The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

the jade lily.jpgTitle: The Jade Lily

Author: Kirsty Manning

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 456

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:The Jade Lily is a sweeping story of friendship, loyalty, love and identity from the popular author of The Midsummer Garden.

Praise for The Midsummer Garden

‘This is a rich, sensual, and evocative novel, fragrant with the smell of crushed herbs and flowers, and haunted by the high cost that women must sometimes pay to find both love and their vocation.’ Kate Forsyth

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’ Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

~*~

Thirty-five-year-old Alexandra Laird has fled London, and returned home to Melbourne, to farewell her grandfather, who is dying. Together with her grandmother, Romy, Alexandra prepares herself for a life without him, and a new life in Shanghai, where she is being sent as a commodities trader for work. But there is a family secret that has plagued Alexandra and her family for decades, and she wants to piece it together. Her grandmother, and grandmother’s best friend, Nina, grapple with the ghosts of their past – first as Jewish refugees from Vienna, running to the only place – Shanghai – that would take them, and the years of war that tested them and that destroyed their families, and sent their lives spiralling into uncertainty, until they reached safe haven in Australia – but were still not free from the secrets they kept.

In 1938, Romy, and her parents, Mutti and Papa, are forced to flee VIenna in the aftermath of Anschluss and Kristallnacht in November. Setting off on an uncertain journey, they land in Shanghai, where they are first living in the French section of the city, and when the Japanese take over China and bring atrocities that spark memories of Kristallnacht to the forefront of Romy’s mind, into the Shanghai Ghetto. For a few years, Romy lives a fairly good life, with her friend, Li Ho, but the events following Pearl Harbour rip them apart, and have Romy doubting what she knew about her friend, and eventually, what the future holds in Australia, and with her new life with Wilhelm Cohen.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAnother World War Two historical fiction for me – but this time, set in the Asian region, where the Second Sino-Japanese War was happening around the same time as the outbreak of World War Two, and where the ghosts of what happened in Europe follow Romy and her new friends into Shanghai. It is a part of 1930s and 1940s, and World War Two history that I hadn’t heard about – where Jewish refugees could escape to Shanghai where other countries refused to take them. It is a book that deals with the heavy issues of what pushes humanity to the point they have to kill others for being who they are, for being what they cannot control, or for daring to speak out – where atrocities are displayed as a warning to others, and where secrets are an unspoken currency. Secrets, it seems, that span three generations, where they are kept protecting some people, but eventually need to come out – as Romy’s did for Alexandra, with the help of diaries and letters, and a new friend from Hong Kong, Zhang.

Reading about little known history is always interesting – it allows the reader to immerse themselves in a time and place they may not know much about, whilst letting them know what happened in an accessible way, especially when the author has done exceptional research to write the book. Kirsty Manning has done an exceptional job, researching and writing about a war that I had not known had taken place, and events that were shocking to read about. They are the kind of events that one cannot fathom ever happening, but they did, and they shouldn’t have happened, and nor should they happen again. If reading all these books about humanitarian atrocities has taught me, it is that we shouldn’t be letting these things happen still, or ever again.

The dual timeline is an effective device to tell the story, as it allowed for each key character to show what their lives were like at the time – and it helped make sense of the secret, slowly, and uncertainly revealed across the story, where hints of tragedy are woven in and out of each chapter, and where each character has been deeply affected by tragic events in varying ways. It allowed for a feminine strength and voice to be revealed at a time in history where they might not always be heard, and where they might have had cultural or familial restraints and expectations placed upon them.

The power that these stories have is to show what has happened in the past, and to hopefully, send the message to never let it happen again. I enjoyed this story for its strength of female characters, and the love of friendship, and of one’s child that can force someone into a decision and a secret that they might never be able to reveal to anyone, or at least, a secret that is sheltered and kept for so many years that revealing it is a struggle.

