Monthly Archives: February 2020

The Book Whisperer Uncovers a Winner

Standard

I’m late to the Ivan Doig fan club. I just finished reading Last Bus to Wisdom, Doig’s last book, written along with four others during his illness. To say that Last Bus to Wisdom is a charming, engaging story about a vulnerable eleven-year-old boy is true, yet inadequate, in fully describing the story and the experience of reading the story. Published in 2015, the year of Doig’s death, Last Bus to Wisdom received a number of well-deserved awards: named best book of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews, named best book of the summer by the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Paste Magazine.

In teaching literature, I always made time for a discussion about the value of literature and that effective literature transcends time and place. On the Web site devoted to Ivan Doig and his work, http://www.ivandoig.com/index.html, I was pleased to see the following quotation by Doig: “If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.”

Even with references to Montana, Wisconsin, Greyhound buses (aka the dog bus) Kate Smith, and Lawrence Welk, Last Bus to Wisdom is not dated or out of date. Doig takes readers on a road trip with Donal, Red Chief, Campbell from the Double W ranch in Two Medicine Country of the Montana Rockies to Wisconsin and back. In 1951, Donal, orphaned, is eleven and lives with his grandmother on the Double W ranch where his grandmother is the cook. The two share a tiny cabin on the property.

Unfortunately, Gram must have an extensive surgery which means she will have to stay with nuns for her recovery thus earning no money. In desperation, Gram contacts her sister Kitty in Wisconsin asking that Donal be allowed to spend the summer in Wisconsin with Kitty and Herman. Kitty agrees even though she and her sister have rarely spoken to one another in the last few years.

Donal sets out on a Greyhound bus, aka the dog bus, alone for the long trip to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. As with other journey stories and quests, Last Bus to Wisdom provides readers with a number of adventures along with Donal.

One of the guiding factors in the story is Donal’s newly acquired autograph book. He hopes to get enough signatures in his book so that he can make the Guinness Book of World Records. During his trip, he aims to ask as many people as possible to write in the autograph book. Donal is quite a storyteller and loves embellishing his stories.

Gram gives Donal a pair of beaded moccasins to take on the trip. In their little cabin, the two have shared the moccasins, so Donal feels especially lucky to have the moccasins with him. Unfortunately, he meets a fellow traveler and in embellishing the story about the moccasins, turning them into treasured and expensive Indian keepsakes, he almost loses the moccasins and his entire suitcase. Luckily, Donal is sharp-eyed enough to see the traveler taking the wicker suitcase from the bus at a stop where Donal is not getting off the bus. The bus driver helps Donal retrieve the suitcase and Donal learns a lesson, or does he?

Not shy, Donal meets people on the bus and in the bus station. Finally, he reaches Manitowoc, WI, and meets his great-aunt Kitty and her husband Herman. Donal quickly learns Aunt Kitty is not like his grandmother at all. Aunt Kitty is all sweetness and light in talking with others; with Herman and soon with Donal, her mean-spirited side shows its ugly self.

Gram has pinned $30 into a handkerchief inside Donal’s shirt; the money is supposed to buy him comic books and new clothes for the trip back when school starts. Unfortunately, Aunt Kitty throws Donal’s shirt away because it has gotten torn in an altercation on the bus. Both Donal and Aunt Kitty are horrified to learn the money is gone with the trash collectors.

Aunt Kitty plays bridge every Monday with three other women. In Donal’s first week in Manitowoc, Aunt Kitty comes home from the game angry and upset because one of the members is going to St. Louis to visit family for the summer, thus leaving the group short-handed. Aunt Kitty determines to teach Donal how to play bridge so the games can continue. As a teacher, Aunt Kitty leaves much to be desired. Then Herman teaches Donal on the sly with cards that have pictures of scantily-clad women on them. Donal learns quickly.

However, Aunt Kitty is not happy even when Donal learns to play bridge. She abruptly tells him he is returning to Montana immediately. Although Donal had not wanted to be in Wisconsin, he does not want to go back to Montana too soon and have to go to an orphanage since Gram is not yet well enough to take him back.

Still, Aunt Kitty is determined, so she puts Donal on the bus; surprisingly, she does give him $30 to make up for the lost money. When Donal gets on the bus, he sees a passenger with a newspaper in front of his face. It is Herman who tells Donal that the two of them are going on the trip West. Herman says he has left Kitty.

