Monday, March 31, 2008

An Unconventional Memoir of a Life in CanLit

(Cross-posted at Kate's Book Blog)

Dr. Delicious: Memoirs of a Life in CanLit is, as its subtitle indicates, a memoir of Robert Lecker’s life as a professor, critic, and publisher of Canadian literature. But who is this Dr. Delicious character? In the introduction, Lecker explains that after a student told him that his surname means “delicious” in German he began to reconceive himself:

The idea of being Dr. Delicious instead of plain old Professor Lecker made me think about the kind of writing I would have done if I was really the tasty version of myself. Professor Lecker would be reluctant to tell stories about his own life. He would resist the temptation to make his life in Canadian literature personal. He would not gossip. He would write scholarly articles and books that no one would read. But Dr. Delicious would lead a completely different life. He would delight in his classroom experiences. He would take liberties with his life story. He would talk about the ups and downs of being a Canadian publisher. He would bring in music, painting, hypochondria, malt whisky, deranged students, government grants, questionable authors, bank debt, termite infestations, a teaching stint in Brazil, lawsuits, the pleasures of hot sauce. He would write about his passions, his failures, how the whole business of CanLit drove him crazy, lost him sleep, drove him on.

I can appreciate how the idea of Dr. Delicious helped Lecker to abandon academic convention in embarking on this book, but in the early going I found the Dr. Delicious persona off-putting. To me it smacked a bit of an aging professor trying too hard to be cool. (No doubt my sensitivity to this stems from my own fears of venturing into that territory as a professor just past forty and no longer as conversant with my students’ pop culture references as I once was.) It was only when Lecker shucked off the Dr. Delicious veneer to describe the unabashed passion for the study of literature that he developed in graduate school that I was hooked by the narrative. The jaded academic is a familiar figure in the public imagination, and Lecker does go on to catalogue many of the frustrations of academic life with great insight and humour. But the passionate scholar is all too rarely represented, and it was a great pleasure to encounter one here.

Ultimately it is not a sharply drawn Jeckyll & Hyde conflict between what Lecker refers to as his “multiple book personalities” that makes this book so interesting, but rather their mostly peaceful co-existence. That Lecker is deeply suspicious of the CanLit canon in his critical work, yet contributes to its formation in what he chooses to teach in his professorial guise and what he chooses to publish as co-founder and long-time partner of Canadian small press ECW. That he is a champion of Canadian fiction and poetry, yet opts to devote a substantial amount of time and energy to the publication of dubious non-fiction titles (a low-carb cookbook, a glossy biography of Jennifer Lopez, WrestleCrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling) to keep his press afloat. These are, of course, the realities not just of Lecker’s professional life but of academic life and small press publishing more broadly. And thus Dr. Delicious is a very satisfying read for anyone who is interested in the pleasures and frustrations of academic life, of small press publishing, or in the formation of and challenges to the CanLit canon. It was a bulls-eye on all three counts for me. Indeed, I was sufficiently intrigued by the snippets about the CanLit canon to buy a copy of Lecker’s previous book which is wholly devoted to the subject, Making it Real: The Canonization of English-Canadian Literature.

So, although I was not so keen on Dr. Delicious the persona, I highly recommend Dr. Delicious the book.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nickled and Dimed

By Kim L. Cross-posted at BoldBlueAdventure

Author: Barbara Ehrenreich
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation by Eva, In Their Shoes Reading Challenge

Poverty, especially in relation to Welfare is an uncomfortable topic. Get two people with different viewpoints going on the subject, and your carefully planned dinner party could quickly end in disaster.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who in normal life spends her time as a writer, decided to spend 3 months as a blue-collar worker to see what it was like to live on the wages offered by the likes of Walmart and other low-paying jobs of similar ilk.

The result is a fascinating first-hand account of the struggle to make ends meet on meager wages. Ehrenreich started as a waitress in Key West, then a maid and dishwasher in Maine, and finally as a Walmart employee in Minnesota.

She reports in the introduction that "The first thing I discovered is that no job, no matter how lowly, is truly "unskilled". Every one of the six jobs I entered into in the course of this project required concentration, and most demanded that I master new terms, new tools, and new skills."

