Archive for the ‘WW II’ Category

DeathOfSantiniGosh, what to say about The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. I could and will say that if you read The Great Santini, you’ve read some of this Conroy biography, but certainly not all of it. I could say I liked the book but it’s not a book you ‘like’, it’s a book you get sucked into because there’s so much raw emotion going on…love, hate, racism, abuse, family, sorrow, joy. When I first started reading The Death of Santini, I was appalled at Don Conroy’s treatment of his wife and children and no one would have faulted me for putting the book down. But on I went, to the very last page.GreatSantini

The Death of Santini is a raw book, not filled with flowery language. It is the factual recounting of Pat Conroy’s life as the son of Don and Peg Conroy, the union of an Irish Catholic from Chicago and a poor southern girl from the Appalachian mountains whose mother abandoned her family at the height of the depression, leaving them with nothing. Pat and his six siblings moved around a lot, the life of a Marine family, were the recipients of beatings from an abusive father and the fallout from this was everlasting and widespread and powerful.

I’m not sure why Conroy felt compelled to write this book since it’s predecessor, though fiction, pretty well recounted many incidents in the current book. It felt like he had to purge himself of his demons, his guilt at standing idly by while siblings were abused, his hatred, or more accurately love-hate emotion towards his father, his adoration of his beautiful but surely imperfect mother, his dives into the depths of depression, his distance from his sister.

But as you read, you see Conroy’s problem. Children love their parents, typically, yet both his parents, to some extent, were abusive. What is a boy and then a man supposed to feel? Two of his siblings were spiraling towards mental illness, yet his parents refused to acknowledge it and Pat was powerless.

As Conroy introduces you to his northern and southern relatives you learn so many things: (1) abuse, while maybe not genetically transferred, certainly runs in families and is transferred to following generations, nor is it limited to liberally or conservatively thinking people, (2) racism is not only a Southern emotion, (3) the impact of dysfunctional families is widespread and deep.

I’ll conclude by telling you, as I did in the beginning, I’m not sure I ‘liked” The Death of Santini. I’m glad I read it and will highly recommend it to others, but did I like it? Hmmmm. No. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece with flowery language, I suggest you look elsewhere. The Death of Santini is, at times, disjointed (as is this review) and repetitious within itself. However, it has a cast of interesting, unimaginable characters that some of the most able fiction writers could never conceive. It didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t make me cry. Coming from a ‘relatively’ normal family, I think it made me sit there in disbelief.

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ForgiveMeLeonardPeacockI will admit that I didn’t immediately like Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. However, I will also admit that it grew on me. It is Leonard’s 18th birthday and no one remembered. His father is theoretically in jail in South America. His mother, a fashion designer shacked up with some Frenchman, lives in New York while Matthew lives on his own in New Jersey. His only true friend is Walt, the old man next door, with whom he watches old black and white Humphrey Bogart movies.

So, Leonard decides to make this birthday worth remembering. First he’ll kill his former best friend, Asher Beal, and then he’ll off himself using a P-38 WW II Nazi handgun his grandfather took off of a German soldier. But first he has to hand out four presents to people he likes, leaving one for his mother in the refrigerator.

It takes more than half the book before Quick finally tells you why Leonard wants to kill Asher. Before that point, you, to some extent, thinks he’s an asshole (excuse my French), a spoiled kid who got his way all the time and, while ignored by his mother, still doesn’t have much to complain about. However, there is a valid reason Leonard is the way he is.

Quick is a good writer and Leonard’s story could have turned out less compelling in another’s hands. Leonard has serious issues and while all the ‘warning signs’ are there, no one seems to take them seriously, except his Holocaust studies teacher, Herr Silverman. There are reasons for abrupt changes in personality, be it Asher’s or Leonard’s, and they must be taken seriously. Quick points out the amazing good that comes from just one person caring about another, going out of his way to help someone. He also shows what a boy floundering around looks like, one who feels that life has no purpose.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is certainly not an uplifting book, but it’s well worth the investment.

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RoseUnderFireI sandwiched Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein between The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, the ultimate beach read and The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, the ultimate coming of age/love story. Talk about contrast. Which one is not like the others?

Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Wein’s award winning Code Name Verity is equally compelling. In my post about Verity, I said “It is about the clash between what you do and what you portray to others…how you do or don’t live with yourself.” This holds true for Rose Under Fire as well.  What I like about the main characters of these two books is their understated heroism.

Rose is an American 18 year old working as an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot in England in 1944, ferrying planes back and forth to troops that need them and flying damaged ones back for repair. On one flight she sees a buzz bomb and decides to attempt to dislodge it from its targeted course. After doing so, however, she gets intercepted by the Luftwaffe and is diverted to a German air base and ultimately transported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Rose’s story is told in three sections: Southampton, Ravensbruck and Nuremburg. Through a series of diary entries, Rose describes her life as a pilot, the atrocities (including medical experiments), comradship and inhumanity in the concentration camp and finally her escape, liberation and emotions during the Nuremburg trials.

I typically don’t read books about the Holocaust because I can’t stomach it. But Wein has a way with words and characters, making her books impossible to put down. While they describe the inhumane treatment suffered by the camp inmates at the hands of soldiers, other inmates, and civilians, it also describes lovingly the heroic deeds, large and small, that prisoners were capable of, the selfless acts that impacted others’ lives.CodeNameVerity

Wein leaves no doubt that the concentration camps, the commandants that ran them and the doctors who experimented on deportees were evil personified. She describes the horrendous conditions of the camps and the people living in them. However, she also, out of the darkest gloom shines a light on people who fought, within the camps, to save prisoners, people who saved a crust of bread for others, who would not work in the factories that manufactured bombs which would have been dropped on Allied forces.

While it is not necessary to read Code Name Verity to enjoy Rose Under Fire, both are worth reading. Wein has compiled a list of resources, including internet and survivor accounts. And, while Wein states that this is a work of fiction, the general descriptions of the camp is based on fact.  I envision many awards for Rose Under Fire. Both books are a must read.

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CourageThe Triple Nickles were the first Black paratroopers in America. While they did not see combat in World War II, they were instrumental in showing that Black soldiers were equal to White soldiers and, along with a farsighted General, began the process of integrating the U.S. Armed Forces.

Tanya Lee Stone’s latest book, Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers is an immensely readable and enjoyable history of the Triple Nickles, from their humble beginnings (training themselves by performing the same exercies as the White paratrooper soldiers) to becoming a formal unit in the military to being decorated as heroes decades after the war was over.

Unsure what to do with this highly trained group, the Triple Nickles were sent to the Western United States as firejumpers, those firefighters who parachute directly into fires to combat them. This was in response to the Japanese sending balloons laden with bombs across the Pacific with the intent of bombing the U. S. on its own turf. Some did actually land and start forest fires. Firejumping was a new profession in the mid-1940s and the Triple NIckles performed this function with honor. Although it was not fighting Hitler, it was still serving their country.

Courage Has No Color was an eye-opener to me because I never realized the segregation and bigotry that existed in the Armed Forces during W.W. II. Stone’s writing style brings the action and people to life. The extent of her research is obvious in the writing and footnotes. In my mind, Stone, along with Susan Campbell Bartoletti are the two major forces in readable Young Adult non-fiction.

For another eye-opener, read Stone’s previous book, Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. I couldn’t put either book down. You won’t be disappointed.

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Talk about a book you can’t put down. Courage Has No Color, The True Story Courageof the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone is one such book. Was seriously considering taking some personal time today so I can finish it. It is a wonderful blend of prose and photos, facts and quotes. This is coming from someone who’s not a non-fiction guy.

Read it. That’s all I can say.

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