Tom Lake

by Ann Patchett, 2023

Eminently readable novel about Lara Kenison, a young seamstress turned actress who was amazingly talented and beautiful but gave up stardom to marry Joe Nelson and work his cherry farm in Michigan. Lara’s all grown up and telling the story of her life as an actress to her 3 adult daughters while they pick cherries on their cherry farm near Traverse City. They are all together because of the pandemic. The story of her life is centered around her playing the role of Emily in Our Town. She was in summer stock at Tom Lake on the Upper Peninsula. She meets Peter Duke, a young, handsome, charismatic actor, and falls deeply, madly in love with him. He teaches her to smoke and drink and be wild. His brother is Sebastian, and he is good and kind and handsome and a talented tennis player.

They enjoy life immensely, young and free. The director of the play is Joe Nelson, and he is a steady, strong presence. It turns out Joe’s real love is cherry farming on his aunt and uncle’s cherry farm. He invites Lara to come see it and the whole crew comes along. Peter Duke falls in love with the farm. So does Lara. They all do. It is beautiful and peaceful. They never forget that day.

One day, Duke (as Peter is called) is too drunk to play a game of tennis with Sebastian because he has been rehearsing with real tequila for Fool for Love, so Lara plays tennis with Sebastian instead. She is playing out of her mind and goes after a serve and ruptures her Achilles. Sebastian carries her to the car, drives her to the hospital, and takes care of her. Lara’s acting days are over and she is fine with that, it turns out. But Duke moves on to Lara’s understudy within a matter of days. Her understudy is the beautiful black actress/dancer Pallace, who happens to be Sebastian’s love. Lara comes out of the hospital with a huge cast and is unable to walk for six months. Sebastian and Lara go to the opening night of the play Fool for Love, in which Duke and Pallace are playing the leads. The chemistry between them is so electric, everyone knows what is going on. Lara’s heart is broken, Sebastian is angry. He storms out afterwards, beats up his brother, and leaves in a rage. Lara gets herself back to her wheelchair, wheels herself back to her little cottage, and deals with her new reality.

All the while she’s telling her three daughters about her early days dating the famous actor Peter Duke, you get a lot of details about the cherry farm, and their current life, which is very happy. They are all together with Joe, their Dad, because of the pandemic. It’s 2020. The three daughters are wonderful characters. Eldest is Emily, age 26. She loves the farm and plans to marry next door neighbor, Benny, and take over running the cherry farm. When Emily was young, she was convinced that Peter Duke was her father and she was full of anger towards her Mom, convinced she was lying to her. She’s over it now, but she really needs to learn the real story behind Duke and her Mom. Middle daughter, Maisie, age 24, is in her final year of vet school. She loves animals and is helping all the neighbors with her veterinary skills. Youngest daughter, Nell, age 22, wants to be an actress, and she lives for the stage. She cannot believe her mom gave up the very thing she is hoping for her own life. Their dad, Joe, is a wonderful, kind, loving man. He was around back in the day – he was the capable director of the play Lara starred in, Our Town, and he fell in love with Lara, but knew she was in love with Peter Duke. He stayed caring and concerned and finally, years and years later, they run into each other in New York. And the rest is history. They buy the cherry farm and live happily ever after.


by Daniel Quinn, 1992

Tyler’s book. He really wanted us to read it. It is about a young man who answers an ad, Teacher Seeks Pupil. The teacher ends up being a gorilla named Ishmael. They talk telepathically for months. Ishmael teaches him his theory of the Takers and the Leavers. The Leavers were hunter-gatherers that let others live their lives. They didn’t destroy species or the planet. They lived at peace with the gods. The Takers started about 10,000 years ago. They are the Cain who killed Abel. They do not want to live at peace in the hands of the gods. They want to take matters into their own hands and plant more and more and store up more and more. They are destroying our world.

Once Ishmael has imparted all his knowledge to the young man, he urges him to teach others. Teach 100 people and they’ll each teach 100, and that way we can save the planet, once most of the people think and believe like we do.

On Death

by Timothy Keller, 2020

Short, little book on death by Tim Keller, based on a sermon he preached at Kathy’s sister’s funeral, Terry Hall, on 1/6/2018. First he talks about how we fear death. One reason we fear it is because we don’t see it any longer. Our medical establishment has made it so we live longer and when we die, we’re away from family in hospitals or nursing homes. “Medicine and science have relieved us of many causes of early death, and today the vast majority of people decline and die in hospitals and hospices, away from the eyes of others.”

“If people three thousand years ago had a problem with the denial of death, as Psalm 90 attests, then we have an infinitely greater one. Medical progress supports the illusion that death can be put off indefinitely. It is more rare than ever to find people who are, as the ancients were, reconciled to their own mortality.”

“A second reason that we today struggle so much with death is the secular age’s requirement of this-world meaning and fulfillment.”

