About thebooklookery

I started the blog thebooklookery at the suggestion of a friend who noticed the prolific literary oriented posts I make on my personal fb page. thebooklookery will feature reviews of an eclectic reading list of my own choosing, along with occasional posts regarding all things literary. I look forward to your following thebooklookery, and any comments you may make on the blog!

A Lookery at: “My Name Was Five: A Novel of the Second World War” by Heinz Kohler

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My Name Was Five:  A Novel of World War II

Heinz Kohler

Mill City Press, 1979, 2004, 2009

$17.95

I am a big fan of World War II literature, both fiction and non-fiction. “My Name Was Five: A Novel of the Second World War” by Heinz Kohler is an excellent example of the blending of fact and fiction about the Second World War as viewed from the perspective of a young boy (Hans) who was born at the time that Hitler came into power.

Hans, his mother and his younger brother Helmut spend most of the war living in Berlin. His father is in a concentration camp for being a political enemy of the Nazi regime, but is released when it becomes apparent that more men are needed to keep the German war machine in action. An exceptionally bright boy, Hans is intellectually encouraged from a very young age by his mother, father and Aunt Martel. Naturally curious, he asks dangerous questions about Nazi policies and eavesdrops on conversations that are not meant for little boys. However, it is obvious that his parents, their friends and some of their family do not buy the Nazi rhetoric. They listen to illegal broadcasts from the BBC as often as possible. Hans collects handbills, posters, newspaper articles and propaganda about the war and Nazi policies. Throughout the book, much of this type of material is reproduced.

When Hans first attends school, he and his classmates are assigned seats according to their academic abilities. Hans sits in seat five, near the top of his class, and is thereafter called “Five” and not Hans, until his classroom status moves up or down. Even at school, which is run along party lines, Hans asks intelligent, controversial questions and writes thoughtful essays that often perplex and infuriate his teachers. His best friend, Dieter does not excel academically, but the boys are nearly inseparable. When disaster strikes Dieter, Hans’ life changes, and the episode haunts him for the rest of his life.

Eventually Hans, Helmut and their mother leave Berlin to live in a village that is relatively safe from Allied attacks. However, in the village, as in Berlin, aunts and uncles who support the Nazis make life difficult for Hans’ family. When the Russians liberate his village, the town becomes part of East Germany and is under Communist control. These same family members jump ship and become supportive of the new government, while Hans and his parents continue to doubt and question the new regime. Under the Stalinist rule, Hans is one of the very few students selected to attend high school away from his home in the village, thanks to the pull of an uncle who has become mayor of the little town.

Once Hans graduates from high school, his family makes a daring decision that saves them from a life of repression. But the wartime experience continues to cause trouble Hans for decades to come.

Written from an unusual point of view, “My Name Was Five: A Novel of the Second World War” is fascinating in its details and insight into the life of Germans that were not supportive of Hitler’s policies, trying to survive first in a war-torn city that is the seat of power for the Nazi government, and later, in a village absorbed into a new country with a different, and equally repressive form of government. As the population of the WWII generation ages and passes on, it seems that more information is being revealed, shedding light on how average citizens were affected by this horrific time in history. Heinz Kohler writes an amazing account of a child’s exposure to war that should not be missed.

Five eyes from thebooklookery.

A Lookery at: Laura Moriarty’s “The Chaperone”

The Chaperone

Laura Moriarty

Penguin Books (2012)

$26.95

The Chaperone, written by Laura Moriarty, is billed by many sources as one of this summer’s “must-reads”. This title was high on my reading list, so when it was featured as a Kindle Daily Deal at a fraction of the price of a hardback, I snatched it up and downloaded it immediately.

Setting off on an adventure of a lifetime, Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone teenager Louise Brooks on a six week visit to New York City, where Louise intends to study dance with the famed Denishawn Dance Company. Thirty-six-year-old Cora is a well-regarded woman in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas. She is married, the mother of twin boys bound for college in the fall.