Ehrenreich reports on the exhaustion of standing on her feet for 8 or more hours in a row, the humiliation of mandatory drug tests, having her first paycheck held (as is the custom in many low-paying jobs), the managers who spend all their time looking over everyone's shoulder to yell at the smallest mistake, the seedy rent by the week motels she stayed at, and the complete and utter inadequacy of $7 an hour to pay for all of the lodging, food, clothing, and payphone expenses.

Read the rest

Friday, March 28, 2008

Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Earlier this week I finished Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I seem to be on an unplanned (or semi-planned) Stalin-related reading-spree these days, with some more books on this theme on my TBR-pile and my current reading Tali, The Miracle of Chegem, also set in the Stalin-era.

Young Stalin is a biography of Josef Stalin from his birth in 1878 till the October Revolution in 1917. It covers his youth in the Caucasus republic of Georgia (at that time part of the Russian Empire) and his failed studies at the seminary in Tbilisi. Believe it or not, one of the greatest dictators of the twentieth century was on his way to become a priest when he got distracted by revolutionary activism and politics. The book goes on to describe Stalin's road towards becoming one of the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 besides Lenin and Trotsky. This is a history of violence, womanizing, fathering children out of wedlock, exile in far-away corners of Siberia and revolutionary activism. A very readable history, that is.

Parts of the book almost read as an action novel. One the one hand, this is a plus, but on the other hand I found it annoying at times, especially in the earlier parts of the book. After reading the Prologue (there's an excerpt here) - which describes a bank robbery complete with bombs, dead and wounded in Tbilisi in 1907 that caused headlines worldwide - for a little bit I was even unsure whether I wanted to continue. My main problem was with some of the words used to describe people and events. I'll give you one example. Three young women were members of Stalin's revolutionary group (or criminal gang) in the early 1900s. They participated in the bank robbery as well and are mentioned a couple of times in the earlier parts of the book. Apparently, these girls knew how to shoot, they could handle guns. Every time they were mentioned, some adjective reminding us of their shooting-skills was used to describe them: the "shooting", "gunwhielding" girls, you get the drift. I don't think they were ever mentioned without some such adjective. There was also lots of "swashbuckling" going on in the book. At times it almost felt as if the author was glorifying the "bandits", "gunslingers", etc. This eventually started to get on my nerves, but I decided to just ignore it. In the end, after finishing the book, I even realized that despite this somewhat annoying use of language, I found the first part of the book set in Tbilisi and Baku, the most interesting.

Other than that, the book is, as I said, extremely readable. Sebag Montefiore obviously did extensive research in Russian and especially in Georgian archives, using many memoirs and documents that had never before been used to document Stalin's life. I think that this is exactly where the strength of the biography lies and what makes the book an addition to existing literature about Stalin - the extensive use of newly discovered sources. Sebag Montefiore depicts Stalin convincingly as a self-obsessed man, prone to the use of violence from his early years on, increasingly paranoid. He shows clearly how events from Stalin's earlier years influenced his way of leadership of the Soviet-Union in later years and especially the Great Terror he unleashed in the 1930s. Which is not to say that these events were exclusively the result of events in Stalin's younger years, but they certainly formed his character and seemed to have influenced his reaction to certain people, behavior, and events.

I found it very interesting how the author would frequently mention in a footnote how certain parts of Stalin's life were changed or entirely eliminated from his official biography while he was still alive. His active participation in robberies for example, or his role in the revolutionary year 1917 or the children he fathered when he was in exile in Siberia. Certain blemishes were obviously not permitted in the biography of the Great Leader and Revolutionary Stalin.

All in all, I enjoyed reading Young Stalin and I learned a lot about the man Stalin, who he was, where he came from, how he became who he was in later years. I certainly recommend this book to anyone interested in Russia and Russian history.

Crossposted at my own blog The Armenian Odar Reads.


BRAINIAC by Ken Jennings

From the book jacket:

One day back in 2003, Ken Jennings and his college buddy Earl did what hundreds of thousands of people had done before: they auditioned for Jeopardy! Two years, 75 games, 2,642 correct answers, and over $2.5 million in winnings later, Ken Jennings emerged as trivia's undisputed king. BRAINIAC traces his rise from anonymous computer programmer to nerd folk icon. But along the way, it also explores his newly conquered kingdom: the world of trivia itself.

