White, Bret Easton Ellis, author and narrator

whiteMr. Ellis is a writer of screenplays. He hobnobs with the rich and famous. He is openly gay and can be caustic and brutally honest, as well. He does not care what people think of him, but rather voices the ideas and opinions he believes in, writes in a way he thinks is true and authentic, and he refuses to yield to those who cry and complain about their “victimhood”, rather than face up to their problems, those that have not grown up or learned to solve them. He doesn’t believe in safe spaces. When he was growing up, not everyone was told they were wonderful, nor did they get participation trophies for showing up. You had to earn your honors and learn to deal with adversity and failure. Ellis said there were not as many suicides since they weren’t surprised by the real world when they faced it; if they failed they got up and tried again. They didn’t expect immediate love and gratification. Homosexuality wasn’t as hot a topic. Black Lives Matters didn’t exist. Alternate lifestyle groups started out with good intentions but then were hijacked by activists with different agendas.

There were no “snowflakes”. Working and earning your place in school, in sports, in industry, everywhere as a matter of fact, was merit based, not based on tender egos that refused to, or were unable to, deal with reality. These weak individuals believed in an alternate reality in which they were guaranteed success. Since failure was not an option, when they failed they could no longer function. These supposed liberal and open minded people who welcomed all, in reality, only welcomed ideas that mirrored their own; they refuse to listen to any of the ideas that disagreed with theirs and claimed they couldn’t deal with the fear it caused them. They required sanctuaries.

Using the rich and famous as examples, some openly gay and some on both sides of the political aisle, he explores the constant outrage that is common today. He examines the presentation of ideas and news by the media, by journalists, by Hollywood bigwigs and by politicians, in the era of Trump. The faux outrage dominates all avenues of society today, and the presentation of ideas is not always accurate or authenticated, sometimes there even seems to be a deliberate intent to deceive. The visible anger is astonishing and palpable, even when it seems very unreasonable and when the cause for it lacks facts and verification. Angry statements are simply accepted and disagreement causes friction between friends and can actually end a friendship or cause the loss of employment. To many, disagreement is unacceptable. They have the one right way and there is no room for any other idea.

Supporting Trump can get you barred or fired so support for him and his accomplishments, which are rarely reported, is often hidden. It can have a very negative influence on business and financial success as boycotts have become de rigueur. The overall outrage is reflected back in the pages of news media, entertainment programs, awards ceremonies, on social media, and in any place a there is a platform where one can earn fifteen minutes more of fame by venting their frustrations. A small group of people has the power to change the way the larger group operates and functions. The needs of the very few are becoming overpowering. Their emotional needs must be met or someone must pay for their pain. Political Correctness is riding high, driven along by its own steam. It is a self perpetuating anger machine.

Because everything is out there to be discussed and judged, there is always someone who is unhappy. Ellis seems to believe that the millennial generation is spoiled, irresponsible and over-reactive. Their backgrounds, helicopter parents, drugs, upbringing, and the belief that their happiness is a priority for the world to fulfill, seems to be indicating a rise in suicides and a shutting down of speech and the free exchange of ideas. Life is hard; it is a struggle, competition is fierce, and one is not rewarded for doing nothing as an adult in the real life. The young today, when they reach adulthood, do not seem to assume the responsibility of an adult. Their age does not determine their ability to think and act responsibly. They were raised to believe they were perfect, brilliant, and naturally successful, and they cannot abide by any other viewpoint. Unfortunately, not everyone is a winner; some will fail, and they will not have learned how to fail because they have not had to face that possibility before. They were brought up to believe that they had to do very little, other than to be present, in order to succeed.

Ellis lays bear the attitude of “victimhood” that is so prevalent today. His language is sometimes crude, but his ideas are lucid. He grew up before the Aids epidemic and therefore was raised with the idea that sex was for pleasure and not something to be feared or vilified. Homosexuality was rarely discussed. In his time, sex education was provided by magazines like Playboy, accidentally discovered in a father’s stash. Cyber bullying did not exist because technology had not yet produced computers, smart phones or sites like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. In general, people seemed to express themselves more politely and not as viciously as they do today, hiding behind their anonymity sometimes since their user names do not identify them. This gives them the freedom to stay foolish and hurtful things without retaliation.

