Book Review: Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini–Part II

Resistence WomenAs I read this book, I am repeatedly struck with how apt the words of the characters in 1930’s Germany could apply today by changing the country and political parties.  The book is written in 2019 so one would have to draw one’s own conclusions on how concidental the remarks are.

p15 (1929)   “Mildred knew that Germany was not perfect, that like the United State it grappled with various economic, political, and social problems….”  Mildred is an American, married to a German national and has joined her husband in Germany.  (She and her husband are  based upon real people.) Mildred is studying for a doctorate in American literature and is trying to find a job as a professor at a time when the Nazi’s are coming to power.

p42-43  (Oct 1930) “People are struggling,” Sara replied…..”They can’t find work and they’re afraid of what the future holds.” Sara  is Jewish and a student of Mildred’s.  Sara’s family is well off–her father is a banker. Her brother Natan is a reporter and an editor for an important Berlin newspaper.  They hope that their relative wealth and generations of being German will keep them safe in the future.

Natan’s response to Sara, “Then comes along this loud, angry man  promising to take them back to a mythical golden age of prosperity, swearing to punish Germany’s enemies for wrongdoing them.  Some peple respond to that–in this case, vast numbers of people.”

p50  “Women and Jews–what threat do we pose to those men, that they call for our deaths?”  Amalie, Sara’s sister, and married to  well-off Christian who is an officer in the Wehrmacht, is lamenting what has happened in public after the “results of September 14 election had stunned everyone–except perhaps the leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, an Austrian named Adolph Hitler. ”

Following the election, there was a riot in Berlin.  p52, “..(N)one of the roughly 300 protesters had been arrested, less surprised to read that most of the windows broken had belonged to businesses owned by Jews.”

“And though there was not a word of truth to it, the National  Socialist press spread the rumor  that the Communists had started the riot.  They proclaimed the lie so often and so emphatically that those who had not seen the riot for themselves could not distinguish truth from falsehood.”

p63 (1931), Dr. Kienle, a prominent female gynocologist, tries unsuccessfully to give a speech in Marburg,  The Nazi brownshirts disrupt her speech by proclaiming a woman’s role “Kinder, Kirche Kuche!”–Children, church, kitchen.  “Mildred knew then that outspoken, independent women made up one more class of undesirables that must be suppressed if the Nazis were to remake Germany in their own image.”

p189 (1933) “Rational people,” said Mildred.  “People who act out of decency, compassion, and respect for the rule of law rather than hatred and fear.  That is the real Germany, not that frenzy of lies we saw yesterday.”

 

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Book Review: Resistence Women by Jennifer Chiaverini, Part I

The latest book by New York Times best seller author Jennifer Chiaverini, is set in Germany from the waning days of the Wiemar Republic through Adolph Hitler’s legal rise to power, where his Nationalist Social party changes Germany from a democratic republic to a dictatorship. It culminates with World War II.

The Resistence Women are based upon  three real women and a fictitional Jewish woman who make up a group opposing Hitler and the rise of the Nazi regime. Mildred Fish-Harnack, a University of Wisconsin graduate student in American Literature goes to Germany in 1929 to be with her German born husband, brilliant economist Arvid Harnack, who she had met and married in the United States.  Mildred is trying to finish her doctorate, while seeking a position as a professor in a German university.  Greta Lorke, a friend of Mildred and her husband Arvid  from the University of Wisconsin, returns to Germany in 1930 to find that that 1929 stock market crash has severely affected the already struggling German economy.  Greta is also trying to finish her dissertation and is seeking a position as a writer in the theater.  Martha Dodd,  the daughter of the new American ambassador to Germany and also an author, meets Mildred through the American Women’s Club.  Sara Weitz, one of Mildred’s students in American Lit, is the only fictional character.  She is from a well-off Jewish family and represents a composite character of some of the Jewish members of the resistence cell.

The four women and their partners are drawn into an underground espionage network, where imprisonment and possible death are the most likely outcomes whether one is German, American, gentile or Jew.  Anyone who is not a fervent Nazi is an enemy of the Reich.

However, the Nazi’s are not the only ones who practice anti-semitism and the perception that Mildred and Arvid are Communist sympathizers (in the post WWII Cold War era)  lead to the story not getting the attention it might otherwise have recieved.

Book Review: Ban This Book

Ban-This-Book-Cover-1650px-680x1020Although Banned Book Week has passed, this chidren’s book by Alan Gratz is a remarkable book about how Amy Anne came to run the Banned Book Locker Library.

Amy Anne’s favorite book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frenkwiler by E.L. Konigsburg, is banned from her school library by classmate’s mom who decides it is inappropriate for children to read.    As the school year continues, other favorite books are banned.

As the titles are banned, Amy Ann and some of her classmates decide to get copies of the banned books by any means possible.  Shy, quiet Amy Ann becomes the defacto librarian of this underground library, checking copies of banned titles in and out of her school locker.

The group’s two biggest fears are how to keep acquiring titles as the list continues to grow and what will happen when/if news of the Banned Book Locker Library leaks out.  As more children learn about the Library, the chance for exposure grows with each check-out.

