Friday, July 31, 2015

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

Always Emily opens in the year 1825, with the service for Elizabeth Bronte, ten years of age. The three remaining Bronte children, nine year old Charlotte, eight year old Branwell and seven year old Emily have a morbid fascination with the family crypt that holds not only Elizabeth but also their mother and their sister Marie. Ten years later, Emily and Charlotte are on their way to Roe Head School where Emily will be enrolled as a student and Charlotte will teach. Charlotte has arranged this against Emily's wishes because she believes that Emily needs to learn both academic subjects as well as music and deportment if she is to earn a living. Charlotte has been concerned about their father's health after his serious illness during the past spring and worried about how they would support themselves if he died.

However, things do not go well for either young woman at Roe Head. Emily is caught climbing out a second storey window by the French mistress, Madame Librac. Emily tells Charlotte and Miss Wooler, the headmistress, that she wants to go home. Miss Wooler dismisses Emily's concerns, telling her that sending her home will only reward her bad behaviour and that she will conquer her homesickness. Meanwhile Charlotte finds herself increasingly distracted by her desire to work on writing a romance fantasy, resulting in her neglecting her teaching. After dealing with Emily, Miss Wooler also tells Charlotte that her teaching is less than desirable and she indicates that she hired her despite her father's political activities.

A week later finds Emily desperately ill with a fever. This leads Miss Wooler to conclude that this might be a ruse to get sent home, however, Charlotte is convinced that Emily is truly ill. She realizes that her sister can no longer stay at Roe Head and she arranges for her to be sent home to Haworth.

At her father's parsonage in Haworth, Emily quickly recovers her health amidst several unusual happenings. Her father is burying old Mr. Heaton of Ponden Hill who died under somewhat suspicious circumstances. An accomplished rider, he died after going riding with his son Master Robert, after they had had an argument. Emily also encounters Branwell involved in a mysterious meeting at the parsonage. Against her father's and her Aunt Branwell's wishes begins walking on the moor once again. On her first walk she encounters a camp hidden in a hollow beneath a small bluff. Racing home, Emily finds Branwell, drunk outside the parsonage.

Later that night Emily's father shoots off his pistol to ward off someone breaking into the parsonage. Rev. Bronte believes the attempted break in may have something to do with his support for the millworkers. He can't understand why someone would try to rob the parsonage since it contains only parish records and his personal correspondence. Rev. Bronte tells Emily that Robert Heaton, who is leading the mill owners against the workers has complained about his editorials and sermons in support of the workers. Heaton has mentioned to Bronte that he has seen a strange man about the moors.

A month after Emily's return home, Charlotte too finds herself returning to Haworth after her novel-in-progress, The Romantic Adventures of the Queen of Angri comes to the attention of Miss Wooler. The headmistress believes Charlotte should return home for a short time to determine if she wants to continue teaching. Humiliated, Charlotte leaves but intends to return. She is soon distracted when her carriage is stopped  by a hysterical woman who tells Charlotte that a man has locked her up and taken away her son and her fortune. Immediately a man on horseback arrives, addressing the woman as Rachel. He identifies himself as Robert Heaton and tells Charlotte that she is a dependent of his family who is mad. Charlotte tells him she is the daughter of Rev. Bronte and seeing the woman's distress, offers to transport Rachel to Ponden Hall. However, Robert declines telling her Rachel doesn't live at Ponden Hall.

When she returns to the parsonage, Charlotte asks their housekeeper, Tabby, if she knows about the mysterious woman she met on the moors. Tabby tells Charlotte that she does remember that Robert Heaton has a sister who got pregnant by the son of a shopkeeper. They married but he drank and was abusive. After several months, he died and Heaton's sister returned to Ponden Hills to have her son. The family never let her forget her mistake, especially since her son, Harry was sickly. Charlotte wonders if the woman she met on the moors was Robert's sister. Charlotte's investigation into Branwell's strange behaviour leads her to watch him hidden in the church when he meets John Brown, her father's sexton. Branwell is told to meet for a special ritual on Friday at Newall Street.

Meanwhile, unknown to Charlotte or her father, Emily revisits the hidden camp on the moors and frees a large mastiff who was tied up. After comforting the dog who is thirsty, she names him Keeper. Charlotte discovers that the camp belongs to Harry, the nephew of Robert Heaton. Harry tells Emily that he left Ponden Hall because he was afraid his grandfather who despised his mother for making a poor marriage and him for being born, would kill him.He has been at sea for the past six years and cannot locate his mother, whom he fears is dead. Emily offers to check out the parish records at the parsonage. Harry believes that his Uncle Robert requires his mother's inheritance to finance the improvements he's making to the mills. Since the Heaton's own property all over the moors, Harry's mother might be hidden anywhere.

Charlotte confirms what she suspects, that Rachel is Robert Heaton's sister when he comes to challenge her father over his support for the mill workers. A bit of detective work by Charlotte leads her to Newall Street where she finds her way to a secret room and hides in a trunk. While in the trunk she witnesses Branwell's initiation into the Masons. The presence of Robert Heaton and the requirement that Branwell must do something for Heaton that only he can do peaks Charlotte's curiosity.

Neither Charlotte nor Emily realize they have both stumbled onto different sides of a mysterious affair involving the Heaton family, the parsonage and their brother, Branwell. Can the Bronte sisters manage to work together to help Harry find his mother and discover what the link to Branwell is?

Discussion

MacColl has written an intriguing story based on the lives of the Bronte sisters. Always Emily is a mystery story that incorporates some events of the Bronte sisters lives and uses the area where they lived as its setting. Readers who are familiar with the Bronte sisters novels, especially Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre will recognize certain elements from both stories that are present in Always Emily.

Besides the mystery of Harry's mother, the novel focuses on the relationship between Emily and Charlotte Bronte, the two spirited heroines of Always Emily. At the beginning of the novel, neither sister is friendly towards the other and in fact they are almost constantly arguing. They are two very different personalities. Charlotte is petite and sensible, overwhelmed with the responsibility for her sisters. In contrast, Emily is tall, passionate and more self-absorbed and deeply resents Charlotte's obsession with responsibility. However, the mystery of Rachel Heaton helps them to begin to see the other's strengths and provides the perfect combination - daring, logical Emily and practical, ethical Charlotte - to solve the mystery.

Charlotte Bronte
For example, when Emily decides to hitch the wagon to a horse other than Robert Heaton's horse which is not used to wagons, Charlotte praises her sister say, " You're never wrong about animals..." Later on when a bog burst ruins Ponden Mills, Emily is chided by Charlotte for selfishly wishing revenge upon Robert Heaton. Instead of striking back at Charlotte, Emily tells her sister, "Dear Charlotte, that is why I have you. You are my practicality and my conscience." And when the two sisters arrive at the parsonage with Rachel in the wagon, instead of dismissing Charlotte's premonition that something is not right, Emily acts on it. When it turns out Charlotte is correct, Emily acknowledges this by telling her sister she may have just saved Rachel's life. Although the sisters still argue with one another as evidenced by one of the last scenes in the novel when they discuss love and marriage, they recognize and accept their differences. Charlotte would give anything including her writing to have a "great romance" while Emily doesn't believe she's destined for love nor does she care to marry.

