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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE OTHER MRS. SAMSON by Ralph Webster (@Ralph_Webster) Biographical historical fiction for fans of women’s stories and XIX and XX narratives #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you novel/fictionalised biography that I found fascinating. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

https://www.amazon.com/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.es/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

Author Ralph Webster

About the author:

Award-winning author Ralph Webster received worldwide acclaim for his first book, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust. Voted by readers as a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, his second book, One More Moon, and now his third book, The Other Mrs. Samson, are proven book club selections for thought-provoking and engaging discussions. Whether in person or online, Ralph welcomes and values his exchanges with readers and makes every effort to participate in conversations about his books. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Ginger, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the U.S.

Please contact Ralph via his websites to schedule via Zoom, Skype, or in person for your book club.

https://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Webster/e/B01HRYKN9Y/

https://ralphwebster-author.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided an ARC copy of the novel I freely chose to review. Well, I’m not sure “novel” is the best word to define this book, but more on that, later.

As the description of the book suggests, this is the story of two women, told by them, although somewhat indirectly. This is one of those books (they are also quite a few movies, mostly adaptations of novels), which follow similar plots, or use a similar “frame” to tell a story: somebody finds a book, diary, collection of letters, etc., sometimes belonging to a parent, another relative, a friend, sometimes to somebody they’ve never met, and then, as if in a long flashback, we get to hear (or see) the story of that other person. Most of these stories tend to include some secret or major revelation towards the end, which casts a new light on the characters and their lives. In this book, a couple have inherited a piece of furniture (a lacquered cabinet) from an elderly woman they met through one of their relatives (they had been friends for decades and met regularly to have lunch and share news), and whom they became friendly with after their relative’s passing. By pure chance, they discover a secret drawer in the cabinet and inside there are (with some extra bits) two diaries/documents narrating the stories of two women who’d been married to the same man at very different moments in time (and also at very different historical periods). What makes the book particularly interesting is that in the acknowledgments’ section, the author talks about the process of development of the book, the help he got translating letters, etc., and also the fact that he changed some names, so this is not a work of fiction in its entirety, but rather a fictionalisation of the lives of two women. This makes sense, especially considering that the author (whose work I hadn’t read before) is well known for his work writing/adapting memoirs and biographies. The note doesn’t clarify how much of the content is fictionalised, but I found the category of biographical historical fiction that the book is classed under more than appropriate.

What I most liked about the book is the historical sweep and the amount of detail about the periods it covers, and also the two main characters (or the two narrators, to be more specific), Hilda and Katie. As Hilda’s narration also includes details about her grandparents and her parents, we get treated to a chronicle of life from the early XIX century in Germany —the immigration of her ancestors to the United States (and San Francisco in particular) from old Europe, a description of her own life as a well-off debutante and a young woman —through to the late XIX and early XX century. We hear about the fires, the earthquake, we read about what travelling was like, and also about Hilda’s visits to Germany and her contact with a distant cousin who would become her husband, Josef. She moves to Germany, totally changing her husband’s life, and acknowledges her difficulties adapting to a new place, to living with somebody else, and also, later, describes how their life is affected by WWI. Hilda can be spoilt and whimsical, but she is determined to have her own life and not to simply become a doctor’s wife. Katie, on the other hand, is much younger than her husband, her social circumstances and education are very different to those of Josef (and Hilda) and they first meet while she is looking after his elderly mother. This takes place much later (in the late 1920s-early 1930s), and we follow her through a somewhat odd courting, then she joins him in France (he is Jewish and leaves Germany soon after Hitler comes into power), and she adapts her life to his, following him in his increasingly desperate attempts to leave Europe. The two narratives are in the first person, and Hilda and Katie have pretty different personalities which clearly come across in their parts of the story. While Hilda is more expressive and outgoing, Katie has seen a lot of suffering from a very young age, prefers quiet pursuits, and is happy to try to fit in with others and avoid confrontation.

This is a book full of little details that play important parts in the story, objects that come to symbolise aspects of the relationship of the two women with their husbands and also illustrate their personalities (while Hilda doesn’t get on with Josef’s mother and insists on standing her ground, Katie adapts to Josef’s mother’s somewhat overbearing personality and becomes a beloved companion of the old woman; Hilda dislikes the piano seat Josef can’t bear to part with but only convinces him to reupholster it, while Katie convinces him to get a two-seater piano bench; Katie’s father gives her a clock that becomes a stand-in for the past and for old memories and times). As we read the story we come to realise that Josef’s life has changed little, and we can’t help but wonder about the story of these women and about the man himself. There is a twist at the end, which helps explain some things, but it leaves as many questions unanswered as it solves.

I am not sure that there is anything I dislike about the book. By its own nature and the way the story is narrated, there is a lot of telling, but the stories told are so fascinating that I didn’t mind at all, and other than the occasional German word (which is usually translated or explained in the text), the text is easy to read with no sudden jumps in point of view or chronology, apart from the framing story. Katie’s account will, perhaps, be more familiar to readers, as there has been an upsurge in stories about WWII, and I know some readers didn’t feel that part quite matched the intensity of the other, but I was intrigued by the character, her relationship with her husband and her attitude towards life (although I don’t have much, if anything, in common with her). Of course, readers who dislike telling or like elaborate plots that move the story along without a pause might feel frustrated by the story and the style of the narrative, but I liked the way the two stories fitted together and felt the technique used to tell the story is well suited to the material.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in XIX and XX century German and American History, to people who enjoy biographies and/or fictionalised biographies, and particularly to those who like to read about women’s lives in the past. If you’re looking for a page-turner full of sensational adventures and larger-than-life characters, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. I look forward to discovering more of the author’s book and will follow his career with interest.

 Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to Rosie and to the members of the team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and make sure you keep safe. ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview CHURCHILL: A GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY by By Vincent Delmas…(@penswordbooks) A beautiful, informative and entertaining present for all ages

Hi all:

I bring you another one of Pen & Sword Books, a pretty new experience for me, and one I recommend.

Churchill A Graphic Biography by Vincent Delmas and F. Kersaudy

Churchill: A Graphic Biography by By Vincent DelmasFrançois Kersaudy, Foreword by Andrew. Roberts, Illustrations by Alessio Cammardella and Christophe Regnault

A full and wholly fair representation of the most adventurous life in the history of British politics. There is not a word I would have changed in the text of this excellent graphical account’ – Andrew Roberts.

