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review 2019-01-16 02:06
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE INCREDIBLE JOSEPHINE BAKER
Josephine Baker's Last Dance - Sherry Jones

Josephine Baker is someone I had known about since my elementary school days in the mid-1970s, when I first saw her profile in a calendar celebrating what was then Black History Month. I was fascinated to learn that she had gone to Paris in 1925 and made herself into a superstar in France and across the world. 

"JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" was given to me last month as a Christmas gift. The essence of the novel has as a centerpiece, what was Josephine Baker's last great stage performance in Paris in April 1975. The author uses it as a springboard to take the reader back to Josephine's early years in St. Louis, where she was born in poverty in 1906. I very much enjoyed seeing Josephine as she grew and matured. Hers was not an easy life. There is much in the novel that conveys the struggles and abuse that she endured. America was then an unwelcoming and at times, brutal and dispiriting place for its black citizens. Baker gets into vaudeville as a dancer in her mid-teens and eventually, the gateway to stardom opens and Josephine arrives in Paris with La Revue Nègre . 

The only part of the novel I found fault was its description of Josephine Baker's service in World War II as an intelligence agent and member of the French Resistance. The time sequences which covered the early war years seemed at times nebulous and compressed. If the reader had little or no knowledge of how the French defeat to Nazi Germany impacted the country in June 1940, he/she would be led to think that the resistance movement to the Germans developed overnight. That was not true at all. There was, initially disillusionment and fear when the Germans entered Paris - which had been declared an open city by the French government - on June 14, 1940 - and compelled the French to sign an armistice 8 days later. It would be several months to a year before an incipient resistance movement began to take shape in France as the Germans solidified their power and authority there. 

There was also a mention in the novel which indicated that Josephine Baker made the acquaintance of the courageous British spy Krystna Skarbek, a Pole (aka 'Christine Granville') during the early days of the German Occupation. That is simply untrue. (I read a book in 2015 about Krystyna Skabek's wartime service --- 'Christine: SOE Agent & Churchill's Favourite Spy'. Krystyna Shabek did not get to France until the summer of 1944. Earlier, she had been engaged in espionage work since late 1939 in German-occupied Poland, the Balkans, and Egypt.) That is why I am taking away 1 star and giving "JOSEPHINE BAKER'S LAST DANCE" 3 stars.  Outside of that glaring, historical inaccuracy, it is a very good novel which brought out the real Josephine Baker in so many interesting ways.

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text 2018-12-28 18:27
24 Festive Tasks: Door 23 - Hogswatch, Task 3 (Pumuckl's Footprints, or, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?")

No "still believe" about it for me even by age 5, and by age 7 I was well over them all; Santa, Saint Nick, the Easter Bunny and the rest of the lot.  I think the last year when I still genuinely believed, or very much wanted to believe, in Santa Claus and in presents being brought by him and by "the Christ-child" (as childhood lore has it in Germany) was at age 4.  At some point after that, I'm fairly even before Christmas at age 5, I had wised up to the fact that the giver of my Christmas presents was really my mom -- and ditto the Easter Bunny (whose existence had really never made sense to me to begin with ... a bunny laying eggs?!).  So when my mom sat me down one day after I'd started elementary school for a "you're a big girl now, so I'm going to have to tell you something because I think you'll now be able to understand this" talk she had obviously prepared very carefully, I just looked at her and blurted out, equally to her puzzlement and relief: "Oh, I haven't believed in that for a long time anyway .."

 

All of which doesn't mean in the least, however, that I wasn't easily fooled as a kid, especially if I really wanted to believe in something -- and particularly so, by my two elder cousins (the daughters of my mom's elder sister, with whom we spent a lot of vacation and other time when I was little). 

