4 Other Books I Read in June 2021

My blog post last Monday was about three historical novels I read in June, so today’s post is about the other four novels I read last month. I was amazed at how many good books I got to read or listen to.


The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot, by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As an aspiring novelist, I really enjoyed this book. The premise of The Plot is that a wannabe writer teaches writing one summer at a failing college in Vermont. One of his students is a real pain in the neck but a good writer.

The student shared with the instructor his idea for a novel. The instructor thought it was a brilliant idea. When the instructor found out the student had died and supposedly left no living relatives, the instructor writes a novel based on the student’s plot. He becomes famous and is much sought after. Just as his second novel is to be released, though, he receives a scary message: “You’re a thief.”

I think I’ll stop there and let you read the book to find out what happens. Is the writing instructor really a thief? And are the messages coming from his student’s long-lost niece or someone else? The ending surprised me.


The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan, by Kelly Rimmer

After liking Kelly Rimmer’s earlier historical novels, The Things We Cannot Say (See my September 9, 2019 blog post: #BringBackOurGirls) and Before I Let Her Go (See my October 7, 2019 blog post: Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month) I got on the waitlist at the public library for her new novel, The Warsaw Orphan, as soon as it showed up on the library’s catalog as having been order. I was able to check out the book on CD a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading novels set in World War II Europe. This story grabbed my attention immediately and never lagged. Sometimes plots lag in the middle of a book, but not this one.

As you might surmise from the title, this novel is set in Warsaw, Poland beginning in the spring of 1942. Elzbieta Rabinek is a teen girl who grows more and more afraid of the German police patrolling the city streets and ever more aware of and concerned for the Jews who were confined in the ghetto behind the city wall.

You’ll find that Elzbieta is not necessarily who she passes as, and this is the case for more than one major character in the book. She befriends a young man who lives in the ghetto while she volunteers with a nurse who is secretly smuggling children out of the ghetto. There is danger, terror, and courage at every turn. This book will keep you turning the pages or wanting to listen to “just one more CD” before you turn the light off at night.


The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

I’ll start by saying this novel is not a pleasant read, but it’s an important historical novel. It opened my eyes to the horrors of the Jews who escaped capture by the Nazis by hiding in the sewers. This is unimaginable to me, but it is true.

The book brings out the stench and filth in which these people lived for more than a year. In that respect, the sewer itself becomes a character in the book. The protagonist, Sadie, is a teen girl who looks up through a sewer grate one day and sees a girl, Ella, about her age. Sadie and Ella make eye contact and Ella returns to the grate to look down into the sewer to talk to Sadie. Ella’s family is not Jewish and they enjoy a comfortable life. Both girls must keep their friendship secret.

The Jews hiding in the sewer are at the mercy of a young man who brings them scraps of food. It is barely enough to keep them alive. To compound the situation, Sadie’s mother is pregnant.

This story is filled with suspense. The ending was bittersweet, but I loved the epilogue.

I’ve read and enjoyed two of Pam Jenoff’s other novels, The Orphan’s Tale (See my August 7, 2017 blog post, Late July Reading) and The Lost Girls of Paris (See my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.)


Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing, by Mary Kubica

I’d heard and read good things about this novel and looked forward to listening to it. I had trouble keeping up with whose point-of-view I was hearing, though, so I returned the book on CD to the public library.

Reading the printed book might be easier, when I get a chance to do that. I think the problem was mine and not the writer’s. With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I sometimes have concentration difficulties.

One thing in the book made me laugh out loud. You may recall that on March 29, 2021, my blog post title was #Idiom: As All Get Out. Several of you responded to let me know you’d never heard that expression before, while others said that you had but not in a long time. I was absolutely delighted that one of the characters in Local Woman Missing used “as all get out” several times.

I’ll probably give this book another chance when I can read it on my Kindle and adjust the font size.

Since my last blog post

I’ve worked on my historical novel manuscript. It feels great to be back on it! I’ve arranged for a professional editor to evaluate the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. I’ll let you know what she has to say about it in a future blog post.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. I’m reading several.

I hope you’ve been able to get your Covid-19 vaccination, if you’re health allows you to take it. Variants of the virus will continue to develop until a greater percentage of us receive the vaccine. How fortunate we are to live in the 21st century when such vaccines are possible!

Enjoy your week, whatever you’re doing.

Janet

4 Other Books I Read in April 2021

I read more books than usual last month. Today’s post is about the four books I read that were not historical fiction. If you missed my blog last Monday about the five historical novels I read in April, here’s the link to it: 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Let’s jump right in!

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

I’m not sure how this 2018 book escaped my attention for three years. I’m just glad I stumbled upon it recently.

