The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman

In 1994, while visiting Anne Frank’s secret annex in Amsterdam, Feldman was told there was no information on what happened to the boy Anne feel in love with, Peter van Daan (real name Peter van Pels). Later she learned that  Peter perished in Mauthausen concentration camp on May 5, 1945, three days before it was liberated. But by then, as she states in her acknowledgments at the end, her imagination had taken off, and she eventually wrote this very interesting account of what could had happened had Peter survived and had he, like so many other survivors, decided to hid his Jewish identity and what happened to him.

Peter, who immigrated to the United States, has managed to keep his Jewish identity a secret for years; a secret even from his wife and his children. But at the beginning of the story, Peter has lost his voice for no explainable reason and his attempts to discover why ask interesting questions about the long term consequences for a victim of an unspeakable crime. How long can Peter say in denial? Is his suffering more common than we might think? Interesting questions sparked by a clearly fictional account.

But the story only really starts to get good after Peter decides to come clean, so to say, about his time in the Annex and the concentration camps. Anne’s writings about how Mr. van Daan stole bread from the mouth of his son (a purely fictional account, according to Peter) spurs him to attempts to reach out to Otto Frank and eventually visit the Annex itself. The title, though, is deceptive as Peter spends very little time recounting his time in the Annex with Anne or their budding romance.

Personally, I thought this book was just okay as it’s a bit slow to begin and I wasn’t to fond of the ending. I found it mostly interesting because of the questions it raises rather than the idea of Peter surviving the Holocaust. The psychology of the main character was what kept me reading.

Book Mentioned:

  • Feldman, Ellen. The Boy who Loved Anne Frank. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2005. Print. 262 pgs. ISBN: 0393059448. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © W. W. Norton. Retrieved: September 30, 2010.

Beloved Lord by Mallory Burgess

This romance novel originally came into my possession as a joke. I’ve been a bit stressed this week thanks to the inauguration of our new president (I’m on the alumni relations committee for my university), changing my mind and deciding to double major as well as the usual bout of work that is assigned the week before midterms, and a friend decided a “trashy romance novel” would make it all better. She also thought the badly photoshoped cover would make me laugh.

Surprise, surprise. I actually enjoyed Burgess’ novel. Taking place in Scotland in 1340, Anne Faurer is forced out of her ancestral home and into servitude on her own lands under the new laird of Langlannoch, a Englishman and therefore her hated enemy. Bayard Berkeley, the new laid of Langlannoch, is desperate to find someone to serve as wet nurse to his newborn son after her wife leaves him soon after the birth and the wet nurse he hired from England isn’t expected to arrive for another two weeks. The baby’s pitiful cries cause Anne to do something she never thought she would do — set foot in the home that was once hers let alone serve as wet nurse for the child of her enemy. But that she does and soon not only is she swept up until the conflict between Scottish and English but she’s also dragged Bayard and his son, Jamie, into her plot to free her brother from a London prison.

I thought this was a well-written romance novel both in terms of plot and smut, which is great considering it was 507 pages. I also liked how the novel was heavy on plot than smut rather than the other way around (although I’m sure the friend who gave it to me would not agree). Both of the main characters were well-developed, although I do wish Bayard’s wife had been fleshed out a bit more because she felt over the top at times. A part of me is wishing I hadn’t read this book because now I want to read more in the series, but Beloved Lord is the last one in the series and it’s my understanding that the previous books would be spoiled since I read this one. Drats!

Book Mentioned:

  • Burgess, Mallory. Beloved Lord. New York, NY: Zebra Books, 1996. Print. 507 pgs. ISBN: 0821753185. Source: Gift.
Book Cover © Zebra Books. Retrieved: September 25, 2010.

My Germany by Lev Raphael

Although this memoir is subtitled “A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped”, Raphael’s book is more about discovering and shaping his identity as a Jew, gay man, and writer under the fact that his parents were Holocaust survivors, which makes himself a member of the Second Generation.  In fact, the journey to Germany and his confrontation of  the country he was raised to hate does not begin until the last third of the book.

Despite this, Raphael’s memoir about his own identity crisis and what happened to his parents under the Nazis was fascinating. I’ve become interested in the confrontation of the memory of the Holocaust by the second Generation after talking with grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors about the use of the swastika in Southeast Asian culture, and was pleasantly surprised when the majority of this book was spent addressing the questions of how one confronts and lives with the memories of what your parents (and grandparents) survived, and how there is always that wish to know and not know what your parents experienced.

They lived in the shadow of the Holocaust and Germany. We lived in their shadow far more than was typical for immigrant children. Their lives were monumental and — because not entirely known — mysterious. Our lives were insignificant. Nothing we suffered or accomplished could match their having survived” (pg. 82).

