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.