Tag Archives: World War I

Book Buzz: Carry Me

Book Buzz: Carry Me

They say that history is bound to repeat itself. I once thought that true evil, the kind that happened in Nazi Germany, could not. The atrocities seemed so remote, so other-worldly that surely this era would live on only in the annals of history.  “Never again” has always been the refrain, a phrase that perhaps over time has lost its meaning.

Because we never imagined that things would be like they are today. 

Book Buzz: Carry Me

I’m not sure Peter Behrens knew when he was writing his devastating and gorgeous novel, Carry Me, that the story would resonate even more keenly in our changed political climate. For me, the parallels were too close to ignore.

Life hums along with its normal highs and lows. You discount the random occurrences of hate mongering. The racism, the violence against marginalized groups. It can’t get an worse, you tell yourself.

And then it does.

Carry Me

Based on a true story (which makes me love it even more), Carry Me is the love story and adventure of Karin and Billy, set in pre-World War II.  The book opens before the outset of World War I. Karin is the daughter of wealthy German-Jewish industrialist Baron von Weinbrenner, and Billy is the son of Buck Lange, employed by the baron as the captain of his yacht. Karin and Billy meet a small children at the baron’s summer house in the Isle of Wight. Billy’s parents serve as caretakers and the two families are close friends.

Behrens skillfully captures the idyllic life enjoyed by these families that is upended by the wretchedness of World War I. The families are separated. Buck is arrested under suspicion of spying for Germany and imprisoned for four years. Billy and his mother Eilin find a room nearby and struggle to survive as they wait for his release. Luckily, he does come home.

After the war, the two families are reunited in Frankfurt. The baron invites Buck to come live with and work for him again on the vast Walden estate as manager of his thoroughbred racehorses. Life settles into a calm routine. Karin attends boarding school and Billy studies locally. They see each other sporadically, just as friends, as kindred spirits.

Billy gets a good job at a firm in town and Karin is happily employed in the film industry in Berlin amidst the rumblings of anti-Semitism. But then … the sporadic skirmishes become more frequent, the harassment of Jews silently tolerated if not endorsed, neighbors’ backs are turned, doors are closed, and finally a full-blown reign of terror ensues.

Jews are stripped of their livelihoods and possessions. Karin’s job is taken away. The baron is targeted as an enemy. His house is ransacked and he is left with nothing. Jews are thrown into prison and taken to concentration camps. Those who are left are frantically trying to book passage on one of the ships departing for America or Israel.

In the mist of the tumult, Karin turns to her childhood friend Billy for comfort. They fall into a romantic relationship and he urges her to leave Germany with him before it is too late. Together they will explore the plains of Texas and New Mexico that have tantalized both of them growing up, he tells her, and then settle in Canada where they will live out their lives in peace.

I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending is an emotional, dramatic conclusion to this utterly captivating story. Kudos to Behrens for the detail and sensitivity with which his tale is spun. A remarkable achievement.

NPR has called Carry Me one of the best books of the year. I completely agree.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Carry Me. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected.

 I received a copy of Carry Me from Knopf Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday

How much do I love the feeling of turning the last page of a book and sitting for a moment, a lump in my throat, unwilling to break the spell the story has cast on me?

I love it so much and I wish it happened all the time. But we readers know that this visceral response is special, often unexpected, and something to cherish.

Mothering Sunday had this effect on me.

Mothering SundayMothering Sunday is written by Graham Swift, winner of the Booker Prize for Last Orders and author of many other novels. Unfolding as languidly as honey dripping off a teaspoon, it is a mesmerizing  tale of an illicit romance from the point of view of the mistress.

It is 1924, in rural Berkshire, England, after the war has ravaged the lives of families both rich and poor.  The wealthy Nivens family of Beechwood lost both sons in the war and reduced its household staff to just two. Jane is the servant girl and Milly is the cook.

The story opens on an unusually warm day in March — Mothering Sunday, it happens to be, a day the wealthy allow their servants a half day off to visit their mothers. Delighting in the gift of a sunny day, the Nivens family departs for lunch with their friends, the Sheringhams. Milly leaves to visit her mother, and Jane, an orphan and therefore having no mother to visit, bicycles over to the Sheringham estate, Upleigh, to meet Paul Sheringham, with whom she has been having a clandestine affair for six years.