Last Bus to Wisdom is full of other characters, both kind and evil including a man putting himself forward as a minister, but who steals from Donal and Herman, leaving them destitute until Donal figures out a way to save them both.

Need I mention that Donal has red hair? Red-haired characters are almost always near and dear to my heart. Gram uses the phrase “red-headed thinking” to describe Donal’s fanciful thoughts. I truly like that expression.

In 1949, Joseph Campbell defined the journey story: “It refers to a wide-ranging category of tales in which a character ventures out to get what he/she needs, faces conflict, and ultimately triumphs over adversity.” Donal, Red Chief, Campbell (no relation! LOL!) certainly experiences all those elements on this journey.

Montana State University has collected Ivan Doig’s work at this site: http://ivandoig.montana.edu/. Readers will find manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, and more on the site.

The Book Whisperer Discovers a Remarkable Woman

Standard

Belonging to a book club means reading books that one might not choose on one’s own. Such is the case with The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone.  Before choosing the book, I did a great deal of research on the author, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, and the book itself. The reviews I read were sparkling and laudatory. And that’s all true.

Still, I found myself bogged down by some of Elizebeth’s story. I wanted more of HER story; I realize the men of the period and even now took/take credit for work that women did/do. Elizebeth was content to do her work quietly and stay in the background. Starting with George Fabyan, the wildly erratic businessman who first hired Elizebeth to work at Riverbank in Chicago, men took credit for Elizebeth’s work and short-changed her throughout her career.

Elizebeth’s mother named Elizebeth with the unusual spelling of her name. Elizebeth herself hated that Smith was her last name because it was so ordinary. She was a young woman who wanted to do extraordinary things, and she did.

Of course, to be fair, I must point out that Fabyan also put his own name on William Friedman’s work too. Fabyan, an oddball millionaire, felt that since he paid William to do the work that he had every right to put his own name on the published material.

In his introduction, Fagone points out that “it’s not quite true that history is written by the winners. It’s written by the best publicists on the winning team.” William and Elizebeth against Fabyan and J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, had no chance to write the history or correct the errors and misconceptions about who did the actual work of cryptanalysis.

Fagone reminds readers that “Elizebeth isn’t nearly as famous [as William Friedman, her husband], despite her talent and contributions.” Fagone continues by saying that Elizebeth’s friends considered her the more brilliant of the two. Fagone explains that “by 1945 the government considered both Friedmans to be pioneers of their field.”

Fagone stumbled upon the papers in twenty-two boxes Elizebeth donated to the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, VA. Fagone had access to those papers which proved to be invaluable to him in writing Elizebeth’s story. Except for the period between 1939-1945, any material that was not classified was in the collection that Elizebeth had kept. Fortunately, for readers, Fagone also persisted in locating documents from that gap between 1939-1945; over a two-year period, he managed to find the missing materials.

Clearly, Elizebeth Smith Friedman is an extraordinary woman. She was not a mathematician, but a person who loved words. That love of words helped her in decoding the messages that rum-runners used in smuggling liquor into the US and in an even more important endeavor of decoding messages during WWI and WWII.

Her entrance into code breaking occurred when George Fabyan hired her to work with Mrs. Gallup who tested Elizebeth with several codes, all of which Elizebeth handily decoded. Mrs. Gallup was convinced that Francis Bacon had written Shakespeare’s works and that he had includes coded messages in the writings. Mrs. Gallup was determined to ferret out the messages and produce them for the world.

Elizebeth quickly came to feel Mrs. Gallup was “tilting at windmills,” so to speak. Living at Riverbank where George Fabyan kept wild animals on the estate, Elizebeth met William Friedman, also working for Fabyan, but on other projects. Fabyan once told William, “I have seen impractical and improbably things accomplished.” That line made me think of The White Queen in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

As William and Elizebeth become better acquainted, readers can clearly see that their friendship has turned to love, especially for William. When they had to be apart, William wrote 20- and 30-page love letters to Elizebeth.

During WWII, Elizebeth began exposing Nazi spy rings that were in South America. She managed to crack a large number of encoded messages, even those produced by the Enigma machine. At the same time, William was working for the Army in Washington, particularly on breaking Japanese coded messages.

Elizebeth and William so enjoyed working on the codes, they included them in letters to one another. They taught their children, Barbara and John Ramsey, to write coded messages. Elizebeth would hold dinner parties and write the menus in code for the guests. She and William were highly creative throughout their lives.