MacColl provides a detailed Author's Note at the back of Always Emily that gives readers considerable background on the Bronte family. The Bronte sisters, due to their unusual upbringing were quite eccentric and MacColl captures some of that in her novel. The novel touches on the role of women in 19th century society for example, how very few occupations are acceptable for women and that their only other option is marriage. Rachel's situation was more common in the 1800's than was generally acknowledged; relatives including husbands, brothers or parents often committed women to asylums without their consent for any number of less serious reasons. Always Emily also briefly mentions the Poor Law which readers can find some information at this link: The 1834 Poor Law MacColl also brings the Freemasons into her novel, portraying the organization in a suspicious manner. How the Freemasons are viewed depends upon who you ask; Catholics for example, do not support the Freemasons and are automatically excommunicated if they join. A good summary of the Catholic position is provided from EWTN.

Overall, fans of the Bronte sister's novels, will probably enjoy Always Emily and those who may never have read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey may be encouraged to do so. MacColl's writing style is easy to read and well paced and the transitions between the two sister's narratives flow well. This author enjoys creating literature based on classic writers. Readers are encouraged to try her novel, Nobody's Secret, a murder mystery involving a young Emily Dickinson.

Book Details:

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl
San Francisco: Chronicle Books 2014
276 pp.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Deadfall by Anna Carey

Deadfall is an amazing suspenseful sequel to Carey's Blackbird. In the first novel "Sunny" who found herself inexplicably in Los Angeles with no previous memories of her life before, discovers she is part of a terrible game in which adults are hunting people for sport. The hunt has moved from an island which Sunny barely remembers, to various U.S. cities.The hunt is organized by A&A Enterprises (AAE) and consists of Watchers who keep track of the people being hunted making sure they are healthy and stay in a designated area, Stagers who tip off the hunters as to the location of the target and who clean up the dead bodies, and the hunters. The humans who are being hunted have been branded with a barcode tattoo on their wrists for identification.

Deadfall picks up where Blackbird left off. Sunny is preparing to board a train to Chicago when she runs into the boy she remembers from the island.  He tells her they are on the same train except he is going to New York and convinces her to go with him. On the train Sunny finds the private compartment that the boy has bought tickets for. He reveals to Sunny that they were supposed to meet up in San Francisco on the Friday of the second week. His memory returned and but Sunny's did not and she did not make the scheduled rendevous. When she doesn't remember he asks her why her memory has not returned when his has. The boy reveals his name as Rafe and hers as Lena Marcus. He tells her that they decided to meet in San Francisco because she has family there. Rafe also fills Lena in on what she told him about her life before the island - that her father died of a heart attack when she was fifteen and her mother abandoned her and her brother, Chris. She brought her brother to live with her aunt but eventually had to leave.

Rafe tells Lena that he is going to New York to find other "targets". Lena knows there are more targets in various cities across America because she saw pictures of the targets with code names next to different cities at an AAE meeting. While Rafe was waiting for Lena in San Francisco he found one other target, Connor in New York, who had also found one other target. Rafe explains how he was tricked into becoming a part of the hunt. He also explains to Lena how to successfully pickpocket a person, a skill that will lead later on to Lena making a crucial discovery.

At a McDonalds in New York, Lena discovers they are being watched by a hunter. Lena and Rafe manage to outwit the hunter and escape to the top of a building. While they are waiting, Lena continues to have dreams about the island. She tells Rafe about Ben, her Watcher in L.A. whom she fell for but who betrayed her. She also tells him about the police officer, Celia, whom she has told about the hunt. Rafe is shocked that Lena would trust the police but she tells him Celia believes her and is committed to helping her. Lena calls Celia who tells her that Izzy is recovering and that Goss is now in custody. But their case is not strong enough yet because Goss's lawyers are saying that he shot Izzy during a breakin to his house. Celia tells Lena that police found nothing in his house but that another body, that of a girl with a tattoo similar to Lena's has been found in Seattle. She's trying to prove now that this is much bigger than just Goss. Lena tells Celia that she's now in New York trying to find the other targets.

Lena and Rafe's hunt for Connor ends quickly when they discover that he has just been killed in a park. Rafe notices fresh graffiti, WBD + WY on a wall near Connor's body. They soon realize that they are being watched by a blond haired woman who along with a middle aged man begins pursuing them. Lena and Rafe split up, with Lena running into the subway and running onto the back of the last subway car. The woman manages to find Lena but before she can kill her Lena escapes onto the station platform and into the crowd. She finally escapes to a rooftop only to watch four hunters meet on the street below puzzled as to where she went. It is at this point that Lena realizes this is much bigger than just one hunter after her. They realize she was the one who turned in Goss and now they are determined to kill her.

Back in Los Angeles, Ben is being driven to the airport by someone from AAE but he has no idea what they want from him. A friend of Ben's father meets him at LAX and tells him that the girl he was watching has been spotted in New York. He wants Ben to find Lena for him and advises him to do everything AAE requests.

Lena heads to the library on Fifth Avenue where she posts an ad for Rafe on Craigslist, which is how he found Connor. Just before closing, Lena is found by Ben who insists he is there to help her. He tells her that he was sent to New York to locate her but that he now knows something terrible is going on. He became involved after his family discovered that his father, who did finances for Artemis & Acteon Enterprises, had been stealing money from the company. They offered Ben a job for a year in return for everything being forgiven. When Lena tells him what is actually going on Ben is shocked.

However Lena soon discovers that a hunter is in the library. The hunter corners Lena whom she calls "Blackbird" and is about to kill her when Ben intervenes, saving Lena. They flee to the Holiday Inn in Soho where they tend to Ben's shotgun wound, which turns out to be superficial. In the hotel room, Ben tells Lena that he found a cheque in his father's papers made out to Dr. Richard Reynolds, a neurologist at Bellevue Hospital. Reynolds ran drug trials for a memory suppressant drug funded by AAE that was used to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD. Lena now knows this is what she has been given so that she can't remember her past. She also determines that the graffiti near Connor's body is an address where the other targets meet. When she checks in with Celia in Los Angeles, she tells Lena that Goss was murdered in jail and that they need another suspect.

At West Broadway and Franklin, Lena and Ben find more graffiti, UR + HRE in the subway. They enter the tunnel and manage to meet up with Rafe who is upset about Ben's presence. They also meet more targets, Devon, Connor's girlfriend Salto, and Aggy. The group, after hearing about Dr. Reynolds, decide they need to track him down at Bellevue. Salto goes with Ben to the ER pretending to be sick, while Devon and Aggy watch the hallways and Rafe and Lena confront Dr. Reynolds.  Reynolds tells them that he was approached by a man who called himself Cal. He also tells them that there is a laudromat on Long Island in Hicksville, where he treated  several of the hunters and that it's used as a meeting place. The information that they received from Reynolds comes at a high price however, when Salto is shot through the shoulder.

At the Laundromat they confront a Stager named Krista Pollack who tells them that she overheard there is to be a meeting "on the ones". As Lena, Rafe and Ben pick up more clues that lead them closer to uncovering the truth about the hunt, the cat and mouse game with the hunters ramps up. Each clue leads Lena closer to a show down with the one man behind it all who will stop at nothing to save the hunt. Can Lena stop him and save herself and all the other targets?

Discussion

Deadfall is simply an exhilarating, action packed finale to Carey's duology.  As in Blackbird, Carey employs second person narration for each of the characters who tell a part of the story. It works very well because it places the reader at the center of the heartpounding action as it occurs.  Tension is maintained throughout the novel as readers experience the discoveries and revelations along with Lena, bit by bit. The slow reveal leads to a thrilling confrontation and a terrible twist. Although the main narrative is that of Lena, Carey does employ several other narrators including Ben Paxton, a hunter named Theodore Cross and Dr. Reynolds, all of whom use third person narration.  These narratives help fill in some of the back story for characters who reappear later on in the novel and allow for breaks in the fast pacing of the novel.

