Tuesday, January 3, 2012

B is for Bialystok

I started this year with a stellar book. It's The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (a novel of war and survival . Have you ever picked up a book just because of the title or cover. Have you ever started a book and within the first page or two, you knew it was going to be good?

That happened to me with The Red Tent. It started out with a sentence.... something like....
"My sisters, you have been lost to me for so long." and I thought, "Wow. This is going to be good." And it was! I've read that book several times and I always find something new and lovely in it.

I was wondering around the library and saw Hansel and Gretel on a table of new books. I love the cover and the subtitle. I read the premise on the back and took it home. Same as with The Red Tent, the first paragraph, all I could think was, "Wow. This is going to be excellent."

It is a beautiful, deeply colored book. It starts with a paragraph or two from Magda the Witch, explaining that the story you know has been passed down and twisted through time and that now we are going to have the real story.

It's set in Poland and this family has escaped the forced ghettos of Bialystock. A man and his wife are on a motorcycle, fleeing Nazi's (also on motorcycles). The wife keeps urging the man to let his 2 children (riding in the sidecar) out. They are weighing the bike down and they will all die if he doesn't let the children out. Finally, he gives in to her urging and lets them out into the woods. The Stepmom tells them to use non-Jewish names, Hansel and Gretel, and for the boy to never undress in front of anyone so they won't see his circumcision. They run into the woods. The girl is 11 and the boy is 8.

After wandering awhile, they find Magda's house. She is the village witch (in other words, she is a healer and abortionist) and she takes the children in. Her brother is the village priest and she makes him get papers for the kids.

The story follows the kids and it also follows the parents and their struggles through the war. The Stepmom isn't as bad as she is made out to be and Magda is an old woman who puts her own life in jeopardy to take in these 2 small strangers.

The village has a Nazi but he's not too bad (as Nazi's go) and then the batshit crazy Nazi shows up and things start to go south for everyone.

The book is so compelling. I spent much of our small trip to the mountains engrossed in this book. I couldn't put it down. There's so many layers to each character in the book. It is a story of war, so yes, there are some truly heartbreaking moments, but it's also a story of humanity and love.

I, of course, have to buy this book now. I can't imagine a world where I don't have access to reread it whenever I want to!

At the back of the library copy, there was an interview with the author (Louise Murphy). She was born and raised in San Francisco and has no ties to the Jewish community. She researched for THREE years before she started writing this book. She also gave a small statistic in her interview that wrenched my heart out of my chest.

In the book, Crazy Nazi's job is to go from village to village and find children that look Aryan and take them from their families, sending them to Germany to be raised by Aryan German families.

Ms. Murphy's statistic that hurt my heart so, was that during WWII, Poland lost 20% of their children. TWENTY PERCENT. Either to hunger, bombs, or outright kidnapping. I can't imagine.

This book is easily the best book I've read in years.

Other books I've read lately....

I listened to Alice I Have Been on audiobook. It's a moving, if somewhat disturbing account of the woman that Alice in Wonderland was based on. It's one of those incredibly researched, fiction presented as non-fiction type books. Apparently, Lewis Carol was an inappropriate man and Alice's family actually banned him from ever seeing her again. Ew. The book was very good and the woman who read it is an excellent actress. Most audiobook readers have inflection and some can do a variety of voices for the different characters. This reader showed real emotion and there were parts (towards the end) where she was so devastated over events in her adult life, that I was actually crying while driving to school!

My knitting group is reading The Hunger Games for a mini-book club. I had already downloaded it to my ipod and already had plans to listen to it once school started up so it was perfect timing!

I have this thing about downloading books from the library. I use the CD's even though it's a pain in the ass. But that way, I don't run out of time on a download before I can actually listen to it! After I listen, I always delete it. So far, haven't found any audiobooks that I'd want to relisten to. Not that they're bad books - quite the contrary! It's just that none of them have been as moving as the above mentioned "real" books I've read.

The thing with downloading CD's is that the makers are on to us. They never download right. They end up out of order and then there's usually one CD out of say... 16 (looking at YOU, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) that doesn't have any info on it and you have to enter the 22 tracks manually.

With Hunger Games, I somehow missed Disc 5 out of 9. I loved the book and it was flying along from the very start! I went online to put the audiobook on hold again and there's 245 people on hold for it! WTF! I ended up borrowing it from my friend through our Nooks. I didn't even go back to the rest of the discs. I flew through reading the rest of the book in just a couple of days. I can't wait to read the other 2 in the trilogy!

Speaking of trilogy's....
I'm currently reading (hardback, borrowed from the library) the third of The Strain trilogy. It's very good! The first 2 moved much faster but it's moving along and I can't wait to see how it ends...

Also, my current audiobook is the first in the Dexter series. I have been watching the show for a couple of years now (love it!) and wanted to listen to the books it came from. So far the first book
is dead on to the show, so no real surprises, but it's well-written and the reader is very engaging. It's nice, mindless entertainment for my school commute.

Here's my reading goals for this year....


I have SO many books I've downloaded, it's mental. And, yet, I still get more (coughDextercough). I need to go through my ipod playlist, see just what I have and make a list of them. That way, I can get a better handle on what I want to listen to, when.
I will definitely listen to...

all the Dexter books
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty - Joshilyn Jackson (I've listened to her read all her books - love them!)

Nook books...

My friend turned me on to Project Gutenberg. Most of my nook books are from here. It's almost all the classics (Dumas, Shakespeare, Shelley, Poe, etc.) and they are all free! So far I've downloaded...
Complete Edgar Allen Poe
Alice in Wonderland
King Lear (and several other Shakespearean works)

"Real" books...
Garden of Beasts - Jeffrey Deaver (released 2005) (isn't that weird? Almost exactly the same title and VERY similar premise. Bizarre.)
Hansel and Gretal - finished - see excessive gushing above

Eternal Night - 3rd in The Strain trilogy (currently reading)

Wolves of Calla - Stephen King (read all the Dark Tower series before this, need to keep going on it!)
DayWatch - more series books!
Fool - Christopher Moore (after I read King Lear on my Nook)
The Litigators - John Grisham (got this free as a buzz agent and feel obligated to read it)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - got this in a swap and still haven't read it yet. Still obsessed with zombies so this is high on the list this year!
Looking Glass Wars - first in another type of series.

(Sorry I stopped with the links, but blogspot got weird on me halfway through writing this post and I didn't feel like fighting with it.)

Another book goal this year is to go through my bedroom bookcase and cull whatever I can. I have such a tough time doing that! I'm a total hoarder and I adore all my books and don't want to get rid of any of them. But that bookcase is getting truly out of control.

Looking for the next great novel, Ruth!


LaDonna said...

Your Nook with be helpful with that overflowing bookshelf. I quit buying books for a long time because I was tired of figuring out what to do with them later. All they do is sit around collecting dust and are a big pain to move.

Now that I got that Kindle and can have digital copies, I find I've been buying books again. It's also nice that since I always have it on me, I can read whenever I get a spare momement and not have to worry about dragging paper books around.

It's also cool that I've been getting Amazon cards through Swagbucks, so it's helping to renew my reading habit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ruth!

Just a thought if you are getting rid of books - check your local branch of Literacy Volunteers. They're always looking for books of any kind.

I hope your 2012 is going well!

Sandy in Tucson

kmkat said...

I have not had trouble with ripping books on CD to my iTunes. Then again, I haven't done it for a few months.

k said...

I like my Nook for some kinds of books. I haven't quite figured out what kinds yet.
I hadn't thought about Alice, or Poe. More stuff to download. I suppose I should just wander through the authors some day.