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Thewanderingjew

Thewanderingjew

Not Benjamin's best, but still a worthwhile read.

Mistress of the Ritz - Melanie Benjamin

When the book begins, a woman named Lily is speaking about Blanche Auzello and is mourning her death. Blanche was loved by this woman, Lily, and she refers to her with deep respect. What follows after is a description of the Nazi occupation of Paris and a tale attempting to describe the effort of Lily and Blanche to fight them. The Germans marched into Paris with hardly a whimper. The Vichy government had instructed the soldiers to stand down, and now, Paris is occupied by German soldiers who are taking over homes and hotels to house them. Although, at first, they are very polite and courteous to the French, fear lurks behind the windows of every citizen. They have no idea what is in store for them. Some will resist and some will collaborate, some will simply try to survive.

Claude, the manager of the Ritz, and his wife, Blanche Auzello, have been out of town. They return to a very different Paris than the one they left. They, too, are not their usual well dressed personas, but rather, they are bedraggled and filthy from their harrowing journey home. As the Auzellos resume their life in the Ritz, they watch as the Nazis take more and more liberties with the French, and they are helpless to stop the increasing crackdowns on those of the Jewish faith. As the Nazis take over the Ritz, and become more and more brutal, Claude makes a decision to serve them, against his better judgment, because in that way, perhaps, he can do his part. It is almost impossible, anyway, to resist without fearing for one’s life. Claude can, however, protect his wife and his staff, providing for their needs through his contacts. He will do what he must, no matter how it may humiliate him in the eyes of the Germans, to keep them all safe. This will be his small effort to stand up to the Nazis, to be what he thinks of as a “Frenchman”. He is ashamed of the way the French have allowed Hitler to march in with so little opposition, and this is his personal attempt at resistance. He won’t allow them to own the Ritz. He will remain in charge.

According to the story written by Benjamin, the Auzellos married after a brief courtship and really did not know each other well. As the years passed, they discovered they were disappointed in each other in little ways, but they truly loved each other, regardless. There was tension between them, however, because of her drinking and his infidelity. He believed it was the right of a Frenchman to have a mistress and that she was expected to be the obedient wife. She wanted to experience the world and had been an aspiring actress. She had no intention of remaining at home as the good little wife. Their trains were not going to meet! Because his work was so demanding, and Blanche wanted to be more involved in his life, they maintained an apartment at the Ritz.

Both had secrets from each other, secrets from the world, and many secrets from the Nazis. Blanche Auzello cavorts with her friend Lily, a young resistance fighter, drinking and engaging in activities to oppose the Germans while fraternizing with them. Claude maintains his relationship with a mistress on the side and also discovers a way to do his part as he purchases food and produce for the hotel. Each keeps their resistance activities from the other in order to protect each from getting hurt in case of capture. The political situation is fraught with apprehension, but unfortunately, the story is not. It often becomes tedious and repetitious as the time frame moves back and forth between Claude and Blanche’s initial relationship in the 1920’s, and the time years later, in the 1940’s, during World War II.

It wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that the story gained momentum, and I truly became engaged. I believe that the author wanted the reader to feel like the story could have happened the way she wrote it, but it never fully reached that point, and instead, it felt like it was simply conjured up out of her imagination. Based on a time and place that was real, the author created most of the story out of whole cloth. Although there is little known about the Auzellos, their lives or their resistance efforts during the war, the names of many of the characters mentioned are real people; the Auzellos, Hemingway, Coco Chanel and Marlene Dietrich, among others, really existed, and because they were very much involved in Paris and the Ritz in the time frame of the novel, the book does grows interesting. When the book reveals the personalities of these real characters, including the Germans housed in the Ritz, coupled with the arrests, the torture, the inhumane treatment of other humans, and the attempt to annihilate an entire religious group, the tale becomes more authentic. However, most of it does not have the depth needed, perhaps because of the lack of facts. It is told from the perspective of those living under the thumb of the Germans as well as those who joined the varied resistance groups or simply resisted in any way they could; it often seemed to lose that focus and descend simply into a romance novel making it lack reality.  Many of the secrets revealed at the end are easy to guess, but the final ending may be a surprise to many. It was to me, having never heard of the Auzellos prior to reading this book. For that reason alone, the book is worth the read.

interesting story about a shameful time in history

The Last Year of the War - Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War, Susan Meissner, author; Kimberly Farr, narrator Two young teenaged girls meet in an internment camp called Crystal City, in Texas, after the United States enters World War II. Although they are residents there, with their needs provided for, they are really prisoners. One, Elise Sontag (now Elise Dove), is from Germany and the other, Mariko Inoue Hayashi, is from Japan. Over a period of about a year, the friends become as close as family. They share their innermost thoughts and dreams with each other which is what helps them to survive this trying time. They make a pact to meet after the war. Together, they will find jobs in New York and face their future. They are, after all, Americans! This time frame in American history will remain a stain on America because of the grave injustices perpetrated upon many innocent victims of circumstance. In 2010, Elise Sontag Dove is 81 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. She refers to the disease almost as an alter ego named Agnes and notes that Agnes is always trying to take over her mind. Sometimes, she can resist, sometimes she cannot. She has no idea for how much longer her brain will work. When her young housekeeper introduces her to Google and shows her how to do a search, she searches for and finds a possible match to her old friend Mariko. There is someone with the same name living in Los Angeles. If it is Mariko, she too is 81. Elise would really like to reunite with her, and she makes arrangements to travel there, hoping that Mariko is still alive and that “Agnes” will not interfere to prevent their reunion. As the novel develops, Elise tells the story of her friendship with Mariko which began in 1943 when they were both interned with their families. She relates what has happened in her life since they were separated in 1944. Mariko’s family was sent to Crystal City after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The government feared that the Japanese Americans might have dual loyalties with a conflict about their devotion to their country of origin or their country of choice. They were easily identified so they were rounded up and their bank accounts were frozen, communication to others was limited to them, and their belongings were sacrificed since they could only take a limited amount with them to the camp. Basically, their lives were stolen. Elise’s family was interned based on circumstantial evidence, a copy of a book, a careless remark by her father, his career as a chemist, and simple gossip. It was enough to condemn her father as a security risk. He was arrested leaving her mother to fend for herself without enough money or resources to do so effectively. They, too, had their bank accounts frozen and were limited in communicating with outsiders. Her father petitioned to be transferred to a family “camp”, even though it might mean that they would eventually be sent back to Germany and not allowed to remain in the United States. He knew that his wife was unable to deal with the situation alone. She was frail emotionally. When his request was granted, they were sent to Crystal City. For both families, their former lives were erased. Eventually, the children’s education was interrupted and their dreams were placed on hold. Both families had lived in America for years and the children were American, but the parents were now immigrants from countries at war with America. They were possibly enemy aliens and as such had to be monitored. Before the war ended, Elise’s family was repatriated to Germany, traded for Americans as her father had feared. To keep his family together, he had risked that outcome for them and now they were sent to a war torn country. After the war ended, Mariko’s Family was sent back to Japan. Her father wished to return to Japan and had requested it. Mariko spoke Japanese, but she had never been to Japan. Elise neither spoke German nor had she ever been to Germany. Both came from different cultures and family values which affected their futures and separated the friends for decades. Mariko’s father remained Japanese, above all, and he insisted on the same for his family. He followed the old ways and culture of total obeisance and obedience. Soon after their return to Japan, he arranged a marriage for Mariko, now 17. She was forbidden to contact Elise who was considered a dangerous influence by her father. Elise’s father was far more open-minded, compassionate and rational. He showed his daughter tremendous respect and was grateful for her maturity in the face of so much evil. Now, at 17, living and working in Germany, she fortuitously meets a very wealthy American soldier who offers her an escape route back to America. Her father gives his permission for her to marry. Soon she is back in America where she eventually lives the good life, not without further trials, however. Still, David Dove proves to be her knight in shining armor. He lived in a “castle”, a mansion in Los Angeles. He had a trust fund, and she would never want for anything again. As the story is told, there is almost too much detail making it play out very slowly. Also, the story tends to get too syrupy, at times, which tended to diminish its impact. Elise is portrayed as a perfect specimen of a human being, always understanding and compassionate, always adjusting to the situation and accepting it, although she is merely a child for most of the book. Her father insists he is an American, and he always offers rational, compassionate advice. He always quietly deals with what has befallen them. The brief friendship between the two teens also seemed to hold too much power over Elise’s life. Its influence caused her great sadness and, perhaps, it was used by the author to show that although she was placed in a situation as an adult, she was merely a young girl robbed of her childhood, forced to deal with an untenable situation. She and Mariko both seemed to be able to make very adult decisions. Therefore, the story often feels contrived as if its purpose is to lecture the reader about right and wrong, good and evil. At times, the novel seemed more like a fairy tale with a happy ending for all. Elise finds her prince, Mariko falls in love with her prince, everyone winds up with a satisfactory life. Even Elise’s married name seems to be contrived. The dove is a symbol of peace and love, innocence and purity, all of the conflicts faced in the book. Elise, at the end, as Mrs. Dove, discovers her calling in life, the calling she had searched for since childhood. She was born to provide love in the world. There was a subtle condemnation of Communism, in the character of a naïve David Dove, a budding Communist, and its opposite in the character of his brother, Hugh Dove, who was more realistic, but kind as a capitalist. Overall, though, the Doves were symbols of the decadence and selfishness of the rich and Elise was the symbol of the charity and compassion of those less fortunate who were not greedy. She was portrayed nun-like in her thoughts, as much more humane than most, always willing to sacrifice her own needs for the needs of others. Sometimes poor choices were made, but they were described as the only possible choice to be made under the circumstances. The consequences ultimately led back to redemption and reward. Everyone was a victim, in some way, and most were redeemed in some way in the end. The narrator read the book a little too slowly, over-enunciated and over-emoted making herself too much a part of the story. At times, I wasn’t even sure I would finish the book because the author seemed to be trying to find good in all evil, even when there was no good to be found, and the narrative seemed to be directed to a younger audience. Every character seemed to be using someone for something and rationalizing that behavior. At other times, everything seemed whitewashed rather than authentic, as if the author would provide a happy ending, no matter where the story led. I thought the book would have been better titled “Pollyanna Redux”, since it dripped with idealism and a progressive message of “absolute kindness” in the face of “absolute power” which corrupts. The author seemed to want the reader to understand that the Germans suffered as well as the other victims of the war. She overlooked or didn’t concern herself with the fact that they were possibly complicit. Fear was no excuse. Greed, jealousy and nationalism drove most of them. They could not have remained as ignorant as they professed to be about the heinous behavior of their government. After all, Hitler did not keep his dreams of Aryan dominance a secret! Where did they think the Jews and other victims were? Why did they move into their homes and take their belongings? Ultimately, however, FDR’s administration should not have interned these Americans. It was the leaders of their country of origin that were evil. The book does shine a light on this American injustice. in the end, the book was well researched and covered a lot of territory regarding facts, but it was presented as a fairy tale. It philosophized and lectured me as I read, regarding political views and lifestyles, class division and economic inequality, being a native of a country or a “foreigner”. It appeared to be trying to reinforce the idea that we are all the same, with the same desires and love of life and family, regardless of how we look, where we come from, how much money we have, or what type of employment, which is a noble thought and goal. Perhaps, also, as Hitler brainwashed the German people, and the Emperor of Japan ruled the minds of the Japanese, the author used Alzheimers to reinforce the idea that we sometimes cannot have dominion over our own thoughts and actions. I believe that many of the glowing reviews were given because of its progressive message in this current political climate.

