Category: FH – Fiction Historical


Last Days of NIght by Graham Moore

November 18th, 2020 — 11:20pm

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

To New Yorkers Cravath may bring up the name of a very well healed prestigious law firm. Apparently, one of the founders of this law firm when he was just starting out is one of the main characters of this book. Circumstances brought Paul Cravath to represent George Westinghouse, a pioneer inventor who is being sued by another prestigious inventor, Thomas Edison, who had invented direct current electricity and the light bulb and who would eventually be credited with inventing motion pictures and playing a major role in the invention of the telephone. This is a book of historical friction, which examined the fascinating conflicts between these two men along with the role played by another genius inventor, Nikola Tesla.

As we sit comfortably in our well-lit home and read this book, we may not appreciate the differences between direct current and alternating current and the nuances of various electrical bulbs. While much of the dialogues and events in this book are fabricated they are based on true conflicts and events. There is also a fascinating description about the first electrocution by electric chair, which was quite messy and witnessed by the press. The insight into these characters while done with some poetic license is never the less quite fascinating. There was even a cameo by Alexander Graham Bell, another inventor of the telephone.

A couple of years ago, there was a movie based on these electric characters called “The Current War” but this book provides more depth and holding power than the film in our opinion. In other words, it was a page turner. In between the chapters, there were various quotes from famous inventors over the years. While they were interesting on their own, they did not relate to the content of the previous or the next chapter and therefore this writer felt they were an unwelcome diversion.

I do not know if there was a major conflict between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs about the invention and development of the computer, but it would not surprise me if it has not been written already that there will be a fascinating story about that relationship as there was this look at about an electrical story of the past (2020).

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Apeirogon by Colum McCann

August 26th, 2020 — 9:43pm

Apeirogon By Colum McCann

The title of this book means “a shape with a countable infinite number of sides.”

The book is divided into a thousand different sections and they are not exactly in order. This personally made it somewhat difficult for me since every time I picked up the book, I was not quite sure where I left off (it did not help that my iPad did not always open exactly where I shut it down).

The essence of this book is that we are learning about the story of two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each of whom has lost his daughter as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Elhanan’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber. Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter died by a rubber bullet shot by an Israeli soldier. The two bereaved fathers meet through an organization called The Parents Circle – Families Forum. They connect and have made it their life’s work to travel around the world sharing their experiences of losing their children and the pain and healing with which they are struggling.

The book is filled with flashbacks, which include everything from analysis of the migration of birds to the Crucifixion of Christ with homage to Albert Einstein and the Stern Gang included. The net result is an emotional experience which will intensify any hope, desire, and prayer that there could be peace in the Middle East (2020).

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical, HI - History

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

June 8th, 2020 — 4:52pm

The Weight Of Ink By Rachel Kadish

This is an unusual and very interesting storyline. The narrative toggles back and forth between modern day London and Amsterdam during the 17th century. A removable panel in a wall behind the stairs in a lovely home in modern day London is discovered to have a trove of documents written in the 1600s. Helen Watts, a woman professor and a graduate student, Aaron Levy, begin to extract and translate these documents, which are mostly in Portuguese, Hebrew, and English. The majority of these old papers were written by a well-known, blind rabbi’s personal scribe. The scribe allowed the rabbi to carry on correspondence with some of the great intellectuals of that time in various parts of the world. The modern day professor and her graduate student make an amazing discovery that the scribe was actually a young woman by the name of Ester. Of course, it was unheard of that a woman at that time would be well-educated and able to carry on such a high level of intellectual writing and reading. The story gets more complicated as a competing high-powered intellectual team also gains access to the documents and realizes the significance of them. The reader follows the unfolding of the story as each chapter moves back and forth more than 300 years. The modern day translators realize that the young woman scribe had on her own taken up a correspondence with some of the intellectual giants of her time including Spinoza while signing her name with a pseudonym. As the reader is whipped back and forth with alternating chapters being in the past or present, there is an opportunity to learn the details of the private lives of not only Ester and the people around her, but also about the private lives of Helen, the professor and Aaron the graduate student. One aspect of the distant time period is that there was a deadly plague sweeping London and the rest of the world. (Sound familiar?).

This book develops into a page turner, which includes intrigue, romance, death and dying, and a lot more. At times, the language was felt by this reviewer to be somewhat obtuse and even a little difficult to follow. However in the end, we appreciated that we have been taken through an original fantasy, which not only highlighted the intellectual trials and tribulations of a particular time period but also provided insight into the human psyche.

