Wednesday 30 December 2009

auf Wiedersehen: Review

auf Wiedersehen
By Christa Holder Ocker
Published by Plain View Press
Published in 2009
ISBN: 978-1-935514-27-5

This book was sent to me by a publicist for review. I was not paid for this review.

Lately, I've been having something of a World War II binge. I watched Band of Brothers from start to finish while concurrently being enthralled by the National Geographic documentary Apocalypse: World War Two. Then auf Wiedersehen landed on my doorstep. It was, as it turns out, the perfect complement to my self education in the horror of previous generations. Not only is it a memoir, it is a memoir of a young German girl and the impact that the war had on her and her family, a vice we don't often hear from. The story picks up in the final scenes of World War Two - the Russians are closing in from the East, the Americans and the British approaching from the West. Hitler's Germany is disintegrating and as a result, her people are suffering. 

Some 50 million people died as a result of this war: soldiers blown up in trenches; civilians bombed in their homes; Jews, Gyspies and homosexuals persecuted and tortured for not fitting the ideals of a madman, and more. It's just too colossal a figure to give any serious emotional or intellectual consideration to. The horror is too much, the body count too high. No words can stretch far enough to do it justice. Which is where this book excels: it doesn't try to. It quietly tells the story of one girl and that's all. Occasionally there are facts about recognizable events from the war in the narrative: the bombing of Dresden, the liberation of the Treblinka concentration camp, the bombing of Hiroshima, but overall the narrative focuses firmly on the domestic and the interior. Something we can all relate to and process.

Belgian refugees ca. 1940, OWI photo from NA
Image credit: Here

Forced from their comfortable home, Christa and her family are made refugees. They are homeless and at the mercy of those around them. Their mother's Prussian pride takes a beating, their stomachs are left empty and they endure the heartbreak of having to constantly say auf Wiedersehen to those they hold dear. Yet, through it all, their spirit triumphs - particularly Christa's. Her effervescent personality and headlong enthusiasm for life beams out from the pages as she falls in 'love' with one boy after the next, puts on puppet shows with new-found friends and prays fervently to God to get her out of attending school. 

This book is a quick, yet satisfying read. I read it all on the evening that I received it and enjoyed every last page. If there were anything to criticize about this book, however, it would have to be its length. I got to the final pages and wanted to know more - it seemed that there could be so much more said and explored. What happened next? How did they cope with the next set of new circumstances? At 142 pages, there was certainly room for more story. Having said that, the 142 pages that we do get are very good. Holder Ocker writes beautifully and the character of her younger self is engaging and loveable. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in WWII, loves memoirs or simply enjoys a good, well-written yarn from teenaged readers through to adults. You won't be disappointed. 

Wednesday 23 December 2009

A non-literary post

It's a funny thing that the end of the year does to us all. All of a sudden there is this mad impulse to try and condense it, make a 'best of' list out of it, make some sense of another year that has, by all accounts, rocketed by while we were standing agog wondering how time got to moving by so fast.

So here we are again: December 2009, not only the end of the year but the end of another decade - the so-called "Noughties". Lord knows what we're supposed to call the next one, but I guess we have time to figure that out. This decade was a particularly significant one for me as it saw me moving from being a teenager to an adult. Ten years ago I had just finished my sixth form year at high school in New Zealand, I wanted to be a doctor and I had a huge crush on some guy in my Chemistry class. Ten years later, I've just gotten married (not to the guy in my Chemistry class!), moved countries and embarked on the career I've come to realise is my true passion: books and everything to do with them. It's a cliche, I know, but it really is amazing how much difference 10 years can make but also how quickly it passes us by.

In any case, what I really wanted to say was I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year. Look forward to seeing you back here in 2010!

Sunday 20 December 2009

Musical Chairs: Review

Musical Chairs
By Jen Knox
Published by All Things That Matter Press
Published in 2009
ISBN: 978-098425942-7

This book was sent to me by the author for review. I was not paid for this review.

Musical Chairs is an honest look at the struggle of a young girl to find her place in the world whilst battling against mental illness and addiction. Jen opens up her past and her world for the reader to see and although what we might see is not always pretty, it is definitely compelling. The narrative floats between novel and memoir, weaving the thread of fact and life into a wonderfully readable story.

The story starts when Jen is 15 years old, but as we come to understand the story has actually started a long time before she was even born as the character of Glory, her Great-Grandmother is revealed through stories her grandmother tells her as she obsessively looks for answers that no-one seems to be able to provide. As soon as she runs away from home, it seems that Jen is always running - but from what doesn't become clear to her for many years. She isn't silly and knows what she needs to do to succeed in life, but frustratingly it's life that seems to keep throwing stumbling blocks in her path. Many times when I was reading this I found myself thinking that this could so easily have happened to many people. The toxic combination of circumstance, lack of institutional knowledge about more pervasive minor mental illnesses and some ill-advised choices of a young woman unsure of herself and in the company of those who would seek to exploit her lead to some heart-breaking situations.

What I really liked about this book was the way the story was told. It is simply put onto the pages for the reader to absorb, enjoy and take from it what they will. When reading a story like this, all too often the reader finds themselves being beaten over the head by some kind of message - listen up, reader! It's terribly important that you get this key point from this book! - but even though there is a thought-provoking conclusion to this story it's not expounded upon ad nauseam.

It is impossible for the reader to not get caught up in this story. It's is well-written, absorbing and best of all, real. Not just in the "this actually happened" way but real in the way that you could be sitting across the kitchen table from Jen, sipping a cup of tea whilst she tells you about her life. A great read.

Image credit: All things that matter press

Sunday 13 December 2009

Christmas Wishlists

Image credit: Here

Having looked at Books on the Nightstand's awesome Christmas gift list last night I decided I would post my top five wishlist books and ask you all to do the same. It's just a bit of fun and in no way designed to be taken as a hint for any friends or family who may be reading this!

5. The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan
4. The possibility of everything by Hope Edelman
3. The sweetness at the bottom of the pie by Alan Bradley
2. The year of the flood: A novel by Margaret Atwood
1. White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

How about you guys? Which books are the top of your wishlist? Have you read any of the ones I want?

Look forward to hearing from you!

Friday 11 December 2009

Best Blog Awards

This cool award button is from: Tales from our crib

So December has hit like a freight train and I've been completely snowed under by a sudden onslaught of things to do! As if Christmas wasn't enough I have also recently taken on an editing project which I'm really excited about but it's taking up a lot of time and mental energy. Hence the severe lack of posting lately. But! I was revitalised, honoured and oh so chuffed when I saw that Caroline from Caroline By Line had awarded me a Best Blog award! Talk about a shot of encouragement right when you needed it! The timing couldn't have been better and has gotten me back on the laptop tapping away. 

So, to pass on the love that Caroline has shared with me, I want to post my Best Blog Awards. 

The recipients are:
1. Greg at The New Dork Review of Books
2. Brizmus at Brizmus Blogs Books
3. Amanda at The Zen Leaf
4. Alessandra at Out of Blue
5. Helen at Helen Loves Books

Winners, please select five further winners and so the chain of love can continue!!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Giveaway Winner

Image credit: Here
And the winner is.... *drumroll*


Congratulations! You're my first ever prize winner.

I have sent you an email, Alessandra - you have 48 hours to get back to me with your postal address.

Note: I used the awesome Contest Winner Picker to find my winner. Check it out!