have been that crazy neighbor worried that the people across the street were watching him all the time instead of the engineer behind genocide.  All it took was placing near total power and trust in his hands to turn him into the organizer of a genocide.

There will always exist human beings who, once they are given a similar power over others and have similar convictions of superiority, may be tempted to act as he [Himmler] did. (location 592)

The lesson the authors send home repeatedly then is that Himmler was just a man overcompensating for a physically weak body who grasped onto the idea that he was actually superior to others simply because of his ancestors with a tendency toward paranoia who was given a dangerous amount of power.  It is easy to imagine how the entire situation could have worked out differently if some sort of intervention had happened earlier in his life.  If he was taught that everyone was valuable for different reasons that have nothing to do with their physical abilities or ancestry.  If he had initially read books that weren’t racist and xenophobic.  If he was never swept into the Nazi Party mania in the 1930s.  If he had been maintained as an office worker in the Nazi party instead of being given so much power.  It’s a lot of if’s, I know, but it’s important to think about all the ways to prevent something like this from ever happening again.  Although the authors’ primary point is “be careful who you allow to have power,” I would also add “intervene when they are young to prevent the development of a xenophobic, paranoid personality to start with.”  With both precautions in place, perhaps we humans as a group can avoid such atrocities in the future.

Readers should note that this book is written by Europeans and not “translated” into American English.  Additionally, periodically the authors sway from the strict chronological method of a biography to follow one thought or event through to its conclusion then back-track.  This was a bit distracting, but absolutely did not prevent me from learning much about Himmler, WWII, and the Holocaust that I did not previously know.

Overall, I highly recommend this to those with an interest in WWII in particular, but also to anyone interested in the prevention of future genocides.  It offers great insight into how these atrocities came to be.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon (See all Third Reich History Books)

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