Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Island of Lost Girls

Island Of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon

Paperback, 255 pages
Published 3rd September 2009 by Sphere
(First published 1st January 2008)

abuse, books-i-own, contemporary, crime-thriller-mystery, disliked, read, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

While parked at a gas station, Rhonda sees something so incongruously surreal that at first she hardly recognises it as a crime in progress. She watches, unmoving, as someone dressed in a rabbit costume kidnaps a young girl. Devastated over having done nothing, Rhonda joins the investigation. But the closer she comes to identifying the abductor, the nearer she gets to the troubling truth about another missing child: her best friend, Lizzy, who vanished years before. For this is not the only white rabbit Rhonda has known - there was another in her childhood; one she feels she has been chasing all her life. The rabbit of her past holds the key to a mystery that has stained the lives of Rhonda and her friends, and now she must track him down - even if it means following where she doesn't want to go ...From the author of the acclaimed Promise Not to Tell comes a chilling and mesmerizing tale of shattered innocence, guilt, and ultimate redemption.

When I started Island of Lost Girls, I had quite high hopes for it. I thought that the premise was really intriguing and I enjoyed the opening section. Our protagonist, Rhonda is at a gas station when she witnesses the abduction of a child by a person wearing a rabbit costume. Following this, she decides to find out what happened to the child and who the person in the costume was.The event also leads us to learn about the unsolved disappearance of Rhonda's childhood friend, Lizzy. 

I enjoyed some of the writing and when we were first introduced to the child's imaginative  setting of the 'submarine' (a car in the backyard), I was originally quite impressed and enjoyed it, but unfortunately the novelty quickly wore off. The author takes us into this fictional world of the submarine, which is nice and novel but didn't really end up having much significance. As well as the submarine, the book also explored a rabbit theme and a Peter Pan theme but unfortunately these didn't work very well. These sections of the book felt like the author was just trying too hard to try and be elaborate and quite honestly, the book would have been better without them. It almost felt as though the author was trying too hard.

Though the book wasn't very thick, it felt as the author was trying to fit in as much as possible meaning that it was quite difficult to keep focus on one part of the story. There are two missing person stories going on at the same time alongside all of the discussions of childhood play. The story itself was very predictable, so that made it slightly easier to follow. There is a deeper, very dark storyline weaved within the story of the children's group which had potential to be interesting but was just far too predictable to redeem the book. 

Overall, this isn't a book that I would recommend. Unfortunately the book couldn't keep my attention and it was neither creepy or intriguing enough.

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Five Chimneys

Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor's True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel

Paperback, 232 pages
Published 30th August 2005 by Academy Chicago Publishers
(First published 1947)

Shelves:  books-i-own, historical, lasting-impression, memoirs-biographies-etc, read, read-in-2021, non-fiction, translated, ww2

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Description via Goodreads:

Olga Lengyel tells, frankly and without compromise, one of the most horrifying stories of all time. This true, documented chronicle is the intimate, day-to-day record of a beautiful woman who survived the nightmare of Auschwitz and Birkenau. 

Having lost her husband, her parents, and her two young sons to the Nazi exterminators, Olga Lengyel had little to live for during her seven-month internment in Auschwitz. Only Lengyel's work in the prisoners' underground resistance and the need to tell this story kept her fighting for survival. She survived by her wit and incredible strength. 

Despite her horrifying closeness to the subject, Five Chimneys does not retreat into self-pity or sensationalism. When first published (two years after World War 2 ended), Albert Einstein was so moved by her story that he wrote a personal letter to Lengyel, thanking her for her "very frank, very well written book".

This book is a necessary reminder of one of the ugliest chapters in the history of human civilization. It was a shocking experience. It is a shocking book.

Five Chimneys is one of the most formidable memoirs that I have ever, or will ever, read. This is a no-holds-barred portrayal of life in the Holocaust's largest extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, vividly remembered by a Hungarian woman, Olga Lengyel, who endured seven long months there. 

This is a book that needs to be read in order to fully appreciate the true intensity of both the experiences that Lengyel faced and the true horrors of the Holocaust in general. It is impossible to put this across in a review. The book was more factual rather than reflecting on Lengyel's emotions, but, thankfully, this didn't detract from the effectiveness of the book. The author's ability to submerse the reader in the depressing, intimidating atmosphere of the camp and to really make you feel as though you're there is as impressive as it is disturbing. The honesty and authenticity of the book is both uncomfortable and necessary. Though the book is not very long at just over 230 pages, it took me a significantly long time to read due to the content. I had to stop reading several times as the information was just so graphic and impactful. This is not a negative - it is important that we are told the true, unfiltered horrors of this period of history. 

Many topics are covered in this memoir, particularly the everyday experiences in the camp including Lengyel's medical work in the women's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. This part of this book which will be particularly interesting and informative to those who have read the fictional books 'The Child of Auschwitz' by Lily  Graham and 'Cilka's Journey' by Heather Morris. We also hear of Lengyel's experiences with other people in the camp, an assortment of other prisoners - and more well-known historical figures such as Dr Josef Mengele and the infamous Irma Grese. 

