LOOK WHO’S BACK

TIMUR VERMES

Hitler wakes up in a back alley in Berlin in 2011; he can’t figure out what is going on. It is too quiet: no shelling, no shooting, no sirens. The people he meets believe he is a method actor always in part. Soon he is on TV and the people love his rants. One review is headlined: “Loony YouTube Hitler/Fans Go Wild for His Tirades!/The Nation Is Stumped: Is This Humor?”

Hitler misunderstands everything about progress. He attributes as much of it as he can to Aryan brilliance. What is this thing called Vikipedia? Clearly it’s Germanic, with the first part of the name a homage to Viking heritage. What about YouTube? At first he thinks it must be U-Tube, as in the U-boats that served Germany so well in wartime.“I realized at once that I held [a cell phone] in my hands a masterpiece of Aryan creative genius, and all it took was a few swipes of the finger to discover that — of course — the superlative Siemens company had been responsible for the technology that brought this miracle to pass.”

If you enjoy satire this is a book for you.

MISCHLING

AFFINITY KONAR28664920

Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who not only sent countless men, women and children to the gas chambers, but also performed grotesque experiments on selected prisoners — especially twins, whom he eagerly sought out upon arrival. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited, twin narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the story of their efforts to survive: Pearl, once the more outgoing of the sisters, becomes more methodical, more focused on memories to get through each day; while Stasha grows feistier and more cunning — “a creature capable of tricking her enemies and rescuing her loved ones.”

Once inseparable, the twins are broken in different ways by Mengele’s repulsive experiments, which damage Stasha’s hearing and sight; and leave Pearl in an isolated cage, her ankles snapped and her feet smashed.

Mischling is a dark book but light radiates in the girls’ strength and will to survive. It’s a great read.

Forgiveness “did not remove my pain or blunt my nightmares. It was not a new beginning. It was not, in the slightest, an end. My forgiveness was a constant repetition, an acknowledgment of the fact that I still lived; it was proof that their experiments, their numbers, their samples, was all for naught — I remained, a tribute to their underestimations of what a girl can endure. In my forgiveness, their failure to obliterate me was made clear.”

Mischling (“mixed-blood” in German) was the German legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.

THE UNQUIET DEAD

unquietAUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN

An unusual death.   A man fell off a cliff. But was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Who was Christopher Drayton? A wealthy patron of the arts, supporting the new museum of Andalucia, the Spanish state with most Moorish influence. But could he be Drazen Krstic, the driving force behind theSrebrenica massacre of 1995, in the genocidal war that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Esa Khattak, head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and Rachel Getty, his sergeant, handle minority sensitive cases, are tasked to find a solution to this case.

This a great mystery. Don’t miss it. I want to read more of her books. Her next is the Language of Secrets.

This is a LINK to a Bosnian woman’s victim’s statement to a UN’s inquest. Khan had an extensive author’s note at the end of the novel.

THE DOUGLAS NOTEBOOKS: A Fable

Christine Eddiedouglas

This sparse and concisely written novel is a jewel. It is almost fairy tale like but there are no happily ever after endings. The fable begins with a wealthy family of black-market war profiteers. The youngest son, Romain is out of sync with the rest of the rest of the family who end up mocking and ignoring him. Eventually he leaves to become a hermit in the forest far from the family estate. Around the same time and area Elena stands up to her abusive, drunken father and flees for her safety. She finds refuge by becoming a natural healer’s apprentice. While gathering herbs in the forest she hears beautiful music and discovers Romain playing his Clarinet. It is all about relationships. The forest cradles and protects their love but only for so long.

Read this book!

