Posts Tagged ‘world war two’

Our story starts with ten-year old Sarah in world war two, who is arrested with her parents by the french police, who intend to send them to Germany, and the death camps. Before she goes she locks her little brother in a cupboard, thinking she’ll be back in a few hours.

Then we meet Julia Jarmond in Paris 2002. She’s been asked to write an article about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. Through her investigations she finds a family secret connected to Sarah, and is determined to find out what happened to her. The more she finds out, the more she starts to question her place in France, and reevaluate her marriage, and life.

Our two protagonists share the book, each one leading us chapter by chapter through the story.

I found this fascinating. Both in Sarah’s experiences, and in Julia’s . They’re both very determined and at odds with their own situations. Sarah thinks everything that is being done to them is wrong, and that her father should fight so they can get back to her brother. Julia similarly is annoyed by everyone’s desire to sweep the whole Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup under the rug and never speak of it. She thinks the victims don’t deserve to be forgotten, and she’s determined that at least Sarah will not be.

They’re fighters in passive worlds. The passivity of most of the french, standing by while people are taken (though there are a few people who do take action. And their determination to fight against the herd to make some kind of stand is all the more poignant because of the risk it involved to themselves.) Julia fights against the culture she lives in where most want to forget the whole incident because it shows their country in a bad light.
So many said things like ‘why would you dig that up?’ ‘Can’t you just let it rest?’ Yet she carries on.

I enjoyed both the characters. Both of them went through some major development through the trials they face. Though I wish Sarah didn’t have to go through so much. She should’ve had the chance to be a child longer. You understand their motivations, and what drives them. Julia goes through emotional turmoil herself and comes out of it much stronger. Sarah ends up stronger too, but in a broken, brittle kind of way.

The tension stays high. With the story flipping between Sarah’s journey, and Julia trying to find out Sarah’s journey, there’s the danger of information repeating itself or pacing being off. The pacing was spot on and kept me engaged.

This is more an emotional tale than an action one, so go into it expecting that. I’m glad I read it. I’d never heard of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup before this book and the related film. This is a very emotional and honest tribute. I think also it has a great message. Not to go with the flow. Question things. Do things you feel are right, even if they are difficult.

There’s a moment when a woman pushes through the jeering crowd to give Sarah a hunk of bread while they’re being marched away. That was truly touching because here’s this woman, she could just stand there, but she does what she can. In another scene a man speaks out against the police dragging them away. One of the officers assigned to keep them locked up before shipping them out to death camps does something very courageous. I won’t say what because I don’t want to give away too much.

These people are single voices in a crowd of people saying the opposite. They remind me of a picture I saw once. A huge crowd of people are saluting Hitler, and in among them is a single man with his arms crossed across his chest, and a defiant look on his face. Sometimes single people can make a difference. Not everyone may see the same thing, but that was the message I took away from this book.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/556602.Sarah_s_Key

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Another world war two book. This one is as the title suggests about the experiences of a sniper from the Red Army during the war.

I really wanted to like this one. The Eastern front is a particular interest of mine, and I love hearing accounts of the Russian and German soldiers and civilians involved in that part of the war. The descriptions of the battle are intense, and I really feel for what the guy went through, but the translation makes this a pain to read. I wish I had the language skills to read the original book to see if it reads better.

Culture and language differences make this a head scratching read, and the translation doesn’t seem to work well. Saying that, the parts I understood were very shocking and thought provoking. There are moment that will stick with me, like when he arrives home to find his wife and oldest son dead, and the only survivor of his family his youngest son. Then he has to go back to the front, and with no family left struggles to find someone to look after his remaining son in time. It was hard to believe that the war could take so much from one man and then expect even more.

I’d say if you’re patient and love reading soldier accounts from world war two, then give this one a go. Don’t expect an easy read though. Three stars.

For more reviews on this book check out the following link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9246093-red-sniper-on-the-eastern-front

Here’s where my inner nerd shows through. One of my favorite periods of history to read about is world war two. Maus and Schindler’s Ark are two of my recent reads on the topic (both great books – check them out).

199 days: The Battle for Stalingrad is more of a textbook than those two. Maus is a graphic novel, and Schindler’s Ark is a set of autobiographical accounts put together to make a fantastic book that reads almost like a novel. Still, don’t let the word ‘textbook’ put you off. I found this an engaging read. It was easy to understand, and I read through it relatively quickly.

One major criticism of the book seems to be that it doesn’t go into enough detail. I’ll agree that it’s more of an overview, but it had enough details to be really interesting. It was published in 1999, so is a little out of date, but I enjoyed it. That’s important. So many history books can be dry and boring. This was one of the few that proved it doesn’t need to be that way. History is interesting, and world war two is one of the most interesting periods of history in my opinion. I don’t understand why some authors seem to go out of their way to make it sound like something designed to put you to sleep.

Though the focus of the book is Stalingrad (as hinted by the title), there’s an interesting overview of events leading up to the battle. It talks about Stalin’s purges, and Hitler’s overconfidence. The structure is sound, leading you through the events that led up to the battle, and then the battle itself, and then a little about afterward. It flowed well. There’s nothing worse for me than a history book that skips around. I find it all gets muddled up in my head as to what happened when. This laid it all out for me in a way that let me understand it.

In my opinion, if you’re interested in world war two like I am, then it’s worth a read. There are more up to date books out there, but few I’ve come across as engaging as this one.

For more reviews on this book, check out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/262399.199_Days

A graphic novel about world war two with mice as Jews and cats as Germans. Sounds a little out there, right? Not so much. I found it to be one of the most poignant  and realistic books on the holocaust I’ve read since Schindler’s Ark. The story goes back and forth between the author: Art, showing his difficult relationship with his father, and his father’s youth as a Jew in war-time Poland.

It’s heart breaking and funny too. You get a real sense that his father is just telling it like it is. We get to hear about the good parts, but also the bad too. While I loved Schindler’s Ark, it followed so many people that it could only add the extremes (not a bad thing – just a different type of book), but in Maus you get a real sense of Vladek’s life. Most of all you get a real sense of how different things were during the war. Morality was different back then, people had to do things to survive, and because of that you couldn’t trust many people.

Reading the graphic novel, you feel the atmosphere of the place. The art work does a good job of emphasising the story, and sometimes making it so much more powerful by showing it as it is with little comment. There are moments that will stay with me forever, and the idea that this actually happened is overwhelming.

There are two books: Maus 1 and Maus 2. Maus 2 wraps up the storyline nicely, while Maus 1 ends on a ‘to be continued’ note. Being graphic novels they were a short read. I spent a lot of time going back to absorb the artwork and memorable lines, and I still made it through each in a few hours with distractions included in that time.

I’d say that if you are half as interested in world war two as I am then Maus is a must read. It (a little ironically since the characters are shown as animals) puts a human face on the war. I’ve read a lot of facts and figures about world war two, and even some biographies, but this connected me to that place and time almost like I was there with them.

Best of all the people in this book are not heroes. Some do heroic things, but when people do you feel scared for them because the book puts you solidly in a time where heroic acts often killed you. Most are just people trying to survive and trying to help their families survive. This is what made the book so much more realistic than others I’ve read. This is the life of a typical Jew in world war two Poland, who by wits and more often pure luck made it through something that killed so many just like him.

Maus emphasises that the killings were random. The Nazis wanted all Jews dead, and if Vladek or his wife Anja had worse luck then they could have easily ended up dead.

In case you want to read further reviews on this book, here’s the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15196.Maus_I_