Today, the younger people do not understand mischief, comedy or the meaning of an apology. They simply vent their anger, without restraint, on any forum which gives them recognition. They use emotional appeal to prove their point even when their point is obviously without merit. Political parties have discovered the usefulness of that same mechanism and play on fear, shame and humiliation to make a point, rather than on the intellectual presentation of real information. There is no room for criticism or critical thinking. To Ellis, if you can’t cope with your life, you need to see a doctor, not to retire to a “safe room”. Blaming your neurosis on Trump, blaming your old pain on Trump is unrealistic and means you need help. He recommends seeking it. He refers to these victims, and I paraphrase, as “social justice warriors expressing high moral outrage”, often unjustly. He believes they need to see a doctor to solve their problems and should stop running from them and falsely blaming others.

Ellis analyzes the Trump victory and white privilege by highlighting people like Tom Cruise, Basquiat, Meryl Streep and a host of other well-known personages, to make his points. They are referenced and authentic. Liberals have become authoritarian and childish, yet they point their finger at others accusing them of doing what they are doing, sometimes to an even greater degree. They are in denial and cannot accept the results of the last election. Ellis claims no political affiliation, however. He agrees with some ideas and disagrees with some ideas on both the left and the right. He did not vote, however, in the last Presidential election.

Personally, I think this book should be required reading, not for its literary value, but for its honest portrayal of people today. Maybe the loudest mouths will look in the mirror and discover they are shouting out nonsensical, hypocritical ideas and complaints. Maybe they will learn how to listen to diverse opinions instead of demanding diversity while refusing to provide it to others. Somehow, I doubt this will happen. The politicians are self-serving, and this hateful atmosphere serves their needs. Hollywood simply wants to be relevant, in any way, even when their own behavior is antithetical to what they preach to others. The media will not praise a book that critiques them negatively and flies in the face of their ideology, one they are promoting instead of presenting the news and acting like a check and balance on government as “The Fourth Estate” should.

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When the Men Were Gone, by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

This short, tender novel is based on an interesting moment in history. It takes place during World War II when a woman’s place was considered to be in the home and nowhere else, regardless of the circumstances. It is an easy read written by a woman who among other jobs held, was once a modern day football coach like the star of the novel, Tylene Wilson, a woman of character and courage.

Tylene is charming and authentic for the time period. The standards and expectations of that mid-century, war-time era are laid out honestly and even brutally at times. The war has taken a terrible toll on the people of Brownwood as it has on the rest of the world. However, unlike today, then patriotism was a badge of honor, not a walk of shame. No one would take a knee while the National Anthem was playing. No one would even think of not standing up and crossing their hearts.

The time is 1944 and all the men have gone to war or become casualties of it. The Brownwood football time, the Lions, have no coach and the only one qualified and willing to step up to do the job is Tylene Wilson. Tylene really did exist, and she did become the coach of the team, perhaps under undue duress, but it was to be expected at that time because in this time period, women were supposed to wear aprons and stay at home, cooking, cleaning, caring for a husband and rearing children. A woman in a position of power and authority in sports was considered anathema and even more so, shameful. It was humiliating for a man to even have to consider working with a woman and as a subordinate to her.

The backlash from the town shocked Tylene Wilson when she was made the coach. She and her husband faced the meanness of those that did not believe a woman should be so unladylike. The scuttlebutt was that her power would weaken her husband’s. The narrow minded would rather see the season go by without a team or a game then have a woman do what they perceived was a man’s work. This book proves how wrong headed they were.

While the story is a bit syrupy, I think it is better defined as endearing. Similar to the feel-good, honest moments readers have come to expect from the novels written by Fredrick Backman, this book expresses the feelings and values of a time gone by. It is a warm hearted novel that is filled with the values we once held dear, but lately seem to have forgotten. For a walk down memory lane into a world where Tylene comes into her own, proves her worth as a woman and makes the world an even better place because of it, read and lose yourself in this inspiring story.

 

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Searching For Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok

This novel proceeds in the voices of the three major female characters, Sylvie, her sister Amy, and Ma, the mother of both. The story unfolds as their memories are very slowly related to the reader. There are buried family secrets which will ultimately determine the outcome of the book. The narrative felt drawn out and proceeded too slowly for me. It took me weeks and weeks to finish this novel. It traveled in many directions which did not draw me in immediately. At first I thought it was a murder mystery, than a romance novel, than a story about family secrets, then about unrequited love, then about the experience of the immigrant, then about interracial marriages, then about alternate sexuality, then about infidelity, then about race, and even more tangential issues. In essence, it was a novel that attempted to subtly present the progressive agenda, but it became heavy handed instead! There were too many diversions, none of which were fully developed before the tale danced off in another direction.