This author revealed interesting information about the conflicts faced during and after WWII.

Warburg in Rome - James Carroll

Warburg in Rome, James Carroll, author; David Doersch, narrator This book captured my attention and held it from the beginning to the end, however, there were times when rather than being historical fiction, it felt like it verged on becoming a romance novel. There were sexual escapades and innuendo included that perhaps seemed necessary to the author to show the lengths to which someone would go, to further the cause they believed in, above all else. The history was truly fascinating and enlightening about a period of time and a subject that little has been written about, Rome after the war, possibly because of the stigma that would be associated with someone criticizing the behavior of the Church, the Israeli Freedom fighters or even that of the American government and the American military during and after World War II. The book which begins in Rome, Italy, after the war there has ended, concentrates on four major characters. David Warburg (not related to the wealthy Warburg’s but who used his name to his advantage anyway), is a lapsed Jew who is in Rome to accomplish the task of aiding and enabling the resettlement of Jewish refugees. He knows his heritage is Jewish, but he neither practices nor believes in the dogma. His efforts are hindered by the politics of the day, the needs of the Church and the secret actions of the American actors often preventing his success. Marguerite “d”Erasmo is a Catholic. She believes her parents were murdered. She converts to Judaism because of the horrors and atrocities she witnessed being committed by members of the Church while she worked with the Red Cross in Croatia. She becomes a freedom fighter for the Jewish cause. Father Kevin Deane is a Catholic priest from the Bronx. He is upwardly mobile and on track to become a Bishop, if he plays his cards right. He is in charge of protecting the Catholic faith, working to preserve the influence of the Catholic Church in Europe. He reports to Cardinal Spellman who is not highly praised in the book, and he believes, from information he is given, that the Church is doing everything it can to aid the Jews, including offering them shelter and visas to leave for safer havens. Sister Thomas is a conflicted num who turned to the church because her love for a British soldier was doomed. She and Deane are friends. There is the suggestion that they both harbor some forbidden thoughts. Will they remain true to their faith? Sister Thomas aids Deane in his efforts to assist Warburg. All think they are working toward a common goal. However, what it seems to be, is often not what it actually is, in reality. Sometimes there are cross purposes that others are unaware of, and so they are duped. Additionally, there is Lionni, an Israeli freedom fighter, extraordinaire, totally devoted to the cause of fighting his enemies, even when he and some other freedom fighters choose to behave like the enemy. The American, Colonel Mates, pretends to be working to help all of the above, however, he is a secret agent of the OSS, and he is actually aiding the Nazis. America believes they will help prevent the spread of Communism. He works with Father Lehhman, a German priest whose mother was Argentinian, to establish “ratlines” which are the escape routes for ex-Nazis. The church provides the false passports to get them out of Europe. Father Vukas is a corrupt Franciscan priest who brutally mistreated the children under his control. These characters are made up out of whole cloth, but are related to real counterparts that existed. The author does not mince words or sugar coat the players. The book shines a light on all the questionable behavior of the time and also shines a light on the anti-Semitism throughout the world, the United States, Europe and South America. Croatian priests were corrupt. There were compromised priests in the Vatican who worked for the Nazis. Some of the priests participated in heinous acts against the Jewish population. America colluded with the Nazis as well, in their effort to prevent the spread of Communism. Some in the American administration thwarted efforts to save the Jews. The Haganah and the Irgun became the Israeli Defense Force after the state of Israel was established, but before that, they carried out violent acts against the British and were also called terrorists. The political interests of each superseded the lives of the victims everywhere. While the main characters are not real, the characters surrounding them, Cardinal Spellman, General Ante Pavelić, Pope Pius XII, FDR, President Truman, Clare Booth Luce, Raoul Wallenberg, Cardinal Domenico Tardini, Henry Morganthau, and others were very real and recognizable personages. I learned things I never knew about, although I have read extensively on the period surrounding the Holocaust. I researched many questions the book raised and discovered, for instance, that there was a concentration camp specifically for children in Croatia, the “Sisak children's concentration camp” which according to Wikipedia is “officially called "Shelter for Children Refugees". It “was a concentration camp during World War II located in Sisak, set up by the Ustaše government of the Nazi-puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, for Serbian, Jewish and Romani children.” I learned how Pope Pius XII, was completely protected from information from the outside world so that he could continue to appear neutral, not supporting the Nazis while he was actively not rescuing the Jews. His ultimate purpose was to preserve the Church and the aura of purity around the Vatican, at all costs. The situation exists today for many heads of state. They are protected from the knowledge their governments perform so they can claim ignorance and remain above the fray. In the end, by using characters made up out of whole cloth, Carroll, a former priest, has opened up the eyes of his readers to the corruption of many during the time of World War II. What were they all working for or seeking? Was it revenge or justice? Using conflicted characters, he shows that there is the capacity for some kind of good and evil in everyone. That interpretation is in the eye of the beholder

Extremely Emotiional and Realistic description of Germany Under Hitler's Influence

Wunderland - Jennifer Cody Epstein

 

 

 

Wunderland, Jennifer Cody Epstein, author; Lisa Flanagan, narrator

The author of this novel has woven a tale, that begins in 1933 and travels to 1989. It is difficult, but necessary for all to read. She has deftly placed the reader in the middle of the maelstrom known as the Holocaust. As she details the lives of Ilse von Fischer, Ava Fischer and Renate von Bauer, that infamous period of history is captured completely. As the knowledge of Hitler’s plan grows broader, the rising tension and fear of that time period forces the reader to face it viscerally, to face it in much the same way it surely forced the victims of that time. In Germany, and in the world, when the facts were discovered, and the extent of the horrors described, there was incredible disbelief and shock. For as Hitler rose to power, how could anyone really even imagine the rules he would enforce or the brutality he would carry out? The idea that such cruelty, such hysterical hatred, such heinous behavior could actually exist in the normal world, defied all reason. The reader will experience the same feelings of incredulity, never quite able to fully accept the horror of the situation as it plays out, for it truly confounds the imagination. Yet, although it seems unspeakable, this novel is based on a very harsh reality.

When the story begins, it is 1989. Ava Fischer, Ilse’s daughter, is living in New York City with her daughter Sophie. She is distraught after receiving a letter from a lawyer advising her of her estranged mother’s death, in Germany. With this letter, she also received a packet of letters that her mother, Ilse, had written, but had never mailed to someone Ava had never heard of, someone named Renate Bauer. The letters revealed myriad secrets from her mother’s past.