This book not only reflected themes of power and freedom of expression, something that Ester could not do as a woman, but also towards the end of the book Ester struggles whether or not she would want her words to live on, even if not attributed to herself herself but known by the content. This raises an interesting question about how any author looks to the future and how important is their own personal posterity as compared to the creativity they bring to their pages.

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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

April 28th, 2020 — 10:05pm

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is clearly a page turner (a swiper for laptop and Kindle users) and a definite fascinating read. It will provide a sensitive in depth insight into the plight of immigrants striving to make it from Mexico as well as from Central and South America to the United States. The book depicts the deadly role of the cartel (gangs) and their cruel leaders along with their ruthless followers. You come to understand that if you resist the will of the leader, let alone publicly speak out against them, the result can be death to you and your family including children and relatives.

The main characters of the book are Lydia and her 8-year-old son Luca who experienced such a punishment to their entire family because of an anonymous newspaper article written by Lydia’s husband who was a journalist and wrote about a cartel leader. This sets off a journey to the north by the surviving mother and son to escape to the United States.

The reader feels the constant fears and dangers of the fleeing duo and the people who they meet along the way. Whether it is jumping on moving trains, unbearable thirst, fear of drug dealers, fear of the immigration police, or fears of being attacked by the people they meet along the way, it all comes across as a real and quite frightening.

The author has done her homework and appears to have recreated a slice of contemporary history that is not well known. I was not surprised to see that this book has been a great seller and received many positive reviews including one by the author Stephen King and in fact the book was one of Oprah’s book picks. Anticipating e success, from the very beginning was the fact that the author received a seven-figure advance for her manuscript. However, I was very surprised and interested to see that the book also received many negative reviews including disparaging attacks on the author by people who felt that as a white non-Hispanic she had no right to pen this book. Several Latino writers wrote that the novel was stereotyping and exploiting the suffering Mexican immigrants. Apparently, some book stores decided to cancel the author’s book tour because of fear of disruption.

I personally believe that the book can stand on its own. It seemed to me, that the main protagonists were good people whom I respected and would be very proud if they were my ancestors. I believe that even most of those who did not like the fact that the author wrote the book agreed that it was fascinating, suspenseful and a great read.

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A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

April 26th, 2020 — 6:54pm

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
This is an excellent novel. Not only is it a history lesson about Spain and South America in the mid and late 20thcentury but it is also a perceptive and sensitive examination into interpersonal relationships where there is love, separation at the time of war and revolution.
The story opens by focusing on two people as they flee from the ravages of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s under Franco’s fascist government which killed and tortured many of his opponents The author is obviously enamored with the writing of Pablo Neruda whom she quotes frequently throughout the book. Neruda also was the savior of thousands of Spanish refugees fleeing from Franco, who fled mostly on foot to France and then were allowed to board the SS Winnipeg, which he had actually chartered to cross the Atlantic and bring the fleeing Spanish refugees to Chile.

The Chilean people were generally receptive to the fleeing Spaniards. Among the various leaders that they encountered was the popular government of Salvador Allende (who is actually the author’s uncle and godfather). Alas, Allende’s government was overthrown in 1973, which created an unsafe environment for many of his supporters including the characters in our story, which led them to then flee to Venezuela. Finally, in their later years, the characters in this book whom we are following, returned to Chile where they feel most at home.

As I mentioned, as interesting as this is a political history, most of which many of us did not learn in school in the United States, it is also a moving story of a romance and meaningful relationship. We met Roser as a young girl growing up in Spain where she became a pianist, then widowed while she was pregnant. We then get an insight into her complicated relationship with Victor Dalman who was a physician and brother of the father of her child. We come to understand how circumstances led them to get married, become life partners and ultimately lovers.(2020)

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

August 19th, 2019 — 11:45am

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

We meet “Wash”, the main character as an 11-year-old slave on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados. We come to realize that his chance of living to a ripe old age or even having any kind of meaningful life is quite slim. Then by chance, he is “given” to the owner’s brother who needs a manservant to help with various projects. It is ironic that through this one slave’s subsequent life which is quite unusual, we are allowed to come to appreciate the almost no chance that his brothers and sisters and numerable other Black people held in captivity have for any self-realization and an opportunity to find their potential as human beings.

