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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

IMG_7523With words to devour, pages to turn, people and places and ideas in literature to fill the chasm of time between the onset of the COVID19 and the end of August,  I confess that I have not read much during these many months of pandemic. Unsustained concentration and lack of focus found me in  literary limbo.

It was “out of the mouth of babes” that I was rescued from my malaise.

I mentioned a movie I had recently viewed, Wonder, in a Skype visit with our granddaughter. Kezzie exclaimed “Yia Yia, I told you to read the book!”. I pulled out my list of her recommendations and there it was, with the author and my notes of Kezzie’s synopsis of the book. A delightful conversation ensued and I promptly ordered a copy of the book online after we ended our virtual visit. I read it, post-haste, when it arrived and would like to recommend it to you.  Being different, bullied, feeling different when you look “normal” and your sibling doesn’t, how children (and adults) react to differences and the burdens of life that they may carry. Read it! The author of Wonder is P.J. Palacio. It is part of a series I hope to continue.



 

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Reading Wonder reminded me that children’s literature has always been a place of refuge for me. In these troubling times it just might be what I needed to read. I perused the piles of accumulated books that threaten our floorboards and two such books from a long past trip to a thrift shop arose and begged to be read.

Thimble Summer, with its beautiful cover and Newberry Medal emblem, was a delightful read. I did judge this book by its cover – and judged it well. I remembered another book by the author that I read as a child, The Saturdays, which I loved and read over and over again. Thimble Summer is about a young girl, Garnet, who finds a silver thimble that she believes is magic as wonderful things begin to happen in a time of drought and uncertainly in her Wisconsin farm that summer. Elizabeth Enright is the author.

Hero Over Here  is a mere 54 pages, plucked from the shelves at the same thrift store as Thimble Summer. On that same pre2020 outing, it was another cover that appealed to me, a book about the home front during World War I, and copyrighted in 1990.  The book is dedicated by the author, Kathleen V. Kudlinski – “To my grandmothers, Lillian Veenis and Helen Bowen, Both of whom remembered the flu for me.”  Suddenly, this summer, this little book called out to me. I read it in one sitting. Theodore’s father and older brother are “over there”, fighting WWI. His mother, then his sister are suddenly stricken with the flu epidemic of 1918. Theodore must care for them, he becomes a hero, and he learns life lessons in that horrific time.

What would you do if you learned the date and code name of a massive invasion during World War II?  Emma, is the daughter of a Dutch diplomat, Oscar.  Emma and her husband Carl are at a chance meeting for lunch with Oscar in Geneva. When Carl, a German who works at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, steps away from the table for a few minutes, Emma whispers the coded information in her father’s ear. Carl has confided to Emma that there will be an invasion of Russia by German forces. It is called Operation Barbarossa and will commence on June 22.  Oscar knows there are gestapo in the restaurant. He knows he is being watched. He knows that if he reveals this information, Emma and Carl will be arrested. Oscar’s wife, Kate, works as a nurse in London, aiding injured military. Oscar and Kate are married, live in separate apartments and rarely see each other. Oscar unexpectedly arrives in Kate’s apartment and reveals Emma’s secret. They have differing views of whether or not Oscar should share the information, knowing Emma’s complicity, but knowing they may save thousands of lives. They question if anyone will even believe Oscar.  News from Berlin is by Otto De Kat, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke.

HatsSome Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler is the captivating memoir of Trudi Kanter, a well respected milliner in pre-WWII Vienna. As the Nazis march into Austria, Trudi realized that she must find a way to get her husband Walter and her parents out of Austria. Walter stubbornly sees no reason for leaving. After all, they are respectable, prosperous and he is not worried about what might happen. Trudi, however, sees the warning signs and knows that they will soon be in dire danger as Jews. Her guile, ingenuity, and determination, as well as her well earned reputation as a talented creator of woman’s hats, are implemented as she sets a plan in motion to save her family and others from the pending horror. A buying trip to Paris, business connections, her line of credit, and her charm are brought into play in this sometimes charming, often harrowing book  that is hard to put down.   This memoir was a self-published in the 1980’s, rediscovered by a graduate student in Cambridge, England. It was eventually reprinted in 2012. It was recommended to me by Centuries and Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park. I was inspired by Trudi’s story, her tenacity and courage and I am appreciative of this recommendation from the unique and amazing independent bookstore  Centuries and Sleuths is.

