Growing up is never simple. We are often faced with challenges that force us to make difficult choices or face a reality that we would prefer not to.
Eternal, by Lisa Scottoline, was published earlier this year. Growing up in Rome, Marco, Sandro, and Elisabetta have been best friends since they were young. Marco is the son of a former cyclist and ardent follower of Benito Mussolini. Elisabetta was raised in an artistically inclined family, Her dream is to become a novelist. Sandro is Jewish and a promising mathematics genius.
Soon, they will all be tested. As a Jew, Sandro’s world becomes ever restricted by the antisemiticNazi race laws. Marco gets involved in local government and Elisabetta must fend for herself. Everything and everyone they know will become unrecognizable, forcing all of them into adulthood and the complications that arise from this transition.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a reminder that the Holocaust extended to the whole of Europe. The Jews of Southern Europe were a target as much as their Central and Eastern Europe co-religionists. What was different was that Rome’s non-Jewish community did not wholeheartedly accept the ideology of the German invaders. There were many who maintained friendships with their Jewish friends and neighbors while helping them in whatever way they could.
Though it is not a quick read, it is well worth the time it takes to complete the novel. I was quickly engrossed in the tale and the changing relationship between the main characters.
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.
From afar, it may seem that America was the superhero who swooped in to save the day during World War II. The reality is that our country has its own sins to grapple with from the era, i.e. the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Their lives are both upended by World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Alex, his family and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans are forced out of their homes and into interment camps. For the next few years, his home is the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because she is Jewish, Charlie must grapple with tightning noose that is coming over close to her neck and every neck of of Jewish person in Europe.
This book is really good. What kept me reading was the relationship that changed as the protaganists grew up and faced challenges that would destroy many adults. The details make the narrative jump off the page and hook the reader until very end. It is a marvelous read that hilights a dark time in our history that is not even a century old.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II is avaliable wherever books are sold.
As we get farther away from 1945, those who lived through and can speak to the first-hand events of World War II and the Holocaust are leaving us in greater numbers. It is, therefore (in my humble opinion), incumbent on the living generation to tell share the stories of those who lived through this horrific time.
I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz, by Gisela Perl, was published in 1948. It was one of the first memoirs from a survivor of the Final Solution, Perl was a gynecologist whose entire family was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz. Cruelly forced to “practice” medicine, she did her best to save as many lives as possible when death was ever-present. She leaves no gruesome and violent detail unturned. The bloodlust and sadism of her captors were endless, they took immense pleasure in torturing the prisoners and depriving them of every aspect of humanity.
If I were to generate a list of books that we should all read, this one would be near the top of the list. It is in your face and heartbreaking. If the only way to prevent another Holocaust is to share the narratives of those who lived through it, then this memoir should be on everyone’s TBR list.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz is available wherever books are sold.
One of the offshoots of war is being forced to grow up quickly. Childhood quickly changes to adulthood when a young person must make decisions that would in peacetime, be made years later.
The Winter Guest: A Novel by Pam Jenoff, was published in 2014. In a small town in Poland during World War II, eighteen-year-old Polish-Catholic twins Ruth and Helena Nowak are no longer living as carefree teenagers. With their father dead and their mother hospitalized, the girls are both parenting themselves and their younger siblings. Adding insult to injury, the war is creating shortages and making a hard life even harder.
Things change when Helena rescues Sam, an American Jewish soldier. She quickly falls in love with him, and he with her. Her time with him threatens to break the tight bond between the sisters. They create a plan for the entire family to escape to safety. When they are betrayed, the consequences will have an effect well beyond that place and moment in time.
Jenoff does it again. This story is searing, romantic, powerful, and proof that love truly can overcome hate. I love that the protagonists are young women who are not waiting to be rescued, they do their own figurative rescuing. The book is amazing and I would read it again in a heartbeat.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
The Winter Guest: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.
As the war rages on, children are being evacuated from the cities to the country. Frank (Lucas Bond) is a young boy who needs a temporary home. Begrudgingly, Alice takes him in. As they start to grow on one another, we flash back to Alice’s past and her relationship with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
It’s a really sweet story about love, acceptance, and opening your heart to someone whom you never expected to. The casting is top-notch and the film is entirely watchable. It is also a reminder that love is love is love, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
After the Holocaust and World War II ended, many who survived the Nazi occupation wanted nothing more than to move on this with their lives. This meant keeping their wartime experiences a secret from the post-war families.
