Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, author, Cassandra Campbell, narrator
The book takes place in North Carolina, and it covers the life of Katherine Danielle Clark, born on October 10, 1945, from her childhood to her death. The story is told tenderly, over more than five decades, through the memories of Kya, as she is called, and it is read expertly by the narrator, who interprets the different characters with perfect pitch.
The book begins in 1969, with a mystery. A body is discovered in the swamp. It is the body of the local hero, the upper class, Chase Andrews. Was his death an accident or was it murder? An investigation is begun. The novel then goes to 1952, and continues to switch back and forth from the past to the present as Kya grows up and tells her story, until she and the murder exist in the same place and time, in 1969, the year the body is found.
So we meet Kya, almost 7, in 1952 as she watches her mom walk down the road, never to return. Soon after, most of her siblings are driven away also, by their father’s brutality; he is a violent drunk. One sibling, Jody, was the last to leave her, and she always remembered him and the advice he had often given. When her father left, too, and never returned, seven year old Kya was completely on her own. She did not let anyone know that her family was gone because she was afraid of going into foster care. With the limited knowledge she had gleaned from watching her mother, she taught herself to cook. She took her father’s boat and shopped in town by bartering with Jumpin’, the man who ran the store where they had bought supplies. She brought him things, like mussels and smoked fish, and he gave her grits and gasoline in exchange. His wife Mabel taught her how to garden and she grew her own vegetables. Jumpin’ became like a parent, always watching out for her well being, warning her of danger. Jumpin’ lived in Colored Town with Mabel who took it upon herself to gather hand-me-downs for Kya, from their community. The people were happy to give her the things they no longer needed, unlike the whites in town who shunned her.
After the truant officer took her to school, one day, promising her a good hot meal, she vowed never to return because the children bullied her. So she never had an education. One day, while she was out in the boat, exploring, she got lost. An old friend of her brother’s, Tate, saw her all alone, and he guided her home. They became friends, although he was older than she. When he discovered she was illiterate, he taught her to read and do simple arithmetic. Her world opened up. He brought her books and encouraged her to study them. She soon educated herself. She loved the natural sciences and read every book she could get her hands on. Soon she was cataloguing the things she discovered in nature, using her own artistic and writing skills. She grew to trust and love Tate, but when he too was gone, she lost her faith in people.
As time went by, she developed into a young woman and she caught the eye of Chase Andrews, a local boy who was handsome and rich. At first, because she had been abandoned by everyone else, she avoided him, but he made promises to her, even though he knew he couldn’t keep them, because their worlds were too different. She was naïve, and soon, she was persuaded to trust him. When he betrayed her too, she withdrew into her own world even further. She was a simple soul who only wanted to love and be loved, but she kept failing to achieve that.
Kya’s life story is heartbreaking and breathtaking all at once. She spent her life running and hiding, protecting herself from the outside world. They did not understand her or want her in their midst and she feared them. The marsh became her mother, her world, when she had no place else to turn and felt completely alone and lonely. Through her scientific studies, she learned about the dominance of hierarchies in the natural world and she translated it into her knowledge of man. She observed behavior and the need that dominance inspired, and she witnessed inequality in the natural world and actually experienced it in her own.
The novel has something for everyone. It is very intense as injustice, arrogance, class warfare and racism raise their heads. It is a love story, a mystery filled with intrigue, and a legal drama with nail-biting court scenes. Each of the themes in the book is handled perfectly and culminates in satisfying conclusions. Toward the end, the tension builds on every page as Kya, accused of murdering her former boyfriend, awaits the verdict. The ending has unexpected twists and turns. While at times the story line stretches credulity, as we watch Kya come of age, it also begins to seem quite possible that someone so bright could accomplish all she did. We want to believe in her.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne, author; Stephen Hogan, narrator
I was so looking forward to reading this book because I admire the author’s work. After reading the first few chapters, I raved about it and recommended it. The narrator was great, interpreting situations and voices well.
Soon, however, as I read more and more, I had buyer’s remorse. Although it begins with the story of a young Irish Catholic girl who is humiliated in church after being sexually impregnated by a relative, whom she protects, the story veers off from her life and centers on the life of her child Cyril. She disappears and the reader meets Cyril’s dysfunctional adoptive family and home life. When Cyril realizes, at age 7, that he rather enjoys the sexual company of boys, and discovers his homosexuality, with no one to speak to and no way to understand it, I began to wonder if this was a book I should continue to read.
After Cyril is then sent to a private school run by priests as a scholarship student, but is too naïve to understand that there is blatant homosexuality in his midst, until his first homosexual encounter shows up and coincidentally becomes his roommate, I gave up on finishing the book. One because it seemed contrived, two because I am not interested in how boys or men pleasure each other and the scenes and language were too explicit for my taste.
Also, the consequences of the Aids epidemic were alive and well in my lifetime, with friends and relatives suffering from the disease and succumbing to it. I did not care to read further about it. I simply found the content too disturbing. I felt as if it was written for liberals who are anti-church and LGBT activists. They may enjoy it far more than I did.
While I realize that I usually have an open mind and read a variety of genres, when I realized that I dreaded picking this book up each day, and got through only a few pages, I decided it was time to permanently put it down.
The dinner list, - A Novel, Rebecca Serle, author and narrator
When Sabrina was still a university student at USC, by chance, at a photographic exhibit, she meets a young man from UCLA who is studying photography. For her, it was kismet, but they made no plans to meet again, and he soon disappeared from her life. When, four years later, not in California, but in New York City, she spies him again, their friendship begins in earnest. She is sure it was written into her destiny as their relationship develops and grows stronger. He is working as a photographer, and she works in publishing. Her career is more suited to New York, but California would be better for his future. It is a dilemma. How would it be resolved?
Sabrina had a best friend, Jessica, who was close to her and her mother and was almost like family. They had a birthday ritual. Every year, the girls took each other out to celebrate. The birthday girl chose the restaurant. One time, the two discussed which five people they would invite to their birthday dinner, if they could have anyone. Sabrina’s list was Audrey Hepburn, her father’s favorite movie star, Tobias, the love of her life, Jessica, her friend forever, Robert, her father who had abandoned her and her mother, and Conrad, a former professor who always left her with something to think about.
When Sabrina arrived to meet Jessica for her birthday celebration, there were more seats than she expected at her table. Her five people were actually attending her dinner. She stopped thinking about how and why the guests were there and allowed herself to experience an evening that shouldn’t have been possible.
As the dinner progresses, Conrad is the one who encourages the conversation and Audrey facilitates it. Jessica keeps interjecting with her own opinions which are sometimes contrary to Sabrina’s, and Tobias seems to want to reassert their relationship. Robert reveals the details of his life. The reader discovers that not all of the guests are alive! The dinner conversation delves into their lives and examines their relationships. Love, loss, friendship, grief, disappointment, and need are just some of the emotions that are explored. The conversation allows each guest to relieve their minds of certain burdens.
The story takes on a bittersweet reunion atmosphere. Poor choices are revealed and some of the guests are able to explain the circumstances that changed and influenced her life and theirs, although Sabrina had not known about a lot of the facts that they are exposing. It enlightened her and enriched her life in such a way that she was now able to move forward, where before she had been stuck grieving over past mistakes, losses and things beyond her control.