When the Lees emigrated from China to America, “the beautiful country”, they decided to temporarily send their daughter Sylvie to live with relatives in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Helena and Wilhem Tan had also emigrated from China. They were financially better off and operated their own restaurant. Once on their feet, the Lees hoped to retrieve Sylvie. The Tans had a son Lucas, who was the same age as Sylvie so she would have a friend. The Tans did not practice the old ways of China, however, while the Lees continued to do so. Therefore Sylvie is raised far differently than her sister Amy, born in America while she was in Holland. Also, for some reason, Helena disliked Sylvie and mistreated her. Ma’s mother also lived with the Tans, and she is the person who is kind to Sylvie and who really raises her during her time there. The book stresses the difficulties of living as immigrants and as people who are not white, in a foreign country, and this is emphasized through the experiences of both families as they move through their lives.

As each of the important characters dealt with their experiences, in their own unique way, it sometimes got repetitious and tedious. Each suffered from their own emotional issues. Ma had always felt guilty and insecure about her life and the choices she made. She never truly adjusted to American ways and did not speak the language well. Sylvie felt cheated and abused, unloved and insecure, because she had been sent away to live with relatives. One of her eyes had a defect, and she had a protruding tooth. In addition to being Chinese and extremely different in a place like Amsterdam, those physical issues caused her to be bullied. She retreated into a shell and was determined to prove her worth by being the best in school and at work, but she was never fully accepted by others. She kept her distance from others and was perceived as cold, thus she always felt like, and was treated as, an outsider. Amy was born in America while Sylvie was in Europe. She had her own problems to contend with since she had a stammer and was very shy. Being different in America was no different than being different in Amsterdam. Both situations made the girls sad and withdrawn. When Sylvie came to America, Ma neglected Amy and worshiped Sylvie. Sylvie was the one Amy leaned on for support, the one who comforted her. Sylvie grew up to seem far more outgoing and far stronger than Amy, who remained shy and introverted. Sylvie married Jim, a professor. He was white and from an elite, wealthy family. They had snobbish ideas about one’s place in, and behavior in, the world. Sylvie had her own very successful career in the corporate world. She was now financially secure, but still different on many levels!

The men in the book, Pa, Lucus, Filip and Wilhem, are largely irrelevant or not well developed. The women are generally portrayed as mean and strong, rigid and controlled, as well as controlling. The men are meeker and softer in their behavior and development, with hidden violent tendencies. Both the men and women harbor secrets which will undue all of their lives.

When Sylvie suddenly disappears, after visiting Holland for her grandmother’s impending death, the story continues to become distracted with side issues. The characters did not feel authentic nor did their behavior. Sometimes it felt contradictory. I did not develop an attachment to any of them or a particular liking for any of them. I found them weak, selfish, self-serving, immature and headstrong, if not also lacking in common sense and judgment. The book is about very flawed characters that never seem to move on from their early descriptions as children.

Perhaps it was the author’s intent to distance the characters from the reader, emphasizing their “otherness” by not developing any significant traits in them to draw them closer to the reader. Just as they never felt accepted in their worlds, maybe she wanted the reader to also not accept them, and to always view them as penultimate outsiders.

The moral judgment of the characters, white, homosexual, heterosexual, Asian, American, rich and poor, was atrocious. While I wanted to keep reading to discover where the book would lead me, I was disappointed when it finally decided on one direction and took me there. At times, the narrative waxed poetic and at times it felt like it was geared to a young adult reader. It never truly grew up into a book I could recommend to others.

 

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The Other Americans, Laila Lalami, author; Mozhan Marno, P.J. Ochlan, Adenrele Ojo, narrators

other americans“The Other Americans” is ostensibly a mystery about an accident investigation. An elderly man was killed on a poorly lit road, in a hit and run accident. The police believe it was simply an accident, but one of the victim’s daughters believes it was an intentional act because of the historic issues the driver of the vehicle had with her father. Their businesses were adjacent to each other. The driver, someone depicted as angry and rude, perhaps a white supremacist, owned a bowling alley located next to the diner that was owned by the victim, an immigrant from Morocco. The family had experienced racial incidents in the past. The two owners were dealing with many contentious issues, i.e. parking, lighting, etc.

