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Posts from the ‘Nazi’ Category

The French Girl & The German Boy

After much deliberation and delay, I finally delved into All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Yes, I am aware I am really late for the party, but atleast I got here. This is especially significant, considering, I usually give prize winning novels a wide berth. Anyhow, I spent the two weekend nights all being super comfortable in my bed, drinking cups of Rose tea and reading this 2014 Pulitzer prize winning work!

The book is set during the World War II, briefly covering the year of 1934, before delving into the events that occurs 1940-1945. The novel tells the story of Marie-Laurie, a young blind girl, the daughter to the locksmith to the Natural History Museum in Paris. Marie-Laurie spends time in her father’s museum, talking to the curator and reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, knowing of her father’s love and care for her. Her orderly life is shattered and brought  to a standstill, when Hitler’s Germany invades France and she and her father are forced to flee Paris, in wake of the occupation. In search of refuge of some kind, her father finally reached Saint Malo, the home of her great uncle. Her great Uncle, an erudite brilliant man, has shut himself up from the world, being afraid of shadows, since his experience in World War I. The father and daughter are however kindly looked after by the house keeper and days begin to melt into month, as Marie-Laurie tries to adjust herself to her new surroundings. Across the border, in a orphanage, Werner and Jutta, the orphaned children of a mine worker, listen to distant voices in a hand made radio, made by Werner,that tells them of miracles of science and wonders of the world. Wener’s brilliance with radio sciences and engineering is soon discovered by those in power and he is sent to an elite school to get trained to mold the future of Aryan Germany. It is at this school, that in the angst to ensure, he does not end up with a life like his father, he makes choices, that he knows Jutta will never forgive and which in his heart he knows is never acceptable. However, these choices seem to drag him down until he ends up in Saint Malo, with one chance to redeem all his past.

Now come the part about how I liked the book…well, I liked it a lot!! I thought the descriptions whether of the sea or of being stuck inside the rubble was mesmeric. The prose of the novel, lifted me and seared my soul and painted some breathe taking pictures. I loved how each character was drawn out, not by the descriptions that the author wrote but by their actions and how each of the character was etched out and stood out clearly and independently of others. I loved how Marie-Laurie’s life was made independent of her visual inabilities and made her do brave things, without any dependency on any other character.  I loved the subtleties in the characters like Etienne LeBlanc and Frank Volkheimer. It was wonderful getting to know them and see their lives unravel. The plot deviates from the usual boy meets girl phenomena and delves into relationships that are just as rich and yet cannot be defined by the standards set by the society. However despite all the brilliance of the book, I cannot help but feel that in the end, Werner’s fate was a bit of cliche; like he had to made to pay for all the betrayals in a de-la grande style. I could not help but feel that Mr. Doerr, kind of treads on the line of Flaubert and Tolstoy in making the fatal flaw, the unforgivable flaw. I somehow cannot help but feel that Werner’s fate had it been a bit different, would have been less maudlin and made more sense. Finally, speaking of fatal flaws, I have a one – that is never of quite liking a historical fiction, if it is inaccurate in its facts. Mr. Doerr unfortunately ends up making a minor error, but to me, it glares like a red hot iron, taking away much of the credibility of the book. In page 135, Kindle Print, Etienne talks about listening to broadcasts from Pakistan. The chapter is set in 1940, full 7 years before Pakistan came into being!!! How can the author not check his facts? How can his editor ignore such a blatant mistake? Or is it to the North, events of the South do not matter? Mr. Doerr should know that while many French, American and German soldiers died, there were more than 2 million Indian troops who also fought defending a nation, that was not theirs, fighting for a cause they had no say in, all because as a country they belonged to the Great British Empire. Their identity and their heritage is disparaged by such errors, and their efforts negated, by the complete ignominy that is assigned to them by the careless stroke of the pen!

Awesome Mom’s Some….

