Books: A Thread of Grace

March 26, 2017

Having read Mary Doria Russell’s previous books, The Sparrow and Children of God, I was glad to find another book by her on the library shelves. (Though I have to admit I did not check it out the first time I saw it – I knew from her other books that it would be very well-written but also suspected it would be emotionally pummeling at times.)

It is quite a change from the science fiction of the other books, though unlike most science fiction those have as much philosophy as science, and reflect Russell’s background as an anthropologist (she creates entire civilizations to populate a faraway planet). I enjoy historical fiction, and this novel explores an aspect of World War II that I have read little about if at all previously.

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Books about WWII

July 30, 2016

I don’t know if there are more novels these days set in World War II, or if I just happen to be coming across them more, but I recently finished three of them, each told from a very different perspective.

Liberation Road: A Novel of World War II and the Red Ball Express, by David Robbins, follows the experiences of two American non-combatants from when they come ashore at Omaha Beach. Joe Amos Biggs is an African-American who left college to enlist and who longs to be able to fight alongside the white men. Ben Kahn is a chaplain who had fought in the trenches in World War I, whose son is a B-17 pilot shot down over France and now MIA, and who is motivated by desire for revenge on the Germans. Occasionally there are also passages told from the point of view of “White Dog,” an American pilot shot down over France, who prefers the comfortable life he has found as a black marketeer in occupied Paris to rejoining his comrades in arms.

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Books: Ordinary Heroes

September 13, 2015

The library has a shelf set up near our Toastmasters meeting room, always with some theme and books connected in some way to that theme. One week recently, it was about heroes. Perhaps there were some books about superheroes; I don’t really remember. But the one that caught my eye was Scott Turow’s Ordinary Heroes.

I had read nothing by Scott Turow previously (though I have thought about reading Ultimate Punishment, which is an essay on the death penalty rather than a novel). But I had an idea of his reputation as a writer, so this looked like something worth reading.

Like several other books I have read recently, it deals with World War II. But while those other novels tell the story from the perspective of civilians or spies, this recounts the experiences of a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp.

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Books: Blackout/All Clear

February 22, 2015

Note: These are two separate books, Blackout and All Clear, but they form one single story in two volumes. There is no attempt to wrap up the story in Blackout in any way – it simply ends with a note that the story will continue in All Clear. So I was very glad that it didn’t take long for the library to get in the second book so I could continue with the story.

I had enjoyed Connie Willis’ previous book involving time travel, Doomsday Book, so I was eager to read more. (As a matter of fact, I had read Doomsday Book in part because I knew there were later books on time travel and I prefer to read books in order.) Blackout and All Clear were published almost twenty years after Doomsday Book, and while a few of the same characters appear, it’s clear that Willis’ writing – while good in the earlier book – has definitely grown and deepened over the years.

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Books: The Auschwitz Escape

August 26, 2014

I usually like reading historical fiction, but it’s hard to read about the awful things done by the Nazis in their death camps. Looking through the fiction choices in Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program, however, I thought it seemed like a better choice than most of the others.

I had heard of Joel Rosenberg and had for some time thought about reading one of his novels, but I never got around to it. (There are always so many other good books to read.) When I saw that he had written this historical novel set in WWII, I decided to give The Auschwitz Escape a try.

My initial impression, from reading the six chapter of Part One, was that I was not particularly impressed. It deals with the character Luc, an assistant pastor in a small town in France, who ends helps Jews who are escaping from Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories. That’s admirable, certainly, but as a character Luc seems rather flat. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Winter of the World

July 27, 2014

As I had read in book reviews that Winter of the World picks up where Fall of Giants left off, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out that this was not really so. There is a gap of nine years, with the sequel beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power. Perhaps in terms of world events nine years isn’t so long, but I was expecting continuity in terms of the characters.

Nine years is long enough that the main characters of the first book have receded into the background and it is through the eyes of their children that we see events unfold. The parents are there, but they are no longer very interesting. And there is little explanation for how they got to where they are now. Grigori, in particular, seems much too content with his comfortable position in life as a general in the Red Army. I realize that it would have been dangerous for him to oppose Stalin (he escaped being purged by not being important enough at the time), but one can’t help but wonder what happened to his thirst for a just society.

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Books: Plotting Hitler’s Death

April 17, 2010

I had no idea when I picked this book off the library shelf that I was getting one of the finest books available on the subject. I went there looking for the history behind the movie Valkyrie, and I was surprised to find there were multiple books on the subject. I picked the most recently published based on the fact that its author would have had access to more recently discovered materials (such as diaries or letters that had been kept by the families and only made available to the public decades later).

This review of the book opines that “anything by Joachim Fest is required reading,” especially on the subject of Hitler. Fest knows his subject extremely well, and also knows how to write well. Some history books are a chore to read. This one, on the contrary, was for the most part a pleasure to read. (Brief descriptions of the some of the lesser players in the conspiracy were too short to give me a real feel for their characters, and their roles seemed too small to matter much in the larger story.)

Watching Valkyrie had taught me that there was actually a network of men committed to overthrowing Hitler, not just a few fanatics acting on their own. Plotting Hitler’s Death reveals the surprising extent of that network. It involved hundreds of people (if not thousands – certainly thousands were arrested after the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt), from various sectors of society, and the conspiracy involved not just killing Hitler but setting up a new government in place of the Nazis.

Its extent through time also surprised me. The first coup was planned in 1938, before the war even started. Ironically, it was aborted precisely because Hitler decided not to initiate hostilities yet, because the justification for the coup was supposed to be Hitler’s needlessly plunging Germany into war. The plotters also sent emissaries to contact Germany’s opponents, especially Britain, hoping to push Britain to act decisively against Hitler to forestall war. But British leaders refused to trust Germans who would go against their own government.

Fest does not oversimplify his extremely complex subject. Always before, I have read generalizations about how Hitler rose to power, primarily based on German resentment over the Germany’s humiliation at the hands of the winners of World War I, and Hitler’s using the Jews as a scapegoat for their social and economic problems. Certainly those aspects are true, but Fest explores the multiplicity of factors that gave Hitler such an unshakable grasp on power and his opponents so many missed chances and botched attempts.

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