 

Some of the things they came up with, I just went along with and pretended, simply because I'd have found it much more annoying to have to discuss the whole thing: E.g., while I didn't like the stuff that Germans call Quark (any attempt at translation, e.g., as "curd" or "cottage cheese", is doomed to utter failure -- it's manifestly NOT the same thing), I very much liked cherry compote and preserve, so for a while they tried to get me to eat Quark and cherry compote, calling it "cherry ice cream" and telling me that unfortunately the freezer had failed to work properly ... all of which I wasn't fooled by for a second, but hey, anything for extra stuff with cherries in it (even Quark) -- and if pretending to go along with their story meant I didn't have to discuss that no, I still really didn't like Quark as such, but I did very much like it with compoted or preserved cherries in it, thank you very much, then that was just fine by me.

 

BUT the one thing they produced and which downright drove me to distraction were Pumuckl's footprints!  Pumuckl is the hero of a series of German children's books; a little kobold / gnome who one day takes residence in a master carpenter's shop, where he instantly proceeds to cause all sorts of havoc.  I used to love those books, as well as the TV series based on them (with Pumuckl's voice done by Hans Clarin), so imagine my surprise when, one day while we were vacationing on the North Sea coast, my cousins suddenly pointed out to me that Pumuckl had to have been around, because look, there were his footprints!  And they were all correct, too, with a big toe print and only three smaller toe prints (since Pumuckl only had four toes -- and he was always walking barefoot).  And of course, shortly thereafter small things started to happen -- my bath towel or my little scoop or something else would disappear and reappear somewhere else entirely; just the sort of tricks and practical jokes that Pumuckl was known to play.  Since as a rule he was invisible, and since I very much wanted him to exist (even though deep down I knew he didn't), for a while I was seriously thrown, all the more since I couldn't figure out how my cousins, or anybody in league with them for that matter, had produced the magical footprints.  So this went on for quite a while, with me skeptical but very much wanting to believe, and my cousins producing more and more evidence of Pumuckl's existence ... until I finally found out how they'd created his "footprints" (namely, by pressing the undersides of their fists into the sand for the main foot impression and then using their fingers for the toe imprints), at which time of course the game was up.  I still think of this whenever I'm on the beach, though -- and whenever I see one of the Pumuckl books somewhere, or come across a rerun of the TV series.

 


(On the beach in Spain, with my elder cousins (left and center),
a year or two before the appearance of "Pumuckl's footprints")

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url 2018-12-28 14:56
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review 2018-12-23 22:01
24 Festive Tasks: My Final Books (Doors 16, 17 and 19 -- Human Rights Day, St. Lucia's Day, and Festivus)
A Christmas Guest - Anne Perry,Terrence Hardiman
Skandinavische Weihnachten: Die schönsten Geschichten von Sven Nordqvist, Hans Christian Andersen, Selma Lagerlöf u.a. - Hans Christian Andersen,Selma Lagerlöf,Various Authors,Sven Nordqvist,Josef Tratnik,Dirk Bach,Jens Wawrczeck
A Woman of No Importance - Full Cast,Oscar Wilde
Model Millionaire - David Timson,Oscar Wilde


Anne Perry: A Christmas Guest

The third book in Anne Perry's series of Christmas novellas, each one of which has as their protagonist one of the supporting characters from Perry's main series (William Monk, and Charlotte & Thomas Pitt).  This installment's starring role goes to Charlotte Pitt's vinegar-tongued grandmother, who -- like another remote relative, recently returned to England after having spent most of her adult life living in the Middle East -- finds herself shunted onto Charlotte and her husband Thomas at short notice, because the family with whom she had been planning to spend the holidays have made other plans.  While Grandma pretends to despise her widely-traveled fellow guest, secretly she develops a considerable amount of respect for her, so when the lady is unexpetedly found dead, grandma takes it upon herself to seek out the people who had unloaded her on the Pitt household; convinced that something untoward is afoot.

