Review: Prague Winter

Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright
Prague Winter
by Madeleine Albright

#ReadingIsResistance

Title: Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948
Author: Madeleine Albright
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-203031-3
Publisher: Harper Collins

I have long admired Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become Secretary of State in the US.  To rise to that level and make a difference seems to me to be an astonishingly difficult job.  To do it as a woman raises the difficulty scale even higher.

In The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, Albright discusses the role religion has played in world affairs, something that isn’t going to go away any time soon.  She also reveals hard truths about herself, including the fact she didn’t know she had lost relatives to the Holocaust or that she was, in fact, Jewish.

Prague Winter is a product of Madame Secretary’s research into her own history, which is intertwined inextricably with Czechoslovakia and World War II.

This is not an easy book to read.  This is well-researched, often emotional, retelling of one little girl’s life as Hitler rose to power and began to exterminate millions of people.  Albright was only a child, but her memories, backed up with research, make for sorrowful reading.

Focusing on Czechoslovakia and its struggle to remain a united, independent country in the face of internal divisiveness between Czechs and Slovaks, and the onslaught of Nazis and Communists under Stalin, Albright’s story reminds the reader that nothing, truly, is every simple when zealots and ideologues are in charge.

She is fair in her assessment, through the long lens of history, that decisions made by Western leaders, while short sighted, were what politics of the time demanded.  Neville Chamberlain will always be remembered as an appeaser, but what is rarely discussed is the force of Hitler’s personality and his ability to fool people into thinking he was a reasonable human being who simply wanted to strengthen Germany in the face of the disempowering Versailles treaty of World War I.

Albright’s story is one of heartbreak, and agony.  It’s also an important story to know, because the true atrocities of Hitler and Stalin often get masked by the statistics and overwhelming amount of information available.  Madeleine Albright’s story is about one family, and one country’s struggle during World War II.  It puts into perspective the horrifying truth of what it is to be “other,” when that means certain death.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: Hitler’s Furies

Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower
Hitler’s Furies
by Wendy Lower

#ReadingIsResistance

Title: Hitler’s Furies
Author: Wendy Lower
Published: 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0547-86338-2
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Wendy Lower focuses on the women in Eastern Poland serving the Nazi regime during World War II.

While narrow, this exploration of women’s roles in the bureaucracy of the Third Reich is grimly fascinating.  All roles from civilians through low-level administrators to those with access to the powerful men who made the decisions are covered.

What was it like to live during this horrific period of time in Europe?  And what was it like for women whose roles were limited both by the Nazis, and their gender?  70 years after the end of World War II, a multi-disciplinary list of researchers and readers are still trying to come to grips with the horror of the Holocaust.  I find myself strangely fascinated by it and, like so many others, keep asking the question, “How could this happen?”

Despite the sometimes salacious, gossipy nature of the narrative, Wendy Lower offers a look at women in history that has only begun to be researched.  Most women who served the Nazis were looked over or not taken seriously because of their gender.  Yet, here are more examples than I could care for of women who were closely involved in the banal bureaucracy which kept the camps running.

As with all books having to do with atrocities, the sheer horror described can be nightmare inducing.  There’s no getting around that if one wants to know what happened.

Hitler’s Furies is not for everyone.  But I do believe it covers an important, often overlooked, facet of Nazi bureaucracy.  The world needs to know what happened then, because something like is happening now.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Beautiful Struggle
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

#ReadingIsResistance to racism, and economic inequality.

Title: The Beautiful Struggle
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Published: 2008
ISBN-13: 9780385527460
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

What’s Auntie Reading Now picture

To be a black male is to be always at war …. because … we are met by the assumption of violence, by the specter of who we might turn on next.  (p192)

This is the last #ReadingIsResistance book for January’s theme of social and economic justice.  It seems appropriate to end the month with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It’s hard to know how approach this book.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ experience is so far from mine, I just as well be from another country.

His memoir of life in Baltimore is  colloquially written, exploring family life and growing up in a confusing family dynamic, in neighborhoods where the danger was palpable.  His father had children by several women, and their lives wove in and out of each other’s in ways different from what one would expect.  My life has taught me that family is who you chose, blood or no, and the family dynamic doesn’t follow a proscribed route.

Coates was surrounded by his father’s books from the Black Panther black power movement and historical treatises teaching the Knowledge of being black in America.  His parents’ world was just as fraught with peril too, and Coates was meant to learn that and apply it to his own everyday survival.

My default position was sprawled across the bed staring at the ceiling or cataloging an extensive collection of X-Factor comic books.  This never cut it for Dad, who insisted I learn the wavelengths of my world.  In the quiet chaos of my room, everything was certain. (p. 51)

That, I can relate to.  It wasn’t comic books, I didn’t know those existed in a form other than the Archie and Jughead comics available in the check-out line at the grocery store.  But I was surrounded by books, and paper for writing was always available.  My parents didn’t insist I go out and play.  I stayed in my room and read voraciously.  There was no wavelength of the community to pick up on.

But I lived in small-town America during my formative years, not the teeming, crowded life of Baltimore.  My family life was unstable, but I was never forced to learn the history of anything other than what I was taught in school and the books I chose to read.

In some ways, I envy Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upbringing.  It was unsafe, unpredictable, and hard but he had someone who made sure he was taught about the Knowledge and the things which were important to know about surviving in his world.

