So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn

A Stricken Field by Martha Gellhorn
With the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited by German speakers, an area that came to be known as the Sudetenland. A Stricken Field is a novel based on a week Martha Gellhorn spent in Prague in 1938. She had gone as a reporter on an assignment to interview President Benes, but got caught up in the plight of the refugees fleeing the German occupation. No longer citizens of Czechoslovakia, they were being forced to return to German controlled territory where they feared for their lives. While trying to write an objective piece on the effects of the Munich Agreement on the economy, she is confronted all around by the terrible problems of good citizens hiding and being forced to return to the brutal oppression of the Nazis.
She never wrote that news report. Instead she wrote this novel about two refugees Rita and Peter who, for a brief period of time, have found refuge in each other's love. Gellhorn is there too as Mary, an American reporter who observes a great injustice and is powerless to help.
Gellhorn admits she never read the published book until she had to write an Afterword to this 1985 edition. In that Afterword she concludes "I am proud of it. I am glad I wrote it. Novels can't 'accomplish' anything. Novels don't decide the course of history or change it but they can show what history is like for people who have no choice except to live through it or die from it. I remembered for them."
Today as Russia casts greedy eyes on eastern Ukraine and Russian-speaking Ukrainians seek to reunite with their homeland, this novel has a strangely modern relevance. Not that Putin is a new Hitler, but it points out the indifference and powerlessness of world governments to situations like these.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nettie's Trip South by Ann Turner

Nettie's Trip South by Ann Turner

Nettie's Trip South is a large format children's book with pencil illustrations on every page by Ronald Himler. It is based on diary entries of the author's great-grandmother. The book tells the story of 10 year old Nettie (Henrietta) and her sister accompanying their older brother on a trip from Albany New York to Richmond Virginia in the year 1859. Nettie has never seen slavery before and relates her encounters with Virginia slaves in a letter to her friend when she returns. A simple yet profound condemnation of the South's Peculiar Institution.

Feiffer's Children by Jules Feiffer

Feiffer's Children by Jules Feiffer

Feiffer's Children was published in 1986, the year Jules Feiffer won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in The Village Voice. It is a collection of his one page cartoon strips on children and parenting. Each comic strip takes up one page of and includes 6-10 frameless panels of his line-drawn black and white characters. One reviewer wrote that Feiffer writes of "the postwar Age of Anxiety in the big city." Be prepared for page after page of hilarious looks at anxious urban children and parents.
Included is his classic anti-war short graphic story Munro which was made into a film that won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1961. Wikipedia described Munro as "a rebellious little boy who is accidentally drafted into the United States Army. No matter which adult he tells "I'm only four", they all fail to notice his age."
The book ends with "Movie-Child: An Afterword" which is a three page autobiographical sketch on Feiffer's growing up in a poor Jewish family in the Bronx. He talks about how his only escape from the dark, dingy and dangerous world around him was the movie house three blocks from his home. His heroes were Shirley Temple, Douglas Fairbanks, Henry Fonda, James Cagney, John Garfield, and Mickey Rooney.