THE BLUE BETWEEN SKY AND WATER

bluebetween_192_290SUSAN ABULHAWA

BLUE tells another important story: the story of the Palestinians. It traces the Baraka family as they are forced off their land and out of their ancestral village of Beit Daras during the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland when Israel was created in 1948. They relocate to the Gaza Strip. It tells the story of Israeli colonialism, when victim becomes victimizer. But much more it describes the Palistinian culture. When they celebrate with feast and dancing: “We find our own way to freedom. Zionist sons of Satan cannot imprison our joy, can they?” The women’s culture of cooking and gossiping is beautiful. Nazmiyeh is the matriarch, the center of a household of sisters, daughters, granddaughters, whose lives threaten to spin out of control with every personal crisis, military attack, or political landmine.

“Stories matter. We are composed of our stories. The human heart is made of the words we put in it. If someone ever says mean things to you, don’t let those words go into your heart, and be careful not to put mean words in other people’s hearts.”

“But I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”

While reading this novel I frequently thought of the song My Personal Revenge. Jackson Browne singing a Jorge Caleron Poem.

My Personal Revenge

My personal revenge will be the right
Of our children in the schools and in the gardens
My personal revenge will be to give you
This song which has flourished without panic
My personal revenge will be to show you
The kindness in the eyes of my people
Who have always fought relentlessly in battle
And been generous and firm in victory
My personal revenge will be to tell you good morning
On a street without beggars or homeless
When instead of jailing you I suggest
You shake away the sadness there that blinds you
And when you who have applied your hands in torture
Are unable to look up at what surrounds you
My personal revenge will be to give you
These hands that once you so mistreated
But have failed to take away their tenderness
It was the people who hated you the most
When rage became the language of their song
And underneath the skin of this town today
Its heart has been scarred forevermore
It was the people who hated you the most
When rage became the language of their song
And underneath the skin of this town today
Its heart has been scarred forevermore
And underneath the skin of this town today
Red and black, it’s heart’s been scarred
Forevermore
You can listen to it on you tube.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4NwJLHeYeM

NIGHT

nightELIE WIESEL

Night is considered a masterpiece of holocaust literature. It was published in 1960, a first of its kind. Published as a novel it is more of a memoir. The jews in the small town of Sighet, Transylvania believed that the war would never reach them. When they heard stories of mass killings of their people they thought those things couldn’t happen in such an enlightened age. But when the Germans arrived they were all loaded into cattle cars and sent to Buchenwald. “Night” recounts daily life in the camps — the never-ending hunger, the sadistic doctors who pulled gold teeth, the Kapos who beat fellow Jews. On his first day in the camps, Wiesel was separated forever from his mother and sister. At Auschwitz, he watched his father slowly succumb to dysentery before the SS beat him to within an inch of his life. Wiesel writes honestly about his guilty relief at his father’s death. In the camps, the formerly observant boy underwent a profound crisis of faith; “Night” was one of the first books to raise the question: where was God at Auschwitz?

Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The Nobel committee called Wiesel “a messenger to mankind,” teaching “peace, atonement and human dignity.”

“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing… And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…”
That night, the soup tasted of corpses.”

“My faceless neighbor spoke up: “Don’t be deluded. Hitler has made it clear that he will annihilate all Jews before the clock strikes twelve.” I exploded: “What do you care what he said? Would you want us to consider him a prophet?
His cold eyes stared at me. At last he said, wearily: “I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people.”

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because he kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, end up in the furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?”

ABOVE US ONLY SKY

ONLY SKYMICHELLE YOUNG-STONE

This powerful novel takes the reader to the heights of angels and to the depths of comparing life under Nazi occupation and life under Stalinist Soviet occupation.

Prudence was born with wings. The doctors called them protuberances and amputated them when she was five months old. What she didn’t know was her aunt in Lithuania still had the wings she was born with. “I come from a long line of leggy bird women, women to whom I am allied by blood and birthright. The Old Man (her father’s father) knew our history. When we finally met, he told me about the birds.” Prudence learns the stories of her ancestors. The stories go into  the history to the struggle of native Lithuanians, who must fight Cossacks, suffer under the Nazis and endure Stalin’s harsh rule  Eventually Old Man takes the family back to Lithuania to discover their heritage.