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Book Bingo Seven – A Book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

book bingo 2018

Week seven of the 2018 Book Bingo, and I’ve managed to mark off 20 of the 25 squares already! This week there are two squares to include in this post: a book that everyone is talking about, and a book with non-human characters.

monty the sad puppyFirst, my book with non-human characters is Monty the Sad Puppy, where the two key characters are dogs – 5 month old Labrador puppy, Monty, and the eight year old dachshund, Daisy. Sad and lonely, Monty feels cast aside with Daisy’s arrival, and both must adjust to being together. It is a charming story, full of cute dogs and funny moments, as well as moments that had me shaking my head at Monty, because he reminded me of the puppy we had years ago.

And my second book, a book that everyone is talking about – The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a powerful story of what the human spirit can endure, and how love came out of one of the darkest places in recent history. It is a story of triumph and pain, and what people in the camps had to do, and were forced into doing to survive one day at a time, and avoid the death carts, mass graves and gas chambers at all costs. It is moving and haunting, and as I said many times in my review, a book that should be read be all.The-Tattooist_FCR_Final

So there are now twenty squares marked off on my bingo card. I have five left, and I know there might be one or two that might be a little tricky to fill but there are some that shouldn’t be too hard to do, especially if there are lots of choices for me for that category.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The-Tattooist_FCR_Final.jpgTitle: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo/Bonnier

Published: 1st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 278

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved. 

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1942, Slovakia is slowly falling into the grip of the Nazis as they march across Europe during war time, invading towns and countries, and rounding up Jews, and other groups seen as undesirable in their quest for German victory. Lale Solokov, born Ludwig Eisenberg, volunteers himself at 24 for what they are told is a work detail, to save his family. Lale prepares for a life away from his family, with clothes and books, though none of them know what lies ahead for Lale, or what the future holds in store for any of them as the Nazis continue their rampage. Instead of the promised job, Lale finds himself dumped at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. Here, he will have everything taken from him, his head shaved, and a number inked into his skin, marking him for life as 32407, stripped of any other identity for three years. In Auschwitz, he is given the job of Tätowierer – and must tattoo numbers onto each new arrival – the ones not immediately sent to the gas chambers. It is here he will meet the woman he falls in love with – Gita – and soon finds himself find ways to get contraband to her and spend time with her, all at risk to his own life as well as hers.

In a moving fictionalised account of Lale’s life, Heather Morris, who spent three years interviewing Lale, has recreated the atmosphere of the camp, a dank, smothering atmosphere where the air is thick with ash and the screams of the dying that Lale and other prisoners are forced to listen to as they work in fields, in administration, as Lale tattoos new prisoners every day. Some events Heather imagined, to fill in the gaps, such as a scene where Lale and Gita were together when the American planes flew over Auschwitz, but most of it is true, based on Lale’s recollections.

It is a dark story, because the Holocaust was one of the darkest times in world history. But it is one of those events, and there are many – that we should never forget, never let happen again. Through the dark, colourless life of Auschwitz, and the torturous conditions Lale and Gita had to live in, their love endured, and they never gave up hope of finding each other when the camp finally closed down and the prisoners were sent on death marches or simply ran away, with the hope of finding people who could help them. The shadows that Lale and Gita fought were real, and this is a story that everyone should read, another Holocaust story that reminds us what complacency and allowing evil to manipulate an entire nation can result in.

The language is simple and accessible, yet it deals with the complexities of life, of love and the Holocaust in a way that shocks the reader but at the same time, gives them hope that Lale and Gita will find a way out of the camp. Through the darkness of war and death, it is their love for each other, and determination to live, that brought this story to life so that people reading it now will never forget what happened.

A moving, dark story that must be read, and learnt from so that something like this stays where it should: in the shadows and smoke of history, never to be repeated but to serve as a reminder of what humans are capable of at their very worst.