At times, she had been selfish and at times she had deliberately overlooked things that she should have dealt with that could have solved a problem, Instead, she took the less stressful, easy way out. At times, she was immature and wouldn’t deal with reality because it was painful. As each of the guests faced and revealed their lives by looking back, through memories, at their pain and sorrow, Sabrina realized that she was not alone in her feelings of sadness and pain, there were others who also suffered losses and grief, and dilemmas that were difficult to solve. Although there would only be this one brief dinner to work through all of her questions and doubts about her life and to ponder about any changes she would have or could have made, the conversation was able to enrich her and enable her to move forward.
There was a bit of magical realism in the story, but it was more dreamlike than make-believe. It was simple and easy to read. The characters revealed themselves well as they explained behavior and character traits she had never understood or accepted. The experience allowed Sabrina to say good bye to her past instead of remaining stuck in some part of it. It also allowed the rest of the characters to move on to occupy a space in her life that was more acceptable to both Sabrina and them.
In general, I don’t think authors should read their own books on audios and this one reinforced my belief. The author’s voice lacked the resonance and maturity of a professional and, at times, it was irritating to me because it was almost too matter of fact in its portrayal of the narrative. Still, it was an interesting story with an imaginative plot. It made me wonder, at my stage of life, if there would be five people I would like to revisit with in order to explore our relationship, and it made me wonder if there was anything in my life that I would go back to and change if I could.
What would you do if you could pick five people to have dinner with, living or dead? Who would you pick? If the opportunity really arose, how would you handle yourself? Would you be happy to be with the people or would you unload all your hidden anger and resentment? Would problems get resolved? Would they grow worse? Could you be mature enough to deal with the issues that are suddenly revealed to you that you never knew about, unknown families, resentments, needs? It is an interesting question to ponder. It makes one realize the importance of the choices we make because we carry them with us down the road of life.
Judas, Amos Oz, author; Jonathan Davis, narrator
I would describe this book as literary. I do not think it will appeal to a broad audience, but those interested in the history of Israel and the relationship of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot, will find it inspirational. Various theories about their relationship and the relationship between Arab and Jew, and about the creation of the Jewish nation, are philosophically and historically explored with positive and negative views as competing ideas are presented.
The time is near the end of 1959. A young, rather unkempt looking, sensitive, university student, named Shmuel Ash, a Socialist, grows completely disillusioned with his life when his girlfriend, Yardena, suddenly leaves him to marry her ex-boyfriend. His personality, which is difficult to define either positively or negatively, no longer suits her. At the same time as this traumatic break-up occurs, Shmuel’s father suffers a business and financial reversal. He can no longer pay for Shmuel’s education. Rather than go to work to support himself and his studies, he leaves school, gives up his thesis on the Gospel of Judas, disappointing his family, and abandons his friends to wallow in his disappointments. He answers an advertisement to be a part time caretaker for an elderly, disabled man. The pay is a pittance but he needs a place to stay and wants to get away from everyone.
The elderly man, to whom he becomes a companion, Gershom Wald, lives with a woman, Atalia Abravanel. She is the widow of his son, Micha, who was killed in the War for Independence, fought in 1948, right after Israel was born. Wald had been a staunch Zionist. He believed in the Jewish nation. Atalia’s father, however, Shealtiel Abravanel, had not. He was considered a traitor and friend of the Arabs. Abravanel thought everyone should simply live together, all people, and didn’t believe in two separate states, either. He predicted the riots and upheaval to come if Israel became a reality, and he was ostracized by everyone. When Micah went off to fight, Atalia, begged him not to go. Shortly afterward, he was tortured, mutilated and murdered by the Arabs.
Atalia mesmerized Shmuel, even though she remained aloof, only describing his duties to him and keeping her distance. He worked for a few hours a day, from mid-afternoon until early evening. The rest of the time was his to pursue whatever he wished. He was often encouraged to use his time to study or write. Shmuel and the old man engaged in conversation about philosophy, concerning Israel, Jesus and Judas, and also, on occasion, about his life. Slowly the history of their different relationships was revealed as were the different theories about Judas and his role in the death of Christ and its effect on future civilizations. Did Judas betray Jesus, encouraging the crucifixion, or did he truly believe that G-d was Christ’s father, and would save him with unique powers that would lift him from the cross? If Jesus was Jewish, did he found Christianity or did Judas, with his historic reputation of treachery? In many ways, Abravanel and Judas are twinned, as both are characterized as traitors. Abravanel was considered a traitor to Jews and to Israel, and he predicted the chaos to come. Judas was considered the disciple who betrayed Jesus, and perhaps, caused the chaos to come.
While Wald provided Shmuel with somewhat of a father image, as Shmuel also was a stand-in for his son, it is more difficult to explain Atalia. She is somewhat of an enigma. Older than Shmuel, and depicted as the eternal grieving widow, she seems also to either mentor him or torment him as she entices him to her bed. It is difficult to determine her real purpose, and I found that the sex scenes seemed to add little to the narrative. One thing is certain, Shmuel is lonely and lost, and she seems to enrich his life, in some way.
In the book, the reader witnesses both Arab and Jew committing heinous crimes against each other, and although both viewpoints are presented, it seems obvious that the war, that 37 year old Micha gave his life to, was unavoidable. Gershom Wald is acutely aware of the fact that the Arabs wanted to drive the Jews into the sea, and his daughter-in-law’s father is acutely aware of the consequences he predicted becoming a reality. Are either of these viewpoints wrong? As Shmuel talks with the rabbi and his daughter-in-law, they develop and share ideas. They reveal their own characters to each other. Shmuel learns that Atalia is in complete control of Gershom’s care. They are both living in her home. She determined when each companion to Wald would leave, and none stayed very long. They all fell in love with her, and she soon tired of them. Shmuel would also suffer the same fate.
Did Abravanel truly betray the Jewish people with his opposition to the Jewish state. If there was no Jewish state, would Jews and Arabs live side by side? Would there be these constant wars in the Middle East? Was Judas really the man who betrayed Jesus or was Jesus really the G-d that Judas believed him to be? What would have happened to the world if there had been no Judas? Would there be anti-Semitism? Would there be a Christian Religion. Would a Jewish nation have been necessary? Would the world be at peace today, if Judas had been interpreted differently, if he really wasn’t the disciple who betrayed Jesus, but was a man who felt betrayed himself, by his own strong love and belief in Jesus as the son of G-d? If Abravanel’s warnings had been heeded would the world be more peaceful?
Shmuel’s fatal flaw seems to be that he always thinks too long about acting, but never actually does act. By the time he decides to do something, the moment has passed. Will he ever discover his own purpose in life as he is attempting to discover the purpose of Judas and Jesus? The book explores this and more, as Shmuel and Gershom write and speak about their thoughts on Jesus and Judaism and Jesus and Judas and discuss the Arab/Jewish problem in the land of Israel. Each of the characters was haunted by their memories and thoughts. Examining their innermost beliefs, the author is able to philosophize about the Arab/Jewish problems and the Jewish/Christian problems and the possibility of any of those conflicts being resolved.
