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Archive for the tag “World War II”

Review: The Book Thief

Image from the NY Times Book Review, published March 27, 2006.

In her review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin writes, ” “The Book Thief” is perched on the cusp between grown-up and young-adult fiction, and it is loaded with librarian appeal. It deplores human misery. It celebrates the power of language. It may encourage adolescents to read. It has an element of the fanciful. And it’s a book that bestows a self-congratulatory glow upon anyone willing to grapple with it.” [Full review]

The Book Thief is a rare work of literature indeed, dancing on the line between adult and young adult literature, yes, but dealing with topics of death, of hope, of loss, of ethics, and yes, of literacy. The narrator is death, the time and place Nazi Germany, a horrifying combination until you realize Zusak’s touch is both tactful and realistic. At times the narrator switches back and forth between his perspective and that of the characters, even interupting himself to provide a bit of clarification.

There are both breathtaking and heartrending descriptions throughout the narrative. Death describes colors using smells and vice versa. At points, it turns graphic novel as we read a books written for Liesel.

Not every moment in the book is spot on. It drifts here and there. But that does not at all hinder it from being one of the finest works of literature I’ve read, and among the most creative. For that reason, and so many others, I give The Book Thief and its celebration of the written word five stars.


Library Loot: August 15-21

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky (at Claire’s page this week) any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I’ve been on a bit of a library hiatus, trying not to fill my books with things that aren’t Summer Reading Challenge books or things I need to read and review, but I genuinely missed my weekly library trips, so I decided to reincorporate it into my routine. I reserved a few, and found one I couldn’t help but pick up off the Express (7 day) Shelf. Here’s the loot…

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeline Albright was my express pick. Prague Winter was actually my express pick- I really wonder if I’ll be able to complete it in the short 7 day time frame, but I’d like to try. Albright weaves the history of Czechoslovakia in War War II with her own families plight, creating what promises to be an engaging narrative.

I Begin My Life All Over: The Hmong and the American Immigrant Experience by Lillian Faderman is an oral history of Hmong refugees from the country of Laos. It came up as a recommendation on Goodreads…and while I am not sure what book the recommendation was based on, I was intrigued enough to request it from the local library.  It has some excellent reviews, and thoughtfully discusses some critical issues related to immigration.

Help Wanted: Tales from the First Job Front by Sydney Lewis documents the stories of 25 young adults and their first full time jobs. Again, this utilizes the format of oral history as individuals tell their stories. I work in higher education, and recently I’ve observed a number of graduates making their transition from full-time students to full-time employees. It can be a challenging transition, and I am interested to see how it plays out in the histories presented by Sydney Lewis.


Review: On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood

As I was preparing my Summer Reading Challenge list, one of the books that I had seen listed on another blog was On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by Irmgard Hunt. I found myself intrigued by the title, and added it to my list, and this past weekend, I had the opportunity to finish it.

According to Goodreads, “Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden — just steps from Adolf Hitler’s alpine retreat — Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war — and a few brave adults who opposed the Nazi regime — aroused in her skepticism of National Socialist ideology and the Nazi propaganda she was taught to believe in.

In May 1945, an eleven-year-old Hunt watched American troops occupy Hitler’s mountain retreat, signaling the end of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. As the Nazi crimes began to be accounted for, many Germans tried to deny the truth of what had occurred; Hunt, in contrast, was determined to know and face the facts of her country’s criminal past.”

Hunt’s memoir goes beyond simply a recollection of the events of her childhood, it also attempts to analyze and reconcile them, as well as distance the person she is from the atrocities of war. Raised in a home where both parents had seen and experienced in the devastation of World War I, her parents eagerly embraced the ideology of Hitler. Hunt joined the Bund Deutscher Mädel (The League of German Girls) and supported the war effort. She and her family went hungry, were forced to loot and scrounge for food, and feared the oppression of the U.S. Troops as they rolled in.
As the atrocities of war came out, Hunt found herself uncomfortable with the acts that had been committed, and was appalled by the acceptance of some and denial by others.

This theme- her reactions to the horrors of World War II committed by Germany, carries through to the end of the book. She is clear that while she was raised in Nazi Germany, she does not support the atrocities committed, nor the ideologies behind them.

Its the first time I’ve ever read a memoir of World War II from the perspective of a German who was not persecuted by the Nazi Regime, and it was certainly an interesting change of perspective. I think what struck me, particularly at the end, was how hard Hunt was working to convince her readers that she was not a Nazi for having grown up in Germany during the war. Her memoir is powerful, but instead of allowing her memories to speak for themselves, she felt the need to defend them. To some extent I understand, but it also seemed to take away from all that she said, which is why I give the book three stars.

Review: Flight From Berlin

Flight From Berlin by David John ranks among the best suspense and thriller novels I have read this summer. Eleanor Emerson, the daughter of a U.S. Senator, a wild socialite, and a U.S. Olympic swimmer thrown off the team for her conduct enroute to Germany is caught in a whirlwind romance and game of espionage with Richard Denahm, a cynical British reporter covering the Olympic games and Germany’s darkening climate in Berlin before the start of World War II. The story takes place against the backdrop of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, narrating the stunning wins of Jessie Owens, and revealing the shadow of Hitler over Europe at that time.

Admittedly, I wasn’t excited about this book at first. It moved slow, and I didn’t initially like Eleanor. She was a rebellious socialite who seems drawn to scandals, but once in Germany and genuinely facing the darkness of what others in Germany are facing, she becomes more than a caricature.

John seems to have done a great deal of research for the novel. He included a number of interesting historical details, such as information about the Hindenburg, and cameos some important historical figures. He maintains an excellent grasp of history, while still moving forward the plot with its incredible twists and turns.

I give Flight From Berlin, David John’s debut novel, four stars. An interesting read and a wild ride through history.

Review: The Swiss Courier

I picked up The Swiss Courier by Trisha Goyer & Mike Yorkey because it looked interesting, and there happened to be a copy in my local library system. The Swiss Courier is about Gabi Mueller, a young woman living in Switzerland in World War II who has dual citizenship in the United States and Switzerland, although she appears to have been raised in Switzerland. Her language skills have landed her a high stakes job in translation, and recently she has become involved in the espionage office in hopes of helping the Allies win the war.

Things have begun escalating in Germany following an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler’s life, including pressure on the scientists working on the “wonder bomb” that German leadership hopes will end the war in their favor. Gabi becomes intertwined in the drama, her life increasingly at risk as she becomes involved in the escape of a German physicist.

There is a lot that set up this book to be amazing. In the introduction, they mention the failed assassination attempt on Hitler (portrayed in the movie Valkyrie) and note that impact was that the Gestapos search to root out those who did not agree with the Third Reich was amplified. But if that was meant to explain how the characters in the book handled things, the connection was lost on me. Names and historical facts were dropped in an attempt to connect things, but with little finesse, and no explanation of how things connected. The side plots, such as Deitrich Baumann’s treachery, seemed interesting but really took away from the main plot.

Overall, I’d give this book just one star.

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