Monday, August 31, 2015

A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany by Sigrid MacRae

A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime GermanyA World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany by Sigrid MacRae
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book is a narrative of the author's parents that she pieced together through letters her mother gave her. Sigrid discovered a very different snapshot of the parents she knew and put their choices and circumstances into a different perspective. It was also a different perspective for this reader. Sigrid paints a picture of her mother's lonely, motherless childhood, feeling exiled and apart. Although affluent, she lacked connection with family beyond an uncle that gave her much love and laughter. It is not difficult to understand how Aimée makes her decision to join the big, wonderful family of Heinrich, a displaced Russian living in Germany, and add to their family and love.

Heinrich's family history is much more difficult to grasp as my Russian history comprehension is spotty, at best. Yet understanding this history is key to understanding Heinrich's decisions. The short version is that the family were tsarists at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. To survive they had to leave their beloved family home and settle in a new country, leaving nearly everything behind. They were displaced and hungry yet grateful to be together. Papa, highly educated and experienced, took a menial job in a toothpaste factory. Heinrich was sent to Sorbonne as a hope for the future where he met and married Aimée, eventually earning a Ph.D. Fluent in four languages, greatly educated and highly driven, he was unable to find work. Unfortunately, the Great Depression was in full force. Politically, the Versailles Treaty had left Germany impotent and the people helpless and hopeless, the perfect breeding ground for a man like Hitler.

Heinrich was driven to reclaim his ancestral home in Russia which led him the Russian front. The man was a cock-eyed optimist and go getter with the solid belief that it would work out. What he discovered in Russia was also eye opening. Conscripted Russians were little more than men and boys with no idea why they were fighting. Russia was far from unified and they only soldiered up to not be shot as traitors. On the German side, it became clear that Nazi was a political party but that the Germans on the Eastern front were not Hitler advocates. Their objective was not to take over the world or Aryanize Russia. They believed in Germany and her future but already knew Hitler was a crackpot. Yet reclaiming ancestral land was a noble objective. Driving closer to Moscow was taking it too far but they were already in too deep. The rest is history, as they say.

The second half of the book had me completely hooked. I much preferred the narrative of Aimée and her plight to save her six children and herself. Finding herself on the potentially Russian side of Germany, she had many obstacles to overcome. Her American citizenship gave her no reprieve. Worse, to many she was a traitor. This was interesting since Aimée's life consisted of little more than caring for her family, her farm, and wearing herself out at home. Politics were peripheral to survival. Yet this woman, who began as a somewhat spoiled girl , who found solace in extended family, joy in creating her own family, showed grit that in the worst of circumstances with an eye single to protecting her children.

A very good book. Second half much more engaging but first half is necessary for author to understand her father and her parents' early relationship. Beautifully written.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Girl from the TrainThe Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.75 stars

The story is a different perspective on WWII. The girl is Gretel, age 6, and is only on the train for a small moment at the beginning of the book. Her grandmother pushes her out while en route. Gretel is a quarter Jewish but also German. She ends up in Poland and is taken in by a young man named Jacob. This is her story of being orphaned by the war and by her country. Is she Jewish, German, or Polish? Placed in an orphanage for her own safety, she becomes eligible for an adoption program where Aryan children are sent to South Africa and placed in homes within settlements. This is new information for me. Of course there would be oodles of German orphans after WWII. What happened to them? This is a story of one girl who went through many transformations and integrations. It was an interesting perspective and one I enjoyed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Hummingbird

The HummingbirdThe Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read The Curiosity and, in retrospect, remembered the story very well yet couldn't remember why I enjoyed it so much. Upon completion of The Hummingbird, I can guess it was the pace, characters, timing, and symbolism.

The Hummingbird tells three stories. All three are vastly different yet they tie in beautifully with one another and smooth over the biggest questions of life, love, death, and forgiveness.

Professor Barclay Reed is an intelligent and bitter old man, dying alone with only the help of hospice. He has a history and he has a story to tell. Deb is the hospice worker he chooses to trust. He shares his story based on a personal struggle Deb is having. Deb is struggling to help her husband really come home from the Middle East where he was a sniper. Through Professor Reed's story, a symbolism is borne. Through the symbolism, Deborah interprets the real life counterparts.

I enjoyed the story because, through Deb, the reader understands the beauty of living and dying. Also that suffering brings clarity and circumstances may change but we will be okay. We won't be the same but we will experience happiness again someday.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

We Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

We Never Asked for Wings: A NovelWe Never Asked for Wings: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a rather uncomfortable book to read but not for reasons you might think. Letty, the protagonist, had a lot of hope before she found herself pregnant when she was about to leave for college. She made the difficult decision to keep the baby, not tell her boyfriend (he was med school bound), and began the downward spiral of her life. Now at 32, she is still a single mother with two children, living with her mother, and irresponsible. She allowed her mother to take over her parental roles. The problem arises when her father returns to Mexico. Shortly after that, her mother follows and makes Letty return to her home and children.

The story follows Letty as she is on the verge of staying in poverty, allowing her children to grow up without the opportunities she wants for them or stepping up. Yet how does one step up when she has little skills, no education past high school, and has no more safety net? Rather than write a character that magically changes, the reader joins Letty on her journey to make changes, small as they are, to give her children something more. And it's really hard.

The story addresses the difference in geography and school districts, how poverty begets poverty, how difficult it is to break out of it, and legal and illegal immigration. Letty has a hard life but she doesn't have to try to live below the radar of ICE like other characters in the book. This is very well written and I liked the ending.