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August 2022

Hannelore was safe at her school in Germany when her mother and brothers received a letter saying that they were to be deported.  Knowing that her family would have a better chance at survival if she were there to care for them, Hannelore voluntarily turned herself in for deportation as well, thus beginning a nightmarish journey through the concentration camps of wartime Europe.  Hillman bravely records her haunting memories in order to ensure that her loved ones will not be forgotten, that the sacrifices of good people will be remembered and that the horror of Nazi Germany will never be repeated.

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.

An absolute must read for anyone who’s ever raised a family and loved a dog.  Grogan’s account of life with Marley will make you laugh and cry.  It’s more than a “funny dog story.”  Marley and Me is the story of how John, Jenny, their three children and Marley became a family

 Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw, 1939Note:  I found and read this book because the publisher (Academy Chicago Publisher) recommended it for my reading list.

Julian was only 7 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, and he fled Warsaw with his mother whom he barely knew, and his aunts and cousins.  Although Julian and his family were Jewish, Julian’s beloved governess Kiki had taught Julian of God’s love for Catholics and disregard for Jews.  Thus, Julian secretly in his 7-year-old heart was a Catholic.  Julian’s thoughts and misunderstandings on God and religion form a welcome break from the brutality of the war swirling around him.  One passage in particular describes the Trinity from a  child’s mindset:

Over the next two years or so, I learned from Kiki about God and Mary, their little boy Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.  This last, I saw from pictures, was like a white pigeon that they had.  This, I supposed, was like the canary that I was going to get some day when I was old enough.

Julian’s mother was an amazingly strong and intelligent woman.  Although she was used to being pampered and cared for, when it came to the survival of her family, she did whatever it took to keep her and her son alive.  This memoir recalls the basic story of Julian’s escape from Poland.  But beyond that, it shows two important transformations in Julian’s young life.  First, Julian’s attitude towards his mother changes from disregard and embarrasment to love and respect.  Second, due to his mother’s influence, Julian discovers that God doesn’t hate people just because they aren’t born Catholic–God loves everyone.

Due to the nature of the book (a memoir) parts of the book read a bit slow, as Padowicz includes more detail than a fiction writer would.  But because of the detail and his memory of small incidents (accidentally receiving his first sausage sandwich, jumping in the hay loft) the story has an authentic feel, and has a true child’s perspective on some horrible times.

They Cage the Animals at Night (Signet) Burch recounts the tragic period in his childhood, beginning at age 8 when he is dropped off at an orphanage without explanation by his mother.  Burch is then bounced from institution to home to foster home and back to institutions for the next several years.  He never knows if or when he will see his family again, and his only comfort is an old stuffed animal taken from an orphanage.  Burch struggles to learn the rules in every new place that he visits, but the hardest rule to accept comes from a boy his own age:

“There ain’t no friends in here. . . It’s like this.  If you got a friend in here and they go away someplace, then you’re left by yourself, alone.  And if you keep making friends and they keep going away, then over and over again, you’re alone. . . It hurts.”

But in spite of this rule, and in spite of the abandonment and abuse that Burch repeatedly experiences, he eventually learns to love and receive love.

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