Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book reviews (again)

I have a few book reviews to do. Here we go!

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Oh, how I love the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers series. I've found so many incredible books thanks to it.

The Help is one of these books. Set in Mississippi in 1962-1964, it tells the stories of three women, two of them black, one of them white. Aibileen and Minny are both maids working in the homes of Skeeter's friends homes. Skeeter has just returned from graduating from university and is trying to find something to write that is worth her time.

The three write and publish an anonymous book about the lives of maids working in white women's houses. As they are writing, you see the lives that they are living and the trials and burdens they bear.

It is a great portrait of this troubled time in history, right on the cusp of so many cultural changes. I had never thought of how close the civil rights era was to the hippie culture, and how they influenced one another to help shape our modern world. One one side of the country you have free love and peace rallies, while the other has lynchings and initiatives against people of difference races sharing toilets. It's no wonder they happened all at once; good old boy's filled with racial intolerance and bigotry came against revolutionaries unafraid to speak out and the whole country boiled over. It must have been both a terrifying and exhilarating time to live.

I had read several reviews of this book on other blogs, so I was curious. It's been a few weeks since I finished, but I still remember that this book made me feel happy. It is told through the use of letters going back and forth to different characters, telling the story of Guernsey Island. During WWII, Guernsey island was taken over by the Germans. The people were kept from any outside news or contact. A group of friends invent a book club one night to foil a German soldier who catches a few of them out after curfew. Thus the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is created.

Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London who starts to correspond with the members of the Society. She is drawn into their world and the life that they lived during the war.

I like how this book was written. It tells a little-known tale of the people on Guernsey Island, giving them a voice and a record of their experiences during the war. I think it was a clever way of telling their story. It is one of the better WWII stories I have read, because I like knowing the human side of the war and how individuals and families were affected during this time. I'm not much for distinguishing between battle or victories or losses; I think everyone eventually loses from a war, despite who is the victor.

I finished this book a while ago, but I still wanted to review it. It is another WWII story, set in the western edge of Poland at the very end of the war. It tells the story of a family trying to outrun the Russian army, which is advancing on Germany from the east. The family hopes to make it to the American and British forces where they will surrender and hopefully be saved from the brutality that has preceded the Russian Army.

I think that the author tried to find as many horrific stories from the war as he could find. The tales of the Russian Army and what they did to civilians is horrific. It made me incredibly glad that the Russians were on our side, not the Germans. Had they not been, I doubt we would have won the war, and our world would be incredibly different. What a blessing, whatever our relationship would be with them 10 years later.

I thought that this book was good despite the horrible stories. As I said about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society: I like war stories that show the toll the war had on human and civilian life. This book illustrates the deprivation that families went through. It shows that not all the Germans were hateful to Jews. But it shows the cruelty that the war brought out in both men and women on both sides of the war. I wouldn't say this was one of the best books I've read, but I enjoyed it.

Still Alice

Still Alice tells is about a woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. It was a fascinating read, and incredibly personal for me. It made me wish I had been closer to my dad in those early days, before he was diagnosed. I remember right before I had Ben that my dad was not okay. He was withdrawn, quieter than normal, and seemed to fade right before our eyes. We didn't know what was wrong back then, and wouldn't for 9 months when he would finally be diagnosed. I wonder if he experienced some of the events that befall Alice in the book.
I cried through a lot of the book. It has a lot of human moments that show the person behind the label of Alzheimer's. That they still want and deserve love. That we should give them every bit of ourselves that we can before they fade. That their erratic behavior can come from their frustration with their world changing from something they understand to something foreign.

I just hope, like one of the daughters in the book, that my dad can still understand that even though he doesn't know who I am, I am someone who loves him. He doesn't have to know my name, because I know it for him. Just that he knows I love him is enough.


Apryl said...

Dammit Becky, how can you write such a good book review that it makes me cry! Off to fill my library queue...