The book examines relationships and the effect of different loyalties, political beliefs, socialization, and communication, on relationships as they all relate to each other, and how they relate to Israel and the Jews, to Judaism and Jesus. The book is particularly well read by the narrator with authentic accents and the expression of temperament that comes through with the portrayal of each character.
Two men are cast out, Abravanel and Judas, for similar reasons. We are left with the questions: What would the world be like if there had never been a Judas who was defined as a traitor, which ultimately birthed Christianity? What would the world be like if Abravanel had not been called a traitor and the Jewish nation had not been established?
A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Anne Fowler, author; Barrie Kreinik, narrator
Alva Smith was raised during a tumultuous time of history. Raised in the south, her family moved north after the Civil War. Class and financial background were very important at that time, but an aristocratic heritage was even more so. Her mother had a fine family name, her father, Robert Desha was a politician, and Alva was well traveled and well educated. She was brought up with an exposure to culture and studied in Paris. She was entertained at court, and she visited the cities of the wealthy and upper classes in the United States and abroad. With the death of her mother, Phoebe Desha Smith, followed by the grave illness of her father, Murray Smith, their fortunes changed dramatically. The family was now in dire straits. With opportunity and fortune diminished, the sisters decided that Alva, the most eligible woman in the family, should try and find a well-to-do husband, with a good family name, who could rescue them from the penury to come if she didn’t succeed. Already, tongues wagged and socialites talked and mocked her behind her back.
Although she faced adversity, many times, Alva maintained her courage and demeanor regardless of the cruelty of her peers. The snobbism was palpable as the pinnacle of society was reached only through birthright and wealth and they were an entitled bunch who looked down on those not as well situated as they were. The doyennes of society were fickle and cruel as they doled out their criticisms and withdrew their approval of her, time and time again. Friendships were withdrawn, at will, based on even subtle changes in financial situations and reputations. Invitations to social gatherings ceased.
When Alma seduced William Vanderbilt, and they married, she was still not welcomed back into society with open arms. His fortune was acquired from his grandfather, through the Commodore’s work and investments and not from an aristocratic background, but still, her situation was vastly improved. Throughout her life, Alma actively worked to gain acceptance into social circles that had once been denied to her. When she and William became one of the wealthiest families in the world, some former rejecters actually sought to be in her company and to be invited to her parties. Mrs. Astor, the leading lady of society was one of them.
Alma and William went on to raise three children, William, Harold and Consuelo. Alma was a strict mother who raised her daughter in such a manner that she would never have to compromise, as she did, because of poverty. In those days, women had few rights and were totally dependent upon their husbands for support. They owned little and if they had a fortune, it was under the husband’s control. If Alma had not married well, all would have been lost for the family and they would have been reduced to working as lady’s maids or tutors, never living in luxury or enjoying finery again. It was for this reason that Alma set out to make sure her daughter, Consuelo, married not only well, but also to someone from abroad, who lived in a country where women were entitled to own property. She engineered the marriage of her daughter to the 9th Duke of Marlborough, ensuring her security henceforth.
Alma, was a force for social change and she supported the women’s suffrage movement for all, even Negroes, and she convinced the architects who built her residences to allow her to collaborate with them on projects, a task frowned upon for women. They were thought to be inferior in those and other matters of the mind. Her strong will and perseverant spirit propelled her to greater and greater challenges and successful endeavors. Even though she was often demanding and haughty, she enriched the lives of those with whom she interacted.
Alma struggled with questions of proper behavior, but she always seemed to make the advantageous choice. Although she had close male friends with whom she worked and traveled, she was never anything but a proper lady. Then, she discovered a dreadful secret. Her husband had not been a proper gentleman. She had been betrayed. Although her marriage was never one of passion or love, but more one of mutual respect, she was always loyal and believed he was too. When she discovered his infidelity, she demanded a divorce, and the high society, that she had coveted, shunned her once again. After some time, however, her social standing was rescued. She married Oliver Belmont and was welcomed back with open arms. Such was the fickle nature of the social classes of her day. Social crimes were unforgivable, until they were not.
After suffering another devastating loss, when William, a man she truly loved, suffered from a burst appendix and died, she became more deeply involved with women’s issues and endeavors. She worked to achieve suffrage for women, all women, even those of color. However, the women of high society were not as kind as she. The rights they desired for themselves, they were unwilling to grant to others. They were nothing, if not selfish and pompous. Even the pious held great prejudices toward Negroes and Jews.
Alma was a woman of strong character who always obeyed her instincts and never abandoned her principles. However, to protect the family name and the children’s future, she had generally conducted herself in a way to guarantee her status and not threaten her situation in any way. William’s infidelity changed that and changed the course of her life, as well. As a woman, she was expected to be a good wife, obeying her husband and forgiving him his dalliances. This would preserve her position and the family’s. Her marriage to Oliver Belmont opened her eyes to many new things. She no longer thought of herself as a plank. She became more interested, personally, in social causes, and she did not only engage her checkbook.
In conclusion, the book was well researched and well imagined. The reader, like me, I hope, will be enthralled with the prose, even when the story line seems to have gaps and goes a bit astray. The narrator was perfect. Every character had a different voice, and I felt that each one was perfectly interpreted. This listening experience was truly like a stage performance. The author took liberties with the history to emphasize her own beliefs about feminism, but many tidbits and interesting facts of the times were also revealed. The Negro maid, Mary, was created by the author to emphasize Alma’s interest in social welfare and social causes. The book was written about a time in which women had no power, but the author showed the evolution of Alva’s life, illustrating her unique strength and ability to wield power when necessary. She schemed when she had to, and she cajoled and batted her eyes when it served her needs. She was convinced of the fact that she was right when she argued for what she wanted, and she rarely backed down or capitulated, unless her reputation would be sullied or her family hurt in some way.
When the book ended, I wanted more. I wanted to know what Alma did with her life after she was widowed; how did her daughter, Consuelo, fare after her own divorce? What became of the relationship between Alma Belmont and Consuelo Yznaga, the catalyst for her divorce and the best friend for whom her daughter was named?
The novel was followed by an epilogue from the author, in which she explained how Alma’s life continued. I felt it should have been part of the actual book, unless a sequel is already planned. Also, I was not interested in her political views. She went on to explain that she had rewritten the book because of her political feelings about Hillary Clinton and other women’s issues. I was disappointed that she allowed her personal politics to influence the content of her novel and to deviate from the facts that were known. For me, her comments were a distraction, and the interview, as well, detracted from the quality of the book since it focused a good deal on the political rather than on Alma Vanderbilt. The times and social situation of Alma and Hillary are quite different and to let her personal views color the story so that she could make a political statement was disappointing to me. Social conscience is important, but so is accuracy and common sense. I felt almost as if she was denying, and alternately emphasizing, the advances that women had made, based on Hillary’s loss in her run for President.
I do enjoy the writing of Therese Fowler. It is lyrical and authentic for the time and the place of Alva Vanderbilt. As with her book “Z”, about Zelda Fitzgerald, this book completely captivates the readers by the time one finishes the novel, almost making them feel like voyeurs looking into the windows of the character’s hearts and minds. Alva truly becomes a part of our lives. A perfect stage is set, replete with the trappings of real life in Alva’s day, and the society women waltz across the page, sometimes setting a scene of haughtiness, sometimes behaving genteelly with impeccable manners and carriage. She has brought the past to life with characters that are true to themselves and a setting that feels completely authentic.