Besides the obvious suspense that develops as Lena, Rafe and Ben attempt to track down the people responsible for the hunt, Carey sets up a minor conflict between Ben and Rafe. Although Lena has a past with both guys, she doesn't know who to trust, Rafe who she can't really remember from the island or Ben who betrayed her yet took a bullet for her. When Rafe and the other targets want Ben to leave, Lena tells them they need his help.  "You look between Rafe and Ben. Rafe, who you have known for so long but hardly know at all. And Ben, who you thought betrayed you but who says he loves you. You believe him." Thankfully this triad does not really evolve into a love triangle because Lena remains focused on catching the person leading the hunt. 

Memorable scenes from this novel include the discovery by Lena and Rafe of Theodore Cross's hidden room and the depth of the evil he has perpetrated. On Cross's wall are thirty medallions, each one bearing the silhouette of a different animal and eight numbers and letters and representing a person Cross has killed. Another well written scene is the final confrontation between Cross and Rafe and Lena which lasts a full six chapters and is filled with many tense moments.

The main character, Lena Marcus is a strong, intelligent and resourceful young woman who is determined to stop the hunt and to not allow what she has experienced change her for the worse. Cross insists that he has made Lena who she is now but she tells him, "You didn't make me anything...I am more than you -- than your twisted, messed up game." When Cross tries to get her to shoot him by provoking her to anger, Lena doesn't bite, She knows what Cross is trying to do and she does what she has to. 


Deadfall is a gritty thriller with a heartbreaking but satisfying conclusion. Teens who are looking an exciting mystery/thriller novel will enjoy both of Carey's offerings in this duology.


Book Details:

Deadfall by Anna Carey
New York: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins    2015
243 pp.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Stella By Starlight tells the story of being a Negro American during the 1930's. The Civil War had ended only sixty-seven years earlier, outlawing slavery. But the bigotry continues on in a segregated south.

Ten year old Stella Mills lives with her father Jonah, her mother Georgia and her younger brother Jojo in the segregated south, in a town called Bumblebee, North Carolina, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Set in 1932, Bumblebee is segregated, meaning blacks live in one part of the town with their own school and church and white people live in another part of town. The black folks mostly work as cooks, maids and janitors, with few men allowed to work at the sawmill in town. The Negro families take care of one another, expecting little help from the white folk.

It all starts one night when Stella and Jojo witness a Klu Klux Klan meeting across Kilkenny Pond in the middle of the night. They secretly watch nine figures dressed in white robes with pointy hats burn a wooden cross. From their hidden spot, Stella is certain she recognizes the bridle of the horse belonging to the white doctor, Dr. Packard.

Stella and her brother Jojo tell their parents what they saw and their mom and dad convene a meeting immediately that night at their home of some of the Negro parents, including the only Negro doctor, Dr. Hawkins.  While the adults meet, Stella sits outside on the porch steps with Tony, Dr. Hawkins' son. Tony tells Stella that he runs on the track at the white school, something that is forbidden for a black boy. He tells her his dream of being like the "Midnight Express", Eddie Tolan who won two gold medals at the recent Los Angeles Olympics. Tony is determined to run someday in the Olympics. The two children are frightened by the night's events and try to figure out the meaning of the Klan's sudden reappearance in their town.

As her father reads the white and Negro newspapers the next morning Stella questions her father as to why they don't do more. She questions why the Negro paper, The Truth Unbridled, doesn't publish the Klan meeting her father tells her the situation is not as simple as it appears. "Never be afraid to be honest and stand up for what is right, Stella...Just remember to balance your courage with wisdom." He tells her trying to catch the Klan is "like nailing jelly to a tree"

Stella and Jojo and the other black children attend Riverside School for black students while the white students attend Mountain View. Mountain View, with its brick building and well manicured lawn, is known for its academic and sports successes. The students at Mountain View are better off, having shoes and warm coats for the winter while like most black children in the area, Stella and her brother walk to school barefoot. On their way to school they meet Carolyn Malone who is Stella's best friend, five of the thirteen Spencer children, Johnsteve Winston, Randy Bates and Tony Hawkins. The group stop at Mrs. Cathy Cooper's store, Cathy's Candy Store, the white proprietor whose friendliness towards the black children doesn't go unnoticed by Stella. She also allows the children to enter by the front door unlike most other store owners in Bumblebee. White children also enter the store, including Paulette Packard, Dr. Packard's daughter and Barbara Osterman whose father owns the mill. Barbara wonders why they have to attend separate schools, but a white boy, Kenneth, mocks the black children saying they will "never amount to anything."

Stella doesn't like to write because she finds writing challenging. Unable to complete her writing assignment at school, Mrs. Grayson tells her she needs to try harder and finish her work. To help her think better, Stella likes to sneak outside after everyone has gone to sleep.

The black community comes together when "Spoon Man", as Terence Oglethorpe, a traveling salesman is known, comes to visit Bumblebee. Spoon Man travels all over North Carolina, selling cookware, tools and trinkets. He tells them that the Depression has made everyone desperate for change especially in the upcoming presidential election and that he's heard about the reemergence of the Klu Klux Klan in the Bumblebee area. Stella's father indicates to Spoon Man that he wants to vote. "I live in this country and I oughta be allowed to vote!" Dr. Hawkins tells the men that there are now poll taxes and a literacy test about the Constitution before blacks can vote. The KKK are also informed of any black man who tries to register to vote. Hawkins suggests to Jonah that maybe he wait for a better time to push the right to vote but Jonah questions when that time will come.

At church on Sunday, Pastor Patton tells the congregation that he is going into Spindale to register to vote in the morning and he welcomes any man who wants to accompany him. That night at dinner Stella's parents argue about Jonah going to register, but the next morning he meets Pastor Patton along with Mr. Spencer at the Spindale Election office. However, the registrar, Mr. Amherst Pineville, is hostile towards the group and determined to do everything in his power to prevent them from registering. They are forced to pay two dollars to register and must also take a test, while white men who walk in are allowed to register immediately. Eventually they are registered but Pineville warns them that trouble will be coming their way. When trouble does come, Stella and her family and the rest of the black community must pull together to get through a devastating fire and an accident that almost kills Stella's mother.

Discussion

Sharon M. Draper is an award winning author, educator, poet and speaker. On her website, Draper states that she tries to take readers "along on my journey". Stella By Starlight does just that. It is a journey back to 1932 America, suffering through the beginnings of the Depression. Everyone is struggling to cope with poor economic conditions and a drought gripping the Midwest. Prejudice against the black community is on the rise. Society continues to be segregated with blacks having their own schools, churches and doctors. Many jobs are not open to blacks who tend to be in low income jobs. Few own the land they farm. They are not allowed to use the town library. Nor does the American Army want them (an attitude that will gradually change in World War II) It's also the year of the Olympics in Los Angeles and a presidential election.

Stella By Starlight reveals the depth of the prejudice in 1930's America when the Spencer's home is burned to the ground by the Klu Klux Klan, when Stella's mother almost dies from a poisonous snake bike because Dr. Packard, who treats "white patients" only, hardheartedly refuses to treat her, and when Tony Hawkins is set upon by a group of white boys who kick and punch him. However, Draper is careful to show that not all the white people are prejudiced. Cathy Cooper treats Stella and the other black children the same as the white children. Annie Lou Summers and her sister Mary Lou bring food and clothing from the white Bumblebee Baptist Church for the Spencer family after the fire.