In the battle of book censorship and who has the right to tell kids what they can or can’t read, the children find themselves on the front line dealing with  the school bureaucracy and parental hipocracy.  The school librarian also had to decide what is right, not just what is legal.  (They are not always the same.)

Rating:  4/5 Stars

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. New, York:  McMillan, 2017. 765385562

Available on Kindle, Hardbook, Paperback, and MP3CD

 

One Town, Thirty-Four National Guards Men, Nineteen Killed in One Day…

DSC00510.JPGOne Memorial = One town, thirty four National Guardsmen with nineteen killed in a single day plus four more killed during the rest of the Normandy campaign.

That is how the National D-Day Memorial came to Bedford, Virginia.  Bedford, a small town near the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia,  had a population of about 3,200 then. (Population has doubled to slightly over 6,000 today).  Bedford proportionally lost more of its population than any other town.

Known as the Bedford Boys, Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment was part of the 29th Division.  Most of them had joined the Guard to earn extra money during the Great Depression.   They were mobilized into the Army for what was initially supposed to be one year on February 3, 1941.

They spent most of 1941 training at Ft Meade in Maryland.  After Pearl Harbor, they relocated to Camp Blanding, near Jacksonville, Florida.  From Camp Blanding, they went to Manhattan before embarking on the Queen Mary for Scotland and England.

They spent almost two years in Great Britain, training for the probable invasion of Europe.  Even though the troops did not experience combat before D-Day, they were among the best-trained soldiers and were selected to head the first wave of attack on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

To read more about the Bedford boys, I highly recommend,  The  Bedford Boys:  One American’ Town’s Ultimate D-Day  Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw.  Cambridge, MA:  Da Capo Press, 2003.  ISBN 0306811677

Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Bedford-Boys-American-Ultimate-Sacrifice/dp/0306813556 Variety of editions and prices

Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bedford-boys-alex-kershaw/1100267057#/ Variety of editions and prices

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Book Review: Over the Horizon

Over the HorizonOver the Horizon by Luke Ridenhour.  Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018

Over the Horizon is heartwarming, fictionalized account of the USS Midway’s 1980-1981 cruise.  The story is told through the focus of the officers of VA-115 Eagles, who fly A-6 Intruders off the Midway. The reader is the 3rd person in the cockpit along with the pilot and the bomber-navigator (BN) from preflight briefs, through catapult takeoff and tail hook landing, and the long hour’s in-between.

The reader experiences why a lucky pilot is one whose takeoffs equal his landings. He doesn’t want to dick the donkey. Such irreverent observations are a way to cope with the reality that a single mistake can be the loss of a friend. “Although one pilot, three enlisted men, and four airplanes would not be coming home, the cruise was deemed a success.  Acceptable losses for such an at-sea period were defined as five aircraft loss or significantly damaged, three fatalities involving aviators, and three fatalities involving non-aviators.” (p.251).

The book follows a pivotal year for the USS Midway.  The Cactus collision and a potentially hazardous flyby of the Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk are two of the dramatic highlights.  The officers of VA-115 also face personal highs and lows from a break-up with a girlfriend that cannot handle the strains of the life and death situations that aviators face daily, a divorce from a wife who can no longer deal with the prolonged separations for people serving with the Navy’s foreign legion as the Midway was also known, and unlikely lifelong friendship with Eli, a Filipino caddy at the golf course in Subic Bay who understood that you “can’t argue with God about wind, rains and storm, or why you can’t teach a monkey to meow.”  (p. 233)

The friendships of the people in this story will stay with the reader long after the story ends.  Everyone is a wonderful human being.  Even the sailors on liberty in Olongapo (the adult Disneyland) show remarkable restraint except for the very few that throw pesos away from the children who dive into the Shit River for the tossed coins.  The better among the people who cross over the Shit River Bridge between the Subic Naval Base and Olongapo throw the coins near the children or the nets they carry. It is like a band of Eagle Scouts rather than the variety of flawed human beings that one normally finds in a group of individuals.  All of the Filipino children are precious, all of the Filipinos are friendly and have wonderful smiles despite the Americans on the golf course spending more in a day than that Filipinos make in a week.  Where do we find such friendly, pleased with their lot in life people?

Midway Magic is a constant theme through the story.  It helps save the ship from damage during the Cactus collision.  It also explains the luck experienced by the various pilots and crew as they perform their intricate, death defying ballet when the night is darker than a “black horse’s ass” and the flight deck is freezing.

Over the Horizon is another theme.  Pilots live to see what’s over the horizon.  Eli, the Filipino caddy, dreams of someday seeing over the horizon “the mystical line where the water meets the sky.  His dream was in full view every day—less than twenty miles away—yet out of reach for a life time, he had finally conceded.” (p. 19)

I would like to read more about life on the Midway as interpreted by those that served on her.  It is a time that has passed, but is evergreen for those who love a good sea story that either begins “This is a no shitter,” or “There I was on the…”  Let us end as one the flyers, Doc, is known to say, “Yes and Amen.”