I know this might be a bit clichéd but I cannot think of a more proper way to celebrate Mother’s Day that to list some of the most amazing and coolest moms of fiction. Like all our awesome mom’s these moms embody the qualities that makes the them so wonderful – courage, wisdom and patience. So here’s a list of some of greatest mother’s in fiction, dedicated to all the real mothers, in a testimony of art imitating life.

In random order –

  • Mrs. March – I know I have written about her in the past, but she is such a wonderful mother that I have to evoke her example again and again. Left alone to rear 4 daughters with limited funds, while her husband fought for the Union, during the American Civil War, she is tested in every possible way. Strained financial conditions through which she tries to give her daughters a good life and gentle lessons of truth when they turn wayward, she is brave, wise and generous; leading by example and never loosing hope or her faith in the ultimate triumph of good!
  • Molly Weasly – She is perhaps the most unconventional of the great mom’s literature. She yells at her children when they step out of line; she is generous in her love when she adopts an orphaned Harry in her family, caring for him like her own sons and a roaring tigress when anyone harms her brood! (Remember her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange,in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) She is one fierce woman demonstrating the best of motherhood – pride, kindness and protectiveness.
  • Mrs. Joad – I feel she is one of the most overlooked characters in John Steinbeck’s books, but The Grapes of Wrath stands tall not only because she is the matriarch, but she holds the family together when there is no land left, no job, her favorite son has become a fugitive again and her son-in-law has left her pregnant daughter alone! She practical, strong and brave who faces all the odds, leaving aside her own grief and loss for the greater good of others, even when they are not part of her family, but just people in need!
  • Pelagea Nilovna Vlassovna aka Mother– How can any list be complete without “Mother”. In Pelagea, Maxim Gorky creates a character who from being a scared forever petrified of her husband’s beatings transforms into a brave and independent person because of her love for her son. She becomes part of the revolutionary movement to be useful to her and in the process becomes a strong courageous woman who loses her life for her and her son’s beliefs.
  • Rosa Huberman – She must be the most loud and foul-mouthed mother in the history, but in Rosa, Mark Zusak in The Book Thief created a believable chartecter of a mother trying to do her best in extremely difficult circumstances, who cares for her foster daughter Liesel as her own and is generous even when there is little if anything left to be generous about!

Well….that’s my list!! Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Mommys out there!!

At The Very Beginning…..

I have always argued that I am better writer/blogger and more discerning reader because of some of lovely, inspirational and absolutely marvelous blogs that I have the most rewarding bliss to read/follow. Flowing from this, I present to you this post, that had its germination in A Year in First Lines by Fleur, who in turn took the cue from The Indextrious Reader. The concept is wonderful and extremely unusual – “Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

If this is not fun, what is???? Thus, without any further ado, let’s plunge right in and kick-start the journey from January 2013!

January 2013

It’s the first of the brand new year again and someone sent me text with a quote that goes as follows – “Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” ― Brad Paisley from Back to Where We Started From…..

February 2013

There are many things that comes to us a legacies – a house, jewelry, money, an old piano…..the list I guess could go on. At any case, legacies are of great importance, for they bind us to a past that is inherently our own and through which, in many cases, our identity derives from; from All Those Legacies….

March 2013

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature from Liking Jane

April 2013

It’s always difficult to start when you have come to a halting skating stop. But you have to start again, especially if it is important to you! From At-tempting Madame Bovary

May 2013

And now for The Baker’s Daughter from Baking Breads and Tales in Wartime Germany

June 2013

Is there anything called Happy Sad? From The Happy Sad Syndrome

July 2013

I know I have to still write about Charles Dicken’s Great Expectation and I promise I will do it this week for sure, but while I drown myself in my other life, aka, the Project Manager, this Meme, I just could not let go! So Classic Club’s 2013 July Meme is – What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion? from The Most Inspiring Them of All…..

August 2013

So I did the disappearing act again but I was travelling on business for 4 whole weeks and the project implementation kind of sucked all life force out of me, leaving me with no time for anything I hold remotely close to my heart – eating, travelling, writing; the only indulgence I had been reading and that too with limited timeframes. From And for the August Path….