This is definitely a must read.

FATHERLAND

fatherlandNINA BUNJEVAC

As the title suggests Fatherland is more of a history of the Serbs and Croats, and of the author’s family than a memoir. The beautiful artwork in this graphic history is done in a photorealistic style that adds credence to her writing. She uses her writing to come to terms with her father’s shadowy, violent past, the national schisms that shaped him, and the scars that both fatherhood and fatherland leave on her family, and they are many. When she was just 2 years old, her mother, Sally, fled her father, taking Nina and her sister from their adopted home of Ontario, Canada, back to their grandparents in the former Yugoslavia. Sally Bunjevac was driven in part by Peter Bunjevac’s emotional abuse and alcoholism, but there was more: She’d become aware that he was involved in a Serbian nationalist terrorist group, one that was manufacturing bombs. Every night Sally barricaded the windows with tall furniture, afraid someone would throw a bomb in and blow them up in their beds.

Fatherland is a quick read. Recommended for anyone interested in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

le-monocle-via-civilly-unioned

THE BOSNIAN LIST

KENAN TREBINCEVIC and Susan Shapiro

The Bosnia List is one of the best memoirs I have read. It describes the events leading to his Muslim family’s flight from Brcko, Bosnia, Kenan was a boy, 11, living in the city of Brcko when the Balkan war started in the former Yugoslavia. The Serbians, Orthodox Christian led by the convicted war criminal Milosevic wanted a larger county of citizen purely of their kind. So they attacked the roman Catholic Croatians and Muslim Bosnians. Bosnia was 45% Muslim, 32% Serbian and 17% Croatian. The war turned into a genocide with concentration camps, torture, mass killings and rape as a form of warfare. In Bosnia it was neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend. Kenan had to do the shopping and chores because if his dad or older brother were seen out side they could be shot or take to a concentration camp. “Although I was only 11,” he writes, “letting my family down made me feel like a failure.”bosnia  “The first sacrifice of war was her flowers,” he writes of his mother. “We kept our shades closed to avoid being sprayed with bullets. Without sunlight, her cactus and hibiscus withered.”  Kenan’s teacher caught him outside, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger but luckily the mechanism jammed. His beloved karate coach Pero, who he loved and respected, threatened to kill him. “Everything he’d ever taught me about brotherhood and unity was a lie.”

Trebincevic returns to Bosnia armed with a list — the people he wants to confront because of their betrayals, and the places he needs to visit because of their childhood significance. First on the list is his need to accost Petra, a former neighbour across in their apartment building, who stole from Trebincevic’s now-deceased mother. “You won’t be needing that soon,” she would say as she took the mother’s possessions. They were scared of her because Petra could turn them into the military. They see that they are doing much better that the people left behind in Bosnia and that is a type of revenge in itself.

Although the descriptions of his family’s experiences during the war are gripping, the power of the book comes from the change in Trebincevic’s thinking and emotions as he moves through his anger and revenge fantasies. Trebincevic gradually remembers the help his family received. For every neighbour or friend who betrayed them because they were Muslim, another Serb neighbour or friend reached past religion and ethnicity to help — often at great personal risk. Ranko who was a torturer, rapist and mass murderer for some reason spared this family. Zorica and Milos, the neighbours who bring them food, propane and money.  This is definitely a must read.