When the book continues, it goes back to 1933 and details the friendship between Ilse and Renate when they were children in Berlin. As the author describes the closeness of these two young girls who had been the best of friends, she slowly illustrates and brings to life, Adolf Hitler and his heinous regime’s rise to power. As he began to gain notoriety, most believed his infamy would not last. As he became more and more powerful, those he turned on still believed he would fade away, that people would never follow his despicable example or support his hate and brutality. The depths of depravity had not yet been reached, however, and the scar on history would soon become an unpardonable reality.

When Ilse became enamored with the girl’s youth movement that unconditionally supported Hitler and his dream of bringing Germany back to the world stage, thus eliminating the shame of their loss in World War I, she begged Renate to join the group with her. However, Renate’s parents would not allow her to join the Hitler Youth. Soon, however, as the young are wont to do, she disobeyed them and secretly attempted to join. She was rejected, with catastrophic results, as she had to be investigated before she could be approved and that investigation revealed family secrets that had been hidden from her. What seemed like an innocent mischievous act could soon put her family in great danger.
All of the characters seemed authentic, so much so, that there were times I could barely continue to read, so angry did their behavior make me. I wanted to shut the book and scream out loud, deny the history that I knew was true. I have read largely on the Holocaust, and still I find that every new book seems to highlight new atrocities, new sadistic behavior, new lows that humans beings can sink to, and incredibly, justify that behavior for themselves.

This author has so carefully laid out the strategy used by Hitler and his minions, as she develops her characters, that the Nazi’s insidious progress truly hits the reader with real force and highlights how Hitler used his methods to gradually and subtly assume more power. He increased his use of accusations to falsely blame his victims and rouse his supporters. He used his thugs and followers to enforce his violence using methods that ultimately raised the atmosphere of fear for all. He made barbaric behavior the accepted norm. People turned on each other; no friend or family member was immune to the brutality, and soon, the terrifying atmosphere he designed made many that would not have joined his effort, eventually enter the ranks of the heinous Nazis. Some did it to save themselves, but many joined to serve their own greed and to foster the hate and jealousy they had always held within them, the anger they had always harbored toward those more successful than they. To those who recognized the hate being spewed by Hitler, the reasons for joining the party, coupled with the reprehensible behavior it encouraged, seemed to simply defy logic, yet still, more and more followed him.

Hitler captured the devotion and loyalty of the young, those whose minds were not fully formed, the vulnerable who needed to feel wanted and secure, the old who were beleaguered by life, and those who truly enjoyed preying on others, those willing to turn against their families and former friends. For these followers, supporting Germany and Hitler superseded all else. Hitler became a god. Restoring Germany’s reputation depended not on their hard work and success, but on their ability to destroy their perceived enemies by any means necessary, on their ability to blame the victims for what they were actually doing. As thugs and haters became more and more powerful, as they set their sights on certain elements of society, a great number among them, of course, as history has told us, were the Jews. As they became the targets, they were in greater and greater danger with little or no chance of escaping the wrath of the Nazis. However, soon, even some of those who supported the Nazis, lived in fear. Their safety was not guaranteed either, as those in power, the pack of animals passing for humans, could turn on a dime against them for any perceived infraction. Fear was what governed the people and kept them in line.

The book unleashed a well of emotion in me since anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise again. Jews then, and now, are being blamed for the anger that was, and is, directed toward them; they are told that it is their own behavior that has brought down this wrath upon them, that by virtue of their own behavior, they have become the enemy.

The narrator of this book was marvelous. She portrayed each character appropriately, with accent and tone of voice. Her expression captured every moment of history realistically, arousing the appropriate emotional response from the reader. She never interfered with the story, but rather enhanced it.

A book about friendship in its many forms, about grief and recovery, as well.

The Friend  - Sigrid Nunez

When a writer’s dear friend of several decades, her former teacher and mentor, a well known author, attempts to commit suicide, the results are devastating for her. Her grief seems unrelenting. When offered the opportunity to care for his rather large dog, she refuses at first, but then she relents, even though her lease specifically states no dogs allowed! The dog’s presence will make her feel her friend is still with her, and his absence will be less complete.
Although we never learn the names of the characters, except for Apollo, the Harlequin Dane, we know many of them are actively involved in the world of words. The story is told in the first person as the author relates her feelings regarding writing, teaching, suicide, sex slaves, abusive male behavior, animal relationships and human relationships.
From the beginning, it feels like a treatise on several progressive principles, on the right to take one’s own life, on women’s rights and women’s needs, on women’s behavior and women’s struggles and on men’s toxicity regarding their thoughts on and treatment of women. It is a perfect presentation of the current political themes being publicized and stressed in today’s environment. Like so many books today, liberal principles were out front. The men are portrayed practically as serial abusers, and the women are the unwilling, or sometimes, willingly, abused participants.
The book, in great detail, lays out how the author deals with her loss through her relationship with her friend’s dog, now in need of an owner, and this relationship is also compared to the devoted and sometimes loyal relationship of human to human, as well. Can a dog be a kind of substitute spouse!
Although the language felt unnecessarily crude, at times, the book is thoughtful and decisive in its clear presentation of relationships and the reactions to the loss of same. It is told well, and at times, the reader may feel it is more like a memoir than a novel. In essence, this book is about loss, the immediate and delayed reactions to it, the grieving process, the eventual adjustment to it, and the recovery.
The main character, the grieving author, teaches journaling. Essentially, this book is her story, her journal. She is relating it to the reader. The journey she relates will take the reader into her most personal moments. Her fairly relaxed, cavalier attitude towards life and its rules may appear in contradiction to her overwhelming feelings of loss, at times. The surprising similarities and coincidences concerning our relationship with humans and animals will make the reader think or raise an eyebrow in wonder, at times.
What is the main purpose of the novel? Is it about friendship, loss, grief, relationships, love, devotion, fidelity, abuse? Is it about changing times, politics? What is the main character’s ultimate purpose? We do not discover much until the end. There are a dozen parts to this story, and they all come together in the end, in a surprising reveal.
Can an animal take the place of a human in someone’s life? Is it a positive or negative quality if a book seems more real than the fiction it was meant to be? Is the issue of support animals being abused for the right reasons, or is it wrong no matter what? Can a dog have human thoughts and feelings? Are writers privileged, and therefore, are they sometimes white supremacists? Should taking one’s life be considered a bad thing or a choice? Do we have a right to make that choice over living or dying?
In the end, does the author conclude that some writers, largely the young, new students, have become intolerant to new ideas; are they too politically correct and/too political? Are students unwilling to hear thoughts they disagree with so they can come to terms with them? Have novels become politicized? Are they no longer about anything but social issues?
There is added interest in this novel as quotes from renowned authors and philosophers, perhaps not always well known or popular, are provided to illustrate the author’s feelings. The narrator of the audio reads it in what feels like a somewhat flat, dead-pan manner which is perfect for this novel because it neither gives the reveal away nor does it even hint at it until the final moment when the truth is told. Is the author writing a kind of memoir or a novel about her friend? The reader will wonder, what is real, what is not?

difficult but beautifully executed

The Wolf and the Watchman - Niklas Natt och Dag

The Wolf and the Watchman, Niklas Natt och Dag, author; Caspar Rundegren, Clara Andersson, narrators
I understand, after completing this book, why it won awards and acclaim. It was well researched and the use of the English language was exceptional. However, the extensive descriptions of excessive brutality made it really hard to keep reading, at times. Actually, at the half way point, I almost gave up. The gruesome depictions of torture and vicious human behavior, when pushed to the edge of sanity, were becoming too graphic; they made my stomach turn. However, I made a decision to stick with it and just after that point, the illustrations of violence actually did diminish for awhile, and that made it easier to continue. I generally enjoy the writings of Scandinavian authors, and this book was so widely praised, I wanted to find out why.
The author describes situations that exist beyond the edges of most imaginations. The book is not for the faint of heart. I truly found it hard to understand how someone, from a noble heritage, who used the language so beautifully, could write something so grotesque about the past. The sadism was beyond the beyond and yet, if it is based on history it makes the subject matter even more difficult to absorb or comprehend. Throughout the book, there are many characters introduced with seeming little importance to the novel, but, by the end, they are all tied in so well, that there are no questions left unanswered and the reader is fully satisfied.
When a body is discovered that has been viciously mutilated, the wolf, a dying Inspector, Carl Winge, and the watchman, Mickel Cardell, an injured former soldier, team up to solve the murder. Both men have secret reasons for wanting to solve this crime. Both men need to do it to obtain their own closure because of the private ghosts they carry within their thoughts and dreams.
The book is truly gruesome because the torture described is excessively violent and must be the result of what has to be an incredibly depraved mind. The narrative reveals the decadence and corruption of the times, (the time is 1793), as well as the extent of the poverty and the bizarre and cruel punishments of the times. The people seemed to be filled with a blood lust and the inequality of the class divide was a catalyst for revolution and death. During this time, Marie Antoinette was beheaded.
The extensive misery suffered by the citizenry seems to have reached a boiling point and the capacity for compassion was often lost while the capacity for barbaric behavior increased. The anti-Semitism of the day was introduced with characters that portray the stereotype of the cold-hearted, moneylending Jew. If you were not part of the royal scene, you lived from hand to mouth and often were practically forced to behave unethically and amorally. Human life was devalued. Women, especially, were powerless and often subjected to unfair punishments for behavior forced upon them. Desperation grew and with it, the atmosphere in society grew darker and more dangerous.
The double entendre in the meaning of the words watchman and wolf is subtly introduced throughout the pages and the impact of the varied definitions effects the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the book, even with its painfully, monstrous descriptions of the times and the people. What is a wolf? What is a watchman? What purpose do they serve? As the characters lives are developed slowly, and yet, in great detail, the reader is tantalized with questions of who they are and what purpose they serve in the novel. In the end, it is all revealed.
So even though it was a difficult read, the value of the book for me, was in its creativity, its structure and its language. There really was not even one wasted word or phrase, so I am glad I stuck with the novel. It sure held my interest once I was able to tolerate the brutality.
The audio book was read exceptionally well by the narrators as they did not get in the way of the book, but rather read it with appropriate tone and emphasis, presenting each character appropriately.
So, in conclusion, it took me a long time to finally finish this book. I found it to be a powerful novel, which was difficult to read because of the violence and excessive brutality described in such graphic detail. I wondered what kind of a person could imagine such sadistic behavior. Yet, it was one of the most creatively crafted books I have read in ages, and it didn't seem to be designed to brainwash the reader as so many books are designed to do today, in the current political climate. The author used words so effectively, that I was placed in the setting, experiencing the moment with the characters, and that perhaps is why it was so difficult to read. Still, it captured my complete attention and encouraged me to do some research on the times to see if the history was true to form, and that, to me, is a great and important reason for reading a book.
If it encourages learning, it is more meaningful to me.

