I’ve been known to seek out books and movies set in locales which I have plans to visit, but beyond that I don’t often read thematically. That probably makes it all the more remarkable that the four most recent books I’ve read all deal with young women contending with the loss of liberty. Three of the titles were from the historical fiction genre while the third, disturbingly, is currently classified as science fiction. After reading it,though, I’m inclined to believe that that title will eventually be reshelved in realistic fiction. Not a good thing.
What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper is a powerful book set in Europe during WWII. The novel opens with the main character, Gerta, being liberated from Bergen-Belsen by British soldiers at the end of the war. I’ve read many Holocaust stories over the years, yet there’s always something new for me to consider and in this novel it was what happened to the survivors once they were nursed back to health and could leave the camp or medical facility? What must that have been like for a teenager who has essentially been orphaned? Another scene in the opening chapter depicting soldiers forcing residents from the nearby community to tour the concentration camp and witness the atrocities which they allowed to occur by their apathy, is another aspect of this tragic time in history that I had never thought of before. What knowledge did citizens have of the victimization of Jews, gays, gypsies and the disabled? How were they able to avert their eyes from what was occurring? This book answers some questions while posing others.
Set in the same era, White Rose by Kip Wilson tells the story of a resistance group which made the ultimate sacrifice during a war that fractured families and devastated Europe. The novel, told in verse, provided insight into the conflict of Germans during WWII and the actions taken by young citizens in an attempt to thwart the Nazis. The selfless bravery of Sophie Scholl and other members of the White Rose organization, provides inspiration during a time when our own country is teetering on the edge of nationalism and xenophobia. A quote that stopped me dead:
to open their eyes
are more than ambivalent –
they are guilty.
Monica Hesse’s The War Outside brings the conflict to our own American shores in the form of the internment of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans during WWII. This historical novel describes what life was like for American citizens who were considered threats to national security despite having lived in America for generations. As the daughter of a German immigrant, I can attest to biases that I personally experienced 25 years after the war – being told to not speak German in public as a child, for instance. The camp, an actual place in Texas known as Crystal City, was depicted as a “family camp” with amenities such as a pool and community garden designed to distract residents from the reality that they were not considered equal citizens in the eyes of our government. I am certain that my family, had they been present during this dark time, would have been subjected to similar treatment.
Now, the Sci-Fi book I mentioned? Internment by Samira Ahmed is a bone chilling read because it seems all too possible in our current political climate. This was the one that made me the most uncomfortable because it relates the story of a Muslim American family who, after responding to a query regarding religion and ethnicity on the national census, find their civil rights being systematically eliminated by the government. No longer able to study, work or live in their communities, Muslim families are shipped to camps where they are separated by ethnicity and suffer limits upon their access to information, technology and loved ones who do not share their same cultural heritage. It is all the more horrifying because it is completely possible under the Trump regime. And – at a time when the federal government is attempting to insert citizenship questions into the upcoming national census that’s not an exaggeration.
What have you been reading? Do you have recommendations to share?