The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Summary: Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of love and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany.

When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover—then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder.

My Thoughts: I was completely surprised by this one. I hadn’t heard of The Reader before the movie came out recently, and I thought it was all about the moral issues in an older woman being with a much younger boy (pretty much a child). The “hideous crime” that Hanna is on trial for involves something much different, something that is more intimately tied into Germany’s part in WWII. I also did not at all see the “twist” in the story–and after I knew it, everything else (like the title) seemed to fall into place.

It’s also a reflection on the way the post-war generation in Germany deals/dealt with the aftermath of the Holocaust. Knowing that is part of your history, understanding that your parents and the generation before you lived through this (perhaps participated in this?)–how do you acknowledge that? It is a larger, complex issue made very personal by Hanna and Michael.

 

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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Summary: Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.

My Thoughts: Very gripping story about an event in history that I personally have never heard of.

The narration alternates between the 1942 and 2002 viewpoints–some might find this kind of confusing, and at times one was stronger than the other. Overall I didn’t mind it too much, and I thought it kept things fairly interesting.

Apparently now it’s a movie.

Author Websitehttp://www.tatianaderosnay.com/

Beside a Burning Sea by John Shors

COVER beside a burning sea by john shorsRating: 7 out of 10
Summary: One moment, the World War Two hospital ship Benevolence is patrolling the South Pacific on a mission of mercy. The next, it’s split in two by a torpedo. A small band of survivors, including an injured Japanese soldier and a young American nurse, makes it to the deserted shore of a nearby island, never expecting the experiences awaiting them…

Akira has suffered five years of bloodshed and horror fighting for the Japanese empire. Now, surrounded by enemies he is supposed to hate, he instead finds solace in their company—and rediscovers his love of poetry. While sharing the mystery and beauty of this passion with Annie, the captivating but troubled woman he rescued, Akira grapples with the pain of his past while helping Annie uncover the promise of her future. Meanwhile, the remaining castaways endure a world not of their making—a world as barbaric as it is beautiful, as hateful as it is loving, as forbidden as it is seductive…


Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

COVER ten cents a dance by christine fletcherRating: 8 out of 10
Summary: With her mother ill, it’s up to fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski to support her family. But in the 1940s, the only opportunities open to a Polish-American girl from Chicago’s poor Yards is a job in one of the meat packing plants. Through a chance meeting with a local tough, Ruby lands a job as a taxi dancer and soon becomes an expert in the art of “fishing”: working her patrons for meals, cash, clothes, even jewelry. Drawn ever deeper into the world of dance halls, jazz, and the mob, Ruby gradually realizes that the only one who can save her is herself.  

2nd Summary: Just 15 and saddled with the responsibility of supporting her ailing mother and younger sister, Ruby Jacinski quits school to work in a meatpacking factory but is soon dazzled by the prospect of earning big money as a taxi dancer (professional dance partner)—an idea she picks up from her neighborhood crush, mobster wannabe Paulie. Fletcher sustains the narrative with the ongoing tension between Ruby’s buttoned-up family persona and her desire for a real romance, the glamour of dressing up and dancing to jazz, and baiting “fish” (customers) for dinner dates and money. 

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. Ruby was a very realistic protagonist–she had her flaws and those flaws had consequences. Very vivid depiction of 1940s-era Chicago and the poverty as well as the music and mob scene in the area. The feel was very gritty and, again, realistic. Good read.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Rating: 6 out of 10
Summary: During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.

Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother makes a choice the family cannot condone, and when Raman seems to want more than friendship, Vidkya must question all she has believed in.

Commentary: If you couldn’t tell from the summary, this novel ends up being a very gung-ho feminist power, education yay book. Not that there’s anything implicitly wrong with that… But it seemed a little too blunt and obvious for my tastes. The message gets a little preachy and overshadows, at times, the characters and the plot.

The protagonist, Vidya, is a likeable enough character. Her relatives are nicely villainous, and her family’s situation is sympathetically pitiable. An ethnic Cinderella–she even finds a lovely prince.

I wish there’d been a little more depth–but perhaps good for the younger reader.