eye opening novel about slavers and slaves

The Confessions of Frannie Langton - Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton: A Novel, Sara Collins, author, Sara Collins and Roy McMillan, and narrators This was a very well read, by both narrators, and well written book. The author knew her characters well and expressed their personalities with the tone and timbre of her voice, using accents when necessary to also identify particular characters. Her prose was lyrical and really enjoyable to read, although the subject matter was violent and heinous at times. Frances Langton, a mulatto house slave, was educated in her master’s home by his wife Bella. She was the bastard child of a white master and his slave. Both are unknown to her. She lived on the Langton sugar plantation called Paradise, which is an oxymoron, in Jamaica, in the West Indies. It was a place of brutality and experimentation. Langton was a cruel and sadistic man who engaged in the research of race and the lack of its positive attributes in his slaves, a project he learned about and was encouraged to pursue by his mentor. In regard to this pursuit, he used his own daughter as his scribe, including her in his illegal pursuits, like grave robbing and experimentation on the slaves and their offspring in order to further his endeavor to prove that they were a largely uneducable, inferior race. He also used Frances for sex. She was resented by Bella, the reasons for which would be learned later on in the novel. Bella could be as manipulative and aggressive as her husband. They both manipulated others with their power and with threats and intimidation, often with catastrophic results. A fire at the plantation and the death of Bella’s father voided whatever agreement had been originally arranged between them. Bella turned her husband and Frannie out. In failing health, he escaped to London with her and gifted her to a new master, George Benhem, who had been his inspiration for the research, experiments, and the book to be called “Crania”, which he hoped to publish. Both men were engaged in experimentation, and were exploiting the law. Both were writing books. Frannie soon became the secret consort of Benhem’s fickle and laudanum addicted wife, Marguerite, an unhappy woman who was bored and very disappointed with her life, although she wanted for little. Frannie was powerless, and although educated, she was naïve and victimized by many as the years passed. For a little more than a decade, the reader follows Frannie’s development with her trials and tribulations. These revelations explore the racism and abuse that the slaves were subjected to, the lack of women’s rights, the omniscient power of the male, and the corruption in the legal system and halls of Old Bailey. Barely 21 or so, Frannie’s life was one of mistreatment and frustration. When Frannie was accused of killing her master and mistress, she was arrested. Her lawyer asked her to write down her story and this novel is based on the result. Facts were misrepresented, lies were told, and the reader will wonder if justice was done. Although it is promoted as a book about racial injustice and murder, it is also about the lesbian affair between her master’s wife and herself. The meaning of love is explored. The book, using historic facts, exposes the betrayals that were so prevalent at the time, the lack of trust that existed and the overtly accepted and widely tolerated racist behavior. It exposes the treatment of slaves as beasts of burden and illustrates the efforts of the early anti-slavery movement across the pond. The whites were depicted as malevolent, and the blacks, regardless of the demand, were required to be obedient. What will ultimately happen to Frances Langton? Will it be a fair verdict? Will anyone come forward to tell another story other than the one presented at the trial by some who lie with abandon, condemning her for a crime she may or may not have committed, because they believe she is a lesser human being who is of little value and therefore may be sacrificed to protect the reputation of someone of the upper class. The book exposes injustice, cruelty and the abuse of a people based simply on skin color, but it also abuses the reader by not putting the lesbian relationship front and center in the blurbs and reviews so that the reader may decide whether or not to read the book with its descriptive sexual behavior. Perhaps as the slaves were manipulated so are the readers by a publishing industry that seeks to promote certain issues for political purposes.

A Fair Description of “The Donald” and the World in the Time of Trump.

The case for trump - Mark Victor Hansen

Although, as the title suggests, it is somewhat more positive in its approach to the description of Donald Trump, Hanson has meticulously analyzed the man and his behavior, warts and all. Unlike the plethora of “hit” books that have been published on Trump by his enemies, the press, the entertainment world, the tech sector, the never-Trumpers, the Democrats, extreme Progressives and Republicans who dislike him, this one also exposes the cruelty, contempt and violence associated with these extremists, since before and after his election, and couples it with an analysis of Obama’s errors and the animus that is directed towards him by those that yearn for a return to the politics of the Left, or better still, another election or nullification of the previous one so they can install Hillary to her rightful place on the throne.

Hanson cites specific examples and quotes to support his arguments. He explains why the left wants to stack the Supreme Court if elected, why they want to nullify Trump’s appointments to the courts and other posts, why the left wants to abolish the Electoral College giving a vast amount of unfair advantage to just a few, huge, liberal states, but most important, he exposes the method to their madness. There are no anonymous sources in the book, as there are in most of the negative books about Trump. There is little innuendo and few opinions. Everything is fact based, backed up with evidence and supported by documents or statements that can be checked out for accuracy and veracity by the reader with a little effort.

The elite liberals are still angry about the loss of the election by Hillary Clinton. Her minions in the entertainment world and media are actively making statements that are out of character when compared to what used to be the typical political scene. These angry partisans have multiplied their efforts so that it is a tsunami of hate directed toward the man, in far greater proportion to his own foolish remarks, and they are also far more violent and far less humorous. The left has not gone higher, as they said, but rather far lower, in the show of contempt and in the exhibition of fury and poor sportsmanship. In some cases some on the left are advocating for the White House to be blown up, the President to be assassinated and his family to be dragged through the mud, and his supporters to be annihilated. Unable to accept the loss, some will do anything to overturn this President, use any means and say anything, regardless of its lawfulness, its lack of decency, or its relationship to the truth. They accuse him and his followers of acts never committed. They simply want to turn the clock back and defeat him, at any cost, even their own honor and dignity.

Hanson analyzes both the behavior of those on the right and those on the left with regard to racism, equality, honesty, socialism and capitalism, among many other topics. The left has bullied the public and spread information that is only one-sided which helped skew the 2018 elections in their favor. A lie told often enough is eventually viewed as the truth by those who don’t check further. They engage in obstruction while accusing Trump of just that. They fight the immigration policy, although it is a security risk for the country and unsustainable at the numbers today. They lie to the public even as they accuse him of the same. They know this, but they have only one interest, defeat Trump, allow no success, smear his supporters as in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, and shame his followers. They have taken Trump’s immature name calling and turned it into an art form of their very own.

The better course of action would be to accept the successes of this President, the one that they did not vote for, the one they did not think could win. He is a man who is unskilled in the ways of politics. Would it not be better to work with him to make the country successful? Would it not be better to help him learn how to behave more diplomatically? It makes no sense to call him names, to lower themselves to using unacceptable behavior, under any circumstances, just because they want to retaliate against him for his insults. If we learn by the example, they are setting a poor one, as is evidenced by the rash of hateful behavior toward the right.

Trump’s insults pale, in the light of theirs on the left. In a less chaotic, oppositional environment, perhaps Trump’s twitter and crude behavior would ebb. Perhaps Americans would see some real reforms and progress in our government; perhaps our elected officials would govern and not behave like spoiled brats.

With the cards of hatred stacked so high against him and his administration, Trump has no choice but to use whatever avenue is open to him, to send his message, to reach those who support his policies, and even to reach some who do not support him, but who recognize that the alternative with their policies, is far worse. It is becoming more and more of a possibility that we will lurch to the left and take a violent turn towards socialism as our young people believe that government should provide for them, not that they should assist their government. They are inclined to throw away their freedom in support of “greed and weed”.

