Thursday, April 28, 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was HereBritt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a HUGE fan of Fredrik Backman and his first novel, A Man Called Ove. I also read his second novel, My Grandmother Told Me to Say She's Sorry and I am still a fan. The author is Swedish and published the book in Swedish. I don't know how the translation worked but it is absolutely charming and still hilarious. The details make the book much more enjoyable.

Britt-Marie is a character from "My Grandmother..." Last we saw of her, she was driving off in a car. This is her story, continued. Britt-Marie has a story. Britt-Marie loves order. She loves cleanliness and rules. She hasn't done anything on her own in a very long time. She loves the solidity of having a husband to take care of her. But she left him.

Now Britt-Marie is in a different village. Not a town. Town is 12 miles that way. She is out of her element but seeking the rules to make sense of this new setting. So she goes to the store to buy window cleaner. A certain brand. She needs to clean her new surroundings. But there are problems with everything she does. Mostly in the form of children. Many of these children are so hungry for adult attention, Britt-Marie finds herself in the odd situation of Being in Charge of a Sports Team.

Over the course of the book, Britt-Marie maintains her personality but softens a bit towards those who don't always practice excellent social skills or hygiene. She finds an unlikely friend in an unsavory teenager who has an order to him that she admires. She finds another friend in a woman who seems to run the village. She likes to drink a lot and she's wheelchair bound. She is referred to as "Someone."

The story of Britt-Marie is a good one. We discover why Britt-Marie is the way she is and what happens in the village. But, once again, the enjoyment of Britt-Marie is the way the story is told. Fredrik Backman is a genius.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos

Fever at DawnFever at Dawn by Péter Gárdos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather than a book about the horrors of being Jewish in Europe during WWII, this is a story of the author's parents after the war, both having just barely survived different concentration camps. The story is told through letters the author's mother gave him after his father died, supplemented, I assume, by guessing.

Easy read. Mostly uplifting.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for WomenRavensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a really long time to read. I had to put it down for a few months. It is incredibly well researched and the author pulls no punches. The book is historical but told in categories and chronology. Ravensbruck was a concentration camp in eastern Germany built to "re-educate" women. In the beginning, the prisoners were mostly political and asocials. A large majority were Polish.

Of particular interest, Himmler allowed medical experiments to be performed on 76 young, healthy women, beginning with introduction of foreign objects in their legs to copy shrapnel. Additionally, bacteria, tetanus, typhus, staff were also administered to the women. Eventually, the doctors did experiments that removed bones, muscles, ligaments, to see if they would grow back, maiming the women permanently. Those who lived, lived under the protection of other prisoners. At all costs, the "rabbits" were to survive and show the world what had been done to them. Their physical maiming was an archetype of the abuse the women suffered every day.

So then I put it down for a few months.

In the interim, I picked up a historical fiction called Lilac Girls and recognized names from Ravensbruck. I used Ravensbruck as a reference and found myself reading it again. Ravensbruck is also the camp where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy, were held.

The difference between this and other books about Ravensbruck is that this book is not one single experience but a broad overview of the camp as told by hundreds of sources. The author writes about the historical holes that previously existed about Ravensbruck because it was liberated by the Russians (by liberated, I mean that the Russians arrived and raped and pillaged the camp and town) then fell under communist rule. The Polish rabbits that returned to Poland, returned to a country run by Stalin and the Stasi. The Russian prisoners were advised to never speak of it. Many first hand accounts were destroyed or died in the Gulags.

It is the best and most comprehensive book I have read about Ravensbruck. For an uplifting perspective on forgiveness, read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. For a well researched book including hundreds of perspectives, read this one.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me OnceFool Me Once by Harlan Coben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Typical Harlan Coban; well written, multiple possibilities, strong protagonist that does not give up, and a surprise ending. I'm going to add that Coban writes a good thriller/ crime novel that is readable and does not contain the usual filler colorful metaphors. If one of my teenagers decided to pick this up and start reading, I'd not be running for my white out pen. His command of the English language is such that it never has to sink to the gutter level.

There is a crime or two or three or four. Enough details are shared to get the picture yet less is more. The reader is not traumatized by all the gory details. Maya's sister was tortured and murdered. Details? Unnecessary. It's an adult crime book. The author leaves the details to the reader. And that is the way of Coban's writing. He's telling a story, revealing clues and possibilities away. Not trying to shock or gag the reader. I really appreciate that.

It's a solid 4 and a half star book.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm many months back. It is very well researched and written and I'm sure I'll give it a solid 5 stars. I read the chapters on the "Rabbit" research then one more chapter and decided I just needed a break.

Lilac Girls is told first person POV by three women. Caroline Ferriday, an amazing woman in New York City, who caught the attention of the author years ago, after Caroline had passed. Herta Oberhauser, the only female doctor at Ravensbruck who took part in the experimental surgery under Goebels (sp?) who also stood trial in Nuremberg after the war. The last progonist is Kasia, a Polish girl who was captured in her hometown of Lublin and sent to Ravensbruck and was later selected as a "Rabbit." Kasia's story is true but a conglomeration of people that were "Rabbits" at the time.

I found the book very addicting from the very beginning without knowing that I was returning to my Ravensbruk reading. Yet the moment I got to the Ravensbruck parts, I began recognizing names and events. This led me back to the original book I was reading and I re-read those two or three chapters. Dorothea Binz was truly sadistic. Less was known about Herta, as a person, but I liked the way Kelly fleshed her character out to be the one she was. The author stays true to all things known of Dr. Oberhauser and only creates scenes that strengthen what is already known yet adds depth to her character. I liked that the author did not try to make her out as an evil villain yet also did not try to change her true character to be one that was empathetic. She was he who she was and I thought the author did a wonderful job of adding the depth.

The book does not go into the same detail as historical documents which makes it easier to stomach. It's still a difficult read during the concentration camp days but is broken up by scenes of Caroline Ferriday in New York which is a much needed reprieve. Caroline is, by no means, a shallow socialite, yet she becomes much more conscientious as her character develops. She is likable from the get-go.

The author adds a note at the end of the book which explains much of what I have just summarized but the story came about when she found an article on Caroline Ferriday and, upon further research, realized that Caroline was an unsung hero. Her objective was to bring Caroline to the attention of the reader but in doing so, she also needed to include Herta and the experiments in Ravensbruck. I'd say she did an extraordinary job.