“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The forgotten girl” India Hill Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Scholastic. 250 p. (Includes Author’s Note.)

The Forgotten girlIn the small town of Easaw North Carolina, Iris hates that everyone in her middle school seems to forget about her accomplishments as Captain of the Step Team. Several times she wasn’t invited to important school events, leading her to believe the administration was purposely leaving her out of things.

Determined to make everyone notice her, Iris and her best friend Daniel take on the task of researching abandoned cemeteries after they stumble upon several hidden graves, including one of an 11-year-old named Avery Moore. They were surprised to find out that cemeteries used to be segregated, with black cemeteries falling into disrepair during the Great Migration. Iris and Daniel decided they wanted to have this abandoned cemetery restored.

Soon after their discovery of her grave, Avery began to make herself known in different ways to a very terrified Iris. Avery doesn’t like being forgotten, and wants to make sure she is remembered. Iris is key, and Avery plans to make sure the two of them become forever friends – forever remembered – together.

I liked this book. Its short chapters, with cliffhanger endings, will keep even reluctant readers glued to the pages.

Recommended for ages 10-15.

“The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2019. 210 p.

The Nickel BoysElwood Curtis lived in segregated Tallahassee Florida with his grandmother. He was studious, obedient, and a deep thinker with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resounding in his head. In 1963, when he was a high school senior, his love for learning made him a candidate for free college classes. On his first day he had to hitchhike, and the car he rode in turned out to be stolen. Elwood’s innocence didn’t mean anything to the arresting officer, and he was sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.

The segregated prison presented itself as a comfortable looking place, but hid a long, twisted history of student beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, and murder. With a cruel, sadistic staff it wasn’t long before Elwood was beaten so badly it took the doctor 2 hours with tweezers to remove pants fibers from his legs. Though he eventually recuperated, his soul was broken.

How could Dr. King expect him to love the people who daily tortured him and his fellow captives? Would they all be rescued if he wrote down what he knew of the school’s inner wrongdoings and gave it to state inspectors? Would there finally be justice for the boys of the Nickel Academy? Could he survive his time there?

Whitehead uses events from a real Florida reform school to supplement Elwood’s story, leaving readers fully engaged. It’s hard to believe this evil school, with its atrocities, was allowed to operate for so many years without state interference. After reading Elwood’s partly fictional story I was inspired to find out more information about the school on which this book was based. Colson inspired me, so my next book will be “The Dozier school for boys: Forensics, survivors and a painful past” by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. Stay tuned to this blog for its review.

I highly recommend “The Nickel Boys” for mature teens, ages 16-18, and for Adult readers.

 

“The Underground Railroad” Colson Whitehead

Happy New Year! I’ve been writing on this blog since April of 2012, so happy almost 8 year anniversary to me!

It’s fitting on this first day of 2020 that I’m reviewing a book that will remind readers of our flawed American history. It also serves to remind us that “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” and “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” 

Read on, and remember our past. Read on so that past is not repeated.

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2016. 306 p.

The Underground RailroadCora escaped from her Georgia plantation, and is now hunted by Ridgeway, a slave catcher. He has a single-minded devotion towards her, because he was never able to find her mother when she escaped years earlier. Cora and her companion managed to make their way to the Underground Railroad, and travelled to South Carolina. The Underground Railroad once consisted of places, (stations), where black and white citizens (stationmasters) hid fugitives, passing them secretly on to the next station. However, in Whitehead’s novel, the Underground Railroad is an actual locomotive that moves through underground tunnels from station to station.

Despite her belief that South Carolina was safe Cora had to flee again, but was trapped for months in the attic home of the stationmaster in North Carolina because blacks were no longer allowed in the state. It was impossible to get to safety. From her stuffy perch, she watched the weekly lynching of freemen and escaped slaves found by night patrollers as the town celebrated their capture. While recuperating from an illness Cora was captured once again, while her benefactors were stoned to death.