While the left idolized Obama, often unrealistically, and demanded little from him regarding information on his background, while the left hardly judged and largely excused his past behavior with the likes of Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright, they despise Trump with such venom that they want to destroy him without reason or cause and seek to find out information they have no legal right to have, simply to search for a reason to trap or smear him. They even tried to make up accusations in order to secretly investigate him, ad nauseum, in order to hopefully find a crime where none existed. They insist that he prove his innocence under an opaque cloud of guilt, although a guiding American principle had always been before, that a man was innocent until he was proven guilty.

Although the left disliked Mitch McConnell for wanting Obama to be a one-term President, they don’t even want to allow Trump to complete his first term. They predicted horrific outcomes if he was in charge, yet none have come to fruition. The opposite has often been achieved with successes in the economy and in foreign policy. Still, they have tried to thwart his every effort, even going so far as attempting to sabotage it, as with Kerry’s interference in Iran. With McConnell and Obama, it was one person largely leading the opposition. With the left, Pelosi, Schumer, Waters, Perez, Castro, Jackson, Hirono, Warren, Harris, Biden, and so many more, have doubled down with hateful remarks, even advocating violence against Trump and his family, down to his grandchildren; insisting that the opposition get in their faces to show they are unwanted. When will they realize that they are provoking an atmosphere encouraging the violence we are experiencing far to often, with their vicious rhetoric, even as they unfairly accuse the other side of doing it?

The left has attacked those in the administration without reason and used tactics against the right that would never have been accepted had they been used against the left, nor would they have been tolerated had they even been directed toward Obama, his family or his minions, as is evidenced in the extreme with what happened to Roseanne Barr. The charge of racism would have been loud and clear, among others, and it would have silenced any opposition to the left and their policies. Appealing to the angry emotions of supporters, regardless of the validity of the complaint, has become their norm. The right would have been described as heartless, at the very least, and yet this despicable behavior, largely by the left, is now lauded by them, when it is directed toward the right, whom they denigrate and despise. With a complicit press and the liberal towers of learning on their side, they are gaining ground..

Social media algorithms unfairly targeted the right as politics was turned on its head during Obama’s administration; now it continues to be abused by both sides! The hypocrisy exposed in this book, is exposed logically and gently, without the anger or hatred largely exhibited by the left, in their books, but with a clear-eyed look at the evidence that has been presented over the last two years, like the outrageous preponderance of negative news, in the 90th percentile. Hanson offers an eye-opening view of the political stage today as he completely disarms the argument that Obama’s reign was scandal free by citing specific instances that prove otherwise. Who can forget the mechanization of the IRS against the conservatives or the pretense that it was a video that caused riots in Benghazi and the death of the Ambassador and others or the middle of the night, secret flight of a plane filled with cash for Iran?

Although, at times, it is a bit repetitious, because a topic is sometimes mentioned early on and not fully explored until further on in the narrative, it is for the most part, a book that should be widely read, not because it supports Trump, but because it exposes his failures with the failures of the left and society. We have raised a future generation, not of mature adults, but of adults with arrested development, adults who cannot lose gracefully, who have forgotten the meaning of good sportsmanship, compromise and compassion. The ability to regroup and learn from one’s mistakes is what made America so resourceful, successful and strong. Rational rather than irrational responses were the norm. Instead, today, we have people needing safe spaces for ridiculous reasons and adults screaming inside closets because they can’t cope with the realities of life. We have an opposition party that is engaging in a horrific amount of unfair and unnecessary bias expressed toward those on the right, toward those who won. They are advocating violent behavior toward those they call “deplorables”. While all this is going on, the left is turning a blind eye to its own disgraceful behavior and is projecting it on innocent people who have done nothing to offend them, except to have won. How will this end?

A Fair Description of “The Donald” and the World in the Time of Trump.

The case for trump - Mark Victor Hansen

Although, as the title suggests, it is somewhat more positive in its approach to the description of Donald Trump, Hanson has meticulously analyzed the man and his behavior, warts and all. Unlike the plethora of “hit” books that have been published on Trump by his enemies, the press, the entertainment world, the tech sector, the never-Trumpers, the Democrats, extreme Progressives and Republicans who dislike him, this one also exposes the cruelty, contempt and violence associated with these extremists, since before and after his election, and couples it with an analysis of Obama’s errors and the animus that is directed towards him by those that yearn for a return to the politics of the Left, or better still, another election or nullification of the previous one so they can install Hillary to her rightful place on the throne.

Hanson cites specific examples and quotes to support his arguments. He explains why the left wants to stack the Supreme Court if elected, why they want to nullify Trump’s appointments to the courts and other posts, why the left wants to abolish the Electoral College giving a vast amount of unfair advantage to just a few, huge, liberal states, but most important, he exposes the method to their madness. There are no anonymous sources in the book, as there are in most of the negative books about Trump. There is little innuendo and few opinions. Everything is fact based, backed up with evidence and supported by documents or statements that can be checked out for accuracy and veracity by the reader with a little effort.

The elite liberals are still angry about the loss of the election by Hillary Clinton. Her minions in the entertainment world and media are actively making statements that are out of character when compared to what used to be the typical political scene. These angry partisans have multiplied their efforts so that it is a tsunami of hate directed toward the man, in far greater proportion to his own foolish remarks, and they are also far more violent and far less humorous. The left has not gone higher, as they said, but rather far lower, in the show of contempt and in the exhibition of fury and poor sportsmanship. In some cases some on the left are advocating for the White House to be blown up, the President to be assassinated and his family to be dragged through the mud, and his supporters to be annihilated. Unable to accept the loss, some will do anything to overturn this President, use any means and say anything, regardless of its lawfulness, its lack of decency, or its relationship to the truth. They accuse him and his followers of acts never committed. They simply want to turn the clock back and defeat him, at any cost, even their own honor and dignity.

Hanson analyzes both the behavior of those on the right and those on the left with regard to racism, equality, honesty, socialism and capitalism, among many other topics. The left has bullied the public and spread information that is only one-sided which helped skew the 2018 elections in their favor. A lie told often enough is eventually viewed as the truth by those who don’t check further. They engage in obstruction while accusing Trump of just that. They fight the immigration policy, although it is a security risk for the country and unsustainable at the numbers today. They lie to the public even as they accuse him of the same. They know this, but they have only one interest, defeat Trump, allow no success, smear his supporters as in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, and shame his followers. They have taken Trump’s immature name calling and turned it into an art form of their very own.

The better course of action would be to accept the successes of this President, the one that they did not vote for, the one they did not think could win. He is a man who is unskilled in the ways of politics. Would it not be better to work with him to make the country successful? Would it not be better to help him learn how to behave more diplomatically? It makes no sense to call him names, to lower themselves to using unacceptable behavior, under any circumstances, just because they want to retaliate against him for his insults. If we learn by the example, they are setting a poor one, as is evidenced by the rash of hateful behavior toward the right.

Trump’s insults pale, in the light of theirs on the left. In a less chaotic, oppositional environment, perhaps Trump’s twitter and crude behavior would ebb. Perhaps Americans would see some real reforms and progress in our government; perhaps our elected officials would govern and not behave like spoiled brats.

With the cards of hatred stacked so high against him and his administration, Trump has no choice but to use whatever avenue is open to him, to send his message, to reach those who support his policies, and even to reach some who do not support him, but who recognize that the alternative with their policies, is far worse. It is becoming more and more of a possibility that we will lurch to the left and take a violent turn towards socialism as our young people believe that government should provide for them, not that they should assist their government. They are inclined to throw away their freedom in support of “greed and weed”.

While the left idolized Obama, often unrealistically, and demanded little from him regarding information on his background, while the left hardly judged and largely excused his past behavior with the likes of Bill Ayers and Reverend Wright, they despise Trump with such venom that they want to destroy him without reason or cause and seek to find out information they have no legal right to have, simply to search for a reason to trap or smear him. They even tried to make up accusations in order to secretly investigate him, ad nauseum, in order to hopefully find a crime where none existed. They insist that he prove his innocence under an opaque cloud of guilt, although a guiding American principle had always been before, that a man was innocent until he was proven guilty.

Although the left disliked Mitch McConnell for wanting Obama to be a one-term President, they don’t even want to allow Trump to complete his first term. They predicted horrific outcomes if he was in charge, yet none have come to fruition. The opposite has often been achieved with successes in the economy and in foreign policy. Still, they have tried to thwart his every effort, even going so far as attempting to sabotage it, as with Kerry’s interference in Iran. With McConnell and Obama, it was one person largely leading the opposition. With the left, Pelosi, Schumer, Waters, Perez, Castro, Jackson, Hirono, Warren, Harris, Biden, and so many more, have doubled down with hateful remarks, even advocating violence against Trump and his family, down to his grandchildren; insisting that the opposition get in their faces to show they are unwanted. When will they realize that they are provoking an atmosphere encouraging the violence we are experiencing far to often, with their vicious rhetoric, even as they unfairly accuse the other side of doing it?

