The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova follows a young American woman, Alexandra Boyd,  who lands in Hungary and accidentally steals an elder woman’s bag as she’s getting into a taxi. Trying to return the bag, she turns to the police and another taxi driver. Alexandra and her new taxi friend travel around Sofia and the surrounding countryside desperately trying to find the older couple and their son who lost their bag.

Along the way, the duo gets caught up in the story about the man who’s belongings are in the lost bag, a young violinist who was detained in politically oppressed Bulgaria. Alexandra’s story is interspersed with the tales of Bulgaria from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, spilling secrets that somebody wanted hidden.

There is an old world gothic feel to this story, as if ghosts might pop out of the corner. But the horrors in the real world are more terrifying than any ghost story.

Great novel!!! Read May 2017

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Rigg’s novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children tells the story of Jacob and what happens when he returns to the house that his grandfather lived during World War II. Jacob’s grandfather always told magical stories about his time spent on a small island off Wales, Cairnholm, where his parents sent him during the war.

Jacob always loved his grandfather, and loved his stories when he was little. As he grew, the stories became unbelievable, and Jacob wasn’t sure what to think about his grandfather’s childhood. When his grandfather is mysteriously killed, Jacob suffers through some post traumatic depression which he uses to convince his parents to allow him to travel to the island where his grandfather spent time.

Once Jacob and his father arrive at Cairnholm, Jacob discovers what happened to the home where his grandpa lived. The home was bombed on September 3, 1941 and all but his grandpa was killed. But he makes many more exciting, unbelievable discoveries once he ventures to the bombed out home and finds a secret world filled with his grandpa’s friends.

This is a whimsical, great read. I wasn’t sure what would happened and the middle and end of the story was very surprising.

Read November 2015.

City of Woman

David R. Gillham’s City of Women, tells the story of Sigrid Schroder’s life in Berlin during World War II. The Germans use propaganda to prove they are winning the war, but everything that Gillham shows us in Sigrid’s world is not representative of wartime success. The city is under bombardment from the British on almost every clear night. Spending time in the basement with her fellow residents of her apartment building, we meet a diverse population in age, wealth, and appreciation for the Nazi party.

Gillham shows a world where there should not be trust amongst anybody and what can be done when people are forced to trust each other. Whether it be shared secrets or for survival, Sigrid is thrown in with Nazi sympathizers, Jews in hiding, resistance organizers, Jews working with the Germans, and soldiers willing to die for others right to an existence.

This was a moving story told from an unusual perspective during World War II. Sigrid’s loneliness pushes her into situations she would never have encountered otherwise. The touch and friendship of another human being becomes essential to Sigrid’s survival.

Overall, the sadness of the characters and situations are beautifully told and still allow the reader a glimmer of hope at the end.

Read August 2013

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