Tag Archive | World War II

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

This historical novel is based on a true story, and interviews with Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who ends up being sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of concentration camps during World War II.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #1)

Lale speaks multiple languages, so he is chosen to be the one who tattoos prisoner numbers on the new arrivals to the camps.  That is, of course, the prisoners who are selected to live, and are not immediately sent to the gas chambers.

Lale resigns himself to his gruesome task and the fact that he receives privileges as a result of his position that others in the camp do not.  One day, he meets a young woman who captures his eye, and his heart.  He decides in that moment, that he will marry her.  But he does not even know who she is.

Lale seeks her out and courts her, a love story in a place of unspeakable horror.  Lale and Gita vow to remain strong for each other, so they can survive the camp together.  Lale begins to use the relative freedom he has to get extra food for the camp prisoners, but he is risking his life to do it.

This story is one that documents the incredible atrocities that occurred that Auschwitz and Birkenau, but also is the story of hope and survival.

Despite the amazing story and the fact that it is true, I found myself not being able to get into it.  I felt that the writing was superficial and glossed over the weight of what truly happened in these concentration camps.  I had a hard time feeling connected to the characters and the tragedies they experienced, because of the lack of depth in the story-telling.  I learned later that the story was originally written as a screenplay, which may explain the more superficial writing style.

It was still a good book, but I felt it could have been so much more.  

3 stars.

Book Review: A Higher Call

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, by Adam Makos

A Higher Call is the true story of two World War II pilots, German fighter pilot and Ace Lieutenant Franz Stigler, and American B17F bomber pilot Second Lieutenant Charles Brown.  These two men fought for separate countries, in a war where brutal losses occurred.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

The two men’s lives intersected by chance after an American bombing raid on Germany a few days before Christmas 1943.  Both men’s lives were forever changed by a few moments of compassion shown over the skies of Germany.  Neither man could talk about the experience during the war, but each of them remembered it, and decided to try to find each other more than 40 years later.

The book shifts back and forth between Franz and Charlie’s story, detailing their experiences during their childhoods, and the war.  These stories are not for the faint of heart.  Both men witnessed, and were involved in, well, a war.  They watched men shot out of the sky, burned alive, shot while trying to escape, and saw the devastation inflicted upon the civilians in the war-torn countries of Europe and North Africa.  In a word, it was horrific, and there were multiple times I broke down in tears listening to the retelling of their experience.  

If you have any interest in history, or any interest in understanding the complex experience of war, which led one man to show compassion for his enemy, you will want to read this book.  

5 stars. 

Book Review: Empire and Honor

Empire and Honor, by W.E.B. Griffin and William E. Butterworth IV
So what would happen if in the waning days of World War II, some German officers and troops escaped from the crumbling Reich?  What if they made their way in German U-boats to a neutral country, where they could rebuild and try again?
Empire and Honor
Empire and Honor explores this very premise, that officers from the Third Reich made their way in U-boats to Argentina, with cash and uranium for nuclear weapons. And Americans working for a new intelligence agency are charged with finding these defectors.
I really wanted to like this book.  I enjoy World War II history, and am intrigued by the theories that there were German officers who escaped from Germany at the end of the war to make a new life, and wait for a new opportunity to bring the Reich to life again in Argentina.  The book started out so promising, with stories of the refugees trying to cross the German border at the end of the war.  With stories of the fledgling secret intelligence agency of the US Government.  With stories of the Germans who were helping the allies.  And stories of romance.
But ultimately this novel never got off the ground for me.  Stories ended in mid-air, never to be picked up again.  Characters were not distinguishable from each other.  Characters became focused on petty grievances instead of the big picture of saving humanity.  And how the hell did Juan Peron fit in?  Yes, the later President of Argentina.  The point of his character was vague, and his story line was one that dropped off mid-story.  It was confusing and annoying.
I ended up wondering why this audio book was 16 CDs, because it seemed like they could have wrapped it up in 4. 
2 stars. 

Book Review: The Greatest Battle

The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II, by Andrew Nagorski

I listened to this on audio CD; it was one that I had picked up from a used bookstore several years ago, but hadn’t listened to.  Sadly, when I was about 2/3rds of the way through the book, I realized that the audio book that I had was missing CDs 8 and 9 out of 11.  Unfortunately, I feel like this might have been the best part of the book! 

The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II

The Greatest Battle tells the story of Hitler’s assault toward Moscow in the fall of 1941, as well as the Red Army’s attempt to protect the city.  The author began by comparing and contrasting the backgrounds and styles of Hitler and Stalin.  They were obviously both larger than life figures, but they were also men who had significant similarities in their upbringing.  It was interesting to hear the similarities and ponder whether there was something that could be pinpointed to explain why both men came to power and why they were so willing to resort to such incredible cruelty, even towards their own people. 