Louise Brooks is fifteen, beautiful, arrogant and sexually precocious, and is anxious to leave the cultural confines of the Midwest. Louise sees no need for a chaperone, and defies convention from the moment she and Cora step foot in the Wichita train station. Her seductive nature and actions become even more pronounced as the women travel further east.

Cora has her own secrets and motives for visiting New York in the summer of 1922, known only to her husband. She explores both the vibrant city and her past – hidden from the conservative citizens of Kansas – while Louise practices with the dance company. But while Cora tries to keep Louise’s wild and artistic personality in check fearing that the young girl might sully her reputation, Cora’s eyes are opened to new possibilities for leading a more liberating life when she returns home.

After training for several weeks, Louise earns a spot in the Denishawn Dance Company before eventually heading to Hollywood. There she becomes a film star known for her beauty, her modern bobbed hair and her sex appeal.

Although it is Louise who moves on to great fame as a screen actress, it is Cora’s life that the reader explores in greater depth. Firm beliefs about hemlines, hairstyles, birth control (believe it or not, a well-known household disinfectant advertised itself as a prophylactic in the twenties), and racism are all tested while in NYC. Before returning to the Midwest, Cora makes a life-changing decision. She alters her outlook on the myriad of cultural possibilities taking place in American society. Louise is a flash-in-the-pan success in the film industry, while Cora seizes new opportunities. A respected woman in Wichita, Cora works to influence her community to embrace the progressive transformations emerging in more metropolitan areas such as New York and Los Angeles.

Laura Moriarty has meticulously researched the material used in her novel The Chaperone. A bibliography illustrates how the author incorporates the tiniest of details into the fictional life of Cora, while staying true to the story of real-life film actress Louise Brooks. But rather than create a biography of Louise and her crash and burn career, Professor Moriarty shows how an average woman in the guise of Cora Carlisle – a mere chaperone – can change her life and that of others by an experience which exposes her to a life she might have never known as a privileged homemaker in America’s breadbasket.

An interesting look at the changes in society during the 20th century (particularly those concerning women), The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty has earned four eyes from thebooklookery. The bohemian life led by Louise seems more believable than the duplicitous life that Cora creates after her visit to the Big Apple, however; the overview of women’s history during the 20th century is excellent.

A Lookery at: Gore Vidal, a personal memory

Author Gore Vidal passed away Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at the age of 86. Since his death, a plentitude of biographical articles have been written about his life, personality and achievements. However, I would like to take the opportunity to recall a personal encounter I had with Mr. Vidal while a student at UC Irvine. This post is not a political or social commentary about the writer, but rather a very likely flawed recollection of an event that happened over thirty years ago.

My manager at the university’s Lectures and Publications Department would book guest speakers for the annual lecture series. As an Administrative Intern in the department, it was my responsibility to attend to the menial tasks, such as making dinner reservations for the speaker, those who accompanied the person of note, as well as various administrators from the school. I also had to compose an introduction and present it to the audience prior to each lecturer’s speech.

Gore Vidal must have been one of the first speakers of the year, because I remember being very anxious to be properly prepared to interact with someone of his stature. I researched as much as possible about him, so that it would appear that I knew who he was. I had heard of him before – I think on “The Laugh-In” — as a child. I wanted to converse with Mr. Vidal somewhat coherently, if not intelligently, should he deem me worthy of a comment or two.

Since this was the P.G. (pre-Google) era, it required a bit of effort to look into a person’s history. I don’t recall what I found out about him, other than his blind, maternal grandfather was in politics and Gore used to escort him onto the Congressional floor as a youngster. I did decide to read one of his novels, 1876, to show him that I was familiar with his work.

My manager asked me to make dinner reservations for a small party (probably fewer than a dozen diners) at one of the very rare premier restaurants in the Irvine area at the time. I asked if I should include Mr. Vidal’s wife in the party, and my manager looked at me as though I were nuts, and said that no, that would not be necessary. I did not know then that Mr. Vidal was a confirmed bachelor. (This event occurred just as the gay movement was beginning to be discussed publically, and also at the time when AIDS was still referred to as “the gay cancer”.  I later learned that Gore had a long-time companion, and did not care for the term “gay”.)