Sir Winston Churchill is considered one of the most important figures of the 20th Century. This innovative graphic biography tells his extraordinary story, from his upbringing, through his military exploits and experience of the First World War, to his pivotal role in the Second World War. It explores the details of Churchill’s life within its historical and political context and brings the story to vivid life with precision, clarity and stunning visuals.

With a foreword by leading Churchill historian Andrew Roberts, the biography is followed by a series of information pages on Churchill and the War, providing further background to the story and the opportunity to explore some of the ideas in the book in more detail. Beautifully drawn, bursting with facts and highly accessible, this graphic biography will introduce a whole new generation of readers to Churchill’s incredible career and important legacy.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Churchill-Paperback/p/17100

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Churchill-Graphic-Biography-Vincent-Delmas/dp/1784385123/

https://www.amazon.com/Churchill-Graphic-Biography-Vincent-Delmas/dp/168247528X/

https://www.amazon.es/Churchill-Graphic-Biography-Vincent-Delmas/dp/1784385123/

About the authors:

About Francois Kersaudy

Born in 1948, François Kersaudy, OBE, FRSL, is a former research fellow at Keble College, Oxford, and a professor at the University of Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne. Known in the UK for this two books Churchill and de Gaulle and Norway 1940 (Collins, 1981 and 1990 ) he also wrote the only French biographies of Goering, Mountbatten and MacArthur, and is best known in France for his prize-winning biography of Winston Churchill (Tallandier, 2000). Professor Kersaudy is also a chronicler writing for the French weekly Le Point.fr.

About Andrew. Roberts

Andrew Roberts is a British historian and journalist. His modern works have focused on World War II figures, and his work was the basis for the BBC series Hitler and Churchill (2013). He won the 2010 British Army Military Book of the Year for The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2009) and the Prix du Jury des Grand Prix de la Fondation Napoléon in 2014 for won the award for Napoleon the Great.

Roberts is currently a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and a Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New York Historical Society. He regularly writes for publications such as The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a big reader of graphic novels and books (I used to read them when I was younger but not that much in recent years), but this title caught my attention due to the subject and to the authors and contributors. The book, which was first published in French in 2018, had some excellent reviews, and although I’m not an expert, in my opinion, they are well deserved.

The book is not a full biography (we don’t see the great man die), but we follow him from early childhood until the end of World War II, and special attention is given to the war period. The book also includes a foreword by Andrew Roberts —an expert on Churchill who has written about him and about WWII— endorsing the book, and an introduction (with B&W and colour photographs) and brief biography of Churchill by François Kersaudy, historical consultant of the volume, which further enhances the content.

The illustrations are beautiful and well-executed, in a classical style, with an interesting use of colours and shadows. Although they are in full colour, green, ochre, brown, and dark hues predominate from the beginning, as if foreshadowing the coming war, and the last part of the book (approximately the last fifty pages) are dedicated fully to World War II. There is a predominance of illustrations about his public life (as a war reporter, in the military, and later as a politician), but there are also some about his personal life, where we get to see Churchill, the man. The moments of action are interspersed with some quieter ones, although the illustrations dealing with the war, attacks, and action, are particularly fine and impressive. The text complements the images perfectly, and the writer has chosen the materials well, highlighting snippets of speeches and expressions he is well known for. That does not mean the book paints an unrealistic picture of Churchill, showing him as heroic and always right, without flaws or foibles. The man emerges from the picture as well, with his stubbornness, his recklessness at times, and his determination to do whatever necessary (not always the most suitable attitude for a politician, although the opposite isn’t particularly desirable either).

This is a great book to introduce Churchill to people of all ages who might not be too familiar with his biography or know very little about him, who like to experiment with other formats rather than the standard book or are fans of graphic novels and books, and who enjoy their history in a bite-size and visual format. The book is larger than a standard paperback, and it would make a beautiful present for anybody interested in the subject, in WWII, or just fans of graphic novels.  It’s also particularly appealing at this time of crisis, when the role of politicians has come to the fore, and it’s impossible not to compare our current leaders with some memorable figures from the past and wonder how they might have dealt with the situation.

(There are, of course, action scenes depicting the war, although not particularly gross or explicitly gore, although parents of very young children might want to check the book themselves beforehand).

Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword and the authors and translator, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling and stay safe.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview DICKENS AND CHRISTMAS by Lucinda Hawksley (@penswordbooks) (@lucindahawksley) A fabulous gift, for you or for those you love #Christmas

Hi, all:

I bring you a seasonal book and one that I think many of you might appreciate. It would be a wonderful Christmas gift, for sure.

Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley
Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley

Dickens and Christmas by Lucinda Hawksley

Dickens and Christmas is an exploration of the 19th-century phenomenon that became the Christmas we know and love today and of the writer who changed, forever, the ways in which it is celebrated. Charles Dickens was born in an age of great social change. He survived childhood poverty to become the most adored and influential man of his time. Throughout his life, he campaigned tirelessly for better social conditions, including by his most famous work, A Christmas Carol. He wrote this novella specifically to strike a sledgehammer blow on behalf of the poor man s child , and it began the Victorians obsession with Christmas. This new book, written by one of his direct descendants, explores not only Dickens s most famous work, but also his all-too-often overlooked other Christmas novellas. It takes the readers through the seasonal short stories he wrote, for both adults and children, includes much-loved festive excerpts from his novels, uses contemporary newspaper clippings, and looks at Christmas writings by Dickens contemporaries. To give an even more personal insight, readers can discover how the Dickens family itself celebrated Christmas, through the eyes of Dickens s unfinished autobiography, family letters, and his children s memoirs. In Victorian Britain, the celebration of Christmas lasted for 12 days, ending on 6 January, or Twelfth Night. Through Dickens and Christmas, readers will come to know what it would have been like to celebrate Christmas in 1812, the year in which Dickens was born. They will journey through the Christmases Dickens enjoyed as a child and a young adult, through to the ways in which he and his family celebrated the festive season at the height of his fame. It also explores the ways in which his works have gone on to influence how the festive season is celebrated around the globe.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dickens-Christmas-Lucinda-Hawksley/dp/1526712261/

https://www.amazon.com/Dickens-Christmas-Lucinda-Hawksley/dp/1526712261/

https://www.amazon.es/Dickens-Christmas-Lucinda-Hawksley/dp/1526712261/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Dickens-and-Christmas-Hardback/p/14004

Lucinda Hawksley
Author Lucinda Hawksley. Great-great-great granddaughter of Dickens

About the author:

Lucinda Hawksley is an author, broadcaster and public speaker. She has written more than twenty books, including critically acclaimed biographies, art history, social history, the history of London and travel writing. This is her third book about her great great great grandfather, Charles Dickens. Lucinda has appeared on television and radio around the globe. She is a Patron of the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

http://www.lucindahawksley.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. Although I’m not a big Christmas fan, I couldn’t resist this book, and I thought it would make a great gift for this time of the year.

