Tag Archives: war story

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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stripedpyjamasBruno is nine years old when his father is transferred to a new job. The German family packs up their belongings and moves to Out-With. The first time Bruno looks out his new bedroom window and sees the low huts with so many people all milling about in striped pyjamas, you realize that his childlike mind has changed Auschwitz into Out-With; and that his father is the commandante of a concentration camp and that he has no idea what any of it means.

I loved the innocence that a child’s vocabulary brought to such a dark part of history. Listen to his description of Hitler, “The Fury was far shorter than Father and not, Bruno supposed, quite as strong. He had dark hair, which was cut quite short, and a tiny moustache- so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.” His little thoughts were enchanting and I found myself smiling and giggling along with him.

There were times that his ignorance broke my heart, and times when I was glad he had no idea what was going on around him.

Overall it was a good book. It made you think differently about things, and wonder what life was like on both sides of the fence. The only thing I disagreed with a bit was that it seemed to me that the majority of the people wished they weren’t Nazis. There was one particularly unkind guard at the camp, but other than that, most of the adults disagreed with Bruno’s father. Or were not proud of what they were doing. And it seemed to me that if the Nazis were anything, it was proud. It seems unlikely to me that the 9 year old son of a commandante would be so ignorant of the Nazi ideals. Maybe I’m wrong, but the book seems apologetically Nazi and in my mind, that is an oxymoron. The Nazis did not apologize. They thought they were right.

I would recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” to anybody. It was sad, as you’d expect a book about Auschwitz to be, but the sadness was tempered a bit by the imagination and thoughts of a little boy trying to figure life out.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

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The Wild Girl” is a dark and beautiful book that reminds me of King Solomon’s words:Image

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Dortchen Wild grew up next door to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and is one of their main sources for the fables and tales that were rewritten and published to make sure the world didn’t forget the old stories that had been told from generation to generation before them.

The story begins as any good fairy tale does, with young love and adventure and excitement. But, soon, the dark realities of life in the early 1800s in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel set in. With war in the background and hunger and poverty in the foreground, we read the story of Dortchen who has to battle evil even in her own home.

Near the beginning of the book, Dortchen and Wilhelm are talking about the power that words have. “He said that words have a remarkable power. The word “God” is only three letters, yet how much meaning is in those three letters? It’s vast, unimaginable. Think of the word “liberty”. Only seven letters, yet it changed a whole country and looks like it might change the world.” This sort of thinking sets up the whole premise of the book. How often do we speak or read words and stories without really examining the meaning behind them. We accept them at face value without delving into the depths that are contained inside. Kate Forsyth does that sort of digging for us, though, and this book is a possible insight into the lives of Wilhelm and Dortchen. She never says that this is their story. But, she lets you know that it could have been. Just as it is the story of so many before and after them.

The book left me with a heavy heart, but it’s the kind of heaviness that reminds me that people are broken and hurting and we need to hear their cries for help, no matter how they are disguised. I didn’t want to put it down. I read it every chance I got hoping for redemption and a happily ever after. I won’t tell you if those come or not. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and you will be glad you did. Enjoy your foray into the tales of your childhood. See how they have changed through the years, and the circumstances that created them, and what may have changed them.

A Pledge of Silence by Flora J. Solomon

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pledgeofsilenceIf you’re anything like me, there are times you are completely unprepared for a book you read. You may have read the description or even a couple reviews to see if it was something that would interest you. But somehow, you manage to gloss over the emotional and traumatic events contained inside. That is, if you’re anything like me.

That’s how it was with A Pledge of Silence. Even with statements such as this in the first chapter: “Margie stepped back into the shadows, wishing she could guide the choices of her young self, but sadly she knew she could not change her fate.” What follows is a journey back in time. We see Margie and her childhood sweetheart, Abe make their college choices. We follow them through the fun times of job seeking and young love. But then, WWII begins, and Abe joins up to be a fighter pilot and Margie is called up in the Army Nursing Reserve and sent to the Philippines to care for our fighting boys over there. The war rages and finally catches up with her. So we watch as she and her fellow nurses become the first U.S. military women to be taken as Prisoners of War by a foreign enemy.

The book is a work of fiction, but the author, Flora J Solomon did her research well, so that it could very closely mirror true events. In fictional novels, you expect a happy ending. However, we all know that real life offers us no such guarantees. Throughout the book, that tension of fiction vs. reality is ever present.

I recommend that you step out of what you know and read this book. It is heartbreaking and hopeful and I think you’ll like it. If you’re anything like me.

The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy

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Recently someone asked me if I had read The Baker’s Daughter. They were looking for a recommendation, but not having read it, I was unable to give one. Now, however, I can give it a good recommendation.

I enjoyed this book so much. You should probably read it.

