To be the descendent of a Holocaust survivor is to grow up with a trauma that stretches well beyond the first generation. They have a unique responsibility to tell the stories of their loved ones that sometimes feel more pressing than those of us whose direct families were out of harm’s way during the war.
The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story, by Nechama Birnbaum, was published at the end of last year. The book tells the story of her late grandmother, Rosie Greenstein. Though Rosie was often told that her red hair was undesirable, she believed that it was an asset. Though her family was poor, Rosie’s childhood was idyllic. Raised by her widowed mother, she dreamed of her wedding day and future husband.
That dream came crashing down in 1944. The Jews of Hungary were forced out of their homes and sent directly to Auschwitz. The only thing that is keeping her alive is her fierce spirit and the will to survive in the face of all-encompassing death.
This biography is written in such a way that every gruesome and horrific detail is hard to ignore or forget. The narrative flashes between two different time periods until the story converges: Rosie’s life before the war and her time in the death camp. What I got from the book was more than a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother. It was pride in the strength that was passed down through the generations and families that come into the world since the end of the war.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely. P.S. I also recommend following the corresponding Instagram account.
The Redhead of Auschwitz: A True Story is available wherever books are sold.
Moving to California after marrying, Pelosi only got into politics after her children were grown. Starting at the local level, she climbed up the ladder with a shrewd mind and an understanding of the game. Page spends most of the book examining her career and the challenges (especially when going against you know who) that she has come against. Diving into the details of the last few decades, the woman we meet is one who does not shrink when coming against a man who thinks that he knows better than her.
I enjoyed this book. The reader is introduced to Pelosi as the whole woman, not just the image on the evening news. She is thoroughly human in a way that I found relatable and inspirational. Pelosi may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you cannot deny that what she has accomplished is exceptional and admirable. We need more women in this world like Nancy Pelosi.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power is available wherever books are sold.
No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.
Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.
As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.
We’ve all read our fair share of celebrity biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies. They range from being a dry retread of what we know about them to drowning in the overbearing “look at me” type profile.
I loved this book. I could hear her voice through the pages. It is honest, raw, emotional, messy, and most importantly, authentic. Her story is the story of a generation of women who fought for their rights, and in doing so, paved the way for future generations to do the same. For me, it is a reminder of how strong we are and how much we can accomplish when we stick to our guns.
Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.
Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.
A good biography does much more than provide the basic facts found on any general internet search. It introduces the reader to the real person that is sometimes hidden behind history and the PR machine.
I loved this book. As much as I knew about Ms. Fisher before I read it, I learned even more. She was intelligent, incredibly funny, smartass, loyal to those she loved, and vulnerable. What made this one special was that it showed her humanity. It is a complete picture of a woman who has inspired generations of fans, women, and those living with mental illness to not be afraid of being who they are.
Hollywood is not known for being the most comforting of industries. This is especially true for women of a certain age. Betty White is one of the few actresses who has been able to not only survive, but thrive in this environment.
The 2018 documentary Betty White: First Lady of Televisionis the story of her career. Ms. White entered showbusiness when television was in its infancy. Since her first appearance seven decades ago, she has become an icon, a groundbreaker and a performer who has entertained multiple generations of fans. Using archival footage and interviews, the viewer is given a glimpse of the real woman behind the beloved character actress.
What I loved about this film is that it shows its subject as she is. There are some biographies that present a slick and polished image of perfection. What you see is what you get. She is a smart, salty, and extremely funny woman who at the age of 99, is as real as she ever was.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Betty White: First Lady of Television is available for streaming on Netflix.
P.S. The 2018 episode of Saturday Night Live that she hosted is for my money, one of the best in the past few years.
The plot line of a biography is as follows: the person was born on x date, accomplished a, b, and c, and died on y date. From there, it is up to the writer(s) to add the details and color to the story they are telling.
Heather Clark’s biography of Sylvia Plath, entitled Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, was published last October. Delving into Plath’s life and work (including The Bell Jar, one of my personal favorites), Clark takes the reader on a journey from Plath’s early years in New England in the 1930’s to her death in 1962 from lingering mental health issues. Using information that was previously unknown, Clark pulls information from interviews, unpublished works, and other documents to create a complete image of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
If there was ever a blue print on how to write a compelling biography, this is it. When I finished reading this book, I felt like I knew her. Not just as a poet and a writer, but as a human being. As a reader, it is one thing to connect to your favorite writer based on their work. But when you get to know them as an ordinary person, that is where magic happens.
Some people know from an early age that they are going to change the world. Others simply change their world by being a decent human being and seeing the injustice that is forced on others.
The new Eleanor Roosevelt biography, titled Eleanor, was written by David Michaelis. Published last fall, this is an extensive womb to tomb biography of the late former First Lady. Born in 1884 in New York City to the wealthy and respected Roosevelt family, her childhood was not a happy one. She lost both of her parents and her younger brother by the she was a teenager. As a young woman, she married her fifth cousin and future President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Their marriage not all sunshine and roses. But it became the platform she needed to become one of the greatest social justice warriors of the 20th century. Whether or not she knew it, Eleanor was a proto-feminist while serving as First Lady. Instead of quietly following in the footsteps of her predecessors, she became an activist. While other women were just starting to step out of the traditionally female world, she jumped whole heartedly into the causes she believed in.
This book is a masterpiece. It is gripping, entertaining, and humanizes a giant of American history. I will warn however, that it is far from a short read. But it is completely worth it, taking the reader behind the public image to see real woman behind the myth.
Political memoirs and autobiographies are an interesting subgenre. The perspective of the subject and their actions while in and out of office is often based on where the reader is on the political spectrum.
Former President Barack Obama published the first volume of his memoirs, A Promised Land last fall. The reader is taken on a journey from the President’s early days to the ups and downs of his first term. When we meet the future President at the beginning of the story, he is a young man who is driven and intelligent, but listless. As he matures, marries, starts his family, and his career in politics, he starts to become the man we know him to be today.
After four years of the chaos and noise of you know who, it is a pleasure to hear from a President who is thoughtful, well spoken, and at the very least listens and considers the opinions of others. What I appreciated was his honesty, especially on subjects that are controversial and/or complicated. It takes an adult to be open and candid, especially when dealing with the difficulties that are thrown our way.