The book (which contains a bibliography, a detailed index, and illustrations) is a great read, no matter how much or how little you like Christmas. Liking, or at least being curious about, Dickens would enhance the experience, but I’d dare say that even people who only have a passing acquaintance with his word can enjoy it.

The structure of the book, written by Dickens great great great granddaughter, follows his life, although it is not a detailed biography. We look at the tradition of the Christmas holiday, mostly in the UK (although we hear about Christmas celebrations in the USA when Dickens embark on his lecture tours in America, later in the book), as it was (or wasn’t), and I found it an invaluable source of information from a historical point of view. Although I was familiar (or so I thought), with the elements of what we consider a traditional Christmas and their origin, I have learned plenty about it, from the fact that the celebration in the early XIX century used to focus on the 12th day of Christmas (with a big cake and parties where people played different parts), Christmas trees, Father Christmas, Christmas card… to the first introduction of the Christmas cake and the way the Christmas pudding and the mince pies have changed over the years (yes, I think most of  us had heard that originally the mincemeat contained real meat… and that’s true).

I am not an expert on Dickens, although I’ve read a number of his novels (and A Christmas Carol, of course), and I don’t think much of the biographical information about him will be new to those who have studied his work and life (although as it is written by one of his relatives, and as we all know stories about family members circulate and are passed on through generations, it is always possible that if not the facts, the details and anecdotes might be more vividly portrayed), but I did learn much about him, his childhood (that I was familiar with), his struggles, his friendships… The book centres on the writing of A Christmas Carol, which was hugely successful and Dickens wrote in an attempt at raising people’s social awareness of the plight of the poor and the terrible conditions of the working classes in Victorian England, and how it would become the beginning of a tradition (still followed by many authors) of publishing novels and books in time for Christmas. Initially, in the years after Carol, he would write a new story for publication at that time, but later he would publish Christmas books, compiling his own stories and those of writer friends and collaborator, mostly not on the subject of Christmas. These proved popular, and as his fame grew, he spent more and more of his time touring, reading fragments of his books or some of his novellas in full (A Christmas Carol remained popular and still is), and also preparing the Christmas number. There are titbits of information that bring Dickens, the individual, to life (he had pet ravens and loved his dogs), with his qualities and defects (his behaviour towards his wife was horrendous, even if it was not uncommon for the period, and women had little in the way of legal rights at the time), and the focus of this volume on the yearly Christmas celebrations fits in with his enthusiasm and his interests. I loved the way he would get involved in pantomimes, which grew more and more elaborate over time, to the point of writing what sound like true plays to perform with his children and friends.

The book is peppered with fragments from his stories, which are set apart from the rest of the text, also quotes from his letters, and passages from newspapers of the period reviewing his work and/or his lectures. One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed —and I think most writers or people interested in the writing business will also appreciate— is the insider information about the publishing industry of the era. How Dickens would change publishers, his fight against piracy (oh, yes, it’s nothing new), his anger on seeing so many versions of his books turned into theatrical performances without his authorisation, the fact that there was no international copyright law, so although his books were very popular in the USA he did not receive a penny from the sales (and of course, they tried to tax his gains from lecturing, but he managed to escape the American taxmen), and other juicy bits. There is also plenty of material about his writing methods, and he often talks about it in his correspondence.

There are some photographs included, but my favourite illustrations are those taken from Dickens’s stories and others that capture the Christmas period of the era. They are a joy and further enhance the reading experience.

This is a book for lovers of Christmas, for people interested in the Victorian period and its traditions, for people who want to learn more about Dickens, and it will be of particular interest to writers who want to learn more about what writing was like at the time. I loved the fragments of Dickens’s stories that exemplify why he continues to be love, valued and appreciated. A fabulous gift, for you or for those you love. Merry Christmas, and God bless Us, Every One!

Thanks to Rosie and Lucinda for this book, and to Dickens for his stories, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share if you’ve enjoyed it or know somebody who might. And keep reading, smiling, and have a great festive season!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #FURIOUS HOURS: MURDER, FRAUD, AND THE LAST TRIAL OF HARPER LEE by Casey Cep (@cncep). Wonderful!

Hi all:

I bring you a book that is getting a fair amount of attention, well-deserved, in my opinion.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. A great book about a great writer and a mystery (or several).

A triumph on every level. One of the losses to literature is that Harper Lee never found a way to tell a gothic true-crime story she’d spent years researching. Casey Cep has excavated this mesmerizing story and tells it with grace and insight and a fierce fidelity to the truth.
DAVID GRANN, author of Killers of the Flower Moon
_____________________________
The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted – thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

As Alabama is consumed by these gripping events, it’s not long until news of the case reaches Alabama’s – and America’s – most famous writer. Intrigued by the story, Harper Lee makes a journey back to her home state to witness the Reverend’s killer face trial. Harper had the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research. Lee spent a year in town reporting on the Maxwell case and many more years trying to finish the book she called The Reverend.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.

This is the story Harper Lee wanted to write. This is the story of why she couldn’t.
_____________________________
Fascinating… Cep has spliced together a Southern-gothic tale of multiple murder and the unhappy story of Lee’s literary career, to produce a tale that is engrossing in its detail and deeply poignant… [Cep] spends the first third of Furious Hours following the jaw-droppingtrail of murders … Engrossing… Cep writes about all this with great skill, sensitivity and attention to detail.’
Sunday Times

It’s been a long time since I picked up a book so impossible to put downFurious Hours made me forget dinner, ignore incoming calls, and stay up reading into the small hours. It’s a work of literary and legal detection as gripping as a thriller. But it’s also a meditation on motive and mystery, the curious workings of history, hope, and ambition, justice, and the darkest matters of life and death. Casey Cep’s investigation into an infamous Southern murder trial and Harper Lee’s quest to write about it is a beautiful, sobering, and sometimes chilling triumph.’
HELEN MACDONALD, author of H is for Hawk

https://www.amazon.com/Furious-Hours-Murder-Fraud-Harper-ebook/dp/B07H9N58R4/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Furious-Hours-Murder-Fraud-Harper-ebook/dp/B07H9N58R4/

https://www.amazon.es/Furious-Hours-Murder-Fraud-Harper-ebook/dp/B07H9N58R4/

Author Casey Cep
Author Casey Cep

About the author:

CASEY CEP is a writer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in English, she earned an M.Phil in theology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Her work has appeared in “The New Yorker,” “The New York Times,” and “The New Republic,” among other publications. “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee” is her first book.

https://www.amazon.com/Casey-Cep/e/B07NW7ZRLD

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Cornerstone Digital for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I requested an early copy of this book as soon as I read what it was about. I’ve always been fascinated by books about writers and the writing process, and true crime stories have also intrigued me both professionally and personally for a long time, so this book seemed to tick all the right boxes. And I’m pleased to confirm that it does deliver.

