Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Politics · thoughts · WWII

How the pandemic lock down has helped me truly understand and empathize what was happening during WWII

WWII historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and the reading options are seemingly endless.  I received The Girl in the Blue Coat from a Secret Santa exchange and was very excited to read something from the Netherlands, which I don’t know much about. We’ve talked about this before, and I’m always astounded by the wide reach of WWII, especially considering how much of our school education focused solely on Germany, Japan and the US.

Something that has always eluded me when reading WWII novels is how and why the people reacted the way they did.  Neighbors living in fear of one another and turning each other in for the slightest suspicion.  Lives ruined over a misunderstanding or a bored busy-body.

With the world currently locked down by pandemic, sadly, I’ve begun to understand how it all unfolded.  With every government notice, every media post, every friend’s Facebook post, we are being bombarded with messages that the world is not a safe place.

We are receiving endless messages that every single person you encounter is a threat to your health.  That sweet little boy rummaging through the candy aisle?  Not safe.  That little old lady inching closer to hear a conversation, not safe.  The guy stocking groceries.   Not safe.  Your kid’s classmates?  Not safe.  Coworkers?  Not safe.  Random stranger jogging down the street?  Not safe.

Not only are we being told that other people are a threat to our health, we are being told that normal innocuous daily activities are also hazardous to our health.  Touching a door knob or a grocery cart.  Wearing your outside shoes inside.  Using the same towel daily.  Petting a stranger’s dog.  Driving with your car window down.  Breathing the same air as someone who ran by three hours ago.

Mail and packages should be left on the porch for 24 hours, contents should by Lysoled. Groceries should be removed from their packaging and repacked in “safe” containers.  Shopping, dining in a restaurant, exercising in public, riding a bus, taking an Uber, going to work, visiting a library…all unsafe.

The only “safe” activities are Netflix, Disney Plus and as much media content as you can stomach.

Did reading the last three paragraphs make you anxious, panicked and stressed out?  Yeah, me too.  And in that panic and anxiety, I have begun to understand more and more why people behaved the way they did during WWII.

First, humans are pretty much incapable of making good decisions when panicked.  And like the entire world during WWII, we’re all pretty panicked as record numbers of folks are unemployed, the economy has come to a standstill and life as we know has completely stopped.

Second, when everyone around you has been classified as an enemy and all of your normal daily activities are classified as unsafe, we feel, well…unsafe.  In WWII Europe, the “enemy” was the Jewish people, the homosexuals, the Roma.  In 2020, the “enemy” is anyone standing closer than 6′.

Third, when what we see doesn’t jive with what we are being told, we start to feel confused, frustrated, angry.  Heavy propaganda helped propel the Nazi machine through Europe.  Our current media has lost all credibility and can’t keep a story straight for more than 2 hours.

Those feelings of panic, danger, confusion, frustration and anger boil down to us feeling helpless, out of control, and alone.  That feeling of “alone” is amplified by the fact that we are physically cut off from almost all of our support systems and safe places.

As humans, when we feel helpless, out of control or alone, we do things to counteract and combat those feelings, whether or not they are logical, appropriate or helpful to our situation.

We hoard toilet paper.  We close down parks and trails, despite the fact that sunshine, exercise and fresh air are universally renowned for their health benefits.  We wear gloves to touch shopping carts.  We use rubbing alcohol to disinfect our mail.  We stand in our yards, wearing pj’s and howling every night at 8 pm with our neighbors.  We use social media to post endless articles, opinions and thoughts on the situation, whether or not those posts and articles are fact checked, true, or relevant.

It bears saying again.  When faced with uncertainty, danger, loss of control and alone, humans will always reach for the things that help us feel safe, in charge, under control and not alone, whether or not they are logical, appropriate or helpful to our situation. 

Just like the citizens who couldn’t control who was taken and who wasn’t, or whether or not their rations included sugar or flour, we can’t control whether or not the virus clings to metal or dies on cardboard.  We can’t control whether or not the stores have toilet paper.  And to feel safe, humans need something to control.

As California and New York’s political figure heads have started encouraging folks to turn each other in for social gatherings, it’s becoming a lot easier to understand just how those folks in WWII were able to turn in their neighbors, their friends, their customers.

While we see the consequences of those actions now, and judge them as morally reprehensible from the safety of our own lives decades later, there’s a good chance that they too, were people living in constant panic and fear, operating in panic and fear, decision making in panic and fear.

There’s a good chance that they too were people searching desperately for a way to gain back their own control, power, and safety.

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Until next time, I hope you enjoy a good book and some sunshine.

-R

 

4 Stars · Book Review · Historical Fiction · Spain · Summer Read · thoughts · WWII

The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

51Wi2vWaM4L._SY346_The Snow Gypsy, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, was one of the best books I’ve read this summer.  In this beautiful novel, set at the closing edges of WWII, Ashford leaves both Germany and Britain behind, forgoes the soldiers and war torn lovers and takes readers high into the mountains of post WWII Spain.