Jennings had always been minutiae-mad, poring over almanacs and TV Guide listings at an age when most kids are still watching Elmo and putting beans up their nose. But trivia, he has found, is centuries older than his childhood obsession with it. Whisking us from the coffeehouses of seventeenth-century London to the Internet age, Jennings chronicles the ups and downs of the trivia fad: the quiz book explosion of the Jazz Age; the rise, fall, and rise again of TV quiz shows; the nostalgic campus trivia of the 1960s; and the 1980s, when Trivial Pursuit again made it fashionable to be a know-it-all.

Jennings also investigates the shadowy demimonde of today's trivia subculture, guiding us on a tour of trivia hotspots across America. He goes head-to-head with the blowhards and diehards of the college quiz-bowl circuit, the slightly soused faithful of the Boston put trivia scene, and the raucous participants in the annual Q&A marathon in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, "The World's Largest Trivia Contest." And, of course, he takes us behind the scenes of his improbable 75-game run on Jeopardy!

But above all, BRAINIAC is a love letter to the useless fact. What marsupial has fingerprints that are indistinguishable from human ones?* What planet has a crater on it named after Laura Ingalls Wilder?* What comedian had the misfortune to be born with the name Albert Einstein?* Jennings also ponders questions that are a little more philosophical: What separates trivia from meaningless facts? Is being good at trivia a mark of intelligence? And is trivia just a waste of time, or does it serve some not-so-trivial purpose after all?

Uproarious, silly, engaging, and erudite, this book is an irresistible celebration of nostalgia, curiosity, and nerdy obsession - in a word, trivia.

I love trivia. My daughters Susan and Donna wouldn't play Trivial Pursuit with me because I would always win. I used to watch Jeopardy! faithfully and could shout out the answers with the best of them. So reading this book was a given.

BRAINIAC was a fun book to read. It was interesting to learn the "history" of trivia. Mr. Jennings introduces us to Fred L. Worth who wrote THE COMPLETE UNABRIDGED SUPER TRIVIA ENCYCLOPEDIA and maintains an immense collection of little-known facts. We are taken to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, for a 54-hour marathon of trivia that is held each April. And we visit a pub in Boston where teams of trivia experts play for fun and glory.

Throughout each chapter, trivia questions are woven into the narrative, with the answers given at the end of the chapter. These are tough questions - but I was able to guess a few of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Mr. Jennings is a funny guy with a droll sense of humor. For example, this quote from the book:

We met only minutes ago, and he's already told me that "Calcium ions are what make lobster antennae oscillate." I normally save that kind of thing for the second or third date.

Fun book!

*The koala bear, Venus, Albert Brooks


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Funny in Farsi

Book: Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas
Pages: 198
Finished: March 2008

First Sentence: "When I was seven, my parents, my fourteen-year-old brother, Farsid, and I moved from Abadan, Iran to Whittier California."

Last Sentence: "I won the jackpot with that story."

This was a charming, gentle memoir of the author's experiences growing up Iranian in America. She keeps the story light, especially in the beginning, as the first time the family came to America it was for only 2 years, in 1972, way before the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Life for them in America was, at the time friendly. They were a novelty as there weren't many Iranians in America then and many Americans didn't even know where Iran was! When they returned to America, Firoozeh was in 6th grade and things were different--this was on the cusp of the crisis. After the hostage crisis, they realized that they had lost everything in Iran--and her father's pension from the oil company which had employed him, was worth nothing.

Yet, this family retained their feisty, thankful, spirit and her memoir never dips into self pity. No, quite the opposite. Her family became quite proud Americans and never take the freedom they have found in this country for granted.

Each chapter was a separate story or event, and each one brought me to laughter--often times reading a chapter out loud to my family. I am thrilled to see that another book by this author is due out soon!
Definitely a book worth reading -especially if you like memoirs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Running with scissors - a memoir

I read this book by Augusten Burroughs over the weekend. I had put off reading it until all the lawsuits were settled - I wasn't up for another James Frey experience. Well waiting didn't help much because both sides ended up claiming victory. Burroughs [born Chris Robison] claimed victory because the events, he insisted, were accurate. The Turcotte family claimed a moral victory in that Burroughs can no longer market his publication as a memoir but simply as a book.

The book/memoir is deeply disturbing. It indicts all of the adults in young Augusten's life. His mother comes across as a deeply narcissistic woman who suffers bouts of psychosis. His father as a cold and rejecting non-human. The psychiatrist as completely insane. All of the adults are abusive and/or negligent. There are no redeeming adult figures.

