This is one of - if not my favorite book of all time. I read it when I was six years old and I recently read it again at twenty four years old. Throughout the years, my love for this story has neither faltered nor altered. Not only that, but “Number The Stars” is also perhaps the most influential book in my life as I chose to study and to learn about the Holocaust at every given opportunity. My decision to live and to earn my Master’s degree in Berlin, Germany is also no coincidence.
Set in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, Lois Lowry's historical fiction is told from the point of view of ten-year old Annemarie Johansen. It is unclear if Annemarie is Christian or not, but she is not Jewish; however, her best friend, Ellen Rosen, is.
The audience is introduced to anti-semitism through the eyes of a young girl, who is not Jewish, but rather is the best friend of someone who is. That being said, there comes a certain innocence with Annemarie’s perspective. But not even her young age can completely shelter Annemarie from what is going on. Not only is she observant that her Jewish neighbours are disappearing, but she also suffered a personal loss - the death of her sister at Nazi hands due to her participation in the Danish resistance.
The climax of the story occurs when Annemarie is faced with a challenge that not many ten year olds would have to face. And she must muster the courage to complete the dangerous task that is asked of her, in order to save Ellen and her family.
Personally, I think this is a wonderful book to introduce a child to such an important, but grave topic. Though the Holocaust and its horrors are not mentioned or really alluded to - the reader is aware that the Nazis instil fear amongst and are targeting Jews - in this case, Ellen and her family- in addition to anyone who resists Nazi rule.
This book definitely resonated with me when I first read it. I was around the same age as Annemarie and my best friend at the time, was also Jewish. And as I did then, I still hope that if I were ever faced with such a crisis, that I would act in the same way that Annemarie did - and do everything in my power to help those in need, especially ones whom I care about.
She was my first heroine. Although it is a historical fiction and Annemarie Johansen didn’t necessarily exist - there were Danes that did help smuggle Jews across the sea to free Sweden. This year, I was able to make that ferry cross - from Denmark to Sweden and there really are no words to describe how much making that exact passage, meant to me. That being said, I strongly recommend that everyone read this quick, but very important story.
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A Little Life is a profound book about friends —the family you choose. Four young men move to New York City shortly after attending college together. Although the lives they lead are drastically different, they are connected by their weekly outings, drinks, and having to make ends meet while living in the city on starting wages, right out of college. As a reader, you are compelled by the complexities of the four friends’ relationships. The group is made up of hopeful actor Willem, who is trying make ends meet, Malcom who is a New York native, born to a wealthy family and lives on the Upper East Side, JB the artist and Jude, the genius who also comes from a traumatizing past.
As the book unfolds, Yanagihara zooms in on the tragedies of Jude’s past. It comes to light that he was thrown in a dumpster as an infant and was raised in a monastery, where he suffered sexual abuse and physical trauma that resulted in long term mental health issues and habitual self-harm. Complex in nature, Jude is a lawyer, a mathematician, and the friend that the others know the least about. As his story comes to the surface, they begin to understand the depth of his life, how he has deeply impacted them, and also how he thinks of his life. One of the most compelling quotes in the novel is,
“It assumes that if you have a conceptual thing named x it must always be equivalent to itself, that it has a uniqueness about it, that it is in possession of something so irreducible that we must assume it is absolutely, unchangeably equivalent to itself for all time, that its very elementalness can never be altered. But it is impossible to prove. Not everyone liked the axiom of equality … but he had always appreciated how elusive it was, how the beauty of the equation itself would always be frustrated by the attempts to prove it. It was the kind of axiom that could drive you mad, that could consume you, that could easily become an entire life.”
A Little Life is a moving novel. I was left with only one thought: every person that I love in my life must know that I love them, but more importantly they must know that they are great.
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Written by Pascal Mercier, "Night Train to Lisbon" takes place in Bern, Switzerland, where protagonist Raimund Gregorius, lives the same, perfunctory, life every day. Raimond teaches at a secondary school, where he is an expert in archaic languages. He is well-read, intelligent and very well respected, but his life is defined and in many ways, constrained by his profession. Until one day, must go. He must take the night train to Lisbon. And he does.
Gregorius is compelled to go to Lisbon to learn about another man’s life and how different each life can be. He is led to discoveries that drastically impact his perspective and knowledge of the world. His journey to Lisbon is based off his prevailing question, “Was it possible that the best way to make sure of yourself was to know and understand someone else?”
Although Amadeu Prado - the man Gregorius seeks to discover- is dead, Gregorius finds himself in Lisbon, discovering the history of the Salzarian Dictatorship and the intricate, but also painful, relationships Prado had during his lifetime. He realizes that Prado was a man who was deeply questioned because he questioned all fundamental pillars. To some, Prado was thought of as a “godless priest,” to others, he was considered an intellectual and an activist whose “religion” was practicing loyalty.
