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.

SAD PENINSULA

MARK SAMPSON

The sad peninsula is Korea. Invaded and colonized by Japan in 1910, Koreans were forced to become Japanese in language and custom. One of the worst atrocities was the imprisonment and rape of young girls as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Eun-young was a Korean comfort woman sent to China. She was repeatedly raped and tortured as many as 35 times a day.The narrative relies less on sex and more on her emotions, what she thought about, day-to-day events, her relationship with her close friend and their struggle for survival.  Sad is a difficult read but it is important that these stories are told. Eun-young’s story is balanced by the story of Michael, a Canadian man teaching English in present day Korea. He meets and falls in love with the niece of Eun-young.

This was published the day I finished the novel. Check out some of the links. And read the book.

Reparations for the “comfort women”

Yong Soo Lee, a Korean woman forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces, in Virginia to raise awareness on behalf of fellow survivorsSarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • Japan has reached an agreement with South Korea to apologize and provide restitution for the widespread, systematic kidnapping and rape of so-called “comfort women” by the Japanese Army during World War II. [The Diplomat / Yuki Tatsumi]
  • If you aren’t familiar with the stories of the “comfort women,” these testimonies from a UN report, compiled by NPR’s Elise Hu, are a horrifying, but necessary, place to start. [NPR via Tumblr / Elise Hu]
  • As Vox’s Max Fisher explains, the horrific treatment of the “comfort women” was easily swept under the rug after the war: by Japan, by the Allies, and by Korea itself (women were often blamed for their own rapes). [Vox / Max Fisher]
  • It took until 1993 for Japan to issue a formal apology to South Korea — and that apology ended up prolonging the controversy, as Japanese conservatives pushed back against it and claimed that South Korean women were volunteers. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan]
  • Japanese nationalism is, if anything, more prominent now than it was then. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been relatively unapologetic for Japan’s behavior during the war, and has rolled back many of the isolationist policies that were designed to protect Japan from returning to the imperialism of its past. [Washington Post / Max Fisher]

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.

NOT MY FATHER’S SON

ALAN CUMMINGalan

Cumming’s memoir begins on the Panmure estate in Carnoustie, Scotland – not a council estate but the leftovers of a country house where his dad runs a saw mill: “It was all very feudal and a bit Downton Abbey, minus the abbey… Looking back on it, it was a beautiful place to grow up, but at the time all I wanted was to get away as far as possible.” His father was brutal, taking all his pain and anger out on his youngest son Alan. “Soon, my head was propelled forward by his hand, the other one wielding a rusty pair of clippers that he used on the sheep…They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my head with them, holding me down like an animal.” He made up a story about cutting his own hair for the teachers and students at school the next morning. Scariest of all are the calms between the storms: “That was the worst bit, the waiting… I never knew exactly when it would come, and that, I know, was his favourite part.”

“Our family had always been one of secrets, of silences, of holding things in.”  And Alan keeps secret his father’s many affairs. “Memory is so subjective. We all remember, in a visceral, emotional way, and so even if we agree on the facts – what was said, what happened where and when – what we take away and store from a moment, what we feel about it, can vary radically.” It is through a British reality TV show that Cumming learns the truth of his maternal grandfather who avoided the family when WWII ended and eventually died in Malaysia. Also Alan’s father told Alan’s brother that Alan is not his son. He claims Alan’s mother had an affair before he was born.

It is memoir of mysteries. Well written. Well worth the 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.

 

 

A FRENCH NOVEL

a-french-novel-400x627FREDERIC BEIGBEDER

“It is difficult to recover from an unhappy childhood, but to recover from a sheltered childhood may be impossible.” It is difficult at times to tell if French is a novel or an autobiography. The main character and narrator has the author’s name. Frederic claims he has no recall of his childhood until he is thrown into jail and later into prison for snorting cocaine off the hood of a car out side a Parisian nightclub. It is in the confines of lockup with nothing to do that his memories gradually return to him. Not only his memories but the stories he has heard of his grandparents and great grandparent reaching back to both world wars. He complains bitterly about the confinement, “I’m just a privileged child deprived of his comforts as punishment for his overgrown rich-kid self-indulgence… Do not dismiss my suffering; comfort has been the great struggle of the French ever since the Liberation.” and especially the squalor of the prison, “in THE COUNTRY THAT GAVE BIRTH TO HUMAN RIGHTS.”

Novel is quite funny in places. It is a provacative look at the French and their culture through the sixties and seventies. Well worth the read.

WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE by JULIE OTSUKA and THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by TAN TWAN ENG

emperorThe synchronisity of books. Divine is about the internment of Japanese-America citizens during world war two. I enjoyed the simplicity of the writing. It starts with a woman seeing a sign in a window as she was returning a book to the library. When she got home she started packing. At first the reader does not know what is happening or why. The father, who has always been a dapper man, is taken at night. Not allowed to dress he is forced to leave in his pajamas. They don’t see her husband or their father again until after the war, over three years. At first the family is housed in a converted stable in San Francisco. Later they are taken to a camp in the desert where it is hot, dry and dusty all the time. The boy, only 7 when his family is forced from its home. He passes his days in the camp playing marbles and Chinese checkers — or ”cops and robbers and war. ‘ Kill the Nazis! Kill the Japs!'” Otsuka isn’t shy about showing how the children become caught up in the anti-Japanese hysteria. She’s frank as well about the family members’ efforts to erase all trace of Japanese character or culture as they succumb to the complex shame of being falsely accused.  Before they left the mother prepared her family for departure: burying the family silver, destroying all Japanese memorabilia (kimonos, tea sets, opera records, letters from relatives in Japan), disposing of the family pets. Divine is a good book but there are several Canadian books on the same subject that are much better, for instance Obasan by Joy Kogawa.

garden-of-evening-mistsThen I picked up Evening Mists, which is about a British-Malasian woman Yun Ling Teoh who’s family was incarcerated during WWII by the Japanese. Her sister was immediately selected to be a “comfort woman”; what a horrible euphemism for a condition of repeated forced rape. One of the officers said that she was one of the lucky ones. That the comfort women in larger centres had to service many times more men. The main character worked in the kitchen and would steal left overs from officers plates. When she was caught the officer cut off two fingers from her dominant hand. Many men and women died in the camp and more came to replace them. They were digging mines. The women were carting stones away by hand to dump them. When the war ended, the guards forced all the prisoners into the mines and blew them up. Ling escaped because she had become a translator for the camp officials. After the war she set out to acutalize her sister’s dream of creating a Japanese garden. She went to the Malaysian highlands to request Aritomo, who had been the emperor’s gardener to help her build a garden for her sister. He refuses but told her he will teacher her by having her work for him in his garden. The garden called Evening Mists is where she learned about the art of borrowed scenery, “taking elements and views from outside a garden and making them integral” to the garden itself. Evening Mists was the masterpiece of Aritomo, who eventually helps heal the trauma of her imprisonment. She goes on to study law and becomes the second female judge in Malaysia. Evening Mists is a book I highly recommend.

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

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

BEAUTIFUL RUINS

JESS WALTERBeautifulRuins_small-330-exp

Ruins is a wonderful book that travels between times and places telling a story of deep love and affection. Pasquale is a young innkeeper, just back from university and full of ideas and idealism. His first guest is Dee Moray a stunningly beautiful young actress who has come from the set of Cleopatra in Rome, 1962. Pasquale tumbles deeply in love for Dee, who tells him she is dying of cancer.

Then the story begins again in the present time in Hollywood where an elderly Italian man shows up at movie studio looking for the wonderful woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier. As this main theme of love and redemption plays out we are introduced to a myriad of fascinating characters who add to the richness of the story.

The writing is beautiful: “But aren’t all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos– we know what’s out there. It’s what isn’t that truly compels us. ”

An entertaining 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.

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.

THAT WOMAN; The Life of Wallis Simpson Duchess of Windsor

ANNE SEBBA

One of the great romances of modern times: the King of England abdicating the throne so he could be with the woman he loved.

A main theme running through That Woman is the likelihood that Wallis Simpson  was intersexed in some way. This is reason that she never had a child with any of her three husbands or her many lovers. All through her life she was plagued with abdominal problems. Sebba even suggests that King Edward VIII may have had his own intersex issues. She suggests his mostly hairless body, he only needed to shave once a week, and that all the women referred to him as the “little man.” Though he certainly was a ladies man before he met Wallis Simpson.

The Prince of Wales comes across as a liability. He was “a depressed adolescent… worryingly unsafe, he could be certified”, according to Lord Wigram, George V’s private secretary. “Certain cells in his brain have never grown,” murmured another courtier, Sir Alan Lascelles.

A real concern was the Prince’s chumminess with the Germans and pro-appeasement politicians. He and Wallis were feted by Mussolini in Venice, stayed at the Ritz in Madrid when Spain was run by Franco and visited Hitler in Berchtesgaden, where they were photographed among the swastikas. Walis actually curtsied before Hitler. The Nazis “were ready to exploit the King’s sympathies”, and even after the abdication there were plans to install him as a puppet monarch should Britain have been successfully invaded. Wallis saved England from having Edward as King. The ex-King was a petulant pipsqueak, who would have made a disastrous monarch, it does seem that everyone took it out on Wallis. She was generally vilified as a “prostitute, a Yankee harlot”, “sadistic, cold, overbearing, vain”, “mean and grasping” and, in the words of the late Queen Elizabeth, “the lowest of the low”.  Her mother-in-law refused to receive her son and his wife.