When the evening arrived, I was a wreck. For some reason, I had to borrow a dress from a roommate, so I was not entirely comfortable in my clothing.  At dinner, I miraculously ended up seated next to Mr. Vidal in spite of being the only student in attendance. I did not know that this was traditional for the dinners. Later in the year I found myself seated next to Gloria Steinem and other well-known personalities.

The first question I asked him set the tone for the entire evening. Knowing that he was originally from the East Coast and had come to Irvine from LA, I asked him what he thought of Orange County.  His reply?  “Oh, it’s just a place I pass through on my trips to Carlsbad.” It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking anything at the time, or it would have been iced tea (not being old enough to drink alcohol yet), through the nostrils at the dinner table. “Carlsbad??” I asked him incredulously. “Why in the world would you want to go to Carlsbad, of all places?” To which he replied, “That’s where my sister lives.” I then told him that the little town by the sea was my hometown, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone important would ever want to go there.  He got quite a kick out of that.

Gore Vidal and I had a wonderful discussion during the meal. I knew that guests were expected to spend an equal amount of time speaking to the dinner partners seated on their left as well as right, but Mr. Vidal spent the entire meal talking just to me. He told me about his childhood, attending Phillip Exeter Academy, his grandfather, and so on. We talked about 1876 and books we both enjoyed. He put me completely at ease.

Later, when presenting him as the featured speaker, I raced through my introduction out of nervousness, and had to repeat it slowly so that the audience could understand what I had said. I was utterly embarrassed by the situation, but he came on stage, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and thanked me for the introduction.

Gore Vidal had gone out of his way to make me comfortable all evening, which was quite extraordinary given that I was the plebe and he was the guest of honor. I will always think of him fondly.

“I am exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” – Gore Vidal

Not so, Mr. Vidal. Not so.

 

A Lookery at: Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”

Murder on the Orient Express                   

Agatha Christie (1933)

Harper Paperbacks (reprint 2011)

$6.99

As a kid, I devoured Bobbsey Twin Mysteries by Laura Lee Hope, but was never a big fan of Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys mystery series. From Hope’s books, I graduated to mystery novels by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence all became favorite characters of mine very quickly. In the 1970s, several Christie mysteries were released in film – just at the time when I was beginning to enjoy outings to the movie theatre with friends. My favorite was the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, starring Peter Ustinov as the internationally famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Something about that movie, and perhaps the beauty of the train itself captured my imagination, and I still get a thrill watching the movie nearly 40 years later. For some summer fun, I decided to revisit the tale of the storied train, both in film and in novel form.

At the conclusion of a case in Syria, Hercule Poirot arrives in Stamboul in order to catch the Orient Express to Calais, continuing on urgent business to London in order to solve another crime. Although it is December, the first and second class coaches to Calais are completely booked. M. Poirot’s Belgian friend M. Bouc, director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagon Lits demands that the conductor of the car puts Poirot on the train, albeit in a shared compartment, when another passenger fails to appear close to departure time. The spectacular train takes off to its first stop in Belgrade, its first class car populated with over a dozen passengers from all walks of life.

One rider, an American businessman by the name of Ratchett stops the detective in the empty dining car, and tries to hire him to protect him from an unnamed person who has been sending him threatening letters. The Belgian firmly declines the offer.

After a brief stop in Belgrade, where Poirot is transferred to a compartment of his own, the train becomes stuck in the snow in Jugo-Slavia in the middle of the night. The passengers pass the night in various states of rest or activity. In the morning, Ratchett is discovered murdered in his bed. He is the victim of a dozen stab wounds to his chest – all of varying degrees of damage.

M. Bouc immediately implores Hercule to solve the murder before the train is rescued and becomes subject to a traditional police investigation on arrival in Brod. The sleuth quickly establishes that the victim is not named Ratchett, but rather Cassetti; the mastermind of the kidnapping and murder of a young girl, Daisy Armstrong, several years earlier. Most of the Armstrong family and household died shortly after Daisy’s body was discovered. Cassetti was caught and put on trial. But Cassetti was acquitted of the crime due to crooked deals made with his illegally-gained fortune. The brain behind the crime disappeared from America, out of reach of the public eye.