Fagone has done a service by writing this book about Elizebeth Smith Friedman and the groundbreaking work she did in breaking codes during WWI, Prohibition, and WWII. Smashing codes is a good way to title the book. Jason Fagone, https://www.jasonfagone.com/, is an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Book Whisperer Looks Back

Standard

As I prepared a discussion for a book club on Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, I discovered Reading With Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America also by Kathleen Rooney. I was interested in Reading With Oprah for two reasons. First, it fit into my research about Rooney and her work. Second, Oprah had just announced American Dirt by Jeannie Cummins as her newest book club selection. With that selection, Oprah received both praise and criticism with the criticism ranking higher than the praise.

Publisher’s Weekly describes Reading With Oprah as “lively, information-filled account of the club’s history…. [Rooney] accurately captures the cultural unrest surrounding the Oprah Book Club and raises numerous thoughtful points about its significance.” Reading With Oprah was published in 2005, so it does not cover the most recent controversy of American Dirt.

In the first chapter, Rooney admits that she “at first — like many others who consider themselves to possess intellectual, and therefore privileged, tastes—was antagonistic  and dismissive toward, even scornful of, the way in which Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV, had managed to position herself as one of the nation’s most influential arbiters of literary taste.”

Rooney continues, however, to explain her interest in writing Reading With Oprah. She wanted to understand “Winfrey’s attitudes and our own toward the cultural work she has undertaken.” Rooney further explains that “Oprah Winfrey is, in fact, an intellectual force.”

Rooney reminds readers that tastes are “intricate and difficult to articulate.” As a result, Oprah or anyone else in the public eye who chooses books for a book club will receive both criticism and praise. Rooney tackles the Jonathan Franzen controversy in Chapter 2.

Rooney’s meticulous research into Oprah’s Book Club and her engaging writing style provide readers with a scholarly treatise that is entirely readable. She includes specific examples in her explanations. She praises Oprah for including both good and bad reviews from readers.

In the end, Rooney admits that her opinions of the Orpah Book Club have changed and that, in fact, Winfrey’s have also changed over time. Rooney concludes “Winfrey has provided everyone concerned with literary culture—and culture in general—with an opportunity to look closely at the construction of taste, thereby exploring what we value, what we disparage, and how we differentiate between the two.”

Kathleen Rooney maintains an extensive Web site: http://kathleenrooney.com/.

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Tulsa Author

Standard

When I received an ARC of Identity Theft by Bob Avey, I was immediately intrigued because the story is set in Tulsa, OK. I enjoy reading about places with which I have some familiarity. It is fun to read about streets, buildings, and businesses that I recognize. As I began reading Identify Theft and learning about Kenny Elliot, Tulsa cop, I also realized I had read the first book Avey’s series: Twisted Perception.

Early in the story, readers learn that Detective Elliot is in a crisis of sorts, trying to decide what he should do with his life. He has recently learned he has a nine-year-old son with Carmen, a woman he has loved since high school. She has finally revealed to him the news about his son, Wayne. Elliott even gives Captain Dombrowski his letter of resignation which Dombrowski returns to Elliot telling him to take more time to think about his decision.

Then the story turns to Elliot’s trying to help his fellow officer David Yates who is on suspension. The story becomes intense as Elliot watches a man shoot at a person he believes to be Yates. The man misses and then runs as Elliot chases him. The man runs into oncoming traffic and is hit by a car, dying instantly. With no identification on him, the man is listed as John Doe and taken to the morgue.

The twists in the story keep coming because Yates receives a pornographic video of himself having sex with an unknown-to-him female. This unexplained video causes Yates’s wife to leave him, thus complicating Yates’s life even further—suspension, an attempt on his life, wife’s leaving, and a strange video. What is happening?

Elliott himself says, “I can’t keep myself out of trouble, but in the heat of things, when the other guy makes his move, I have it figured out a split second before he does, whether it be a street fifth or a case no one else has been able to solve.” This self-description will prove invaluable to the readers in helping them understand the rather unorthodox Elliot as the story continues.

A number of other characters come into play as the story becomes stranger and darker. One unidentified body has already disappeared from the morgue and then Elliot learns his recent John Doe has also disappeared. What could be causing these disappearances? And who are these men?