“The human race as a whole can’t not fear and hate death. It is a unique and profound problem. Religion gave people tools to help in facing our most formidable foe, and modern secularism has not come up with anything to compensate for its loss.”

The Violin Conspiracy

by Brendan Slocumb, 2022

This novel is the ‘Fort Collins Reads’ book for 2023, and our first Old Town Library Book Club book for 2023-2024.

It’s a page-turner, a mystery of who took the $10 million Stradivarius from Ray MacMillian, a young black violin prodigy.

Ray, born to a single mom, grew up in North Carolina. His Mom wants him to get a job at Popeye’s chicken so he can help pay the bills. All she does is talk on the phone and watch TV. Ray is in love with the violin. He is in band at school and uses a school violin. When he is in high school, his grandma, sweetest, most loving grandma in the world, gifts him her grandpa’s violin. He was a slave child and would play the fiddle to calm his master. The master gifted the violin to him when he freed all the slaves.

Well, once the violin is cleaned up and repaired by a non-racist repairman, it is discovered that it is a Stradivarius worth about $10 million. The family of Ray (except Grandma, who has passed) and the Marks’s, the descendants of the original owners, all hound Ray demanding that the violin is rightfully theirs. He has to practice for the Tchaikovsky Competition amidst all the turmoil this priceless violin has caused. He has a beautiful, loving girlfriend named Nicole, and a mentor, his violin teacher in college, Janice, who are devoted to him.

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod

by Gary Paulsen, 1994

Very engrossing tale of Gary Paulsen’s first time running the Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome. He loves his dogs! Cookie was his lead dog. He describes the different aspects and legs of the race so well. The whole thing is crazy like hell. He made almost fatal rookie mistakes – switching his lead dog at the last second, right before the start was one. He put Wilson in the lead instead of Cookie. Wilson took a wrong turn in Anchorage and they tore all through the town, taking down fences, signs, even tearing the bumper off of a car when he threw his snow hook on it to try and stop the team.

Interesting that the start of the Iditarod in downtown Anchorage is all a sham – a made for TV event that is really dangerous because the dog teams are made to be close together in harness for a long, long time – very unnatural. At least he put his in harness too early and once they are in harness, they want to run. The real start is out of town a ways.

Because he was so far behind after going on a mad dash through Anchorage, he also didn’t realize that Cookie, back in as lead dog, followed a snowmobile trail instead of the real trail. They led 20 other dog teams off trail and when he realized it and turned around, the dog teams meet head on and fight at each meeting. Then, another dog team got attacked by a moose that killed the musher’s lead dog. Heart-breaking.

Then the terrain and weather is mostly horrible. The lack of sleep, the hallucinations, the wind, the brutality he witnessed of a musher kicking one of his dogs to death, just awful. Why he kept going, he doesn’t even know, but he did, and I guess he ran it again, too, because the end of the book is him being told by his doctor that he has heart disease and can’t run the Iditarod a 3rd time. He gives all the dogs away except Cookie.

Excellent book. Don’t know how he lived through it. There are so many times he is dragged – down streets of Anchorage, down icy cliffs. The wind and cold in the Yukon were horrible. He learned quickly to run along with the sled to get his heart rate up. He considered minus 20 to be warm, so these had to be minus 60 or worse with the wind chill. But he loved being with his dogs and he loved the beauty of Alaska.

Pat recommended this book, along with Hatchet.

Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?

by Timothy Keller, 2022

Another AMAZING book by Tim Keller. What a blessing he was! Thank you, God, for Tim Keller. What a teacher of your Word. This was his last book, and it is everything a person needs to know about forgiveness. Forgiveness is only possible when a person is humble and realizes how much they need forgiveness themselves, and then joyful enough to realize that Jesus loved them enough to pay the cost and free them from the guilt and shame.

For me, the idea that every sin has a cost, it can’t just be brushed away, God’s forgiveness of us was not easy or cheap, is the A-HA idea of this book. He gives the example of someone breaking your lamp. You forgive them but there is still a cost you have to absorb. Either you buy a new lamp or you go without light in that spot. My sins, each and every one of them, have a cost that must be borne by someone. Jesus bore that cost.

Exodus 34:6-7: “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; [Keller leaves off the rest of the verse: “he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Wayne and I discussed this, the meaning of the third and fourth generation allegorically shows the completeness of God’s justice. Also, the household, culturally was a unit – “As for my and my house, we will serve the Lord.”] But Keller says, “Not until Jesus do we see how God can be both completely just and yet forgiving; it is through his atonement (1 John 1:7-9). In the cross God satisfies both justice and love. God was so just and desirous to judge sin that Jesus had to die, but he was so loving and desirous of our salvation that Jesus was glad to die.” So, every sin of every person throughout time has been punished – Jesus was punished for them. God does not leave the guilty unpunished, we are the guilty, and He punished Jesus for our sins, and Jesus went through hell, literally, for us on that cross.