THE PLUM TREE

plumELLEN MARIE WISEMAN

Christine Bolz is a young German woman in love with her employer’s son Isaac Bauermen, a young Jewish man. The date is 1938, just before World War II. Unfortunately the author gets bogged down in long descriptions of the town and its citizens delaying the time the narrative gets to the meat of the matter. So skim the first half of the book. It gets interesting when Isaac is take away by the Nazis. He is brought back to his hometown to do forced labour. Christine helps Isaac escape and hides him in her attic without letting her family know what she is doing. The house gets searched as all houses in the village are. Isaac is not found. But months later the nazis are back for another search and he is found. Both of the young lovers are sent to the SS‘s death camp at Dachua. Christine is assigned to clean and cook for Jorge Grunstein one of the commanders. She spends the day cleaning, gardening and cooking for the Lagarkommandant. Grunstein relays to her is story of trying to tell the world about what was happening to the Jews in the death camps but no one would listen.

amenGrunstein’s story is much better told in the movie AMEN by the wonderful director Costa-Gavras. The book is about a young woman. The movies is about Grunstein. The movie is a must see. The book is alright.

I’M YOUR MAN: The Life of Leonard Cohen

cohen1

SYLVIA SIMMONS

I’ve been a Cohen fan for all my adult life. In high school I wrote an essay on his poem and later song, Suzanne. So I had a lot of fun reading his bio. I put my ipod on his music, read and savoured. Cohen is a genius and it was provocative to get a glimpse into the workings of his genius. This bio is 558 pages long so it needs a lot of skimming, especially the beginning where his childhood and youth are discussed. Though even here some of the facts were interesting: Leonard was a leader at school and youth groups – he was actually senior ring for his high school. A fact that surprised me was that he was never intimate with the Suzanne of the song; extraordinary given the fact that he was known as a ladies’ man. I hadn’t realized how little success Cohen had in the US. Even his more successful albums didn’t sell well until more recently. His most beautiful album, Various Positions, which features the song Hallelujah, was not released in the States because the record cohen2company feared it wouldn’t sell well. So if you’re a fan put on his music and enjoy.

THE TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS

angelsJAMES KIMMEL, JR

Brek Cuttler, a big name astronaut  and later lawyer, found her self on a deserted train platform. She is covered in blood and there are three holes in her chest. The transition between living and dead isn’t an easy one. And for victims of violence, it may be even more difficult. Cuttler isn’t ready to look at all her memories, especially of how she died and what happened to her little pre-school girl. She is told she is Shemaya Station and that because she is a lawyer she will be a presenter, similar to a defense attorney, only without the arguments. Souls are presented in the Courtroom for determination of where they will spend eternity. To present a soul, Cuttler is given awareness of all the soul’s memories. Presenters practically relive the soul’s lifetime. She learns how here life is connected to other souls even through the past generations. “If I had remembered everything, I could not have possibly known how deeply interconnected my life had been to so many different people.”

angels1Angel‘s is a spiritual thriller, an amazing book.

 

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.

ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

esczpe

BLAINE HARDEN

The story of how Shin Dong-Hyuk, after crawling through a lethal electrified fence over the insulating dead body of a companion, made it out of a North Korean prison camp and eventually into the U.S., is a remarkable. But so is Shin’s early life.  He was born in the concentration camp to parents who were rewarded with a type of marriage. They didn’t live together but could have sporadic conjugal visits. He started working as a slave at 3 years old. His body carries the scares of the deprivation and torture that he survived in the camp. When his mother and older brother tried to escaped he was taken and tortured for a month even though he had turned them in the the authorities. Later he watched their executions. His growth was stunted by malnutrition. His right middle finger is missing, cut off with a kitchen knife as punishment for dropping a sewing machine. Still worse was the damage to his psyche. The incessant, driving need for food dominated Shin’s life. He stole his mother’s rations, and was brutally beaten by her for it; he scooped spilt soup off filthy floors and picked undigested corn out of cow excrement.

Escape is not a well written book but it is most interesting.

torture

THE IMPOSTER BRIDE

bride

NANCY RICHLER

Nancy Richler’s third novel is a family drama set in postwar Montreal, where Polish Jew Lily Azerov has come via Palestine to marry a man she has never met. When her fiance sees her his snap decision is that she isn’t for him. When his brother, Nathan, goes to apologize he proposes and soon they are married. The book is narrated by by Ruth, Sol and Elka’s daughter. The couple meet at Nathan and Ruth’s wedding that Elka and her mother Bella crash because back home Bella had a cousin named Lily Azerov. But at the wedding she realized that the bride was not her relation.

