We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

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Addy Kurc tried desperately to make it home from France to his small Polish town of Radom for Passover, but in March of 1939, as Hitler and his German army was blocking travel through Europe, this was not to be.  The Kurc family tried to feign normalcy, going through the familiar seder rituals, but each of the members of this tight-knit family sensed that there was something about to change in their world.  Never, could they have imagined the horrors they would be facing, however, as Poland would be complicit in the anihiliation of millions of Jewish people along with Germany.  And never would they believe how far they’d travel and how many years it would be until they would be celebrating Passover together again as a Kurc family.

I wasn’t looking for a Holocaust novel, and when I realized that that is what this was, I almost put it aside.  But the writing was so compelling I couldn’t.  There was something about this story, about these characters, that I had to continue with it.  I had to know if Addy was reunited with his family.  I had to know if each of his siblings (and there were 5 altogether) survived the war, and if his baby niece actually made it through as well.  And how, if it were at all possible, would his parents survive the war, as they were elderly although not frail when the war broke out.  The characters were very compelling and each went through such harrowing experiences.

And that was even before I knew that the story was true!  Addy was the grandfather of the author!

I know that especially in this very difficult time, when we hear about hate in the news almost every day, with racial tensions, police brutality, shootings, and hate and bias incidents, it is hard to read about the Holocaust.  On the other hand, I feel it is crucial in this time not to forget what it can grow to be.  We cannot  get complacent and think the it can’t get there again.

That’s what they believed in Radom in 1939.

 

Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow

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Derek Black has been nurtured from the time he was born until the time he went off to college to be the great white hope for the future of the white nationalist movement.  His father, Don, established Stormfront.com, the earliest and largest promoter of racist propaganda on the internet, and David Duke, his godfather, is the well-known KKK/Nazi politician.  Everyone in this underworld knows Derek and believes he will take over for Don and Duke, as Derek has already begun to co-host their radio show, assist with the website, and even help organize their annual conference.  But as Derek enters college, he decides to keep this part of his identity secret, interacting with the diverse students in his classes and activities, even while he maintains his connection with his radio show daily.  However, what happens very gradually, when Derek is later exposed, ostracized and then quietly invited to the regular Shabbat dinner of an Orthodox Jewish friend of his, begins the process of challenging his deepest convictions — and is absolutely stunning.

This true story has been featured on various podcasts (The Daily is one) and has been written about in various newspapers, so you may know the basic story.  Derek himself has written opinion pieces for the New York Times.  But in this moment of unleashing of hatred and bigotry, this story is a crucial one – and the details matter.  It is crucial because it shows how hatred has been simmering underground for so long among those who are living their very insular lives, among those who think only like they do.  And it is crucial because it demonstrates, most importantly, that if we look at those who think differently from ourselves as human beings, only then can we start to have a civil and respectful enough discourse to come together on ideas.

I am in awe of the courage of the students who showed friendship to Derek even after he was “outed” as the co-host of the morning show on Stormfront.  They stuck by him, braving the derision of most of their peers, showing steadfast friendship to the the hero of the dark side, even as he degraded their racial groups on his radio show, even as they questioned their own wisdom in doing so.

And I am in awe of Derek himself, who has truly shown courage in the thought and heart that he has put into his own journey.  It is so much easier to go along with what your family and community preaches and to stick to your original beliefs.  It is so much harder to go against your family wishes, to turn around what you’ve been taught is right, to go against your indoctrination and open up your heart to other ideas.

But I am also not sorry he has accepted his responsibility to go public with his journey, because he has to share with others that those narrow-minded, absurd ideas about white supremacy are just wrong – and that the harm they do to others can not, under any circumstances, be justified.

In this moment, this book is absolutely a MUST-READ!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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The best perk of writing a book blog is that I’ve gotten some fantastic recommendations from fellow book lovers.  This may be one of my favorites — thank you, Larry and Jim!

