Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Young Women and War (May QuickLit)

Looks like I've been reading a lot about war lately... 
Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's QuickLit to share what we've been reading. Go there for lots of other book suggestions - not all about war.... :)

Judith Kerr: Out of the Hitler Time trilogy
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
  • The Other Way Round
  • A Small Person Far Away

Autobiographical fiction.

If you want to hear a really delightful author interview, click through to the BBC Bookclub podcast: The interview is mainly about the first novel in the trilogy, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. At 90+ years, Kerr is a bright, humorous and eloquent interviewee.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a children's novel that adults, too, can enjoy.
Anna, based on Judith Kerr herself, is nine years old and her brother Max a couple of years older, when their family has to flee from Berlin. This is in 1933, when the Nazis win the election; their father, a famous author, has been criticizing the Nazis in public. The family lives first in Switzerland, then in Paris, and at the end of the novel they move to London. The story shows how the children adapt to the new places and generally feel fairly secure as long as the family is together. For the children, refugee life can be hard but it's also an adventure.

I'm definitely going to give this to my son to read when it's time to process this period in history and/or talk about the themes of immigration and refugees. (According to the BBC interview, this book is assigned reading in German schools - one way to deal with the history.)

In the second novel, The Other Way Round, Anna and her family live through the second world war in Britain, mostly in London. Anna, 16 at the start of the novel, struggles to get a job, survives the Blitz, has her first crush/love and discovers her talents. This one is no longer a children's book, but I'd happily give it to a teen who wants to read about wartime life in London and the special challenges of being a refugee in a country at war.

The third one, A Small Person Far Away, finds Anna in her early thirties, recently married, living in London, and with an exciting new job at the BBC. But a phone call summons her to her mother's bedside - to Berlin. In Berlin, Anna faces complicated family relationships, suppressed childhood memories, ominous-sounding news from Suez and Hungary, etc. I think that adults will be more interested in the themes of this one.
(Warning: if suicide themes are a trigger for you, skip this book.)

So, all in all: I liked this trilogy. I loved the first part, which I vaguely remember reading in my childhood. The vivid descriptions of wartime London were really well done.

Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth

A young woman grows up in a provincial town in Edwardian England. She struggles to get to study at Oxford. And when she gets there, WW1 begins. Her only brother, her fiancee, and their friends who become her friends, too: all are swallowed up by the conflict. She puts her studies on hold and volunteers to nurse.

At the end, she is the sole survivor of the group. The war stole her youth and killed her friends, and her wartime experiences set her apart from all others when she goes back to Oxford to continue her studies. In a way, she has to build a completely new life for herself.

This book is partly Brittain's tribute to the young men who died, a way of keeping their memory alive. It also gives the perspective of women at war - a somewhat neglected perspective at the time, if I understand correctly. 
It's not an easy book to read - naturally, considering the subject matter. (And the length... 608 pages in this edition.) I am saddened by the way the war made Brittain into an agnostic/atheist, though I can understand her thought processes. Some parts sound especially poignant, considering that this was originally published in 1933, and a new worldwide conflict was just a few years ahead.

Monday, 4 May 2015

April additions - New on the Stack

Linking up with Sheila at the Deliberate Reader to share what we have added to our TBR stacks recently.  Go there for lots of great reading ideas.

My stack for April doesn't have a lot of titles...  

Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth
How: Library loan.
Why: Technically, this book is not completely new to me - I have read the book roughly twenty years ago, in my early twenties. It's a classic WW1 memoir from a young English woman's point of view, and having read other war stories, I wanted to revisit this one now.

Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park
How: Library loan.
Why: For the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge: "the book that 'everyone' has read but you." At least it seems that way.

Danny Gregory: Art Before Breakfast: a zillion ways to be more creative no matter how busy you are.
How: E-book library loan
Why: This is a book for people like me: I used to love drawing and it still gives me joy, but life seems to busy for me to take the time to draw. This book gives a lot of ideas for how make creating art a part of your everyday life, at least a little bit every day, just for the fun of it.
(It's a good book, but I haven't gone out and bought a sketch book yet.)

And some (children's) fiction in Finnish:

Silvia Rannamaa: Kadrin päiväkirja (Kadri's Diary)
How: Library loan.
Why: According to the cover, this is the first and one of the most popular Estonian teen novels for girls. A young girl's growth story in 1950's Estonia (under Soviet rule), originally published in 1959, this is both an inspirational story of overcoming the odds and also an interesting portrayal of the times - it's not only what is said but what an adult reader can read between the lines.
(I also appreciated the postface by the translator - good background info etc.)

Eva-Lis Wuorio: Salainen taistelu (in English, it's called To Fight in Silence)
How: Bought from a second-hand shop
Why: As a youg teen, I loved Eva-Lis Wuorio's book about children in Poland during WW2 and their participation in the resistance movement. (Code Polonaise in English.) This one is about children in Nazi-occupied Denmark and Norway during WW2. I don't remember if I read this book as a teen, but I'm planning to read it now. In a year or two, I'll probably give Wuorio's books to my son to read, too.