Narrating the story of the book Harper Lee intended to write after her success with To Kill a Mockingbird —a true crime story seemingly inspired by her friend Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood, which she helped research (and there is little doubt her contribution was key to the greatness of the book)— would guarantee a lot of attention. Most people have read (and/or watched the movie version of) To Kill a Mockingbird, an American classic, and many stories have circulated about its author, who never published another novel and avoided public attention, interviews, and homages. I can’t imagine many readers of the book who have not wondered why this was her only book. Of course, she is not the only author to have published an extremely successful book and no more (I won’t run through the list), but the more we hear about her (recent movies about Capote brought her attention as well) the more intrigued we become.

Cep’s methodology for telling the story is fascinating and by the end of the book I though she lives up to the exacting rules and standards Lee applied to her own work. She did not wish to fictionalize parts of the story (as Capote had done in writing what he dubbed his “nonfiction novel”), and she wanted to make sure people knew what was fact and what was rumour or fancy. It is worth reading the notes at the end (which go into a lot of detail about which sources Cep used for which part, including interviews, letters and articles) to get a clearer sense of the process of creating the book and researching it. She had privileged access to the original sources, managed to interview many of the people involved (those still alive), although, of course, Lee’s paper remain sealed, so there remain many unanswered questions. She could have chosen to write herself into the story (writing therefore the story of her writing the story of Lee’s abandoned book), but she doesn’t, and I felt her strategy worked well.

The book is divided into three parts: the first is dedicated to Reverend Maxwell, his life, his career, the suspicious deaths of five of his relatives, whose life insurance policies he was the main beneficiary of, the rumours of his having used voodoo, and his murder during the funeral of his stepdaughter (and suspected last victim). The second part follows the life and career of Tom Radney, who was Reverend Maxwell’s lawyer while he was alive and who went on to defend the man who killed him. “Big Tom” was a larger than life character, a Southern democrat, with a past in politics, and a pretty congenial and influential man. The third part introduces Harper Lee, talking about the town where she grew up, her family, her friendship with Capote, her writing (and rewriting) her famous novel, her trip to Kansas with Capote to gather information for In Cold Blood, her sudden success, and her difficulties writing after that. It also talks about her trip to Alexander City and her stay there, sitting in the trial of Robert Lewis Buns (the man who killed Rev. Maxwell) and gathering information about the reverend and all involved. That part of the book follows Lee and her life (as much as is known of it) to her death and includes the fact that, upon her death, Radney’s relatives were returned the legal paperwork he had lent her to help her write the book. At first sight, it might seem that the third part is the most interesting, but Cep has managed to turn the whole book into a compelling reading and, in my opinion, there is enough material to create three books here.

The author’s writing is informative, compelling, and easy to follow. Her rich vocabulary describes perfectly the atmosphere of Alabama, and her inclusion of historical and sociological details allows readers to gain a fuller understanding of the characters, their backgrounds, and the era. This is not a minimalist book, or one that avoids any information extraneous to the plot, perhaps because there is no specific plot and the book aims are not pure entertainment or the telling of a single story. The method, that at times seems as if the author was meandering around and going off on tangents (for example, when she starts talking about Maxwell’s possible motives, she writes about the development of life insurance, both in the world and in the US, and talks about the way African-Americans were sold and miss sold, insurances, or she mentions the name of a hotel, and then explains the battle that gave it its name), reminded me of the description of Lee’s way of classifying her notes for Capote’s In Cold Blood. Lee included sections on the town, the landscape, the crime, the victims, the survivors, the interviews and the trial. She had an almost photographic memory, and she would include comments on clothing, where people were standing, and incorporate detailed drawings. Personally, I found these seemingly “extra” nuggets of background information enthralling, and although we would “get” the rest of the book without them, our understanding of the circumstances and the era would never reach the depth and complexity it does with them.

I’ve read articles and reviews about Lee (mostly after the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman), but I’m not an expert and haven’t read any biographies, so I cannot compare the information included in the book with that of any other sources. Judging by the reviews and comments about the book, the information is pretty accurate, but I am not sure it would surprise specialists in the field, although, on the other hand, anybody who gets to it with limited information is likely to learn plenty, not only about Lee but about Alabama politics, judicial system, society, and the South in general.

As I have mentioned, there is a thorough bibliography included, and also copious notes that detail which information and sources were used where. I only had access to an ARC e-copy of the book, so I’m not sure if the final version includes images or not (mine didn’t). Anybody interested in Lee’s writing should read this book, and anybody who enjoys Southern writing and is interested in it will also enjoy it. In fact, I’d recommend it to anybody who loves To Kill a Mockingbird and feels curious about the book and its author. It is not a book for those who want tight writing and getting straight to the point, or are looking for a full disclosure and explanation about the author and her life, or even about Reverend Maxwell and Tom Radney. And it is not a novel, or three. But it is wonderful.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for this engrossing book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

NUREMBERG’S VOICE OF DOOM: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE CHIEF INTERPRETER AT HISTORY’S GREATEST TRIALS by Wolfe Frank (@penswordbooks) A must read

Hi all:

I bring you a fabulous book about one of those people that seem too big for everyday life.

Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank

Nuremberg’s Voice of Doom: The Autobiography of the Chief Interpreter at History’s Greatest Trials by Wolfe Frank

The memoirs of Wolfe Frank, which lay hidden in an attic for twenty-five years, are a unique and highly moving behind-the-scenes account of what happened at Nuremberg – ‘the greatest trial in history’ – seen through the eyes of a witness to the whole proceedings. They include important historical information never previously revealed. In an extraordinarily explicit life story, Frank includes his personal encounters, inside and outside the courtroom, with all the war criminals, particularly Hermann Goering. This, therefore, is a unique record that adds substantially to what is already publicly known about the trials and the defendants.