I read this book at the same time as I was reading Alice Miller's "The Truth Will Set You Free". I kept wondering where were the helping witnesses or the enlightening witnesses who were going to rescue this boy from the snare of pedophilia and neglect. They are not to be found in his report. And yet I believe Alice Miller when she states that children survive trauma when they find the protection of helping witnesses even while the trauma is occurring. I can only surmise then that Burroughs eventually found himself in the office of an enlightened therapist who helped undo some of the harm that was done to him. Nothing else explains Augusten's survival. And yet survive he does.

The book is written in the here-and-now. The tone rings true, not as that of an adult reflecting back on his life, but as a boy and later adolescent caught up in the swirl of dysfunction. We see events through the boy's eyes. The world he is experiencing is harsh and bewildering. The book works because of the authenticity of this tone. It hurts for the same reason. I can understand why the adults portrayed felt deeply betrayed. This is not a book written by an adult looking back through the eyes of maturity and resolution. This is an angry and confused boy who is still trying to figure out how he is going to make it in such a crazy world. I am surprised that he made it at all. I hope that one of these days Burroughs finds the maturity to let us know who were the helping and/or enlightening witnesses who aided his journey to survival.

My writing blog: Love Life & Tennis

Sunday, March 23, 2008


AMONG THE HEROES: United Flight 93 & The Passengers & Crew Who Fought Back by Jere Longman.

From the book jacket:

On the evening of September 14, as the sun set over the flag-draped county courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania, fifteen hundred mourners gathered together as Governor Tom Ridge presided over a memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93. In the hushed twilight, amid the toiling of bells, a candle was lit for each victim, and the flames were used to light smaller candles held by townspeople attending the service.

The hijackers had failed in their mission, Ridge said. They had not destroyed our spirit. They had rekindled it. By fighting back against the terrorists, the passengers and crew had undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. "They sacrificed themselves for others - the ultimate sacrifice. What appears to be a charred, smoldering hole in the ground," said the governor, "is truly and really a monument to heroism."

Of the four horrific hijackings on September 11, Flight 93, which crashed into a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, resonates as one of epic resistance. A number of passengers phoned relatives and others on the ground to tell them of the hijacking and what they planned to do about it. Their battle to take back the plane brought consolation to countless confused and grief-stricken Americans. At a time when the United States appeared defenseless against an unfamiliar foe, the gallant passengers and crew of Flight 93 provided for many Americans a measure of victory in the midst of unthinkable defeat. Together, they seemingly accomplished what all the security guards and soldiers, military pilots and government officials, could not - they thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives so that others might live.

The culmination of hundreds of interviews and months of investigation, AMONG THE HEROES is the definitive story of the courageous men and women aboard Flight 93, and of the day that forever changed the way Americans view the world and themselves.

I'm sure we've all read different stories about September 11. We've seen the pictures of the towers and the Pentagon over and over. We've seen pictures of some of the victims. We've heard some of their stories. I knew the aunt of one of the men killed in the towers, so I've read more about him.

When the first stories about this flight began to emerge, I wondered about the people on the other 3 flights. Why did these particular passengers fight back and not the others? Or did the others? We can't know what happened on the first 3 flights. Circumstances were different - this flight had fewer passengers, one less hijacker, probably a much less-experienced hijacker-pilot, information about the previous crashed flights, and more time to react.

In this book, Mr. Longman personalizes the passengers and crew of Flight 93. He tells their individual stories and the stories of the people they left behind. Phone calls from the plane are detailed. Also included are photos of all aboard, donated by their families. What's not included is an exact account of what happened on that flight.

No one knows for certain what transpired before the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I'm sure everyone has heard "Let's roll" as said by Todd Beamer right before the end of the flight. We'll never know exactly what happened. Did the passengers get into the cockpit? Did they gain control of the plane? All we have are snippets of telephone calls, the transcript of the plane's cockpit voice recorder, and stories of witnesses to the crash itself. What we do know is that this plane was headed back to Washington, aimed at the Capitol Building or the White House, and that by the actions of these heroic people, many other lives were spared. EVERY passenger and crew member on this flight was a hero.