Wash is the “assistant” to Titch, his new owner who was a scientist of sorts with a clear plan to develop a “cloud-cutter” (a hot air balloon). Titch soon realizes that Wash has talent as an artist in not only making scientific drawings but depicting all sorts of scenes from nature. Wash leaves the plantation with Titch to lead a new life which takes place during a time period when slavery in the United States is “abolished.” However, we are reminded that “Jim Crow” is alive and well as our main character is searched for by a bounty hunter as Wash’s previous owner had decided to put a thousand-dollar reward for his return, dead or alive.

Through the storyline and the author’s insight into the main character as he attempts to reconcile his past with the new opportunities he has, we come to understand how important “Big Kit”, his mother figure in his earlier life was to him. We also appreciate how meaningful to him is “Titch”, the man who took him from slavery on the plantation to a new life and because of his own issues ended up complicating Wash’s life with further dilemmas.

There is adventure, mystery, romance all mixed into the novel as the reader has another opportunity to understand the great scourge of slavery. It is not surprising that this book is on the short list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

If you wish to purchase this book from Amazon please click here 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book introduces the reader to the story of Koreans who migrated from Japan shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It also traces the occupation of Korea by the Japanese prior to this time and follows a family who lived in Japan for four generations. This book tells the story of discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese. Through the depiction of various characters, the reader learns about family values, the role of women, religious beliefs and the impact of culture on the lives of this multi-generational Korean family.

The book takes the reader on an interesting journey which not only studies all aspects of the personalities and values of the characters, but also paints a very vivid picture of the bustling street markets in Korea as well as the life in the universities in Japan. There is also a very interesting and revealing story about “Pachinko”, a gambling parlor game that is common and also the connection to the criminal underworld of the people who run these games.

This is a good read which pulls back the curtain and reveals the lives of people who we may not have had the opportunity to meet and understand.

 

Your comments are always welcome below

If you wish to purchase this book on Amazon, please click here

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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

September 11th, 2018 — 11:52pm

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

In the nine years that I have been writing my blog (BookRap.net), more than 10% of the 164 books I have reviewed have had “Holocaust” as a keyword listed in the search section. This does not include the many books on the subject I have read before that time which include three that stand out in my mind; Diary of Anne Frank, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List. I was a small child safely living in the United States when World War II ended. While many of my older relatives escaped Europe before the war and none were concentration camp survivors, I felt a deep link with my unknown Jewish relatives and their friends and neighbors who were victims of this terrible atrocity. This connection was reinforced early in my career when I was a director of a mental health clinic in Brooklyn and we saw many survivors and children of survivors.

Early in this book, while I was feeling my usual attachment to this terrible piece of history, I found myself asking, “Why am I going through these events once again?” I thought there was nothing really new here. However, as the book progressed, I did notice that it turned to a specific piece of history which I don’t recall as often relived in books and film on the subject; that is the one German concentration camp which was exclusively for women and that was Ravensbruck. It gave a depiction of the horrendous Nazi experiments that took place on these women with cruel and destructive surgery to their legs in order to test the effects of a new antibiotic. The story related how these women were made to participate in slave labor and then were selected to be murdered when they became ill or too weak to work or just to meet a quota for a certain number of murders to be done. After their death, their bodies would be put in an oven for cremation.

While this book is a novel by Martha Hall Kelly, the author did spend several years researching the background of the lives of some of the characters upon which the book was based. She also did appear to earn the right to write this book in the first person, as she appeared to know quite well the characters who were featured in it as she allowed them to tell their story. She went back and forth with each character mostly during the war years, but there were a few chapters 10 to 15 years during the post-war period.

I believe there was a special sensitivity that the author showed from a woman’s point of view. The deep mother-daughter relationship was explored in various very difficult circumstances as well as the bond that existed between two sisters in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations. Of course, there also was the connection between other women who were living together through this tragic time.

While this book perhaps becomes another book with a keyword “Holocaust” on my blog, I also know it will be an excellent contemporary novel that will be available and hopefully one with great appeal to today’s generation of readers, so this piece of history will never be forgotten.

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From sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

January 6th, 2018 — 12:37am

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

If I had to make a list of the books that made the greatest impression upon me, I’m pretty sure I would include the Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. Not surprising these books all deal with the Holocaust. Growing up in the post World War II, I became acutely aware of the details of what was done to the Jewish people in Europe in the previous decade. My own relatives who are not “survivors” but had family in Europe who perished during that period of time rarely talked about the details which probably fueled my interest. Being Jewish, I felt a personal connection to understand this horrific period of history. As a young psychiatrist working in Brooklyn, I treated a number of children of concentration camp survivors which made a lasting impression on me.