Some people say, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Because there is a cost to every sin, they cannot just be waived away, forgotten. There is a price. You feel it yourself when someone sins against you. You want to hurt them back, you want revenge, you want them to pay. Wayne says, “If there’s no penalty for it, there’s no justice, and we badly want our universe to be just.” Jesus paid for them all. Jesus bore the cost. “On Him was laid the iniquity of us all.” When a person realizes this in the very core of their being, then they know the immense richness of forgiveness and how much they need it. Only then can a person forgive others. Because, the second part, knowing how much Jesus loves you, that He was willing to come down to earth and pay the price for you, makes you so joyful and you are less likely to be hurt by every little slight you receive from fellow human beings. Humility and joy over the gospel – that’s what allows a person to truly forgive.

Forgiveness is not dependent upon the other person’s repentance, but reconciliation is. We are to forgive someone in our hearts immediately, and then work, as far as it is possible, to reconcile the relationship. There must be justice and love, both. Just as God is both just and loving. The person who sinned against you must be approached lovingly with the truth, as Jesus says in Matthew 18. Go privately and talk to them, maybe more than once. Be open to the fact that they may need time to process first.

Another A-HA moment was about the verses, “Vengeance is mine,” and “Save room for God’s wrath.” This isn’t permission to harbor malice in your heart towards a person. Jesus says in Matthew 5:22, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” God knows that the seeds of murder begin with that attitude. We need to ask forgiveness and pray for our enemies. We need to be humble. We need to be joyful. The gospel, over and over, each and every day.

Becoming Free Indeed

My story of disentangling faith from fear

by Jinger Duggar Vuolo with Corey Williams, 2023

What a sweet, sweet girl Jinger is! She grew up one of 19 children, on TV shows called, 14 Children and Pregnant Again, 17 Kids and Counting, 18 Kids and Counting, 19 Kids and Counting, Counting on. Her parents are good and loving people but they followed the teaching of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). These teachings profess to be Christianity but they are not. They are a bunch of man-made rules that you must follow in order to be successful in life. Health and wealth gospel at its worst. Not the love of Jesus and His saving grace. It made her life one of fear–a bunch of meaningless rules to follow from the moment she woke up until she went to bed. When she met her sister’s boyfriend, and then her own boyfriend, she began to see a different life, free from fear. She started to really read the Bible and learned the truth, that God loves us so much He sent his son to die for us, taking our punishment on himself and making us righteous. The Gospel, pure and simple. We cannot be good enough to earn our salvation. She has spent many years trying to “disentangle” what is true from what is false and in the process no longer lives a life of fear.

Beautiful book, beautiful author! You rock, Jinger!

The Meaning of Marriage

by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, 2011

Another excellent book by Tim Keller. Kathy, his wife, helped him with this one. Marriage created by God in the Garden of Eden. When God created woman and presented her to Adam, he said, “At last!” Woman completes man. Man completes Woman. Marriage brings us closer to the union God the Father and Jesus the Son have experienced for eternity.

Our culture has perverted marriage and sex. Woman look for men who can take care of them financially. Men look for women who are attractive and also won’t make them change-compatibility. Pressures of life, disappointments, resentments can easily destroy a marriage based on those factors. Instead, look for a mate who is a friend and sees the glorious person you are destined to be in Christ. Look for someone with similar interests, who is a person of faith.

Sex is the way a man and a woman can physically become one flesh and serve one another.

Singleness was validated by Christianity for the first time. To be single is not a curse. You are free to serve God without the constraints a spouse entails.

Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2 are the source texts. Ephesians 5:21-33 says women submit to their husbands and husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for it, washed it and made it holy. To submit to a man who loves you so much he would die for you and do anything to help you become the glorious person you are meant to be is not a burden, it is a delight. Women, look to Jesus to see how submission works. He was God Himself, yet he submitted to God’s will and did the unthinkable–took the crushing burden of all our sins upon Himself, so we would not have to suffer, and then gave us His righteousness. Kathy’s chapter is all about that.

When People Are Big and God Is Small

by Edward T. Welch, 1997

Excellent book! I heard about it at Two Rivers Church from a woman who was giving her resurrection story. It sounded like me – care more for what people think than what God thinks. I requested it from the library and they had to get it from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis! And now, I really need to buy it because every page is tagged.