Through the musings of several characters, the widow, the daughters, the police officers and the accused, the readers learn about the abuse that immigrants face in America. They learn about the horrors faced by the soldiers who fought in the Iraq war, and they learn about the fears of the illegal Mexican immigrants, who are afraid to speak to the police when they have witnessed crimes. They learn about the verbal slurs and the bullying that these immigrants, who are the “other” Americans, have to deal with in their daily lives. The readers learn about how these many abuses in business, schools and in social and personal situations alter their behavior and affect their decisions and choices.

Nora is the victim’s daughter. She is sure that her father, Driss, was intentionally run down by the driver of the vehicle in the accident. She is sure he was murdered. She was recently jilted by a married man and is nursing that loss as well as the loss of her parent. Her sister, Salma, is angry that her father’s will left more money to Nora. She has always been the practical daughter who has sacrificed for her family, doing what is expected of her, not what she would like to do. She seeks solace from life’s difficulties with opiates. Her mother, Maryam, is aware that her husband has been unfaithful, before his death, but she chooses to excuse his behavior in order to preserve the memory of their 37 years together.

The person investigating the hit and run is Detective Coleman, a black woman police officer who has had to buck the system and deal with issues of racism throughout her life. She has admirably set an example, with her own behavior, to overcome these injustices. Her son is a loner and her need to help him socialize falls on the deaf ears of her husband who is too busy watching sporting events.

Jeremy, who works with Coleman, served in the Iraq war and has the physical and emotional scars to prove it. His military experience has sometimes affected his judgment and he suffers from insomnia brought on by his war memories. He is a cop and a student, and sometimes, as a cop, he is smug and takes advantage of his power unjustly. He and Nora were in high school together.

The witness of the hit and run, Efrain, is a man with a Mexican background who is afraid to come forward with his evidence. His child goes to school with the grandchildren of the victim. His wife wants him to tell the police what he saw for the reward offered. At first he is afraid to come forward, but she prevails.

The man who was suspected of driving the car in the accident sounds like a white supremacist and a racist for sure. Anderson owns the bowling alley next door to the victim’s diner. He has a son, AJ. His son’s pet business has recently failed forcing him to move in with his parents. AJ also went to school with the victim’s daughter, Nora, and the police officer, Jeremy. As a matter of fact, he bullied both Nora and Jeremy in high school using racist slurs and other insults as he intimidated them.

There isn’t a character in the book without a serious problem of some kind. It feels like there are “eight million stories in this naked desert city” to borrow a phrase from an old television show. Every character has been betrayed in some way by his country, his friends, enemies or lovers. Every character seems to be lonely and unfulfilled. The characters are searching for solutions to their problems and some are more successful than others. Some make choices that are not main stream or healthy.

The several narrators of this audio book do an admirable job of defining the accent and personality of each of the characters. However, there are almost too many characters and issues. Each of the characters seems to place blame on others for their failures without ever considering that they might be the ones making the poor choices.

This book has had very good reviews. I imagine one of the reasons is that it includes every controversial issue of the day: family dynamics, illegal immigration, drug addiction, coping mechanisms, health care, the VA, suicide, anger management and support groups, bullying, equality for women, racism, sexual relationships, romance, infidelity, hints of white supremacy, the Iraq war and its emotional and physical effects on soldiers and their families, police brutality, Islamophobia and more. A reader is hard pressed, today, to find a book today that does not tackle a menu covering some or all of these issues. The only thing that might have been left out in this book is climate change, but since it was set in the desert of California, it might possibly have touched on that too.

It seems in order to get on a “to be read” best seller list, a book must have a progressive agenda if it is to be successful or at least the book must have been written by a woman or a woman with an immigrant background or a person of color or someone with a Muslim or Hispanic heritage. Is this the wave of the future? Many of the books seem to be variations on the same theme making it hard to find one that has been chosen because it is written well and represents good literature instead of one that is a presentation of a political agenda.

I found the book interesting, but slow, as each of the issues covered in the book needed to find its own oxygen, and at times it was tedious. The sex scenes were an unnecessary distraction, as well.