As he grapples with his own uncertainty about his future in the Tulsa Police Department and his future with Carmen and Wayne, Elliot choses to talk with his minister, Meadows. As Elliot is leaving the church, a man appears by Elliot’s truck and asks a strange question: “Do you have any idea what it is like to die in someone else’s body?” This question continues to haunt Elliot as he pursues the investigation into the video Yates received.

Elliot finally reveals to Carmen that he would like to remain in the Tulsa Police and take on the odd and unsolved cases that others have abandoned. This decision comes as Elliot continues to find the connections between Yates, the video, a liquor store robbery, and the disappearing bodies from the morgue.

For readers seeking continuing suspense and a cast of characters who surprise, Identify Theft will fill the bill.

The Book Whisperer Loves Southern Cooking

Standard

Cookbooks are a great temptation to me. I enjoy looking through them, examining the recipes, admiring the pictures, and even trying the recipes. At the library recently, I checked out Paula Deen’s Southern Baking: 125 Favorite Recipes from My Savannah Kitchen. The book is beautiful even for those who have no desire to cook.

Full-color pictures accompany each recipe. The pictures would entice even the most reluctant cook. The table of contents ranges from “Breakfast Treats” to “Cast Iron Comfort,” to “Holiday Classics.”

I started with Chapter 2, “Cast Iron Comfort.” Vidalia Onion Dutch Baby, the first recipe in the chapter, caught my eye and made me think of my friend Amanda who loves onions. The recipe is simple, easy to follow, and produces a delicious dish. Deen has also included tips to help cooks in case they become concerned about a certain result: “Don’t be alarmed when your Dutch baby starts to deflate as soon as you remove it from the oven; that is exactly what is supposed to happen.” That little tip at the end of the recipe could be very helpful to a novice cook.

Still in Chapter 2, the recipe for Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake made me slow down as I flipped through the pages. My friend Janice tells me about her friend Dr. Tom’s Bananas Foster which he makes for holiday dinners in her home. Naturally, I thought she would like this recipe made in a cast iron skillet.

“Potluck Perfect” is the title of Chapter 4. In this chapter, Deen tells her readers that “I’m so happy to offer this collection of some of my go-to recipes with y’all. These cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, and more are sure to be a hit.” Here are a few of the recipes I am certain to try from this chapter: Individual Peach Pies, Chocolate Caramel Candy Bar Brownies, Key Lime Poke Cake, and Strawberry Pound Cake.  The latter is quite simple, yet produces a beautiful one-layer cake perfect with hot tea or coffee. The baking tip for this one is important: “This recipe works in a springform pan only. It will not work in a regular 9-inch round cake pan. If you don’t have a springform pan, the batter can be divided in two 9-inch round cake pans or a in a Bundt pan.

Returning to Chapter 1, “Breakfast Treats,” cooks will find several tempting recipes to start the day. Classic Cinnamon Rolls, Peanut Butter Banana Bread Muffins, and French Toast Casserole all excite the taste buds.

Paula Deen’s Southern Baking cook book is a feast for the eyes and the palate. Paula Deen’s Web site, https://www.pauladeen.com/, also provides cooks with additional recipes, tips on cooking, and other features. Those who wish can sign up to receive weekly recipes and updates from Paula Deen.

The Book Whisperer Rediscovers Mason, MO

Standard

Some time ago, I read The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berb and thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the story. Recently, The Confession Club by Berg came to my attention. I had thought The Story of Arthur Truluv was a standalone novel. When I read about The Confession Club, I discovered it is number three of Berg’s stories set in the small town of Mason, MO. The middle book is Night of Miracles, a book I have not read. Each book could be read on its own; some characters do appear in more than one of the stories. That should not be a deterrent to a reader who wants to read only one, however.  If that’s the case, I recommend The Story of Arthur Truluv then.

A group of women friends in Mason, MO start a monthly supper club. The hostess cooks a meal including a scrumptious dessert. In the beginning, the supper club was just that—a time for the women to get together and enjoy an evening of food and conversation. Quickly, though, it turned into each member confessing her wrongdoings or sins, secrets she has kept hidden.

While the premise of the novel is the monthly confession meetings, the story continues outside the meetings primarily focused on Iris and Maddie. Maddie is an important character in The Story of Arthur Truluv. She has returned to Mason with her daughter Nola, 8. Maddy says she is taking a break from her husband and trying to figure out her future. Currently, she considers moving back to Mason. She owns the house that Iris rents, a gift to her from Arthur Truluv upon his death.

