Archive for the ‘War’ Category


Her Mother’s Champion

Review of Hiding Places:A Mother, A daughter, an uncovered life; Diane Wyshogrod; Excelsior Editions 2012; pp 298

– Shana Susan Ninan

All of us have memories, people and feelings we’ve hidden away in the dark and deep recesses of our minds. The kind that we don’t allow to surface, to occupy spaces in our daily lives. But sometimes, just sometimes, we allow our loved ones to gain access to them, and at other times, we open to them, on self-will or by persuasion.

Dina’s Hiding Places is one such attempt, I’d say – she is her mother’s champion in unraveling a part of her mother’s youthful days, peeling off layers of years. As painful as it is, Dina gets her mother to speak about her years during the Nazi Occupation of Poland, specifically the 16 long months she’d spent in a 4ft by 6ft cellar. Although her mother at first disagrees with sharing her disturbing past with the world, Dina successfully convinces her mother to do so. But, as the author goes deeper into the processing of taking down the notes directly from her mother, both are overwhelmed at times, by the sheer expanse of what her mother went through.

In the middle of the book is a beautiful session on how Dina’s mother, Lutka and others who’ve suffered under the Nazi regime “revisit” Zolkiew, their hometown. The narration covers several pages, and Is skillfully crafted to reflect the emotions that the group experiences as they travel through a city that was once theirs.

Now, riding through the night, I feel myself trying to absorb Israel into my skin, through all my senses…. I feel my identity – even my age – shifting. I am Lutka’s daughter, the granddaughter of Josef Rosenberg, the town pharmacist. I suddenly feel like a precocious youngster being taken on an adult outing. I almost forgot that I am already in the middle of my own life, a professional, a wife, a mother with school-age children.

A psychologist’s perspective and scientific background comes through, in some parts of the book, though not over powering that the smooth flow of a non-fiction novel is affected by it. Dina’s words are poignant, with deep meanings and attributes. Very few people who have lived through trauma can write about it with this kind of detachment, at the same time not leaving out the intensity of the situations. Readers will feel like they are in the midst of a dinner time conversation, or stuck in the tiny cellar, or travelling in the bus with Dina, her mother and others… they are so many more examples to elucidate that. The vivid and varied photographs only enhance the read.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (9 votes cast)

St Thomas’s Spy Hunter

Review of Spy Island; Sophie Schiller; pp 327

– Shana Susan Ninan

With a story that spans Panama and the Danish colony island St Thomas in the Caribbean, a smattering of local West Indian characters, and most of all an inquisitive spy-hunting 16-year-old, Sophie Schiller’s Spy Island is a promising read.

Abby Maduro’s life takes a turn when her parents die in an accident, and is forced to leave home and find shelter with her only relative – Aunt Esther, a rather boring and eccentric person, given to her own fancies. Abby’s only true friend is Nana Jane, the coloured housekeeper and nanny since her father’s childhood. Nana Jane is sweet and compassionate and always full of comforting words and verses from the Bible. Her island Creole is interesting, the culture and lifestyle of the island coming through well through them.

The girl bumps into a U-boat deserter in a Synagogue, goes ahead in believing his lost-at-sea story, and decides to help him by putting him up in Aunt Esther’s basement. Aunt Esther on her part hates company of any sort, let alone a man in the house! Abby’s life then is filled with exciting events, with her in the middle of them all.

A German officer she met on her journey to the island still haunts her. He’s the German Consul at St Thomas, and the unofficial head of a spy ring. He hopes to rope in Erich the war deserter and make him scapegoat for untoward incidents that happen on Transfer Day. More than half the island’s population is against the transfer of the islands to America. But the Great War makes things difficult for everyone. The ending is beautifully written, sort of an anti-climax to a romance novel. I loved it.

The conversations are very genuine, and Schiller’s words makes it almost real for us, as though we hear them as they are spoken, between the characters in the book. The story is quite a plausible one, too, as the author mentions in a note at the end.

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Rating: 7.8/10 (4 votes cast)

Live By The Sword, Do You? Be Ready to Die By It, Too

Review of It Can’t Be You.. – A Spiral of Vengeance; Prem Rao; Cedar Books 2010; Rs 175; pp 188

– Shana Susan Ninan

Gripping. That’s what Prem Rao’s debut novel is. He calls it a psychological thriller. I’m gonna call it a psychological crime thriller – the murder of Colonel Beliiapa (Retd) is at the centre of the novel. In fact, the first line of the novel states that. The name of the novel, too, It Can’t Be You.. is well chosen and explained in the initial few pages. The author balances the crime and psychological parts beautifully.

The novel is set in the hilly district of Coorg, in south Karnataka, and is told in first person narrative by four people in the Colonel’s family, including the Colonel himself. His son, daughter and second wife all have their own reasons to have the Colonel dead. But, finally, his death comes as a mystery to all of them. And, more so for the readers!

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Rating: 8.9/10 (20 votes cast)

Will To Win

Review of Flight To Victory; Richard Hough; Dutton Juvenile; 1st edition April 30, 1985; Hardcover: 170 pages

– Shana Susan Ninan

Going through stacks of old books at a sale, I came across this book that said “Just for boys”. Richard Hough’s Flight To Victory can be read by both the genders, I found. And what a captivating book this is. Belonging to the young adult category, this book has Will (William Thompson) as the protagonist and narrator.

Hough’s stint at the Royal Air Force comes through in Will’s life at the Royal Flying Corps, which he joins at the tender age of 16.

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Rating: 6.7/10 (14 votes cast)

Pride Before A Fall

Review of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone; Rajiv Chandrasekaran; Alfred A. Knopf; pp 320

– Susan Thomas

I watched Matt Damon’s The Green Zone which then propelled me to read this remarkable book, whose certain parts were incorporated in the movie.

Obviously far more detailed and extensive than the movie, Imperial Life is an in-depth account of the American occupation of Iraq. The hubris, the miscalculated moves and complete lack of cultural understanding led to the chaos in one of the world’s oldest civilisations.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (3 votes cast)