Books Read in 2020

Call of the Wild by Jack London
I read this book many, many years ago, as a child, but seeing the movie that is about to be released, I wanted to re-read it and re-familiarize myself with the story.

Buck is a pampered dog who is stolen by his owner's employee, a brutal man who beats and whips Buck daily as he takes him to the Yukon in the hope of finding gold.  Through several owners, Buck experiences every kind of animal abuse, including near starvation -- that part is not easy to read!  In the process he learns how to become a mail delivery sled dog and travels thousands of miles until he is near death and rescued by John Thornton, who helps him heal and feeds him regularly.  Buck feels he loves someone for the first time.  But in traveling with Thornton, Buck also hears "the call of the wild," the howls of his ancestors and, after Thornton and his crew are killed by natives, Buck joins a pack of wolves and becomes legendary.

I wasn't sure if I want to see the movie, after re-reading the book, not wanting to see all the abuse, but I am fascinated to learn that the dog in the movie is animation and I'm curious to see what that looks like.


Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Ned and Marta gave me this book for my birthday.  I started reading it that night and couldn't put it down.  I didn't finish the first night, but finished the next day.  Unlike a lot of "star" autobiographies, this one has no co-author.  Mulgrew's writing style is what drew me in.  She's eloquent. irreverent, funny and thoroughly entertaining.  Born into a typical Irish Catholic family, who knew "how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil."  She was one of many children by a mother who was more interested in being an artist than caring for her large brood.  At 18 she fled to New York, where she studied with the legendary Stella Adler.

At 22, just as her career was taking off, she found herself pregnant, and unable to consider abortion, she gave the baby away for adoption, something that haunted her the rest of her life, though as it was a closed adoption, she was unable to find out anything about her daughter.

Mulgrew traces her illustrious history, through Star Trek: Voyager but sadly it ends before she was cast in Orange is the New Black, which she covers in her next book, apparently.  She also manages to meet her daughter, finally, toward the end of the book.  I now have to read the next book, which apparently also covers her mother's Alzheimers, which always intrigues me.


In the Hell of Auschwitz: The Wartime Memoirs of Judith Sternberg Newman by Judith Sternberg Newman
When I was reading "Rena's Promise," an offer came for this book for only $1.99, so I got it.  Newman, also, was in Auschwitz at the same time as Rena Gelissen, and many of her experiences are the same as Rena's, though as Newman was a nurse, she was able to work in the hospital, so her experiences were not quite as terrible as Rena's ("not quite as terrible" being a relatiave term!).  She is the sole survivor of her family, having lost her mother, two sisters, three brothers, a brother-in-law, a niece, an aunt, an uncle and her fianc to the gas chamber at Auschwitz.  It was her experience as a nurse which saved her.  There had been 10,000 Jews in the city of Breslau when the Nazis came to power ; at the end of the war, only 38 survived.  Half of the book deals with her experience in the concentration camp until her escape on a march out of Auschwitz.  The other half deals with her return to her old life and the difficulties of being completely alone.  She married another concentration camp survivor and the two of them moved to America, where they raised three children.


Rena's Promise: a story of sisters in Auschwitz By Rena Kornreich Gelissen with Heather Dune Macadam
I didn't realize it was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz when I started this riveting book.  As the Nazis were coming to power, 20 year old Rena Kornreich decided that if she volunteered at a German "work camp" she could protect her family.  Instead, she and sister Danka, were among the first to be sent to Auschwitz, where they lived for three years.  Rena's promise to her mother that she would "take care of her sister" was the thing that kept the two of them alive. 

(Rena on the left in this photo and sister Danka on the right)

I have read several books about the Holocaust, but this one is different because it is the story, told in Rena's words, of what it was like, day by day, living in the concentration camp. 

Many people were shocked when Elie Wiesel's book ("Night") was published because many people began to learn about the atrocities for the first time.  However, Rena's account is so much more shocking because we see what the day to day life was like, sleeping on bare shelves with as many as 8 other women, being awakened at 4, breakfast of a small piece of bread and half a cup of weak tea, working until dark, almost no lunch, then back to the shelves for another night, all year long, summer or winter.  What happens when women get their period when there is no paper and no cloth and almost no washing facilities?  ...and when you are condemned to death if you are caught menstruating.

The murders are particularly horrible.  I am still haunted by one where one of the female commandos tossed her hat into the forbidden area where prisoners are not allowed to go, ordered one of the young women to fetch it for her, and when the woman got to the hat, ordered her dog to attack, while the others watched the dog tear the woman to pieces, afraid to show emotion for fear they would be next.

I cried a lot reading this  book and coincidentally came across a YouTube video about a woman who gave birth at Auschwitz right before the camp was liberated, so she and her daughter lived...her account of her treatment was very reminiscent of Rena's.

As older people die, more people find it difficult to believe there even was a holocaust.  The video says that the number of holocaust deniers doubled in the last couple of years, from 7% to 14%.  Books like this are important to let people know that this actually happened.


Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
This was an enthusiastic choice of Jenna Bush Hager for her Book Club and I was so taken in I ordered it immediately and read it in two days.  She assured people that though there was a sad bit about it, it ended happily.  Well, the "sad part" was about 3/4 of the book, but she's right--the ending made it worthwhile (and was quite unexpected). 

Eddie is a 10 year old child, the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 191 people, including his parents and older brother.  He is taken in by his aunt and uncle, whom he barely knows.  Someone refers to him as "Edward" and the name sticks because he feels "Eddie" died with his family.  Jodi Picoult says this is "that rare book that breaks your heart and stitches it back together again.  Don't miss this one."

The book follows Edward's pain at his loss, his disconnect from others around him, his friendship with next door neighbor Shay and how, over several years, he manages to find meaning in his life again.  The book shifts back and forth from what is going on in the plane before its crash, and what is going on in Edward's life as he remembers bits and pieces of that horrible event.

Napolitano creates a variety of unforgettable characters, from the people on the plane to the people Edward encounters.  His friendship with Shay gives him the only stability he allows himself and thanks to her, he finds the reason for why he has survived and how to make his life meaningful.  A beautiful solution.
 



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