Iris and Maddy discover the Confession Club when Iris makes a cake for Joanie when the club is meeting at her home. When Iris and Maddy deliver the cake, they ask what book the women are discussing, assuming the monthly meetings are for book dsicussions.

The other members are hesitant to answer Iris, but Joanie returns from the kitchen and says, “Okay, Iris, I heard you ask what kind of club this is. I will confess that we call it Confession Club.” She continues after a moment of silence: “We confess things to one another. Things that we did wrong or that we’re ashamed of.”

Now, Maddy and Iris are intrigued. After a big of hesitation, Iris asks if she can join. The Confession Club members decide to allow Maddy and Iris into the Confession Club on a trail basis, especially since two other members are leaving town.

The title of the book is The Confession Club, but much of the story takes place in the day-to-day living concerning Maddy, Nola, and iris. Iris teaches cooking classes in her home and Nola is interested in helping. She is learning to cook too.

Iris goes into the countryside to an abandoned farmhouse to cut some lilacs to decorate the table for one of her classes. There, she meets John Loney, a homeless man who has discovered the empty farmhouse and has made a temporary home there. John is a Vietnam vet and suffers from PTSD; his also good-looking and charming, so he and Iris strike up a friendship that, you guessed it, readers, turns romantic.

To my surprise, Publisher’s Weekly calls The Confession Club “[A] feel-good testament to taking risks, falling love, and reinvention . . . Berg effortlessly wraps her arms around this busy universe of quirky characters with heartbreaking secrets and unflagging faith. . . . Readers new to Berg’s Mason will be dazzled by this bright and fascinating story, and fans will be cheering for the next volume.”

For readers in the mood for a light read with well-drawn characters, The Confession Club could be just the ticket.

Elizabeth Berg has a robust Web site, http://www.elizabeth-berg.net/. There, readers will discover her impressive number of published books along with recipes and other tidbits. Berg’s first career was as a nurse. She credits her time as a nurse for teaching her “about human nature, about hope and fear and love.”

The Book Whisperer Believes in Hope

Standard

Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life by Casey Gwinn, J.D. and Chan Hellman, Ph.D. is “a clarion call to apply the science of hope in daily life and overcome the trauma, adversity, and struggles everyone must face.” Further, Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, calls Hope Rising “a roadmap toward different and better, lives.”

Full disclosure, Chan Hellman was Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Community Services at Tulsa Community College, Northeast Campus. When he was AD, I was a member of the English faculty there and in his division.

In reading Hope Rising, we quickly learn that a number of studies have been conducted about hope. In the last twenty years, those studies have moved from being a theory to a developed study. The studies have proven to be “amazingly consistent from study to study and they have given [Gwinn and Hellman] a message to deliver. Hope is not just an idea. Hope is not simply an emotion. It is far more than a feeling. It is not a wish or even an expectation. Hope is about goals, willpower, and pathways.”

Hope Rising is full of real stories about real people. The stories answer questions such as “what is hope?” They also explain how to measure hope in children and teens. Chapter 20 deals with “The Hope-Centered Workplace.” In it, readers learn about “collective hope,” “psychological capital,” and “burnout.” The chapter ends with “Five Recommendations to Have High Hope at Work.” Thus, Gwinn and Hellman provide specific help for employees.

Hope Rising ends with reminding readers that “we all need to surround ourselves with people that encourage and affirm us. Negative, critical people are like a cancer. But people who speak grace and forgiveness and become vulnerable with us so we can know that we are not alone — those are the people we need to be around.” In today’s vitriolic climate, those are statements are extremely important to remember.

Casey Gwinn, an attorney, is President of Alliance for HOPE International. The American Lawyer magazine has named Gwinn one of the top 45 public lawyers in the US. He has been instrumental in his role as a prosecutor in changing “the face of domestic violence prosecution in the United States.”

Chan Hellman has been with the University of OK since 2002. Currently, he is a professor in the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work and he is the Founding Director of the Hope Research Center.  Hellman continues to do research on the “application of hope theory to predict adaptive behaviors, and hope as a psychological strength that buffers stress and adversity among those impacted by family violence.”

The Hope Research Center, OU-Tulsa, concentrates on continuing research into hope as a help for human service agencies. Perhaps these statements sum up the goals of the Hope Research Center best: “Hope is the belief that the future will be better and you have the power to make it so. Hope is based on three main ideas: (1) the ability to set desirable goals, (2) ability to identify viable pathways to these goals, and (3) the capacity to dedicate mental energy or willpower to pursue these goals.”

