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Posts Tagged ‘war through the generations’

even in darkness

Source: Review copy from PR by the Book
Rating: ★★★★★

At the bottom of the canvas, a woman clutching her baby appeared to stare straight out at her, and Kläre thought she could hear her ask, “How must I save them?”  An answer flew to Kläre from a place of deep knowing.

“With a strong heart,” she said quietly.

(from Even in Darkness)

Quick summary: Even in Darkness is a novel that spans the world wars and beyond, focusing on Kläre Kohler, a Jewish woman living in Germany in a time of turmoil.  Barbara Stark-Nemon brings to life the story of her great aunt, portraying a strong woman who lives a life filled with hardship and loss but finds love in a most unexpected way.  From a German village with memories of a happier time to the horrors of Theresienstadt to a flourishing kibbutz in Israel, Stark-Nemon takes readers on a journey marked by deep grief but also hope, love, and peace.

Why I wanted to read it: I’m drawn to novels set during the world wars, and I was intrigued by Kläre’s story, more so when I learned the novel was based on a true story.

What I liked: Even in Darkness is a beautifully written novel centered on a strong woman. Kläre is such a complex character, a woman who loves fiercely and completely, a woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to keep her family safe. She marries Jakob despite his serious manner, and while her passion is directed toward someone else, Kläre tenderly cares for him as the tremors related to a gas attack during World War I worsen over the years. She knows she must get her children out of Germany despite the pain of separation. She reaches out to her best friend’s stepson, who is isolated from his family, and she protects her frail mother after their deportation. She even uses her training in massage from her work during the first war to keep her alive in the second. Time and again I was amazed by her strength and her courage and fascinated by her story.

What I disliked: That there wasn’t a tissue in sight when I needed one!

Final thoughts: Even in Darkness is a novel that shows both the best and worst of humanity, and in showing how Kläre rebuilt the broken pieces of her life after World War II, Stark-Nemon shows how hope and love won in the end.  Love is at the core of this novel, in all its forms, and the fact that Kläre felt that emotion and so strongly after all she endured is remarkable and inspirational.  I felt so connected to Kläre and invested in her story that I wasn’t ready for it to end, though the final lines of the novel are true gems.

Disclosure: I received Even in Darkness from PR by the Book for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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hummingbirds in winter

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★☆☆

For Solansky, it was a new beginning that started with one great sweep of an arpeggio spanning several octaves and then several smaller arpeggios falling part way back down the keyboard. It was as if for every great step forward, Solansky had to endure several tumbles back downward, but that was just the beginning. There would be other great sweeps forward, again and again.

(from Hummingbirds in Winter, page 78)

Quick summary: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about composer Ben Solansky and his determination to save himself and his family — his wife, Ilonia, a soprano, and their children, David, a musician, and Lily, an artist — from the Nazis. Solansky manages to get his family out of Poland before the Nazi invasion, and author Anna Franco chronicles the family’s movements from country to country in a quest to get to New York. Franco details the lengths Solansky is willing to go to keep his family safe and the musical pieces he composes during the war, particularly the ones that bring to life America’s involvement in the war, both in Europe and the Pacific. The novel also follows the Resistance activities of people the Solanskys meet in Denmark and Brussels, providing a variety of wartime perspectives.

Why I wanted to read it: I can’t resist novels about escapes set during World War II.

What I liked: Hummingbirds in Winter shines in Franco’s descriptions of Solansky’s musical compositions, and I enjoyed how I could almost hear the pieces while I read about them, which is saying a lot because I know so little about classical music. It was a quick read, and I was intrigued by the characters and their stories.

What I disliked: The narrative lacks description, aside from the musical aspects of the story, and feels like the narrator simply tells readers what has happened. While I found the story readable and interesting, the characters and the various scenes could have been fleshed out more. Huge events that were important to the plot and the evolution of the characters were described in just a few paragraphs, which prevented the scenes and the characters from really coming to life. I was able to understand the characters and their motivations, but I just couldn’t connect with them.

Final thoughts: Hummingbirds in Winter is a novel about perseverance and making the best of any circumstance. The Solanskys gave up successful careers and left all of their belongings behind in an effort to survive persecution (and worse) at the hands of the Nazis, and they started over, settled into a routine, then uprooted themselves over and over again in order to stay alive. But Ben and his family kept living and creating, never taking their eyes off the prize. Although I would have preferred a fuller, more descriptive narrative and an emotional connection with the characters, the fast pace and intriguing characters enabled me to enjoy the novel overall.

Disclosure: I received Hummingbirds in Winter from the author for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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determined

Source: Review copy from author’s daughter
Rating: ★★★★☆

I inched toward the Allied lines less than a mile away, desperately trying to escape from the murderous Nazis.

Suddenly, I heard shouts of “Halt!” as several Nazi soldiers launched toward me from the side of the road.  As I stood up, one of them grabbed my arm and demanded in German that I tell him who I was and where I was going.

A horrible thought flashed through my mind: After years of dangerous escapes, so close to liberation, would this be my end?