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I Am Sasha by Anita Selzer

I am Sasha.jpgTitle: I Am Sasha

Author: Anita Selzer

Genre: Historical Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published:  2nd April, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 325

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: One boy’s extraordinary experience of wartime survival. One mother’s incredible courage. Based on an astounding true story.  It is German-occupied Poland in 1942, and Jewish lives are at risk. Nazi soldiers order young boys to pull down their trousers to see if they are circumcised. Many are summarily shot or sent to the camps.
A devoted mother takes an ingenious step. To avoid suspicion, she trains her teenage son the be a girl: his clothing, voice, hair, manners and more. Together, mother and son face incredible odds as their story sweeps backwards and forwards across occupied Europe.

~*~

Based on a true story, I am Sasha is the story of the author’s father, who spent his teenage years from 1942-1944, after the Soviet liberation of Poland, hiding as a girl, under false papers that also hid his, and his mother’s Jewish identity from the Nazis as they marched and invaded their way across Europe. Larissa, Sasha’s mother, ensures his safety as they move back and forth between Polish towns, avoiding the ghettos and transports to camp. After seeing what happens to boys from their hiding place in a barn, Larissa concocts a plan to turn Sasha into a girl – Sala – to keep him safe. Their lives are constantly under threat though, and they’re always moving finding new places to live and settle, until they find somewhere they are able to stay until the Soviets liberate Poland, and a place where Sasha’s mother begins work for the Zegota, a Jewish underground resistance that helps Jewish people escape the Nazis.

At the end of the war, their story is followed until their arrival in Australia, and their reconnections with their family, friends and the new friends they make in the displacement and refugee camps as they journey to their new home in Melbourne.

AWW-2018-badge-roseI am Sasha was inspired by a family’s history, a grandmother’s memoir and a father’s short story, given to a daughter and granddaughter to retell for the world. In 1994, Larissa gave Anita the manuscript, written in English – because she wanted to reach as many people as possible with her story, explaining to Anita that she wrote it in English to reach a wide audience – an audience that would include those affected and those not affected, and those all over the world who wanted to know more.

It is a story of sacrifice and the drive to do whatever one can to survive, whilst witnessing the depravity of humanity, and what humans are capable of at their worst, but also, what people will risk to save themselves, and keep others safe – what they will sacrifice or potentially lose just to keep friends safe – as Bella, Larissa’s gentile friend did for Larissa and Sasha throughout the years, before disappearing to Warsaw shortly before the end of the war.

Larissa and Sasha showed great resilience through their years of hiding and Sasha pretending to be a girl – Sala – under false papers, in a regime where you never knew who you could trust and where your landlady, or neighbours could turn you into the Gestapo at any time, on the mere suspicion of being Jewish, or a Communist or anyone who was against the Nazi regime. It is just one of many stories about the Holocaust and the horrors of World War Two around today.

Never forget are the final two words in the author’s note, and the horrors of the Holocaust, of stories like Sasha’s, Anne Frank and many more are a part of history we should never forget, and never let happen again. We should never forget the millions of people the Nazi’s persecuted based on religion, race, politics, sexuality or anyone who simply tried to resist them, and the brutality that these people faced, and the survival stories as well as the tragic ends. None of this should be forgotten. This is why Sasha’s story is an important one, and why it was important for Anita, his daughter, to tell.

Stories like this remind us of why we must resist regimes and abuse, and why we must speak out and stand up for what we believe in, because otherwise, the people who commit these atrocities and who support them win. I found this story to be powerful and moving, and as such, I read it very quickly. Whilst it is aimed at a Young Adult audience, I feel anyone interested will be able to read this and understand it.

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The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford

good doctor of warsaw.jpgTitle: The Good Doctor of Warsaw

Author: Elisabeth Gifford

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corvus/Allen and Unwin

Published: 21st February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set in the ghettos of wartime Warsaw, this is a sweeping, poignant and heartbreaking tale, based on the true story of one of World War II’s quiet heroes – Dr Janusz Korczak.