Poirot obtains the floor plan of the passengers’ compartments, their passports and train tickets. Hercule, Monsieur Bouc, and a Greek physician riding in another car on the train, Dr. Constantine, examine the scene of the crime and the body before setting up shop in the dining car. There the Belgian detective conducts interviews of the various passengers who boarded the train when he did. The dozen or so passengers are of all classes and status – from the Hungarian diplomat and his beautiful young wife, a Swedish missionary, an obnoxious American woman, an English valet – even a Russian princess and her German lady’s maid.

As is typical of an Agatha Christie mystery, the suspects are numerous, decoys prevalent and motives obscured. Most Agatha Christie stories seem to be solved almost magically, using vaguely presented clues. Christie deftly distracts the reader from noticing a glaring clue with a multitude of seemingly unrelated facts and tales. But Hercule Poirot uses his “little grey cells” (as he refers to his brain matter), and ultimately solves the mysterious crime.

A film following the release of a successful novel is very often a disappointment. But to me, both the trips back in time to re-read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and watch the 1974 movie version of the book, were a great thrill. Thebooklookery gives 4 eyes to the book and the movie. Both are recommended in tandem for a delightful summer vacation!

A Lookery at: The Book Club Voyage

An article I read recently, stated that today’s book clubs and reading groups are populated by bourgeois middle-class women, looking to improve their minds. While this may be true, every book club has its own unique personality. Finding one to fit you might take a lot of thought. Or it’s possible that a group will be spontaneously generated by moms in your playgroup or friends in your bunko club. I spent several years envying friends who participated in reading clubs, but searched long and hard for a particular group that met my specific requirements. I’m happy to say that I am thrilled with the book club that I joined, and it was worth the wait to find exactly what I wanted.

Perhaps you, too, are interested in starting or looking for a book club. Finding a group can be as simple as joining one at the local library or may take more research. IMHO, there are several factors to take into consideration when joining a reading club.

For example, when does the club meet? Are you interested in getting together with others in the daytime, nighttime, or on a weekday or weekend? How often do you want to commit to attending a get-together?  How far are you willing to travel to share your reading experiences, and where are the meetings held? Bookstores or libraries? Private home, restaurant or community room; park, playground or church?

Many times just locating a club of fellow bibliophiles can be difficult. Bookstores, libraries and schools are all good places to start your search, but don’t rule out searching online, publishers’ websites, friends and family, checking notice boards, facebook or using a website such as meetup.com for availability.

A lookery at how the group is hosted is important. Some groups randomly trade off hosting duties while others limit their membership to a certain number so that a strict hosting rotation calendar can be kept. Or perhaps one person is designated the leader on a permanent basis, such as a librarian, instructor of some sort, or the owner of a bookstore. How are the books to be read chosen for each gathering? How much responsibility for hosting, leading and maybe even choosing the reading material do you want to shoulder?

Consider subjects such as genre. Do you want to read only classics, sci-fi, faith-based literature or non-fiction, for example? If you select a group with a miscellaneous category selection, you need to have an open mind toward exploring books that you might not otherwise pursue.

Reading clubs can often have demographic parameters. Gender, age, couples, mother/daughter, religion – any number of membership requirements exist. Look for a group made up of people with whom you will enjoy reading, examining and discussing books. Being comfortable with expressing your point of view in a meeting is of paramount importance.

And lastly, but very importantly, how social or serious do you want the book club you join to be? Will discussing the book under review as well as other topics over a glass of sauvignon blanc satisfy your needs, or do you want to stick to a strictly academic consideration of the current selection? Would you like to maintain a relationship with other members outside the confines of the book club?

Most of these questions were on my mind as I waited to find what I was beginning to think was an impossible match for me and a book club. But in time, and with the help of many of the suggestions above, I found a fabulous group to belong to! Best wishes for finding a literary home yourself, and remember the line from Emily Dickinson‘s poem “There is no frigate like a book…”. Make sure the voyage and your fellow passengers in this journey promise fair weather and smooth sailing!