He takes you into the fear of man and how prevalent it is throughout humanity. It leads to all sorts of problems, too. And the cure is to realize how much God loves us, and to seek to bring glory to Him. The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

When Making Others Happy is Making You Miserable

by Karen Ehman, 2021

Christian self-help book for people-pleasers. She mainly focuses on one’s to-do list and learning to say no to others. What finally drove her to a summer of “no and necessary” was when a dear, dear friend of hers asked if her adult son might be able to stay with her once in awhile when he couldn’t make the commute home. She said yes but then immediately regretted it. She listed all the reasons she couldn’t do it. Mainly that she wouldn’t be able to just let him stay there – she’d want to wait up for him, give him a snack, make sure he had everything he needed. And also she was having her house remodeled.


by Geraldine Brooks, 2022

Superb book! Geraldine Brooks can write! Her dialogue and descriptions are like Herman Wouk’s–they flow like water. The book is about a thoroughbred racehorse named Lexington. Jarret, a young black slave is in the stable when he is born at the Meadows in Kentucky in 1850, and he’s there with him when he dies at the Woodburn Estate in Kentucky in 1875. The love between this young black stablehand who educates himself on the sly, and manages to stay with this horse through thick and thin, and then saves him from nasty murderous rebels during the war, is beautiful.

There are painters, collectors, scientists, and grad students as the scenes switch from the late 1800’s to 2019 and back. You follow the stories of Jarret and Lexington, along with Thomas J. Scott, a painter of racehorses in the late 1800’s. Then, in the 2019 scenes, you have a budding love affair between Theo, a black graduate student in art history in Washington, D.C., and Jess, a scientist for the Smithsonian Institutute, who has been tasked with finding and putting together correctly the bones of Lexington.

Much of the parts about Lexington are true. She says in the title page: “This is a work of fiction inspired by actual events.” Historical figures in the book are the horse, Lexington; his owners-first, Mr. Elisha Warfield; then, Richard Ten Broeck; lastly, Robert Alexander. The painter, Thomas J. Scott, is also historical, although she imagines him as gay man. Jarret, the black stablehand turned groom, trainer, wealthy Canadian freeman, is imagined because she was not able to find any information about him, except for one line about him describing a missing painting of Lexington as being led by “black Jarret, his groom.” She did base his character on two slaves of Robert Alexander’s who helped train his horses and went on to be successful trainers on their own after Alexander’s death: Ansel Williamson and Edward D. Brown.

Other historical figures in the book: Cassius Clay, the emancipationist married to Warfield’s daughter, Mary Jane Warfield; Mary Barr Clay, their daughter who became a leading suffragist; Harry Lewis, a black horse trainer who was so successful he bought his freedom and went on to work with Mr. Warfield and train Lexington. In the book, he is Jarret’s father, although in real life he had a son, “Lewis.”


by Gary Paulsen, 1987

Children’s book, mentioned by Pat, who was reading it with/to her grandson. I read it in one day. It’s about a 13 year old boy, Brian Robeson, who is being flown up to northern Canada to spend the summer with his Dad, who is working the oil fields. His parents are newly divorced. Brian witnessed the Secret, his Mom kissing another man in a station wagon outside the mall. He has never told anyone.

He is in the plane with the pilot, a bush plane. The pilot starts having severe pains and passes gas, or poops his pants, at any rate, he stinks, and then dies of a heart attack. Brian lets the plane fly for hours until it runs out of gas near a lake and he crash lands in the lake. He survives.

Demon Copperhead

by Barbara Kingsolver, 2022

Painful page-turner, about the opioid crisis as told through the life of a little boy, Damon (Demon), in rural, poor Virginia. He goes through hell, literally, with a single, drug-addicted mom who marries an abusive man. When she dies of an overdose on “Oxy,” his already terrible world falls apart, and he’s only 10 or 11. He becomes an orphan, a foster child, and then a run-away in a scary, ugly world. He runs away to a place he’s only heard of once because his mother never talked about his dead father except for once. His dad’s mother, Betsy Woodall, from Murder Valley, came to get him when he was just born but since he was a boy, she left him with his Mom. Demon runs away and finds her and she takes him in because he looks just like her dead son. She finds him a home with Coach and Angus. He becomes a football star in high school, but his knee is damaged by an evil opponent. His knee is never treated, there are no good doctors in that backwoods town. Instead, he’s given painkillers. He becomes addicted. He ends up with a drug-addicted girlfriend and their life is just one fix after another. She shoots the drugs, he does everything but IV drug use because he’s afraid of needles. Their day-to-day life is shit, literally. Once the drugs wear off, they start to shake and shit. They have to get another dose. They live in filth and squalor. They never take the trash out, do dishes, nothing. He spends the next three years going down and down and down with most of the people he knows. Some have hearts of gold like him. Some are evil, cruel, darker than dark. There are people who stay clean and believe in him – Mr. and Mrs. Peggot, Aunt June, the nurse who understands what is going on in her home town and who is to blame (Purdue Pharma and it’s salesmen), Miss Annie (art teacher) and her black husband, Mr. Armstrong (also a teacher), Tommy, his good-hearted foster brother who gives him the shirt off his back and stays his friend the rest of his life, and “Angus,” Coach’s precocious daughter who becomes his best friend and savior, and in the end, true love.