This was a difficult book to read. These people now have faces and voices and stories. They're not just "names" anymore. I can't begin to imagine what they must have been thinking and feeling aboard that plane. Mr. Longman deserves much credit for his work on this book.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

# 4 The Nazi Officer's Wife (Beer)

This is the story of Edith Hahn, a Jewish girl growing up with her family in Vienna, Austria at the beginning of WWII. Edith shares her unique story of survival from childhood thru adulthood including, as the title indicates, marrying a Nazi.

This memoir was devastatingly excellent. I had never read a memoir of a Holocaust survivor that came from this perspective. It was very difficult to put down. Edith exudes courage throughout the book and I applaud her in mustering up the courage, once again, to enlighten others of her plight.

# 3 If I Am Missing or Dead (Latus)

Janine and her sister, Amy, both grow up with an abusive father and as they mature, they continually choose men that maintain what they know and expect.

My heart goes out to battered women and I hope that this book will encourage those that are in unhealthy relationships to reach out and get help before it's too late.

What has irritated me is that the title is very misleading. It appears that it would be focused on the person that wrote the note, but it is far from that. This is Janine's story with Amy thrown in as an afterthought.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Marley & Me

Woodhouse had nailed our dog and our pathetic, codependent existence. We had it all: the hapless, weak-willed masters; the mentally unstable, out-of-control dog; the trail of destroyed property; the annoyed and inconvenienced strangers and neighbors. We were a textbook case. "Congratulations, Marley," I said to him. "You qualify as subnormal." He opened his eyes at the sound of his name, stretched, and rolled onto his back, paws in the air. (p.180)

Whether you are a dog lover or not, you will enjoy John Grogan's Marley & Me: life and love with the world's worst dog. I can see why so many people have recommended this book. I enjoyed it to the best of my ability as a non-dog lover and I even laughed out loud at some of Marley's antics. But as Grogan shows throughout his story, you just have to end up loving good ol' Marley despite himself.

Marley had earned his place in our family. Like a quirky but beloved uncle, he was what he was. He would never be Lassie or Benji or Old Yeller; he would never reach Westminster or even the county fair. We knew that now. We accepted him for the dog he was, and loved him all the more for it. (p.226)

My favorite recollections include the naming of Marley, getting a dog setter for a vacation, going to the dog beach, tobogganing on the first snowfall, and creating the potty room. Although the focus of this book revolves around the dog, much is also written about the changes that occur in the Grogan family while Marley is a part of their lives.

"You know all that stuff we've always said about you?" I whispered. "What a total pain you are? Don't believe it. Don't believe it for a minute, Marley." He needed to know that, and something more, too. There was something I had never told him, that no one ever had. I wanted him to hear it before he went. "Marley," I said. "You are a great dog." (p.271)

If you have ever known a dog like Marley (and I have) you will truly understand and appreciate John Grogan's book Marley & Me. It will make you laugh out loud and shake your head; then, you'll give a big ol' hug to the dog that is plopped on your lap and just put your legs to sleep.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review: The Burn Journals

Author: Brent Runyon

Pages: 319

Genre: Non-Fiction/Memior

Personal Rating: 5/5

From the back cover:

In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match.

He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he'd done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.

In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery.

Wow. I read this book in one day. Granted, I’m layed up with a broken foot but even so it wouldn’t have taken me long. Brent Runyon’s story is horrifically fascinating but yet not depressing.

“The Burn Jounrals describes a particular kind of youthful male desolation better than it has ever been described before, by anyone.” –Andrew Solomon author of the Noonday Demon.

That sounds about right. Brent allows you into the inner most aspects of his life and mind during the most difficult part of his life. I was embarrassed to be lying in bed feeling sorry for myself and the “pain” I felt in my ankle.

A very interesting aspect is the afterword where Brett discusses how he still struggles with depression and how he has still sometimes has had thought about killing himself (again). He goes on though to talk about how he has finally begun to realize he needs help, therapy and drug and that they are not signs of weakness or “bad things”. In reference to all those people who say “I don’t want to resort to drugs” as if some people have a choice. There is still so much ignorance about mental illness it make me sick!

I want to do this book justice with a FANTASTIC review but I just don’t know how. All I can say is that it is well worth the time to grab it and read it. You won’t be the same after reading it. I’m not.