His description of  how difficult it was to build his own identity separated from the memories of his parents was very interesting. He also discussed his parents’ reactions to his decision to write about what it means to be a member of the Second Generation.

“We wanted to know more because we felt it would make out parents more real, give us at least something of their lives and history. But what to do with such horrible knowledge? How to bear it?” (pg. 59)

Ironically enough, the original reason why I picked up this book  didn’t paly out the way I thought it would and I found myself slightly bored with his book tour through Germany. The epilogue and Raphael’s final conclusions are interesting, but I didn’t really see the correspondence between his revised thoughts of Germany and his travels through the country. But this only a small part of the tale, and the book is still worth a read. Overall, I found it very interesting.

Book Mentioned:

  • Raphael, Lev. My Germany: A Jewish Writer Returns to the World His Parents Escaped. Madison, WI: Terrace Books, 2009. Print. 210 pgs. ISBN: 9780299231507. Source: Free from Sociology Dept.
Book Cover © Terrace Books. Retrieved: September 19, 2010.

Library Book Sale

Every year, the library on campus sells the books left behind by students in their rooms after the school is over as well as the ones donated by faculty and students. I wasn’t going to attend the book sale because I brought quite a few books with me to school this year and really didn’t think after discovering free books from the Sociology Department that I needed to buy any more.

That mindset didn’t last long, though, thanks to the fact that I had Spanish class at the library and had to walk right past the book sale. Needless to say, I wound up walking away with a couple of books.

  • The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank (Ellen Feldman) — A fictional account of the life of Peter, who lived in hiding with  Anne Frank in the annex, had he survived the Holocaust.
  • October Surprise (Gary Sick) — I’m leery of this book because it makes the claim that member of the Reagan-Bush campaign tried to influence the outcome of the 1980 election by delaying the release of the hostages of what became the Iran-Contra Affair. But I was intrigued and just couldn’t put the book down when making my final selections.
  • The Smoke Jumper (Nicholas Evans) — This book was recommended to me by my mom, but I never managed to read it this summer. All I know is it’s about a fire in Montana’s mountains.
  • A Story That Stands Like a Dam (Russell Martin) — I watched a documentary on the push to stop building a dam in Dinosaur National Monument in my environmental economics, and after the film was over my professor informed us that a land swap was conducted; no dam in Dinosaur for a dam in Glen Canyon. So I was thrilled when I found this book for sale.
  • Wild Swan (Jung Chang) — A nonfiction book about a Chinese family — particularly “three daughters of China” — over three generations.
Photo © Me. “Five books for $2.50”. Taken: September 17, 2010.

When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce

In his 2006 book about “Water — The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century”, Pearce examines the disappearing rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers to make the claims that when the rivers run dry, the crops fail, we mine our children’s water, wetlands die, floods may not be far behind, we build more dams, men go to war over water, civilizations fall, we go looking for new water, we try to catch the rain, and in conclusion “we go with the flow”. The chapters of this book all correspond with one of these answers of what happens after rivers dry up, and the historical context and present-day information offer a pretty daming account of dams (no pun intended).

“Most dams just don’t deliver as advertised, the commission said. Average cost overruns were 56 percent. Half of hydroelectric dams produced significantly less power than promised; two thirds of those built to supply water to cities delivered less water than promised; a quarter of them delivered less than half what their brochures claimed. Dams built to irrigate fields were not better. A quarter of them irrigated less than 35 percent of the land intended. Even damns that promised to protect against floods “have increased the vulnerability of river communities to floods,” ofter because their reservoirs have been kept full to maximize hydroelectric production” (pg. 135).

He also explores the concept of “hidden water”; that is the amount of water it took to grow and produce that product. What if the nutrition labels on food bags listed all the hidden amounts of energy and water it took to create the end food product? You would find that the single bag of rice you bought at the grocery store last week takes between 250 and 650 gallons of water to make. Astronomically high when you consider humans drink only 250 gallons (or one ton) of water annually. And there is also a discuss of water politics — and water wars — in the Middle East, China, and India that provided a unique perspective on rapid industrialization and the Arab/Israeli conflict.

For the most part, this is an interesting, well-written book that explores a major issue often overlooked by the world at large. There are certain sections that I found less interesting than others or in-depth discussions of historical conflicts over water that don’t connect very well with his thesis. The most frustrating thing about Pearce’s book, though, is the fact that is was written in 2006 and many of his examples of what not to do or conflicts over water or even steps in the right direction have been stalled due to the global economic crisis, and I was continually frustrated because I wanted to know how the conflict ended. (I guess that’s what Google is for.) Still, this is an interesting read if you’re at all interested in the liquid that keeps you alive.

Book Mentioned:

  • Pearce, Fred. When the Rivers Run Dry. Boston, Beacon Press: 2006. Print. 311 pgs. ISBN: 0807085723. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Beacon Press. Retrieved: September 13, 2010.