But envy is a useless emotion, especially when taken in the context of this:

The most ordinary thing – the walk to school, a bike ride around the block, a trip to the supermarket – could just go wrong. (p. 55)

A white girl couldn’t possibly know, much less understand, what it was like to be unsafe just by walking out the door.  I couldn’t possibly have known why belonging to a gang of some sort was often the only option for survival.  “The streets” meant nothing to me other than something cars drove on.

I can only thank Ta-Nehisi Coates for sharing his life so honestly.  For opening himself up so I could get a glimpse of what it means to be something other than what I am.  He has given me insight which grounds my liberal tendencies in something other than the theoretical.  He is the story teller I would most love to sit and ask questions of as I learn what his world is like.

There is no way I can give a comprehensive review of The Beautiful Struggle.  What I can say is that I understand the meaning of the beautiful struggle as it applies to my own life and the evolution of my self, and world.  I know every one of us has a beautiful struggle going on.

I encourage you to read Ta-Nehisi Coates and open yourself to the deeply personal way in which he writes about being black, male, and in America.  His is important work, and must continue to be disseminated, especially in the turbulent times we find ourselves in under the Trump administration.

Thank you Mr. Coates, thank you.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

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Review: We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

#readingisresistance

Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published: 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-101-91176-1
Publisher: Anchor Books

Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problems of gender. … It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.  (p. 41)

This is a little book I want to send everyone I know.  But especially the young women.    It’s also hard to choose just one quote to use in a review.  I found myself wanting to quote the entire essay.

Based on her TedTalk, Adichie’s essay is rich and powerful.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s perspective is that of black woman who has experienced sexism in both her home country of Nigeria, and in America.  She addresses herself to the men she encounters and explains what it feels like to be looked upon as an object, especially by those who have experienced other forms of oppression – like racism.

I identify as a white woman born to a certain amount of privilege because of my whiteness.  There was much to learn from Adichie about being a black woman.  And many things she says about sexism and the need for feminism resonate deeply.

This essay touches on the many ways sexism is normalized in all parts of society; from schools appointing only boy class monitors to corporations with mostly men on their boards and how marriages can be affected by this normalization.

This little book is something I’ll be reading again, and again.  Adichie’s eloquence is something to savored, and thought over as we continue to confront the issues of gender equality around the world.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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Review: The Water is Wide

The Water is Wide
Pat Conroy

#readingisresistance

Title: The Water is Wide
Author: Pat Conroy
Published: 1987
ISBN-10: 0-553-26893-7
Publisher: Bantam Books

What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

The people on the island are black.  And, my God, the hopelessness of teaching in a black school cut off from society by water, is an agony few people have experienced.  (p. 234)

The Water is Wide came to me in an exchange with one of my nieces.  We’ve started sending each other books we’ve read and want the other one to enjoy.  “He’s kinda big deal around here [in Charleston, SC].”  I had no idea.

If the only book Conroy ever wrote was The Water is Wide, he’d be a big deal to me.  Because The Water is Wide resonates as though it was written last year, not in 1972 about experiences Conroy had teaching black students on an island separated from the rest of the world by a tidal river.

1969’s young teacher could be any teacher today.  Passionate about changing his students’ outlook, teaching them to use their minds for more than just remembering the alphabet and the multiplication tables.

What he encounters is heart breaking.  A black community with nothing, literally.  A two-room schoolhouse filled with children K-12 who cannot read, do not know their alphabet, much less they are American citizens and their island is part of a country called USA.  These children, and their parents, live a hardscrabble existence with no plumbing, no telephones, no books, and no hope.

It sounds like so many students in our contemporary era.  Inner city kids who get passed on without learning anything on the way.  Urban kids, of all races, with problems too large to be handled by a school bureaucracy still dominated by men.

I’ve seen first hand the poverty which keeps our children from getting any kind of education aside from survival.  I’ve also seen the well-meaning white liberals who do the wrong thing because all their knowledge about kids like the ones in Conroy’s book is theoretical.  On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when no one wants to be bothered, only paying attention to the star athletes nurtured to get a scholarship at a big college and then go pro.

Conroy’s story is so familiar.  He writes with accuracy about the stupidity of bureaucracy, the banal finality of racism, and the incredibly foolish ways willing students and passionate teachers are ignored.

There are many fascinating stories about how Conroy connected with his students, and their families.  The reader goes on field trips off the island with them, flabbergasted at the things one takes for granted as common decency and sense.  A little boy peeing in the middle of a square raises an eyebrow, until one realizes that on the island everyone pees where they are when they need.  Their propriety is different.

Betsy DeVos would be horrified at the way these children behave.  Horrified, and quick to throw some racist shade disguised in politically correct verbiage about school vouchers, charter schools and school choice.  Completely missing the point.

35 years after this book was published, there’s just as much to be angry at, and baffled by.  In 2017 we should know better, we should do better.  Apparently, “we” don’t know and don’t care.  Two days in to the new administration and it’s clear there’s a lot to resist coming our way.  Pat Conroy’s book, The Water is Wide, is a reminder of just how bad it was, and still is, and just how much farther we have to go to reach an educated critical mass who can think their way through the many complex problems facing the world.  Education may be the key, but people like Betsy DeVos are the lock.

For the Yamacraw children I can say little.  I don’t think I changed the quality of their lives significantly or altered the inexorable fact they were imprisoned by the very circumstances of their birth.

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

 

 

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What’s Auntie Reading Now: The Beautiful Struggle

What’s Auntie reading now?
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates review

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate.  Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others.  It leads us to understanding.  It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change.  Join the resistance, read.

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