A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult, author: Bahni Turpin, narrator
The story, about an incident at an abortion clinic, immediately draws the reader in because the subject is both timely and heartbreaking. Because of the writing structure, however, it also becomes repetitious and pushes the reader away. The author begins this story at the end and then works backward, telling the story of each person who was trapped in the abortion center at the time George Goddard entered and began terrorizing them. Therefore, the story is repeated over and over in slightly altered ways.
The author examines the abortion issue minutely, in great detail, and she raises many questions. She explores the issues of legal vs. illegal abortions. What is an illegal abortion? Is it different in each state? She tackles pro-choice vs. pro life, and the need for clinics to provide health care for women, clinics like Planned Parenthood. The idea of the need for parental knowledge when a minor elects to have an abortion is raised. In some cases, though, a child is afraid to tell the parent that she has been promiscuous. Should the cost of an abortion be so prohibitive that only the rich can afford it? What are the many possible reactions of parents when they discover their child has had an abortion or has engaged in pre-marital sex and has been keeping secrets? Can single men raise female children adequately or is there a need for a female guidance to provide certain information about bodily functions? Is killing a human justified in order to protest the killing of a fetus? Does it make sense to mourn the loss of a fetus but not the loss of a full grown human? The characters depicted in the novel allow all of the issues surrounding abortion to be examined.
Dr. Ward is a doctor who performs abortions at the only center that provides abortions in Mississippi. He is very religious, but he believes a woman has a right to choose whether or not she wishes to be pregnant.
Wren McElroy is 16 and in love. She wants to go to the center to obtain birth control so that she and her boyfriend can engage in sex.
Bex is Wren’s aunt. She accompanies Wren to the center because Wren does not feel she can share this with her father, a single parent.
Hugh McElroy, Wren’s father, is a hostage negotiator. He does not know that Wren has gone to obtain birth control with his sister.
Joy works and is a student. She had a relationship with a man who betrayed her and now she is pregnant. She is at the clinic for an abortion. If she has the child she will not be able to finish her studies.
Beth found herself pregnant after a one night stand. She is 17 and her time is running out to obtain a legal abortion. She did not realize the young college student, she thought she would see again, had a false identity. She tries to abort her baby illegally. The laws of Mississippi are not kind to her.
Janine is a pro life activist who is at the center acting as a spy to find out information that will be helpful to the pro life cause.
Izzy is a nurse at the center. She is pregnant and wants to have her child, but she will keep the child a secret from the father.
Olive is a social worker. She is a lesbian who works at the center.
George Goddard is a man who is disappointed with G-d. His daughter had an abortion and he feels he was robbed of a grandchild. He cannot forgive her, and he has planned his revenge.
The author explores each issue that is raised. While the idea of killing an embryo is anathema to some, some feel that killing full grown humans is justified. The story philosophizes and moralizes as the author attempts to explain both sides of the abortion story. Little judgment is passed about possible behavioral choices which might have prevented some of the problems raised. Some of the characters were lonely, some felt unloved. Some felt they were misfits. They all needed guidance.
The justice system, with regards to abortion, is flawed. It is exposed to show its inequality. The judges and prosecutors who determine the fate of those involved are portrayed as arrogant actors who seem to want vengeance and punishment, above all, or else they want the publicity to use as a stepping stone to further a career.
The novel illustrates several parallel points of view: One parent will forgive his child anything, the other will not. One woman is loved, another feels alone and unloved. One is homosexual and wants to end his life. One is happily in a lesbian relationship. One wants a child, another wants to terminate her pregnancy. One is pro-abortion and one is anti-abortion. In some places it is legal and in some it is not. Legality depends on the term of pregnancy and who administers the procedure. Some of the characters are faithful and some are not. There are secrets and lies that threaten the lives of others. The point that I felt was driven home was the different attitudes of the parents. One would save the life of his child, sacrificing his own. The other would sacrifice his child’s life to redeem his own. Religion was a character in the novel, but it was acted out and viewed differently by each character.
If you are expecting a truly balanced discussion of abortion, you will be disappointed, but if you just explore the emotions and thoughts of the characters, it will be a rewarding read. It tackles single parenting, especially in the absence of the mother, it tackles forgiveness for disobedience, it tackles the penalties of poverty, it supports freedom of choice, exposes racism, and attempts to show how far a parent will go to protect his child or protest what a child has done.
In some ways, the author attempted to do too much. Many questions were raised. The ideas of when life begins and how much any life is valued are front and center, but the questions surrounding them remain unresolved by the novel. The author’s personal view is obviously pro-choice and extremely liberal as evidenced by her personal note at the end.
Night School, Lee Child, author; Dick Hill, narrator
Although the novel takes place in 1996, it was published in 2016, as a prequel to other Reacher novels. In this book, Jack Reacher is in his mid thirties and is a Major with the military police in the Army. He is recognized as a talented officer and with two others, one in the CIA and the other in the FBI, he is given an assignment to uncover some kind of a terror scheme. They are all sent to Hamburg, Germany, to discover the whereabouts of someone who is plotting an act of terror. They do not know what is being planned; they only know that the plan has a price tag of 100 million dollars, so it is probably a plan that will cause death and destruction. They have to discover the plan and the perpetrator before he can accomplish his goal.
They know that an American is involved. They do not have much information to work with and Reacher engages others to join him, that he trusts, who have the necessary skills he requires. They must search out clues. Soon, there are what seem to be random murders and Middle Eastern involvement, but it turns out to be more than random. The story is confusing, not only to Reacher, but to the reader.
Finally we discover that a rogue serviceman has found 10 missing bombs, and he is selling them to the enemies of the Western world. As the search evolves, romance blooms between Reacher and a woman from the NSC. The romance was unnecessary and distracting. There were too many tangents and it often became difficult to follow the storyline. The narrator’s voice has somewhat of a tremor and his speech is very slow which can be a bit off-putting.
This was not one of the best Reacher novels. It stretched credulity too far. Reacher is painted as a super lover with unnatural powers, as well. He was a super hero, able to fight multiple attackers at once and survive unblemished, able to figure out motives and mysteries before anyone else with his insight and intuition that never failed. His heroism and strength is well known, but in this story, it does not go over as well.
Nighthawk, Clive Cussler, author; Scott Brick, narrator
Centuries ago, in South America, the Incas were wiped out by a disease brought to them by outsiders. Now, hundreds of years later, an object that has been quietly orbiting the earth, for three years, is returning to this same area. As it descends, there is an error in its computer system, and it fails to follow the planned program for its landing. It disappears, crashing into an unknown location. The object contains a weapon of mass destruction that can cause death and devastation on a scale never seen before, It is, therefore, imperative that it is retrieved and neutralized as soon as possible or this same area will be wiped out again. The weapon may not stay stable.