(from Determined, page 1)

Quick summary: Determined is the memoir of Holocaust survivor Avraham Perlmutter, who was only a boy when the Nazis arrived in his hometown of Vienna in 1938.  Perlmutter describes how his parents sent him and his older sister, Thea, to live with family in the Netherlands to keep them safe.  But it seems as though the Nazis follow him from hiding place to hiding place.  Perlmutter pays homage to the men and women who put their lives on the line to save him and many other Jewish children, but it soon becomes obvious that his quick-thinking, intelligence, and of course, determination played an integral role in his survival.

Why I wanted to read it: It is important for stories like Perlmutter’s to be told, and his message of never giving up, treating people how you want to be treated, and not doing to others what you do not want them to do to you is one that bears repeating.

What I liked: Determined is not a memoir that emphasizes the gruesome atrocities committed by the Nazis.  Instead, it is a short book focused on the survival of one young man and how he made a successful life for himself in Israel and the United States after World War II and Israel’s War of Independence.  There are pictures of Perlmutter, his family, some of the people who orchestrated his various escapes or hid him from the Nazis, and various documents, including those filed by his family in order to leave Vienna.

What I disliked: The latter part of the book describing Avraham’s life after the war seemed a bit rushed with far fewer details than his Holocaust survival story.  That’s only a minor issue, though, because getting to know even just a little bit about the man he became and the life he lived after the war was inspiring.

Final thoughts: Determined is a fascinating and important story that chronicles much of the life of a man who knew, even at a young age, that he had to think on his feet, take risks, and keep pushing to survive and succeed.  Readers who usually avoid Holocaust memoirs because they are heartbreaking and graphic will appreciate Perlmutter’s inspirational story, which provides plenty of historical details but remains engaging throughout.  I am honored to have been contacted by his daughter and asked to review his book.

Disclosure: I received Determined from the author’s daughter for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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stella bain

Source: Personal library
Rating ★★★★☆

Publisher’s summary: It is 1916, and a woman awakens, wounded, in a field hospital in northern France.  She wears the uniform of a British nurse’s aide but has an American accent.  With no memory of her past or what brought her to this distant war, she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, and that her name is Stella Bain.

As she puts her skills to use, both transporting the wounded from the battlefield and ministering to them in hospital tents, the holes in Stella’s psyche gnaw at the edge of her consciousness.  At last, desperate to find answers, she sets off for London to reconstruct her life.

She is taken in by Dr. August Bridge, a surgeon who becomes fascinated with her case and with the agonizing and inexplicable symptoms that plague her.  Delving into her deeply fractured mind, Bridge seeks to understand what terrible blow could have separated a woman from herself.  Together, they begin to unlock a disturbing history — of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal.  But as her memories come racing back, Stella realizes she must embark on a new journey to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In a sweeping, dramatic narrative that takes us from England to America and back again, Anita Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, and about loss and redemption in the wake of a war that devastated an entire generation.

My thoughts: I really liked how Shreve focuses on the experiences of women during World War I and acknowledges that they might not have been in the trenches but still put their lives on the line and suffered the consequences.  By telling the story from Stella’s point of view when she has no memory, readers see how the war took its toll on her, and through her drawings, Shreve emphasizes the complexity of memory.  The novel is about more than the war and shell shock; it is about the difficulties women faced when they sought independence from the confines of marriage and home.  I might have loved this book, but the ending was a bit flat, though satisfying overall.

Disclosure: Stella Bain is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I’m going to finish this week in blogging by FINALLY posting reviews of two books I read last summer.  These books have been staring me down for months, but I just haven’t been motivated to blog about them.  Well, I figured it was time for me to share a few thoughts on them so I can finally put them away.  Stay tuned for the second mini-review on Friday.  Also, I may not be around much for the next month or so, as I’m busy with some freelance editing projects.  I can’t wait to tell you all about the books I’ve been editing!  Anyway, on to today’s mini-review:

once we were brothers

Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Publisher’s summary: Elliot Rosenzweig, a respected civic leader and wealthy philanthropist, is attending a fund-raiser when he is suddenly accosted by Ben Solomon and accused of being a former Nazi SS officer named Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamość.  Although the charges are denounced, his accuser is convinced he is right and engages attorney Catherine Lockhart to bring Rosenzweig to justice.  Solomon reveals that the true Piatek was abandoned as a child and raised by Solomon’s own family, only to betray them during the Nazi occupation.  But has Solomon accused the right man?

Once We Were Brothers is the compelling tale of two boys and a family who fight to survive in war-torn Poland, and a young love that struggles to endure the unspeakable cruelty of the Holocaust.  Two lives, two worlds, and sixty years converge in an explosive race to redemption that makes for a moving and powerful tale of love, survival, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.

My thoughts: I had such mixed feelings about this book.  The narrative set during World War II was very interesting, as was the quest in the present to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  However, I had some issues with the structure of the narrative.  Despite all the time constraints on the legal side, Ben insists on telling the story in chronological order, and with Catherine always cutting him short, it seemed to drag it out longer than necessary.  And the author would insert information/statistics about the Holocaust into the dialogue, which was unnecessary and felt forced.  I also felt it was unnecessary to focus on Catherine’s life outside of the case; I didn’t find her to be very interesting.  I liked the book overall, but it could have been a great book if it had been structured differently, without Catherine’s story and without all the shifts from past to present.