The author then explains Hitler’s push towards Moscow; he details the circumstances that gave Hitler an advantage, but also the mistakes that were made that ultimately made the campaign unsuccessful.  The Germans got a late start on their assault, and terribly misjudged the effect of the weather on the roads, and the needs of the troops for warm clothes and supplies.  The mud in the fall, and the freezing temperature and snow in winter severely hindered the army’s ability to complete their mission.

Of course, the Red Army has some major issues as well.  The Russian troops were not well equipped, often sharing a rifle among an entire platoon.  Many of their weapons were outdated or lacked ammunition.  And of course, no story about Stalin’s Russia is complete without speaking of the reign of terror that Stalin inflicted on his own people.  Stalin and the NKVD (the precursor to the KGB) often spied on their own people and troops, and severely punished their own people for perceived transgressions.  Stalin literally murdered millions of his own people leading up to and during World War II.  It’s hard to stand up a successful Army when you are assassinating and imprisoning many of your own officers and troops. 

All in all, it was an interesting look into a portion of World War II history that I hadn’t explored much.  I do want to see if I can find a download of the complete book, so I can catch the missing chapters! 

4 stars.  

Book Review: The German Girl

The German Girl is the debut novel of Armando Lucas Correa, a Cuban author.  It was published in 2016 in both Spanish and English.

The German Girl

The story is that of two girls, brought together over time.  Hannah Rosenthal, a German Jewish refugee fleeing to Cuba via ocean liner in 1939.  And Anna, a 14 year old girl living in New York City.

The perspective shifts back and forth between the two of them as the story unfolds, piece by piece.  Hannah’s flight from Germany, trying to escape the reach of the Nazis.  Anna’s trying to learn why her father left her, and understand why her mother just doesn’t have the energy to get out of bed.  I don’t want to reveal much, as the suspense and hold of the story would be diminished if you knew what was waiting around the next corner.

This novel was incredible.  Sweet, and heartbreaking, it pulls you in page after page, not wanting to put it down.  What will happen to these girls as their lives unfold?

5 stars.

 

Book Review: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz, by Melanie Benjamin

This book was another pick from the “available now” section of audiobooks on the library website.  I hadn’t heard of the book, or the author, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Mistress of the Ritz

Blanche wanted to be rich and famous – she was going to make it as an actress!  She arrived in Paris in the early 1920s with her silent film star friend Pearl White, and met the assistant manager of the Hotel Claridge, Claude Auzello, when they checked into their rooms.  Claude found out that in a weeks’ time, Blanche was set to rendezvous with her paramour, Egyptian Prince J’Ali Ledene; he set about to sweep Blanche off her feet by showing her Paris.  And it worked…

Blanche and Claude married, and he jump-started his career with a move to The Ritz Paris, where he secured the role as Hotel Manager.  Their lives were wonderful until the Nazis came and set up their headquarters in the Hotel Ritz.

The book is a story of secrets, and a marriage built upon those secrets.  Their marriage crumbles, as Claude takes a mistress, and Blanche begins working clandestinely for the French Resistance.  But even more so, it is a story of love.  Love tested by hardship and betrayal, and love that blossoms in the most unexpected of places.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned that Blanche and Claude Auzello were real people, who navigated their way through the French Occupation while living right underneath the noses of the Nazis at the Ritz.  The framework of Blanche’s life is known, but Melanie Benjamin filled in the gaps in this wonderful historical work of fiction.  A must read for lovers of historical fiction, and World War II history.

5 stars. 

Book Review: City of Girls

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Vivian grew up in a rich family in a small town several hours outside of New York City.  She had just been kicked out after her freshman year at Vassar College, basically for not going to class.  Her parents didn’t know what to do with her, so they sent her to live with her eccentric Aunt Peg in New York City.

Peg owns and runs the Lily Playhouse, a run down theatre in a working class neighborhood of Manhattan.  They operate on a shoestring budget, with simple performances for simple working people.

Vivian makes herself useful by designing and sewing costumes for the girls from thrifted clothing, and quickly immerses herself into the party scene of New York City.  She goes down the rabbit hole of booze and men, learning that her desires aren’t those of ‘nice’ girls.  Vivian’s life is set against the backdrop of World War II, with her brother volunteering for service in the Navy.

The book is narrated by 95 year old Vivian, who is looking back and reflecting on her life, filling in the blanks for the daughter of a man who meant the world to Vivian.  She is honest and candid about her non-traditional life, lived in a time when women were expected to conform…

As usual, Gilbert’s character development and fluid descriptions allow the reader to fully immerse into the story, feeling the full sadness, rage, pain and joy of the characters.  It is well worth the read.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

5 stars.