Some things that stuck with me
  • How good ice chips taste

  • The look in the paramedic and his mom’s eyes and they took him out of the house after he lit himself on fire

  • His struggles to go outside and have people look at him

  • Joy at seeing his dog Rusty when he goes home

  • He didn’t know why he did it

Friday, March 7, 2008

Laura's Review: Stolen Lives

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
Malika Oufkir
290 pages

In 1972, Moroccan defense minister General Mohamed Oufkir staged a failed coup d'etat against King Hassan II. Oufkir was reported to have committed suicide, but was found with five bullet wounds. In retaliation for the coup, his entire family was imprisoned: Oufkir's wife, Fatima, and his children Malika, Raouf, Soukaina, Maria, Myriam, and Abdellatif. A cousin, Achoura, and a close family friend, Halima, joined them. Malika Oufkir was 17 years old; her brother Abdellatif was only 3.

Malika had been adopted at age 5 by King Mohammed V, to serve as a playmate for his daughter. After King Mohammed's death Hassan came into power, and continued to treat Malika like a member of his own family. However, she was completely separated from her family of origin and had only recently rejoined them when the coup attempt took place. The first part of this memoir vividly describes the opulence and luxury of Moroccan court life, which of course was in sharp contrast to prison conditions. Over a 20-year period, Malika and her family were kept in three different places, with markedly different conditions and privileges. Initially they were able to spend their days together, later they were transported to a harsher environment and placed into cells either alone or with 1-2 other family members. They spent 10 years without direct face-to-face contact, and yet devised ways to communicate and support each other in maintaining their will to live. Their mental and physical strength is both amazing and inspiring.

Oufkir's story is a shocking one, and yet is just one example of people who "disappeared" during King Hassan II's reign. I am embarrassed to admit that even though I came of age in the 1970s, and was nearly 30 by the time the Oufkirs gained their freedom, I knew nothing of the human rights violations in Morocco. Stolen Lives was a compelling and enlightening read. ( )

My original review can be found here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Cage

Sender, Ruth Minsky. 1986. The Cage.

The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender is one of the most outstanding Holocaust memoirs I've ever read. The narrative is told loosely through a framework. That is in the first chapter, Ruth Minsky Sender begins her narrative by setting it in the present day (or what would have been the present day when it was being written). She frames her story around questions her children asked about why they had no grandparents, no cousins, no extended family, etc. This, I believe, is quite effective in drawing you into the story. Of making you see the big picture.

Nancy looks at me, bewildered. "Why did they let them do it? Why didn't people stop them?"
Why did they let them do it? Why did they let them do it? It echoes in my ears. Many voices ring in my ears. Voices I have heard before. They are all calling, Why? Why? Why did they let them do it?
I hear Mama's voice, filled with hope. A world full of people will not be silent. We will not perish in vain. She was so sure. But she perished, and the world was silent.
Tears fall down my face. Nancy's soft hands wipe them away. "But, Mommy, it could not happen here. Our neighbors, our friends, they would help."
Suddenly it is 1939 again. (4)
In simple but haunting prose, the narrative tells the story of one girl's survival. Riva, our narrator, is a child-soon-to-be-a-woman growing up in Lodz, Poland. Her world changes, her future changes when the Nazis invade Poland. Friends? Neighbors? Vanish overnight it seems. You see, it's not safe to be 'Polish' anymore...better to be German. To blend in with the oppressors. To take up their mantras. To join with them side by side. To pursue the destruction of the Jewish race. There is no one to stand up for the Polish Jews. (Or should I say there are few if any that are willing to make such a stand.) The story of Riva and her family--her mother, her brothers, her sisters, is powerful.

Riva finds her strength in poetry. You might could even say that poetry saves her life in more ways than one. This is her story.

Camp Mittelsteine, Germany
September 23, 1944
Riva Minska, Number 55082.

When my tormented heart can't take any more
The grief within rips it apart;
My tears flow freely--they can't be restrained
I reach for my notebook--my friend.
I speak to my friend of my sorrow
I share my anger, my pain.
I speak to my friend of tomorrow
Of a future we'll build once again!
The pillars I build for the future to come,
I knock down and build once again.
I share all my dreams, share my hopes with my friend
Share the pain that is filling my heart. (178)
First sentence: Warm rays of sunshine fill the house, mixed with the sweet smell of lilac in full bloom.
Last sentence: As long as there is life, there is hope.
245 pages