 

As Perry's Christmas novellas go, this is one of my favorite installments to date, and i loved seeing it told, for once, not from the point of view of an easily likeable character, but from that of Grandma, who is a major pain in the neck to others (even though you'd have to be blind not to recognize from the word "go" that her acerbic tongue and pretensions are merely part of her personal armour).  I also wondered whether the murder victim's character might have been inspired by pioneering women travelers like Gertrude Bell, even if the story is set a few decades earlier than Bell's actual life.  I had issues with a couple of minor aspects of the plot (and characters / behaviour), but they didn't intrude enough to seriously impinge on my enjoyment of the story.  And since Grandma, for all her overblown pretenses, is certainly a strong woman character -- which she shows, not least, by eventually admitting to her own fallibilities -- I am counting this book towards the Human Rights Day square of 24 Festive Tasks.

 

 

 
Various Authors: Skandinavische Weihnachten

A charming anthology of Christmas short stories and poems from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland; chiefly geared towards children, but more than enjoyable by readers and listeners of all ages and generations.  I knew some of the entries (no Scandinavian Christmas anthology without Andersen's Little Match Girl, I suppose), but many of the stories were new to me, and they made for delightful listening on this 4th weekend of Advent. -- Set in Scandinavia, and thus I'm using it as my book for the St. Lucia's Day square.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: A Woman of No Importance

Wilde's second play; an acerbic take on the narrowness of fin de siècle English morality; or more particularly, supremely hypocritical perceptions of women's role in society.  Unlike in Wilde's later plays, the beginning comes across as a bit of an over-indulgence in the author's own clever wit, with a veritable fireworks of sparkling onelines and repartees following in quick succession without greatly advancing the plot (which is what earns the piece the subtractions in my star ratings -- it's the perfect example of too much of a good thing); but once the plot and the dialogue centers on the opposing protagonists, it quickly finds its feet. -- As Festivus books go, it's rather on the dark side, but it's a satire nevertheless, so I'm counting it for that square ... and though (unusually for Wilde) the last line is telegraphed a mile and a half in advance, I nevertheless enjoyed saying it along with the play's heroine from all my heart.

 

 


Oscar Wilde: Model Millionaire

My encore enjoyment to follow up A Woman of No Importance; a story that couldn't be any more different in tone and intent -- the tale of a gentleman who believes he has done a kindness to a raggedy beggar modelling for his artist friend ... only to find that he could not possibly have been any more mistaken, and that in fact it is he who is ultimately at the receiving end of an unexpected kindness.

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review 2018-12-21 21:51
The Annotated and Illustrated Sherlock Holmes
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes Volume 1 and 2 - William S. Baring-Gould, Arthur Conan Doyle

I pulled this out intending to do my annual Christmas read of The Blue Carbuncle, but made the mistake of glancing at the introduction.  12 chapters of introduction later, I finally read The Blue Carbuncle yesterday.

 

Baring-Gould didn't so much as introduce the annotated volumes and write a short but thorough biography of not only Conan Doyle, but Sherlock, Watson (to a lesser extent) and several chapters of pure out-and-out speculation of exactly where 221B Baker Street was, the layout of the rooms (was Watson on the third floor, or the second?; did Sherlock have 2 doors out of his bedroom?), and what kinds of furniture might or might not have been there.  His cited sources include all the great 'scholars' of Sherlock Holmes: Morely, Starr, etc. and I have to say, these men needed more fresh air.

 

I'm sort of kidding, but sort of not - reading the annotations is fascinating.  These men treat Holmes as though he were not only a real life historical figure, but a static one.  The dichotomy is surreal.  For example, Baring-Gould discusses the furniture in the flat, and the it seems that if Holmes had been a real person, these men (and yes, they're all almost without exception, men) expected him to have never, ever changed or moved any of the furniture.

 

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Blue Carbuncle, as I always do, though the annotations included quite a few snide comments by one Magistrate S. Tupper Bigelow, who impressed me as a complete prat, who needed to be reminded it's a story and even Conan Doyle was allowed to take creative liberties.  There was also a whole discussion on whether or not Doyle intended to use the word commute and whether or not it implied Holmes had royal blood.  That made me roll my eyes and cry 'oh, horse sh*t' loud enough to make MT laugh.  Overall though, the rest of the annotations were thoroughly interesting, if not always informative, and they gave me a deeper context for enjoying a story that's already a firm favorite of mine.

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