Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Novels Russian

Instead of the Irish Reading Challenge, I should have found a Russian Reading Challenge.  Of the last five books that I have read, three have taken place or been about Russia during World War II.   And while I love reading books about the Civil War, I am not a big fan of WWII books, so it is interesting and odd that my reading has taken this turn.  Two of the three books were books chosen by my book groups!

I read City of Thieves by David Benioff for one of my book groups.  It takes place in Russia during WWII and is a novel based on the author's grandfather's experiences surviving the war.  Seventeen year old Lev decided to remain in Leningrad during the siege, even though his mother and siblings left.  Lev is caught taking items from a corpse that lay in the street. He and another young boy are taken together to the Colonel to await sentencing by him-which is usually execution.  However, the Colonel's daughter is getting married and a dozen eggs are needed for the wedding cake.  Lev and Koyla (the other boy) are given one week to find and bring back a dozen eggs, and if they are able to do so, they will be spared execution. 

The week passes with the boys experiencing horrendous conditions and they end up behind enemy lines, and become involved with others in trying to kill the German commander.

I had a hard time staying and finishing the book.  It was a bit too gruesome for me and, as stated, I don't have an interest in Russian war history.  I only finished it because it was for book group.  Luckily, for me, it was a fairly short read.  I will admit that it was very well written.  If anyone had an interest in Russian war novels, this was be an excellent choice!

So then, I went off to the library in search of a book to read and saw a book by Chaim Potok that I had not read: Old Men at Midnight.  I had read many of Chaim Potok's books years ago and really liked them, so I checked this one out.

It wasn't really about old men at midnight.  It is three stories that are linked together by the listener of the stories. The stories are all about WWII. It is the third story that  is about an old man at midnight.

The listener of the stories is a Jewish women, Ilana Davita Dinn. In the first story, "The Ark Builder, Ilana is a recent high school graduate tutoring sixteen year old Noah, who is a recent arrival from Poland to New York, where he lives with his aunt and uncle. Ilana is hired to teach the boy English.   Throughout the story, you learn that Noah was the only Jew from his town to survive the Holocaust.  Noah slowly opens up to Ilana and shares about his friendship with the caretaker of his village's synagogue.

In the second story, "The War Doctor", Ilana is a graduate student who meets a visiting lecturer, Leon,  and becomes interested in his story of his survival of the both World Wars in Russia under Stalin.  Leon had been saved by a Jewish doctor during WWI, became a KGB interrogator, and then encountered the doctor after WWII when Stalin had physicians imprisoned.  Leon himself is Jewish and is never sure when/if that is going to become an issue under Stalin's regime.

"The Trope Teacher" is the third and final story.  Ilana is now a well-known author and moves to a house next door to Benjamin Walter, a renowned history professor.  Benjamin is trying to write his memoirs and cannot seem to remember his earlier years.  Through their friendship, Ilana begins to help him recall important events during his earlier years. Benjamin had been sent to study Torah with Mr. Zapiski during one summer.  Mr. Zapiski had served in World War I with Benjamin's father, and Benjamin begins to examine what the war experience must have been for the two men.  Benjamin is the old man at midnight, who is often up late either taking care of his ill wife, or trying to write his memoirs.

As I have always found, Mr. Potok's book was very easy to read and very interesting.  He is such a great author.  Sadly, he died in 2002.  I highly recommend any of his books!

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