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Washington black, Esi Edugyan, author; Dion Graham, narrator

washington blackIn the first third of the 19th century, slavery would soon be a thing of the past on the island of Barbados, but before it ended, George Washington Black’s life would be forever changed there. Born a slave, he was 11 years old when the book begins. Wash had never known freedom or a parent, although on the sugar plantation, Faith, he has a mother figure named Big Kit. She cares for him and tries to protect him but sometimes is cruel herself. When the owner of the plantation dies, his eldest nephew, Erasmus Wilde takes over the running of the place. He is cruel, violent and vicious. He enforces his power with malevolence, treating the slaves inhumanely, and without mercy. They are merely property for him to do with as he wishes, as they are to most slave owners. However, the descriptions of his brutality are contemptible. When Erasmus’s younger brother Titch (Christopher) arrives, Kit and Wash are waiting table for them at the manor house. Titch seems to have a softer and gentler nature. He is developing a flying machine that he calls a Cloud-cutter.. He wants Wash to assist him because of his small size which would be perfect as a ballast.

Titch prevails upon Erasmus to give him Wash and others to help him with his flying machine. When he realizes that Wash has the mind of a prodigy, he begins to teach him manners and how to read. He teaches him about marine specimens and about his Cloud-cutter. His artistic talent is discovered when Titch discovers Wash drawing in secret. He encourages him to continue to draw for him. There is magic in his drawings which possess a special kind of light and lightness. Soon the two are working together, although it takes time for Wash to overcome his fear of being abused by his masters. He lives with Titch in his quarters, and he sleeps in a bed for the first time in his life. Slowly, he becomes devoted to Titch and begins to trust him, although it seems never quite completely. When during an experiment with the Cloud-cutter, distracted by Titch’s cousin Philip, Wash is severely burned in an unexpected explosion, Titch nurses him back to health, but his face is brutally disfigured.

What seems like a short time later, Wash is with Philip once again, and he witnesses his death. He is helpless to prevent it, but as the last person to be with him, and as a black slave, he will be punished for the suicidal act.. Titch realizes that Wash is in grave danger, and so both take off in the Cloud-cutter to escape the plantation and prevent Wash’s capture and potential murder.

The adventures begin in earnest, at this time, as they are led in one direction or another, seemingly by chance encounters. Soon they are traveling the world from place to place, searching for Titch’s father, a well-known scientist whom Philip had told Titch had died. As possible sightings of his scholarly father persist, they travel to the Arctic to find him. The passage of time is ephemeral, and is hard to realistically determine based on the events taking place.

No matter what life throws at Wash, he seems almost supernatural and old beyond his years. He is as smart as a highly educated man, as well. He rises to the occasion no matter what he faces as lady luck seems to smile on him, helping him to survive to live another day. When after finding Titch’s father, Titch abandons him, wandering off into a snow storm and is never found, Wash begins to expore the world alone. He is but a teenager at the time without any known resources. He is an escaped slave, recognizable because of his facial scars and is in grave danger much of the time. Still, he makes his way to safety and, in Canada, where he soon meets a young woman, a couple of years older than him who is named Tanna, he finds a new life, once again. Tanna befriends him, and he discovers that her father is a famous zoologist, one he has actually studied, a man who knew Titch’s father and belonged to the same scholarly organizations and had the same honors bestowed upon him. Soon he is collecting and drawing specimens of marine life for him. When Titch conceives of the idea to open what might be the considered a modern day aquarium, they plan to do it together. However Ocean House, a place where marine life would be kept in tanks and viewed by the public, would never bear George Washington Black’s name.. This attraction to be built in London, in Regents Park, would only bring accolades to Mr. Goff, Tanna’s father. As a slave, and a black man, Wash would get no recognition even though it was his genius that conceived the idea and designed everything.

Although it is difficult to conceive of how much time has passed, exactly, the reader soon learns that like rumors about Titch’s father, there are now rumors about Titch himself. Is he still alive? Together with Tanna, he begins to search for him. He believes he may be in Morocco. At this time, Wash is about 18 and Tanna is 20. Their relationship has grown intimate.

Although it often feels as if great lengths of time have sometimes passed, the reader discovers that it is only a few months or years that have gone by. Sometimes the chapters seem to change so abruptly, the reader is left wondering what just happened or how much time has passed. The main character is Wash. He seems larger than life, capable of being at once naïve and then very sophisticated, at the same time. Although, when it begins, Wash is basically illiterate, he is treated with deference most of the time, as if he is a scholar, and is, in fact, described as a prodigy by Titch.  His demeanor is, always well mannered and polite, but he often expresses disappointment which sometimes feels inappropriate.