Loved the characters, hated the setting, loved the ending.

This book won the Pulitzer Price for Fiction along with the book, Trust. It was a tie. This book was very long, 879 pages in large print version. It was full of bad words and filthiness, but I guess that makes it authentic. I really feel what it is like to be in the rural South with its poverty, addictions, abuse. There are hints of its beauty, the beauty of the countryside, throughout: birdsong, trees, flowers, streams, meadows.


by Hernan Diaz, 2022

Pulitzer Prize Winner. Two versions of the life of Andrew Bevel and his wife, Mildred, extremely wealthy as a result of playing the stock market, culminating in the crash of 1929. The first version is a novel by Harold Vanner depicting them as Benjamin Rask and his wife, Helen. The second version is the real Benjamin Rask (Andrew Bevel) telling the story his way, depicting his wife, Mildred, (Helen in the first book) as a sweet, sickly, quiet person who enjoyed music and flower arranging and died of cancer.

Then, the third part of the novel is about Ida Partenza, a young Italian girl who is hired by Andrew Bevel to write his version of the story. She is the only character I liked. She is so smart and fearless and real. Andrew Bevel dies of a heart attack before they are finished with his version of the memoir.

The fourth part takes place years later, when Andrew Bevel’s house is a museum and Ida can go in and look at books and journals that were kept. She finds one of Mildred’s journals inside a log book, takes it home and deciphers it. That is the last part of the book. It turns out Mildred was the genius behind Andrew Bevel. She is the brains behind all that made them so extremely wealthy.

Interesting book, well-written, but I didn’t like the ending. Mildred’s last writing in her journal: “In and out of sleep. Like a needle coming out from under a black cloth and then vanishing again. Unthreaded.”


by James A. Michener, 1983

A 616-page novel about Poland, it’s history from the 1200s to 1980s and Lech Walesa’s Solidarity, told through fictional families and towns. The first few pages of the book tell what is historic and what is fictional from each chapter. That is helpful. The Tartars, which were Genghis Khan and his descendants, is where the novel begins. They were terrors and would ride in and kill, rape, and destroy everywhere they went.

Poland refused to elect a central government throughout the centuries that followed, being ruled by Magnates, a few very wealthy landowners. The peasants were slaves and had little – only ate meat twice a year, dirt floors, all their labor for the magnate that ruled them.

Whenever someone tried to organize, the magnates would destroy the faction. Other countries, Russia, Germany, Austria, ended up swallowing up Poland.

In WWII, the Germans invaded Poland and took over the wealthy landowners castles. Many, many Poles went to concentration camps and 2 million died. After WWII, there were hopes that things would be different under Russia, but Russia ended up worse. They immediately took whoever was among the Polish resistance to Siberia where they were never heard from again.

The book ends with a fictional farmer in the 1980s trying to start a farmer’s union the way Lech Walesa started a union of factory workers. There is a meeting in a Polish castle with Russian officials who threaten the farmer and lie to the world. All is well, the farmer, Janko Buk, has agreed that a farmer’s union will never work.

The details he gives from the concentration camp, Majdanek, are horrific, yet true. This brutal history must never be forgotten, the power of evil men, even one man, to spread hate and unfathomable horrors. God, how long will the wicked prosper!

Throughout this book, there are brave souls that rise up and fight against the evil and Poland survives because of them. We are to do the same, fight against evil, but beware we don’t become one of them.

God is with us and he promises evil will not prevail, Psalm 37:7-9:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

Thank you, God!

I got this book from a little free library. Mark K. read it and told Wayne it was good.

There is a lot of Ukrainian history in it, too. Russia has been a tormentor of Ukraine for a long time.

Other things from the book:

  • Zamosc sounds like a beautiful city
  • Late 1700’s Ukraine: “that mysterious land which lay between Russia and Poland, between Europe and Asia, and the more deeply the caravan penetrated this always-conquered but forever-unconquered land, the more the young men respected it.”
  • W’s are pronounced as V’s and J’s are pronounced as Y’s.
  • Jews entered Poland in the 11th century escaping persecution elsewhere and they thrived. During one of the partitions of Poland, some of the new ruling countries were anti-Semitic and encouraged the Poles to be also.
  • Lots of pages on music. The wealthy landowners had musicians brought in for their entertainment. Chopin was Polish and his music was beloved by Poles.
  • “The closest I have ever been to heaven was when Enrico Caruso stood on my stage and sang “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine.”
  • In 1920, Polish and Ukrainian armies united and threw the Communists out of eastern Europe, but unfortunately, it didn’t last. There was another invasion from Russia but again, the Polish army defeated them, and saved all of Europe from becoming Communist.
  • But Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine refuse to ally and they face tragic consequences in late 1930’s: “Ukraine would become one of the world’s great tragedies, a land in which the oppressors [Russia] would allow ten million citizens to starve to death, where the native language would be outlawed and where all kinds of depredations would be visited upon a distrusted and despised subject people.In despair, in 1939 the Ukrainians would try to side with Hitler in hopes that he might rescue them from Russian domination, and when this proved a fatal miscalculation, the revenge of the Communist victors would be harsher than ever.”
  • “In the years 1921-1939, after Poland had repulsed the Russian invasion of 1920, she accomplished a miracle. Her three provinces had been ruled for more than a century by three radically different foreign occupiers, yet the Polish people were able to unite these provinces in one reasonable system. Three disparate judicial, educational and administrative patterns had been reconciled. Land reform was initiated, social security established, health care organized, industry encouraged…There was reason to hope that if this rate of progress could continue for another two decades, Poland might become one of the principal illuminations of Europe, but on 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler’s Nazis crashed over the border with such overwhelming superiority in manpower, tanks and dive bombers that the nation was quickly devastated and occupied.”
  • This was the plan of the Nazi’s, especially formulated by Heinrich Himmler and Dr. Rosenberg: work to death or murder all of the 20 million Poles and murder every single one of the 3,547,896 Jews living in Poland. They also took blond women and soldiers on leave raped them. The babies were taken away immediately to be raised in German homes.
  • Here is a conversation about living under the Germans vs. the Soviets: “‘They said: “The Germans are the cruelest people on earth. They murder. They slaughter. And they do it all in the name of civilization.” They warned us that life under the Germans was to be avoided at any cost. [paragraph] ‘But always they said that in the long run, as years passed and the first fury subsided, life with the Germans could reach compromises. Continuance was possible. It was never pleasant, but it was possible, for there was music and celebrations and you could travel to Berlin, and if you did things their way you survived and could even have a good time now and then. [paragraph] ‘But with the Russians, there was no hope. Only the dead hand of oppression, the unrelieved weight of Russian insensibility. Work, work, work. One stupid rule after another. Never an alleviation in a special case. Do it their way or die. [paragraph] ‘I myself have lived under the Russians, and it’s like being in a tomb–a large tomb, yes, with perhaps a little room to move around, but a tomb nevertheless. Russians can make an entire nation a tomb. They’re geniuses in building tombs.”
  • After years under Soviet Communism, Poles in Warsaw were facing shortages in everything and were nearly starving, while nearby Austrians in Vienna gorged themselves with every good thing. In Polish talks with officials from the Kremlin, a farmer’s wife pours out her grievances to the officials. A cameraman thinks: “If she did this in Moscow or Kiev. . . Whsssst! No one would ever see that one again. In Bulgaria they’d shoot her. In Rumania, silenced for good. We showed such people in Czechoslovakia where power rested and what happened when people criticized it. What’s the matter with these Poles? [paragraph] As a young man, he had been active in dragging seven hundred thousand Lithuanians from their homes and dispersing them one by one throughout the vast emptiness of the Soviet Union’s eastern territories, and with their leaders gone, the back of Lithuanian resistance had been broken. Later he had done even more important work in Ukraine, where millions were deported to Siberia and other distant settlements, while millions more were allowed to starve.”
  • In Auschwitz, the Nazis were brutal to priests and rabbis. They would put them in a small cell with one window high up, 60 or more men, and hope that most of them were suffocated or trampled by morning. A Jewish rabbi whispered to a priest, “Stand opposite the window.” That priest survived because everyone tried to get under the window, while he was left alone, and the air wafted toward him all night. The little Jewish rabbi was kicked to death by Nazi guards: “‘What was the last thing he did on this earth? He smiled at me. Through the blood that dimmed his eyes he smiled at me, as if to say: “Be not afraid.” I seemed to hear this little Jewish rabbi using the words of Jesus Christ.'”
  • A conversation between survivors of Auschwitz and Majdanek, a Polish priest and a Polish farmer respectively. The priest shows him 3 books that were written after WWII that tried to persuade the reader that Nazi horrors never happened: “‘They prove to the satisfaction of those who wish to believe, and millions do, that the camps where you and I lived in hell never existed.’…’That Auschwitz was a fable invented by lying Jews. That Majdanek was a great lie perpetrated by Poles who wanted to discredit Germany’…the conclusions of the London book had been translated into Polish…: “1. No concentration camps ever existed. They were lies created by Jews and Poles. 2. If any camps did exist, they were detention centers such as are used by all nations to imprison criminal types who have committed specific crimes against society in general. 3. It is preposterous to claim that six million Jews died in these supposed camps, because there were never that many Jews in all of Europe. 4. It is equally ridiculous to claim that two million Poles died, because the Germans have never borne animosity toward the Poles and have always treated them well. 5. The total number of criminals who died in the detention centers, either through legal execution for specific crimes or from the epidemics which occasionally touched the camps, could not possibly have exceeded three thousand. 6. If concentration camps did exist, Adolf Hitler knew nothing about them. 7. In the long light of history, Hitler will be seen as a generous, wise, considerate and constructive leader who took bold steps to save Europe and the world…The priest urges the farmer not to ally with the tanks in the forest, in otherwards to continue the hatred. He says, “Szymon, clear your mind of torments. Put the ghosts to sleep.’ [paragraph] ‘That is not so easy.’ [paragraph] ‘Think of it this way. The little girl from Zamosc died to save you. The little Jew from the synagogue died to save me. But Jesus Christ died to save us all.”

