Reading Roundup #16
Here’s a look at some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of months. My reading tastes are eclectic but I mainly enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction, and the occasional gripping novel.
The Women in the Castle
Ever since I visited Germany two years ago, I’ve been immensely interested in reading as much about the World War II-era as possible. And while there’s a proliferation of literature on the “villainous Germans,” there’s not really much out there on the German civilian experience. It’s easy to say that all Germans during the war were evil, that they all in some capacity supported the Nazi party. That could not be further from the truth. And Jessica Shattuck’s The Women in the Castle is testament to this. It tells the story of three women and their children who find refuge in the ruins of a Bavarian castle following the end of the war. The women are all widows. However, their husbands didn’t die fighting with the German army, they died fighting against it, and paid with their lives for their role in the July 1944 assassination plot against Adolf Hitler. This was a very intriguing read regarding a topic in history many people don’t give much time or thought to.
Spain in Our Hearts
Spain will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I lived for four months immersed in the local culture, taking college level classes in a language that was not my native one. But after having read Adam Hochschild’s nonfiction work Spain in Our Hearts, about the country and the generation that lived through the Spanish Civil War, it’s even more so. Just as the Armenian Genocide is often eclipsed by the Holocaust, I feel the horrors and suffering of the Spanish Civil War were overshadowed by the Second World War. I knew some about the Spanish Civil War (not that any great amount of attention is paid to it in the American K-12 educational curriculum), and yet after reading this I realized just how scant my knowledge was. There are two things that will haunt me- how the Spanish Civil War was truly the precursor to World War II, and was not some disparate event; and the horrible ostracizing of Americans who fought in the war on the side of the Republicans (the non-Franco side), all because the Republicans were thought to support Communist ideals when they simply fought to support the good side, the humanist side.
The Radium Girls
This was a title I had ordered for my library and truly, it was probably my favorite non-fiction book of 2017 even though it was absolutely devastating to read. But I feel if you’re a woman, regardless of your age, background, race, or ethnicity, you should read this. It tells the real life tale of two groups of women in the early 20th century who contracted radiation poisoning painting watch dials with self-luminous paint and the horrific battles they faced not only medically but also legally since a woman in early 20th century America was no match against the male business world. It was chilling to read how much they suffered, especially knowing that any of my great-grandmothers could have easily been one of these girls.
From Sand and Ash
Since I just mentioned my favorite non-fiction read of last year, then I have to say From Sand and Ash was one of my favorite fictions. This is another World War II novel but it’s set in Italy, which you never read much about unless it’s concerning the Allies. But From Sand and Ash tells the story of two Italians, Eva, a Jew, and Angelo, a priest, and their love story set against the backdrop of the war, from the beginning days of Il Duce (Mussolini) to when the Germans take complete control of the country. Besides the engaging story line Amy Harmon offers her readers, I found it fascinating to read about the Italian civilian experience under the Germans, and especially the fate that befell its Jewish population. Whenever I return to Rome, I very much want to visit the Via Tasso, which was the headquarters of the Gestapo in Rome.
I didn’t completely love Charmaine Craig’s Miss Burma due to its being hard and difficult to read with few likable characters (well, in my case listen to), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fascinating. The book is set in Burma (present-day Myanmar) from the 1940s to the 1960s, the start, of course, having to do with the Japanese occupation and subsequent events of World War II. It tells the story of one Burmese family and all that they went through under Japanese rule, and then the aftermath of independence from Great Britain and the horrific internal conflicts that followed.
Other books I read during this period that receive an honorable mention-
I really enjoyed Helen Dunmore’s other World War II book about St. Petersburg, The Madonnas of Leningrad, but I found The Siege slow and a tad repetitive at times. It focuses on one girl and her family during the horrific siege of what is today St. Petersburg during the Second World War.
Into the Water
I don’t normally read thrillers but the latest from Paula Hawkins had such good buzz and was a welcome break from the books I typically listen to during my commute. I was very much hooked from the beginning and liked that it alternated between different characters’ telling of the events.
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My cruise to Northern Europe is nearly here (yipee!!!!) so I’ll be going on a blogging hiatus for the next few weeks. But be sure to follow along with my adventures over on Facebook.