Tag Archives: World War Two

Maria Duenas – The Time in Between (2011)

TheTimeinBetweenThis book falls somewhere in between for me. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t dying to pick up and read it either. It wasn’t compelling for me, although some will probably disagree.

The Time in Between follows, Sira a quaint Spanish dressmaker who gets caught up, first with a conman, and then in the word of high espionage, in the years leading up to the Second World War. Sira travels from Madrid, to Spanish Morocco, to Lisbon, and then back again all while never sure of whom she is. Throughout the novel Sira struggles with her own identity, first as a shy seamstress working with her mother in a workshop, then as “fallen women” considered to be a criminal, working a dressmaker to pay off the debts incurred by her conman lover. She amasses some important clientele and fashions herself as a high class courtier catering to the wives of important government officials when the English secret service decides to make use of her talents and insider connections.

Duenas paints beautiful scenes of Spanish Morocco and Tangiers during the 1930s, but I’m afraid that something has been lost in translation. Because the book is originally written in Spanish, I fear that some of it’s magic may have been lost in the English version. Translating a book is a difficult thing to accomplish, and something that it is almost impossible to perfect. Still the book moves at a good pace and was a pleasant read, although not a terribly thrilling one.

I did not realize the book was based on real characters until reading the authors note at the end. It changed the book for me a bit and I wish I had done a bit more research before reading. I still might go back and read it again if I have the time.

Daniel James Brown – The Boys in the Boat (2013)

TheBoysintheBoat

This book was written to be made into a movie. It has all the ingredients; An inspirational plot about the power of drive and perseverance, the backdrops of depression-era America and then 1936 Berlin, and a cast of characters including yuppie Ivey Leaguers, a down on his luck all-American boy just trying to put himself through school, and Nazis.

While overall the book is about the “Boys in the Boat;” the Washington rowers who won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Brown spends most of his time talking about Joe Rantz. I think that Rantz was the main person Brown interviewed so it makes sense. Also Rantz did not have an easy life, and the chapters dealing with his upbringing and personal life are heartbreaking.

The main focus of the book is the journey of the American athletes, but the snapshots paragraphs that Brown writes about Berlin on the eve of WWII are one of the more fascinating parts of the book. Brown details the processes undertaken to clear Berlin of any signs of anti-Semitism in anticipation of foreign guests arriving. In one of his more poignant vignettes, Brown describes a series of scenes of Jewish families going about their daily lives only to conclude with the fact that after the Olympics ended, many were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. He writes extensively about Leni Riefenstahl, the woman responsible for directing The Triumph of the Will, a Nazi propaganda film. Even though she only played a minor role in this story, she is a fascinating character and I was intrigued wanting to find out more.

Furthermore Brown is just such a fantastic writer. He uses such lush language and paints the most vivid scenes. The epilogue, where he traces the lives of the “Boys in the Boat” following the Olympics had me close to tears. He is a passionate storyteller and it shows. Just to give a sample he writes,

“All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

If that quote doesn’t make you want to watch rowing I’m not really sure what will.

Suzanne Anderson – Mrs. Tuesday’s Departure

MrsTuesday

Described as a heart-wrenching historical drama, this book was a huge let down. Although, I couldn’t be too disappointed as the book was free on my Kindle. The story is interesting enough, telling the tale of three different sisters as they attempt to get out of Hungary and escape from the Nazis, but the execution of it was lackluster. The book tried to focus on purely character development, and even with this the author fell short. The characters are incredibly one-dimensional and there is no complexity, even in the one sister who has supposedly “lost her mind.” The historical backdrop does not even play a part in the story other than the fact that the family must escape from the Nazi’s. There is so much great fiction that takes place during the Second World War, and this book fell short.

I don’t have much else to say except that I won’t waste my time with free e-books anymore. Maybe this is a good book for those looking for a very quick and easy to read historical fiction book (which I’ll be the first to admit is hard to come by,) but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone.

Rating: 2/5

Ken Follett – Fall of Giants and Winter of the World (2010, 2012)

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There is no doubt that Ken Follett is a master of the sweeping historical narrative. His previous projects, Pillars of the Earth, and World Without End, follow the lives of families and their descendants through the building of a Cathedral in the 12th century. As this period of history is not one of my favourites, I had a hard time with these books. His new trilogy, however, I find quite interesting and fun to read.

Keeping with his style of following families through history, Follett, in Fall of Giants, follows five families through the events of the First World War. The story moves chronologically jumping around from the five different families he introduces at the start, The Dewar’s from the United States, the Fitzherbert’s who are members of the English aristocracy, the Williams’, a Welsh mining family, the Von Ulrich’s who are German aristocracts, and the Peshkov’s, a pair of Russian brothers. Follett follows these families as their paths cross through the events of the First World War, and continues to tell their stories in Winter of the World, which takes place in the years between 1920-1945. Is third book plans to follows these families through the events of the Cold War.

Through Fall of Giants, Follett captures perfectly the romanticism and tragedy of the First World War. The relationship between the English Earl Fitherbert and the German Walter Von Ulrich, is especially poignant as the two go from friends and schoolmates to fighting on opposing sides of the war. The aristocracy in Europe often had connections to one another, and many of those ties were severed during the First World War when loyalty to one’s country had to take the place of loyalty to one’s class.

Winter of the World, was a bit of a let down for me, and maybe just because Follett tried to do too much. In the second instalment of this trilogy Follett tries to detail the events of the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, The Spanish Civil War, and the Second World War. He stretches himself a bit too thin and some of the plot lines seems forced.

I have one more gripe with Follett and that is his portrayal of female characters. While the female characters in these books are strong women, they often seem one-dimensional and lack depth. The characters of Maud and Ethel, while both being fiercely independent, tend to still fall into stereotyped stock characters. Maud is a woman trapped by her class, while Ethel is a servant in the Great House and falls into trouble. It’s a minor fault of his, and I may be the only one to feel this way.

These books both provide an enjoyable trip through history and I am looking forward to the third installment.

Rating: 3/5