Book Review: The One I Was, Eliza Graham (2014)

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

All the world’s a stage.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

Germany, December 1938. Only weeks after Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass,” an orgy of organized violence against Jews in Germany and Austria), eleven-year-old Benjamin Goldman boards a Kindertransport train for England. Carrying just his school satchel and his cherished leather football, Benny is traveling light; with his father long since imprisoned by the Nazis, and a mother who lay dying of diphtheria, Benny has no one to see him off, and is eager to put his life in Germany behind him.

Once in England, Benny is “adopted” by Lord Sidney Dorner and his young wife Harriet. The wealthy couple pledged to sponsor twenty Jewish refugees; the best and brightest six boys are to stay at their Fairfleet estate, where they’ll receive a top-notch education from university professor Dr. Dawes. For the next six and a half years, Benny tries his best to assimilate into his new, adopted country. Having always felt an outsider, he’s determined to shed his German roots and become a “proper” Englishman. From day one at Fairfleet, Benny struggles to speak in English rather than German, even outside of the classroom. He excels in his studies and forms tentative friendships with his dorm mates.

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Book Review: Number the Stars, Lois Lowry (1989)

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

“the gift of a world of human decency”

five out of five stars

It’s September 1943, three years since German forces seized control of Denmark. Nazi soldiers patrol the streets and control the government, hospitals, schools, newspapers, and rail system; possessing an illegal newspaper like The Free Danes might very well get you killed. Copenhagen is under an 8PM curfew, and supplies are strictly rationed. And now, three years later, the Nazis are just beginning to “relocate” Jewish citizens, the way they have in so many other occupied territories.

But the Danish government received warning, which it passed on to Jewish religious leaders. Thanks to one German high official – not to mention countless courageous Danes – most of Denmark’s 7,000 Jewish citizens were smuggled to safety in Sweden. In just a matter of weeks. Right under the occupiers’ noses.

Against this backdrop, Lois Lowry weaves a story of courage and compassion that’s only partially a work of fiction. When word comes that they’re in danger, the Rosen family sends their only daughter, ten-year-old Ellen, to stay with family friends the Johansens: Ellen’s best friend Annemarie, her little sister Kirsti, and their parents. When Nazi soldiers come knocking, Ellen poses as the Johansens’ dead daughter Lise. Afraid of arousing the soldiers’ suspicions, the women travel to stay with Inge’s brother, Henrik, who lives by the sea. Before the war is over, young Annemarie will find her resolve tested. Will she undertake a dangerous mission in order to save her friend Ellen – or will she succumb to her fear of the soldiers?

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Book Review: Burning Girls: A Tor.Com Original, Veronica Schanoes (2013)

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Beautifully Conceived and Written

five out of five stars

(Caution: minor spoilers below!)

Born in Bialystok, Poland at the turn of the century, Deborah is possessed of the power like her bubbe. Deborah is a witch, and spends her summers in training with grandmother Hannah: learning to assist in childbirth, cure common ailments, terminate unwanted pregnancies, craft blessings and talismans, and drive away demons. But Deborah’s magic is little help against the growing tide of antisemitism sweeping through Europe; and when the Cossacks lay waste to Hannah’s village, killing Deborah’s beloved grandmother and mentor, it becomes clear to her family that they must escape to America. America, where “they don’t let you burn.”

While the family – mother, father, and sister Shayna – work overtime to save enough money for the trip, Deborah discovers a horrifying secret. There, among grandmother’s sparse belongings, is a mysterious contract: “The ink seemed to be made of blood and vomit. A stench like cowshit rose off the page. My stomach churned every time I unfolded the paper.” When a demon tries to steal her newborn brother Yeshua, Deborah realizes that her grandmother did the unthinkable: traded her daughter’s next child in exchange for the family’s safe passage to America. Though Deborah succeeds in destroying the contract, it’s at great personal cost; and while Deborah and Shayna eventually make it to the New World, they’re ultimately unable to escape the lilit’s clutches.

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Book Review: The Cure, Sonia Levitin (2000)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Living While Jewish in the Middle Ages

five out of five stars

* Caution: Minor spoilers ahead! *

It is The Year of Tranquility 2047, and humanity has eradicated violence, poverty, and bigotry – at the expense of diversity and emotion. If “diversity begets hostility” and “passion begets evil,” as the United Social Alliance Elders believe, then the only path to utopia is conformity: “Conformity begets Harmony begets Tranquility begets Peace begets Universal Good. (Shout Praises!)” The result is a rather sterile society devoid of family, love, intimacy, history, and art, a community in which all members think as one (and indeed, don’t seem to think about much at all).

To achieve this “Universal Good,” years of genetic engineering and selective breeding have made the human brain compliant; standardized, even. Babies are created in batches, each male paired with a female twin with whom he becomes mated for life. Though the siblings live, work, and parent together (if they so choose), sex is prohibited, a relic of the past. Instead, when females turn 16, their eggs are harvested (a mandate euphemistically referred to as “the process”), so that the next generation can be made in a lab. Touching is taboo, and to further emphasize the sense of oneness, citizens wear smooth, featureless masks at all times. Not even twins are allowed to gaze upon one another’s faces.

Disease and sickness have mostly been eradicated, but in lieu of immortality, citizens can choose to be “recycled” (i.e., euthanized) at any time. The maximum allowed lifespan is 120 years, after which time recycling is mandatory. If one is found to be “deviant” – a nonconforming thinker – most likely he or she will be recycled. A select few are offered the option of “The Cure.”

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