I haven’t done a reading roundup in a while so I thought one was due. I also recently read Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen but since that all has to do with food and some travel, I plan on writing about it in its own post.
A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m immensely interested in World War I especially because it receives so little attention here in the United States when compared to events like the Civil War and obviously World War II. A Song for Mrs. Blake creates a fictional tale of a group of Gold Star Mothers who in the late 1920s were sent to France (courtesy of the United States government) in order to see the graves of their sons who had been killed during World War I. (The Gold Star Mothers is a group that was formed in the United States shortly after World War to provide support to mothers who had lost sons or daughters in the war and is still operational today.) Smith weaves a highly engrossing tale about a group of women from all different backgrounds who were brought together by the most tragic occurrence ever-the deaths of their sons in war. Reading about this real life event was fascinating, especially if you consider that the United States government was spending money to sail large groups of women to Europe, house and feed them for weeks in France, tour them about, just as the country was about to be sent into financial ruin and shock by the Great Depression.
Song of Survival: Women Interned by Helen Colijn
Paradise Road is one of the most haunting movies I have ever seen. It tells the story of a group of female POWs that was held captive by the Japanese during World War in a camp on a remote island in Indonesia. Song of Survival served as the inspiration for the film, as it was written by one of the camp survivors. When one hears the term “POW camp,” images of male soldiers often come to mind. But during the Second World War, thousands of women and children were interned by the Japanese army for years. Although they weren’t treated as brutally as male POWs were by the Japanese (the Japanese considered soldiers who surrendered instead of killing themselves to be a disgrace, inferior), they still endured horrific living conditions, many of them dying from simply not having access to basic foods and medicines. Colijn includes a photograph of a little boy who was around the age of five when their camp was finally liberated weeks after the Japanese had formally surrendered. Since they were so remote, it took the Allies that long to find them. The child couldn’t remember his parents nor any sort of life before the camp. This book is a startling reminder that war affects all, but especially those off of the battlefields.
A Good American by Alex George
Tales of immigrants from the turn of the last century are often set in places like New York City or somewhere in a coal mine/steel mill (where so many immigrants ultimately went after arriving in the United States). However, A Good American is different as it’s set in rural Missouri. It begins with the story of a German couple who flee to America and begin their new life in what is a village during the early 1900s. As the book progresses, so do the years with it spanning until the 1980s. It covers everything from World War I to racism, to bootlegging to modern development. There’s nothing overly special or unique about this one family’s fictional account and yet it’s a great telling of American history during the 20th century (with plenty of drama too).