This experimental vehicle is called Nighthawk. Experts from NUMA and NSA have been dispatched to find and retrieve it safely, before it can do great harm to civilization and the world. Few people know the real danger that is out there from this spacecraft, not even those looking for it. The Nighthawk is carrying a very dangerous cargo, a cargo that Russia and China are aware of and also want to possess. It is a secret weapon that has been developed in space which is the worst weapon of destruction to yet exist. The country in control would become the most powerful because it could bring about Armageddon. Behind the scenes, a madman is plotting just that.
While the book is exciting, there is almost too much intrigue as everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Often, the characters, all of whom are exceptionally bright, seem woefully naïve and trusting and are easily duped. Still, just in the nick of time, they usually save the day.
The novel is a thriller and it is narrated well by Scott Brick as all his narrations are excellent. However, the book itself stretches credulity at times and forces the reader to suspend disbelief.
Will Kurt Austin and his cohorts be able to save the world from the danger that is out there? Should America have ever conducted the experiments that created this danger? Will these questions be answered?
The Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny, author, Robert Bathurst, narrator
When Chief Superintendent Gamache and Myrna, both receive a letter from a solicitor that summons them to appear at the home of Bertha Baumgartner, they are stymied. They have no idea who the person is and wonder if they should even appear there. Eventually, they do both go and discover each other there, with a third unsuspecting visitor, Benedict, as well. All three have been asked to come to the home of someone who called herself the Baroness. All three claimed not to have know her. When they are asked to be liquidators of her will, they are stymied. Why them? In addition, to the confusion, they must agree to take the job as liquidator before the will is even read. All three decide that they are game, and so the story begins.
Mrs. Baumgartner left a fortune to her three children, Hugo, Caroline and Anthony, in money and real estate. However, no one knew if it really existed. Her home was in terrible disrepair, and she was known as a cleaning lady. It came out that the family had been involved in a lawsuit with the Rothschild’s for decades. Was she really a Baroness? When the simple liquidation of the will turns into a murder investigation, Gamache is in the unique position of having to investigate both the murder and the background of the family. Is there a fortune? Who committed the murder and why?
Meanwhile, at the same time, Gamache is being investigated because of the part he played in the capture of drug lords. He made a decision to allow deadly drugs into the market place in order to capture them. Someone had to pay for that crime. If the deadly drugs got out, death would follow on a huge scale. Therefore, while he is being investigated, he is quietly investigating the whereabouts of the drugs as well. He knows his position is in jeopardy, whether or not he finds them. The politics involved was frustrating and it began to affect Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s son-in-law. He was in a very compromising position, having worked alongside of Gamache in the drug debacle and was asked to betray him.
Eventually, every loose end is tied up neatly, but I had to listen to several parts over and over so as not to lose the connection to the whole. Gamache remains, throughout, the lovable, gentle, humble and understanding character that he always is, Reine-Marie, his wife, is always supportive by his side. The town, the characters and the tales about Three Pines are unique and they embrace the readers and instill the desire in them to make Three Pines their home too! Even though the characters are quirky and out of the mainstream, they are united in the effort of caring for each other. It makes it a perfect place to live.
I love the Louise Penny Inspector Gamache mysteries. The narrator who reads the audios is perfect for the job. He never interferes with the message, but relays it to the reader on point with perfect tone and stress. This particular mystery in the series, however, seemed a bit disjointed to me. The plot seemed very convoluted. There were so many threads it was hard to keep track. There was the question of the settlement of a strange will and an investigation into the background of the deceased to find out if she was indeed from an aristocratic background with a large estate to be settled; there was a possible embezzlement investigation and a murder investigation that grew out of it; and there was an investigation into Inspector Gamache because of his recent drug bust which allowed a deadly drug to possibly hit the streets with dire consequences. This meant there was also an investigation into the drug world, concurrently, hopefully to find the missing drugs before they hit the street to prevent an untold number of deaths. On a lighter side, there was the inclusion of one of Clara’s paintings, for no known apparent reason, in the home of one of the heirs. It was an unusual one of Ruth, the unusual poet who loved her duck, Rosa. Then too, there were some odd budding romances at the end which I didn’t suspect, and big changes for the future of the Gamache family were predicted.
I, for one, can’t wait for the next Inspector Gamache novel to appear!
Nine perfect strangers, Liane Moriarty, author; Caroline Lee, narrator A Russian immigrant, Masha, has a near death experience which changes her life. The man she believes saved her life, Yao, becomes her partner and they establish a health retreat called Tranquillum House. She transforms from an overweight, corporate executive to a stunning worshiper of yoga and health food. She trains her partner to become more mindful and he now practices yoga and concentrates on wellness. His background, as an EMT is medical. Hers is business. Together they lead health seminars and other programs at the resort. When nine people head off to a health retreat, to be transformed in some way, they wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for when they made their reservation. There is one couple, one family and four single people of various backgrounds. At first they size each other up and are not too happy with what they find. Soon, however, they find that first impressions are often incorrect. They all question some of the demands of the resort, but soon all willingly participate in the odd requests of the staff and management. As each goes through their individually designed healthcare program, they complain but also have revelations which, surprisingly, enlighten them and give them insights they had not thought of before. Will each of them be transformed which is Masha’s hope? Each of the guests has brought their own personal baggage with them and it is a diverse list from marriage problems to menopause, from drug issues to suicide issues, from ego issues to money issues. Some suffer from feelings of guilt, some from shame, some from grief, and some from a lack of confidence and/or self esteem. Some are simply searching for alternative ways to solve their problems. As each reveals their innermost secrets, as each reveals they are suffering in some way, it becomes apparent that Moriarty has a talent for understanding what motivates and frightens her characters. The drug theme is front and center. Is illegal and/or legal drug use beneficial? In some cases, the legal use of drugs seems far more dangerous than its counterpart. Because a doctor prescribes a drug, often its dangerous side effects are ignored and the consequences are as lethal as it is for those who overuse illegal drugs. Drug induced states produce odd interchanges and reactions. Some see more clearly, some become more anxious, some are euphoric, some have a bad trip. Are these results good or bad, when carefully monitored, even when illegal? Can a drug be harmful even when it is being monitored by a doctor and or parents? Do we, when following a doctor’s advice, make ourselves fully aware of the dangers of the side-effects of the drugs given to us or simply trust the “higher” authority? The theme of twinship and its bonds was particularly emotional for me since I lost a twin brother and so did one of the characters. I, personally, am aware of the effect of losing a sibling with whom you shared everything from the very beginning of time. The interpretation of the relationship and the loss was insightful. The feelings of the surviving twin were genuine. The theme of madness is dissected and the reader witnesses the different levels it ascends and descends to through the interactions of the characters. What drives people to thrive and achieve success as well as what drives people to fail is also examined very well by the author as she presents her characters and their responses to life’s dangers and moments of joy. Some bear the strain and some crack under it. The theme of relationships is very diverse. The relationship between a man and his dog, a man and wife, same sex couples, and parents and children are very minutely explored and the reader is witness to the complexities in each situation that is revealed. They share grief, loss, blame, guilt, along with the praise and pride that interplay in each of the character’s lives. The theme of loss seems to be in everyone’s life, to some degree or another, and the type of loss and how each character deals with it is really illuminative. Everyone, in the beginning, sees something else in each other’s personality, and often the first impressions made are incorrect and are based on faulty assumptions. Getting to know more about each other, changes the perceptions. The theme of stress and its effect on the lives of each of the characters veered off into many different directions, some common and some unusual, as they are in real life. The consequences were mental and physical, emotional, and painful. They were authentic in interpretation and explanation. The mounting stress made the guests begin to wonder if they were being manipulated and why. Their feelings were soon on high alert. My favorite character is Frances who is a naive woman who writes romance novels. She interprets most everything at face value, rarely looking too deeply into the problem. Her solutions are often simple. She may jump to conclusions, but she readily alters them. She tries to look at the bright side, in the face of darkness. She gave several of the characters humorous nicknames to define their qualities. Some of the dialogue was indeed chuckle inducing and I often even laughed out loud. But then, the novel also briefly took a dark turn which unsettled me. The author played both emotions well. Arrogance and fame are explored along with the effects of great wealth and success. My least favorite character was Masha, the obsessed woman who ran the wellness facility. Although her methods were extraordinarily unconventional, in most ways, the results she achieved were often positive, encouraging the characters to get more in touch with their feelings and to understand each other more completely. So, although there was a strange, mad dichotomy between the means and the ends, they did work. The characters, for the better part of the book, are authentic, and although the life of each character is followed until all the loose ends are tied up neatly, the conclusion seemed to fall a bit short. It teetered on the theme of believability. As each character is forced to experience their sorrow, their joy, their fear and their relief in different ways, intuitively, imaginatively and in reality, each comes out changed in some way that was beneficial. Each learns to control their emotions and reactions in ways that are helpful to them. They learn to accept themselves more positively and to be more open and honest in relationships. The reader is fabulous, using alternate accents and expressions which clearly define each character and scene. The book was made more enjoyable by her presentation. It made me laugh, and it made me cry, but it also made me think.
