Monday, August 31, 2015

August - This Month in Reading

Once again I didn't read as much as I might have liked, but I did manage 5 books, one of which was in a language that is not native to me (therefore taking a lot more time to read than one in English). One major disappointment is that I was unable to finish Het Achterhuis. I will have to keep working on that as an ongoing project, because I have otherwise exhausted my theme books, and I have to move on to more open reading if I hope to complete some of my challenges. Plus, tomorrow is September 1, and as I have stated repeatedly, in my mind that means AUTUMN is finally here. After a nasty summer, I am even happier than normal to see Fall arrive.

For September, I have to kick my reading into high gear. I really need to work on completing some of my challenges, and clear out a couple NetGalley books, so I have made a list of the books I need to work on and I will be reading down that list. Work is busy but I will have to find the time in each day to get some reading done. I hope to read at least 10 books, as well as the 3 NetGalley books (one of which I am SO excited to read!) in September, as that will set me up nicely for October's reading.

How is your Fall 2015 reading shaping up?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Black Earth - Timothy Snyder

FTC Compliance Statement: I received a free, time-limited, electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via in exchange for my honest review, which is provided below. I have not been otherwise compensated for this review in any way and my opinion is my own.

What are the odds that I would find a NetGalley book that perfectly fit my summer reading theme?This book, subtitled "The Holocaust as History and Warning," is a meticulously researched, scholarly look at the political roots of the Holocaust. It places the Final Solution into a context I hadn't seen examined before - the link between the Nazis' attempted destruction of states, such as Poland and Ukraine, and the deliberate stripping of the citizenship of Jewish people to render them more easily deported and murdered. There are a lot of useful notes, sources, and detailed maps that inform this conclusion. All in all this book provides a thorough take on the Holocaust from a socio-political point of view.

I do have one quibble, however. At one point the author specifically mentions Anne Frank and that her helpers survived, while Anne and her family and the others in hiding with them did not. This is true. However, he seems to imply that the helpers survived because they wouldn't have been prosecuted for hiding Jewish people in the Netherlands. This appears to overlook the fact that the two male helpers, Victor Kugler and Jo Kleiman, were indeed arrested along with the 8 people they had helped to hide, and both served time in prison and labor camps for hiding the Franks, the van Pelses, and Dr. Pfeffer. Kleiman was released after 6 weeks of imprisonment due to intervention by the Red Cross, as he had severe stomach ulcers. Kugler spent about 8 months in various labor camps, until he was able to escape one during a bombing raid and make his way home, where he hid until the Allied liberation. So people were indeed prosecuted for hiding and helping Jewish people. Maybe this is some kind of misunderstanding on my part - ? I just thought it was a bit misleading.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Treasures from the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank's Family - Mirjam Pressler with Gerti Elias

This book was yet another Borders Last Days Sale grab, which then for no good reason sat on the TBR pile waiting for its chance to be read. And it's yet another book I can't believe I waited this long to get to. The book is a deep dive into Anne's ancestors, mainly Otto Frank's grandparents and his immediate family. Its source is a treasure trove of family documents that included letters and photos that were found in the Otto's sister's attic in Switzerland after she passed away.

It's unimaginable to picture Helene Elias (née Frank) and her immediate family, who had managed to flee to Switzerland and relative safety, but who nevertheless were not considered citizens, and the fear and anxiety they felt on a daily basis after Otto and his family "disappeared" in June of 1942. Obviously, under the circumstances, Otto wasn't able to let them know that he had gone into hiding, and it would have been dangerous to attempt to communicate. It's touching to read the first-hand correspondence that went back and forth before June 1942, and it's very emotional to think about the survivors' guilt that seems to exist in Helene's son Buddy, Anne's cousin, whom she appeared to have admired. What a shame that these children couldn't have grown up and had normal lives as a family.

This book is a lovely testament to a family that was partially destroyed by back to back world wars and of course the murderous policies of Nazi Germany. It's equally sad and hopeful, and it's a wonderful volume for those who would like to read more about Anne and her family. Recommended.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Journal - Anne Frank

Un de mes livres préférés est le Journal d'Anne Frank. Je l'ai lu pour le premiere fois quand j'avais peut-être 8 ans, et ce livre avait un effet très profond pour moi. Pour moi, c'était incroyable que la vie de cette jeune fille ait été éteinte à cause de religion. Pendant la lecture, Anne a devenu comme une amie pour moi. J'ai lu et rélu le journal de nombreuses fois. Mon rêve était de lire le livre dans l'original en néerlandais (et ça c'est un travail en cours!).