The left has attacked those in the administration without reason and used tactics against the right that would never have been accepted had they been used against the left, nor would they have been tolerated had they even been directed toward Obama, his family or his minions, as is evidenced in the extreme with what happened to Roseanne Barr. The charge of racism would have been loud and clear, among others, and it would have silenced any opposition to the left and their policies. Appealing to the angry emotions of supporters, regardless of the validity of the complaint, has become their norm. The right would have been described as heartless, at the very least, and yet this despicable behavior, largely by the left, is now lauded by them, when it is directed toward the right, whom they denigrate and despise. With a complicit press and the liberal towers of learning on their side, they are gaining ground..

Social media algorithms unfairly targeted the right as politics was turned on its head during Obama’s administration; now it continues to be abused by both sides! The hypocrisy exposed in this book, is exposed logically and gently, without the anger or hatred largely exhibited by the left, in their books, but with a clear-eyed look at the evidence that has been presented over the last two years, like the outrageous preponderance of negative news, in the 90th percentile. Hanson offers an eye-opening view of the political stage today as he completely disarms the argument that Obama’s reign was scandal free by citing specific instances that prove otherwise. Who can forget the mechanization of the IRS against the conservatives or the pretense that it was a video that caused riots in Benghazi and the death of the Ambassador and others or the middle of the night, secret flight of a plane filled with cash for Iran?

Although, at times, it is a bit repetitious, because a topic is sometimes mentioned early on and not fully explored until further on in the narrative, it is for the most part, a book that should be widely read, not because it supports Trump, but because it exposes his failures with the failures of the left and society. We have raised a future generation, not of mature adults, but of adults with arrested development, adults who cannot lose gracefully, who have forgotten the meaning of good sportsmanship, compromise and compassion. The ability to regroup and learn from one’s mistakes is what made America so resourceful, successful and strong. Rational rather than irrational responses were the norm. Instead, today, we have people needing safe spaces for ridiculous reasons and adults screaming inside closets because they can’t cope with the realities of life. We have an opposition party that is engaging in a horrific amount of unfair and unnecessary bias expressed toward those on the right, toward those who won. They are advocating violent behavior toward those they call “deplorables”. While all this is going on, the left is turning a blind eye to its own disgraceful behavior and is projecting it on innocent people who have done nothing to offend them, except to have won. How will this end?

A book about the inhumanity of slavery!

Washington Black - Esi Edugyan

Washington black, Esi Edugyan, author; Dion Graham, narrator

In the first third of the 19th century, slavery would soon be a thing of the past on the island of Barbados, but before it ended, George Washington Black’s life would be forever changed there. Born a slave, he was 11 years old when the book begins. Wash had never known freedom or a parent, although on the sugar plantation, Faith, he has a mother figure named Big Kit. She cares for him and tries to protect him but sometimes is cruel herself. When the owner of the plantation dies, his eldest nephew, Erasmus Wilde takes over the running of the place. He is cruel, violent and vicious. He enforces his power with malevolence, treating the slaves inhumanely, and without mercy. They are merely property for him to do with as he wishes, as they are to most slave owners. However, the descriptions of his brutality are contemptible. When Erasmus’s younger brother Titch (Christopher) arrives, Kit and Wash are waiting table for them at the manor house. Titch seems to have a softer and gentler nature. He is developing a flying machine that he calls a Cloud-cutter.. He wants Wash to assist him because of his small size which would be perfect as a ballast.

Titch prevails upon Erasmus to give him Wash and others to help him with his flying machine. When he realizes that Wash has the mind of a prodigy, he begins to teach him manners and how to read. He teaches him about marine specimens and about his Cloud-cutter. His artistic talent is discovered when Titch discovers Wash drawing in secret. He encourages him to continue to draw for him. There is magic in his drawings which possess a special kind of light and lightness. Soon the two are working together, although it takes time for Wash to overcome his fear of being abused by his masters. He lives with Titch in his quarters, and he sleeps in a bed for the first time in his life. Slowly, he becomes devoted to Titch and begins to trust him, although it seems never quite completely. When during an experiment with the Cloud-cutter, distracted by Titch’s cousin Philip, Wash is severely burned in an unexpected explosion, Titch nurses him back to health, but his face is brutally disfigured.

What seems like a short time later, Wash is with Philip once again, and he witnesses his death. He is helpless to prevent it, but as the last person to be with him, and as a black slave, he will be punished for the suicidal act.. Titch realizes that Wash is in grave danger, and so both take off in the Cloud-cutter to escape the plantation and prevent Wash’s capture and potential murder.

The adventures begin in earnest, at this time, as they are led in one direction or another, seemingly by chance encounters. Soon they are traveling the world from place to place, searching for Titch’s father, a well-known scientist whom Philip had told Titch had died. As possible sightings of his scholarly father persist, they travel to the Arctic to find him. The passage of time is ephemeral, and is hard to realistically determine based on the events taking place.

No matter what life throws at Wash, he seems almost supernatural and old beyond his years. He is as smart as a highly educated man, as well. He rises to the occasion no matter what he faces as lady luck seems to smile on him, helping him to survive to live another day. When after finding Titch’s father, Titch abandons him, wandering off into a snow storm and is never found, Wash begins to expore the world alone. He is but a teenager at the time without any known resources. He is an escaped slave, recognizable because of his facial scars and is in grave danger much of the time. Still, he makes his way to safety and, in Canada, where he soon meets a young woman, a couple of years older than him who is named Tanna, he finds a new life, once again. Tanna befriends him, and he discovers that her father is a famous zoologist, one he has actually studied, a man who knew Titch’s father and belonged to the same scholarly organizations and had the same honors bestowed upon him. Soon he is collecting and drawing specimens of marine life for him. When Titch conceives of the idea to open what might be the considered a modern day aquarium, they plan to do it together. However Ocean House, a place where marine life would be kept in tanks and viewed by the public, would never bear George Washington Black’s name.. This attraction to be built in London, in Regents Park, would only bring accolades to Mr. Goff, Tanna’s father. As a slave, and a black man, Wash would get no recognition even though it was his genius that conceived the idea and designed everything.

Although it is difficult to conceive of how much time has passed, exactly, the reader soon learns that like rumors about Titch’s father, there are now rumors about Titch himself. Is he still alive? Together with Tanna, he begins to search for him. He believes he may be in Morocco. At this time, Wash is about 18 and Tanna is 20. Their relationship has grown intimate.

Although it often feels as if great lengths of time have sometimes passed, the reader discovers that it is only a few months or years that have gone by. Sometimes the chapters seem to change so abruptly, the reader is left wondering what just happened or how much time has passed. The main character is Wash. He seems larger than life, capable of being at once naïve and then very sophisticated, at the same time. Although, when it begins, Wash is basically illiterate, he is treated with deference most of the time, as if he is a scholar, and is, in fact, described as a prodigy by Titch.  His demeanor is, always well mannered and polite, but he often expresses disappointment which sometimes feels inappropriate.

There are times when  what occurs requires the reader to suspend disbelief. There is occasional what feels like an infusion of magic and spirituality throughout the narrative which is lyrical and beautifully crafted even though the story often does lack cohesion and credibility when it extends into the world of fantasy. When the book ends, the reader might feel oddly disappointed, not knowing what will take place next, however, one is left with the idea that while Titch is still floundering, purposeless, George Washington Black has found his true purpose and intends to fight for it. After facing Titch and coming to terms with his misinterpretation of their relationship, he realizes that Titch could never be capable of the same depth of devotion that Wash has for him. He feels suddenly free to find his own future and he intends to fight for it. However, since he is black, without funds or family, the odds should be against him. This unreality is what faces the reader and Wash.  The question is, what is Wash free to do?

 

A Tale of True Courage and Patriotism and what might happen if they are absent!

All the Gallant Men: An American Sailor's Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor - Donald Stratton, Ken Gire

All The Gallant Men: An America Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor, Donald Stratton, Ken Gire, authors; Mike Ortego, narrator.

Donald Stratton was 94 years old (now 97) when he wrote his memoir to commemorate the December 7th, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He believed, as the quote he references says, “when a person dies, it is like a library burns down.” He wanted to preserve his memories of that day for future generations. Pearl Harbor was an attack on this nation by a country that was actively engaged in duplicitous peace talks with America’s envoys. Japan’s act of war was a sneak attack of enormous magnitude for which they would ultimately pay dearly, but so did America. The book points out not only their heinous behavior, but it also shows the naïveté of the government, during this time, when Hitler was rising to power and advancing across Europe. We were asleep at the wheel, basking in an arrogant attitude of superiority, assuming we were safe even though all the signs of this act of war were on the horizon. Had there not been failures in communication, perhaps the dead and wounded of Pearl Harbor would not have numbered so many.

