Well hello there! I’m so glad to be back with another blog post! My past week has been full with finishing school off for the year. I’m so close to being done, and I’m super excited to have my Junior year done and dusted! 😀 I thought that this week I would share some reviews of a few books that I read recently for school. (It’s sort of a spin on this blog post I did back in February.) In history I’ve been studying a lot about the wars of the 20th century – starting with WWI and going right on up to the War on Terrorism. I’ve found it fascinating, and I’ve read some very interesting books that correspond to this time period. So here are my reviews of three of the books I’ve read recently – I hope you enjoy! 🙂
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
When you are nine, things happening in the outside world shouldn’t bother you, right? Yes, grownups fret and worry, but you are a child, so you don’t. That is how it should be. But that is not how it was for nine year old Anna, in 1933. All of a sudden, that strange grownup world of worry and fear tore into her safe childhood bubble. There was a strange name on everyone’s lips – Hitler, and there were far too many secrets and whispered conversations. Anna’s world as she had known it for her whole life began to fall apart at the seams, and with one train ride, it fell apart, never to be the same again.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is actually quite an interesting book. Most books about WWII focus in on the action – the fighting, the spying, the concentration camps, the Jews. But not this one. This story never goes into fighting territory, it never visits the concentration camps. Instead, it moves away from the conflict, focusing instead on the upheaval in Anna’s personal life. It zooms in on the tension surrounding one family’s heritage, and follows them as they move from country to country, in search of safe refuge from Hitler’s wide and wild reach. I think this is a pretty unique approach to WWII, I can’t remember having read anything that is like it before. I enjoyed the story – is well written and I felt like I connected well with Anna, the main character.
However, this book didn’t make a huge impression on me – looking back on it a few weeks after reading it, I only remember it as a story of a girl and her family trying to find home in a war-torn continent. But the clincher is that they never encounter the war on a face to face level, they always seem to be one or two steps ahead of it. I’m pretty familiar with the history of WWII, and so this book didn’t teach me much I didn’t already know in that area. There is also the slight issue in that I am rather above the projected audience of this book, so I suspect I found it unremarkable because I’m older and have had quite a bit of experience in reading about WWII. But if you are looking to find a good introduction to the impact that WWII had on normal citizens of Europe, then this book will be a good one for you. The story is sweet, and I really appreciated the emphasis on the importance of a strong family unit. I’m giving this book 6* out of 10 and recommending it for ages 11+.
Year of Impossible Goodbyes – Sook Nyul Choi
When your world is falling apart and your freedom is stripped away, how do you go on living? This is the question that 10-year-old Sookan is faced with daily. Her beloved homeland of Korea has been invaded by the Japanese, and she is forced to adapt to a new, harsh life. Dignity has been torn from the Korean peoples’ grasp, leaving nothing but hard labour and a thin shred of hope remaining. Sookan’s family struggles to survive every day, with Japanese soldiers, labour camps and starvation lurking around every corner. Then, for a short time, hope seems to be reborn, with the invasion of Russia. But then it too is cruelly crushed to pieces, as the Russians prove to be no better than the Japanese, with their strictly enforced Communist rules. Liberty and hope lies trampled in the dust, and Sookan must cling to her family like she has never before.
I found The Year of Impossible Goodbyes a very captivating read. Before this year, I knew next to nothing about the Korean war and the occupation of the Japanese and Russians. This book was definitely an eye opener, giving a vivid picture into Korea’s tragic past. I appreciated how this book focused on the strong unit of the family, as well as the theme of never giving up hope even when all seems lost. However, the strong emphasis on Buddhist religion and the Catholic faith did dampen this read for me. As a protestant Christian, seeing my faith being mixed up with other religions just doesn’t sit very well with me! It’s sad seeing how the people in such hopeless situations were trying to find hope in a religion that could not give them what they desired. I just wanted to reach into the story and share the true hope of the gospel with them! I also feel that I did not connect as well as I could have with the story, given my age. I think this book was probably written with younger readers in mind, so as a 17 year old I found it a bit beneath my reading level. But overall I did enjoy this book. I learnt a lot about a time in history I knew hardly anything about, and the underlying themes in the story were encouraging. I’m giving this book 6* out of 10 and recommending it for ages 12+
The Wave – Todd Strasser
It is easy to look back over the course of history and point out all the things that went wrong while saying ‘man I can’t believe they did that. We would never do that these days’. From our lofty, technology-savvy positions in the 21st century, it is easy to point the accusing finger at ages past, while deftly shielding ourselves from any criticism. But this shifting of the blame and certainty of our innocence is not all it may look. The desire to be one of the crowd, the desire to blend in and not draw any undue attention to yourselves – that desire is one that has been true for all of history. That desire is what led the Germans to turn a blind eye to the atrocities that the Nazi party committed during WWII. And if we aren’t careful, that desire could lead us 21st century ‘confident in our innocence’ people down the exact same row. It is far easier to influence a people to blind obedience than you think. Are you still sceptical? Well The Wave might just convince you.
The Wave is a sobering and fascinating true life account of a classroom experiment that went wrong. It all started in a high school history classroom in Palo Alto, California, in 1969. The students were struggling to see how something as evil as Nazism could’ve been condoned by the German citizens. Mr Ross, the teacher, decided to try an experiment out that he hoped would teach the students a lesson. Uniting his students under the motto “Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action” Mr Ross led his students on a journey they would never forget.
This book is scary. It paints a picture that you hope you would never actually see in a western, civilized country. It tells a story that jolts you awake from whatever dream of idealism you might be in. Because, no matter how much we protest, the reality is there – we are far too easily led astray. It is very easy for ideologies to come creeping into our belief systems, and before we know it, we are on a path we never dreamed we could be on. This book is a wake-up call to all who think that ‘it could never happen now’. It could, and it does. I’m giving this book a very solid 9* out of 10 and recommending it for ages 13+
That’s all for this week! Have you been reading any interesting historical books recently? I’d love to hear about them – tell me in the comments below! 🙂