The book ends with a Polish concentration camp survivor turned Russian Communist official revealing the ever-repeating ugly story of mankind–men filled with hatred, unable to forgive, hatching their plans for revenge: “Now, from his desk, he took out a pile of index cards, golden-yellow, on which he had for some time been listing the names of those Poles who would have to be arrested when the inescapable crackdown came. The people named on those cards that were marked with a black cross would be sent to the concentration camps which would eventually be needed–and to this growing list he now added Szymon Bukowski and his wife, Biruta.’

“But for the time being the Russian tanks remained will hidden, deep within the forest of Szczek.”

The Jungle Book

by Rudyard Kipling, 1894

Wayne read a copy of The Jungle Book at the condo in Palm Springs, so I checked out this version from the Library. It has 3 of the 7 stories and was illustrated by Nicola Bayley. The three stories are: Mowgli’s Brothers, Kaa’s Hunting, and Tiger! Tiger!.

In Mowgli’s Brothers, a little boy is saved from Shere Khan, the evil tiger, by Father and Mother wolves and raised as one of their own. Mother Wolf names him Mowgli which means little frog. The Law of the Jungle is taught to little Mowgli by Baloo, the bear, and Bagheera, the black panther. They love him and so does Mother Wolf and his wolf-pack siblings. When Akela, the wise, old pack leader is soon to be ousted by the evil converts to Shere Khan’s ways, Mowgli has to leave the pack and go live with man. His heart breaks and he cries and cries for the first time in his life.

In Kaa’s Hunting, Kaa is a huge python whom Baloo and Bagheera enlist to save Mowgli from the monkeys, who have kidnapped him and taken him to an old ruined city in the jungle. The monkeys are the least-respected animals in the jungle. Baloo says, “I have taught thee all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the Jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no Law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the Jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the Jungle have no dealings with them…They are very many, evil, dirty, shameless, and they desire, if they have any fixed desire, to be noticed by the Jungle-People. But we do not notice them even when they throw nuts and filth on our heads.”

This is how the monkeys talk about themselves: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the Jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true,” they shouted.

Kaa the python saves Mowgli from the Monkey-people.

In Tiger! Tiger!, Mowgli is living with man and is herds the cattle. His wolf-brother warns him that Shere Khan is coming to get him. He uses the cattle, the bulls, and Grey Brother and Akela (the old wolf-pack leader) and they trap Shere Khan in a ravine and Mowgli is skinning Shere Khan when an old man (Buldeo) from the village tries to claim it for himself. Buldeo lies to the rest of the village and Mowgli is not allowed to return to the village, even though he saved their lives. He goes back to the Council Rock with Grey Brother and Akela and gathers the pack to him. He is sitting on Shere Khan’s skin. “Ever since Akela had been deposed, the Pack had been without a leader, hunting and fighting at their own pleasure. But they answered the call from habit, and some of them were lame from the traps they had fallen into, and some limped from shot-wounds, and some were mangy from eating bad food, and many were missing; but they came to the Council Rock, all that were left of them, and saw Shere Khan’s striped hide on the rock, and the huge law was dangling at the end of the empty, dangling feet.” … “Lead us again, O Akela. Lead us again, O Man-cub, for we be sick of this lawlessness, and we would be the Free People once more.” They come to their senses and ask Akela to lead them again. “So Mowgli went away and hunted with the four cubs in the Jungle from that day on. But he was not always alone, because years afterwards he became a man and married. But that is a story for grown-ups.”

