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Jill Meyer (United States)

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Winter Journey
Winter Journey
by Diane Armstrong
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Who killed the Jews of Nowy Kalwaria?, 10 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Winter Journey (Paperback)
Diane Armstrong is an Australian author, who was born in Poland to Jewish parents in 1939. The family went into a sort of internal hiding in Poland by receiving papers that identified them as Polish Catholic. After the war, the family emigrated to Australia and reclaimed their Jewish identity. Diane became an author who has published a few non-fiction, including "Mosaic", which followed her family through five generation. With "Winter Journey", Diane Armstrong moves into writing fiction.

"Winter Journey" is set both in Australia and Poland and seems to be set sometime in the late 1990's/early 2000s. Halina Shore is a forensic dentist in Sydney who had emigrated to Australia from Poland after WW2 with her single mother. While her professional life proceeds fairly smoothly, her personal life has never been settled. Married briefly, she lives alone in a trendy Sydney suburb with her cat, when she's asked to join a team of medical archeologists and religious figures who are coming together in the small Polish town of Nowy Kalwaria to investigate a WW2-time crime. The crime? Someone - the Nazi occupiers or the town's Christian population - brutally rounded up some 1000 Jewish villagers and put them in a barn and then lit the barn on fire. No one - supposedly - had left the barn alive. As the years passed, the townspeople blamed the atrocity on the Germans. Jewish authorities blamed the town's Christian population, who had turned against their Jewish neighbors in a fit of madness. "Nowy Kalwaria" - a fictional place - is modeled after similar horrific real horrific crimes perpetrated in Poland during (and after) the war.

Diane Armstrong's novel is both a telling of a deed - the fiery deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children - and the emotional toll it took on both the perpetrators and their descendants and on survivors from the village, who were lucky to escape the murders. Halina Shore and the crew helps investigate the bodies uncovered from the mass burial and tries to pinpoint who was murdered. Some Poles insist the victims were Jewish "Bolshevics" - men who had cooperated with the Soviets during their occupation of the county, before the Germans arrive. Almost everyone else insists the victims were the villagers.

Diane Armstrong does a good job in relating her story and the characters, both current and past, both alive and dead. Halina Shore uncovers secrets among the town's people, as well as some in her own life. Armstrong's story - so much in the news the past 20 years as more and more Jewish communities are identified as having been leveled by their own Christian neighbors. It's a good novel and may interest the reader in many non-fiction accounts of war-time activities.

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
by Simon Goodman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Search for a lost legacy..., 7 Nov. 2015
I realise I'm a bit late reading and reviewing Simon Goodman's book, "The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis". There's not much I can add to the other favorable reviews.

Seventy or so years ago, Simon's grandparents - both converted Jews to Lutheranism - had their privately-art treasures stolen "legally" from their house in the Netherlands by the Nazis. Fritz and Louise Gutmann - their son changed the name to Goodman - had been collecting art for years and building on the collection inherited from Fritz's father, Eugen. Eugen Gutmann had founded a bank in Dresden that later merged with others to form the Dresdner Bank. The huge bank was "Aryanised" during the Nazi era, but by then Eugen had died. His son Fritz was the family keeper and continued his father's art collecting. Their collection was fairly varied - everything from Rembrandt to a Franz Stuck portrait of a women and a snake in a VERY compromising position! Fritz and Louise had fled from Germany to Holland with their paintings, sculptures, and silver collection. That silver collection - the Eugen Gutmann Silversammlung - and their refusal to give it up after having lost so much else to the Nazis - was the cause of Fritz and Louise's deaths in Nazi concentration camps.

Their son - Bernard - had been able to emigrate to England before the war began. He had been born in England during his parents' stay during the First World war. His sister - Lili - had found relative safety in Italy through her marriages to Italian men. After the war, Bernard began the agonising search for his parents' stolen art pieces. But he was thwarted in his search through governmental stonewalling and for the next 50 years - until his death in the mid-1990's - he found very few pieces. After his death, he "bequeathed" the search to his two sons, Simon and Nick.
They took up where he left off and the book is the story of their search for the pieces of art that had been scattered through the world, both during and after the war. Pieces were bought and sold and in most cases, the buyers didn't look too hard at the provenance of the pieces.