Cora’s desperate runs towards freedom, descriptions of the horrors of slavery, the kindnesses of strangers, and the behavior of slave catchers and night patrollers are detailed in this compelling novel that kept me turning pages until its satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it.

NOTE: I believe that if our Founding Fathers had freed their slaves when they were “freed” from England’s tyranny, we would now have a very different world. The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal,” but those words ring hollow since the definition of “men” didn’t include slaves or women. If they had done so, the writing of this novel would be a moot point. They did not, so Cora’s story needs to be told.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“May the road rise up to meet you” by Peter Troy

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.

May the road rise up to meet youMary Wilkens and Micah are southern slaves in 1853; Ethan McOwen survived the great famine of Ireland in 1847, while Marcella Arroyo (Abolitionist and feminist) is a Spanish immigrant living with her rich family in 1860 New York. Spanning the years from 1847 until 1867 the evils of slavery, along with the horrors of the Civil War, are described for readers. All have roles to play in the stories of these four characters as, with losses to endure and tears to cry, their stories eventually intertwine. Readers learn that there are good people in an evil world, and that good can come from bad – especially when you can’t see the whole picture of what’s happening.

This novel is reminiscent of great, sweeping historical dramas like “Roots” and “Gone with the wind.” The storyline jumps from person to person, so can become confusing. For example I’ll read about Ethan for a while then the storyline goes to Marcella for a few chapters. Afterwards I’ll read about Mary for a bit, then it meanders to Micah’s story. By the time the story returns to Ethan I forgot what he was doing.

However the book is interesting, emotional, and has great plot twists. I love historical fiction, so was willing to overlook the back and forth dilemma to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for Adults.

“The debt of Tamar” by Nicole Dweck

Rated 5 stars ***** St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books) 2015.

The debt of TamarIn 1544 Portugal José, his rich aunt Doña Antonia, and his cousin Reyna find themselves caught up in the “Death by burning” of six Jews condemned as heretics in the Portuguese Inquisition. Deeply moved José tries to get involved, but his aunt forcibly restrains him. Later she reveals that they’re Jewish – including the parents he’d never known. Stunned by the knowledge his aunt had kept secret for so many years, José dedicates himself to learning everything he can about his Jewish faith.

When it’s discovered that the family is Jewish, they’re forced to run for their lives. Eventually they arrive in Istanbul, where the reigning Sultan allows Jews to safely worship. In time José marries Reyna. Their child Tamar falls in love with the Sultan’s son, but José is unable to bear the thought of her marrying outside of the faith. He banishes her to an unsettled land, allowing everyone to believe she died from a fever. With that act a curse is placed upon his ancestors that isn’t broken until centuries later when readers are introduced to the last Sultan of Istanbul.

Reading how all the generations since José were tied together, of loves lost and found, and learning about the Ottoman Empire was fascinating. I was glad the Sultan allowed his land to be a place of refuge for the Jews when other countries were kicking them out. It’s too bad that goodwill between the two countries has been deteriorating in the past few years.

Recommended for Adults.

“All the way to the top: How one girl’s fight for Americans with disabilities changed everything” by Annette Bay Pimentel; pictures by Nabi H. Ali

All the way to the top

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published March 2020. Includes a foreword by Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins as well as back matter with “The road to the top” (information on activism), “Life before and after the ADA,” a Timeline, and a Bibliography.

Now that she was finally old enough, Jennifer couldn’t wait for kindergarten to start. Unfortunately, because she was in a wheelchair, she was denied admittance to school. At the next school she was allowed to attend – but only if she came after lunch. Jennifer and her family join a group of activists, determined to find a way to change the law to allow better access to public spaces for those with disabilities. Courageously Jennifer and the activists took their protests to Washington D.C., where they abandoned their wheelchairs and crawled up the Capitol steps to make Congress aware of why they were protesting.

Bright, full-color illustrations, as well as information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those who fought for its passage, make this an important book to have in all public and school libraries. I was moved by the crawl up the steps of the Capitol, and Jennifer’s determination on the YouTube video of the event is clear to see.

Highly recommended for ages 7 to 12.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review