September 2013

So the Classic Club’s September Meme is contributed by Brona from Brona’s Books –Rereading a favorite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you? From Once Upon a time and Everytime …

October 2013

I read this article on Huff Post where social psychologists David Kidd and Emanuele Castano argue that reading classics like Tolstoy,Chekhov etc enhances what they term as “theory of mind”. From Alleluia for Reading!

November 2013

I thought it was a good day to sit back and think just how many things I have gotten myself into for the month of November and muse over the fact about why do I take on more than I can manage and why do I keep making myself a guinea-pig for all Sadistic Gods who take great pleasure in laughing at me – considering there is no one else to blamed for the soup I get myself into except ME!! From Just a Bit More Than Usual

December 2013

Finally vacations here….I can’t believe it actually here and by the time I can actually believe it, it will be 6th January and back to work! From The Vacation Finally Commeth…

That’s the list and here are some conclusions I drew as I complete this – Some of these posts begin on one vein and end up on different tangent all together; (My MIND WANDERS is an understatement!!). It seems like I have derived a lot of my ideas from The Classic Club, so a big Thank You to the Club and all its members for making me read and think more. Most importantly, I need to work on sentence constructions; I mean did you see some of the opening sentences??? They are like 4 lines long….seems like I write the way I talk….Definitely a work on for 2014!

However this was fun and I think should you try it, you would quite enjoy it as well!

It happened in Aleppo…

Sometimes you read a book that leaves you intensely sad – it could be because of the story, like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief or because it is not only the tale but also the history surrounding the tale. Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying in any way that the events of World War II were not tragic or traumatizing; but to me when I read The Book Thief, what stood out was the profound sadness for the character of Liesel Meminger , especially with the death of Hans Hubermann and Rudy Steiner.  On the other hand, for this book not only was  there a profound sadness for the character, but for the history as well – for the sheer number of sense less killing and destruction and for the sense of lost identity and rootlessness!

I am getting ahead of myself as usual, so let me start where I should start – I am talking about Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls.

I had stumbled across this book when randomly surfing through the Kindle Store and the fact that it was set in World War I was enough to get me interested. However, what made me go for it was the brief note in the synopsis about the Armenian Genocide. I had first read about Armenian Genocide, very briefly in William Dalrymple’s From The Holy Mountains, where he dedicates a couple of pages to interviewing a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Couple of years later, while studying at the University for a Master’s degree, my professor of Israeli politics, once mentioned, that the only genocide that could bear any remote comparison to the Jewish Holocaust was the Armenian one. While I did contest with him then and still contest now, that the Rwandan and Bosnia-Herzegovina massacres were quite brutal as well, my curiosity was had begun lurking from then. Therefore when The Sandcastle Girls turned up as a recommended read for me in the Kindle Store, I was not going to pass this up!

Now for the book –

I started reading this book way back in October and since it is hardly a mammoth of epic proportions, merely 300 pages, it should not take me so long…right? Wrong. Sometimes the themes and the word pictures leave you so emotionally challenged that you need to take a break ; that’s exactly what happened; I read the first half in October and finished the remaining today! So let me state at the onset, it is an intense book and as a reader you will feel the emotional upheavals that will impact you and should you be of the more sensitive variety, it may take a toll on you.

The story begins with the landing of Elizabeth Endicott, the 21 year old daughter of a Boston Brahmin banker father on a missionary task to help the expelled Armenians who have survived the death march across the desert to Aleppo.  Most of these survivors are women and children who arrive in utter destitution and trauma. It is also here that Elizabeth meets the Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian, who is trying find out the details about the death of his wife and infant daughter during the death march. The story is told through the eyes of their granddaughter Laura Petrosian, who is attempting to piece together the history of her grandparents and in a sense discover the very history of her own people.

