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Lori

Rise of the Third Reich

posted by: May 24, 2012 - 6:01am

HitlerlandWhy? How? Who hasn’t posed these questions when learning about Adolph Hitler, Nazism’s demonic agendas, and the passivity of world powers like the United States in the face of Germany’s aggressive militancy? In Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, author Andrew Nagorski provides insight into the ascension of  Hitler through  first person accounts of American reporters, foreign service officials, and other prominent US citizens living and working abroad.

 

Comparisons between Hitlerland and Erik Larson’s bestselling In the Garden of Beasts are inevitable as both books concern themselves with Hitler and his National Socialists’ power grab in the period leading up to World War II.  While Larson’s book focuses primarily on viewing history through the eyes of the US Ambassador William Dodd and his soon-to-be infamous daughter Martha, Nagorski documents his story with varied voices such as author Sinclair Lewis and his journalist wife Dorothy Thompson, historian William Shirer, reporter Edgar Mowrer and diplomat Truman Smith.  The cast of characters named in Larson’s book, such as self-avowed half-American Hitler confidante Putzi Hanfstaengl, reappears in Hitlerland but Nagorski fleshes out their stories and places them into the bigger picture. Nagorski excels at explaining the back story of Nazi Germany, looking at the humiliating German defeat in WWI, the conditions imposed under the Treaty of Versailles, the deterioration of the Germany economy, and the decline of moral standards a la Cabaret. He also details the casually anti-Semitic attitudes of the times both in Europe and in the United States.   The book’s timeline is a rather straightforward chronology which contributes to an ease of understanding the events in context and the cumulative effect of primary source material conveys the horror building in the fatherland. Hitlerland is an excellent choice for history buffs and neophytes alike.


 
 

A Grown-up Ghost Story

posted by: May 7, 2012 - 1:00am

The Haunting of Maddy ClareSometimes, nothing beats a good spooky story; the kind of tale that might make you turn the light on in a dark hallway before you go upstairs, or maybe double check that your doors are locked before you head off to bed. Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a ghost story with a romantic twist. Struggling to make ends meet, quiet Sarah Piper accepts an unusual assignment through her temp agency in post WWI London. Her job? Assist war-scarred ghost hunters Alistair Gellis and sidekick Matthew Ryder who are investigating the spirit of a servant girl who committed suicide in a countryside barn.  It just so happens that this particular spirit despises men, necessitating Sarah’s involvement in both communicating with Maddy Clare and solving the mystery of her death.

 

St. James’ writing style is lovely in this, her debut novel, and her choice of words and phrasing easily evoke the early twentieth century as narrated by Sarah.  The author is as skilled in describing rural England or some stylish period women’s wear as she is relaying the frightening atmosphere in the haunted barn or the suspicion of the chilly villagers. Unlike last summer’s supernatural-themed hit, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, this story is often creepy and sinister and has more in common with 2009’s Booker shortlisted The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  A page-turner to the end, pick up The Haunting of Maddy Clare knowing this one will be difficult to put down.


 
 

“Family, dogs, land, woods…

posted by: April 27, 2012 - 1:10am

The World As We Know Itrivers, fish, fire, words.”  These are the choices of author Joseph Monninger when asked to describe his life in eight words.  These same words all figure prominently in Monninger’s newest novel The World as We Know It.  The story opens as brothers Ed and Allard Keer, young teens living along the Baker River in New Hampshire, rescue Sarah Patrick after she has fallen through the ice in the river; Sarah, in turn, saves Allard as he nearly drowns underneath the ice during the same rescue.  The trio becomes inseparable and the family theme is evident as Monninger explores the sibling, friendship, and romantic aspects of their relationships.

 

This quiet book is beautifully written.  Its style is reminiscent of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety or Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River for both the almost reverent approach to nature writing as well as the keen examination of close relationships. The landscape descriptions are evocative and nature becomes not just the backdrop for the story but an omnipresent fourth character exerting its influence over the brothers and Sarah.  An environmentalist bent is evident but not at all strident as arctic ice melt, homing pigeons, fly fishing, and animal cruelty are touched upon.  Just as an accident on the river serves to bring the three children together, another clash with nature acts as the catalyst to break them apart as adults.  The second part of the book deals with the aftermath of tragedy and the process of grieving and its impact on longstanding familial and romantic ties.  A lovely piece of fiction, The World as We Know It is an insightful, interesting story and would serve as an excellent book club selection. 


 
 

A Thousand Words

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 2:34pm

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little RockA naked Vietnamese girl crying and running, JFK saluting at his father’s funeral, an anguished scream over a prostrate body at Kent State; these iconic photos capture moments which illustrate the turbulence of the mid-twentieth century. Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick explores another seminal photograph taken on September 4, 1957 as black Elizabeth Eckford attempts to enter, and integrate, Little Rock, Arkansas’ heretofore all white Central High. In this instantly recognizable image, petite Elizabeth, dressed in crisp white with a binder clutched to her chest, is followed by fellow student, white Hazel Bryan. Hazel is rigid with anger, mouth open, teeth bared.

 

Elizabeth was part of the Little Rock Nine; she was one of nine black teens carefully chosen to integrate the high school as a result of Brown v. Board of Education.  Margolick relates the backstory of the girls in the picture but he also writes of the women those girls became and the ripple effect of the photograph and events surrounding it on the pair.  As adults, Hazel reaches out to Elizabeth to apologize for her actions memorialized on film and the two woman forge a tentative friendship. Each finds her life forever impacted by the photograph, despite Hazel’s assertion that “life is more than a moment.”

 

Margolick’s writing style allows history and the women’s stories to take center stage in this book. Not surprisingly, Elizabeth’s recollections are particularly poignant; in one, she relates thinking the National Guard had been called out to protect her as she walked to school rather than to barr her entrance as they’d been ordered to do.  Elizabeth and Hazel goes beyond the confines of a picture to bring a personal look at two woman, the civil rights struggle and the fragility of forgiveness and reconciliation. For additional reading in a similar vein, try Norma Watkins’ memoir The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure.

 


 
 

Strangers in a Strange Land

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 9:13am

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of ForgetfulnessWhen A Crocodile Eats the SunWhite Woman on the Green Bicycle

The sun eventually did set on the British empire.  The process of its descent makes for some interesting reading in both novels and non-fiction books as authors explore the impact of the withdrawal of British rule on non-native families living abroad.

 

Author Alexandra Fuller’s latest book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an account of her parents’ migration from the British Isles to east Africa and is the story of immigrants adapting to and adopting a new country and adjusting once again as British colonialism yields to self-rule.  Fuller’s mother, especially, has a voice in this book as the family moves throughout east Africa’s farming communities.

 

The same themes of family history intertwined with recent African history are carried out in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin.  Godwin, a journalist now living in the United States, was raised in Rhodesia; he and his sister left the country but his parents remained even as Robert Mugabe rose to power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.   Godwin’s description of his aged parents’ life under Mugabe’s rule is harrowing but he, as does Fuller, conveys the attachment of his parents to a country  which has become inhospitable and often dangerously hostile to them.

 

Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle examines the marriage of a white couple, George and Sabine Harwood, living in Trinidad.  The newlywed Harwoods arrive on the island in 1956 as George has been offered a three year employment contract.  Sabine, wilting under the heat and culture shock, can’t wait to return to England but George thrives as an Englishman living in a British colony and refuses to leave.  Broken promises figure in both the Harwood marriage and Trinidad’s move to independence and this Orange prize short-lister blend of fiction and fact is an interesting window into a lesser-known former British colony.


 
 

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