Donald is a survivor of the attack that “will live in infamy”, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He carries his battle scarred body and memories with him everyday. Brought up in the Plains, poor, but faithful, he and his family were a tight knit unit with the belief that no matter what happened, G-d would provide for their welfare. Devout, they attended church in the best and the worst of times. The Sears Catalogue was their lifeline to the rest of the world, and it was through those pages that he learned what else was available to those who were better off, to those who lived elsewhere; he learned what was available to those who were not sharecroppers living basically from hand to mouth, using potato sacking for clothing and subsisting on kitchen gardens. With two younger brothers and a sister, he lived in four rooms with an outhouse. There were two bedrooms, a wood stove for cooking and a stove in the fireplace used for heat. Yet they remained content as a family unit.

The times were different then and so it seems was the outlook on life. America was loved by patriots all over the United States, and they would eagerly step up to the plate when needed for its survival. Today, times seem a bit different. Today patriotism, especially associated with nationalism, is considered a “dirty word”; our flag is often disrespected, and those who profess love for the country are sometimes called “deplorables”. After reading his book, I can only hope that when the call comes to defend our shores, there will be men and women who are as brave as he was, who will stand up for what is just and right, and who will exhibit the valorous behavior that Stratton did.

Donald’s story is one of deep devotion to his country. Even though he was gravely burned in the Pearl Harbor attack, as soon as he was able, he reenlisted and went back to fight with his “band of brothers”. His desire is to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive, as we must keep the memory of 9/11 alive, because forgetting might help to lay the groundwork for another sneak attack on our country. To me, his message affirms and asserts that we must be prepared, and we must be ready to defend ourselves and our great nation.

The narrator of this book spoke in a measured town which conveyed the story without undue emotional involvement, therefore making the reenactment of that horrific day tolerable and comprehensible for the reader. The story of Stratton is both moving and inspiring. I hope the young adults of today, who have been coddled and brought up to expect life on a silver platter, will be up to the task if it ever arises.

Troubled Teens Without a Moral Compass

Quicksand - Malin Persson Giolito

 Quicksand, by Malin Persson Giolito, author; Saskia Maarleveld, narrator

 

In Sweden, there is a terrorist attack in a private upper secondary school. Maria Norberg (Maja) is arrested for her part in the murders. This is her story. She is a teenager, and as she describes her deepest thoughts and emotions, her family life and her love life, her hate for her boyfriend Sebastian’s father, and her conflicted feelings about her boyfriend, the reader is left to draw his/her own conclusion about her guilt or innocence regarding the tragic event. She is in jail in isolation. She carefully relates the events leading up to the attack. She admits to murdering two people, her boyfriend Sebastian and her best friend Amanda, but she insists she murdered Amanda by accident, while she intentionally shot Sebastian to prevent him from shooting her.

Maja and her friends were promiscuous and engaged in dangerous behavior both sexually and with drugs. They seemed to have no clear boundaries to adhere to and did as they pleased, most of the time; sometimes it involved lying or else their parents were simply concerned with other things and did not interfere with their decisions. As a result, Maja and her boyfriend Sebastian make some very foolish decisions.

Maja was given the responsibility for her boyfriend’s well-being after he suffered a breakdown. It is a task she was ill equipped to handle, but no one seemed to care or notice how it drained her. It seemed the adults were too busy to take care of him and simply gave her the job. She was guilt ridden and believed she had to help him.

Sebastian was the black sheep in his family. His father abused and disliked him. His father abused many people because he was very wealthy and powerful. Sebastian yearned for his father’s acceptance but he could not compete with his “better”, well loved brother, Lucas.

Sebastian was cruel to their friend Samir, an immigrant who had a scholarship to their school. He believed Samir was beneath him. Samir had created a narrative about his parents that was false. He said his father was a lawyer and his mother had been a doctor when actually she was a maid and his dad was a taxi driver. Sebastian taunts Samir. Maja, however, liked Samir and was usually kind to him.

Maja seemed too sophisticated, sexually, for the 16 year old she was when the novel begins. However, she had loved Sebastian since they met and played together as young children. When he was held back in school and didn’t graduate with his class, he wound up in her class, and their romance bloomed. He became dependent upon her, but the burden of caring for him grew too great for her to bear. Her parents wanted her to be in the relationship with him because of his powerful father whose influence they hoped would help them.

The novel methodically analyzes the attack on the school which has become an all too common occurrence in today’s world. Maja’s life is scrutinized before and after the murders take place. Both she and Sebastian wanted to be appreciated for who they were, not what they had, but both would soon be judged in the court of public opinion for what they did. Was Maja a willing accomplice in the terrorist attack or was she trying to save herself?

I found the courtroom drama interesting, but I found the language and sex scenes seemed designed to give the impression that all young, rich kids were cruel, spoiled racists who were promiscuous and did drugs with abandon

An Insecure Woman Finally Finds Her Voice

Queenie - Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, author; Shvorne Marks, narrator

Queenie is a troubled young woman of color, from a dysfunctional background. As her character is developed and explored, the author illustrates the racism that not only black women are exposed to, but also touches on the plight of the black person, in general, as an attempt is made to navigate the world ruled largely by Caucasians and men. Subtly, also, there is an anti-Trump sentiment, an anti-police opinion, and a possible anti-Semitic element introduced in the book. Cultural differences and moral standards are different across political, racial and religious backgrounds and they are exposed by the author.

Queenie is in an interracial relationship when the book opens. Her white boyfriend and his family embrace her, but she seems to drive them away with her own behavior. She is afraid of too much commitment and of being rejected. When the relationship ends, Queenie is devastated and begins to act out in wanton ways. She is eager to sleep around and actually craves casual, sexual relationships that are even abusive and somewhat violent. She has close friends who worry about her as they witness her decline, but her problems do not seem easily resolved. Her fears and insecurities are the result of her difficult childhood. Abandoned by her mother who was in an abusive relationship and raised largely by grandparents and an aunt who have their own issues, she became an insecure and somewhat irresponsible young adult seeking mostly to pleasure herself without considering the consequences. She is always surprised by the results of her often irresponsible behavior, but somehow she seems unable to make the necessary reforms in her lifestyle.

Eventually, outside help brings some resolution to Queenie and she learns that she is indeed valued and is a valuable as a person. The reader watches her as she suffers through the process of achieving maturity and mental and emotional health. She stops feeling sorry for herself and begins to face and deal with her own problems and her own actions that bring so much pain to her life.

It is not my kind of a book. There is too much crude language and sexual content for my taste. I would rather have witnessed her progress without the smut. I understood that she was searching for love as she welcomed strangers to her bed. I did not need a description of what transpired between her and her partner in that bed.

On the positive side, the book, in its way, pointed out that many people, from diverse backgrounds feel oppressed and it explored some of the reasons. Regardless, everyone has to find a way to function in the real world successfully without abandoning certain principles. Queenie’s poor moral standards and poor work ethics had a negative effect on her future. She was very aware of her color as her identity, yet she loved white men and feared black men, probably due to her experiences, in her past, when she lived with her mother, another troubled woman who still lacks confidence and appears to be weak. As Queenie begins to overcome her personal insecurities, others witnessing her changes in behavior, also begin to act differently, like her mother and her grandparents, who begin to grow, as well.

This book has received many excellent reviews which I would expect from an industry that largely supports the progressive movement and the left. However, although I thought the writing was well done, absent the vulgarity, it felt contrived in some ways as unwarranted political views suddenly arose. Still the evolution of this damaged, selfish and immature, insecure young woman, with a depressive personality, suffering from panic attacks, into someone who finally had some self respect and strength of character was enlightening and inspiring even with its somewhat of a fairytale ending. Queenie begins to overcome her insecurity and finally finds her voice.

A novel about self-discovery

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss - Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Professor Chandra is viewed as a master economist, but near 70, he is again passed over for the Nobel Prize. Disappointment fills him, but he hides it as well as he can and attempts to deal with what he perceives as his failure, in a good natured manner. Actually, he is insults some of his students in the process. Therefore, he is offered the opportunity to take a sabbatical to gather his thoughts. Although he initially refuses, he soon changes his mind. Fate plays a part in his plans. He is hit by a cyclist and winds up in the hospital with some serious health issues. He decides it is time to search for some contentment. Once he thought he was happily married, but his wife left him for another man. He has not been as involved with his children as he would like to be since the divorce. He is no longer even in touch with one of his children, a daughter he fought with often. She refuses to contact him and won’t allow anyone to tell him where she is. He misses her. His son Sunil (Sunny), is successful, but lives in India running a business school with a focus on how business should be done. He rarely sees him. He realizes he is lonely. He decides to travel to California, where his ex-wife, Jean, lives with her new husband, Steve, and their youngest daughter, Jasmine. He is hoping to try and reconnect with his family. While there, his ex-wife’s husband challenges him to go to Esalen, a place he believes will help Chandra to gain personal awareness and fulfillment. It will make him happier. This experience opens a new chapter in his life.