The Last Days of Night, Graham Moore, author, Johnathan McClain, narrator
George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison are both geniuses and rivals with egos that are huge. Both are driven to succeed. Both are inventors extraordinaire and both are engaged in a lawsuit with each other, suing and counter suing. Edison demands that Westinghouse stop making light bulbs because he has the patent to prove he invented them and owns all rights to them in any form. The law is on his side stating that he alone can produce them. Westinghouse is suing Edison to allow his company to produce light bulbs also. Westinghouse believes he has invented a better light bulb.
Paul Cravath is a young lawyer in his mid twenties. He was lucky to land a job with a law firm and then to be hired by George Westinghouse to represent him in his fight against Edison General Electric, even though he is inexperienced and without major contacts. They were the actual qualities that appealed to Westinghouse.
Nikola Tesla is a brilliant, if not disturbed, scientist and inventor. He sees the world through the pictures he fantasizes and imagines in his head and then attempts to create them in the real world. His mind is amazing, but his personality leaves a bit to be desired since he seems to be obsessive and often disengaged from the world everyone else is witnessing. Tesla invented alternating current which is eventually used by Westinghouse. Although it is safer, in an effort to prevent its use, Edison portrays it as a tool of death and uses it for an electric chair.
Agnes Huntington is a talented and beautiful young woman in her mid twenties who is an ingénue who sings at the Metropolitan Opera House. She is sought after by men of influence, money and power and she uses her influence with them. Paul Cravath is completely smitten by this vixen who lives in a world way above his station in life. He does not know her secrets. Paul comes from a humble family. His father is a man of the cloth who has founded Fisk, a school for uneducated, freed slaves. Although Slavery had ended, equal rights had not yet become a reality. It would take many more years.
The lawsuit between Edison General Electric and Westinghouse Electric threatens to bankrupt both men, but both are stubborn enough to throw caution to the wind. Neither will say uncle. As the author weaves this tale of historic fiction, he shines a light on Cravath, Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla and Huntington, with an intensity that brings them to life on the page. Little known facts are revealed about their interactions as General Electric is born.
Their tactics, often underhanded, and their cohorts, often dishonest, though powerful, work together to create a novel that has all the makings of a great movie as well as an incredibly readable book. The fact that a there is a romantic undercurrent enhances and enchants rather than cheapens the story. When the book comes to a close, the reader feels almost as if they had met all the major characters in real life, although it is more than 120 years in the past. The fact that each character is willing to compromise their soul to gain power and success is illustrated as the story unfolds. In some ways, their behavior is admirable even as it is sometimes also reprehensible.
The friendship that develops between Paul Cravath and Nikola Tesla is intricately drawn as Tesla’s personality and genius are developed from his own writings and possibly the expression of a kind of mental illness that he suffers from which causes him to behave in an odd manner, most of the time. Throw Agnes Huntington into the mix and the story blossoms not only as a court case and study of business, brilliance and madness, but also as a beautiful romance. Agnes is talented, beautiful and intelligent. Paul becomes quite smitten with her even though she may be already promised to another, even though their different backgrounds and class are antagonistic to each other.
In his fictional presentation, Moore has accurately described the skullduggery that exists in the corporate and financial worlds, probably not only then, in the late 19th century, but even today, in the 21st century. Money talks and its power is enormously influential regarding deal making and relationships.
In addition to the creativity of the author in crafting such a masterful novel, there is an incredibly talented narrator. Perhaps coming from the entertainment business industry, Moore was particularly able to choose someone from his own industry that read the story magically, always with the perfect accent necessary and the emotional presentation that was never over the top, never stole the show, but always perfectly enhanced every scene.
An Unwanted Guest, Shari Lapena, author; Hillary Huber, narrator
This is a quick, creative mystery that holds the reader’s attention fast. Several groups of people travel to a beautiful, quiet, romantic inn to spend the weekend. One couple wants to salvage a marriage; another is looking forward to one. Each of them seems to have a hidden story in their past which causes them some kind of mental and emotional conflict. A snowstorm hits the area, and they are stranded at the inn without power or phone service. Only six of the twelve rooms are occupied because of the weather. When guests begin to die under suspicious circumstances, the survivors begin to panic and accuse each other. Who is killing the innocent bystanders? Is it a serial killer? Could it be one of the guests? As the tension builds, they are all forced to confess their sins. They are forced to wonder who among them is capable of murder, and then they wonder about what they could be capable of, as well. The finger of suspicion points to each in turn.
The book is narrated superbly. It is as if the one telling the story is observing it from a distance, as a bystander, interpreting each character’s behavior, reactions and emotions perfectly so that none overlap and merge together. Each character develops on his/her own and is identifiable throughout. The guests represent a cross section of the population with regard to profession, past, sexual preference and wealth. Each has some personal problem they are struggling to resolve. Will this romantic getaway solve their problems or will it turn into a nightmare for them?
The Shape of Ruins: A Novel, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, author; Sheldon Romero, narrator
After listening to almost half of the book, I finally gave up. It just never grabbed or held my attention. It never called me back to its pages, although I made several attempts to reengage with the story.
From what I read, it is about the history and unrest in Columbia. Its politics and corruption are explored. The research is thorough, but the story travels in too many different directions that I found hard to reconnect as the novel continued. Characters appeared and reappeared, and I would have to struggle to remember what their place was in the narrative.