The Snow Gypsy follows Rose, a British veterinarian as she searches for her beloved brother who disappeared in Spain while fighting with Gypsy partisans eight years prior.  Rose’s search leads her directly into the heart and home of Lola Aragon and her gypsy family, and sends  them both head first into the complexities of a small mountain community grappling with their communal wounds after the war.

Ashford is the master of simple complexity.  The Snow Gypsy has a handful of characters who are rich and well developed and as complex as the flamenco rhythms Ashford employs throughout the book.  Each chapter is layered with emotion, joy, fear, pride, happiness, anger, love, lust, confusion, guilt, each landing on top of the other in a complex pattern of humanity.  I was particularly appreciative of how the book felt so authentic, as if Ashford was a witness to the times rather than just writing about them or putting her own romantic spin on what she hoped life would be like for Spanish Gypsies or women in the 1940’s.  Unlike Yaquian in Theads of Silk, Rose’s actions and decisions were both strong and strange, but they made sense for her character, the times and the location.

The story is strong and shocking, many events were unexpected and felt true to life.  I always appreciate when an author takes on a very popular subject like WWII and provides an entirely different angle from another perspective.  Like The Last Train to Istanbul, The Snow Gypsy further expanded my understanding of the true reach and depth of WWII and all of those impacted.

Great beach read.  4 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

R

 

 

 

Bad Ass Women · Book Review · Historical Fiction · WWII

The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey

91lxhcUM91L._AC_UL436_Some books are just fun to read.  The Beantown Girls is one of those books.

Written by Jane Healey The Beantown Girls takes on WWII through the eyes of the Red Cross Clubmobile Girls.  In all of my years of reading and studying WWII history, I’ve never come across anything about the Clubmobile Girls, which is an incredibly fascinating piece of American and WWII History.  The Red Cross essentially recruited attractive, outgoing, college-educated American women between the ages of 25-35.  They sent these young women to England and France during WWII to boost troop morale by serving coffee and donuts while engaging troops in lighthearted conversation.  The girls were trained to drive and maintain trucks fitted with little kitchens and often followed the troops right into the thick of things.

Healey did a fantastic job presenting the history and strength of the Clubmobile Girls while also dipping into the horrors of war that these young women actually faced.  In many ways, the Clubmobile Girls carried the same unspoken mantle that mothers, sisters and wives carry everywhere; to support our men and be strong so the men won’t fall apart.  I appreciated the way Healey wrote her female characters in a way that was both strong and vulnerable, as well as true to the times.  The girls constantly applying fresh lipstick in the midst of a war was almost comical, but also an obvious nod to how seriously they took their roles as Clubmobile Girls.

I also liked how Healey strung together several true Clubmobile Girl accounts into a single believable tale, unlike Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which placed the main character in so many events it was unbelievable.

The love story in The Beantown Girls felt like a neatly placed after thought and I think the book could have continued along smoothly without a predictable love thread being tossed in.  The book does end rather neatly, but after all the girls go through, I was rooting for them to get everything they wanted.

Great topic.  Engaging writing.  Well developed characters.  The Beantown Girls gets four stars from me and a strong recommendation for lighter WWII historical fiction.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers, -R

Book Review · Bust · WWII

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

51poiQYTPrL._AC_US218_Morning Y’all!

You know I just love a good historical fiction, with WWII and ancient history at the top of the list.  Between Jeff Wheeler obsessions, I was able to mix in Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

Set in Turkey at the onset of WWII, this novel provides a very interesting and rare look into life for Turkish citizens during WWII.  While most of us know WWII was a “world war”, in the US, we tend to learn about the major players in the war as they pertain to us:  Germany, the United States, Japan and England.  We also learn about a very few crucial events:  Hitler’s rise to power, the concentration camps, German occupation of France, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and the bombing of Hiroshima.  The actual scope and breadth of WWII is rarely touched on.  I’ve been astounded to read so many books lately that touch on the impact of WWII and what it really meant on a global scale and just how many countries and peoples were actually impacted by this war.

Last Train reads almost like two different books.  The first half of the novel follows the lives of two Turkish Muslim sisters, Sabiha and Selva.  What starts as a tale of sibling rivalry between two high school girls soon morphs into a tale of forbidden love as younger sister Selva, falls in love and marries Rafo, a Turkish Jew.  The two escape their families disapproval in France, but soon find themselves caught up in the German occupation of France.  While Selva and Rafo contend with the Gestapo in France, Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat, maintains her traditional life in Turkey.  Despite her husband’s position and their station, Sabiha grapples with depression, explores marital unhappiness, and battles excessive guilt over her sister’s situation, as she was the one who introduced and promoted her sister’s romance with Rafo.