More importantly Stella By Starlight is story about community, a place where everyone is knit together by their common history and their concern for one another. The loss of the Spencer's home sees the community donate so much clothing that Stella and Jojo finally get new clothes and shoes - because Mrs. Spencer is "glad to be able to give as well as take". When Stella's mother is dying from the snake bite, Mrs. Odom, who never "takes the car out for fear of getting dust on it" drives to Raleigh to get Dr. Hawkins and bring back the antivenin. It is this sense of family, the idea that I am my brother's keeper, that helps everyone to endure the hard times and savor the good ones.

Stella By Starlight also demonstrates that children aren't born prejudiced - they learn it from adults and the society around them. Some of the children in Cathy's Candy Store believe its ridiculous that they must attend separate schools. They obviously recognize that regardless of skin colour, kids are kids. Draper often juxtaposes acts of kindness against acts of prejudice. For example, when Stella goes to get medicine for her sick brother at the general store, Mr. O'Brian allows her to pay for her purchases with what little money she has. Immediately after leaving the general store, she and Tony are set upon by a gang of white youths who beat up Tony accusing him of stealing the candy he paid for.

Draper has written a very good novel that captures the reality of life in America for blacks in the 1930's. All of her characters are well drawn, believable and unique, from the heroine, Stella Mills, to the antihero, Dr. Packard. The seed for Stella By Starlight came from Draper's own grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis, who was forced to leave school in grade five but who spent her nights after everyone was asleep, outside writing in her journal.

For more information about the Klu Klux Klan please see the History Channel website.

For information on life in American during the 1930's readers are referred to the Project MUSE website.

Book Details:
Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Toronto: Atheneum Books for Young Readers     2015
320 pp.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Trials by Stacey Kade

The conclusion to Kade's Project Paper Dolls series is an exciting novel that leaves readers engaged.

The Trials opens with Ariane Tucker back at GTX preparing for the trials starting in two days somewhere in the Chicago area. The trials are between three companies, Dr. Jacob's GenTex, Dr. David Laughlin's Laughlin Integrated and Dr. Emerson St. John's Emerson Technology to determine which of the human/alien hybrids created by these companies is the best. The winner will secure a lucrative government contract to create a line of supersoldiers, while the losers will either die in the competition or be destroyed afterwards. Ariane will represent GTX, while Laughlin Integrated will have the communal hybrids, Ford and Carter. Who Emerson Technology will send remains a mystery.

Ariane's friend, Zane Bradshaw is dead, left bleeding out in the parking lot where Ariane was caught between Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Laughlin. Devastated at his loss, Ariane is determined to kill to end the program, destroying all of the hybrids including herself and the scientists who created them. Ariane considers that her true opponent is Ford, who looks like her and is possibly her clone. She feels sadness at the fact that she must kill Ford, who like her, is innocent. "I couldn't let it be Ford. This had to end. Jacobs and Laughlin, they couldn't be allowed to keep using us, taking from us."

While waiting for the trials to begin, Ariane has been honing some of her alien abilities such as controlling various objects at a time and having to deal with Rachel Jacob's constant presence by her glass cell. Rachel reveals to Ariane that Zane's body has never been found and that it never showed up at the hospital. Ariane assumes that either Jacobs or Laughlin covered up his death.

The next day, Ariane discovers that a meeting between all of the competitors has been set up prior to the trials. Dr. Jacobs dresses Ariane in a shirt and jeans from her home where she lived with Mark Tucker, her "father". Ariane is taken to the Manderlay Hotel where Jacobs dresses her in a red, oversized UW-Madison sweatshirt. The trial will consist of tracking and identifying an assigned target. They are to find the target, whose photograph they will be given, confirm the identity and transmit a photo and then await further instructions. They are told the target will be within the city limits for the next forty-eight hours and has no idea that they are being hunted. This revelation surprises Ariane who assumed that they would simply fight one another.

The meeting reveals that Ford and Carter will be part of McLaughlin's team. But the bigger surprise is that Emerson St. John has two entries, a former soldier, Adam, and a special model,  Zane Bradshaw. St. John states that his method does not involve growing alien/human hybrids from scratch but enhancing humans with alien genetic material. Ariane is horrified to see that Zane has telekenetic abilities and is able to contact her telepathically to arrange a meeting the following morning.

Unknown the Ariane is that Zane was saved by Dr. St. Emerson, who injected him with a virus  designed to deliver and insert alien DNA into his human DNA, thus enhancing him.The DNA-altering virus, RSTS47 healed Zane's bullet wound and internal injuries in a few days and also gave Zane some of the abilities characteristic of the alien DNA. However, unlike Adam, who has been turned into a supersoldier, Zane's body has not been coping well with the virus-altered DNA.

Dr. Emerson, working with Justine from the Department of Homeland Security, hoped to use Zane to be able to get one of the alien/human hybrids that have been created. The Project Paper Dolls had been funded by the Department of Defense but the DHS wanted to use Ariane not as a test subject, but as an expert resource. However, Emerson and Justine do not want Adam to be the prime candidate; instead they believe Zane with his previous relationship with Ariane has the best chance of convincing her to join them. This enrages Adam who only reveals that Zane's "target" is a guy.

Meanwhile, Ariane cannot understand why Zane is involved in the trials and she wonders if Zane is still the boy she knew back at Wingate. She and Jacobs believe that Emerson hopes to distract Ariane by the presence of Zane, allowing Ford to take the lead. Ariane's envelope leads her to believe that the target is a college age girl. Jacobs tells her that her position will be monitored at all times using the GPS in her phone as well as a black triangle that monitors vitals. He also shows Ariane a picture of her mother, who carried her for six months and tells her that if she does not cooperate there might be problems for her.

Ariane meets Zane in the hotel hallway as he requested, allowing him to explain how Emerson saved him with his DNA-carrier virus which he calls NuStasis and to reassure her that he is still the same Zane. He also tells her that They also encounter Ford who wants tells them that Carter has been removed from the trials and will remain safe if Ford wins and she warns Ariane to stay away from the target. Unable to tell her about Justine's offer, Zane arranges an second meeting at an eatery. He arrives to find Justine and Ariane have already met and not in a friendly way.

Justine reveals that she has been working with Dr. St. John for the last seven years and that she's part of the Department of Homeland Security. She tells Ariane that they are interested not in using her as a  weapon but as a technical advisor and reveals that the remnants of the Roswell spacecraft are somehow connected to the alien DNA. Justine tells her that in exchange, they are willing to offer Ariane a chance to live a mostly normal life, attending school but having a security team. Ariane refuses Justine's offer believing that instead of freedom she will always be in a cage of her own making.  Ariane also knows she has to end the experiments by Laughlin and Jacobs especially when Justine reinterates that this in not her primary concern. In an attempt to convince Ariane, Justine reveals that there are have been further sightings of UFO's clustered near the locations of the alien/human hybrids. The UFO's appear to be similar to the type of craft recovered at Roswell and Justine tells Ariane that they believe they are searching for the source of the living alien tissue. Justine indicates the the DHS believes the Roswell technology has a genetic component - that it is functional if it interacts with the living alien tissue, tissue that makes up part of Ariane.

Once Ariane understands what Justine's group wants she begins to seriously consider her offer, but she is disturbed that the trials will continue for Ford and Carter and the target. However Zane and Ariane discover that everyone has been given different targets. Ariane's target is Adam's sister, while Adam's target is a male. With everyone having different targets this means that this is only the first part of the trial with direct confrontation between each of the surviving candidates likely the second stage. Worried that his mom and Quinn might be part of this, Zane contacts his mother to tell her he is alive and to check if they are fine. His mother is relieved but then threatens that if he doesn't come home she will be forced to act.

