Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teegee and Nikola Sellmair



                Jennifer Teegee was browsing through the library in Hamburg when she came across a book titled I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I? The Life Story of Monica Goeth, Daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant from “Schindler’s List.” Monica Goeth is Jennifer’s biological mother. Monica placed Jennifer in an orphanage when she was an infant and she had been adopted at the age of 7. She never had a great relationship with her mother, but she did love the company of her maternal grandmother, Irene. Irene was the woman who loved Amon Goeth, the Commandant. Now all Jennifer has is questions about her family, about her life, about the grandfather she saw portrayed in a movie by Ralph Fiennes. He was the man shooting people in the camp from his window. She writes “He in his black uniform with its death-heads, me the black grandchild. What would he have said to a dark-skinned granddaughter, who speaks Hebrew on top of that? I would have been a disgrace, a bastard who brought dishonor to the family. I am sure my grandfather would have shot me.” Now Jennifer is trying to put the pieces of her family’s history together. This memoir is her journey to discovering the secrets she had never been told.
                What does your family legacy say about you? How does the past actions of family members dictate the rest of your life? Should it even have an effect on your life? These were a few of the questions Jennifer wrestled with throughout this memoir. She felt as if her life was split in two: the time before knowing and the time after. What was amazing is the life she chose to have before knowing about her grandfather. She lived in Israel, learned Hebrew, studied the Holocaust, volunteered and had Jewish friends. But what does any of that mean now, after knowing the horror that your grandfather put people through. These are somewhat unanswerable questions. But through this memoir you can see how she learned to cope and live with her family’s history. The love of the family that adopted her and had been a part of her life for three decades helped. But this was a journey she had to take on largely by herself.

                This memoir brings up so man valid points. It’s hard to describe. If you have someone in your family who has done terrible things, should you be held accountable? Is that a weight others should have to carry? What about others who were ambivalent to the things around them like Irene, Jennifer’s biological grandmother? She was living with Amon outside of the concentration camp. How should Jennifer feel about her, especially when she had such fond memories of her grandmother? It’s so complicated and there are no easy answers but her journey is something I can recommend others read. There is a lot of introspection, a lot of research and a certain amount of acceptance. This really is the story of her life and how this new knowledge changed everything for her. My biggest complaint comes from the way this memoir is presented: Jennifer writes part of it in first person narrative while other, more factual, parts are written by Sellmair. These different narratives were present in each chapter and it was really awkward. The choice of format made me rate this a little lower because reading the memoir like this did get tiresome. Still will recommend this and give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly


Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly



                With World War II came the need for faster, more efficient planes. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), located at
Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, needed computers. The need was so great that women were hired in very high numbers, even black woman were hired for their mathematical skill. Many of these women had advanced degrees and worked as teachers. When the opportunity arose to work for NACA they rose to the occasion. But they would experience many of the hardships in the work place that they did outside of the workplace. Even though they were vital to the work being done they were segregated and known as the West Computers while their white counterparts were the East Computers. They had to sit in a segregated lunch area and use bathrooms labeled as “Colored.” The years would pass and with the end of the war many of the women, who had proven themselves as exceptional workers, stayed and would have lasting careers breaking barriers, by becoming engineers, helping compute the first landing on the moon and cycling the next round of women into the workplace now known as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.

                Had you heard this story before? I hadn’t and I’m really glad I took the time to read this book and learn more about a part of history that I was woefully ignorant of. These women that worked at NACA were extremely strong minded and very well educated women who broadened the horizon and gained the respect of their white counterparts. As they were making strides in the workplace and as the color barriers were breaking around them, they still had to deal with living in Virginia, a state hell bent on keep segregation and holding on to what they considered to be “traditional American values.” It was amazing and disturbing to see the juxtaposition of the women and the progress being made by America as a country as far as trying to put a man in the moon, when the United States was in such a stagnant state when it came to race relations. This book spans three decades and as much as things changed, it was at a horribly slow pace. Compared to the progress we were trying to make in space, we did horribly making sure change was happening in regards to civil rights back on Earth in the U.S.