Growing up in Vienna, Eva’s childhood ended when the Nazis invaded. She would eventually arrive in America as a refugee, but not before going through what no child should experience. The book is a tale of trauma, survival, and circumstances that would test the strongest among us.
This book is really good. Metz has not only perfectly captured the emotions of her mother as a young girl, but also goes on a journey of her own while walking in Eva/Eve’s footsteps.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind is available wherever books are sold.
During wartime, there are multiple ways of fighting an invading enemy. One way is doing combat on the battlefield. The other is joining the resistance and fighting in ways that are not obvious to the naked eye.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, was published last year It starts in 2005. Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian living in Florida. While putting her books away, she is drawn to an article in the New York Times. Within the article is the image of a book that Eva has not seen in decades-The Book of Lost Names. It describes the libraries that were looted by the Nazis and the attempt by modern-day authorities to return the books to their rightful owners. The book in the photograph contains a code that researchers are unable to crack. But Eva knows its secret.
The narrative flashes back to 1942. Eva was then a young woman living in Paris with her whole life ahead of her. But because she and her family are Jewish, there is a target on all of their backs. When her father is taken away, Eva and her mother escape to a small town in rural France that is not yet under Nazi control.
Joining the resistance, she starts forging documents for Jewish children who are trying to get to Switzerland. But this kind of work is dangerous in both the physical and emotional sense. Eva starts to fall for Remy, a young man with a handsome face and a charming demeanor. To save the real identities of the young ones she is trying to save, their real names are recorded in The Book of Lost Names. This work becomes even more important when Remy disappears and their network is betrayed.
As usual, Harmel writes in a way that is entertaining, readable and teaches the audience without hitting them over the head. As the main character, Eva is a compelling heroine. The story is absorbing and exciting. My problem is that the romance overwhelms the narrative. It almost felt like the love story took prominence over the war. I get that Eva is young and falling in love is part of being young, but I wish the emphasis was a bit more on the danger of their work.
Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.
The Book of Lost Names is available wherever books are sold.
The book starts in the middle of World War II. It looks like the Allies are fighting a losing battle. In England, a plan is concocted to create a commando of unlikely recruits: young Jewish men who are refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. None of them have had any previous military training. Most have been classified as “enemy aliens” due to being born in either Germany or Austria. In addition to being suspected of possibly spying for the other side, these young men have lost everything: their families, their homes, and everything/everyone they held near and dear.
Known as the X Troop, they take on new identities, are trained in secret, and have one goal: to defeat the Nazis. For these soldiers: the fight is personal. They are fighting for their homeland, fighting for the ones they love, and for justice.
The best way to describe the narrative is sort of real-life Inglorious Basterds. It was an amazing book. Dr. Garrett writes in a way that is accessible, readable, and, most importantly, a history lesson we should all learn. It reinforces the idea that European Jews were not just lambs to the slaughter. They fought in whatever capacity they could. From a personal stance, it gives me hope that there are good people out there, even in the midst of antisemitism, hate, and prejudice.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II is available wherever books are sold.
P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the States. May the men and women who gave their lives for this nation (even with its imperfections) forever be a blessing. Z”L
*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).
*I apologize for not posting last weekend. There is only so much that can be done in a day.
*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the movie A League of Their Own. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
When a businessperson starts a new venture, the outcome is unknown. The only objective is to increase the bottom line. In A League of Their Own, Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) is the CEO of a candy company. With the men away fighting in World War II, he sees an opportunity in helping to establish the AAGPBL. Though he sees an economic opportunity, he does not know that he is creating an important crack in the glass ceiling.
When the teams are not doing as well as hoped, Walter and the other owners want to fold. But Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) sees its potential and takes over running the organization, creating the success that the original owners could not see.
Walter is both a man of his time and a CEO whose job is to keep his company open. He cannot understand or see that what he is doing is opening the door for future generations of women to spread their wings.
Which is why he is a memorable character.
This will be my last character review post for A League of Their Own. Come back next weekend to find out the next set of characters that I will be reviewing,