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Search tags: set-in-1920-1939
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review 2019-02-05 04:05
The Color Purple
The Color Purple - Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

 

I still remember the first time I saw the movie The Color Purple. It was at home, when it was on TV, and I was probably around 7 or 8. I only understood about half of what was going on, but it spoke to me. Celie's love for her sister Nettie and her strife living with Mr and her friendships with Sofia and Shug, all being filtered through Celie's open and loving heart caught hold of my own heart.

 

It wouldn't be until my late teens I finally read the book and fully comprehended everything that went over my head years earlier, and to reread it now nearly two decades later I see the themes here in a way I couldn't back then. But at the heart of it, it's still that same story of self-discovery, of love triumphing over hate - if not injustice - and learning to be comfortable in your own skin, learning to listen to your heart and the hearts of those around you. It's learning that even when you lose all hope, there's still more hope left to discover, that bad things will happen but good things will happen too. 

 

 

The book also examines the racism in the deep South that existed after the end of slavery, during the Jim Crow years, but doesn't stop there. It examines, through Nettie and her missionary work, how it also tore apart the African tribes at the start of the slave trade and continues to damage it to the present day. It doesn't let anyone off the hook. It examines the struggles of people of color, and especially women of color in a time when no one cared about them. 

 

It could be a very depressing book with all the issues it tackles, not just racism and gender inequality but also rape, incest, injustice, domestic abuse and cheating - nearly everything I don't like reading about all in one book. But from the POV of Celie, as she prays to God and later writes to her long-lost sister, the story flows with a strange mixture of innocence and knowing that helps sooth over what would otherwise be very difficult passages to read.

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review 2019-01-21 04:41
The Silver Music Box (Silver Music Box #1) (Audiobook)
The Silver Music Box - Mina Baites,Alison Layland

From the blurb, I thought this was going to be about Lillian finding out about her roots and trying to research where her family came from and what happened to them during WWII, but that part of the plot doesn't come in until a little over 2/3s of the way through the book. Instead, it starts out with Johann Blumenthal fighting in WWI for Germany, then follows through to his son Paul at the dawn of the Nazis taking over power and Paul's eventual attempts to get his family out of the country. When things are looking grim for them, it then drops that storyline and jumps forward to the 1960s to Lillian, where I thought the story was going to start.

 

It was a bit jarring to start off, since I wasn't expecting the story to be so linear, but in the end, I found it more effective getting to know the Blumenthal's and seeing their attempts to stay in Germany as long as they could before realizing - perhaps too late - that they needed to flee to save themselves. It was disheartening to see them doing everything they could to be good Germans, in a Germany that cared about them less and less, and to see the small steps that began to segregate the Jews from the main populace more and more until the Nazis were in power and didn't care about being quite so subtle anymore. 

 

This is compounded when they end up in Capetown in South Africa - they're safe there, but all around them is apartheid - which was implemented based on Aryan propaganda and laws.

(spoiler show)

 

I did feel at times that the characters were there more to serve as plot points, and Charolette suffers the most from this since she mostly just reacts while Paul is making all the preparations. Knowing how many women worked in the underground and resistance forces during WWII, I would have liked to see Charolette take a more active role. 

 

I also would have liked more time to get to know Lillian so her story arc could have more weight, but seeing her so driven to find out everything she could about where she came from and what happened to her family was touching nonetheless. 

 

The narrator, Jane Oppenheimer, who I first heard narrating The Moonlit Garden, was an odd choice I think for this story. She has a very mellow and soothing voice, which dulled the tension from a story that really should have been tense.

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review 2018-06-23 19:11
The Valley of Amazement
The Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan

I did something while reading this book that I have never done before: I flipped to the last page to see if it had a happy ending. Because good lord does Violet get put through the ringer.

 

This is often a difficult read, so I'll say upfront: if sexual exploitation makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this book. I'm usually one who wouldn't touch this with a ten-foot pole, but while the tone was unflinching, the details when divulged were detached enough to not affect me too much. Everyone has different tolerance levels and triggers, though, so it's something to consider.