Throughout the book, Gregorius reads Prado’s philosophical letters. They convey the value of religion and religion’s ability to create beauty and community. The letters also criticize the establishment, such as is the case with the one below:
“I would not like to live in a world without cathedrals. I need their beauty and grandeur. I need their imperious silence. I need it against the witless bellowing of the barracks yard and the witty chatter of the yes-men. I want to hear the rustling of the organ, this deluge of ethereal notes. I need it against the shrill farce of marches…. I revere the word of God for I love its poetic force. I loathe the word of God for I hate its cruelty. The love is a difficult love for it must incessantly separate the luminosity of the words and the violent verbal subjugation by a complacent God. The hatred is a difficult hatred for how can you allow yourself to hate words that are part of the melody of life in this part of the world? Words that taught us early on what reverence is?”
Gregorius and Prado both represent man’s search for purpose. Maybe we find purpose in other people’s discoveries. But, wholeness is found through the immense depth achieved only through experience.
Although the book comments and questions the meaning of life, individual purpose and value, it also criticizes politics and questions religion all the while placing value in moral establishments. As an individual who aligns with agnosticism, "Night Train to Lisbon," perfectly described many of my feelings and verbalized how religion is something that can drastically add so much value to this world, but can also cause so much pain and ignorance. "Night Train to Lisbon," if anything, will leave you questioning the bigger picture.
And if we have left you hungry or curious about Portugal, check out Portuguese recipes here:
Prepare to reimagine American history in Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” The menace of slavery is all too familiar to the protagonist, Cora, as she risks death and punishment by running away to the North. Instead of providing his readers with the traditional view of the Underground Railroad, Whitehead introduces us to an actual railroad that runs underneath the states.
Each state has its own perils to bare. Whitehead creates characters that open up new worlds of what it meant to be a conductor or engineer- like how their motivations might not be as pure as originally perceived. Whitehead also introduces his audience to how each individual found their way to the Railroad and why they are there as Cora makes her way up North. Each new experience forces Cora to reevaluate what slavery means, how it exists as this malignant cancer upon the Union and what it means to feel American when she isn’t even considered a citizen.
Although it is a work of fiction, Whitehead demonstrates that slavery has and will continue to always remain a part of American history. There is no way to erase the brutalities that slavery inflicted upon a large part of the American population, which still exists in forms of inequalities, today. How we ought to grapple with the future is the question the book poses to us. Whitehead leaves it to us to find the answer.
Whether you’re looking for a book that delves deep into rediscovering identity or an exciting story that details Cora’s escape from the slave-catcher Ridgeway, “Underground Railroad” fulfils both. It might not be the story you expected - nevertheless, the “Underground Railroad” is a story that you should read, especially since the United States is continuing to try to find its own identity.
Paula McLain’s, Circling the Sun, conveys the beautiful and detailed tale of one young woman’s life. McLain vividly paints the the Kenyan sky, elaborately drawing the landscape with her words in such a way that makes it nearly tangible to the reader.
British bred Beryl Markham grows up in Kenya - a place where the land is her playground. Abandoned by her mother and brother, she is raised by the native Kipsigis Tribe, her father and their horses. In a non-conventional manner, Beryl receives an education through experience, adventure and play. Her unique adolescence shapes her into a tenacious, captivating young woman, who seeks adventure, loves fully and embraces the unknown. Beryl’s world is turned upside down when she must attend formal schooling. Not soon after, her young adult life begins with a series of tumultuous relationships and conventional rules Beryl simply cannot conform to. Motherless, she is ill-prepared and lacking guidance as she struggles to map out the role women play in colonial Kenya in the 1920’s. Interestingly enough, this book - contrary to many colonial books of this nature- focuses on white women residing in Kenya, rather than the Kenyan colonial struggle itself.
In one light, Beryl is consumed by the traditional ways and so, she marries. However, she soon realizes the weight and personal incompatibility marriage bears. And so, she chooses to fulfill her long-awaited dream of becoming a horse trainer. In another light, Beryl is a fearless pioneer. Throughout her entire life, she constantly defied the customs that dictated it. Whether it was working as a female, training horses, flying planes or simply having lovers as opposed to being someone’s wife, Beryl erected the life that she wanted - and not anyone else. Written beautifully, Beryl’s accomplishments literally and figuratively fly off the page in this historical piece.
Circling the Sun, is a compelling adventure of trials, love, and perseverance. Brazen Beryl Markham pushes life to its limits in the most raw and fervent of courses. Her never-ending pursuit for greatness is garrisoned by her lust for adventure and her unshakable will.
The Wave is a novel that is very relevant to this day and age of populism. Set in the United States during the 1980’s, this true story demonstrates just how fast a wave of populism can occur. It serves as a reminder that waves, such as the Nazism, did not begin with the horrible, infamous actions for which they are remembered, rather with words.
As most well written stories are, this book offers an ever-relevant lesson: stand up for what you believe is right. Do not simply comply with the masses. Do not permit or even bare witness to injustice taking place merely because it isn’t happening to you – because sooner or later, you will likely be the next victim. The climax of the plot best demonstrates this lesson, leaving the characters and its readers, humbled.
Therefore, I encourage you to read this short, but potent story. My recommendations for you would be to stay informed, to constantly question things, and to be on the lookout for what waves could be next.