Paul is the heir to the estate since he is the only son left in his family. His two brothers were also killed in the war.

And this is how the novel begins, with just-after rapturous sex on a lazy and languorous day, in a still house, with beams of sunlight streaming in the open window dancing on the naked bodies in bed.  Neither one of them wants to move, but Paul eventually gets up to dress. He is running late to meet his fiancee for lunch. As he heads out, he tells Jane to lock the door behind her when she is ready to go. She hears his sports car motor off down the road, scattering stones in its wake. Before she gets dressed, she pads around the house, still naked, observing each room, especially the library.

The pleasant reverie we readers have been lulled into is suddenly punctuated by a sentence that made me gasp. Something awful happens, a tragedy, that has far reaching repercussions for everyone and changes the trajectory of Jane’s life.

Recounted from Jane’s perspective as an old woman, we see how fate and resilience altered the life of a woman and freed her from the servant destiny she would have expected. In spite of deprivation and loss, a woman’s spirit prevails and leads to profound self-discovery.

Throughout this slim novel, under 200 pages, the tapestry of language is woven so exquisitely that nearly every sentence is a wonder into itself. Every detail has its place and special meaning, whether it is the race horse owned by the Sheringhams or the works of Joseph Conrad discovered by Jane.

Mothering Sunday is spare but intensely emotional, a work of perfection and bliss.

 

I am delighted to give one of my readers a copy of Mothering Sunday. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected.

 

I received a copy of Mothering Sunday from Knopf for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: About Women

Is there anything more soul satisfying than a deep, meaningful and uninterrupted conversation with someone you like and admire?

We don’t often have that luxury. With our busy lives, conversations are often limited to a quick how-are-you in the carpool line or grocery aisle.

I’m talking about the conversation that is honest and leisurely, meaningful but lighthearted. Secrets may be revealed. Wine may be consumed.

Book Buzz: About Women

About Women

Such is the nature of the conversations between two fascinating and accomplished women — one a French painter, the other an American author — as they share thoughts about life, romance, war, culture, work, fashion, religion and more in the intimate and lovely About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter.

The women, French painter Françoise Gilot and American writer Lisa Alther (yes, that Lisa Alther, author of  the bestseller Kinflicks, a huge favorite of mine) have been friends for 25 years and the conversations are culled from many over the course of their lives.

Coming from different countries and generations – Gilot was born in post-World War I Paris and Alther was born in Tennessee during World War II – their backgrounds are vastly different. Gilot, who happens to be the former partner of Pablo Picasso, had an upper class Parisian upbringing surrounded by cultural amenities. Alther grew up in Appalachia on a farm and later moved to small-town Vermont.

But what they share is a creative sensibility, an intellectual curiosity and an open mind. The  women muse about the influences that guided them as they developed their artistic passions. Sharing memories of parents and grandparents, of wartime losses, of school and fashion and religion, they are able to obtain insights into themselves as well as each other. And sometimes they just have to agree to disagree.

They have opinions on everything.

French and American customs, for example. An American woman resents hearing a wolf whistle on the street, Alther says, while according to Gilot a French woman takes that as a compliment. Alther says, “I think women react badly to comments int he street here because they’re often delivered with the intention of demeaning.” Gilot says, “Either that or you’re imagining that that’s the intention.”

Gilot claims that is is considered “extremely impolite to say thank you” and Alther counters that “Here it’s considered rude not to say thank you.”

About fashion, Alther says, “The attitude here is often to wear something so appropriate that you will fit in and not be noticed. Whereas the attitude in France seems to be to make an individualized statement that will make you stand out.” Gilot agrees.

They compare the genesis and trajectories of their careers. Alther says, “The odds against my ever getting published were staggering. I wrote fiction for fourteen years without getting published, and I collected 250 rejection slips.”

That is always encouraging to us unpublished authors, so thank you for that, Lisa.

It is timely that I have read this book just before attending the annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women this week where I will happily soak up wisdom from a bevy of stimulating presenters, all speaking to issues pertinent to women: health, personal finance, leadership, finding a balance, just to name a few.

Book Buzz: About Women

It is always reassuring to hear women speak about finding empowerment and fulfillment.

Just as Alther and Gilot did in About Women.

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I am happy to offer one of my readers a copy of About Women. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of About Women: Conversations between a Writer and a Painter from Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only
kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
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