There are times when  what occurs requires the reader to suspend disbelief. There is occasional what feels like an infusion of magic and spirituality throughout the narrative which is lyrical and beautifully crafted even though the story often does lack cohesion and credibility when it extends into the world of fantasy. When the book ends, the reader might feel oddly disappointed, not knowing what will take place next, however, one is left with the idea that while Titch is still floundering, purposeless, George Washington Black has found his true purpose and intends to fight for it. After facing Titch and coming to terms with his misinterpretation of their relationship, he realizes that Titch could never be capable of the same depth of devotion that Wash has for him. He feels suddenly free to find his own future and he intends to fight for it. However, since he is black, without funds or family, the odds should be against him. This unreality is what faces the reader and Wash.  The question is, what is Wash free to do?

 

 

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The Lost Girls of Paris, Pam Jenoff, author; Elizabeth Knowelden, Henrietta Meire, Candace Thaxton, narrators

lost girlsDuring World War II, the SOE (Special Operations Executive), in Great Britain, conducted an experimental clandestine operation. They trained and sent women who could pass for French into France to perform dangerous tasks, transmitting information, acting as couriers and setting explosives. They did this to help prepare for the coming invasion. These young, dedicated female spies were unsung heroes of World War II.

The novel seems very loosely based on the story of Vera Atkins, a woman with a Jewish heritage, from Eastern Europe, who worked for the Director of the SOE. It is about her rise to the powerful position she held and her efforts and those of the courageous women that she recruited and deployed to serve in the war effort. As the story of their betrayal is revealed, their incredible acts of bravery and heroism are illustrated.

If we fast forward into 1946, the war is now over. Grace is a widow. Her husband Tom was killed on his way to New York City, to meet her for a weekend prior to his deployment. She seems to lament the fact that he died in an accident and not during the war, appearing to envy the actual war widows who seem united. When she unexpectedly bumps into her deceased husband’s friend Mark, she spends the night with him, totally against her own code of ethics, and is, as a result, late for work. She works for Frank, an immigration attorney who is dedicated to working for those displaced by the war. She decides to take a shortcut through Grand Central. Before she enters, she is further delayed by a crowd. A woman has been hit by a vehicle and died. As she hurries through the terminal, she notices an abandoned suitcase under a bench. She stops to quickly search for the owner. Not seeing anyone, she looks through the suitcase. She discovers a packet of photos carefully wrapped in lace. (She never thinks that it might belong to the accident victim.) When she is unable to stuff everything back in the same way it had been packed, she grows flustered. She impulsively, and out of character, again, decides to keep the photos. She takes them and hides them in her bag. (She does a lot of things uncharacteristically throughout the novel.) Later in the day, she returns to the terminal hoping to replace the photos in their rightful place, but the suitcase is gone.

Now Grace, faced with the problem of how to find the rightful home for the photos, makes several unsuccessful attempts to find a friend or relative by contacting the authorities, i.e. the police and also the British Consulate, but somehow, when she is unsuccessful, she always feels the photos calling to her, and she refuses to relinquish them to anyone. When she discovers the woman who had died in the accident was the owner of the suitcase, she grows even more interested in their history. She wants to know just who the victim was and what the pictures meant to her, the pictures that she had so lovingly wrapped in a piece of fine lace.

When her husband’s friend Mark suddenly reappears again (one of the many contrived coincidences in the novel), and learns of her efforts, he offers to help her. He suggests that she return with him to Washington DC. How fortunate that he is a lawyer with important contacts who can help her find out more about the woman who owned the suitcase, the woman whose name was Eleanor Trigg. Once again, uncharacteristically, she lies to her boss about what she is doing and travels to DC, to meet Mark. He calls in a favor and they visit the Pentagon where they are secretly led into an area forbidden to them, to look through files. When Grace is startled by the person helping them, and they are told that they have to leave immediately before they are discovered, she again does something that is out of character. She steals one of the files. She learns that each of the dozen girls in the photos had worked for the SOE, and none of them had survived. The accident victim, Eleanor Trigg (the pseudo Vera Atkins), was not a clerk as she had been told by the authorities, but the woman who had been in charge of the entire SOE French operation.