When Ariane doesn't fully commit to Justine she becomes aware that Justine intends to force her to come with her. Ariane and Zane manage to escape Justine and her agents in order to discover the real truth about the trials and to stop for once and all, Dr.Jacob and Dr. Laughlin. What they will uncover is far worse than they could have imagined, convincing Ariane that she must take down Jacobs and Laughlin.

Discussion

The Trials does a great job of wrapping up the Project Paper Dolls series with a believable, satisfying conclusion. Kade maintains suspense through the early part of the story by not revealing the true nature of the trials. Ariane expects that she will have to physically fight the other alien/hybrids however, this is not the case.Instead she learns of a more sinister reality when Zane's mother goes public with the truth about GTX and its role in human experimentation on children. Kade chose a more realistic storyline to conclude her series, adding an air of believability to the ending.

The major revelation near the end of the novel by Laughlin is shocking. Laughlin reveals the exact procedure that created Ariane -  a fertilized human egg and the alien genetic material. The revelation reveals the connection between Rachel and Ariane as well as what really happened to Ariane's biological mother. These revelations only serve to reinforce Ariane's belief that Laughlin and Ford must be stopped. However, this sets up a conflict between Ford and Ariane. Ford wants to kill Laughlin, something Zane tries to talk Ariane out of participating in. Zane knows that Ariane has fought constantly against using her abilities to harm others. When she stopped Joseph Zadowski's heart she performed CPR on him to save him. But he also recognizes that Ariane wants to listen to Ford. "If she did, it would destroy her. I understood the urge to kill Jacobs, more so now than ever. But the kind of person Ariane was, it would break something in her. She was a defender of the weak, the innocent...Murdering someone in cold blood, even a person she hated, would end her. She woudn't be able to live without punishing herself. Ariane, the girl I loved, would disappear beneath waves of misery and self-loathing." Ariane tries to negotiate with Ford for the lives of Zane, Rachel and Emerson St. John. However Zane tells her if she participates in Jacobs and Laughlin's deaths she will never be free of them and she will become what they have always believed she is - a weapon. In the end, Ariane's decision is taken away from her by Ford's actions. It's a tidy finish that sees the true villains get their just desserts, while Ariane and Zane eventually are able to restart their lives.

One of the main themes of this novel is Ariane's struggle to be accepted by humans as a person rather than as a lab specimen or a product, in this case, a weapon to be sold. Ariane must deal with how everyone views her as somehow less than human despite the fact that she has abilities that humans do not. Zane's mother, Mara Bradshaw and Ariane's schoolmate, Rachel Jacobs consider Ariane and the other alien/human hybrids to not be "real" people. This is also Dr. Jacob's opinion too, as he refers to Ariane by her serial number, 107 which is the shortened form of GTX-F-107, effectively dehumanizing her. He doesn't view her as a person who has feelings but more as a robot. This is demonstrated by his having Rachel spend time with Ariane in an attempt to "humanize" her so that she will be more appealing to the government agency seeking his technology. In fact, the alien/hybrids are portrayed as more ethical and empathetic than many of the humans who are seen as grasping for power and money.

Ariane is a strong, ethical character in The Trials, determined to end the research of Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Laughlin even if it means her death while at the same time saving Carter and Ford. Even when she is finally taken away by Justine, Ariane manages to negotiate a deal that works in her favour. Ford redeems herself in this novel, sacrificing her life to make sure that Laughlin's research will never more forward, while Zane too is willing to sacrifice his life to help Ariane - he takes a dangerous experimental virus so as to be able to enter the trials and convince Ariane to take Justine's offer.

Project Paper Dolls is a really good series that will appeal to those who like sci fi and adventure. While The Trials was a good finish to this series, the best book was the middle novel, The Hunt.


Book Details:

The Trials by Stacey Kade
New York: Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group     2015
328 pp.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie: The Woman In Gold

The Woman In Gold tells the story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian Jew who fled her homeland shortly after the Anschluss, and her quest to restore to her family, the art stolen by the Nazi regime some sixty years earlier. 

Maria Victoria Bloch-Bauer who was born February 18, 1916 was the daughter of Gustav and Theresa Block-Bauer. She was the niece of Adele Bloch Bauer, a patron of the arts and culture of Vienna in the early 20th century. The Bloch-Bauer family moved within the artistic and cultural circles of what would later be known as Vienna's Golden Age. This meant they also knew the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, whose grandson, a half a century later, would help restore the stolen paintings to their family. Salons were often hosted by Adele Bloch-Bauer and Maria frequently visited the home of the Bloch-Bauer's and remembered it filled with paintings, tapestries and beautiful furniture. Adele's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was a wealthy businessman who commissioned two paintings of his wife, Adele, when she was twenty-five years old. Klimt painted the first one, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, a magnificent painting done in oil and gold foil, in 190. The painting soon came to represent Vienna's Golden Age.

Adele passed away in 1925 at the age of 44 from meningitis. In 1937, Maria married Frederick "Fritz" Altmann, an opera singer. With the forced annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, known as the Anschluss, the Bloch-Bauers, like most Jews in Europe, were soon to see their lives destroyed. The Nazis immediately began plundering the art and jewelry collections of wealthy Jewish citizens and the Bloch-Bauers were not spared. The Nazis used the Bloch-Bauer's castle as their base of operations and looted Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer's art and jewelry; among the haul, six Klimt paintings and jewelry including an elaborate choker given to Maria on her wedding day. Ferdinand had already fled first to Prague then to Switzerland. Although Adele had indicated her wish that the paintings be displayed in the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, this did not happen directly as the paintings were stolen by the Nazi's. Ferdinand passed away in 1945, after unsuccessfully attempting to get his property back from the Austrian government. He willed his estate to Maria Altmann and several other nieces and nephews.

Maria's parents also had their possessions looted. Her father lost his beloved Stradivarius cello, a loss that broke his heart and probably contributed to his death just weeks later. Realizing the threat the Nazi's presented to Jews, Maria's brother-in-law, Bernhard Altmann and his family had already fled to London, England.When the Nazis overran Austria, in order to force him to sign over his very productive textile factory, Bernhard's brother Fredrick was imprisoned in Dachau but was released when Bernhard complied. With the family under house arrest, their possessions looted and hatred against the Jewish population mounting, Maria and Fredrick knew they had to escape. With the help of a friend they were able to fly to Cologne and then cross into the Netherlands, eventually emigrating to America. They left behind her parents, her extended family and a life of wealth and culture in Vienna.

As the years passed Maria and Fritz lived their life in Los Angeles, raising a family but never forgetting what was taken from them, but also held little hope that they would live long enough to see restitution, despite many countries signing agreements to restore stolen property.

In 1998, Austrian investigative journalist, Hubertus Czernin published a piece about the Klimt paintings belonging to Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. His research showed that Adele did not bequeath the paintings to the Galerie Belvedere, something Maria had always been led to believe. Czernin's research resulted in Austria enacting the Art Restitution Law allowing families to file claims for the restitution of art stolen by the Nazi regime in Austria.  Maria learned about the new law and the situation involving her family's painting from a friend in Austria. Determined to recover her family's paintings, Maria engaged E. Randol Schoenberg, grandson of the Austrian composers, Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Ziesl. It is Maria Altmann and Randol Schoenberg's struggle to get the Austrian government to return Altmann's family's property - in this case, five Klimt paintings that is portrayed in the historical drama, The Woman In Gold.