Eventually, through great use of the internet data bases, Simon and Nick were able to track down many pieces of the Gutmann collection. The book also details their use of the law in getting these pieces returned to their rightful owners. (Simon and Nick Goodman were not the only people searching for their family's treasures. He mentions the Maria Altmann/Randol Schoenberg fight for the Gustav Klimpt paintings of Maria's aunt, as detailed in the movie, "Woman in Gold")

Simon Goodman is a very good writer and his account of both his family's history and the fight to regain their lost legacy is wonderful reading. Included in the book are some family pictures, but also pictures of some of the pieces he and his brother fought to save. He credits others in helping them in their search and battles. Very good book.

No More Champagne: Churchill and his Money
No More Champagne: Churchill and his Money
by David Lough
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A highly specialised biography of Winston Churchill..., 5 Nov. 2015
It's difficult for a biographer to find an "in" or a "niche" to write a biography around. Particularly a biography of Winston Churchill, who not only was the subject of many books, but who also wrote numerous autobiographies and memoirs. There's not much left for a new biographer to cover but British author David Lough finds one in his new biography, "No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money". Lough comes at his subject not as an historian, but rather after a long career as a private banker. He has an expertise that shows well in his examination of Churchill's life from a financial point of view.

Winston Churchill was in debt most of his life. But it was a "gentleman's" debt; he owed money to maintain his lifestyle. His parents - American mother and British father - lived beyond their means. His mother, in particular, lived on the edge of financial failing which was the result of her profligate spending. There seemed to be little incentive for any of the Churchills to maintain a budget; borrowed and gifted money was easily obtained. Bills to shops were wrung up with little regard to their ultimate payment or the effect of late payment to the vendor. David Lough's book is filled with detail about Churchill's spending on houses, drink and cigars, and gambling. He gambled in casinos and in the stock market. He also tended to lose more than he won. Periodically, when pressed for money, he would decree a period of budgeting, but the periods never seemed to last for very long or were effective. Churchill cobbled together an income by writing and government service.

But what David Lough doesn't attempt to do is to psych analyse Winston Churchill through his handling of his finances. Most readers of the book are familiar enough with Churchill's "black dog" periods. Was his over-spending a reaction to the reappearances in his life of that "black dog"? Lough rather writes about Churchill's life equating where he was financially, politically, and socially in various points.

I'd say that David Lough's book is not for someone looking for a general biography of Winston Churchill. The book is very heavy with facts and figures as well as dates and places. The last two things are common in a biography but Lough's book is special because he writes with emphasis on the first two. He includes at the beginning of each chapter a handy guide to Exchange rates and Inflation multiples which help the reader understand the worth of the money at the time. Also included is a fine set of illustrations of Churchill and the people important in his life. This is a detailed and well written book.

Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War
Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War
by Michael D. Gordin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb look at the development and use of the atomic bombs..., 4 Nov. 2015
I doubt there are many topics more debated in American - and world - history than the decision to drop the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WW2. In his book, "Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War", author Michael Gordin gives a masterful account of this chapter in our history. I live in Santa Fe and Los Alamos is right up the hill. There's a lot of interest out here on the Bomb and the mechanics of building it and the politics of dropping it. Goldin's book is low key, very well written, which focuses on Tinian Island, as well as the idea that the bomb was initially just one component in an arsenal, to end the war before the proposed Nov 1 invasion of the Home Islands, "Operation Downfall".

Gordin fully explores the notion of the development and dropping of the bombs as yet another weapon in our arsenal to force the Japanese into an "unconditional surrender." The US had done intensive firebombing of the cities of Japan, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. And even after the atomic bombs were dropped, the firebombings continued. (Truman had decreed no more atomic bombs dropped on August 10, 1945, but the fire bombs were still used.) The Japanese government finally surrendered on August 15. The Americans knew no more bombs would be dropped but the Japanese did not. And the truth is that there was a "Third Shot" - another "Fat Man" - being put together in case more bombs were needed.