The book is told in simple language and moves fluidly between past and present.  The story telling is gripping and at times will actually leave you breathless with your heart in your mouth. The characters are wonderfully drawn. In Elizabeth Endicott, you find an extremely believable heroine who is good, strong, may be a little headstrong and generous to the core. Laura Petrosian is a worthy literary granddaughter – strong, brave and may a little bit stubborn. Though she does most of the story telling for her grandparent’s lives and very little of her own life comes out directly, there is no denying that in her we see a second-third generation settler who does not quite understand the past, until she reaches the very deep end of the family history! This is where I belive lies the master stroke of Chris Bohjalian; to say a lot by saying very little! Armen Petrosian was and is a difficult character to write; a man who has lost all can be all doom and gloom, but in Armen Petrosian, there is a sense of strength, purpose and understandably guilt. What was brilliantly done and here I am giving spoiler alert so please skip the remaining paragraph if you plan to read the book – though he is man who kills, there is no bawdy masochistic tones in those descriptions, something many great authors also seem to be prone to. There are hardly any stereotypes and Germans and Turks could be as kind and as cruel as any other race. All kinds of courage is displayed here – courage to survive, courage to face the most daunting fears and the quiet courage that works in the background to make everyday possible.

Most importantly the book is about some vivid word pictures that Chris Bohjalian – whether describing the horror of the death marches (these are very very intense and disturbing to read) or the sense of rootlessness to a sense of legacy that Laura finds herself being joined to. As a grandchild of émigrés who fled their homeland due to religious persecution that resulted in one of the worst communal violence ever in history, I could very closely relate to Laura’s confusion about her grandparents life and their sadness as well as her own legacy. I remember various such incidents while growing up when on a happy family gathering occasions, everything would suddenly turn silent as my grandmother or my elder aunts looked back at their past and wondered, what if we had not left? How would that person be now? How does that land look now? That senses of identity that flows from belonging to a piece of land you call your home, which when suddenly and violently taken away, is bound to create an irreplaceable sense of loss!

Read it!

And the list keeps growing……

romance 2I know I have not written in a while and I have a perfect excuse for that! I was too busy reading – gosh! I have been reading and reading and reading and I know you are thinking what the hell is new about that, but it’s just that I have never tried reading 7 books in one go and some of the plot lines are now overlapping each other and sometimes need revisiting! Remember I have a full-time job in a financial institution where they thrive by drinking my blood (and some more poor souls like me) with a straw and a pink cocktail umbrella (No! I do not exaggerate! Try working in a hardcore financial corporate sector with a double personality of a writer inside you!) On top of that there has been some severe personal crisis, including several verbose conversations with Mr Soulmate that left us both of ranting mad at each other! (Don’t hold your breath…we are at peace now! At least I think I am at peace can’t say about him. I have discovered we hold very different ideas of what constitute war or peace and what should or should not be a matter of war or peace!)

