my challenges

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Journey Home

The Journey Home, by Olaf Olaffson

First, I have to say that I spent three days reading this book without ever realizing that the image behind the lettering was a woman's face.  It was only when I pulled up the image on Google Images for this review that it hit me.  Up until now, I just thought it was an abstract image!
That admission out of the way, I have to admit that I didn't really enjoy this book, up until the last hundred pages or so.  Ostensibly, this is the story of a dying woman's journey back home to Iceland, and the re-telling of her life story occasioned by the experience.  In reality, I found the story disjointed and incredibly hard to follow at times, particularly in the beginning, where I would have given up had I not been reading this for the European Reading Challenge.  We hop from present to past to middle-past with no sign-markers to tell us what time period we are reading about at any given time, and with frequent references to "him" that are not identified until much later in the story.  Perhaps this was intentional -- a representation of the way one's mind flits from one memory to another without bidding and without always having an obvious reason for the chronology of the memories being relived.  In that case, the writer probably succeeded.  I found the style of writing to be very difficult to follow, however, never knowing from one chapter to the next what I would be reading about.  While there is an overall chronology of journey from beginning to end, it is so interspersed between seemingly unconnected memories that it is hard to see it until you've read the entire book.  Ultimately, I found the story interesting, and the very short chapters made it a bit easier to keep reading, but I had to work for this one, and can't say that I truly enjoyed myself.  This one is recommended for those who like to work a bit for their enjoyment.  2.5 out of 5. 

Lost Wife

Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman.

This book follows the story of two young Jews in the Czech Republic during the Nazi occupation, their romance, their marriage, their separation and loss of contact, and their lives apart until the meet one another again decades later.
I have to say, this is one of the best books I have ever read.  I wasn't too sure of whether the book would work for me when I started reading it -- it sounded a little unplausible.  As it turned out, I was worried over nothing.  Other than the very occasional, and very short, slow spells, this story carried me along with it, hardly allowing me to put it down, so eager was I to reach the ending and see how things turned out.  The characters in this book were incredibly well drawn and believable, the events completely realistic.  I hated for this one to end.  I wholeheartedly and enthusiastcally recommend this book to all readers.  5 out of 5. 

Daughters of War

Daughters of War, by Hilary Green.

This book follows the story of a well-born young English woman who is bored by and trapped in her mundane carefully-prescribed existence and runs away to become a nurse in Bulgaria during the war taking place there in the years prior to World War I.
 There is absolutely nothing about this book that I did not adore.  From the first minute I was drawn into the story, and had to keep reading and reading and reading until the last page, and then wished there were more pages.  The only complaint I can think of, and it is a minor quibble, is that things seemed to happen a bit too easily at times -- the two female protagonists seemed to have too easy of a time running away from home, talking officials in other countries to allow them to do things -- take their personal car on a train heading to the front lines, for example -- being accepted even when Lenore begins dressing as a man (even though she does it for a good reason!), and learning languages at the drop of a hat.  At times this gives the story a hint of unreality.  Nonetheless, I found myself laughing out loud at the pitch-perfect dialogue, getting caught up in the excitement of Lenore's adventures, feeling overwhelmed by her helpless to help everybody that needed help, and nervous along with her the potential discovery that she is a girl.  This was a delightful read, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.  4.5 out of 5.

Wildflowers of Terezin

Wildflowers of Terezin, by Robert Elmer.

The tale of how the Danish people took action to protect and save their Jewish countrymen from Hitler's madness in the face of real personal danger is an epic and important story that needs to be told.  Unfortunately, this was not the book to tell that story.
This book follows the experiences of a middle-aged Lutheran pastor and the young Jewish nurse who saves him from the Nazis and who in turn attempts to save her.  It gives us a glimpse of what things were like in Denmark during the Nazi occupation, and a glimpse of the Danes heroic efforts, but ultimately focuses a little too completely on the insular lives of the two main characters, to the detriment of the bigger story.  We see how the two protagonists take actions to try to save the Danish Jews who they have contact with, and their story is quite intriguing and compelling, I must say.  However, I came to this book knowing that the Danes did something epic and amazing, but not knowing quite how they did it or how they managed to succeed, and after reading this book, I still do not know the answers to those questions.  In other words, this book to my mind could have been placed in virtually any other European country during the war and occupation years, and other than the references to places within Denmark you could not specifically distinguish this book from the story of any other gentile who tried to stand up to the Nazi atrocities.  For that reason this book was a disappointment to me.  Viewed as a snapshot of the broader events, a tale of the lives of the protagonists only, it is an interesting book; but you will not learn much about the big picture of what the Danes achieved by reading this book.  I still recommend this book, but it will be enjoyed more by those simply interested in the love story between the protagonists than by someone reading it as an example of historical fiction.  3 out of 5.