The Book Whisperer Discovers Pages & Co

Standard

When I discover a book about reading, bookstores, magical books, and the ability for characters to jump into books, I am intrigued. Anna James, https://anna-james.com, has created a series featuring Tilly Pages who lives with her grandparents in an apartment in Pages & Co, a bookshop. What could be more intriguing that that beginning?

Readers quickly discover that eleven-year-old Tilly is an exceptional girl. She loves to read and has two especially favorite characters: Alice of Alice in Wonderland and Anne of Green Gables. Although Tilly lives happily with her grandparents, she does miss Bea, her mother, and wishes she could know more about her.

Her grandparents share photo albums with pictures of Bea and they tell Tilly about the books that Bea also loved. They cannot explain what happened to her mother and they only tell her they did not know her father long before he died unexpectedly. These mysteries haunt Tilly, but she is mostly a cheerful girl.

Tilly is also friends with Oskar whose mother owns the café across from Pages & Co. Oskar’s parents are divorced and his dad has remarried and lives in Paris now. Oskar does visit on school holidays, but he feels out of place with his dad’s new family. Oskar also suffers from dyslexia, but he enjoys listening to books on tape. Tilly tells him that certainly counts as reading.

Now that Tilly is eleven, she starts noticing some strange behaviors in her grandparents. Too, she encounters a girl with red hair in plaits and her name is Anne, “Anne with an e.” To readers, that line becomes a dead giveaway as to the identity of Anne who seems to appear and then disappear quite unexpectedly.

Soon, Tilly’s grandparents realize they must explain to her why Anne and then Alice begin showing up to talk with Tilly. Tilly even finds herself going with Alice to a tea party. Anne then takes Tilly on an adventure as well, visiting her school in Avonlea. Now, readers are beginning to wonder how much stranger can the story become.

Tilly’s grandparents explain that many people have the ability to move into and out of books, but they need training and need to take special precautions. When they discover that not only has Tilly been inside Alice’s world and Anne’s world, but that Oskar has also gone with her to Avonlea, they realize they must teach both children the safety rules of book jumping.

Having read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde and other books in Fforde’s series, I found myself quite happily following Tilly and Oskar as they learn to navigate both the real world and the fictional worlds they enter.

The Book Wanderers is the first in a series starring Tilly and Oskar. Anna James has created memorable characters and a story that invokes readers’ imaginations and truly encourages them to read more. Before joining The Bookseller as Book News Editor, Anna James was a school librarian. She is a journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines. She lives in North London.

The Book Whisperer Applauds The Daughter’s Tale

Standard

Having read The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa, I looked forward to read The Daughter’s Tale as well. Both stories revolve around WWII and escape from Nazi Germany. While both stories include characters who escape on a ship to Cuba, that connection is more tenuous in The Daughter’s Tale.

The Daughter’s Tale opens in present-day NYC with Elise Duval, 85, receiving two visitors, strangers to her: Ida Rosen and her daughter Anna. Ida contacts Elise because Ida and Anna had recently been in Cuba and discovered some letters written in German. After much research, Ida discovered they should belong to Elise.

With the letters in hand, Elise’s memories flood back to Berlin and WWII. Readers then meet Amanda and Julius Sternberg and their two daughters, Viera and Lina. Julius is a respected heart doctor, but he is Jewish. Suddenly, the Sternbergs’ world is torn asunder when Julius is arrested and taken away.

Amanda’s bookstore, Garden of Letters, is also a target for the Nazis. The neighborhood Nazi enforcers remove books from the shelves and burn them in the street just outside the store. Amanda, Viera and Lina continue to live in the apartment above the now empty bookstore, but life becomes more and more difficult.

Amanda devises a plan to send both girls on the St. Louis, a ship bound for Cuba. She thinks that sending them away is the only way to save them. At the last minute, though, she sends only Viera, thinking that Lina at only four is too young and too frail to survive the trip, especially away from her mother. Amanda asks the Meyers, a couple boarding the ship, to look after Viera on the trip.

Amanda manages to escape to France where she and Lina stay with a Catholic friend, Claire and her daughter Danielle. Father Marcel becomes an important person in their lives too, for he does all he can to help Claire, Danielle, Amanda, and Lina.

Amanda continues to be torn about her decision to send Viera alone to Cuba, but she consoles herself that they will be reunited at some point. Too, she writes letters to Viera even when the first ones are returned to her unopened.