In the past few years, several excellent books which delved into this subject have been reviewed in this blog. This includes How we Survived, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, Once We Were Brothers, Maus I&II and The Book Thief.(you can click these titles to see my review of each of them )

This current novel From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon examines the impact of the Holocaust in Italy. In particular, it puts a light on the heroic efforts of members of the Catholic clergy who secretly risked their lives to save many Jews who had become the target of the fascist government of Mussolini which was was allied with Hitler.

The main characters are a Catholic priest and a Jewish young woman who grew up together since childhood. The author in the postscript revealed that these characters were fictional but all the horrible events depicted were real and based on factual events. The author appeared to pay close attention to historical details at the same time that she wrote a beautiful love story. As I finally closed the book after completing it I asked myself three familiar questions: How could so many people do such terrible things to the Jews? How did some people develop the courage to risk their lives and the lives of their families to try to hide and save so many Jews. What would I have done if I had faced the challenges of that time period?

This is a well-written book that may not answer these questions but will provide a page turning experience, which will hold your interest and attention as well as connecting to your emotions.

To purchase this book from Amazon, please click here

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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

September 25th, 2016 — 10:53pm

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-7-37-56-pmThe Vietnam War was of my generation. I served in the Air Force in Texas 1968-1970. I recalled vividly the anti-war protesters of that time. There were many great movies about this war that I have seen which includes Apocalypse Now, Platoon and many others. I have met and spoken with refugees from Vietnam including those who identified themselves as “Boat People.” I have a rudimentary understanding of the French colonialism of Vietnam, the rise of communism, the war between the North and South, America’s entry into it and the ultimate withdrawal and the Fall of Saigon. I can’t say that this well-written book clarified this complicated political history to any great degree. In fact, it may have blurred the margins of some of the issues and muted my simplistic view of them. However, what this novel did provide for me was an insight into the personal viewpoints and struggles that many of the native players have gone through as they overtly and covertly battled each other for the heart and soul of this country.

This is a story of revolution and counterrevolution. It occurred in an era of brainwashing, torture, hidden moles, intelligence and counterintelligence. I realized that one’s belief and loyalty to a particular political cause may very well depend on where you were born. But on the other hand, it becomes clear in this case that once the communist revolution succeeded in the North and then in the South, the so-called collective society itself became oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical. This is certainly one of the messages of this book.

This book was well researched and well written. In fact, it is the author’s style and way with words that entertains as well as educates the reader. While most of the sentences of this book were of average length, there was one somewhat lengthy one which will give you a taste of this book and the skill and style of the author:

We could not forget the caramel flavor of iced coffee with coarse sugar; the bowls of noodle soup eaten while squatting on the sidewalk; the strumming of a friend’s guitar while we swayed on hammocks under coconut trees; the football matches played barefoot and shirtless in alleys, squares, parks, and meadows; the pearl chokers of morning mist draped around the mountains; the labial moistness of oysters shucked on a gritty beach; the whisper of a dewy lover saying the most seductive words in our language, anh oi; the rattle of rice being threshed; the workingmen who slept in their cyclos on the streets, kept warm only by the memories of their families; the refugees who slept on every sidewalk of every city; the slow burning of patient mosquito coils; the sweetness and firmness of a mango plucked fresh from its tree; the girls who refused to talk to us and who we only pined for more; the men who had died or disappeared; the streets and homes blown away by bombshells; the streams where we swam naked and laughing; the secret grove where we spied on the nymphs who bathed and splashed with the innocence of the birds; the shadows cast by candlelight on the walls of wattled huts; the atonal tinkle of cowbells on mud roads and country paths; the barking of a hungry dog in an abandoned village; the appetizing reek of the fresh durian one wept to eat; and the sight and sound of orphans howling by the dead bodies of their mothers and fathers; the stickiness of one’s shirt by afternoon, the stickiness of one’s lover by the end of lovemaking, the stickiness of our situations; the frantic squealing of pigs running for their lives as villagers gave chase; the hills afire with sunset; the crowned head of dawn rising from the sheets of the sea; the hot grasp of our mother’s hand; and while the list could go on and on and on, the point was simply this: the most important thing we could never forget was that we could never forget.

Although I don’t think that this book would be at the top of my list, it did win a Pulitzer Prize. So if this subject is of interest to you, The Sympathizer should be worth the ride.

To obtain a copy of this book from Amazon, click here

 

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