Involved in proceedings from day one, Frank translated the first piece of evidence, interpreted the judges’ opening statements, and concluded the trials by announcing the sentences to the defendants (and several hundred million radio listeners) – which earned him the soubriquet ‘Voice of Doom’.

Prior to the war, Frank, who was of Jewish descent, was a Bavarian playboy, an engineer, a resistance worker, a smuggler (of money and Jews out of Germany) and was declared to be ‘an enemy of the State to be shot on sight’. Having escaped to Britain, he was interned at the outbreak of war but successfully campaigned for his release and eventually allowed to enlist in the British Army – in which he rose to the rank of Captain. Unable to speak English prior to his arrival, by the time of the Nuremberg trials he was described as the ‘finest interpreter in the world’.

A unique character of extreme contrasts Frank was a playboy, a risk taker and an opportunist. Yet he was also a man of immense courage, charm, good manners, integrity and ability. He undertook the toughest assignment imaginable at Nuremberg to a level that was ‘satisfactory alike to the bench, the defence and the prosecution’ and he played a major role in materially shortening the ‘enormously difficult procedures’ by an estimated three years.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07J9RH8TQ/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Nurembergs-Voice-of-Doom-Hardback/p/15472

About the Author

Born on St Valentine’s Day 1913, WOLFE FRANK was a strikingly handsome man who proved to be irresistible to women. Post Nuremberg he single-handedly tracked down and apprehended one of the ‘most wanted’ Nazi criminals and in a packed lifetime he was, at various times, a financial advisor, racing driver, theatre impresario, broadcaster, journalist, salesman, businessman, restaurateur, skier, and property developer.

PAUL HOOLEY was born and educated in Surrey. He founded a design and printing company that grew to be ranked amongst the industry’s top 1%. He has also been a director of a building society, a private hospital and companies involved in advertising, publishing, finance, building, transport, property and engineering. He retired from business in 1990 since when he has devoted his life to studying, writing and lecturing on a wide range of historical and military subjects. A former town and district councillor, he was Mayor of Bedford in 1978. Amongst other involvements he has been a magistrate, a tax commissioner and a prison visitor. He has been married to Helen for over fifty years, has three children and now lives in Dorset. He was appointed a MBE in 2003.

You can check this article about Wolfe Frank for more information and to see some pictures:

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/1052540/wolfe-frank-nazis-nuremberg-trials-hitler-lieutenants

My review:

My thanks to Rosie Croft and to Pen & Sword for sending me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review and I can’t recommend enough.

Often, when we read books on important historical subjects we feel we have learned something that others should also know about, something that should not be forgotten by the new generations, to avoid mistakes being repeated or to give credit to people who played an important role in ensuring a better future for all. This book combines both of these aspects, and much more.

Having read about the Nuremberg Trials, watched movies, and seen them mentioned often in other settings, I was curious when I saw this book. I’d never paid much heed to the role of the interpreters at the trials, but now that I’ve been doing translations for a while (and I know it’s a very different type of work), I’ve become much more aware of how important accuracy is, and in that case, with all the legal requirements and speed also playing a part, even more so. The fact that Wolfe Frank was the main and star interpreter (not that he ever says so himself, but it is an easy conclusion from the accolades and endorsements he received) at the trials would have made it an interesting book already, but his adventures and the man are fascinating in their own right.

The story of why the book had never come to light before (that links to his final years and his sad circumstances) sounds like the stuff of fiction: the memoirs of a very important and fascinating man locked up in an attic, with nobody fully aware of what was there, for twenty-five years. And then, what a life! If this was a work of fiction many readers would think that the author had gone too far stretching the suspension of disbelief. It feels as if Frank had lived several lives in one, and they all make for a very compelling read.

Paul Hooley does a great job of interfering little with the original materials, while providing sufficient information and background to ensure that the memoirs read smoothly, and we don’t need to keep searching for explanations of terminology or for details about people and places mentioned. His vast amount of research is evident but non-intrusive, and he also includes pictures to do with Frank’s life and with the trials. They all add to the reading experience, and I found particularly enlightening the drawings indicating how the courtroom worked, the places all the key players occupied, and the annotated pictures, originally from other books. Mostly, Hooley allows Frank’s words to speak for themselves, and he comes across as an intelligent, funny, witty, sharp, and matter-of-fact man, who was charming, could turn his hand at anything and do it well, knew how to get his own way often, for whom Justice (with capital letters) was truly important, but who had no great respect for rules, regulations or authority for their own sake, and could not abide fools or bullies gladly. He loved adventures and living in the fast-lane, but not when it came to putting other people’s lives at risk. He lived through some terrible events and put up with things that many of us can’t even imagine, but he maintained his dignity and is a perfect example of grace under pressure.

I cannot summarise the whole book and his life in a review, and in fact there is another book about his later adventures in Germany, which I have already secured a copy of, but if you love spy books, and are a fun of James Bond (I am not, by the way), you will want to read this book. He was not a spy, at least in the sense we have become familiar with through books and movies, but he did many of the things we would expect a spy to do, and many more. The part of the book about the trial is fascinating in its own right. The setting up of simultaneous translation, which had not been successfully used or established before, is a must for anybody interested in how international courts and organisations work at a practical level. Even though Frank makes light of many things, it is clear that he was serious about this, and he took the experience to heart (just imagine having to listen to hours and hours of descriptions of the crimes committed, while trying to do a job, and you will get an idea of how harrowing that must have been). He talks about Otto Ohlendorf, Chief of the Special Action Group in the East —this was part of the Subsequent Proceedings where he was the Chief Interpreter— and explains why he was one of the most chilling individuals he had to listen to, his pride when explaining his method of setting up the mobile gas chambers and perfecting them to make sure his staff were not affected mentally by the killings. He evidently thought he had done a great job and remained proud of it. Here is one of the few times when Frank explains how affected he was by it all:

There were days, such as that, when after my day in court I could not eat and I had to drown myself in alcohol before I could sleep; days when my reactions to anything or anyone German were not normal.