 

This is set in the first half of the 1900s in China in the culture of the courtesan houses. It resembles Memoirs of a Geisha in that respect and it doesn't shy away from how young girls were sold and stolen into this life, but beyond the inner workings of the courtesan houses, this is a much different story with a different focus. 

 

As with all of Tan's work, this story is about the relationship between mothers and daughters, but unlike her other stories, this one is told primarily through Violet's POV. We follow her from a young, conceited girl growing up in her mother's courtesan house - not as a courtesan though, just to be clear on that point. She can only see how things effect her, how her mother is distant and aloof, and how she doesn't feel like she's loved enough. After they're separated by a ne'er-do-well and Violet is sold to another house, she must use her fierceness and determination to survive her new life and come to terms with the many twists and turns that her life makes. 

 

It's not all dire. She has a friend in the courtesan house to help her and protect her as much as possible, and she knows how to navigate this world better than most, though she makes many foolish decisions along the way. There are good moments as well, and Violet learns how to appreciate others, the depths of love and sacrifices that we make for each other along the way, all of which helps her to better understand the choices her own mother had made. But every time she takes a step forward, she's knocked twenty steps back. It's a long hard road, but there is a hopeful ending.

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review 2018-04-15 20:34
A Lucky Child (A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy)
A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy - Thomas Buergenthal,Elie Wiesel

For being about the horrors of Nazi occupation of Europe and the Holocaust, this wasn't a difficult  read. The author, Thomas Buergenthal, writes about his childhood in an approachable manner. It probably helps that he's writing it several decades after the fact - the pain and anger he would have felt during and immediately after the events have had time to heal. It's light on details of the day-to-day activities of those years, as he and his family were first on the run from Germans, then living in the Jewish ghetto in Poland, then the various concentration camps he was imprisoned in. As a result, it glosses over a lot of the horrors, focusing instead on events that stick out to him most - but those events are rather harrowing in themselves. He doesn't linger on them though. Some might find this lack of detail frustrating, others may be relieved. I've read other accounts of the Holocaust, most memorably Elie Wiesel's Night, so I was able to fill in what wasn't there. 

 

This felt like a very honest and intimate account of his days surviving WWII and the Holocaust. His writing here is flowing and stark, and he doesn't get bogged down with unnecessary repetition like last few autobiographies I've read. He was indeed a "lucky" child to survive Dr. Mengele and Auschwitz. Speaking of Night, they were both clearly in Auschwitz at the same time, as they both describe the Death March with the same sort of dreadful resignation. He was lucky many other times in order to survive, and that continues even after his liberation as he details how he was eventually reunited with his mother.

 

One cannot stress enough how important this time period was to the shaping of the world as it is today and why it's necessary that it continue to be taught in our schools. Buergenthal's work in international humanitarian law is inspirational and reminds us that, no matter how bleak things can still appear, there is hope for improvement and that things already have improved in many places. We can make the world a better place, but we can only do that by remembering the atrocities that came before and striving not to repeat them.

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review 2017-08-09 02:30
The Moonlit Garden (Audiobook)
The Moonlit Garden - Alison Layland,Corina Bomann

This was a pleasant surprise! Especially for an Amazon First selection since usually those books are not that great. This is translated into English, but I didn't notice any awkward phrasing to the translation was well done. 

 

I wasn't sure what I was getting into with this one, except that at some point there'd a moonlit garden :D so I was just going along for the ride and it was a good one. Lily owns an antique shop in Berlin and one day an old man comes in, hands her an old violin, tells her it's hers and leaves. The rest of the book goes back and forth between Lily trying to solve the mystery of the violin and Rose, the violin's original owner, a master violinist in the earliest part of the 1900s.

 

There's enough left out in the historical parts to keep the mystery moving in the current timeline. It's just nice to have a mystery that doesn't revolve around murder for a change, and trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. And while parts of this take place in England and Germany, a good chunk of it takes place in Sumatra, Indonesia, which was also a nice change of pace as I don't often come across books set in Asia.

 

The narrator has kind of a soft voice but it didn't bother me too much. I do wish she had more range in her voices, especially for the men since despite some slight differences to their accents, it was difficult to tell them apart because they all sounded so similar. She does a somewhat better job differentiating the female voices. 

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