Elsie Schmidt grew up in Nazi Germany during WWII. This is her story. But, not only hers because all of our stories are woven in and amongst the stories of those around us. Along with Elsie- the baker’s daughter, you will meet Nazi, Jew, sister, friend, daughter, border patrol agent, illegal alien. All will touch and enrich her life.

“People often miss things that don’t exist- miss things that were but are not anymore. So there or here, I’d still miss home because my home is gone.” I love the clear, honest thoughts that are brought out.

“Only God has enough of the story to judge our souls” So often, we judge without the right information. And we think it’s ok. But it’s not.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke. This was a clear theme of the book. Sarah McCoy tells us that we should not only act, but that we must be aware of what is going on. She shows us again that people would rather be ignorant of evil if it means that they don’t have to act in any way that would be harmful to their way of life. In your mind, you may be thinking that you’ve heard this story before. In fact, this is the same story you always hear in conjunction with the holocaust. But, she subtly asks each of us to look into our own hearts and see if we are actively ignoring the cries of those in peril around us.

I enjoyed this book. A lot. I would recommend it to everybody I know. I would recommend it to everybody. It was a fun read. And occasionally it made me think beyond simply having fun. Just the type of book I enjoy.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” was recommended to me a few years ago, when I was looking for a book to read for our book club. In the end, I chose “The Help” and put this book on my mental shelf. I forgot about it, until a few weeks ago when it was once again recommended. So, I borrowed it from the library onto my kindle, and jumped feet first into Seattle, WA. 1942.

The book opens with Henry Lee as a grown man standing in front of an old Japanese landmark, the Panama Hotel. During renovations, the new owner finds a basement full of Japanese families’ possessions that were hidden when they were forced from their homes. The sight takes Henry back to his childhood. A place where his traditional Chinese family will have nothing to do with the Japanese families who live in the next neighborhood over. Henry’s father spends every moment trying to think of ways to assist with the Chinese war¬†against Japan raging in his homeland. Henry, however, finds an unlikely friend and ally in Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl who is the only other asian in an otherwise all white school. They form a bond that is unbroken by her family’s relocation to internment camps.

In the opening pages of the book, as Henry is remembering his childhood, he also recalls his son and wife, Ethel. So, while reading the sweet story of childhood love and adventure, you know with a certainty that somehow this is not a lasting relationship. The questions linger as you read. Does Keiko not make it through? Does Henry finally submit to his Chinese parents’ rules? Does somebody break faith with the other? How does Henry end up with Ethel? But, you are willing to keep reading and find out what happened because he speaks of Ethel with such love and reverence. Somehow, he doesn’t settle for a second choice, but is given a second chance at happiness.

Although a main theme of the book is the treatment of the Japanese during World War II, it is not all there is. My favorite character of all is “Sheldon, a sax player twice Henry’s age who worked the street corner, playing for the tourists’ pleasure and pocket change. Despite the booming activity at Boeing Field, prosperity didn’t seem to reach locals like Sheldon. He was a polished jazz player, whose poverty had less to do with his musical ability and more to do with his color. Henry had liked him immediately” and I felt the same way.

I will share with you one of my favorite parts of the book. It is the day that all of the Japanese in Seattle are rounded up and sent by train to the Puyallup fairgrounds which is set up as a temporary internment camp. “He and Sheldon walked all the way to the steps of the Nippon Kan Theater, across from Kobe Park and in the shadow of the Japanese-owned Astor Hotel, which stood silent like an empty coffin. The prettiest part of Japantown, even vacant as it was, looked beautiful in the afternoon. Cherry blossoms covered the sidewalks, and the streets smelled alive.

‘What are we doing here?’ Henry asked, as he watched Sheldon open his case and take out his saxophone.

Sheldon slipped his reed into the mouthpiece. ‘We’re living.’

Henry looked around the deserted streets, remembering the people, the actors, the dancers, the old men gossiping and playing cards. Children running and playing. Keiko sitting on the hillside drawing in her sketchbook. Laughing at Henry. Teasing him. The memories warmed him, just a little. Maybe there was life to be lived.

His ears perked up as Sheldon drew a deep breath, then began a slow wailing on his sax. A sad, melancholy affair, the kind Henry had never heard him play on the street or in the clubs. It was heartbreaking, but only for a moment. Then he slipped into something festive- something up-tempo, with a soul and a heartbeat. He played for no one, but at the same time Henry realized he was playing for everyone.”

I love the reminders that are woven through this book that there is always life to be lived. No matter how bleak the outlook, keep living the life you have been given. Tomorrow may be different from today.

This is a book of reconciliation. Of lives lived well. Of memories that should not be forgotten. Of friendships that are not hindered by time and race. Of love, true and lasting. Of joy and grief. Of life and death. If you are in the mood for such a book, then I recommend this one to you.