                But what an empowering and well done debut by Shetterly! This book handles a lot of science, obviously it’s about mathematics and aeronautics, but she managed to find a really beautiful balance between the work that these women were doing and their individual stories. You were never overwhelmed with mathematical details, instead you were informed of just how much work was being done and how capable these women were. I enjoyed it. It was such an easy read with loads of information but told in a very relatable fashion. I gives this book 4 out of 5 stars.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Human Acts by Han Kang

Human acts by Han Kang



                This is the story of Dong-ho and the student uprising in South Korea. It's a story of death and longing. It's a story of a heartbreaking reality and the scars that lived forever. It's a story of spirits that can't move on and the living that cling to their presence. It's a story of memories and how they have the power to cripple and burden. It's a story of time and how some wounds never heal, psychological or physical. These stories don’t have a single narrative. Their narratives change with the passage of time within a community. This story of Dong-ho, is the story of the many who were affected the day the shots rang out and the uprising ended.
          I'm not sure if it was the changes in narrative, the use of the second person throughout, the vivid imagery, the despairing tone, the prose or the characters but I couldn't put this novel down. I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by this political fiction account of the 1980 student uprising in South Korea but without a doubt I was. The changes in the narrative and the characters used to deliver that narrative gave such an all encompassing view of the history of that uprising and the affect it had on the lives of everyone involved. Dong-ho was present in all these narratives and he was a somber but necessary presence. Some of it had to do with youth but most of it had to do with his conviction and untimely death. But every one of the narratives had such a unique vantage point especially with how Han Kang utilized the passage of time. This story just flowed through the years beautifully and showed how the events continued to affect people for decades. The images she created of South Korea before, during and after the events was so engrossing and well done. The details provided and the lingering somber tone made reading this book a visceral experience.
                I really enjoyed this novel. There were so many moments throughout this book that took my breath away. Han Kang's prose and delivery was perfectly timed to draw as much emotion as possible out of every moment. Stories like these about tragic events keep them alive. They need to be told and Han Kang was the person meant to tell this story. I give this 4.5 our of 5 stars.

Thank you Blogging for Books for this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


                They were the twelfth expedition to make their way to Area X: the psychologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist and the biologist. There was a linguist but she had second thoughts before going through the barrier. When the four crossed through, with the help of some hypnosis by the psychologist, they all had their packs on their backs. It took them four days to reach the camp. Some remains from the previous expedition were left behind. Everything was as it seemed except for the tunnel, or the tower as our narrator the biologist called it. The tower had never been mentioned and it wasn’t on any of their maps and yet there it was descending into the depths, visible only slightly above the ground. In their canvassing of the area they knew they would eventually have to enter the tower but no one would understand the implications of the writing on the wall.
                Well, this is the kind of science fiction that I really love to read. The type that obviously has some supernatural existence but is shrouded in mystery and the moaning you hear in the night isn’t human, or is it. Told in first person by the Biologist the very palpable fear of the four women taking place in this expedition is constantly referenced. This book is a venture into the depths of the unknown and the world building of the mysterious Area X is extremely well done. Vandermeer’s attention to detail and his atmosphere of fear and of something gone terribly awry, almost becomes its own entitity in this novel.

                I don’t want to go into to many details because that would give too much away. This the kind of science fiction novel that is better savored. I didn’t want to put this down. I found the biologist’s observations to be extremely disturbing and I couldn’t turn away. This book is the first in the trilogy and it sets itself up perfectly for the sequel. I am very interested and intrigued by this story. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates



                There was something so incredibly engaging about this story of Paul Coates and his two sons. Now, Paul had many children but this memoir focuses on Bill and the author, Ta-Nehisi. Brothers by two different mothers, often in the same house and completely different. Their father was steadfast in their life but his history caused him to be strict and in many ways an isolationist. An ex-member of the Black Panther Party, “conscious” and not a believer in the holidays, his children were constantly aware of their world and their place in it. Ta-Nehisi and Bill were taking two separate paths. Bill was the one who was always quick to fight and determined to be something. Ta-Nehisi was a slacker, not at all prone to violence, simply trying to make it through his days. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas were not holidays they celebrated. Baltimore was their home and the setting for this memoir about growing up the son of Paul Coates.
                Compelling writing and an intriguing story set the pace for this memoir. Ta-Nehisi’s description of life in Baltimore under the strict upbringing of his father was extremely interesting, complicated and a memoir like I hadn’t experienced. I loved that Coates took time to reflect on his father’s upbringing, his different stints with women and his involvement with the Black Panther Party. Taking the time to divulge that information really set the tone for the story he was telling. Moments of self-reflection were the ones I found most captivating. Coates is very well aware of his faults and those things that caused him to fair so poorly in certain situations like school and girls. The nature in which he reveals and discusses them shows an honesty that we can only reveal later in life, when time has passed and the memories of who we were seep out.

                I enjoyed this memoir. An easy read that dealt with father-son relationships in a very honest, though sometimes grim light. I had really been looking forward to reading this book and the focus wasn’t where I thought it was going to be, I still found it really enjoyable. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips

Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips



                In September of 1912 two white women were attacked in Forsyth County. Ellie Grice claimed to have been raped by a black man. Mae Crow was beaten and left for dead. The events that directly followed these two incidents were the lynchings of five black men accused of the crimes and the exodus of the almost 1100 black residents of the county. The white residents of the town threatened, attacked and stalked the black members of the community until they feared for the life and fled into neighboring counties. Those residents who sought to protect the black workers that worked for them would be threatened until they conceded. Forsyth County, Georgia would then be known as a “white county” something the residents relished with pride. For the next 75 years this county would hold its racial line, defending it with threats to any African American that dared to cross it. In 1987 the Civil Rights movement would finally break through the barriers and drag the county into the national spotlight where their views would finally be challenged and eventually overcome.
                Patrick Phillips and his family were residents of Forsyth County in the 1970s and 1980s. They would march in the Brotherhood Marches led by Civil Rights leaders. His writing and testimony lends such a terrifying credibility to this story that’s hard to deny and honestly extremely disturbing. This isn’t a story to be taken lightly and Phillips did an amazing job in his research and in the way he conveys the county’s history. Every rock has been overturned in an attempt to honestly convey the tone of those who prided themselves on living in a town which such a disgusting history.

                Why do we read books like this? Because it’s important to understand the history of racism, how it is conveyed, how it is inherited and how it is a result of an irrational fear. There was absolutely no evidence that the attacks that took place were at the hands of black men. But the fear that lived throughout the town was so prevalent and all-consuming that one man was lynched the day Mae Crow was found, without a trial or any evidence pointing to his involvement in the crime. It’s beyond disgusting but so very evident of the problem with racism in this country. This book is a glaring spotlight on the racism still prevalent in the U.S., and how it’s managed to rear its ugly head time and time again. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I am shaken and angry after finishing but grateful that this story has been told. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince


                She was known as Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone. She wouldn’t become Michaela DePrince until she had lost both of her parents. Her father was shot in the diamond mines by the rebels. Her mother would die from sickness. Mabinty would become known simply as a number by the guardians at the orphanage. When the rebels removed the children from the orphanage everyone would escape to Ghana, where her new mother Elaine would take her and her best friend, also Mabinty, to the United States of America. Her first night with Elaine before they left Ghana she would show her a picture she had found while at the orphanage. It was a cover of Dance Magazine. On the cover was a ballerina elevated on pointe. She wanted to be that dancer.
                It is hard to imagine what life could possibly be like for an orphan child in Africa. Reading Michaela’s account of her young life is extremely emotional and hard to digest. Murder, fear, bodies lying in the street and the rebels’s forces always near. Michaela does a great job recounting her experiences and detailing how much her life changed after being adopted. It’s obvious that throughout each phase of her life in America that she was loved by her adoptive family. This was as much a coming of age story as it was a memoir.

                This was a very quick and lovely read. I loved learning about Michaela’s history and seeing the growth and maturity of such a young woman. She tackled issues of race as a ballerina and how she was perceived while having white parents. She talks about the stress and decisions she had made to become a ballerina. It’s an incredible story and journey. This was an easy one to enjoy. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.