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Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Coldest Winter

Author David Halberstam was one of America’s greatest journalist/historians. As a young man he made his reputation as a reporter in Vietnam. There he reported  as he saw it. That is as a quagmire in the making by a government of the “best and brightest” who were in denial of its folly. He went on to produce 20 books in 40 years on a variety of  fascinating subjects but  perhaps most importantly of our nations war machine drifting into wars of “exceptionalism” a.k.a  imperial folly. It was his Vietnam book The Best and Brightest which won him the Pulitizer Prize.

It was his last book The Coldest Winter, published five  days before his untimely death in a car accident at age 73, that I just finished reading.  I think it was his very best.  The Coldest Winter is about the Korean War of 1950-53. This was is not writ large in the collective memory of this country, except for those few remaining who fought there. It was  a war that was cruel and inconclusive and claimed the lives of 33,000 American soldiers, 415,000 South Koreans and about 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese troops. Better forgotten? I think not.

This book includes the down in the foxholes stuff of an untrained, outnumbered, ill equipped, and driven into a corner, heroic  American Army as well  the broader picture of military strategy, political and managerial bungling at the highest levels. All of this leading up to the inimical fate of three wars of hubris, dubious strategy, and imperial ineptitude.  That is Korea, Vietnam, Iraq  and now seemingly ad infinitum more yet…..:(
And now the having read William Manchester’s classic on Douglas MacArthur,  American Caesar there are fascinating heroes and villains . Halberstams MacArthur is both. He is the brilliant strategist of the island hopping campaigns in the Pacific and tactician of the Inchon landing in Korea. But here disturbingly and at length MacArthur is the self-besotted   egomaniac who wastes  the lives of his men. As a 10 year old I remember my father, the banker, arguing in defense of the General over President Trumans  firing of him, with his two Railroad Brotherhood siblings.  As  that was in the era of children “being seen but not heard” I kept my counsel though I agreed with my Uncles and President Truman.  After reading The Coldest Winter  I know they were right then and I remain convinced of it even more so to this day….:)  A fascinating book indeed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Lilac Girls

Recently out in paperback, ereader, and audio if you or your book club missed it you can easily catch up. It’s Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel Lilac Girls.

This bestseller was based on the true life of several World War II heroines.  First  New York socialite Caroline Faraday a dilettante appearing  do-gooder  who shows her true essence as Hitler’s army invades Poland in 1939 with courage, determination and a strong sense of justice.

 Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences. 
For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

 The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Lest we never forget, this harrowing  fictional tale, based on well researched facts and real people,  not only illuminates a dark page in human history it gives us a fresh female point of view. . .  Although read either non fiction or fiction about the Holocaust is not for the faint hearted it is necessary.  Though  parts of the book,  like life in high New York society left me uninterested or unanswered questions where character develop was lacking in depth frustrated,  overall this story was riveting.  Perhaps it was the little known aspect of Ravensbruck  being the only Nazi concentration camp solely for women that made it so…..  In any case it’s been a while since I read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See that I’ve read one so interesting….

For more book reviews click link below....:)



Monday, May 1, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

First I read and reviewed the book in  Oct. 2009
Then today we saw the opening of the movie. May 1, 2017
I had been  at the mall, taking a shortcut thru Barnes and Nobel, determined not to stop. I stop and it's an hour or two delay and more money spent on books than I should. And, of course, I stopped .....
The title that caught my passing eye intrigued me. It was The Zookeeper's Wife. Perhaps, it was a recent movie review I had done on these pages that inspired me to take a look. The movie was The Time Travelers Wife. I had written  that it was just "ok" and panned its "silly, romanticized, and confusingly trivial" plot. The kinder comments on that review were, to the effect that, if I had previously read the book, I would have better understood and appreciated the movie. Ouch! This time I read the book first and hoped that somebody makes a great movie about it. It certainly deserved it.

Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (W. W. Norton) has been selected to receive the 2008 Orion Book Award, which is conferred annually to a book that deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieves excellence in writing.
"The Zookeepers Wife is a groundbreaking work of nonfiction,"said selection committee member Mark Kurlansky, "in which the human relationship to nature is explored in an absolutely original way through looking at the Holocaust." Kathleen Dean Moore, the committee's chairperson, said: "A few years ago, 'nature' writers were asking themselves, How can a book be at the same time a work of art, an act of conscientious objection to the destruction of the world, and an affirmation of hope and human decency? The Zookeeper's Wife answers this question."
The Zookeeper’s Wife is set in the time and place of The Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto. Few readers will casually pick up a book on this topic. I never shy away. Believing that generations for all time should never never be allowed to forget what happened, when evil on a scale never imagined, ran unchecked for years. You brace yourself and then read because you must. And yet this book left me feeling good. It even inspired me at times. I hesitate to write this about a book dealing with these horrible events, but at the core it is a story about
humanity at its very best. Diane Ackerman, famous poet, essayist, and naturalist tells a wonderful tale here. And it’s a true story carefully researched and based on fact.

The book begins in the mid-1930s, when a young couple, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, were the directors of Warsaw's zoo.
The zoo was destroyed during the Nazi bombardment of Warsaw in 1939. Surviving animals were shot "for fun" by rampaging soldiers led by the director of the Berlin zoo.
Jan immediately joined the resistance. Smuggling food into the Ghetto, building bombs, sabotage and many dangerous acts were part of his daily life. The Zabinski's eventually carried cyanide pills in case they were caught by the Gestapo.

"Equally important, Jan and Antonina opened their home and the zoo to partisans and Jews, some of whom were smuggled out of the ghetto by Jan himself. The Zabinskis hid their "Guests" in closets, rooms and even the old animal cages; in the course of the Nazi occupation, they helped approximately 300 women, men and children. And Antonina insisted, throughout, on maintaining a festive, music-filled household, even as she and Jan lived with the constant threat of exposure, torture and death, not just for themselves but for their young son, too.
In Ackerman's telling, it was Antonina's connection to the animal world -- her belief that every living thing is entitled to life, respect and nurture -- that made her incapable, despite her own terrors, of turning away from suffering. Nazi ideology, obsessed with categorization, hierarchy and uniformity, was incomprehensible to Antonina, who delighted in life's messy, rambunctious diversity.
A story like this could easily devolve into Dr. Doolittle-like sentimentality. Ackerman avoids mawkishness in two ways. First, the horrors of the Holocaust seep into almost every page, just as they should. The Zabinski household may have maintained a determined joyful air, but we never forget that the Guests' time in the ghetto has transformed them from accomplished, vibrant people into broken, hunted prey: "shipwrecked souls," Antonina called them in her diary. Equally important, Ackerman refuses to romanticize nature. She knows that the animal world is full of -- in fact, depends upon -- deception and violence, and that a person's immersion in the natural world is no guarantee of goodness."

The Zookeepers Wife is a fascinating book. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the movie. Some of the movie reviewer charge it with being a Disney version of the Holocaust. This is not true. The movie clearly implies and sometimes shows what is happening. It tells the story as it pretty much happened. We don't need Schindler's List or Sophies  Choice to understand it. Incidentally Jessica Chastain as Antonina is very good.  Good and thoughtful movies are sometimes hard to come by these days. This is one....:)