Chandra, whom his ex-wife calls Charles, embarks on a journey towards self discovery. He is a man with a type A personality. His behavior and manner reflect his own upbringing, his father’s influence on him and also the influence of his country of origin, India. He is restrained regarding a show of emotion, and he is formal in his dress and demeanor. As he begins to meditate and grow more introspective, he begins to understand more about his own responsibility for the things that have happened in his life, for his children’s reactions to him and his wife’s possible reasons for leaving him, for his colleague’s and student’s treatment of him as well as his behavior toward them. As his ideas and actions slowly evolve, it is as if he “comes of age”. His change affects his interaction with others and they also change, growing more receptive to him as he becomes freer and more open. Old injuries and grudges gradually become less important as they are revealed, accepted, ironed out and even resolved.  As Chandra searches for meaning in his life, he also provides meaning in the lives of those he touches.

He has enormous expectations of himself and his children and they often feel unable to fulfill his wishes. Each of his children is struggling to discover their own identity, unencumbered by his. His wife has found a new identity with her new husband. He begins to show more understanding of the plight of others and not only to dwell on himself and his own desires.

The book cleverly touches on racism, politics, religion, culture, morality, economics, world affairs, child rearing, fidelity, divorce, drugs, feminism, and more. As these subjects are introduced, they are treated with humor, a light wit or serious exploration. The book beautifully examines relationships with family, friends, strangers, and anyone else one might come in contact with, with all their flaws and in all their incarnations. Acceptance of what life offered was key, introspection was vital, self-control was primary. Chandra was a man who had almost too much self-control. It made him hard to reach, and it made him self-important, and perhaps, even selfish. He wanted to control others, to make his children in his own image. He showed disappointment rather than compassion, restraint rather than affection. He emphasized success at all costs and sometimes those on whom he imposed his control could not satisfy his dreams. They needed to find their own, and they needed to separate from him to do this. As the book develops, the characters develop and grow. The power of spirituality and deep thought brings enormous change to all of them.

 

I received this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

another great book by fiona barton

The Suspect - Fiona Barton

The Suspect, Fiona Barton, author; Susan Duerden, Fiona Hardingham, Nicholas Guy Smith, Katherine McEwan, narrators. Fiona Barton is a master storyteller. Her mysteries hold the reader’s attention from the first page to the last. This is the third installment in the Kate Waters series and it continues to be intriguing. The narrators of this audio book did a wonderful job of defining each character as a separate individual. There was little confusion in identifying each character as they spoke. The author exposes the flaws of her characters as the novel plays out. Each takes little responsibility for their own choices and reactions, but rather, each blames those around them. Each grieves in their own unique way, as they face their personal traumas. Many of the characters are not that likeable, but they are all interesting. Some, however, are not as well developed as they could be, and often, when they are introduced or pop up, it is hard to place them back into the story. The chapters are divided into sections on detectives investigating the case, the journalists covering it, the mothers and the missing young adults. Each character has a unique pattern of behavior, and as each character’s place in the story is defined, the reader learns the details. The mystery evolves slowly, often through secret emails and phone messages. In a country, Thailand, that is third world, technology plays an important role. Kate Waters, a journalist, is following a story about two teens. Recently graduated from high school, they went on a trip to Thailand before facing their futures. Both are now missing. At first, it is assumed that they are simply so involved in travel and partying that they have not communicated as expected, but soon, other facts are discovered. At the same time that Kate investigates the missing girls, she also wants to find her own son, also missing. He had gone to Thailand two years before, and now she has no idea where he is living, although she believes he is in Phuket doing good work for those in need. He rarely gets in touch. When she travels to Thailand to locate the missing girls, she also hopes to locate her son. Jake Waters makes excuses for his foolish choices and is often irresponsible. Alex feels a sense of responsibility for her traveling partner, Rosie, and compassion for a young boy who wants to befriend her, Jamie, although she has no romantic interest in him. Her choices, while compassionate, are also irresponsible. Rosie is exploiting her new found freedom in decadent ways and is totally out of control. Both girls are naïve and unprepared for what faces them. The boys involved are either immature and/or troubled or free spirits. The parents are, perhaps, too laid back in their approach to their children’s desires. All of the characters, the detectives, reporters, mothers and teens made excuses for their behavior which were not well thought out at times, and were often selfish. They found it easier to blame others for their transgressions rather than face their own lack of judgment. Often, they were afraid to deal with the truth. Secrets were a major component of each character’s life. I did not find the ending as satisfying as I had hoped. It was flat and abrupt and didn’t examine the final actions of the characters thoroughly, leaving many questions in my mind. Perhaps it was done deliberately in preparation for the next book in the series. One is left wondering, however, just how far a mother will go to protect a child, just how far a parent will go to become a friend and give the child enough rope to hang themselves, just how foolish it is to send a child off without preparing them appropriately, just how old does someone have to be before they can go off and travel on their own safely, just when does a child truly mature enough to make realistic and wise decisions? When does judgment develop? Is there an appropriate way to grieve? Why were such foolish decisions made? Who has the greatest influence on the decisions of each character? Should the parents have been more involved in the travel plans of their children? Are the traveling teens properly prepared for the dangers of drugs and alcohol before they set out on their trips? Are they mature enough to deal with the challenges they will face when they have new found freedom? These questions rise to a level of greater importance in the current political climate. Some of our political leaders are actually suggesting that teens are mature enough to make wise choices, and they are suggesting that 16 year olds should participate in our elections. The book also truly touches on the behavior of the reporters, on their invasion of privacy, although that is actually often the job of reporters. It also touches on how detectives treat suspects and the information and facts they compile. Is any of this behavior appropriate? Is it admirable? Is it necessary? Is it even ethical? These are questions that should be explored, also in our current climate with “talking heads” influencing so many of our lives. How far will a young adult go to have fun and freedom? How far will a parent go to protect a child? How far will a reporter go to get a scoop? How far will a detective go to solve a case? What will each give up in their quest for success? Are we trying too many people in the court of public opinion rather than through our legal system, before we know the facts? Are we rushing to judgment too often when we only have the innuendo and opinions of reporters who no longer adequately vet their information as they race to publish first and get the scoop? There are so many thoughtful questions that arise in the novel that I suggest this book for book club discussions?

Well told story about a little known heroine!

The Last Ballad: A Novel - Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash has a way with words. He develops the characters so well that the reader walks alongside them as the book unfolds. living their experiences with them. This story has its base in the life of a real character, Ella May Wiggins, and coincidentally, Wiley Cash has relatives with the name, Wiggins, although they do not seem to be related.

This is the story of the very short and sad life of Ella May Wiggins. Once a hillbilly, she moved with her husband John to North Carolina to work in the mills. She lived in Stumptown, a small black community in which she was the only white resident.  She, like them, was dirt poor. Her life has not been easy. Her husband walked out on her and she had recently thrown out the no account man who was also the father of the child growing in her belly. She was taking care of all her children by herself. The four of them walked barefoot and were often hungry. They looked after each other while she was at work at the local textile mill.

It is 1929 and Ella May worked at American Mill #2, owned and run by the Goldberg brothers. It was one of the few mills that was integrated. She was paid a paltry sum which barely put food on the table. When she was reprimanded for missing work because of a sick child, she decided to check out the textile worker’s union that was being organized by the Communist Party. Ella May lived from hand to mouth and was slowly growing desperate. At the union rally, encouraged by its organizers, she unexpectedly found herself singing her own songs and addressing the crowd. She was persuaded to join them in their effort to organize workers and to eventually take on a leadership role. She was also persuaded to try to integrate the union by encouraging her friends and neighbors to join her. It turned out to be a very dangerous endeavor. The world was not only anti-union and opposed to Communists, but integration of the unions was even more of a far-fetched effort.

The textile workers were engaged in a poorly organized strike when she became involved. It had not been very effective. She became the face and inspiration of the movement. At first there was very little violence, but as time passed, racism and anti-Communist sentiments aroused more violent passions.

The story of Ella May’s participation in the labor union struggle was related to her grandson Edwin by her daughter Lilly. It was the first time she was telling the whole story, about her mother’s brief life, to anyone at all. She was deep into her 80’s at the time she related this history to him. She had decided not to let the story of her mother’s heroism be forgotten.

Each of the novel’s chapters featured a different character. Each described the relationship of that character to Ella May and her struggles. I found the novel inspiring and informative. I had not known that the Communist Party was involved in our labor union struggles and movement. Actually, my experience with unions was quite negative for two reasons. One was that the striking workers forced my father out of his small business. He lost everything. Two was that I objected to the unionization of teachers, and I still do. Somehow it made me and them less professional and more demanding, not always for the benefit of the children or for the improvement of the schools, but more for the benefit of themselves. A combination of all ideals would have been more preferable, but sometimes the better goals are lost in the shuffle.

Still, the story makes the reader realize that unions were not only justified at one time, they were needed to level the playing field and provide better working conditions for all. The novel makes the reader very sympathetic to the plight of the overworked and abused employees, especially those of color who were not given any equality or respect. They were often humiliated by cruel white people, who felt superior to them, and today they still are in some places and in some circumstances. The danger, however, to me, is that the unions are subject to abuse because sometimes the members forget the purpose of the union, which is to improve conditions, and not necessarily to destroy a business, which is sometimes the ultimate end product when collective bargaining breaks down. A case in point is Stella D’oro.