Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book 6 - Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

This is the first book in the Century Trilogy and begins in 1911 - right before World War I breaks out. When we start, the Crowned heads of Europe still exist; however after the war, only the British monarchy has survived. There are five families that the reader follows, from all economic classes - both rich and poor. There is a Welsh coal miner and his suffragist daughter, the local Earl that is their nemesis, two orphaned Russian brothers (one who is a scoundrel and the other a working class hero), star crossed lovers (one English, the other German), and an American diplomat.

What I loved about this novel, and all Follett's novels really, is that he's able to utilize an amazing story to create a civics lesson - we learn about World War I and the Russian Revolution at the same time that we follow the stories of an amazingly interesting group of people. He is meticulous in creating the world and the politics of his characters in the hopes of teaching us a bit about the time period. Follett's grasp of the historical record is masterful - a lot of research went into composing this Big Book (and big it is at around 1000 pages, give or take - but worth every single bit). Loved this novel and highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book 5- Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lowrer

During World War 2, the best employment opportunities for German women wasn't in the Gestapo or the Red Cross - it was actually in the German occupied lands to the East and in Russia. Those territories needed thousands of teachers and nurses and secretaries among other occupations. Wives often accompanied their husbands to the Eastern countries as well. This sort of migration allowed women to see other countries, get ahead in their professional careers and escape the drudgeries of everyday life in Germany, which was economically depressed before the war. These women also became accessories to genocide.

In this book, Wendy Lowrer follows the stories of 13 seemingly ordinary women who ended up working in the East, whether by choice or because they were assigned there by their superiors. The first chapter essentially set the scene: it explained the role of women in Germany briskly and efficiently and in language that the average reader would √understand. We then are introduced to the women: a nurse that engages willingly in a euthanasia class, the idealistic teacher, a farmer's daughter, an educated woman that can't practice law because of the laws in her country, the small town swindler, the 19 year old beauty that wants to avoid working in a factory and several ambitious secretaries. When we meet these women, it's 1941 and the final solution is in it's early stages with Jews being herded into ghettos. German officials are beginning executions and the menfolk are coming home after their days at work in need of food, alcohol and comfort. While the women generally don't have direct contact with the killing, they know it exists and they remain at their posts providing all sorts of support for the men that do the killing.

I really enjoyed how Lowrer made her history book accessible to everyone - you don't need to be a history scholar to be able to get into and understand this book. I also really enjoyed and appreciated how she set the political, social and economic scene - it gives the reader a context in which to understand how this all is happening. There were some questions that I had that weren't answered as well as I wanted them to be. How representative were the women that she picked? Did she just pick them because they happened to leave a plethora of primary sources from which to draw from? How did she pick these women? She doesn't address the women that are in more direct power - the women that were guards in the camps, other SS officers. I really wanted her to delve more deeply into the lives of the women in the camps.

Where'd You Go Bernadette - Maria Semple

I have this quirk - I guess it isn't really a quirk because I know other people like this - where I have to read a book before the movi...