The Woman In Gold was directed by Simon Curtis. tells the remarkable story of a beautiful painting stolen from a family and almost lost to them forever. The events surrounding the restitution of the Klimt painting to the closest living relatives of the Bloch-Bauers are fairly accurately portrayed in with some minor differences. Maria Altmann is portrayed by Oscar, Tony and Emmy Award winner, Helen Mirren. Mirren's performance in The Woman in God is quite endearing, a mixture of German forwardness and Old World charm. Randol Schoenberg is played by Ryan Reynolds. In the movie, Schoenberg is shown to have little knowledge of the Holocaust, but in real life, Schoenberg grew up listening to Maria's stories about life under Nazi rule and her flight to freedom. He first saw the Klimt painting when he visited Vienna as a boy and his mother told him the shimmering lady in gold belonged to Maria Altmann's family. When Schoenberg represented Maria, he was unapologetic in talking about what Austrians did to his grandmother's generation. After winning the right to sue the Austrian government, Schoenberg decided to trust an arbitration panel in Austria. He learned of the Austrian Arbitration Court's order to return the Klimt paintings to Maria Altmann on January 16, 2006 via a text message on his Blackberry. Journalist Hubertus Czernin, who died only months after Maria's victory was well portrayed by Daniel Bruhl who captured Czernin's quiet intensity and determination to force his fellow Austrians to confront their collaboration with the Nazis.

To connect the present efforts of Maria Altmann to recover the stolen Klimts with her tragic past, Curtis uses flashbacks to fill in the back story of Maria's life in Austria when the Nazis came to power. The scenes involving the Nazi plunder of works of art and jewelry are extremely well done, evoke a sense of outrage and leave viewers thirsty for the justice that Maria seeks. They also allow viewers to understand how life changed so suddenly in Vienna, a city the rival of Paris in art and culture. There are scenes of Jews being forced to scrub the sidewalks, forced into trucks and of Orthodox Jews having their beards cut and their heads shaved. The fear and confusion of the Jewish citizens is effectively captured in these scenes and Maria and Fritz's harrowing escape is intense.

The Woman In Gold is highly recommended for those interested in period pieces and historical films.



For those interested in learning more about the Holocaust restitution, they are referred to the Jewish Virtual Library website which has the following pages: Holocaust Restitution: Recovering Stolen Art

Of interest is a talk Randol Schoenberg gave on the Klimt restitution:





Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Before the blast, they say there'd been sermons about fire, about the end of the world. The fire itself gave the last sermon; after that there were no more.

The Fire Sermon is a dystopian novel about a world completely destroyed by a cataclysmic event and the survivors divided against one another. The blast four hundred years ago had destroyed everything, scorching the earth, filling the rivers with ash. Time was divided into Before and After.

From the bards, Cassandra and the people of her time learned that "other nations, across the sea, sending flame down from the sky" had caused a fire that consumed everything and exposed everyone to radiation. Afterwards came the Long Winter. Her father told her that "If there'd once been other lands, across the sea, there were no longer, as far as any sailor had lived to tell." There were rumours of Elsewhere, countries across the sea as well as an island where Omegas lived free of Alpha oppression.  Cass's father warns her not to ask questions about the Before, Elsewhere or the island. The people from the Before had delved too deeply into things and brought destruction upon themselves. Anything from the Before was taboo, the Electric and any other technology, most of which was destroyed in the blast.

Those who survived  the blast were deafened and blinded. Three generations after the blast and after the Long Winter during which there were almost no births, twin births began happening. The twins were always one boy and one girl, with one being robustly perfect and called the Alpha while the other twin, the Omega having some kind of imperfection. The twins were forever linked; "twins came in pairs and they died in pairs." Extreme pain, serious illness, accidents and loss of consciousness in one twin would lead to the other experiencing the same. The Omega twins were always infertile; only Alphas could produce children but they continued to produced twins. Once one of the twins was identified with a defect they were sent away to special settlements where they lived a subsistence lifestyle. The settlements were located on the least fertile land. Some Omega's who could not survive in the settlements were allowed to live in refuges near the large Alpha towns where they were fed and housed by the local Councils. They could not be allowed to die since that would mean their Alpha would die too.

While most of the defects in Omegas were physical, some Omegas had an unseen defect; the ability to have visions of both future and past events. On the outside both Zach and Cassandra appear to be physically perfect. But while her twin, Zach slept through the night, Cassandra would have dreams of large cities, of storms that would arrive the next evening and of the blast. Cass knew that her difference needed to remain hidden, otherwise she would be identified as a seer and they would be "split". And so her parents waited for their defect to become apparent so they could identify one as Omega and one as Alpha and send the defective one, the Omega twin away. Zach becomes increasingly impatient as the years pass as their status as unsplit twins prevents him from becoming part of the Alpha society. As unsplit twins, Zach and Cass are marginalized in their village, Zach being unable to attend school and the two of them taunted.

Although some parents did not want to send away their Omega child, most were happy to get rid of the Omega which they considered poison and freaks. When they were thirteen, their father fell sick with a fever and his twin, Alice was sent for. Alice lived in abject poverty in the Omega settlement she was confined to. Eventually both Alice and Cass and Zach's father die, leaving Zach in charge. The first thing Zach does is to have a Councilman come to their home and brand Cass with the Omega symbol on her forehead. Four days later Cass is sent away to live in Alice's cottage in the settlement. Cass lives there for six years before she is taken away to the town of Wyndham. In those six years Zach's life changes drastically. After an apprenticeship at the council in Wyndham, he became a Councilor. Also during this time conditions for the Omega's began to deteriorate; Omega's were forced out of long-held settlements, Alpha raiders stole cattle and destroyed crops, leading more and more Omega's to seek out the settlements. Cass's mother comes to visit her and tells her that Zach is becoming a powerful Councilor known as the Reformer. Because there are strong rivalries between the Councilors, her mother warns her that people will try to get to Zach through her. She tells Cass that many Councilors keep their Omega twins in the Keeping Rooms beneath the Council chambers at Wyndham. And this is exactly what Zach does to Cass.

Six years after arriving at the settlement, Cass is kidnapped and taken to Wyndham where she is placed in one of the Keeping Rooms. At first she is occasionally allowed out onto the ramparts of the mountainside fort. The only person who visits is an Omega woman called the Confessor who attempts to get Cass to reveal her visions to her in order to help Zach. The Confessor is able to penetrate Cass's mind and learn that she knows about the island but Cass refuses to tell her anything about her visions. Even when she shows up with a map and tries to enter more deeply into Cass's mind, and even when Zach threatens her, telling her that there are worse things being done to Omega's at the fort, Cass does not relent.

Soon Cass begins experiencing new more frightening visions of glass tanks with tubes and wiring, and eventually bodies, suspended in a viscous liquid that seemed to slow everything until even the waving of their hair was lethargic. From each drooping mouth, a tube...Most had their eyes closed, but even those few with open eyes wore entirely blank expressions,..." The dreams of the tanks continue for three years but then change when Cass begins seeing an empty tank and then herself in one of the tanks. Desperate to get out of her cell she sends Zach a message begging him to allow her outside for ten minutes in exchange for information about an important dream. When Zach takes her outside however, Cass manages to trick him, locking him inside and finding her way into the mysterious tank room. There she finds hundreds of tanks with human beings in them who seem to be half alive. However one of the tanks contains a young man who seems alert. Cass after a great deal of effort manages to break the tank and extract the man from the tank. Together the two of them escape the compound and flee into the wilderness. The boy who is Cass's age has no memory of his life before being in the tank. The fact that he is missing an arm means he is an Omega. Cass names him Kip and together they decide to try to find their way to the island the Council is so determined to locate. It is a journey that will lead to both uncovering Zach's sinister plan for the Omegas and one of them making the ultimate sacrifice.