 

 

Book Review: In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers

In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers: A Return to Easy Company’s Battlefields with Sergeant Forrest Guth, by Larry Alexander

I found this audio book in my perusal of the library’s collection, and it sounded interesting.  Having more than a passing interest in World War II, and having watched the Band of Brothers miniseries, I wanted to learn more.

In the Footsteps of the Band of Brothers: A Return to Easy Company's Battlefields with Sgt. Forrest Guth

Larry Alexander confesses that he developed his fascination with World War II as a young boy, and has gone on to write three books on World War II.  After meeting some of the veterans of Easy Company, he pitched an intriguing idea to his editor.  He would accompany a member of Easy Company, the Band of Brothers, on a return to the battlefields of the company’s campaigns in Europe.

Alexander travels with Sergeant Forrest Guth, and documents Guth’s observations and reactions to the battlefields and villages they visit. They try, whenever possible, to find homes and buildings where their troops were billeted or places they fought.  Alexander also offers his own observations, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t there during the war.   He details what the battlefield looked like then versus now, along with details of each battle Easy Company fought.

Alexander even describes the warm welcome they received from the people living in the villages they visited, who 70 years later still wanted to express their gratitude to the men who saved them from tyranny.

This book is an interesting look into the war from a different perspective, although it will be easier to follow if you have some knowledge of Easy Company and the campaigns they fought in during World War II.

3 stars

Book Review: The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer is first and foremost a novel about love.  It is set against the complicated backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust, but throughout, it retains its focus on love.

The Invisible Bridge

Andras Lévi is a young Hungarian Jew, setting off for Paris to attend architectural school in 1937.  He has earned a scholarship for his studies, and is eager to get his education and make his mark on the world.  As a favor to a stranger, he agrees to carry a letter with him to Paris, and as a result meets a woman ten years his senior.  Clara is a beautiful ballet teacher, with a secret history; Andras falls deeply in love with her despite their age difference.

Of course, the late 30s across Europe was an uncertain time, as Hitler consolidated his power and the continent descended into World War II.  The novel follows Andras throughout the next several years of his life, detailing his experiences as his home country of Hungary allies with the Nazis, goes to war and eventually begins its deportation and murder of over 400,000 Hungarian Jews.

Yet through it all, there is love.  A reminder that when all seems hopeless, a glimmer of sunlight remains.

It is beautifully written, pulling the reader effortlessly around the next corner even when we want nothing more than to shield our eyes and hide.  Orringer’s character development is stunning, and she weaves the narrative skillfully through a decade that includes some of the most heart wrenching events in world history.  What a profound and poignant novel, that both breaks your heart and makes you believe in the power of love…

5 stars. 

Book Review: Never Call Me a Hero

Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway, by N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss, and Timothy and Laura Orr

What can you say about this man, other than the fact that he is, indeed, a hero? Born Norman Kleiss, he went by Jack, until a mistake on a Hawaiian airfield earned him the nickname Dusty for the rest of his time in the service.

Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway

Jack Kleiss wanted to be an aviator early on and set his goal toward getting into the US Naval Academy. He then had the opportunity to attend flight school, where he was trained as a fighter pilot. The United States declaration of war after Pearl Harbor led to his being stationed on a naval aircraft carrier.

Kleiss’ most significant combat operation in the war was as a participant in the Battle of Midway, a battle between the US and Japanese naval forces. Three US and four Japanese aircraft carriers were involved, as well as numerous heavy and light cruisers and destroyers on both fleets. The US was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor but was able to strike a decisive blow to the Japanese fleet. In all the Japanese lost all four of their aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser, with another heavy cruiser sustaining damage. Over 3,000 Japanese sailors and aircrew lost their lives.

Kleiss’ book is written with the humble style so common among World War II veterans, the characteristic, “I was just doing my job,” deflections when someone points out the significance of the sacrifice he made for our country. He says a number of times that his fallen comrades are the real heroes, the men who were shot down as they bombed their targets, or worse, ran out of gas on their flight back to their carrier, because they were sent out knowing there wouldn’t be enough fuel for the return trip. And those men are truly heroes, but that doesn’t make Jack less so.

This poignant memoir relates his tale of the Battle of Midway, but also his long marriage to his wife Jean and his family, which he considers his real accomplishment. His simple style is relatable and easy to read, and he is honest enough to share his failings, as well as his frustrations with his superiors and colleagues. Jack had a long career in the Navy, training pilots after Midway, then moving into the private sector for a period before retirement.

Jack Kleiss lived to be 100 years old, another memorable accomplishment, but sadly died shortly before this memoir was published. We can’t tell him now, but he really was a hero.

4 stars.