Eleanor Oliphant starts out in this story actually believing herself to be completely fine.  She is very much self-sufficient – she has a job, she has keeps herself clean and nourished and has her very practical routine which gets her through each week.  When she suddenly sees the man of her dreams at a party, a rock singer who is very handsome and would likely satisfy her Mummy’s vision of who would be sophisticated enough for her, she decides to go on a mission to spruce herself up a bit so that when she actually meets this man, she’ll convince him that they are meant for each other.  In the course of her doing this, a sudden incident with a co-worker, becomes a distracting adventure that opens up Eleanor’s world and enables her to see how she can truly heal toward becoming completely “fine.”

The writing in this book is magical.  The author writes of pain with humor and raw honesty all at the same time.  There is no over-dramatization, there is no explosiveness.  It’s quiet and understated and because it is subtle, even awkward because it is from Eleanor’s voice, it sneaks straight into your heart.  It made me laugh out loud but it also revealed darkness and sadness that almost choked me.  Few authors can do this with such grace and tenderness.

Eleanor develops her first real friendship with a coworker, Raymond, whom she finds initially almost irritating, with his smoking, his unkempt scruffiness, and his difficulty with being punctual.  But she learns that what really matters is that he is also kind and generous, and loyal – and that he is there for her when she really needs someone to be there for her.  That this is actually what friends do.  She’s just never had this before.

This is a beautiful book from beginning to end – the kind that you don’t want to put down but that you don’t want to end either.  I am reluctant to start the next book because I just want to live with these characters for a bit.

You will too – I promise!

This is truly a MUST READ!

 

 

The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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This delightful story is a sort of Swedish Forrest Gump for world history.  Allan Karlsson, on the morning of his 100th birthday, decides that he needs to take back control of his life and leave the Old Folks Home – via the window.  Little does he know that he’d be starting out on a madcap adventure.  But then again, madcap adventures are not exactly new to Allan, as we learn in the flashbacks that tell of his amusingly political, apolitical life.

I loved this book!  The writing is so understated and subtle that it makes the crazy events in the story that much more outrageous and entertaining.  I could not help laughing out loud at some of the dialogue – it is brilliant.  And the way in which the tale winds around historical events is playful and so imaginative.

I haven’t recommended a “must-read” in a long time – but here’s a most definite!  You are bound to love this one.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

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When Libby receives a series of 2 horrible pieces of news all in the same day, she feels her life is exploding.  While she tries to go to work and resume a sense of normality, she finds she just can’t  continue to deal with her impossible boss and the usual things she normally  has tolerated.  Suddenly, she is off on an adventure and ends up discovering how coping with her past traumas can enable her to face her current ones.

While this story is a little cliche and not entirely plausible, it is sweet and entertaining and actually a delightful read.  The writing is sarcastic and interspersed with sharp vocabulary and compassionately wise insights.

A good find on Bookbub – which I highly recomnend!

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

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Ove has lost the one person in his life who understood him (his wife) as well as the purpose for him to get up each morning (his job) and he’s now trying to take matters into his own hands.  All he wants is to be reunited with his only love, his wife, Sonja.  Unfortunately, each attempt he makes on his own life gets interrupted by his prying, needy neighbors.  Even the cat seems to need him.  Is everybody helpless?  In spite of his grumpy-old-man exterior, Ove endears himself to everyone around him who recognize that he is in fact the kindest of hearts and the truest of souls.

Because of the tone of the story, which is written through the prism of Ove’s cynical and rigid perspective, I found it, at first, hard to get engaged in this story.  But gradually, there grew moments of subtle tenderness that were so utterly sweet that I was reeled in.  By the end, I was just mush.  Teary mush, actually.

The writing in this story is really very beautiful.  I so admire a writer who can create such colorful and deeply genuine characters as these and who can create such subtly charming moments between them.  Even when Ove is ranting at another – and he does so at almost every  other character – you feel the affection that is exuding between them.  You cannot help either smiling or tearing up through much of the story.

I highly recommend this book.  Just stick with it – it’s worth it!