There were inevitable emotional reactions. What has remained is the realisation that a lifetime is too short for such horrors to be filed away in the annals of history as something destined to be forgotten. Forgiven, perhaps —forgotten— never. I flinch at the sickening sentimentality that demands the release of a Rudolf Hess, the application of the statutes of limitation. (Frank, 2018, p. 166)

I couldn’t agree more, and indeed it is a shame when one reads what happened to him at the end (when he couldn’t stay in his accommodation and due to his ill health he could not keep working) that he was not honoured and remembered as he deserved. At least one can hope that this book will make people become aware of him and his role, even if it is a case of ‘too little, too late’.

He was popular with women and his cavalier attitude can be problematic to read nowadays, but he recognised his own responsibility in the matter, and he does not appear dismissive or prejudiced when talking about women in a professional capacity. He could be a rogue (if we were to use a typical romantic novel definition of the word), but it seems fair to assume that he was a charming one. As Hooley very aptly summarises:

In short Wolfe Frank seems to have been a mixture of Casanova, with whom he had much in common, Cary Grant, the Scarlet Pimpernel, James Bond and Oliver Reed; and he had that rare ability to be a man’s man —a worldly-wise, educated gentleman who possesses class and admits his faults— as well as being a ladies’ man.  (Frank, 2018, p. 178)

This is an important book, a page-turner, a book that moves at fast pace, full of adventure, historical detail, and with a protagonist that even the most skilled fiction writers would struggle to improve on. Read it and recommend it. I’m sure you will.

And as a closing, I had to leave you with a lighter passage, and one that I, who lived in the UK for many years but could never fully understand the attraction cricket held for many, had to smile at. Here he had just arrived in the UK after one of his lucky escapes, was starving and hoping his friend would take him for a meal on arrival, but he was dragged instead to watch a cricket match. He’d never experienced one before.

At the match I found myself sitting next to a teacher who wanted to practice his German. For some time, I gazed at a group of men who, at first, seemed to be in doubt about what to do with themselves. They finally started to throw a ball about half-heartedly and now and then one of them seemed to arouse himself from his lethargy, to take an awkward swing at the ball with a large, clumsy lump of timber. Finally, I felt that I required an explanation. I turned to my neighbour and asked him when they would start to play? ‘Heavens’ he said with an expression of complete horror on his face, ‘what do you mean? They’ve been playing for over an hour… and this is a frightfully exciting match!’ (Frank, 2018, p. 42)

Frank, W. (2018). Nuremberg’s voice of doom. The autobiography of the chief interpreter at history’s greatest trials. Barnsley, UK: Frontline Books (Pen & Sword).

Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling. Ah, I’ll be away from the blog and my computer for a bit, so don’t worry if you don’t see any posts for a bit. I’ll be reading and recharging my batteries! Have a great Easter!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE WHITE CRUCIFIXION: A NOVEL ABOUT MARC CHAGALL by Michael Dean (@HollandParkPres) An inside look into the early life and creative process of Marc Chagall that goes well beyond a standard biography #arthistory

Hi all:

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, know that I am a bit of a disaster with visuals and even taking digital pictures is a challenge. Despite that, or perhaps, because of it, I love the visual arts: painting, sculpture, photography, and I’m fascinated by the lives of the artists, the classics as well as more recent ones. I remember reading with fascination The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein where she talks about the writers and artists that visited her and the fascinating conversations and exchange of ideas that took place. (Although her writing style is peculiar, I love that book and I recommend it).

So, when I got offered this book, I had to read it. And here it is:

Book review of The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean
The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean

The White Crucifixion: A novel about Marc Chagall by Michael Dean

The White Crucifixion starts with Chagall’s difficult birth in Vitebsk 1887, in the present-day Belarus, and tells the surprising story of how the eldest son of a herring schlepper became enrolled in art school where he quickly gained a reputation as ‘Moyshe, the painting wonder’.

The novel paints a vivid picture of a Russian town divided by belief and wealth, rumours of pogroms never far away, yet bustling with talented young artists.

In 1913 Chagall relished the opportunity to move to Paris to take up residence in the artist colony ‘The Hive’ (La Ruche). The Yiddish-speaking artists (École Juive) living there were all poor. The Hive had no electric light or running water and yet many of its artists were to become famous, among them Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, and Osip Zadkine.

The novel vividly portrays the dynamics of an artist colony, its pettiness, friendships and the constant battle to find the peace and quiet to work.

In 1914 Chagall and his wife Bella made what was supposed to be a fleeting visit to his beloved Vitebsk, only to be trapped there by the outbreak of the First World War, the subsequent Russian revolution and the establishment of the communist regime, which was increasingly hostile towards artists like Chagall.

Yet Chagall kept on painting, and the novel provides a fascinating account of what inspired some of his greatest work. He eventually managed to return to France, only to be thwarted by another world war, which proved disastrous for the people he knew in Vitebsk, the people in his paintings, including his uncle Neuch, the original ‘Fiddler on the roof’.

The White Crucifixion is a fictionalised account of the rollercoaster life in terrible times of one of the most enigmatic artists of the twentieth century.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/White-Crucifixion-novel-about-Chagall-ebook/dp/B079YX4JQM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Crucifixion-novel-about-Chagall-ebook/dp/B079YX4JQM/

Author Michael Dean
Author Michael Dean

About the author:

Michael Dean has a history degree from Worcester College, Oxford, an MSc in Applied Linguistics from Edinburgh University and a translator’s qualification (AIL) in German.

His novels are The Crooked Cross (Endeavour Press, new edition 2018) about Hitler and art; Thorn, (Bluemoose Books, 2011) about Spinoza and Rembrandt; Magic City, (Odyssey Press new edition 2017) a Bildungsroman; and I, Hogarth (Duckworth-Overlook, 2012), which set out to unify Hogarth’s life with his art.

He has also written three e-book novels for Endeavour Press: The Enemy Within (2013), about Jewish resistance in the Netherlands in World War II; Hour Zero (2014), about Germany in 1946; and Before the Darkness (2015), about Walther Rathenau and the Weimar Republic.

His non-fiction includes a book about Chomsky and many educational publications.

His latest novel The White Crucifixion, a novel about Marc Chagall, will be published by Holland Park Press on February 2018.

Michael says: ‘The White Crucifixion intends to unify Marc Chagall’s life, painting and the Jewish experience in the twentieth century. In some ways, I see it as a follow-up to my previous novel, I, Hogarth. The two novels are, however, very different because the two artists painted very differently and I try to reflect that (‘Dean writes as Hogarth paints,’ Andrea Wulf, New York Times). Nevertheless, you could see this as a kind of Jewish I, Hogarth.’