Disclosure: Once We Were Brothers is from my personal library.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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after the war is over

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★★

Charlotte’s thoughts were never far from Edward. The brother and friend they loved, the man who had been returned to them, but whose soul, she feared, still walked among the dead, the millions of dead, who haunted the battlefields and charnel houses of Flanders and France.

(from After the War Is Over)

Quick summary: After the War Is Over is the sequel to Somewhere in France, which focused on Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford (Lilly), who turned her back on her family’s wealth and status to become an ambulance driver in France during the Great War. Jennifer Robson’s latest novel tells the story of Lilly’s close friend and former governess, Charlotte Brown, an Oxford educated woman who works in the constituency office of Eleanor Rathbone in Liverpool. Charlotte’s story focuses on her desire to speak for the families left hungry and homeless after the war due to their inability to find work and her need to overcome her feelings for Lilly’s brother, Edward, who has just assumed his role as Earl of Cumberland following his father’s death. The novel takes readers back in time to the beginning of her relationship with Edward and her work during the war as a nurse at a hospital for officers with shell shock. Charlotte is the only one who can help Edward, who is still suffering the effects of the war, and she must do so knowing that class differences will forever keep them apart.

Why I wanted to read it: Somewhere in France made the list of best books I read in 2014, so I just had to continue the story. There will be a third book as well, according to the author interview at the back of the book, and I can’t wait!

What I liked: I absolutely adore Robson’s writing, which is infused with so much emotion and detail without being flowery, so readers really get a sense of what England was like in the year after the armistice. World War I ushered in so many changes in terms of gender and social class, and Charlotte embodies these. She works hard to put her education to use in a meaningful job, but that same education makes some of the people who come to her office wary of accepting her help. At the same time, she is merely a vicar’s daughter from Somerset and not high enough up the social ladder to be a suitable wife for the man she loves. Robson perfectly captures the discontent among the working class and the lingering effects of the war. I also was glad to catch up with Lilly and Robbie, the main characters of the first book, and was delighted to encounter some references to Jane Austen within these pages.

What I disliked: Nothing! I loved this book from start to finish, and I nearly read the whole thing in one sitting.

Final thoughts: After the War Is Over is a powerful novel about a country recovering from a devastating war, as seen through the eyes of a woman ahead of her time. It’s more than just a romance novel and more than just a novel about war. Robson emphasizes the struggles faced by women as they sought more for themselves than just a husband and family, but most of all, she writes about the hope people like Charlotte possessed amid so much loss and grief and change. Like Charlotte says to Edward, “There’s no use feeling sorry for yourself or fretting about the past. You need to make the most of the life that has been given to you.” This may be only the third book I’ve read so far this year, but it’s definitely a contender for my Best of 2015 list!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the tour for After the War Is Over. To learn more about the book and follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received After the War Is Over from William Morrow for review.

© 2015 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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omphalos

Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: ★★★★☆

“If we accept that history belongs to the dead, then we will always be its slaves. If we write history ourselves, with all its complications and its ambiguities, then we take ownership of it, we accept responsibility.”

(from Omphalos)

Quick summary: Omphalos is an ambitious historical novel by Mark Patton that connects several stories from different time periods to an ancient mound and chapel on the island of Jersey, La Hougue Bie. The novel opens with the story of Al Cohen, an American visiting Jersey to learn about his biological father, a German officer whose letters while stationed on Jersey and in a POW camp in Wales are featured. Patton also tells the stories of a female spy who fled to Jersey from revolutionary France, a Catholic priest and his secretary on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517, a knight on a pilgrimage of pennance in 1160, and a sorceress in 4,000 B.C.

Why I wanted to read it: I was intrigued by the idea of several stories from different time periods being connected, and of course, I was especially curious about the story set during World War II.

What I liked: Once I got a handle on all the characters, I enjoyed watching their stories unfold and discovering their connections. I also enjoyed reading about so many different time periods in a single novel. Most of all, I appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book, where Patton separates the facts from the fiction and lists resources for further reading.

What I disliked: There are a lot of characters and story lines, so at times, it was hard to keep it all straight in my head. However, it helped that Patton gave titles to each of these stories and separated them by chapter.

Final thoughts: Omphalos is a fascinating look at thousands of years of history and the connections between events and people over time. The novel covers a lot of ground, from the Nazi occupation of Jersey and espionage during the French Revolution to religious pilgrimages and ancient epic journeys, and is sure to get readers thinking about their family history, as well as their connections to certain places and how generations of people have been there before them.

Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for having me on the tour for Omphalos. To learn more about the book and the author and to follow the tour, click the banner below.

omphalos tour

war challenge with a twist

Book 31 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

historical fiction challenge

Book 29 for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Disclosure: I received Omphalos from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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