Edited by Deborah G. Plant with a foreword by Alice Walker, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is author and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston’s account of her numerous conversations with a man who was on the last slave ship from Africa to the United States.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston

Bringing slaves into the United States was made illegal in 1808; however, the trade was not completely stopped just by making a law. In 1859, two brothers originally from Maine and their business partner originally from Nova Scotia, illegally transported 130 African slaves from the coast of Nigeria to Mobile, Alabama on board a ship named Clotilde.  Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” is the story of a 19-year-old man who was on that last slave ship to come to the United States.

The man’s name was Kossola, but his American name was Cudgo Lewis. Zora Neale Hurston found out about him, and a benefactor made it financially possible for her to go to Alabama for an extended time in order to meet Kossola and form a relationship of trust with him in order to hear and record his life story.

Kossola’s story of life in Africa, his capture, and his Middle Passage transport to Alabama is bone chilling. The details of how he was captured by the army of the king of Dahomey aligns with the historical record of that ruthless African king and his blood thirsty army of women and men.

What an amazing gift Ms. Hurston left for us! We are fortunate that Kossola lived long enough that Ms. Hurston was able to visit him a number of times over a three-month period in 1927 and put his words on paper. Publishers wanted Ms. Hurston to “correct” Kossola’s words to proper English, but she stood her ground and insisted that his words by pronunciation be preserved in the book.

I couldn’t help but think about the blog post I wrote two weeks ago (Censorship and Reader Sensitivities) and how appropriate I think it was for history’s sake for Kossola’s words to be recorded exactly how he said them.

There is an extensive appendix in the book. Included in it are a couple of children’s games from Africa, parables that are original with Kossola (from his own life experience), and various Bible stories told in Kossola’s own words.

There is also an extensive Afterword in the book about Ms. Hurston’s research and some debate about her motives and accuracy.  It seems that Kossola had become known as the last surviving slave from the last slave ship to America and there were others who wished to interview him. It was Zora Neale Hurston who was most successful in gaining his trust and recording his story. Ms. Hurston is remembered for his illustrious career as a social scientist, but she was just getting started in 1927.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

I got on the waitlist for Cicely Tyson’s memoir the minute I heard about it. The book was on order by the public library, so I had to wait a while for it. In the meantime, Ms. Tyson died at the age of 96. I’d been a fan of hers since her performance in the movie, Sounder, in 1972. I was blown away by her portrayal of Miss Janie Pittman in the TV film, The Autobiography of Miss Janie Pittman.

Just As I Am, by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am was an interesting read. I learned about Ms. Tyson’s childhood in East Harlem, New York, and how her parents doted on her. She was their middle child, but she was born with a heart murmur that caused the doctor to predict she wouldn’t live more than three months. No wonder they treated her like a princess.

But there was a dark side to Ms. Tyson’s childhood. Her father was a womanizer. Her mother was a strict disciplinarian. Her parents had violent fights and Ms. Tyson was often caught in the middle.

Ms. Tyson had a sixth sense. Even as a child, she knew some events that were going to happen in the future because she could smell it (as was the case of a fire) or sense it in another way. Her mother was also blessed with a sixth sense, so the fact that Cicely had the gift was no big deal.

Early in the book, Ms. Tyson wrote about racial discrimination and our common humanity. It really struck a chord with me because I was reading that chapter the morning after the Zoom meeting of a group I’m in during which we had discussed racial prejudice and our common humanity. I couldn’t wait to tell the others in the group about the first chapter in Just As I Am.

She writes about what a rude awakening it was for her one day when she witnessed her mother and a group of other Black women on the street in New York City being looked up and down and evaluated by white people seeking a domestic laborer. It hit her as being no different from the way slaves were treated on the auction block a century earlier, and it made an impact on her life that she never forgot.

The 1920s and 1930s were her childhood and youth decades. What an interesting era! Although the Roaring 20s became the Great Depression in the 1930s, most people of color in the United States didn’t enjoy the abundance of the Wall Street in the 20s. And they had always been at an economic disadvantage, so the Great Depression wasn’t too much worse than what they were already experiencing.

It was in 1934 that the Federal Housing Administration instituted the practice of redlining to prohibit people of color from purchasing homes in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods. On the other hand, that era produced Black writers like W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. It was the age of jazz and the Harlem Renaissance.

On the flipside were the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from which the United States is stilling feeling ramifications and probably always will. That horrible experiment on Blacks today makes many people of color afraid to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

As you see, I could go on and on with examples of the backdrop of Ms. Tyson’s childhood, but perhaps you’d rather read the book for yourself.