It is difficult to criticise any memoir, especially one from a Holocaust survivor, but there was one particular issue in this book that did bother me. The author repeatedly refers to 'homosexuals and other perverts' and criticises the 'feeble-minded' which I found very difficult to stomach. The book is a reflection on the impact of hatred and persecution against others, yet the author then perpetuates this by being discriminative herself. I understand that the book was originally published in 1947, but I was still disappointed by this.

Overall, this book was vivid, disturbing and one of the most effective pieces of writing concerning experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is a book that is certainly not enjoyable but it is educational and it is so important. I would highly recommend this book to any adult looking for more information about the Holocaust. 

Friday, 16 July 2021

The Road

 The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Paperback, 307 pages
Published 4th May 2007 by Picador
(First published 26th September 2006)

Shelvesapocalyptic, books-i-own, dystopian, if-i-were-a-boy, read, read-in-2021

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. 

The Road is a book that I have been meaning to read for a very long time. I don't know what encouraged me to finally pick it up (especially during a global pandemic!) but I did and I am glad that I've finally read this book which has quickly become a lauded modern classic. 

Initially, I wasn't entirely sure if I would enjoy this book. I do enjoy dystopian stories but that's all I really knew about this story - that it was about a boy and his father making a journey across an apocalyptic wasteland. It turns out that was what the book was about and quite frankly, that was all it was about. There wasn't much of a plot to this story, there wasn't many twists or turns, no real 'goal' to achieve by the end. The story was a journey - a journey across a dreary landscape. This experimental style isn't something that would usually appeal to me, but I am so glad that I gave it a go.

When starting the book, I was initially mostly surprised at the writing style. The writing seemed very strange and somewhat unnatural. The characters are never named and there is a distinct lack of punctuation (particularly quotation marks). I found these issues a little uncomfortable to begin with but I adjusted to the style surprisingly quickly. I swiftly became enamoured by McCarthy's writing and I thought that a lot of the prose was truly beautiful. 

This book is short and, on the surface, simple yet it is easy to see why The Road is considered to be a modern masterpiece. The characters are basic but well formed - vulnerability and strength both shine through the pages. The plot is uncomplicated - it is a journey from one place to another. McCarthy has managed to form a scarily realistic, bleak apocalyptic world. Overall, I really enjoyed the 'journey' of this book and became immersed in it easily which is why I would certainly reccommend it. I did find the ending disappointing and the child's choice to be bewildering, but everything that came before was absolutely captivating. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Twins of Auschwitz

The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor

Paperback, 224 pages
Published 11th August 2020 by Octopus Publishing

books-i-own, historical, medical-conditions, non-fiction, read, read-in-2021, ww2

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Nazis spared their lives because they were twins. In the summer of 1944, Eva Mozes Kor and her family arrived at Auschwitz. Within thirty minutes, they were separated. Her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, while Eva and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man who became known as the Angel of Death: Dr. Josef Mengele. They were 10 years old. While twins at Auschwitz were granted the 'privileges' of keeping their own clothes and hair, they were also subjected to Mengele's sadistic medical experiments. They were forced to fight daily for their own survival and many died as a result of the experiments, or from the disease and hunger rife in the concentration camp. In a narrative told simply, with emotion and astonishing restraint, The Twins of Auschwitz shares the inspirational story of a child's endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. Also included is an epilogue on Eva's incredible recovery and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis.

Through her museum and her lectures, she dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and worked toward goals of forgiveness, peace, and the elimination of hatred and prejudice in the world.

The Twins of Auschwitz is the memoir of Eva Mozes Kor, an inspirational Jewish woman who managed to survive the horrors of Auschwitz, primarily thanks to her 'fortune' of being born as a twin. The story tells us of Eva and, her sister, Miriam's time in Auschwitz, what led to them being there and what happened after liberation.

Eva was and will forever continue to be an educator. If you've watched documentaries about the Holocaust, in particular, Auschwitz, it's likely that you may have heard of or seen Eva before - I was familiar with her story due to the large amount of education and experience she has shared on numerous historical documentaries but even with prior knowledge of her story, it was very interesting to get a slightly more detailed account of her experiences in the camp.

This is a relatively short book, with photographs interspersed throughout, and so it didn't take me long to read at all - only a few hours. Expectedly, we do learn some horrific things about the treatment of Eva, her sister and other prisoners at Auschwitz - certainly enough to have a significant emotional impact, but the book isn't overly distressingly-descriptive and so would be a perfect introduction to the Holocaust for school-aged children and upwards. The memoir gives us a particularly fascinating insight to Doctor Mengele's heinous 'medical experiments' on twins.

Something that makes this book, and Kor herself, stand out is that she discusses the issue of forgiveness. Eva repeatedly stated that she forgave the Nazi's for what they did to her and that is a statement that, understandably, has caused a lot of controversy. I found this concept both difficult and interesting to read about but it was extremely interesting to get an insight into the lasting mental  impact of what happened. It certainly leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Overall, this is a very simple yet effectual recollection of Eva and Miriam's lives. I would certainly recommend The Twins of Auschwitz to anybody - it is an important, intriguing and unpleasant story that must be remembered. Whether you know little or lots about the Holocaust, this is certainly worth reading. Kor was undoubtedly a very inspiring woman and will continue to be, well into the future.