 
After all the moaning about my misfortunes, let me get down to the part I can be really effusive about – what all books am I reading?
1. Great Expectation by Charles Dickens. This is part of The Classic Club May Spin series. In fact I just finished reading about it today and was in too minds about whether to write about the books or generally continue with my random nonsense! As you can see, random nonsense won! However my next blog will be completely dedicated to discussing this work, so come armed!
2. Game of Throne  by George R.R. Martin – Sigh! I know! I know! HBO premiered the series 2 years back and I must have lived in dark ages; but really I seem to catch up on fads very late. I got hooked on to Harry Porter nearly 4 years after the first book was published. There is something that recoils in me from reading up anything that is cried up by a large section of the population. However I did develop an obsession for Harry Porter and now seem to be well on my way on developing similar craziness for Game of Throne
3. Citadel by Kate Mosse – I picked it up on a whim. I really liked her Labyrinth; it was fresh and original and I loved the Cather history to which I was introduced to! I hated her Sepulcher; I never understood what it stood for and what it tried to say and was quite sick of Leonie. So the third book seemed to be a decider and I decided that though Citadel is definitely better than Sepulcher, it is fails in comparison to Labyrinth. I picked it up because it was about women and World War II and France…looks like a great ingredients for a great book! But it was not a complete read – I did not warm to Sandrine Vidal and I did not and could not feel the chemistry between her and Raul and then there is all this running around for the Codex and Ghosts and what not and all of it quite unnecessary. It could have been a simple and brilliant tale of women in the French Résistance but instead it became a muddle of Ancient Rome, Ghosts and stereotypical Nazis!
4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – I love Elizabeth Gaskell and think of her as one the most gifted authors of Victorian era.  I have just reached the part where Margaret and her family are moving to Darkshire leaving behind their beloved Helstone. The book has immense promise and I hope to finish it before soon. Hopefully, I will be able to dedicate another exclusive blog to Ms. Gaskell
5. The Other Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Ever since revisiting The Great Gatsby, I have developed a I won’t say a passion, but a certain soft corner for Fitzgerald. This was his first novel and as I wade through it, I discover the sparks of satire and prose that would mark his later works. I would do a separate review of this as well!
6. The Crisis in European Minds by Paul Hazard – I was introduced to this by Stephanie and will again be in her debt for making me read something marvelously original, intuitive and brilliant! If you have taste for history/sociology, then this book is an absolute must!
7. The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor – This is an easy read picked primarily for light reading before I crash. It’s set in 92 B.C.  and Gordianus has turned 18 and is undertaking an educational journey to the seven wonders of the ancient world and is accompanied by his tutor who is none other than Antipater of Sidon. As student and teacher travel across the ancient world, there is a murder, some witches and a lot of sleuthing. Told you, it’s light reading

That’s my reading list for the week! I must admit the books staved off some of the more frustrating moments at work and held me back when I was an inch away from throwing the fattest volume at Mr Soulmate – after all I had yet to read it and did not want to damage the volume. And yes! It’s a joke and no, neither of us indulges in violence; unless you call God of War (Yes! The bloody game that he is so bloody fond off! )  violence, which I do, but then that’s another story!

Baking Breads and Tales in Wartime Germany

And now for The Baker’s Daughter

I know I was supposed to post this last week, but between one thing and the other….well, better late than never I guess!

The Baker’s Daughter is a novel by Sarah McCoy.

I had never read any of Sarah McCoy’s previous work and picked up this book solely because of three reasons –

– The back cover told me that it’s historical fiction set during the World War II

– The story for a change was from a perspective of a German and not an allied power and I already had a great impression of writings from the German perspective from books like The Book Thief and wanted to continue exploring this genre

– It seemed to blend in my other passion very well, i.e. cooking! (I mean it’s called The Baker’s Daughter!!!)

Goodreads tell me that Sarah McCoy is a daughter of an Army officer. She spent her early years in Germany and prior to writing books, she taught writing at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her first book was The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico and The Baker’s Daughter was published in 2012.

The-Bakers-Daughter-JacketThe Baker’s Daughter is set towards the end of World War II in the small town of Garmisch, Germany. Its 1945 and Elsie Schmidt lives with her parents above the bakery run by her father. She is being courted by a very senior SS official and her sister is part of the The Lebensborn Program. It’s an all-German family, living and believing in the values set by The Fuhrer, believing in the ultimate destiny of a superior Germany with a Third Reich. However things change for Elsie and her family, when a young boy shows up at her door one night and she is forced to take a decision that will change her and her family’s fate. Parallelly, there is a modern-day story of Reba Adams who is in the lookout for a great Christmas story and bumps into a bakery. Reba Adams is a loner who wants to move out of her relationship with her boyfriend and the town of El Paso, Texas, to start a new life in San Francisco and distance herself from her half-truths and the memories of her past. As the novel progresses, the two tales collide and become one story of valor, humanity and the ability of a human spirit to survive!

Now for the book – it’s wonderful! I know this is like stating it right out there, but it is absolutely wonderful. Maybe because I read it right after The Shell Seekers, I felt the impact more. But I really really liked the novel and would seriously recommend it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the novel does not have flaws – there is the stereotypical sexually aggressive, pseudo masochist Nazi, who conveniently shows up to bring a twist to the tale. There is also at the other end of the Nazi spectrum, the tortured Nazi, who is trying to come to terms with his own harrowing deeds and then meets a very non original end. Towards the end of the novel, it seems like somehow, the author was in hurry to end the book, so she neatly packaged out what could have been a more meaty middle and epilogue of the book.  The writing is also very linear and sometimes too simplistic.

