After a couple of months of not getting to read much for pleasure, February turned out to be just what I needed to get back in the habit of reading. My favorite genre, historical fiction, really came through for me last month.
The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn
I listened to this historical novel on CD. I was spellbound from disc one until the very end of disc 11. I yearn to write historical fiction so vividly. I long to captivate readers with fiction based in an era not their own. Kate Quinn has established herself as a master of the art and craft of writing historical fiction.
The Diamond Eye is based on a true story. Mila Pavlichenko lives in the part of the Soviet Union that is now Ukraine. She works at a library and adores her young son. When World War II transitions to the invasion of Russia by Nazi Germany, Mila does the unthinkable. She becomes a sniper for the Russian Army. And she excelled at it.
After her official kill count reaches 300, Mila becomes a national heroine and is sent on a tour of the United States to drum up support for the fight against Hitler. There, she meets President and Mrs. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt, seeing a bit of her own independent nature in the sniper, befriends Mila.
The book follows Mila through the war and how she constantly has to prove herself because she’s a woman and not automatically taken seriously. She’s called the usual names that men who are threatened by strong women call them.
It is a stunning novel and reminded me why I enjoy reading historical fiction. Yes, it’s fiction because conversations are imagined, but reading well-written historical novels is an enjoyable way to learn a lot of history.
The Home for Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman
This is another gripping historical novel. I was so impressed by Saskia Maarleveld’s reading of The Diamond Eye, that I looked for other books she had recorded. That’s how I found The Home for Unwanted Girls. I thought that was an interesting way to find another good book!
The Home for Unwanted Girls is about an unwed mother in Quebec in the 1950s who is forced by her parents to give up her baby girl. The book shines a light on the ugly history of the orphanage system in Quebec at that time. When the orphanage is turned into an insane asylum and the orphans are forced to take care of the patients, the outcome for the girls seems hopeless.
This novel follows the life of one of those orphans and the 15-year-old mother who wanted desperately to keep her. The mother never gives up on finding her child, even though she is told the girl died.
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, by Jonathan Freedland
This book was spellbinding! It tells the stories of 19-year-old Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler who did the impossible in April 1944. They escaped from Auschwitz! The book tells how Vrba studied the precision with which the Nazis conducted searches and exactly how long the guards searched when a prisoner was unaccounted for. He and Fred worked with two accomplices to plan the escape of Vrba ad Wetzler. Their two accomplices were to stay behind while Vrba and Wetzler escaped to take the truth of what was happening at Auschwitz out into the world.
It’s a fascinating read. It follows Vrba and Wetzler after their escape. The eye-opening part of the book was the aftermath of their escape. They testified and provided written descriptions of the horrors of Auschwitz. Their testimonies matched to the nth detail; however, their words and their physical conditions of malnutrition fell on deaf ears.
Winston Churchill didn’t want to bomb the rail lines going into Auschwitz because England bombed in the daytime. President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t want to bomb because it would be a diversion from plans. Jewish organizations in Europe refused to believe what was happening at Auschwitz because it was just too extreme. How can people do such things to their fellow human beings?
Along with the tragic murdering of Jews at Auschwitz, the fact that world leaders who had the power and where withal to do something about it in fact chose not to act is a gut punch.
My general takeaway from the book is that one’s life and future can be determined by someone else’s snap decision. Decisions were made on a whim by guards at Auschwitz every day that determined who lived, who died, and who escaped.
It’s a book that will haunt me.
Since my last blog post
I continue to try to get the word out about my second local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2.
I also continue to ask people to go to my website, https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com and subscribe to my newsletter. Subscribers receive a free downloadable copy of my first historical short story, “Slip Sliding Away: A Southern Historical Short Story.”
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I know where you can get a good historical short story to read!
Take care of one another.
Remember the people of Ukraine.