Discussion

The Fire Sermon is yet another dystopian novel in a genre that has dominated young adult fiction for the past five years and continues to do so. Its plot is typical - a post apocalyptic world so devastated that the survivors must make impossible decision to survive. In Fire Sermon the survivors of "the blast" are born in pairs, one perfect (Alpha) twin and one (Omega) twin with a defect. The Omega twins, who are considered the carriers of the "poison" from the blast that ruined their society, are isolated from the Alphas. The Omega twins are all but starved and abandoned, and the only thing keeping them alive is that their death will kill their Alpha twin. Like most societies in a dystopia, information is strictly controlled. The people are told that any contact with technology from the Before is taboo and this is strictly enforced by punishments. However most of the Omegas and the Alphas do not know that the Alpha leaders are using whatever Before technology they can to implement a "final solution" of sorts - where all the Omegas are placed in tanks in a sort of stasis so that the Alphas can live a life unencumbered by their weaker twin. It is a society that is turned on itself. Alphas against Omegas and the pursuit of perfection.

Into this story, inject the themes of family, loyalty and acceptance.  One of the dominant themes is that of acceptance and looking for what we have in common instead of focusing on our differences. Cass begins to understand this when her Aunt Alice, her father's Omega twin is brought to their home, very sick. While nursing her, Zach asks her what is wrong with her because her defect is not readily apparent. Alice explains her minor physical defect but she also astutely points out to Zach "If we were all so drastically different from Alphas, darling, why would they need to brand us?"

When Zach visits Cass in the Keeping Rooms he tells her that they have only one life between them, that this is the way the world works. Cass challenges him to change the world. "...You said you want to be a big, important person and change the world. It didn't occur to you that we were changing the world, every day day we weren't split?"

Unlike the Council, the Assembly, Zach or Owen, Cass doesn't want to take sides. She wants all people, the Omega's and the Alpha's to live in harmony. When a vision reveals to Cass that the Alpha's are planning to attack the Omega island, Cass is determined to convince the Omega leader, Piper, not to fight them. She tells him that it's a fight they cannot win because for every Alpha they kill, an Omega will die. When he responds that this is the same for the Alphas once again she reiterates that he is "only ever looking at half the story."

When the attack comes Cass states, "For me, each was a two-fold dying. With each Alpha soldier killed, I felt, and sometimes saw, an Omega on the mainland fall...Each of the deaths had its echo, and I saw them all..." 

This also leads Cass to attempt to get Piper and Zach to view their twins in a different way. When Cass meets Piper's Alpha twin, Zoe, she begins to understand that because he and his twin have been working together, "he must know what it was to see your twin as something other than an opposite." Cass knows that Piper and Zoe's experience of living together along with her and Zach's thirteen years unsplit are proof that life could be different if enough people want to change it. When Zoe defends the idea of the island, Cass tells her that no matter how many islands they find, the problem remains: the Alpha's view of the Omegas.

Despite the harshness of Cass's post nuclear world, there is still plenty of care and love. The Omega's build a society based on love in contrast to the Alpha's utilitarian approach.But Cass is a determined heroine, fighting to try to unite her broken society and believing that the twins, sharing that bond of family can somehow unite and work together to make a better world.

Readers will find Fire Sermon and engaging read, despite its predictability and lack of a cliffhanger ending. Fire Sermon is part of a trilogy, with the next book due out in 2016, so readers will want to check out the second book to see where Cass's travels take her next.



Francesca Haig taught creative writing at the University of Chester before her debut novel, The Fire Sermon garnered her a good deal with HarperVoyager of the U.K. Haig says her novel originated with the idea of twins who shared a fatal bond and from that concept she developed the rest of her story. Haig was keen to include many characters with disabilities as a way of reflecting the diverse society we live in.

Book Details:

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Toronto: Gallery Books     2015
370 pp.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Documentary: Population Boom

Population Boom explores the myth of overpopulation in this 91 min documentary filmed at various  locations throughout the world. Released in 2013, Population Boom explores the controversial population control methods pursued by the United States in the 1970's to control population growth almost exclusively in the developing world. Werner Boote seeks answers as to how this came about and who is driving the efforts to drastically reduce population in poorer countries.

By way of introduction to his topic, Werner Boote looks at how the United Nations announced the Earth's population has reached 7 Billion - a number supposedly portending disaster. The announcement is made on Halloween, October 31, 2011. Rather than marking this milestone in a joyous manner, the 7 billion number is linked by UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon to war and famine on the planet. Werner Boote asks Babatunde Osotimehin of the United Nations Population Fund if it would be better if there were fewer people on the planet. Osotimehin tells Werner that no one knows the capacity of the Earth and what it can sustain. As an example, he states that a 1960's cover of Time magazine referred to the Earth's population of 3.5 billion as over population. Osotimehin states that how he deals with population control varies by country.

This leads Werner Boote to state his thesis: for decades the UN has been stating that the world is overpopulated. The belief that the world is overpopulated seems to be a view of the rich and influential such as David Rockefeller and Ted Turner. Ted Turner, founder of CNN and a major land owner continues to promote the view that the world is over populated and that this will bring about the extinction of the human race. The reasoning is that too many people will lead to global warming which will lead to drought and famine and ultimately to starvation and cannibalism. Surprisingly Boote never mentions Warren Buffet nor Bill and Melinda Gates, the latter who have donated millions of dollars to develop various types of contraceptives with the intent of marketing them to the developing world.

Boote then explores the origin of the idea that the Earth has a limited capacity of people that it is capable of sustaining. The concept that the Earth can only support a limited population originated in 1789 with Thomas Robert Malthus, an Anglican theologian and economist. Malthus believed that man is the ultimate danger" to the planet, that the world even in the 1700's was overpopulated and would eventually be unable to feed itself. He predicted total collapse by 1860. Despite this not happening, many continue to believe his theory as evidenced by the bizarre monument in Georgia.

The Georgia Stones
In Elbert County, Georgia, six granite slabs were erected as a monument with ten "laws" inscribed on them in eight different languages. The person or persons who paid for the monument remain a secret but the intention is not. Two of the laws refer to population; 1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature. and 2. Guide reproduction wisely -- improving fitness and diversity.Number 10 says "Be not a cancer on the earth - leave room for nature - leave room for nature."

Boote asks the question "Who is one too many?" and sets out to discover who is driving this catastrophic view of the future. In the process he explores how the overpopulation movement gradually gathered strength in the late 20th century and the consequences to the developing countries and to families. He also explores how the developing world views population control, the discriminatory nature of population control, attitudes towards consumption and how the global economic system makes it increasingly difficult to have children at all.

He begins in the United States. In 1974, a large scale population plan was drawn up by the then U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger with his Memorandum 200. The top priority of U.S. foreign policy was population reduction in twelve countries including Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Columbia, Brazil and Mexico. One hundred thirty-seven countries agreed to reduce their population. Enrique Mendoza Morales, a lawyer who represented Mexico at the 1974 Population conference, claims the Americans were concerned at the time with a population explosion and the believe that this would be accompanied by the growth of communism. They also recognized that the more people a country had, the stronger it would be and that this would affect the balance of power and the United States' ability to exert control. Their plan was adopted by the UN and in Mexico was heavily promoted by the media. Instead of population "control" the term "family planning" was adopted to avoid seeming aggressive and draconian. The measures succeeded and Mexico brought its birthrate of 6.1 children per woman in the mid 1970's down to 2.1 children per woman - the rate needed to just maintain the population.