It is historic fiction, peppered with a great deal of information. The author is playing the role of the main character who is telling the story. When it begins, the reader learns of a man who was arrested for trying to steal the bullet-ridden suit of candidate Jorge Gaitan who was murdered in 1948. Through the memories of Juan Vasquez, the story is told. The reader learns of the reason that brought Vasquez to Columbia. He and his wife were visiting relatives. His wife, pregnant with twins, had to be hospitalized there for a lengthy period because of complications from her high risk pregnancy. While there, Vasquez reunites with people like, Dr. Francisco Benavides, the son of the medical examiner who handled Gaitan’s body. He also learns more about, and meets, Carlos Carballo, the man was being accused of trying to steal the damaged suit belonging to Guitan.
In the course of conversations about possible conspiracies surrounding Guitans murder, Vasquez learns about the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Twin Towers attack on 9/11. The similarities are explored. Was the murdered Roa Sierra the real murderer of Guitan? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Who really engineered the terror attack on the Twin Towers?
Carballo, who tried to steal Guitan’s suit, wants Vasquez to write the true story of Gaitan’s death, as he sees it. He has all the information prepared. Presumably, he had wanted another author to write it, the renowned R.H., but he died before he was able to fulfill the task. It was at that author’s funeral that Vasquez was approached by Carballo. Vasquez refuses and when the twins are born, they all return to Spain. Years later, he is again in Columbia and tries to contact Dr. Benavides to apologize for his behavior. He had been really disrespectful to him when they last saw each other, with Vasquez misinterpreting the doctor’s effort to help as interference and tainted in some way, Often the character Vasquez is rude and arrogant, making him a bit unlikable.
To enhance the narrative, ordinary occasions and events, that we all may experience, like funerals, births, are introduced. The reader feels drawn to consider their own reactions, along with the characters’ reactions, at those times. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt drawn out and tedious. There was an overarching philosophy introduced in the narrative. “The future of the babies being born was in their hands. The dead were no longer involved, nor were they capable of feeling or showing love”. The history was influencing the future.
Mixing fact and fiction, the author weaves a story that I found confusing, but fact-filled, which was its most redeeming feature.
The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, Nadia Murad, author; Amal Clooney*, foreward; Ilyana Kadushin, narrator
That something like what is described in the pages of this book could occur in a society of human beings is appalling. This is one of the most heartbreaking descriptions of brutality and violence that I have read, apart from the books about the Holocaust. This genocide was carried out without regard for human dignity or suffering. Religious fanatics, attempting to recreate the Caliphate, murdered and captured the Yazidi people with abandon, and the world largely watched it happen.
The Yazidi religion is described as a combination of the three major religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Their religion has aspects of each religion with respect to worship, prayer, and dress. They are a simple people with their superstitions, customs, and codes of proper behavior to guide them. There is no written book for them, however. The traditions and culture are passed down orally by specially selected Yazidi who are tasked with that effort. There are some aspects, like honor killings, that I found reprehensible, but what happened to the Yazidi people is equally, if not more, reprehensible.
Forced from their homes and moved by Saddam Hussein to make Iraq more Arab, they were then attacked by ISIS. They were viewed by the extremists to be fair game because they had no written book. They were, therefore, unforgivable infidels. Because sex before marriage was forbidden, they abused the women they kidnapped and told them they were ruined and would not be accepted back into their world. Fear and pain were tools used with abandon by men and women who were followers of ISIS, who accepted their brand of brutality.
The author lost many members of her family during the time ISIS was capturing towns and villages, among them her own, in Kocho. Women were forced to convert. They were raped. The infirm were murdered. Young boys were forced to be soldiers or used as human shields to protect the cowardly members of ISIS. Those who witnessed the mass murders and brutality turned a blind eye, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of their agreement with the goals ISIS.
Today, Nadia Murad is an activist and works to help those abused and to prevent further kidnappings and massacres. Her description of the events she witnessed and experienced may be simple, but it is so vivid and detailed that the reader will be forced to visualize the heinous and vicious treatment of the Yazidis, imprinting it on their own memories as it is imprinted on Nadia’s. It has to be emphasized that it was only through the grace of God and some kind Iraqis that Nadia was able to escape.
Nadia admits that although life was better after the Americans took over, it was followed by horror. Tribal issues rose to the surface; Sunnis, Kurds, Shites and Yazidis butted heads. Religious factions rebelled. The war was poorly executed and promises that were made went unfulfilled. Hope for the future died, for many, with the development of ISIS and Al Qaeda, with the rise of fundamental Islamic, radical terrorists.
The book, although not long, describes Nadia’s happy life before the war, reveals the atrocities committed after her capture, details her return to civilization in Germany, and than as an activist. She has resettled in Germany, but will always be an Iraqi, in her heart. However, her home is gone, ransacked and destroyed. Now, she dedicates her life to helping others who are less fortunate than she was and rejoices with the family members who have survived and those that can be rescued.
Nadia states that she learned that words could be used against you as weapons, a valuable lesson, since people interpret words differently. How apropos to consider those words in the divisive political atmosphere that exists today in the America. Mobs become protesters; illegal aliens are transformed into undocumented workers depending on which side of the political spectrum one sits. When appeals are made to emotion rather than intellect, people suffer, when fear and identity are used as tools people grow hopeless. Couple that with a lack of power and they are also helpless. No one would come to their aid.
When the last page is turned, the reader can’t help but wish it had been a novel, rather than non-fiction! The awful cruelty and blood bath committed by members of ISIS and its followers is hard to wrap ones head around and accept.
The Yazidis were caught between haters in a war they did not want, but they hoped that America would save them. However, Obama abandoned them and allowed the terrible acts committed by ISIS to continue and proliferate. Yazidis were kidnapped for ransom, women were used as sex slaves, boys were forced to be soldiers, belongings were looted and destroyed, and many Yazidis were simply murdered in cold blood. Because conversion and intermarriage is forbidden to Yazidis, their numbers have been diminished. To continue, they must have large families. Muliple wives are permitted, so perhaps their numbers will rise.
Nadia was happy once, although her family was poor. Her home was filled with love and laughter. Now she lives to prevent further atrocities, to rescue those that she can, and she hopes one day to see those who commit such acts of terror to be punished and brought to justice. They should not escape untouched.
*Amal Clooney is the lawyer who represented Nadia so she could tell her story to let the world know of the plight of the Yazidis and the crimes of ISIS and the Islamic state. She is the wife of actor George Clooney.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz- Heather Morris, author; Richard Armitage, narrator.
This novel tells the story of Ludwig Eisenberg and Gisela Fuhrmannova. Essentially, it is a love story that defied the odds as it took place in the most unusual of places. Ludwig was known as Lale. In 1942, he was a prisoner in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. His job was to tattoo incoming prisoners. He met Gita (Gisela), just a teenager of 17, on the day she was brought to him to have her tattoo redone because it had faded. For Lale, it seemed to be love at first sight, and he took it upon himself to protect her and insure her survival.