Enjoy Artist’s White Crucifixion Made a Marc on Novelist a profile of Michael Dean which was published in the Jewish Telegraph on 19 January 2018.

‘The priority for me is always to write a novel but at the same time stay true to real life.’ – From an interview with Michael Dean in The Gazette

https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B003CGUP9A/

https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk//dean

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this novel from the publisher, and I freely chose to review it.

Although I am not sure I would say I’m a big fan of Chagall’s paintings, I’ve always been intrigued by them and drawn to them, even when I didn’t know much about the author or what was behind them. I’ve seen several exhibitions of his work and have also visited the wonderful Chagall National Museum in Nice, France (I recommend it to anybody wishing to learn more about the painter and his works, particularly those with a religious focus). When I was offered the opportunity to read this novel, written by an author with a particular affinity for the art-world, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

The book is not a full biography. It follows Marc Chagall (born Moyshe Shagal) from his birth in the pre-revolutionary Russian town of Vitebsk (now in Belarus) until he paints the White Crucifixion of the title. We accompany Chagall through his childhood (hard and difficult conditions, but not for lack of affection or care), his early studies and his interactions with his peers (many of whom became well-known artists in their own right), his love story with Bella (fraught as it was at times), his first stay in Paris, in the Hive (a fabulous-sounding place, and a glorious and chaotic Petri dish where many great artists, especially from Jewish origin, lived and created), his return to Russia and his encounter with the Russian revolution (full of hopes and ideals for a better future at first, hopes and ideals that are soon trashed by the brutality of the new regime), and finally his escape and return to France.

Throughout it all, we learn about his passion for painting, his creative self-assurance and fascination for Jewish life and traditions,  his peculiar creative methods and routine (he wears makeup to paint and prefers to paint at night), his visitations by the prophet Elijah and how that is reflected in his paintings, his pettiness and jealousy (he is forever suspicious of other pupils and fellow painters, of his wife and her friends), and how he can be truly oblivious to practical matters and always depends on others to manage the everyday details of life (like food, money, etc.). He is surrounded by tragedy and disaster (from the death of his young sister to the many deaths caused by the destruction of Vitebsk at the hands of the revolutionaries) although he is lucky in comparison to many of his contemporaries, and lived to a very ripe old age.

The book is a fictionalization of the early years of Marc Chagall’s life (with a very brief mention of his end), but it is backed up by a good deal of research that is seamlessly threaded into the story. We read about the art movements of the time and Chagall’s opinion of them, about other famous painters (I love the portrayal of Modigliani, a favourite among all his peers), about the historical events of the time, all from a unique perspective, that of the self-absorbed Chagall. He is not a particularly sympathetic character. Despite his protestations of love, he is more interested in painting than in his wife and daughter, although he states that he feels guilty for some of the tragedies that happen to those around him, he pays little heed to them all and does not change his selfish behaviour, and he is far from modest (he feels he has nothing to learn from anybody, is clearly superior to most, if not all, his colleagues and he often talks about how attractive he is). He is unashamed and unapologetic, as he would have to be to succeed in the circumstances he had to live through. But, no matter what we might feel about the man, the book excels at explaining the genesis of some of his best-known early paintings, and all readers will leave with a better understanding of the man and his art.

The writing combines the first person narrative with the historical detail and loving descriptions of places and people, giving Chagall a unique and distinctive voice and turning him into a real person, with defects and qualities, with his pettiness and his peculiar sense of humour. Although we might not like him or fully understand him, we get to walk in his shoes and to share in his sense of wonder and in his urgency to create.

I wanted to share some quotations from the book, so you can get some sense of the style and decide if it suits your taste:

When I work, I feel as if my father and my mother are peering over my shoulder — and behind them Jews, millions of vanished Jews of yesterday and a thousand years ago. They are all in my paintings.

Here he talks about Modigliani and one of his lovers, Beatrice Hastings:

They had some of the most erudite fights in Paris. They used to fight in verse. He would yell Dante at her. She would scream back Dante Gabriel Rossetti or Milton, who Modi especially detested.

Modi once said ‘The human face is the supreme creation of nature. Paint it and you paint life.’

All my life I have blamed myself for whatever it was I was doing, but all my life I have gone on doing it.

So much for the revolution freeing the Jews from oppression. They had ended the ghettos, the Pales of Settlement, but the ghettos had at least afforded us a protective fence, of sorts, to huddle behind. Now we were like clucking chickens out in the open, waiting to be picked off one by one for counter-revolutionary activity.

As other reviewers have noted, the book will be enjoyed more fully if readers can access images of Chagall’s paintings and be able to check them as they are discussed. I only had access to the e-book version and I don’t know if the paper copies contain illustrations, but it would enhance the experience.

I recommend the book to art lovers, fans of Marc Chagall and painters of the period, people interested in that historical period, studious of the Russian Revolution interested in a different perspective, and people intrigued by Jewish life in pre- and early-revolutionary Russia. I have read great reviews about the author’s book on another painter, Hogarth, and I’ll be keeping track of his new books.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and to keep smiling! ♥

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#Bookreview and #Blogtour THE OTHER EINSTEIN by Marie Benedict @sourcebooks Re-evaluations and fictionalised history.

Hi all:

As you know I read a lot and I share reviews. On this occasion, when I saw this book on offer on NetGalley I thought it looked very intriguing, and when a member of the publicity team for the novel got in touch and asked if I’d like to take part in the tour I agreed. At that point I hadn’t read the novel yet, and I worried it might take me some time to get to it, so I booked it for later in November. That has meant that the author was busy with her own live tour and could not provide an original feature for it, but I include the press release, my own review for you and also, if you’re quick, a promotion that will allow you to get it at a special price.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

October 18, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492637257 

Book Info:

Title: The Other Einstein

Author: Marie Benedict

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Praise for The Other Einstein

October 2016 Indie Next and LibraryReads Pick!

PopSugar’s “25 Books You’re Going to Curl Up with this Fall”

“The Other Einstein takes you into Mileva’s heart, mind, and study as she tries to forge a place for herself in a scientific world dominated by men.”– Bustle

“…an ENGAGING and THOUGHT PROVOKING fictional telling of the poignant story of an overshadowed woman scientist.”– Booklist

“…INTIMATE and IMMERSIVE historical novel….