It is an interesting read but there are places that need skimming.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

RANSOM RIGGS

Jacob has grown up listening to his grandfather’s strange stories, although as he grows into his later teens he doesn’t believe the stories
the way he used toas boy. When he witnesses his  grandfather’s death by a vicious attack by one of the strange monsters form the stories he is both confused and inquisitive. Haunted by his grandfather’s last words, Jacob is determined to find out the truth.

Jacob manages to convince his therapist and his parents that a holiday away from home in a remote island off the coast of Wales is just what he needs to clear his head. Once he’s there, however, he realises that all his grandfather’s stories were true. Peppered with creepy photographs, the story is one of adventure and fantasy. Jacob is a great narrator, one who’ll appeal to children and adults. On the island, he finally feels like he’s found a place where he belongs and a sense of purpose in his life. Despite the image on the cover, this is not a horror story. It is more a magical fantasy world that we enter when we go with Jacob into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The book is fill will unusual pictures. The story is quirky and fun. Meant for teens, it is still an  enjoyable fantasy for adults.

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.

CORAL GLYNN

 

Peter Cameron

Coral Glynn is a young live-in visiting nurse hired to care for an elderly terminal patient near Leicester, England, in the spring of 1950. Coral doesn’t realize, when she arrives at the Hart’s manor, that she is entering a strange situation. “Everything’s gone topsy-turvy after the war,” we are told. “Blame it on Mr. Hitler.”“The blond gravel on the garden paths had turned green, each pebble wrapped in a moist transparent blanket of slime, and one could not sit on either of the two cement benches that flanked the river gate without first unhinging the snails and slugs adhered to them.”

The dying woman screams out in her sleep for morphine, craving “the sudden gorgeous prick of it in her worn flesh.” Her son, a middle-aged man named Clement Hart, who also lives in the house, seems hardhearted. He tells Coral that he no longer attends to his mother because “we were through with one another a long time ago.” In the short time Coral inhabits Hart House, her patient, Mrs. Hart, dies, and the housekeeper tells the police it is Coral’s fault.  The Housekeeper has made it perfectly clear that she does not like Coral. But the son, Clement almost immediately proposes. When a young girl is hanged in the forest near the manor, Coral is also accused of that crime. As a stranger in a community where everyone has known each other for generations, she is suspect. Her past haunts her, too, when her former employer tries to frame her for theft.

Coral Glynn is a multi facetted jewel. Plan on reading it.

 

I AM DAVID

ANNE HOLM

David is a well crafted jewel that will touch your heart.  It was written for young adults but has lots to say to adults.

David is twelve years old. All his life he has lived in a concentration camp in Eastern Europe. It is a terrible place. David knows nothing of the outside world except those things his one good friend and mentor, Johannes, now dead, told him. He has no story, no memories to hold on to, he doesn’t know the names of his parents, or whether they are alive or dead even, what his religion is, or from which country he comes. It is not even clear to us, the readers, whether the camp is Nazi or perhaps post-war Russian. David knows only one thing: that he is David. It is not much upon which to build a life, is it? But it is all he has. And on the day that The Man, one of the camp guards hated by David, but one who has always been strangely protective of him, offers him a chance to escape, his name is the only thing he has to take with him. The Man has provided him with a compass, a bottle of water, and a bar of soap, David himself has only his name to bring.

He must go south to the coast, find a ship bound for Salonica in a place called Italy, and then go north, until he gets to Denmark. That is all he knows. And he is on his own, accompanied by only his determination to get to Denmark, his terror of being recaptured and losing this new, sweet freedom, and the confusion of his thoughts. For David, the world is not only a frightening place, full of danger and menace, but also an incomprehensible one. He doesn’t know what an orange is, what a sandwich is, or even how to smile. He has no concept of beauty or pleasure. He doesn’t even understand truly what colour is, and when he finds colour it is overwhelming: “David was familiar only with various tones of grey and brown, and of course the blue of the sky. Well, yes, he had once seen a little red flower that had strayed inside the camp wall. Apart from that colour was something he had only heard of… He did not know how long he stayed there on the mountainside, sitting motionless, just gazing… only when everything grew strangely misty did he discover that he was crying. Far below him lay the sea, a sea bluer than any sky he had ever seen. The land curved in and out along its edge: in and out, up and down, all green and golden with here and there the red of flowers too far off to be clearly seen. Beauty.”

A must read. It is a slim volume so doesn’t take much time.

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.”