A Lookery at: “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt” by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Beth Hoffman

Pamela Dorman Books, publisher (2010)

$25.95

This month’s selection for the book club I belong to is Beth Hoffman’s first novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. Some of what we discussed about the book will be shared today, but bear in mind that personal information about my fellow readers will not be given. Also, any ratings are mine, and not necessarily those of the club members. In order to put the review into the right context, it is beneficial to know that the book club is made up of women of a “certain age”. Most of us did not know each other prior to forming the group about a year ago, and new readers are joining each month. This tiny glimpse into the composition of the club serves as a reference point for some of the thoughts shared about Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

Cecelia Rose Honeycutt (CeeCee) is a young preteen who has lived all of her life in a small Ohio town. Her story takes place during the 1960s. Although CeeCee has some magical memories of her mother from her very young childhood, as CeeCee matures, she realizes that her mother, Camille, is not “normal”. By the time she is twelve, Cecelia recognizes that there is something wrong with her mother’s mental health, and that other people can see this as well.

Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt is a transplanted Southern belle, whose greatest claim to fame was winning the title of Vidalia Onion Queen of 1951. Although watching beauty pageants is a guilty pleasure for millions, in some parts of the country, a woman’s entire identity often becomes determined by her success at achieving a beauty queen title. Mrs. Honeycutt finds it odd that “Yankees” do not place much importance on such achievements.

In fact, Camille feels that the Yankees of Ohio are cold people who live in cold weather, and feels terribly out of place away from her friends and family in Savannah, Georgia. Even when Camille is still somewhat sane, she is a free spirit in a land of conservative residents.

As her illness progresses, she spends more and more time and money purchasing used prom dresses (with dyed to match shoes, if possible) from Goodwill, and parades around town in her pageantry finery. In turn, her husband Carl, spends less and less time at home as a travelling salesman. It falls to young CeeCee to take on the role of parent to Camille, keeping her safe and bringing her home when she creates scenes in town. In time, CeeCee begins to resent her mother, and when tragedy occurs, harbors great guilt and remorse for her feelings.

Soon afterwards, Cecelia’s Aunt Tootie arrives from Savannah to take the young girl back to her mother’s hometown. CeeCee meets Tootie’s friends and relatives, and is drawn into a world dominated by unique, strong women characters. She is cared for by Tootie and her housekeeper, Olette.

Several of Tootie’s eccentric friends and family members show up to meet CeeCee, and introduce her to the warm and hospitable society of the South. Men are incidental to the story, and tend to be relatively weak characters.

Some of the points brought up by club members included a discussion about Cecelia being raised in a highly dysfunctional environment. Also, race relations are an important part of the story. Some incidents are fairly difficult to believe looking at the 1960s from the perspective of the 21st century. It was also mentioned that there are aspects of the movie Steel Magnolias and Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help in the book. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is described by some readers as “sugar coated” or too saccharin. However, most members felt that was part of the charm of the book. Hoffman’s novel is definitely a feel good tale, in spite of the terrible life that CeeCee experienced in Ohio.

thebooklookery’s rating for Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is four eyes, for the depiction of family life with untreated mentally ill members, and yes, also because it is a “feel good” novel. thebooklookery looks forward to future novels by author Beth Hoffman.

A Lookery at: “The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M. J. Rose

The Book of Lost Fragrances        

M.J. Rose

Atria Books (2012)

$24.00

Founded before the French Revolution by the family of the same name, The House of L’Etoile is an exclusive perfumery. L’Etoile has developed some of the world’s most famous and beloved scents for centuries. But now, the future of the company is threatened because of the mental deterioration of its current director, Louis L’Etoile. It is up to Louis’ children, daughter Jac and son Robbie, to sort through the mess left in the company office by their father.