In discussing the "Third Shot", Michael Gordin takes the reader to Tinian Island, a huge air base for B29s in the Mariana Islands. The island had been seized by the Americans from the Japanese, and the location was perfect in launching B-29 Superfortress bombers to sites in Japan. The island was designated by the American military to house the 509th Composite Group; pilots being trained in bombing runs to Japan to drop the developing Atomic bombs. Both crews - the "Enola Gay" and the "Bockscar" - left and returned to Tinian. Gordin gives an interesting account of how the "Bockscar" mission to drop the second bomb was very badly handled. Nagasaki was the second choice that day; Kokura was the first and after flying over the city a few times in bad weather, the target city was moved to Nagasaki. But beside being the takeoff site for the bombings, Tinian Island was also where the bombs were put together in their final form.

Another interesting point in Michael Gordin's book is the idea of the atomic bombs not being considered the "ultimate weapon" until after they were used. In the US military, the bombs were seen as another destructive tool. The scientists who developed the bombs were actually quite surprised at the amount of radiation and its harmfulness.

Michael Gordin's book is a true treat for the WW2 history buff. He touches on sensational issues in a non-sensational manner. Strongly recommended.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2015 6:25 PM GMT

Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel
Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel
by James B. Donovan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars James Donovan's real story..., 30 Oct. 2015
I'm pretty sure that most of the people reading this review of "Strangers on the Bridge", by the late James Donovan, found their way here after seeing the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks movie, "Bridge of Spies". Hanks starred as the lawyer in the Rudolf Abel spy case and subsequent prisoner exchange in Berlin of Abel for Francis Gary Powers and a graduate student, Frederic Pryor.

While the movie showed some of the Abel capture and then the trial, and finally the appeal to the United States Supreme Court, it really couldn't go into the detail that Donovan does in his 1964 book. Donovan - not to be confused with fellow lawyer and OSS founder, William "Wild Bill" Donovan - gives a steady account of both the trial and the exchange on the Glienike Bridge, which spans the Havel River in Berlin.

"Strangers on a Bridge" isn't particularly exciting book, but it is written with a eye towards giving the truth, rather than the Hollywood version of the case. Certainly Spielberg and the Coen brothers do take artistic license with James Donovan and Rudolf Abel and Francis Gary Powers, but it seems less than many other "based on real life" movies that are made.

James Donovan died in 1970 at the age of 53, of, I think, a heart attack. He left a legacy of government work behind, beginning with an early stint with the OSS, then working on the Nurenburg War trials, continuing with the defense of Soviet spy Rudol Abel, and also helping with an exchange of prisoners in Cuba. He must have been quite a guy.

Beatrice and Benedick
Beatrice and Benedick
by Marina Fiorato
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Follow up to "Much Ado About Nothing"..., 30 Oct. 2015
This review is from: Beatrice and Benedick (Paperback)
One of my favorite movies is Kenneth Branaugh's "Much Ado About Nothing", made in the mid-1990's, in which he and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Emma Thompson starred as Benedict and Beatrice. The movie began with the remeeting of the two, and referred to their previous meeting where things went badly between the two and they formed a dislike of the other. But the viewer could tell that the passion still stirred between the two, and with some "tricks", they got together at the end.

Novelist Marina Fiorto takes those meetings and sometimes using the words Shakespeare wrote and sometimes her own, writes the story of the star crossed lovers in her novel, "Beatrice and Benedict". And in telling the back story of their romance, she also writes of the other characters. She also asks a couple of interesting questions- like why Hero would want Claudio back when he had so brutally rejected her at the altar after believing lies - among others. But the problem with "Beatrice and Benedict" is how can any author presume to amend or add to Shakespeare's writing? It's sort of like the authors who try and to take Jane Austen's beloved characters and "add" to their stories. It simply can't be done well and shouldn't even be attempted. Marina Fiorato gives it a game try in this book, but it lacks Shakespeare's undeniable great writing. While I was interested in the the book, it was a bit like watching an elephant balance on a pin.