Throughout the book, Ms. Tyson gives God credit for leading her. She speaks of an unflinching faith in God that sustained her from childhood until her last days. Events that others might have called coincidences, Ms. Tyson recognized as the hand of God working out her life’s journey. That’s how her modeling career came about, and that’s how her acting career fell into place without her even knowing that’s what she was meant to do.

This was an entertaining and enlightening read about a woman I have long appreciated as an actress without knowing anything about her background.

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

The Endless Sunset, by Laleh Chini

This most recent novel by Laleh Chini is about war and one young woman’s experience in Poland during World War II. It is written in person from that woman’s point-of-view. Hanna Przybylski reminisces about the lovely and peaceful city squares and bustling marketplaces in Warsaw of her growing-up years in the 1920s. Her mother was an artist. When her mother has a second child, a girl named Lena, when Hanna is 11 years old, they think their family and their lives are complete. The Great War was over and life is good.

Everything starts to unravel when Lena is a toddler and their mother dies. When the father remarries just three months after the mother’s death, Hanna’s life spirals downward. When Hanna is 16 years old, Germany started bombing Warsaw. World War II is beginning and will further disrupt Hanna’s life. What I’ve shared just covers the first 17% of the book.

What will become of Hanna and Lena? Will Hanna become responsible for more children than Lena? Will they flee Poland for a safer place? Will there be people to help them along the way? Will their father care what his daughters do? Did he and his second wife have children? Will Hanna survive World War II?

You’ll have to read The Endless Sunset to find out. The book is enriched by illustrations by Nihuel Navarro, whose website can be found at nihu.artstation.com.

Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), by John Russell Bartlett

I was expecting this book to take the form of a dictionary; however, the majority of it is narrative.

Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett

Near the end of this book there is a short section about some words that were “charged upon us as Americanism” but they are actually derived from English provinces. Examples are expect for suspect, reckon for think, and guess for suppose. These “Americanisms” come from Kent and Derbyshire in England.

The book continues with some words that were apparently Americanisms when the book was written in 1848, but they don’t make sense to me today. Among them are clever for good natured; desk for pulpit; and improve for occupy, or employ.

The book pays its respects to the clergy for starting and continuing to use solemnize for to make serious. Other Americanisms the writer didn’t appreciate at all included transpire for happen, and temper in the sense of passion or irritation.

Jumping on “educated men, and particularly … the clergy,” the writer bemoans the evolution of some nouns into verbs such as to fellowship, to eventuate, to doxologize, to happify, and to donate.

The author would, no doubt, be horrified at the evolution of American English since 1848. This book is proof that American English is forever changing. The words in common usage in 1848 that grated on the nerves of the dictionary author, have for the most part fallen by the wayside today.

By far, my favorite “new” word after reading this dictionary is happify!

Since my last blog post

I continue to have good books to read – in fact, more than I have time to read. I’m also doing some scrapbooking.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Try to get caught reading, since May is Get Caught Reading Month!

If you don’t have a hobby, find one. It will enrich your life.

Note: In addition to being “Get Caught Reading Month,” May is Short Story Month.

Note: This is Reading is Fun Week.

Janet

#BringBackOurGirls

Do you remember back when we all used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on social media in 2014 after 276 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram?

Do you know that 112 of those young women are still held by Boko Haram?

Today’s blog post is longer than usual, but please take a few minutes out of your busy day to sit quietly and read it.

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

The story of the 276 Nigerian school girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.
The Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and The Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram is not a pleasant or easy book to read, but I feel compelled to read books like that in order to better understand the world around me. You will, no doubt, recognize the name of the author, Isha Sesay, as a veteran journalist on CNN.

To refresh your memory, on April 14, 2014, 276 teenage school girls were kidnapped from their Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group based in Nigeria. The group’s goal is to institute Sharia or Islamic law. Translated from the local Hausa dialect, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram adherents mainly live in the northern states in Nigeria.

In this book, Isha Sesay reconstructs the events surrounding that 2014 mass abduction, but also offers some brief historical backdrop which must be known in order to understand how and why such a thing happened.

Ms. Sesay explained the history as follows:  “Nigeria’s largely Muslim north and its predominantly Yoruba and Igbo Christian south” were combined to form the country of Nigeria by Great Britain in 1914. After numerous coups, it was decided after every two terms the presidency would alternate between the north and the south. However, political problems continued and Boko Haram was founded by Mohamed Yusuf in the early years of the 21st century. Unrest grew in 2014 when the two-term Christian president from the southern part of the country, Goodluck Jonathan, hinted that he was going to run for a third term.

With that political state of affairs in mind, let’s delve into the story of the abduction of 276 school girls on April 14, 2014. I don’t want to give too much away, in case you want to read Beneath the Tamarind Tree, so I’ll just hit some highlights from the book.

