Tag Archives: wwii

Dry Leaves of a Heart

Published / by SarahE / Leave a Comment

“He lives down in a ribcage in the dry leaves of a heart.”

I saw Downfall in college. I took a class about the Holocaust, and at the end of the semester, I guess to wrap things up, we watched Hitler, Eva Braun, Goebbels, and Goebbels wife and children, all kill themselves in a bunker. It sent chills down my spine. It was so bleak and ugly. Indescribably terrible. It’s always stuck with me.

This book disturbed me. It read like horror. A reverse Dorian Gray. Hitler sold his soul to the devil, but instead of a picture showing the decay of his soul, he was cursed with the corrosion of his vileness in any mirror he had the disadvantage to look into.

By the end of the war Hitler was taking over 150 tablets a week, cocaine, and meth. German soldiers were doped to keep them awake so they could blitzkrieg France and Russia. Hitler, with false bravado attained from taking uppers, took complete command of his army, and made absurd orders that ultimately led to Germany’s downfall.

Hitler was crazy. But as Norman Ohler specified: he had been crazy from the beginning, and the drugs did not make him the evil sonofabitch he was. They were just an unpleasant additive.

This book was great in a terrible way. I listened to it and the baritone of the narrator lent itself to the tone of the book. I would highly recommend reading this book. Even if you feel you’ve exhausted every avenue of WWII history, I think you’ll find something new in this book. Also, as so many countries are surging further right in their political attitudes I think it’s important to see the degradation- body and soul, of one of the most evil men in history.

Let’s Try This Again

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The Women in the Castle

Jessica Shattuck

I like WWII books. If you were to look at my reading history, you would find obvious evidence of this. If I had to choose Atonement or Survival in Auschwitz or even Life After Life would be my favorites. But what a thing to say: I love reading about mass murder, the holocaust, and war. That doesn’t reflect well on me. But I know I’m not alone when it comes to this time period. So what’s wrong with me and everyone else obsessed with WWII? Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I blame my own obsession partly on my love for The Sound of Music as a kid. My grandma had the movie on VHS and it was so long that it was on two different tapes. I watched it over and over and over…I also blame it on being American. We were the saviors storming the beaches at Normandy. We were on the side of good and we defeated evil. But WWII, that’s all history; more fiction than fact. A surreal fever dream. Hitler’s as real to me as a red devil with horns. But reading history, even terrible history- there’s comfort there…

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin

The Sound of Music reminds me of my grandma, so to avoid a circuitous explanation I’ll just use a colon and say: WWII reminds me of my grandma. (Take that as you will…)

So compared to all the books I’ve read about WWII, how’d this one stack up? Well, it was okay. It was less than what I was hoping it would be. What I wanted: “chick-lit” essentially, I wanted the girls to get together in the big castle and make a life together. I wanted friendship, and holidays, tears, and girl talk. I wanted the women to fend for themselves, and be okay.

What this book was not: it was not “chick- lit”, but that would’ve been okay if it had been less than what it was, which was tragedy. That was what WWII was, no? It was tragedy, BUT THIS BOOK!… the setting was after the war, so did it have to be so horribly sad? Reprieve, reprieve!

The Women in the Castle was about Marianne and the women she promised to protect after all the men were killed (resistance fighters who tried to assassinate Hitler). But I didn’t like Marianne, or at least, I didn’t feel close to Marianne, or Benita. Ania’s story was almost too tragic not to feel drawn to, but who she was…I never could tell.

There was something very smart in this novel though, an idea I had not really heard expressed before, and I’ll try to explain it without giving anything away- human rights didn’t exist before WWII. There was no United Nations, or Human Rights Watch. Civil Rights didn’t exist. It wasn’t really a concept yet. Now, these things are all very real. We see images of human rights abuses from all over the world. But, in the 1930’s and ’40’s in Germany, Germans were not inundated with pictures of starving and dying people in Concentration Camps. They were aware that Jews were being taken to “camps” but that was ambiguous. When they heard camps, they thought: camps! Not mass murder. It wasn’t until after the war, and as the war neared its end that they were met with the grizzly pictures, and the truth.

Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazi bastards made worldwide human rights a precedent that we try to  pressure all nations to adhere to. I wish we were more successful.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book. It was a solid read. A good history. A quick story.

BOMB. Boom.

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The Bomb. Yes, both the book Bomb: the Race to Build- And Steal-the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, and well, THE BOMB, which President Obama will talk about this week when he becomes the first serving President to visit Hiroshima.

We were the first country to develop it. We were the first only country to drop it. Twice.

Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb, was a textbook writer who felt guilty about writing boring history for massive amounts of kids, so he quit that job, and started writing nonfiction for young adults, and man oh man, does he do a great job!

I decided to read this book not because I wanted to know more about the development of the nuclear bomb, but because I wanted to know what the world of YA nonfiction had to offer. The section at the library is a bleak island of sadness populated by sad memoirs about self-harm and books you would need for a boring book report. Not that I would ever begrudge the need for any of these books, but they’re not the kind of thing to attract life long reading. And the YA genre is a huge thing right now! Teenagers are reading! Fantasy! Romance! Graphic Novels! They want to be entertained, and the bleak island of sadness at the library ain’t gonna cut it. Grab them now nonfiction! Pull them in and teach them things, broaden their minds, but dear God don’t bore them! Don’t you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Hormones are raging, you’re hungry constantly, insecure, tired, you’re brain’s still not all connected…there’s too much going on- you’re part kid and part adult, so appeal to that! Use your imagination, make it exciting! History isn’t dull.. history’s horrible! Kids love that! Give them the death, destruction, and anguish they crave.

Don’t think it’s possible, well, Steve Sheinkin’s doing it, and he’s do it well! So there naysayers! Proved. You. Wrong. Ha!

This book had it all. Intrigue, biography, war, murder. I’ve always loved the Oppenheimer quote:

“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.”

This quote is so hauntingly correct in its context. Oppenheimer said it after the bombs had dropped on Japan. He felt a great amount of guilt after WWII and tried to stop the proliferation of the nuclear bomb, and it’s bigger sister the hydrogen bomb, but he was unsuccessful. I don’t know how to feel about Oppenheimer. He’s a bit of an enigma. He helped build it, what’d he think was going to be done with it?

The best part of the book was about the Norwegian secret agents that were dropped into German controlled Norway to blow up the plant creating Heavy Water (used to produce nuclear bombs). These guys, I can’t remember how many (8?) parachuted onto this snowy mountain, waited around, spied on the plant, and then snuck into this heavily guarded plant and blew it up. It was unbelievably good reading! And I’d never heard of it. The whole thing would make a great movie.

That’s how this book was. It’s for a younger audience, which makes it more concise and engaging (not a lot of backlog “story”).

It’s told in three parts: the bomb making, the Soviet spies trying to steal the bomb plans, and the sabotage in Germany.

America was making a bomb to drop on Germany, not Japan. Japan just wouldn’t concede, and America got sick of fighting, so they dropped the granddaddy of all bombs down on their heads, and that was that. Japanese voices were represented (at the end), and if you’d recently read Voices From Chernobyl (which I had), you would have been horrified to think about the radiation impact on these people’s lives (and let’s not forget THE WORLD), but they didn’t know then what we know now.

Why in the hell did the Japanese keep fighting after the first bomb? Honor I guess. Stupid honor.

And the Hydrogen bomb. Yeah, that little ball of horror is like a thousand (I don’t know the actual scale) bigger than the bombs dropped on Japan. And yeah, a bunch of counties are sitting pretty on these little apocalypses too. A nuclear war between Pakistan and India would kill us all.

Just a little food for thought.

This was an awesome book, a little bright light on the island of YA nonfiction sadness.. which I take as a call to action! Let’s give our teens a beacon! Let’s reel them in and teach them the joy of learning. Let’s create a better YA nonfiction section at the library!

Here’s a link to more YA nonfiction titles! There are more, but they’re untested by me, so hopefully they’re good. I can’t make any promises.