When Ruth is 3 months old, her mother Lilly went out for milk and never returned. When they checked the fridge there were many bottles of formula and a bottle of milk. The family gathered around Nathan to help raise Ruth. Elka became a surrogate mother. When she was 6 her mother sent her a chunk of quartz along with a note, written in Lily’s hand, detailing when and where the rock was found. This is the trigger that starts her wondering about where her mother could be and what had happened.  More packages arrive over the years and Ruth’s curiosity about Lily grows.

Imposter Bride is an engaging novel. A good read.

BY BLOOD

ELLEN ULLMAN

AKA: Portrait of an Obsession

This is definitely a must read.

The narrator is a disgraced professor who refers to “the terrible darkness within me” and his “morbid and afflicted” imagination — without showing us much evidence of anything other than something to do about a boy and hanging out where students gather. While under investigation by the university for some unspecified infraction, he’s installed himself in a rented office, where he intends to prepare lectures but there is not indication that actually happens. In the office next door, Dr. Dora Schussler, psychotherapist, sees her patients. For most of the day she has a machine that creates white noise but one patient requests that the white noise is turned off allowing the narrator to hear every word. Thus his obsession begins.

He is taken with one patient: a young lesbian, also left nameless. It’s love at first listen, and not just because of the patient’s “creamy alto.” It’s her predicament. She is adopted and just beginning explore the secrets obscuring her origins. Our narrator comes from dreadful suicide-smitten stock — “My aunt Selma once said I had the temperament of Uncle Harry: Did this include whatever bad thing he had done with his gun?” — and this patient fills him with admiration. “Why,” he asks, “could I not learn the art of being parentless from these adoptees: these very models of self-creation?”

Assisted by the narrator’s discreet and creepy stage management, the patient’s inquiry will lead her to a group of Jewish orphans at Belsen in the last days of World War II. In Israel, the patient will also encounter something like a parallel self, an unsuspected sibling—also adopted—whose story of her own reunion with their mother casts light on the terrible meaning not just of why the patient was given up for adoption as a baby but why her mother never sought her out later on.

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: Love, Terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Germany

ERIK LARSON

William Dodd was an academic, a history professor busy writing a detailed history of the South when he was approached by Roosevelt to be the ambassador to Nazi Germany. He reluctantly took the position and moved his family including his adult children to Berlin. Beasts takes place largely in Berlin from 1933 to 1937, examining the path to World War II and the Holocaust through the experiences of the American Ambassador to Germany and his family, particularly his vivacious daughter, Martha. Initially the Ambassador, who had gotten his Ph.D. in Leipzig 40 years earlier, was very sympathetic to Germany’s new Nazi government, and believed reports of brutality and anti-semitism to be exaggerations. Martha loved the lean,tall, handsome men in SS uniforms and was very sympathetic to the Nazi’s for a long time. She had many suitors and took many lovers. She even had an affair with the then head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels, and Soviet attache (and secret NKVD agent) Boris Vinogradov who recruited her to work for the Soviets against the Nazis later in her time in Germany.

Although Dodd was  brought back to the states early. History remembers him as a man who realized more throughly than others what was actually happening in Germany.

Quote: “By the time of the Dodd’s arrival violence against Jews had begun to wane. Incidents were sporadic, isolated. “It was easy to be reassured,” wrote Dipple of why many Jews decided to stay in Germany. “On the surface,much of daily life remained as it had been before Hitler came to power. Nazi attacks on the Jews were like summer thunderstorms that came and went quickly,leaving an eerie calm.”

On renting a house: “They found many properties to choose from, though at first they failed to ask themselves why so many grand old mansions were for lease so fully and luxuriously furnished, with ornate tabled and chairs, gleaming pianos, and rare vases, maps, and books still in place.”