What have you read lately? Have you had trouble concentrating on books during this time, or read more than you regularly do?

 

 

 

 

 

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“Your mind — your curiosity — will be your comfort.”*

I recently stumbled upon yet another “Lucky Day” pick from the La Grange Library – and lucky it was!

As often happens, I was drawn to a book by its cover. I slid it off of the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library, and wondered, for a brief moment or two, why the cover looked so familiar, then realized it was reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s painting,  Christina’s World. Was it written by Christina? Well, of course not, but the author’s first name compelled me to read the flap of the dust jacket and to peek inside. I walked out of the library with Christina Baker Kline’s fictional novel, “A Piece of the World” and was soon engrossed in Christina’s world on the coastal farm in Cushing, Maine. The farm was settled century’s earlier by ancestors who came to escape their name, Hathorne, and the taint of the Salem Witch Trials.

Christina’s life is confined primarily to the family home in Cushing. From the earliest childhood years of her illness, her debilitating condition molds her life. From her determination to keep moving and living and making the best of her circumstances, to her later years, she stoically strives to keep moving through life. As she eventually can no longer walk, she uses her arms, then her elbows to move above, do chores in a house that is old, rundown, without indoor plumbing or adequate heating.

Christina excels in her small, country school, is encouraged to continue her education and to eventually become the school’s teacher. It is the kindness and encouragement of her teacher that gives her hope of a future, and the stubbornness and viewpoint of her father that end those dreams, taking Christina out of the school and keeping her at home, taking over her mother’s chores and diminishing her contact the outside world.

The book follows Christina’s life, from her loving relationship with her grandmother, her mysterious illness, her staunch refusal for what seems like experimental treatment, and her relationship with her brothers, especially Alvaro, and her friendship with Betsy and Andy. Betsy’s family has a summer-house in Cushing, Andy meets and eventually marries Betsy, who brings him, as a young man, to the Hathorne, now called the Olson house. He is intrigued by the house and the light and the views and spends countless days in one of the upstairs rooms, painting the scenery as well as the two remaining inhabitants of the house; Christina and Al. When Al is introduced to Andy, he is told that he is the son of N.C. Wyeth. Al remembers N. C.’s illustrations and declares that “Treasure Island” is probably the only book he ever read to the end. The house is both a blessing and a curse; a monument to history that often hold Christina and her brothers back, yet, it is a house that fascinates Andy, and it is both the anchor and the chain that confines Christina.

I loved the lyrical prose, the attention to detail, the simplicity and sparseness of words at times along with the weight of those words. I loved Christina’s fondness and instinctive understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. My heart ached at her naiveté and eventual heartbreak of a relationship she was led to believe would end in marriage. I was angered by her father, an immigrant and a sailor, who lacked compassion and understanding of his fragile, strong-willed daughter.

While the book is fictitious about the friendship of Christina and Andy (Andrew Wyeth) as well as Andy’s wife, Betsy, it is based on research and known facts. It imagines the restrictive edges of Christina’s life and how she endures the hardships that surround her. “A Piece of the World”  is a captivating novel that I not only enjoyed, but, a book that led me to further exploration of the life and the illness of Christina Olson, her relationship of the Wyeths, and her family’s ancestry.

As I closed the pages of “A Piece of the World”, I remembered a trip Tom and I took to Philadelphia where we saw a retrospective exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While Christina’s World was not part of the exhibit, there were other paintings of the Olson farmhouse, and its inhabitants. It was a remarkable trip to Philly, prompted by the exhibit. I then fired up the laptop and was greeted with a discovery that had me heading to the post office as I returned “A Piece of the World”. How opportune that the USPS released these Andrew Wyeth stamps just as I closed Christina Baker Kline’s compelling novel.

 

This quote is the parting words of Christina’s teacher when Christina leaves school for the last time. *

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