Every Holocaust story brings with it a unique history of events, and this one is no different. It reminds the reader of the brutality and sadistic horror that the Germans, under Hitler’s Third Reich, systematically inflicted upon innocents who were guilty only of not being pure Aryans, although some were also marked because they held opposing political viewpoints. It is sad that fewer sane minds prevailed. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally ill were among those who were persecuted and systematically tortured, starved, worked to death or murdered outright so that Germany and Germans could enlarge their territory and prosper. The means justified their end goals.
At first, I was drawn into the story because I thought it was the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov (Lale changed his name from Eisenberg to Sokolov, his sister’s married name). As I read it and realized that the author had taken a great deal of poetic license in her presentation of events, I still enjoyed it, but not quite as a piece of history. I found it to be a compelling presentation of a romance that defied reality, and in some cases, some of the descriptions of events and experiences seemed to even defy credibility. I began to wonder how much of the story was based on fact and how much on the fiction that the author had to create when she put pen to paper. Since she did not hear actual conversations and had to rely on Sokolov’s memory and description of events, she surely had to embellish a great deal. There was so much that had to be filled in by her in order for her to write a cohesive and realistic story. Sometimes she was more successful than others as the narrative often went off into the world of a fairytale as characters that behaved with vicious brutality were often being presented with an occasional softer side. The author seemed to struggle to paint a positive side to the evil many exhibited, as if each villain had a redeeming trait to fall back on, in spite of their taking great pleasure in cruel, violent, evil behavior. To me, that softer side seemed to be far more of an anomaly and not the rule of thumb.
From the description of events, it appeared almost miraculous that Gita and Lela survived what they were forced to undergo. As with many survivors, a good deal of their ability to survive was because of luck and the occasional kindness of others. Yet, even the kindness of others seemed to have had a price, since nobody seemed to turn down any of the bribes offered. It seemed as if few did anything simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but rather they did it also for the reward they would reap.
The reader may well question if such a romantic relationship could have developed and thrived in a place filled with guards who relished and enjoyed their power, brutality and capacity for carnage. Still, the idea that there were some strong enough or lucky enough to survive through whatever means they could find comes through loud and clear, even when doing what was necessary meant sacrificing others to save themselves. Bargains were struck and compromises made in order to insure their survival. There were unusual friendships and choices that had to be made. Sometimes the line between collaborator and survivor was blurred.
No matter how many books you read, non-fiction or historic fiction, you can never full realize the complete extent of the Holocaust horror.
The narrator did a phenomenal job using perfect and appropriate accents, excellent expression and tone to present mood and the moment.
The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, John Meacham, author; Fred Sanders, narrator*
This author chose to read, in his own voice, the first hour and last half hour, or so, of his book. He narrates what seems to be an effort to smear the right side of politics and buoy up the left. In an innocent, almost pained tone of voice, he presents his opinion about the state of politics and government in the current White House. He is obviously disappointed and unhappy about who won the election.
He presents the platform of the left, civil rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, etc., as if those on the right are all white supremacists that are against those very same policies. The most egregious of that effort for me, was this: Although he spends a great deal of time on Martin Luther King and President Johnson, he leaves out those on the left who opposed the passing of the Civil Rights Act. He doesn’t mention the fact that Democrat Robert Byrd filibustered to try and prevent it from passing or that he rode with the KKK. He doesn’t mention that it was largely Republicans who passed the Act while Democrats opposed no only it, but also the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Facts like that would contradict his attempt to present Progressives and Democrats as the “better angels”.
There has been, of late, a proliferation of books that denigrate President Trump. This one tries to masquerade as more cerebral, and possibly more fair-minded, as it is supposed to be searching for the “soul” of America, but that soul seems to exist only on the left side of the political divide. I was surprised that Meacham would present so one-sided a narrative in order to promote the views of the Democrats and Progressives. He deliberatively uses selective sources to elevate them, He almost entirely ignores the faults of the left while presenting the foibles of the right and pretty much ignores the destructive behavior of those on the left as if they were anomalies not worthy of much attention.
The very fact that the universities, largely influenced by Progressive thought, limit speech that does not represent their political view or those of their students, that publishers are rushing to put out books to influence the voting population in only one direction, the left, that the entertainment media and news media are consistently presenting negative images of the President and his accomplishments, should frighten the general public. Instead, the manipulation of information, which is nothing more than bullying, seems to have caused the general population to morph into a kind of mob rule, a behavior that disregards facts and logic. The fact that these same industries that educate and inform our youth are so biased is the reason that this current President criticizes them. He is not against the press, he is against a press that is completely unfair, completely biased against him, a press that does not present any positive news about his administration’s accomplishments, but rather runs with any story that trashes him and his policies, regardless of whether or not they are even true.
It is disheartening to see what is happening in this country. We are undergoing a cataclysmic change; we are witnessing a moment of hate and anger that is coming from a group of people who scream at the moon, shout down those they disagree with, who require safe spaces to maintain their sanity, and who blame the side that is not violent or making unusual demands for their pain. They are dividing us in ways that may become dangerous because they are unable to accept their failure to elect Hillary Clinton, a woman who conducted a campaign for President which was fraught with dishonesty and manipulation in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.
If the respected author, whom I used to enjoy reading, wanted to present an honest book, he would have exposed information on both sides with impartiality. Instead, even when he says something positive about the GOP, he manages to, in the next sentence, subtly cast aspersions upon them. I found it a bit disingenuous that Meacham concentrated on using the word “fear” often, which is the title of a negative book on the President that was just published by Bob Woodward, and which the reader, therefore, can’t help but think of, and at the same time, he also uses the word ‘hope”, which everyone knows is associated with former President Obama’s campaign for President. Although he seems to be searching for our better angels, he seems to be looking for them only on one side of the political spectrum, the “left”. Although it may not be an obvious effort to smear the GOP and the President, the insinuation is loud and clear that they are not taking the country in a direction he wants it to go, nor are those who support Trump, “the better angels” he is seeking. It is his belief that they are taking the country in the wrong direction, and furthermore, they are wrongheaded, as well.
In another book I am reading, which is not quite as partisan, “The Splintering of the American Mind” by William Eggington, a belief of T. S. Eliot’s, regarding the way we currently assess literature is quoted. The quote could just as easily be applied to the way we teach and make decisions today.
According to Egginton: Eliot did not think that the “criterion in selecting authors was gender or the color of their skin”. He believed what should be considered was what made a great work great. He believed it was the ability to encourage “communities to embrace new identities”, to explore “differences with as many of his fellows as possible, in the common pursuit of true judgment.”
Unfortunately, today, conversation and opposing views are discouraged. Meacham has deliberately cherry-picked an abundance of quotes (too many, because they almost negate the idea that he wrote the book; rather, it seems like the sources did since almost every sentence requires a footnote), to support his particular point of view. I did not expect this highly respected author to present so one-sided and unfair a view of our history and our “better angels”. Almost entirely, he ignored the warts of the left and went on to explode those of the right into tumors, tumors depicted as if they were just waiting to swallow America up in hate. It is as if Meacham decided on the premise of the book and then set out to find the quotes that would prove his point. He does not present the obstruction that is coming from his “better angels” in the past and the present day. Perhaps he believes that he and his ilk are the “better angels”, but to me, he did not present an accurate version of the truth.
*I have both print and audio version