Category Archives: History

The Guest Book Book Review

As much as we wish it, families are far from perfect. There are secrets, scandals, and sins that have a way of passing down through the generations.

Sarah Blake’s new novel, The Guest Book, was published earlier this year. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton have it all. A loving marriage, beautiful and thriving children and the status that comes with being one of America’s leading (and wealthiest) families. Then tragedy hits the family hard. To assuage his wife’s grief, Ogden buys a private island to use as a summer home. The island should be a place of refuge and relaxation for the Miltons. Instead, it becomes a symbol of the family’s secrets.

The secret starts with a refusal that could have saved the life of an innocent just before World War II. Twenty plus years later, the secret grows. Len Levy and Reg Paulding are not the usual guests invited to the island. Len is Jewish and secretly seeing one of the Milton daughters. Reg is African-American and the lone person of color in his world.

The secrets begin to unravel in the 2010s. Evie Milton, one of Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughters, comes to the realization with her cousins that the island is in dire financial straits. She also learns, with the help of her husband, that the family secrets are just below the surface. With a little digging, those secrets are revealed.

What I liked about this book was how Ms. Blake established the world that this novel is set in and the casual racism/antisemitism that is part of this world. I also liked the transition from the past to the present. It takes a skilled author to jump from different time periods and different points of view in a way that does not confuse the reader.

My problem with the book is that the ending is kind of expected. The big bombshell that is supposed to be the “long-buried” secret is not really a bombshell. I saw part of it coming nearly a mile away.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Can Kristallnacht Happen Here?

81 years ago tonight, the semi-comfortable world that European Jews knew came to an end.

Up until Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, the uptick in antisemitism that German Jews had experienced was mostly non-violent. November 9-10, 1938 changed everything. Jewish synagogues, homes, and schools were destroyed. Around 100 German Jews were killed and 30,000 German Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Given the current political and social climate that we live in in 2019, I feel like I have to ask if it can happen here, in the United States?

The scary answer is yes. The shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in California occurred less than a year apart. In my hometown of New York City, the number of hate crimes against Jewish residents is rising quickly.

I sometimes take for granted that I live in a country that guarantees me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I also take for granted that I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world.

I wish I could say that I live in a better world that German and European Jews lived in. But I don’t. Antisemitism is still alive and well. Until such day that antisemitism is dead and buried, a small part of me will be concerned that another Kristallnacht can happen here.

1 Comment

Filed under History, New York City

Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life Book Review

The following is often quoted about women and those brave enough to fight for what they believe in.

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” 

Emma Goldman was not a well-behaved woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She was a revolutionary, an anarchist and a feminist in a time when women were starting to fight for their rights. Vivian Gornick‘s 2013 biography of Goldman is entitled Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life.

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Lithuania to a Jewish family. From an early age, she was stubborn, independent and refused to settle into the traditional life of marriage and motherhood. When she emigrated to the United States in 1885, she continued to live in the same manner that she lived in Europe. Depending on whom one spoke to, she was either a hero standing up to injustice or a troublemaker. She died in 1940, after years of exile and still fighting against governments that would keep the little person down.

In my experience, there are two types of biographies. The first type attracts a general reader who is looking to expand their mind. The second type attracts a reader who is interested in that topic/subject or is using the book to reach an academic goal. This book falls into the second category.

It was not the worst biography that I’ve read. However, I felt like this book is the type of book that would be assigned reading in an academic setting as a posed to a book to read just for readings sake.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History

Harriet Movie Review

It’s not uncommon to see a movie/television show or read a story about a man who stands up against injustice. However, the same story with a female protagonist is sadly, not as commonplace.

The new Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet, was just released in theaters. Known on the plantation as Minty, the future Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) was born a slave. Though her father was born free, she is enslaved because her mother is a slave. After the death of her master, Minty knows that she will soon be sold. Her only choice is to escape to freedom.

After a 100 mile journey from Maryland, Harriet arrives in Philadelphia. Assisted by William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monae), Harriet settles down into the quiet life of a free person of color. But while she resides in freedom, Harriet feels uneasy that her family is still in bondage. This uneasiness sends her back to Maryland, to free as many slaves as possible.

Going back and forth earns Harriet a reputation and a target on her head. One of those who would like to see her captured is Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn), the son of the family who owned Harriet. History tells us that Harriet Tubman does eventually achieve her goal, but not without many obstacles in her way.

This movie is brilliant and I believe, a must-see for anyone who believes in the freedoms that the United States is built on. Director and co-screenwriter Kasi Lemmons tells the story of her subject in a manner that simultaneously humanizes Harriet and gives her the proper moment in the spotlight.

I loved this film because it is educational and entertaining. From a writing standpoint, this is a balancing act in which many try, but few succeed. I also loved that there was no love interest for Harriet. Though the viewer is introduced to her first husband, his prominence in the narrative ends with the first act. He is not the raison d’être for everything that occurs within this film. I wish more filmmakers and screenwriters told the story of a female protagonist without relying on a romantic narrative because it’s the easy thing to do.

I absolutely recommend it and I would not be shocked if this film did well come award season.

Harriet is presently in theaters.

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism, History, Movie Review, Movies

Flashback Friday-Legends of the Hidden Temple (1993-1995)

TV game shows have existed since the beginning of television. But it takes a unique program to stand out within the genre.

Legends of the Hidden Temple aired on Nickelodeon from 1993-1995 and was hosted by Kirk Fogg. The premise of the show was that there was a fictional Mayan temple filled with gold, jewels, and other treasures. Guarded by Olmec (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), the young contestants were challenged by physical and academic challenges relating to history, geography, and mythology.

