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!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Heaven Is For Real

One of my book groups chose Heaven Is For Real for our May meeting.  It was an excellent pick.  I can't take any credit for it, however, since I had not been at the last meeting!  I was glad that they had chosen this book, as I had been hearing quite a bit about it from people on my Cursillo team, and I was curious to read it and see what all it was about.

Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo is "A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back".   Todd Burpo is young Colton's father and he is also a minister.  When Colton was four years old, he became ill and after a few days it was found that he had a ruptured appendix.  Following surgery, over the next couple of years, Colton began describing his experiences during the surgery, including watching the doctor operate on him and describing his dad's actions while surgery was going on.  Over time, Colton began sharing other interesting items, such as meeting his sister in heaven, a sister that he had no prior knowledge (his mother had miscarried the baby), and then began talking about Pop, his great grandfather, who had died thirty years before Colton was born.  Colton shared a lot about his experience in heaven with Jesus and how Jesus loves children.

The book invites very interesting discussion.  Of course, it is easy to be skeptical of Colton's experiences, wondering if they are influenced by his father's vocation.  I found the book to be very interesting and I found myself wondering over parts of it for several days after reading it.

The book is an easy, quick read and I thought made for good thinking!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Veil of Roses

Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald was loaned to me by a friend last summer when I had forgotten to bring  something to read as we left for the pool.  I never got to it that day, but held on to it and finally read it last week.  Veil of Roses is a debut novel and is an easy read.  I did find it quite interesting to learn a bit about life in Iran for women.

Tamila (Tami) Soroush is living in Iran with her parents, who had returned to Iran from the United States when Tami was a very young girl.  Her parents soon regretted their decision to return and were hopeful that  their daughters could leave someday and enjoy the freedom that the US offers.  Tami's older sister had left Iran fifteen years earlier and never returned.  On Tami's twenty-fifth birthday, her parents gave her a one way ticket to her sister's home in Arizona.  She had three months to find a husband while in the US or she would have to return to Iran.

Tami's sister worked hard at finding Iranian men for Tami to meet and marry.  Tami was willing to go along with a marriage, as long as it meant she could stay in the US.  Tami began attending English as Second Language classes and making friends there.  She met a young man working at the local Starbucks and began feeling attracted to him, while continuing to search for an Iranian man to marry.  Tami also began pursuing photography and experiencing all of the freedoms that we take for granted. 

I found the story to be quite predictable, but I did enjoy learning more about Iran and thinking about all of the freedoms that we have.