A Month in the Country

by J. L. Carr, 1980

Short historical novel – 106 pages – set in England in the summer of 1920. A young man, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the horror that was WWI, and having an unfaithful wife, is hired to restore a painting on the wall of a church in a tiny town in rural England. He ends up healing emotionally during his month there. The townspeople love him and he loves them. His first friend is Charles Moon, a fellow veteran doing work in the field nearby (looking for the bones of their benefactor’s ancestor). This young man is entertaining and friendly. He ends up being gay, Tom finds out later from a fellow soldier he runs into while visiting another town with Mr. Ellerbeck to help them buy a new (used) organ. Tom Birkin is very likable. He is painstakingly removing the grime and white wash from a 15th century painting on a church wall. He works and lives in the belfry of the church. But the nice townspeople won’t let him remain all by himself. They get him to help with Sunday school and sports teams and come over for Sunday tea and dinner, etc. The vicar’s wife is beautiful and he ends up in love with her, and she is in love with him, but it is unrequited. At the end of the month, the summer is over, his work is finished, and his wife has found him and asked him to return. It’s a sweet, lovely book. The only problem is the dialect and the things they know and speak of familiarly of which I’ve never heard. But you still manage to feel the atmosphere of beauty, love, warmth in the English countryside.

my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry

by Fredrik Backman, 2013

Translation, 2015, by Henning Koch

Sweet story by the author of A Man Called Ove. It’s about a 7-year old girl, Elsa, and her granny. Granny is a real character but she loves and protects Elsa and is Elsa’s only friend. But then she dies of cancer and leaves Elsa alone, except there’s a mystery of letters being found that Elsa has to deliver to the people around her. She gets to know them one-by-one and grows to love them and they love her and they are her friends. The letters are from Granny to thee individuals and in them, Granny is writing to them saying she’s sorry. As Elsa delivers these letters, she learns the stories of these people and she grows to love them, and so do we. We start out not liking these people: Britt-Marie with her desire to control everything and have it be perfect, the Monster because he is huge and dark and scary, the Wurst because he is howling and howling behind a closed door, the woman in the dark skirt who is a drunk, Alf the taxi driver, Maude and Lennart and their little dog, Samantha – Maude constantly providing cookies called Dreams, Lennart with his endless supply of coffee – you love them from the beginning; Elsa’s Mum who runs a hospital and is pregnant with “Halfie” which will be Elsa’s half-brother or sister; George, Elsa’s step-father who is nice to everyone and jogs everywhere, Elsa’s dad, who is always late picking her up from school and is a perfectionist and loves fonts and appreciates proper grammar. Then, there is an evil, evil man named Sam, who does not live in the building but is related to some of the people in the building and he is a true danger.

Granny was a doctor who helped around the globe when there were wars and natural disasters. Some of the people in the building were people she rescued who had lost everything and needed comfort. She brought them home and gave them a place to live. It turns out, she owns the whole building and all of the flats are occupied by people she helped and loved, but there are things that happened that Granny feels the need to say ‘sorry‘ for after her death, but mainly so that Elsa will befriend them and realize she is not abandoned and alone.

I loved little Elsa, 7 years old almost 8. I loved the way Backman always starts out his books with characters that you don’t really like but then end up loving once you get to know them and know their story. We do that in this book by the letters Elsa has to deliver one-by-one and, in turn, learns about the people occupying the flats, hears their stories which mirror the fairy tales that Granny used to tell her, and we come to understand and love them. The Wurst is a big black dog that Elsa starts out very afraid of because she can only hear him howling and howling behind a closed door after Granny dies. Then, she brings him Dreams (cookies) and they become friends and she protects him and he protects her. It’s beautiful and sweet. The cover of the book is precious and depicts Elsa and the Wurst.

Sweet, precious, beautiful book.

An Italian Education

The Further Adventures of an Expatriate in Verona

by Tim Parks, 1995

Delightful foray into the day-to-day life of an expatriate in Verona, Italy. This book was recommended by The Economist, in an article books about Italy. At the start of the book, he and his Italian wife, Rita, have a little boy, Michele, and by the end of the book, he is expecting his 3rd child, whom he hopes to name Lucia, if his wife, Rita, approves. He describes life in Italy so well. You are there! The coddling parents, especially “Mamma’s” to their sons. The fathers who are somehow always absent, going off to fish, to mountain bike, to garden, or to do this or that, but it’s okay. The religiosity in the background and the landscape – everywhere the Madonna or a saint this or that. The heat in the summer, the color blue of the sky and the sea. His in-laws live in Pescara and they go there every summer for a few weeks. Much of the book describes the daily life of that town by the sea. It’s lovely, hot, sultry, relaxing. They rent their own sun shade for the season – that’s the way of Italy in the summer. The children (Michele and little sister, Stefi) are lively and happy. They have no inhibitions. They play, they laugh, they ask for what they want, they delight, they cry, they whine, but not very much.

I learned why the Italian team on Davis Cup wears blue. All of Italy’s sports teams wear blue. They are called Azzurro. The way he presents it, it’s like the color blue is everywhere in Italy – the blue of the sky, the sea, etc.

Really good book! I have only one heartache from it – he is an atheist and he raised his children to be atheists. Michele, the little boy, doesn’t believe Jesus is God. Stefi, the precious little sister, does at the time this book is written, but I fear that belief will be intellectualized out of her. The way priests have portrayed Christianity for centuries has made it so unappealing to Europeans.