  • 57 of the 276 girls escaped early on and managed to get back home
  • When Ms. Sesay arrived in Nigeria three weeks after the kidnappings, she was shocked to learn that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was spreading the word that the event was a hoax
  • When Jonathan’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015, Buhari said it was not a hoax. This gave everyone hope, but then when he was to meet with parents of the kidnapped girls and representatives from Bring Back Our Girls, he refused to meet with them. Eventually forced to meet with them, he took the opportunity to try to distract them with other issues and cast Bring Back Our Girls as the enemy of the government.
  • In October of 2016 – 2.5 years into the girls’ captivity – 21 of the girls were released to the Red Cross and lawyer Zannah Mustapha. Mustapha had taken it upon himself to broker a deal between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. It is not known what concessions the government made that made the release of 20 girls (plus one as a “bonus) possible, but all along Boko Haram had demanded the release of some of their own who were imprisoned.
  • At the time of the release of the 21 girls, some 50 of the original 276 girls had succumbed to Boko Haram pressure and married Boko Haram men.
  • The 21 released girls were emaciated from more than 900 days of hunger and abuse. They had been uprooted numerous times by Boko Haram as the militants tried to hide them from anyone who was looking for them. One of the buildings they were housed in at one point was bombed by the Nigerian military.
  • On May 7, 2017, 82 more Chibok girls were released.
  • By January 4, 2018, 107 of the Chibok girls had escaped or been released
  • Boko Haram kidnapped 112 school girls and 1 boy from a school in Dapchi on February 19, 2018. All but one of those girls, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, were released after a couple of week; however, that one girl was still being held by Boko Haram as of the writing of Beneath the Tamarind Tree, which was published July 9, 2019.
  • As of the writing of this book, more than 100 of the Chibok girls are still missing and assumed to still be held by Boko Haram.

I think the overriding thing I learned from reading this book – the thing I will most remember from this book – is the tremendous and abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ held by the vast majority of the Chibok school girls. It was their faith that sustained those who have escaped or been released.

In interviewing the 21 girls released in 2016, Ms. Sesay, a Muslim, was gobsmacked by the fact that the girls had forgiven their captors and even prayed for their captors. It was a reminder for me that Christianity, at its very core, is a religion of forgiveness. Forgiveness is, apparently, an idea that is foreign to other religions or at least some of them.

Update from Reuters new agency, since reading the book:  On June 12, 2019, 300 Boko Haram killed 24 people in an attack on an island in Lake Chad in Cameroon.

The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer

This is the first novel I’ve read by Kelly Rimmer, an Australian author. This book is a combination of today in the life of a woman whose son is on the autism spectrum and years ago when her grandmother was young and in love in Poland in the years just before World War II.

The grandmother is now confined to a nursing home and cannot verbalize her thoughts and desires. One of the interesting aspects of the story early on was how the grandmother was able to learn how to use the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) app on her great-grandson’s i-Pad to communicate her feelings, requests, and answers.

The grandmother’s early history is pretty much a mystery to her granddaughter, but there is something the grandmother persists in trying to communicate. It involves a man named Tomasz and what was so important about him. Will the granddaughter travel to Poland to look for this man in the country of her grandmother’s birth? I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, in case this sounds like a novel you’d like to read. Suffice it to say there are numerous twists, turns, and surprises in this novel.

Although it’s a book of fiction, the plot was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s story. She weaves a story of challenges, desperation, true friendship and devotion, and undying love. I highly recommend this book.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­One Good Deed, by David Baldacci and listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

I might take a break from blogging next week. If you don’t see a blog post from me on September 16, rest assured I’ll be back online on September 23.

Let’s continue the conversation

Were you aware that more than 100 of the Chibok school girls are still being held by Boko Haram a numbing almost five and one-half years after the April 14, 2014 mass abduction? If my rough calculations are correct, today is Day 1,974 of their captivity.

On Saturday, September 7, 2019, a Nigerian film, “Daughters of Chibok” debuted at the Venice Film Festival and was named Best Virtual Reality Story. The intent of the film is to show how the Chibok community has been affected by the 2014 kidnappings and to remind the world that 112 of the 276 school girls are still held by Boko Haram.

Please share #DaughtersOfChibok, #BringBackOurGirls, #ChibokGirls, and other appropriate social media hashtags to remind the world that this story is ongoing and 112 of the girls are still held by Boko Haram.

For more on that film and the stories it tells, go to http://saharareporters.com/2019/09/08/nigerian-film-chibok-girls-wins-us-award and https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/08/africa/vr-daughters-of-chibok-intl/index.html.

Janet