As I remember it, Legends of the Hidden Temple was fun to watch. It would have been easy to create another game show that is made up of just physical or academic challenges. But in combining both and adding an Indiana Jones sensibility, this program was able to stand out for the two years that it was on the air.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flashback Friday, History, Movie Review, Television, TV Review

Journeys: An American Story Book Review

The story of America is the story of immigration. It is also the story of those who oppose immigration.

Journeys: An American Story, was published last year. Edited by Andrew Tisch and Mary Skafidas, the book is a compilation of immigrant stories. The stories of immigration range from the earliest days of the United States to the present. Those interviewed can trace their families to every part of the globe and range from the well known to the average person on the street.

I enjoyed reading this book. I live in a country and a world that looks down on immigrants, especially those fleeing poverty and persecution. If nothing else, this book reaffirms the idea that instead of punishing immigrants or forcing them out, we should welcome them with open arms. If we prevent them from coming, we may never know what their descendants may accomplish.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Cilka’s Journey Book Review

For untold generations, women have been told that our beauty is our only asset. But during war, using our looks may mean the difference between life and death.

Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris is a follow up to her previous novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Based on a true story, Cecilia “Cilka” Klein is just sixteen when she was transported to Auschwitz from her home in Czechoslovakia. She is saved from the gas chambers by her looks and is forced to become a sexual slave. When the war is over, Cilka looks forward to freedom.

Instead, she is accused of willfully sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian work camp. The conditions in the gulag are similar to those in Auschwitz. But there is one difference: the kindness of a female doctor. This doctor gives Cilka the opportunity to work in the camp hospital. This job helps to bring Cilka back to life and show her that love is still possible.

When we talk about the Holocaust and World War II, the subject of sexual assault and #Metoo is a subject that does not come up very often. But I think it is a topic that we should be discussing, especially given our current political and cultural climate.

From a very young age, women are socialized to the idea that their main asset (if not their only asset) is their beauty. But we are also penalized when we use our looks to get by. From the instant we meet her, Cilka is a character that I admired and I wanted to hug. Many would have not lasted as long as she did in the same set of circumstances. But Cilka did and for that alone, she deserves as much recognition as she can get.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, Feminism, History

The Last Train to London: A Novel Book Review

War often forces us to make choices that would not be made during peacetime.

The Last Train to London: A Novel, by Meg Waite Clayton, was published last month. It starts in 1936 in Austria. Stephan Neuman is fifteen years old and best friends with Žofie-Helene. Stephan comes from a upper class and influential Jewish family. Zofie’s comes from a Christian family; her mother publishes a newspaper that is decidedly anti-Nazi. Then the Nazis invade and their lives are forever changed.

In the Netherlands, Truus Wijsmuller cannot sit back and do nothing. She travels back and forth to Nazi Germany, getting out as many Jewish children as she can. Known to the children as Tante Truus, she is one of the adults who coordinates what will be known as the Kindertransport. It maybe the only way out for young people whose lives and futures are at stake.

This book is brilliant. What struck me about this book is that it is incredibly relevant to the world that we live in in 2019. There was language and action that is not too far off from what often makes the local news. There were also, as there are now, individuals who are willing to put their lives on hold to save the lives of others.

I recommend it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Books, History

Ashes in the Snow DVD Review

War has a way of forever changing one’s life.

The 2018 movie, Ashes in the Snow (based on the book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys) takes place during World War II. Lina (Bel Powley) is an average teenage girl living in Lithuania with her family. She is also a gifted young artist with a dream and the potential to see that dream become a reality.

Then Lina, her family and thousands of others are deported to Siberia. It is her art and her growing relationship with Andrius (Jonah Hauer-King) that provides a sense of normalcy in a situation that is as far from normal as one can get. Will Lina survive or will she perish with thousands of others?

I read this book previously, so I had an idea of what was coming. The movie is just as good as the book. It is a story that within the genre of World War II stories, is not told as often as it should be. Granted, like many book to movie adaptations, the film does not match the book scene for scene. However, that does not detract from the power of this story and the strength of this young girl who finds the will to survive when many did not.

I recommend it.

1 Comment

Filed under Feminism, History, Movie Review, Movies

Who Needs Friends Like the Kurds, Who Needs Enemies Like You Know Who?

Outside of family, friends are the most important people in our lives.

On the world stage, friends come in handy, especially when fighting an enemy whose sole aim is one’s destruction.

In Syria, the Kurds have been America’s ally in the war against ISIS. A politician who is well versed in this relationship and respects it would not abandon the Syrian Kurdish community to the mercy (or lack thereof) of Turkey. But you know who has decided that in his infinite wisdom, that we don’t need their support.

This community didn’t have to help us. But they did and this is how we thank them? My concern is that if we let you know who continue on this path, America will be isolated from the rest of the world. Our only friends will be countries who leadership has a questionable friendship with the United States.

In justifying his decision, he claimed that the decision was made because of the Kurds were not part of the Allies and did not participate in the Invasion of Normandy. That is the most ridiculous, nonsensical reason that I have ever heard from this man. Any voter with an ounce of sense would see this man as completely unfit for office and make dam sure that he is a one term President.

But there are fools in this country who continue to support him and will vote for him next fall. G-d help us all if he wins a second term, for we will need all of the help that we can get.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, International News, Politics, World News