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Soviet Terror

28th April 2011

I read two books recently that shed new light for me on the suffering caused by the Soviets during World War II. The first, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, is a novel based on the author’s family history. Stalin and the Soviet government used the cover and confusion of World War II to “cleanse” the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, killing outright or deporting millions of people. Lina and her family live in Lithuania in 1941. Because of unknown “crimes,” 15 year old Lina, her younger brother and her mother are sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia. Only her mother’s sheer determination, her brother’s childlike innocence, and Lina’s love of drawing can sustain the family during their darkest hours.

The second, Hiding in the Spotlight, by Greg Dawson, is a biograhpy of the author’s mother, Zhanna.  Zhanna and her family were Jews living in the Ukraine during the start of World War II. Already suffering under Stalin’s brutal communistic policies, the people’s torment increased as the Germans swept into Russia. Soothed by false promises of kindness from both the Soviets and the Germans, Zhanna’s parents decide not to flee from the swiftly moving German army. Once the Germans reach their town, the Arshanskys soon realize their terrible mistake. Unable to save themselves, Zhanna’s parents manage to save their two daughters. Through the kindness of strangers, and using their amazing musical talents, the girls are able to survive the war in plain sight, by entertaining the Nazis.

Lou Ann Walker is the oldest daughter of deaf parents.  As a young toddler, she learned to help her parents with tasks that they could not accomplish in the hearing world.  Walker loved her parents, but struggled to come to terms with their deafness and what it meant for her and their family.

I found this book fascinating for two reasons. First, I haven’t before read such an intimate portrait of what it means to be deaf.  A quote from Helen Keller that Walker used is a good summary of the difficulties that Walker’s parents faced:  “Blindness cuts people off from things; deafness cuts people off from people.”  Second, because Walker was born in the 1950′s, most of the technology that we take for granted today was not in use.  When Walker’s parents had to make a doctor’s appointment, they had to drive to the doctor’s office to make the appointment.  There was no email, no fax, no internet, and TTY machines were just in their beginning stages.  I wonder how the isolation that Walker’s parents felt and their dependence on others would be different today.

There’s so much more I could say about this unique book, but I just don’t have the time.  Walker should be commended for her sensitve exploration of such a personal and tender subject.

You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood NannyIf you enjoyed The Nanny Diaries, you’ll enjoy this book.  Suzanne comes to Hollywood as a young, naive girl from rural Oregon to become a nanny to the stars.  She tells the true story of her career as a nanny for Michael Ovitz (former talent agent and president of Disney), Debra Winger (Wonderwoman) and the DeVito/Perlman family.  In her job as a nanny, Suzanne falls in love with the children that she cares for, gets an inside look at many wealthy Hollywood families, and learns more about herself than she expected.

Anne Frank: The Biography

31st December 2005

Anne Frank : The BiographyI’ve read Anne Frank’s diary many times, and always enjoy it. While Anne’s diary covers mostly the time that she and her family spent in hiding, this book tells what happened before the family moved to Holland, and what happened to them after they were betrayed. Some of the details of Anne’s father’s businesses were too much for me, and I skimmed those sections. But the information on Anne’s schooling, the methods that the Nazis used to subdue the countries they conquered, and the sacrifices that those who helped the Franks made, were quite interesting. The author also interviewed survivors of concentration camps, who had come into contact with Anne and her family in Westerbork, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. These interviews gave a clear and grim picture of what happened to the family in the camps.

The Silence of the North

05th December 2005

The Silence of the NorthOlive Fredrickson was an amazing woman! She spent most of her life in the Canadian wilderness, and not only survived there, but thrived. Olive faced angry moose, bears and wolves, fought against death from starvation and cold, and lost loved ones. But she never lost her love of the north country. One of my favorite quotes from Olive comes near the end of the book: “. . . if there is any greater satisfaction in life than hard work done for a worthwhile purpose and obstacles overcome that seem too formidable to surmount, I have not found it and do not know what it is. And if much of my life has been hard, it was also wonderful.”

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