No One is Here Except All of Us

Another WWII novel that I didn’t think I would read. Although this is for my book club, so I suppose I didn’t have any choice.

Ramona Ausubel’s novel, No One is Here Except All of Us, is an interesting psychological look at what can happen when a community decides to ignore reality and hide. While WWII is breaking out around Europe, a small secluded town of Romanian Jews makes the decision to ignore everything that is happening and all the has happened and start the world anew. This is prompted by the intrusion into their community by a stranger who escaped her entire family’s massacre and then washed up on their riverbank. Somehow the town latches on to the stranger as their savior and the idea sprouts to establish a new world. A world that just started and contains no knowledge of other places, ideas, religions, etc.

With reality gone, the townspeople live this delusional fantasy where a childless couple can ‘obtain’ an 11 year old girl who is reborn as theirs and relives her infancy and childhood within months, somehow passing up her actual age and becoming a child bride so that her ‘adoptive’ mother can relish the role as mother of the bride. Reality, again so far gone, that it is acceptable for a husband, overwhelmed by fatherhood, to sleep through everything while receiving a paycheck and supporting his family.

The delusion is not localized to this small town, it spreads to wherever these characters travel, and even rape is justified under these irrational standards.

Ausubel explores what the fear of mass extermination can do to the mind: collectively and individually. The importance of storytelling is throughout the novel. It is not the facts that make the story true, but the fact that the story is told makes the story the truth.

This story is about who will survive and how. Truth is not important, but the survival of the story is important. Ausubel’s style has a dreamlike quality and is wonderful to read. Transporting the reader to a known world with a very different story than what is in the history books.

Read February 2013

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood

Father and son, Jim Fay and Charles Fay, wrote Love and Logic Magic… together. I don’t think this is the first in the series, and since it was published in 2000, it may not even be the last.

Unlike most books, I requested this as a tutorial for myself in dealing with my 4 and 1 1/2 year olds. And much like I expected there wasn’t a whole lot of new information contained in this book. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t helpful. What I mean is that this book has a lot of common sense approaches to dealing with children. A lot of which I feel I know, but lose in the heat of battle. Yes, I am comparing raising young children to being in a constant battle.

What I liked about this book is the simplicity and the structure that you can use in almost every situation. It was a good reminder that I’m raising my children not just to be good children, but to be good teenagers (scary thought!) and adults.

Of course there’s a lot of horror stories about children misbehaving at the worst time, which always gives me the self satisfaction of “well at least that one isn’t mine.” But parenting is also about feeling alone at the worst of times when someones screaming at you at the top of their lungs, the exact moment that its hard to think calmly and clearly. This technique is more about training the adults to act like the adults and give us repetition so that we don’t forget what to say at the moment. So that the adult can be calm and clear and most important consistent. All of which will benefit the children as well as the parents.

The point is to stop treating the tantrums as battles and let them be learning experiences. I like this in theory so far, we’ll see what happens in practice.

Read February 2013

Dare Me

Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, is an interesting mix of extreme athleticism and vanity in cheerleading: looking good while doing the difficult tricks and pushing their bodies to extremes. The main cast of characters are all cheerleaders and coaches and we’re brought into their exclusive and isolating environment. From the beginning we’re lead to believe who’s who in the cheer hierarchy, but Abbott slowly chips away at what was once a certainty.

Loyalty lays at the heart of the story. Where is your loyalty? Who will you devote yourself to above all others? These are dangerous and obsessive questions that plague our narrator Addy. Who should she trust, her best friend who’s been her captain her whole life, or the new coach who prompts her to reexamine her own commitment to cheering. All of these questions are typical of questions that most of us ask while we’re in high school, but this story is not a typical teen drama. There is an obscene amount of parental neglect and prescription med abuse, but those are just sideline stories. Although, I’m sure both are causes of the artificial self importance these girls have and their self destruction and antipathy towards their fellow cheerleaders.

The mystery beyond the loyalty is who can you trust when someone is murdered. Who is abusing Abby’s trust and using her for their own purposes? And what is their purpose?

This is a quick, easy read that draws the reader in even though the characters are mostly awful people. High school becomes a very dark and obsessive world with broken bones and death. If these girls have done and seen this much by Junior year, I can’t imagine what trouble they would get into once out of their parents’ house.

Read February 2013

The Fire Engine that Disappeared

The Fire Engine that Disappeared is the 5th Martin Beck novel by Sjowall and Wahloo. Written over 40 years ago, it retains its fresh outlook on life and crime while also having the nostalgic aspect of no cell phones, computers, etc. A trio of criminals die and it is up to the Stockholm police to piece together the widely arranged puzzle.

Sjowall and Wahloo show the slow pace of detective work. A lot of time passes from the first death until the police have a suspect. The slow meandering narrative that leads to the discovery of the murderer and motive is more realistic that the a shoot-em-up crime drama. In this novel, and the others in this series as well, it is the inaction of the police that lead to the greatest discoveries. Casual conversation triggers theories that are explored and it is grunt work that finally helps the police to track down the killer. While these novels are considered to be Martin Beck mysteries, it is truly a team effort to put the information together.

I discovered these novels after reading an article saying that Stieg Larsson was inspired by Sjowall and Wahloo’s use of culture and societal injustice in crime novels. From the beginning of this novel, we see how poorly the elderly are cared for in the state system, the contempt of certain officers for the women affected by the fire, and even in the way that the women use sex to exert their power. The sexual revolution gave some of the women freedom over their bodies, but mostly we see that the women are objects for the men to use as they see fit. Sjowall and Wahloo dont beat you over the head with it the way Larsson does in his novels, but its there, and the contempt is clear when Gunvald Larsson interviews one of the survivors while she’s naked in her bed.

I haven’t read all the other Martine Beck novels, but hope to soon and will continue to post!

Read February 2013

Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland

I usually feel that the Holocaust has been over portrayed in pop culture and I shy away from reading anything regarding this time period. I’m not cold, its just that I know the story and get overwhelmed with emotion when watching/reading about the deaths or survivals stories.

I can’t remember what made me pick Matthew Brzezinski’s Isaac’s Army, since it does cover the basic story of the Holocaust, but I’m glad I did. Often, when I think of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, I think of things happening to them: torture, betrayal, extermination, rescue, escape.

Brzezinski’s tale is all about action. How the Jewish men and many women organized themselves within the Warsaw ghetto, made alliances outside the ghetto, and fought the Nazis with everything they had. The story is told from the perspective of Jewish Resistance fighters, from diaries, interviews, and family member accounts, but it encompasses stories of many Poles fighting the Nazi’s with limited international help, weapons, food. Most of the resistance stories we hear are from very young adults at the time of the war. They became adults quickly and learned to band together for their survival. At the start of the Nazi occupation, no one could imagine how the war would turn out, but though determination and ingenuity the resistance fighters fought their occupiers.

There are many personal stories of loss and survival, including the immense guilt felt at being left alive and often having to choose between who survives and who boards the trains. But overall, I am uplifted by hearing the stories of fighting evil for your own survival and the difficult decisions that come with that survival.

Read February 2013