Eventually, the Nazi soldiers invade the town where Amanda and Lina have been living with Claire and Danielle. Amanda and Lina are taken to a concentration camp where conditions are horrible. Amanda seeks the friendship of a French soldier who is a guard at the camp. He smuggles a letter out to Claire and Father Marcel because she has a plan to save Lina.

Father Marcel and Claire wait in the woods outside the concentration camp and Amanda hands Lina over to them. Claire will pretend that Lina is her daughter in order to save Lina.

Correa does not spare the details of the horror that Amanda and Lina experienced. And he also shows the terrors that Father Marcel, Claire and Danielle face as well. For a time, Lina is safe with Claire and Danielle and under Father Marcel’s protection. One day, the Nazi soldiers call the villagers to the town square where the soldiers begin firing on the crowd. Claire throws herself over Lina, thus saving her. Danielle is knocked away from the crowd and survives as well. Danielle, three years older than Lina, takes charge and rushes them out into the woods.

Danielle and Lina go to Father Marcel who has set up an orphanage in the church. Lina does find comfort in Marie-Louise, the cook at Father Marcel’s church-turned orphanage. Marie-Louise becomes a mother figure for a little girl who has lost everything.

Readers will follow the story in order to discover the connection between the 85-yar-old Elise Duval and Lina Sternberg.

Other reviewers have called The Daughter’s Tale unforgettable. I would agree. Correa has written a riveting story of survival. Readers will also find a few surprises along the way.

Armando Lucas Correa, Cuban-born writer, now lives in NY. Readers will discover more about him on his Web site: https://www.armandolucascorrea.com/.

The Book Whisperer Explores Route 66

Standard

For the last three years, I’ve participated in Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma, a program sponsored by the Oklahoma Humanities. The meetings take place in the Museum Broken Arrow on Broken Arrow, OK’s Main Street, now also known as the Rose District. Oklahoma Humanities has created a large number of themes and the host of Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma—in my case, the executive director of the Museum BA– chooses the theme for the fall or spring meetings.

Oklahoma Humanities describes Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma this way: “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma fosters a love of reading and an appreciation for community conversation. It brings people of different walks of life together to explore new ideas, serving as a catalyst for self-reflection and inspiring open-mindedness.”

We have read a series of mysteries all set in or by OK authors. One series included biographies and memoirs of famous Oklahomans. Not all the books are by Oklahoma authors or set in OK, however. One series included Wonder, Tuesdays With Morrie, and Home is Where the Heart Is.  The choices have all been worth reading and have moved me out of my comfort zone more than once.

This spring’s selections all feature Route 66, the Mother Road, in some form, either nonfiction or fiction. The first book in the series is Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis. Let me begin by saying, Route 66 is a lovely book. It is full of stories and pictures from all along the Mother Road.

Chapter One, “America’s Main Street, “introduces Route 66. Wallis tells his readers that “Route 66. Just the name is magic.” He further describes Route 66 as “an artery linking much of the nation.” Indeed, Route 66 has become an icon in literature, film, TV, and art. Visitors from all over the world come to the US to drive all or parts of Route 66.  

Then by state, starting with Illinois, Wallis provides stories and pictures of people and places, many of them long-gone, that graced Route 66. I was particularly interested in the chapter on Missouri’s Route 66. My husband grew up in Springfield, MO, and he crossed Route 66 on his way to elementary and middle school every day. He has fond memories of Red’s Giant Hamburgers, a small hamburger joint on Route 66.

At the end of Route 66, Wallis provides “Route 66 Resources.” That list includes books, both fiction and nonfiction, featuring Route 66.

Wallis has done a tremendous amount of research in order to produce such a comprehensive book on Route 66. Still, I find it an odd choice for a book discussion since it is packed with material, both text and pictures. It is the kind of book to pick up and read off and on rather than sitting down to read from beginning to end—that’s my assessment. And that is not a negative assessment. Many other books fit into that category so that readers can dip into and out of the book without losing any continuity the way they would with a biography or a novel, for example. I do look forward to the Oklahoma Humanities’ scholar’s take on the discussion when we meet later in February to discuss Route 66: The Mother Road by Michael Wallis.

Michael Wallis has an impressive body of work. His Web site offers extensive material about Wallis’s work and readers can sign up to receive his newsletter: http://www.michaelwallis.com.