The Witches: Salem, 1692
The Witches: Salem, 1692
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We must not believe all that these distracted children say"...,, 30 Oct. 2015
The line in the title of this review was said by Martha Corey, who was hung as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

Many years ago, when I was a child, I read and was utterly fascinated by a book called, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond", by Elizabeth George Speare. It's still in print today, so perhaps more recent generations of impressionable readers have also been "bewitched" by the book. "Blackbird Pond" started me on a lifelong interest in witches. (The book was set, I vaguely remember, in Connecticut but the story seemed to be about the real Salem witch trials.) Now American author Stacy Schiff has published a wonderfully written book of non-fiction about the whole crazy time in Salem town and Salem village when the townspeople saw witches, witches everywhere.

Stacy Schiff takes a very measured approach to the nine or so months in 1692 when young girls and some older women accused other women - and a few men - of witchcraft. The "accusers" ran wild when brought face to face with those they were accusing. The girls threw fits and saw strange apparitions in the presence of the "witches". The authorities - both civil and clerical - tended to believe the claims of the girls, until they became too outlandish. And they were already outlandish; flying sticks, sicknesses, and possessed animals were claimed by the accusers.

What caused what amounted to mass hysteria for those months? Daughers accused mothers; husbands "remembered strange goings-on" by their wives. "Touch tests" were performed on those accused. Eventually, 22 people - both male and female - were executed as witches. Most by hanging, though death-by-pressing was also carried out. (What a charming way to die...)

But what Stacy Schiff does best in her book is to give an overall view of both time and place and the societal pressures that resulted in the accusations of witchcraft.

Stacy Schiff's book on the trial and the aftermath is compulsively readable. In fact, I stayed up much of last night reading the book. (If this review is somewhat incomprehensible, my tiredness is the cause!)
I can heartily recommend "The Witches: Salem, 1692". And now I think I'll go download and read that old childhood fav - "The Witch of Blacbird Pond".

Trouble on the Thames (British Library Thriller Classics)
Trouble on the Thames (British Library Thriller Classics)
by Victor Bridges
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun read..., 23 Oct. 2015
"Trouble on the Thames", by Victor Bridges, is a reissued novel in the British Library Spy Classics series. But the question is, is "Trouble" a "classic"? It is a mystery story set in pre-WW2 times about a career naval officer, Owen Bradwell, who is about to lose his career because he is suddenly stuck down with color blindness. His worth, however, is recognised and he's offered a job with a somewhat sketchy British intelligence department. He's to become a security agent and try to track what a suspected Nazi spy ring is up to in London and out in a suburban area along the Thames.

Victor Bridges has written a spy mystery, with a heavy touch of almost immature romance as Owen Bradwell finds love along with the spy ring. I've read quite a few of British Library Spy Classics in the past few months, and they all seem to have as much "personal" as well as "professional" storylines. I find the combination of romance and action a bit incongruous.

Of course, what is most pleasing about these books is that they were written contemporaneously. We see the people and the times as they were then. In reading these books - and in particular, this one - we know what will happen next, because what happens next is history. Anyway, "Trouble on the Thames" is an enjoyable read despite - or maybe because of - the silly romance.

A Portrait of Two Brothers
A Portrait of Two Brothers
by Barry Moser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.23

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting memoir..., 21 Oct. 2015
Most readers of this review are part of a family unit and have siblings. The relationships between siblings are longer than parent/child relationships; in an average life span, we're there to the end with our brothers and sisters. Our relationships with our sibs is maybe one of the most difficult to write about. We expect unconditional love from our siblings; sometimes we get it, sometimes we don't. Sometimes - even sharing DNA and physical space - we're totally different from our brothers and sisters. This is what author and illustrator Barry Moser discusses in his memoir, "We Were Brothers".