Quand j'ai visité la France pour le première fois, je suis restée avec une famille française. (C'était un expérience formidable.) Je remarquai le Journal d'Anne sur une étagère et je leur ai dit qu'il était mon livre préféré. Ils ont insisté que je devrais l'avoir. J'ai refusé poliment, mais ils m'ont dit que je devrais l'avoir. Je suis très content avec ça! Maintenant j'avais un de mes livres préférés traduits dans une de mes langues préférées. Mais je doutais de mes propres capacités à lire le livre et je craignais. Je gardais le livre toutes ces années et je me suis finalement lu.

C'était un expérience émouvant pour moi, de lire ce livre en français. Je suis très familier avec le livre et l'histoire, et donc j'ai compris ce qui se passait, même si il y avait des mots que je ne connaissais pas. Je suis très heureuse que j'ai finalement lu le Journal. Merci encore à la famille française qui me l'a donné, et aussi à Ekaterina pour m'a donné le courage de le lire maintenant.

SVP, si j'ai fait les erreurs, dites-moi, je veux améliorer mon français. :-)

August Reread - The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank

I think I have mentioned on this blog several times that this is one of my favorite books. I first read it when I was about 8 or so, younger than Anne was when she started her diary, and it had a profound effect on me. I couldn't believe that this young girl was murdered because of religion and politics. Anne's words made me laugh and cry and she became like a friend to me. I reread this book countless times during my childhood/teenage years, and I tried my best to do research and find out more about Anne, which was not so easy back in the days of library card catalogs and no Internet.

I still have my original copy of this book, as well as 2 other paperback editions (one belonged to a relative who passed away at a young age, so it's a remembrance of her, and her copy also had an insert with more information, which my original copy lacked; the third I picked up on a whim at some used book sale because this copy's insert was different still). Of course I also have many other books, both about Anne and her family and about the Holocaust in general; many were gifts over the years. I also have the Definitive edition of the diary, and the re-release which contains material that was initially omitted from the published diary - in some cases for good reason, but that's another rant.

During my first visit to France, I was lucky enough to stay with a French family, and I noticed a paperback "Livre de Poche" French edition of Anne's diary on their bookshelves. I told them it was one of my favorite books and they insisted that I should have this copy. I politely refused because I didn't want to take something of theirs like that, but they insisted, and I was really grateful. Now I had one of my favorite books in one of my favorite languages. My doubts about my own abilities kept me from reading this version until now, as you'll see in the French language review I will post shortly, but now I have managed to read this, as well as to reread this classic favorite, from which I've been away too long.

What can I say - it's an interesting experience to return to an old favorite after a long time. In some ways I know this book so well it's like I've memorized portions of it; to be honest, this made it easier to read the French version too. When I first read it, I was of course approaching it as a child, with a child's limited experience of the world. I could very much identify with Anne and her hopes and dreams, her issues with her mother, her romance with Peter, etc. Now as an adult, I bring the perspective of someone much closer in age to her parents, and it's hard not to want to hear the adults' perspectives as well. I also wish that Margot's diary could have been saved; it would be really fascinating to read her thoughts. And I have had the opportunity to visit the actual Achterhuis/Secret Annexe, and read a lot about Anne, her family and friends, and the Holocaust in general. But all in all this book has stood the test of time for me, and it brings me back to my old friend.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Sala's Gift: My Mother's Holocaust Story - Ann Kirschner

This book shed light on an aspect of the Holocaust that I don't remember reading much about - the Nazi work camps. These camps were really meant to be work camps, and were not set up for the assembly line murder of thousands of people at a time, but were meant to be a source of income for the Nazi empire, as the inmates performed what amounted to slave labor. People did in fact die, and get shipped to death camps, and the conditions were not good by any means, but there was no apparatus for extermination like there was in other camps. 

The author's mother spent five years in seven work camps, and managed to save letters and other personal papers and artifacts at great personal risk. She survived the war and only came forward with this treasure trove of documentation after a health scare, when she gave them to her daughter (the author) and opened up about her experiences. 

The letters and the book that presents them perfectly displays the human side of the Holocaust, showing people's emotions at having a loved one be imprisoned, and be cut off from family and loved ones. It's an important story, and an often overlooked aspect of the Nazi machine. Recommended.