In the midst of the sister’s complex relationship, WWII looms.  The second half of the novel breaks from the sisters and follows Selva through France.  She becomes highly involved in protecting her neighborhood from Gestapo and eventually joins the Turkish diplomats as they attempt to rescue and remove all of Turkey’s citizens from occupied France.  To accomplish this, the Turkish diplomats work tirelessly to arrange a special train to transport their people back to Turkey.  The second half of the book discusses the stress and strain as the Turkish diplomats track down citizens who have been caught by the Gestapo.  The last third of the book deals primarily with the train ride from France to Istanbul.

Because this novel was translated, I think a lot of the flow of the story was lost.  Right around halfway, there were 2 entire chapters dedicated to David Russo, who up until that point had not existed.  I had to reread the chapter before those, trying to figure out who and how David belonged in this story.   It wasn’t until a bit later that he fit into the book, so that was a bit confusing.  Once the book starts following Selva in France, the number of characters goes through the roof and it was difficult to keep track of who they all were and why they belonged in the story.  With that many characters, it was difficult for Kulin to flesh them all out, and there were a good many characters that could have been removed and not missed.

While the story of the Turkish diplomats rescuing their citizens was incredible, it didn’t get the attention or power it deserved.  It played almost as a back story to getting these folks on the train.  Unfortunately, the train ride itself was incredibly boring and didn’t express fully the anxiety, fear, and courage required of a group traveling with Jewish Turks through Nazi occupied territories.  They get on and off the train at a few stops, share some stories over food and wine, have their papers checked a few times, deal with cranky children and stinky bathrooms.  This section was God-awful boring.  In a bid to break up the monotony, Kulin threw in a rape scene, which felt incredibly forced and in no way related to the story overall.

 

Because Last Train was written by a Turkish author, it is very authentic in it’s cultural references and language.  However, as someone totally unfamiliar with Turkey and Turkish culture, I had a very hard time with many of the cultural references and words.  A small dictionary or section that helps explain these references and words would have been awesome.

All in all, Last Train providing some amazingly interesting Turkish WWII history but was not engaging on an emotional level.  The original may have been incredible, but the translation felt too technical and almost like it was translated verbatim rather than translated with the goal of communicating the flow and heart of the story.

Until next time, happy reading my friends.

Cheers,

-R

Books to Movies · children's books · Favorite Books · horchata · WWII

Ferdinand The Bull

ferdinand the bull book coverMy absolute favorite children’s book of all time is the 1936 classic, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.  My grandmother read it to me as a child and I’ve read it to Huck as least 1000 times in the last few years.  History has it that Leaf wrote the story in a single afternoon as a way to help his friend, Robert Lawson, showcase his artistic talent.  The book was a hit, and at $1 per copy the 1938 sales topped those of the ever popular Gone with the Wind.  The Story of Ferdinand has never been out of print despite the many political waves this little story has caused.  1930’s America received Ferdinand in two very different facets.  Some saw the strong but gentle Ferdinand as a fascist, a pacifist, a sit-down striker, and a communist, while others received the children’s tale as story of being true to oneself.  Both receptions say more about America at that time than the story itself.

World wide, Ferdinand entered the political arena with mixed reactions.  In Spain, Ferdinand was banned as a pacifist book until the death of Francisco Franco.  Nazi Germany declared Ferdinand a symbol of democratic propaganda and ordered all copies of the book burned.  Ironically, this sweet tale was the only American children’s book sold in Stalinist-era Poland.  In 1945, following the defeat of Germany and the end of WWII, 30,000 copies of Ferdinand were published and distributed to the German children to encourage peace.

Despite all of the historical political heat, at its heart, Ferdinand is a book children will love.  This adorable tale about a strong young bull named Ferdinand who would rather sit and smell the flowers than participate in the normal young bull activities is one that children (and their parents) will relate to.  There are so many deep themes gently layered into this story: self acceptance, parental support and acceptance of a child who clearly steers away from the normal expectations, and being true to yourself despite what everyone else wants from you.  If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend borrowing your favorite child and enjoying the sweet story of Ferdinand together, especially as this classic is coming to movie screens in December.

Title: The Story of Ferdinand

Rating: 5 stars

Location best to enjoy: Snuggled in a good reading nook with your favorite child

Best Paired with: A glass of horchata 🙂

 

beach read · Book Review · Fruit Beer · Historical Fiction · Sangria · Summer Read · WWII

Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake

The House by the Lake - Ella Carey - Book Cover

There’s nothing quite as inexplicable as staying up all night to finish reading a good book.  It’s not like the book is going anywhere…and the story won’t change…but I still can’t put it down.

This weekend, I went on a bit of a book bender and read The House By the Lake and Everything We Keep.  A historical fiction that bounces between pre-WWII Europe and San Francisco, The House on the Lake was a quick, if not totally satisfying, read.  The story follows Anna, a successful café owner, as she journeys through pieces of her Grandfather Max’s life and attempts to patch together his life story while holding hostage her own broken heart. Continue reading “Weekend Reading: The House By the Lake”