‘You do not leave a sick child alone to face the dark and you do not leave a child at a time like this.’

Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom. Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage. As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone. They can only hope to find each other again one day…

Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

Half a million people lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Less than one percent survived to tell their story. This novel is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, and on the life of one of Poland’s greatest men, Dr Janusz Korczak.

~*~

Based on a true story, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, the protagonists and what they told their family, The Good Doctor of Warsaw retells the story of the Warsaw ghetto, and the orphanage run by Doctor Janusz Korczak. Told mostly from Misha and Sophia’s point of view as they navigate life within the ghetto with each other the orphans and Doctor Korczak, and each other, it is also the story of courage, and the lengths one man went to so he could protect the children of the ghetto in a time of turbulence in war-torn Europe, and a Warsaw that would soon become unrecognisable.  With the ghetto closed off due to claims of disease, starvation begins to set in as the Nazi’s tighten the noose on the ghetto and those within. With meagre supplies being smuggled in from outside the ghetto, Misha and Sophia find themselves separated as they watch everyone they love die, or get marched off to camps in the east, to Treblinka. This is where Doctor Korczak and the children would end up, and where, like many before them, they’d never come home from.

Doctor Korczak’s story is moving and chilling, and his decision to stay with the children, and refusal to abandon his post despite people begging him to save himself is admirable. In a time when he could have taken the easy way out and allowed his Polish and Aryan friends to protect him, he chose to starve and stay with the vulnerable Jewish orphans, and provide a home for them, and a safe place, where they could be loved and listened to.

Elisabeth Gifford’s careful research in Korczak’s life and ideologies on childhood, caring for children, and educating them comes through clearly in the novel, showing the power of love, and respect, where Korczak stood for all children being allowed the same rights and respect, regardless of race, religion, colour, nationality or any other reason someone might use to deny them the rights he believed they deserved. Drawing on Janusz’s journals, and his book, How to Love A Child, and the recollections of Misha and Sophia, Elisabeth Gifford has recreated the hope and horror of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the realisation by many that what was happening was not going to end soon, despite Janusz’s positivity and attempts to keep the children happy and fed, and safe. She has ensured that the gravitas of what happened in the ghetto and during the war is not forgotten, the dangers that Aryan-passing children from the ghetto faced as they found ways to smuggle food from one side to the other, and the hopeless sense of not know if, or when, you or those you cared about might be rounded up and sent off to the camps, a place where you were told you would work. But the fate that awaited them at Treblinka was unforeseen and tragic.

In reading books like this, it reveals the fragility of humanity, and shows what humans are capable of. Janusz sacrificed freedom and life for the children of the orphanage. Elisabeth Gifford has done a fine job recreating this world and story for readers – a story that needs to be told amidst every other fact and report we have from the Holocaust, because it is the human face to these tragedies that should never be forgotten. With novels inspired by true events, the reality of what happened can feel harsher, more eye opening perhaps, but the impact of any accounts and stories will always be significant and thought provoking. The bravery that Doctor Korczak presented, and his care and courage in caring for the children until the end should never be forgotten.

Rooted in one of the darkest moments of human history, it is fascinating, moving, and at times, hard to read and heartbreaking. However, it is also powerful, and a testament to what humans are capable of when they are filled with hatred, but also what they are capable of when they love and accept people as individuals.

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The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends together. This was Birchwood. For readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as readers may recognise it. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose? One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

~*~

Set during the final months and years of the Second World War, Ella has been whisked away off the streets to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, known in the novel as Birchwood. Here, she is set to working, making clothes for the guards and the Commandant and his family. Here, she learns to make patterns, to choose the right colours for people, and together with Rose, the storyteller, whose fairy-tale optimism keeps the girls going during the darkest of days, dreams of the dress shop they will own one day in the City of Lights – Paris. Ella’s way of describing her world Them, Guards – Nazis, and Stripeys – those in the concentration camp – is both innocent and sobering. It is a child’s view of this world she now inhabits, a world where she is not immune to the brutality surrounding her. It is Ella’s perspective that gives the novel the powerful impact it needs to have, to remind us of what has happened in the past, and to prevent the same thing happening again.