Jac is convinced that the only way to save the company is to sell off the formulas and rights to two of The House of L’Etoile’s signature scents. Robbie feels the business has a future if the storied and elusive family treasure – Cleopatra’s “Book of Fragrances” – can be recovered. Central to this ancient document is a formula for a fragrance that can induce memories of past lives using exotic ingredients that may be extinct. Neither sibling has ever seen the mysterious book, but in his Alzheimer’s confusion, Louis has torn apart his workshop looking for it.

Jac, who has the most highly developed “nose” in the family, has rejected the perfume industry in favor of becoming a mythologist. She studies and researches the origins of myths and presents her findings on her American television program and in books she’s authored. For much of her life she has experienced psychotic episodes. Most of these visions reveal stories of Egypt and France’s pasts. Several specialists have tried to treat her for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Jac finally consults with psychologist Dr. Malachai Samuels, who believes in the possibility of discovering past lives through hallucinations like Jac’s. Malachai teaches Jac to analyze her trances and eventually, her episodes decrease.

Robbie lacks Jac’s gift of a finely developed nose for fragrances, but is still talented enough as a perfumer to develop niche scents for The House of L’Etoile. He is dedicated to saving the business without compromising it in any way. Robbie is also a follower of the Dalai Lama and is a believer in reincarnation. He discovers pieces of an ancient Egyptian fragrance pot amongst his father’s possessions that he feels may have contained Cleopatra’s famous “Fragrance of Lost Memories”. Jac’s brother is determined to analyze the remnants of the pot’s contents and the symbols on it to prove that such a scent existed, thereby making it possible for The House of L’Etoile to recreate the perfume, thus rescuing the business.

The search for the Egyptian document wanders through the epochs of Cleopatra’s reign, pre-revolutionary France, modern Tibet and the People’s Republic of China, and even the centuries-old underground tunnels beneath Paris.  M. J. Rose’s The Book of Lost Fragrances explores the possibilities of reincarnation and the effect of scent on memories and emotions. In scenes set throughout history and the world, myths, legends, politics, belief systems and of course, the perfume industry are explored within this novel of suspense. A very intriguing read, The Book of Lost Fragrances rates three eyes from thebooklookery.

A Lookery at: “Day After Night” by Anita Diamant

Day After Night

By Anita Diamant

Scribner Paperback Edition 2010

$15.00

You will find, dearreader, that I am particularly interested in both fiction and non-fiction about WWll. Not the battles or military side of it, but the social and psychological aspects of the era and the war, both here and abroad. Oftentimes, these books can be somewhat depressing. Today’s novel, Day After Night by Anita Diamant, based on historical facts and events that occurred in Palestine after the end of the war, is somewhat different from most WWll themed books that I have read.

To put the story and events into historical context for thereader, a brief history lesson is in order. Israel did not become a nation until 1948. From 1922 until then, Palestine (as the area was called), was under the administrative jurisdiction of Great Britain. Initially, Britain supported an independent Jewish nation. However, by 1939, the government of the UK reneged on its previous mandate allowing the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Only 10,000 people of Jewish heritage were allowed to immigrate to Palestine each year from 1939 to 1944. After that, legal immigration to Palestine for Jews was down to a mere trickle. WWll lasted from 1939 until 1945. Moving from Europe to Palestine could have saved millions of Jewish lives.

After the war was over, many of the remaining European and Middle Eastern Jews were homeless, or had no desire to live in countries that had turned their backs on them. In decrepit, dilapidated boats, and by some overland routes, Jews began arriving in Palestine with the help of the Haganah resistance movement. Most of them were “illegal” immigrants, without permission to settle in the country. These “illegals” were herded into detention centers by the British and languished there until decisions about their individual settlement rights were made.

Day After Night takes place in the Atlit detention center near Haifa between August and October 1945.  The four main characters are all Jewish women who have survived the war in Europe. Shayndel is a Polish Zionist who spent most of the war fighting Nazis along with the partisans in Poland’s forests. Tedi, the tall, blonde Dutch woman is the only survivor of her entire family. A French beauty, Leonie spent the war enduring her own indignities and horrors. The only concentration camp survivor is Zorah, an angry, bitter Polish woman who refuses to forget her wartime experiences. In the camp, “there was an unwritten rule… against asking survivors about their experiences” (p. 112). Although the reader learns each woman’s backstory, very rarely do the detainees share their stories with others.