Marie is one of the Englishwomen in the dozen photographs. She had been recruited because of her fluency in French. She had spent her early years in France, with her mother. She spoke French like a native and was well suited to pass as a legitimate Frenchwoman. She left her daughter Tess with relatives, with whom she had already been living. Marie had been abandoned by Tess’s father. Her story is a central part of the novel, but her behavior is often at odds with a well-trained spy. Although she is engaged in espionage of the highest order, she seems woefully naïve.

As Grace attempts to discover who the women in the photos are, and whom she should contact about them, the story develops with some surprises. Romances, car accidents, betrayals and abandonment are recurring themes. The reader is left wondering which part of the story is actually based in fact. If the frivolous romantic episodes were eliminated, the novel might have had a more substantial impact. Although the three women, Eleanor Trigg, Grace and Marie are the central characters in the novel and are the most developed, their story feels very contrived and obvious at times, as it is alternately a romance novel and an espionage mystery, but never seems quite sure which one it wants to be.

Still, it is worthwhile learning about the plight of these women and their acts of heroism. There are non-fiction books about this operation that supposedly do a far better job than this novel. Some of the dialogue and parts of the narrative feel trite and childish. Perhaps it is more suitable as a YA (Young Adult), romance novel with a bit of history thrown into the mix.

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All The Gallant Men: An America Sailor’s Firsthand Account of Pearl Harbor, Donald Stratton, Ken Gire, authors; Mike Ortego, narrator.

gallantDonald Stratton was 94 years old (now 97) when he wrote his memoir to commemorate the December 7th, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. He believed, as the quote he references says, “when a person dies, it is like a library burns down.” He wanted to preserve his memories of that day for future generations. Pearl Harbor was an attack on this nation by a country that was actively engaged in duplicitous peace talks with America’s envoys. Japan’s act of war was a sneak attack of enormous magnitude for which they would ultimately pay dearly, but so did America. The book points out not only their heinous behavior, but it also shows the naïveté of the government, during this time, when Hitler was rising to power and advancing across Europe. We were asleep at the wheel, basking in an arrogant attitude of superiority, assuming we were safe even though all the signs of this act of war were on the horizon. Had there not been failures in communication, perhaps the dead and wounded of Pearl Harbor would not have numbered so many.

Donald is a survivor of the attack that “will live in infamy”, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He carries his battle scarred body and memories with him everyday. Brought up in the Plains, poor, but faithful, he and his family were a tight knit unit with the belief that no matter what happened, G-d would provide for their welfare. Devout, they attended church in the best and the worst of times. The Sears Catalogue was their lifeline to the rest of the world, and it was through those pages that he learned what else was available to those who were better off, to those who lived elsewhere; he learned what was available to those who were not sharecroppers living basically from hand to mouth, using potato sacking for clothing and subsisting on kitchen gardens. With two younger brothers and a sister, he lived in four rooms with an outhouse. There were two bedrooms, a wood stove for cooking and a stove in the fireplace used for heat. Yet they remained content as a family unit.

The times were different then and so it seems was the outlook on life. America was loved by patriots all over the United States, and they would eagerly step up to the plate when needed for its survival. Today, times seem a bit different. Today patriotism, especially associated with nationalism, is considered a “dirty word”; our flag is often disrespected, and those who profess love for the country are sometimes called “deplorables”. After reading his book, I can only hope that when the call comes to defend our shores, there will be men and women who are as brave as he was, who will stand up for what is just and right, and who will exhibit the valorous behavior that Stratton did.

Donald’s story is one of deep devotion to his country. Even though he was gravely burned in the Pearl Harbor attack, as soon as he was able, he reenlisted and went back to fight with his “band of brothers”. His desire is to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive, as we must keep the memory of 9/11 alive, because forgetting might help to lay the groundwork for another sneak attack on our country. To me, his message affirms and asserts that we must be prepared, and we must be ready to defend ourselves and our great nation.

The narrator of this book spoke in a measured town which conveyed the story without undue emotional involvement, therefore making the reenactment of that horrific day tolerable and comprehensible for the reader. The story of Stratton is both moving and inspiring. I hope the young adults of today, who have been coddled and brought up to expect life on a silver platter, will be up to the task if it ever arises.

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