Prepare to be moved by this provocative history of a woman whose experiences will resonate with today’s readers.”– Library Journal, Editors’ Fall Picks

“Many will enjoy Benedict’s feminist views and be fascinated by the life of an almost unknown woman.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“Benedict’s debut novel carefully traces Mileva’s life—from studious schoolgirl to bereaved mother—with attention paid to the conflicts between personal goals and social conventions. An intriguing… reimagining of one of the strongest intellectual partnerships of the 19th century.” Kirkus

“In her compelling novel… Benedict makes a strong case that the brilliant woman behind [Albert Einstein] was integral to his success, and creates a rich historical portrait in the process.” Publishers Weekly

Summary:

A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history. 

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Maric_, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. PoeThe Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

Goodreads Link:  http://ow.ly/y83l305MKdq

Buy Links:

Amazon: http://ow.ly/MvWy305MKr5

Barnes & Noble: http://ow.ly/Ya8l305MKC6

IndieBound: http://ow.ly/57fK305MKSh

 

Author Marie Benedict
Author Marie Benedict

About the Author:

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Social Media Links:

Author Website: http://www.authormariebenedict.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormariebenedict/#

Here, my review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sourcebooks Landmark for offering me an ARC copy of the book. I voluntarily decided to review it.

We’ve all heard the saying: ‘Behind every great man there’s a great woman’ in its many different versions. It’s true that for centuries men (or many men of the wealthy classes with access to education) could dedicate themselves to artistic, scientific or business pursuits because the everyday things were taken care of by their wives or other women in their lives (mothers, relatives, partners…) As Virginia Wolf wrote in ‘A Room of One’s Own’ women had a harder time of it, as they were expected to take care of the house, family, and ensure that their husbands came back to a place where they would be looked after and tended too. Unless women were independently wealthy and could count on the support (financial, emotional and practical) of the men in their lives, it was very hard, if not impossible, to pursue a career in the arts or the sciences.

Mary Benedict’s book explores the life of Mitza Maric, who would later become Einstein’s first wife, from the time of her arrival in Zurich (as one of only a few female students at the university) to the time when she separates from her husband. Maric is an intriguing figure (and I must admit I hadn’t read anything about her before) and an inspiring one, as she had to go against the odds (being a woman at a time were very few women could study at university, suffering from hip dysplasia, that left her with a limp and difficulty in undertaking certain physical tasks) and managed to study and be respected for her knowledge of Physics and Maths.

The book is written in the first person, and we get a close look at Maric´s thoughts, emotions and doubts. The early part of the book is a very good read, with descriptions of the social mores of the era, Mitza’s family, the development of her friendship with the other female students at the lodgings, the intellectual atmosphere and café society of that historical period, and of course, Mr Einstein, whom he meets at University. Mitza believed (like her parents) that due to her physical disability she would never marry, and lived resigned to the idea, having decided to dedicate her life to her research, studies and the academic life she craved. And then… Einstein arrives.

The Einstein depicted by the book is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character. He’s friendly, humorous and charming, and also, of course, a brilliant scientist, but can be selfish, egotistical and cares nothing for anybody who is not himself. We see more of the first Einstein at the beginning of the relationship, through their interaction, walks, scientific discussions… Einstein opens the world for Mitza, and if she had been enjoying the company of the other girls, she later neglects them for the world of scientific discussion among men, where she gains entry thanks to Einstein.

When, after much hesitation, Mitza decides to visit Einstein and spend a few days with him in Lake Como, the two of them alone, the book becomes more melodramatic and things start going very wrong. Mitza gets pregnant, Einstein keeps making excuses not to get married yet, and resentment sets in. If I mentioned that Einstein is a Jekyll and Hyde character, Mitza, who was always shy but determined and stubborn, also changes; she becomes sad, hesitant, and she seems unable to follow her own path. In the book, there is much internal discussion and debate, as on the one hand she does not like Einstein’s behaviour, but on the other, she tries to see things from her mother’s point of view and do what’s right for the child.

As some reviewers have noted (and the writer acknowledges in her notes at the back of the book), it’s a fact that they had a daughter out of wedlock, but it’s not clear what happened to her, and that makes the later part of the book, at least for me, stand on shakier grounds. That is always a difficulty with historical fiction, whereby to flesh out the story authors must make decisions, interpreting events and sometimes filling in gaps. In some cases, this is more successful than others, and it might also depend on the reader and their ability to suspend disbelief.

The author comes up with an explanation for the possible origin of the theory of relativity, closely linked to Mitza’s faith (and I know there have been debates as to how much Einstein’s wife contributed to it, and she definitely did contribute, although most likely not as much as is suggested in the book) that hinges around a dramatic event affecting their daughter, the problem being (from a historical point of view) that there’s no evidence it ever took place. That event, as depicted in the text, has a major impact in later parts of the novel and seems to underline all of the later difficulties the couple has, although Einstein’s behaviour, his reluctance to include his wife’s name in any of the articles or patents, the time he spends away, and his infidelities don’t help.

I found it difficult to reconcile the woman of the beginning of the book with the beaten down character of the later part of the book, although there are some brief flashes of her former self, like when she converses with Marie Curie. Although there is much self-justification for her continuing to live with Einstein given the circumstances (she is doing it for the children, she still hopes he will seek her ideas and collaboration and they’ll end up working together), one wonders how the strong and determined woman of the beginning can end up tolerating such a frustrating life (especially once Albert becomes well known and their financial difficulties end). There is also no evidence that she sought to rekindle her career once she was no longer with Einstein, and one can’t help but wonder if perhaps their relationship, at least early on, was also a source of inspiration for her too.

I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Mitza Maric, and in particular about the era and the difficulties women had to face then, although I would have preferred to be more aware of where the facts ended and author creativity started whilst reading the book, as I was never sure if some of the inconsistencies within the characters were due to their own experiences and circumstances, or to the reimagining of some parts of the story, that perhaps ends up transforming it into a more typical narrative of the woman whose ambitions and future die due to marriage, children and a less than enlightened husband. (It reminded me at times of Revolution Road, although in this instance both of the characters are talented, whilst there…) The author provides sources for further reading and research at the end that will prove invaluable to those interested in digging further.

In sum this book highlights the figure of a woman worth knowing better; it can work as the starting point for further research and fascinating discussions, and it is eminently readable. People looking for specific scientific information or accurate personal facts might need to consult other books as this is definitely a fictionalisation.

Here, the book is on special promotion until the 26th in Goodreads, so you’re in time if you’re quick!

the-othereinsteingoodreadspromo

Here is the link.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Landmark and to the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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