The wartime encounters of each character are revealed in the novel, but not dwelled upon. The primary story is about life in Atlit – the arrival of new immigrants, the boredom, the anxiety, the waiting are all detailed. Palestine is so entirely different from Europe, that many find simple things, such as a cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast, the heat, real cigarettes and learning Hebrew to be amazing as well as confusing.

All of the women and camp residents are anxious to be released. Starting a new life free of barbed wire and foreign administrators is of paramount importance. Atlit is no picnic and is still confinement for each person. There is significant distrust among the detainees. Secrets abound. Spying becomes critical to the Jewish wish for freedom. Tedi, Leonie, Zorah, Shayndel and many others are possessed by the desire to break free of camp life.

While the women portrayed by the author are fictional, organizations, events and the incredible resolution of the story are not. Anita Diamant’s Day After Night is not your typical story of the Holocaust. It is a story about hope, new beginnings and the will to build the new, independent, Jewish nation of Israel. It is a very enlightening look into what life was like for the survivors of Hitler’s insane vision who arrive in Palestine. All the more so because the story is based on fact.

Another 3+ eye rating for a relatively unknown look into post WWll history.

A Lookery at: “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation

Jean Kwok

Riverhead Books (2010)

$25.95

It has been a long time since a novel has captivated me so completely that I have read it in one day. Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation did just that. Author Kwok’s debut novel draws on her own experiences to bring thereader the story of ah-Kim Chang and her mother, Ma.

ah-Kim and Ma are emigrants from Hong Kong who come to New York, desperate to leave Hong Kong before it reverts to Chinese rule in 1997. Sponsored by Ma’s sister Aunt Paula and brother-in-law Uncle Bob, mother and daughter begin their new life in a miniscule and squalid condemned apartment in a Brooklyn slum. Ma is employed at Uncle Bob’s piece-work sweatshop in Chinatown’s garment district, finishing clothing for one and a half cents per skirt. At the same time, Aunt Paula unwittingly provides ah-Kim with her first step toward a better future by giving her a false address that allows her to attend a better public school than the one nearest her home.

It is soon obvious that Kimberly (her new American name) is going to struggle academically in the US in spite of her scholastic success back home in Hong Kong. Likewise, Ma has an impossible quota to fill each day at the clothing factory. Kimberly must join her mother on the job after school every afternoon so that Ma can make her daily allotment of finished skirts.

Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob effectively become the jailers of their relatives and the other workers by paying them for each item shipped rather than a regular minimum hourly wage. In addition, each payday Uncle Bob deducts from Ma’s income, cash to cover her debt to him for medical treatment in Hong Kong, the plane tickets to America, the visas (plus interest on the debt) and utilities for their apartment. Not much cash is left over for food, rent and clothing.

There are others who treat Ma and Kim with kindness. And, once Kim’s talent at school is noticed, both she and her mother realize that Kimberly’s academic aptitude is the key to improving their lives. There will be no help coming from their own relatives.

The struggles of balancing school, work, finances and social situations become staggering for the two women. Both Kim and Ma are forced to make decisions along the way that will have an immense impact on their future together.

The challenges the Changs are faced with and the consequences of their decisions — particularly Kim’s — will have to be explored by you, dearreader. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an excellent novel, great for personal enjoyment or even a book club selection. Easily a 4+ eye rating.

An Updated Lookery at: “Spring Fever” by Mary Kay Andrews

dearreader,

Please take a lookery at my previous post “A Lookery at: ‘Spring Fever’ by Mary Kay Andrews to listen to an audio clip from the audiobook edition of the novel. You can also link to it here:

http://media.us.macmillan.com/video/olmk/macmillanaudio/springfeverch1.mp3

Many thanks to MacMillan Publishing for providing thebooklookery with this bonus!

Enjoy!