Having said all of this, I still say that this is a marvelous book! To begin with, in the character of Elsie Schmidt, the author has created a wonderful heroine, who is both human and yet capable of great kindness, even at personal costs. She is warm, intelligent and sometimes absolutely hilarious character, whose voice echoes through the book. Another wonderful character is Elsie’s mother, a strong resilient woman, who will stop at nothing to save her family. The book is filled with some interesting insights into Nazi Germany including The Lebensborn Program.  The Program, per Wikipedia, was a state-run program to boost the number of racially pure Aryan children, including those born of extra marital relations. Through the book, the author tries to give an authentic feel of a country at the brink of losing a war, struggling with shortages and poverty and death of thousands and thousands of her men. The reader has a very strong sense of a raging war and its impacts unlike the very superficial layering of it in The Shell Seekers. Lastly, the book has some wonderful description of food – especially German breads and other bakeries and some lovely detailing on how the bakers managed their supplies and kept the business going, as the country spiraled towards scarcity and poverty.

I know there are great many works written about Germany during World War II and of course this book does not stand in competition to such works like Schindler’s Ark, but it is great read and I recommend atleast one read!

One girl, some books and Nazi Germany

New Year, New Books.

I recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Though this is not a new book per se, since it was originally published in 2005, but I read it just a couple of days ago and for me therefore it has all the joy of unchartered territory, especially since I had never read any work by Markus Zusak prior to this.

Markus Zusak is an Australian author who has written some great children’s work including The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry. Though he received several awards and recognitions for these works, his breakthrough came with the The Book Thief which was as I mentioned first published in 2005 and since then has been translated in 30 languages and garnered the #1 position in The New York Times Bestsellers.

Now about the book –

the-book-thiefThe Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II and it spans the years from 1939 -1944 in a town called Molching, Germany. The story’s narrator is Death (Yes! As in THE DEATH) and  begins as an eight year old Liesel Meminger is taken by her mother for adoption to a foster family – housepainter and accordion player Hans Hubermann and his wife Rosa Hubermann, whose washing and ironing for the richer households. The story then describes Liesel’s relationship with her foster parents, other residents of the neighborhood including Rudy Steiner, who becomes her best friend and Ilsa Hermann, the mayor’s wife and a Jewish fist fighter, who hides in Hubermann’s basement to escape the Nazis.

While the back cover synopsis may look very To Kill a Mocking Bird meet’s Schindler’s Ark, do not go with that kind of mindset, for this book is completely unexpected.  I do mean unexpected – it does cater to certain cliché’s like the German who does not want to be a Nazi or the German who risks his life to save a Jewish life, but that’s where the cliché’s end. This book is beautifully crafted, written with great depth and while the language is simple, since its attributed to a young girl, there is a lot of sensitivity and originality in the whole work. There are several instances of dry humor as well as some very upsetting moments, including one scene where I cried in buckets. (Yes! I do cry when I read books and no, I am not sentimental, just someone who is extremely sensitive!)  The plot is unusual not so much in the characters as much in the details and events of the tale. Another extremely rare aspect of the book is that at the very onset of each book (The novel is divided into 10 Books), the reader comes to know what will ensure in that book as well as the next, so in a way, the author gives away the ending, right at the beginning. However the power of the tale as well as the brilliant writing will keep the reader going despite knowing the obvious end.

New York Times wrote that “It’s the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING.” – I am not sure if it can be life changing, since we are all different people and we all react to things differently, but I can say this, that not to have read this is a loss and a big loss at that. This is a must read for all those who consider themselves books/novels/literature connoisseur, for this novel may be considered a  modern classic one day!!! It’s a poetic, touching and absolutely heartbreaking work that scopes out the immense generosity that humans posses.

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