Barry Moser and his older brother, Tom, were the only children of a mother left widowed when Barry was a few months old. She remarried a several years later to a man who adopted the boys in both his heart and mind. He provided for the boys and acted as a real father would. "Daddy", their step-father, was an excellent father, and with their mother, provided the boys with a relatively happy early life. But the boys - Barry and Tom - just never got along. They were very different personalities who seemed to react as oil and water. As they grew older, they grew even further apart as Barry moved north from the Chattanooga he was raised in. Moved away from the casual racism, anti-Semitism, and gun culture. It was only late in life they reconciled and came to a middle ground, realising they loved each other and cherished their relationship.

Barry Moser is unsparing as he describes the two brothers' lives both together and separately. Fighting both verbally and physically were part of growing up together. Tom Moser still subscribed to the racism he grew up with, while Barry was able to leave his upbringing behind. But the curious thing about the racism Barry writes about is that in their world, the white person might love an individual black person for him or herself, while damning the majority of blacks as a whole. Accompanying the text in the memoir are a few drawings of Barry Moser and his family and friends. The drawings are charming and tone down a bit the sometimes-bitter text. But the book is well worth reading to see how two brothers could grow closer as they aged. Maybe there was some forgiving the other's actions but there was also a belated understanding of each other.
A good memoir.

The Last of the President's Men
The Last of the President's Men
by Bob Woodward
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Preserved for posterity..., 13 Oct. 2015
Richard Nixon was thinking towards posterity when he ordered taping machines to be added to the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room and telephones in both rooms. Later, machines were added to other places Nixon used for meetings. The machines were voice-activated and Nixon did not have to decide who or what to record. Everything was recorded - not always so clearly - and most on Nixon's staff were unaware that the machines were there. One of the few who did was Alexander Butterfield, hired on as an assistant to Nixon's close assistant, Bob Haldeman. Butterfield had been in charge of having the system installed.The system remained secret and were only disclosed during the Watergate hearings.

Alexander Butterfield, at age 89, is one of the few Nixon confidants still alive and he worked with author Bob Woodward on Woodward's newest book, "The Last of the President's Men". Using interviews between the two men and an unpublished manuscript of Butterfield's, Woodward gives a fairly straight-forward account of Butterfield's time in the Nixon White House and the devastating consequences when the existence of the tapes were disclosed in the Watergate hearings in July, 1973. For the next year - the tapes and what was on them - was one of the main sources of conversation and speculation from Washington out to the rest of America.

Richard Nixon wasn't the first president to have a taping system in his White House, but the others devices seemed to be the type where the president had to decide to record. Nixon's tapes recorded everything - theoretically, anyway. Nixon wanted to preserve his administration in the history books he was planning to write, and having correct tapes of conversations was necessary. The president seemed to forget about the existence of the recordings, which were full of both "official" discussions, but quite a few "off the record" ones, as well. It was the latter that got Nixon - and his staff - into trouble. Butterfield gives details on the Watergate Hearings, where he was "ground zero" on the tapes. Later, he wondered why he had disclosed the existence of the tapes. But I suppose even if he hadn't, these ultra-secret tapes would somehow have come to light.

Alexander Butterfield's book is both a history of the taping system which ended in the Watergate Hearings, but also gives a pretty good look at Richard Nixon the man. Nixon was capable of petty tyranny...and words of compassion. He was both physically and emotionally awkward. There have been many good biographies of Richard Nixon which sketch his character in much fuller detail than the Butterfield/Woodward book. This book looks at a pretty important - though small in time - portion of Nixon's life. Butterfield is also candid about the others he worked with in the White House, and looks at Nixon's views of those who both surrounded him at work, but also in the wider world. His "Enemies List" was not even a secret at the time. Butterfield's time in the White House covered a very important time in US history and the authors are not shy in giving the ins and out of both foreign and domestic policies. The chapters on the Vietnam war are particularly insightful; "everyone lies" seemed to be an SOP in Nixon's White House.

Curiously, the Butterfield/Woodward book is not particularly long. The text in the e-book is about 160 pages long and the rest is devoted to Documents, Index, and Acknowledgements. "The Last of the President's Men" is a good read for those interested in Watergate and the times. Richard Nixon IS preserved for posterity...

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