To escape the horrors of the camp, Ella finds her solace in sewing and designing clothes, a skill that she knows she will use when she gets out – but in a place where it seems nobody will ever leave, she begins to wonder if she will ever achieve her dream, or if it’s just a way to comfort herself through the long, dark days. It is not a comfortable novel to read, and nor should it be. Any novel that delves into the darker depths of human history and humanity should not be a comfortable or easy read. What this novel shows is that we should never forget, but also that the human spirit’s capacity to push on through adversity and survive, even when we think we can’t go on.

The Red Ribbon is one of those novels that stays with you and haunts you. It is not one to shy away from the gritty reality that Ella lives in. Instead, the gritty reality is shown, and the horrors communicated through Ella’s eyes as she fights to stay alive and then fights to find freedom. It is a novel to be read alongside the history books, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and stories of resistance against the regime, as portrayed in The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, Reading these books together will give a more human view of the Holocaust than we get from history books – a human face put to those affected, to those caught up in what was going and to those actively trying to resist. Lucy has captured the history and experiences eloquently, and sensitively, ensuring that the careful research she did has been communicated in an effective and informative way to readers, and giving them a chance to explore the history behind the story in her notes at the end of the novel. it is one that I hope to read again at some stage, because it is important that we keep reading these stories to never forget, and to prevent it happening again during our own lifetimes.

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Title: The Beast’s Garden

the beasts gardenAuthor: Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Random House

Category: Fiction

Pages: 512

Available formats: Print

Publication Date: 3/8/15

Synopsis:

‘Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world …’ 
A retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.
Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.
Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

Kate Forsyth weaves fairy tales into history again in her latest offering, The Beast’s Garden. Set in Germany in The Second World War, Ava is thrust into a world of horrors under the Nazi regime. Her world begins to fall apart the Night of The Broken Glass, and as her best friend and father are arrested. To save her father, she weds a Nazi Officer, Leo von Löwenstein. Ava’s horror at the Nazi regime inspires her to join an underground resistance movement, helping the victims, yet hiding this double life from her husband.

As she realises Leo is part of a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and Berlin is bombed indiscriminately into rubble. Ava is forced to live in the rubble, hand to mouth as the Gestapo hunts down any and all resistance to the regime plaguing Germany.

Kate Forsyth set the Grimm brothers tale, “The Singing, Springing Lark” against this dark period in history. We bear witness to these atrocities through the eyes of Ava, starting when she is nineteen and the fear and danger she encounters trying to help her friends and family, to keep them safe.

The underground resistance Ava joins is peppered with real life figures that fought the Nazi regime, who defied Hitler and who would stand their ground to the death to bring about peace in Germany. Figures such as Libertas Schulze-Boysen and her husband, the Abwher and other figures involved in the Valkyrie plot, and resistance movements such as The Red Orchestra, the movement Libertas and her husband, Harro, were a part of are present in the novel, and though the interactions between these characters and Ava, and the Gestapo, the Goebbels and Mildred Harnack, the only American woman executed by the Nazi regime, add an authenticity to the novel, placing it in the time and place effectively.

The style and substance of the narrative marries perfectly with the history behind it, and the pacing is set so well, that as a reader, one is swept away into action and fear, love and family, and at some stages, an uneasy sense of something being over yet something just as horrible, just as traumatising just around the corner. The climatic end of the book has even pacing, and keeps the reader turning the page until the finale, the peace and sorrow that comes from war.

I thoroughly enjoyed the integration of fairy tale, history and imagination in this latest offering from Kate Forsyth. An engrossing read, it was one that I didn’t want to end yet couldn’t wait to see what happened.