The fear of overpopulation spread around the globe leading governments to use different means to achieve their goals. In 1979, China introduced its one child per woman policy. This policy was strictly enforced for decades by forced sterilizations and abortions, leading China to be criticized for its human rights violations. In the last few years, in specific rural areas, China has allowed couples whose first child is a girl to have a second child but the one child policy continues to be the norm. Boote is told by Hu Hontao of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission that people who do not have babies can work and increase economic growth. This view affirms Boote's belief that "worldwide greed for economic growth doesn't leave any room for personal desires and feelings."

The Chinese policy has resulted in 400 million fewer Chinese. In the short term, China's economy has profited with increased income and economic growth. However, in the long term, China's population will suffer. The government has created a society of only children, usually "exalted sons". Professor Xie Zhenming is an opponent of China's family planning policies which he wants to change. Professor Xie in the presence of China's Family Planning officials, met with Boote to discuss how he believes China's policies have damaged Chinese society. Professor Xie states that the one child families are not strong families and usually require some kind of assistance. He also points out that because of the one child policy China will soon have too many elderly people and not enough young people to support them. He also refers to China's thirty million "missing girls" as a result of the Chinese cultural preference for sons.

From Beijing, Boote moves on to Mumbai, India to explore family planning there. A main feature of the population reduction mantra is that poverty could be eliminated if people in poorer regions would stop having children. In India, which will overtake China as the most populous country, women are given many incentives to be sterilized. The official position of the government is two children per family. Boote visits the Khatoon family who live in one of Mumbai's slums, without water, electricity, sewers and have little food or money. Two million children under the age of five die in India's slums each year. These slum dwellers will never become major consumers. In contrast to the Khatoon family, India's wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani lives in a 37,000sq ft. home overlooking Mumbai's slums. In Mumbai, families with two children or less receive special incentives and have access to government services. It becomes apparent from talking to various India officials how population control in the country works. The people who have money are able to have as many children as they want but the poor must "control" the number of children they have IF they want their children to have access to state facilities and services. It is a discriminatory policy that seeks to eliminate the poor not by helping them out of their lower economic status but by population control.

From the Indian subcontinent, Boote travels to Africa where most of the international aid is contraceptives. A case in point, a 1997 malaria epidemic in Kenya saw the country run out of malaria medicine but have shelves stocked with toxic contraceptives like pills and IUDS. Ndirangu Mwaura believes that America promotes population control in Africa because it is fearful it will be swamped by the poor. Mwara believes the problem is not one of overpopulation but of congestion - the poor live on top of one another in crowded cities because they cannot afford land.

An interview with Obadias Ndaba of World Youth Alliance Africa is one of the more interesting in the documentary. He states that Africa is not overpopulated but in fact has one of the lowest population densities in the world. Its 40 people per sq. km is much lower than Europe's 170 people per sq. km. Illiterate villagers are taught that population control is the path to development but Ndaba points out that this is not the process that occurred in the West. People became educated and wealthy and then had smaller families but in Africa the reverse is happening. Ndaba says people drive economic growth and that governments need to see people as an investment.Poverty in Africa "is not a result of too many people. It's rather a result of too few people who mismanage and misuse our resources."

Although Boote does not detail the effects of population control in Western countries he does take a look at Japan, a G7 country with an advanced economy. With a birth rate of 1.3 children per woman,Japan now produces more adult diapers than baby diapers. Boote does not mention that this is far below the replacement level for a population and that no country with such a low birthrate has ever recovered its population. Tokyo's overcrowding suggests a vibrant country but a short trip into the countryside reveals the truth about the Japanese situation. One mile away in Akiruno, Suzuki Tadashi shows Werner an abandoned school and laments the loss of so many children.

So who is to blame for this situation? Are there any who disagree? For that Werner Boote interviews several notable persons.

Probably the most interesting interview in the entire documentary is that of journalist and conspiracy theorist, Benjamin Fulford who only agreed to be interviewed in a boat in the middle of a pond in the western part of Tokyo. Fulford pulls no punches in stating that the Western elite who run the planet believed the only way for humanity to live in balance with nature was to eliminate 5 billion people. The real reason behind all this disaster according to Fulford has been greed, especially on the part of the banks, petroleum companies and the chemical pharmaceutical companies. He blames the "aristocratic and banking families of North America and Europe" - the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Warburgs and Morgans who believe in eugenics and eliminating inferior people (that is, the poor who breed). It is Fulford's opinion that the eugenics of the early 20th century brought to bear by Adolf Hitler and Nazism, never really died out but simply went underground. It reappeared later in the 20th century marketed under the guise of Planned Parenthood (whom he specifically and surprisingly mentions) and lately, global warming. (Note to readers, the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger was a noted eugenics supporter particularly interested in reducing the population of black Americans.) But as Fulford notes, the law of evolution dictates that those who have kids will control the future.

Betsy Hartmann, a demographer from Hampshire College, Massachusetts also suggests that bankers and petroleum companies are partly to blame. She believes that "it's the systems under which we live that determine the kind of consumption and production." Hartmann cites the US military as a prime example, it being the largest consumer of oil in the world.

Boote turns to fellow Austria, Wolfgang Lutz, a demographer whom he interviewed at his beautiful summer home on the island of Vaha-Vehanen in Finland. Lutz believes there is no optimum population size and that population control is inherently discriminatory because it believes that there are too many people of one group. Sudan could easily feed a billion people with modern agriculture but its problem is not too many people but "too many people without enough education."

Farida Akhter and Werner Boote discuss UN aid.
Finally Boote is seen in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a country often used as an example of being overpopulated. Boote says that Western media will often post pictures of overcrowded trains out of context leaving westerners to believe that this is the normal state of affairs. Farida Akhter, a scientist and activist states that even saying there are too many people is a way of looking at the poor. It carries with it specific connotations that are both derogatory and biased. She cites that much of the aid from the Western world is like Boote's UN umbrella. An umbrella is useless without the spines. Each of the spines of the UN umbrella of aid represents a condition that must be met first. Countries not accepting those conditions do not get the aid.

Boote's documentary is likely not to be popular in many circles, especially those who promote foreign aid and contraceptives and abortion to the developing world. But his documentary raises many important questions about our view of the poor, our view of the developing world, the right of couples everywhere to choose the number of children for their family, and the global economic systems that make having a family more and more difficult around the globe. Of particular interest to me was the belief that economic growth can only be achieved by reducing population. Yet the Canada and the United States with its baby boom population and unprecedented economic growth during the last century seemingly disproves this theory.

The influence of the global economic system (which encourages people to work and consumer rather than to create the next generation), in the declining global birthrate is an experience that is not just restricted to the developing world although the consequences are more serious.  We now have a global economic system that favours a select few while impoverishing many and causing great harm to the planet.

Boote made his documentary after the success of Plastic Planet in which people asked him the question, "Isn't the planet in danger of being destroyed because there are too many people?" The answer, as Boote has learned, depends upon who you ask.

Some interesting reading may be found at the following links:

The Intellectual Roots of Paul Erlich's Population Bomb (and the prehistory of climate alarmism) by Pierre Desrochers

Population Growth: Disaster or Blessing by (Lord) Peter T. Bauer who is emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics (scroll past the first page which is an ad for the Independent)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo

"The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost."

Galgorithm is a romantic comedy about a high school student who spends his senior year as a dating coach only to see it backfire in a way he never expected.

On the outside seventeen year old Shane Chambliss is a typical senior at Kingsview High School in Los Angeles. But on the inside he's much more; he's a guy who knows how girls think and act. He's spent the last few years carefully studying interactions between the guys and girls in his high school and has come up with a system to help guys succeed in the dating game. He calls his formula, which outlines the laws of attraction as the Galgorithm because Shane's father refers to women as "gals". The Galgorithm is top secret.

Shane's best friend is a black girl, Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland, better known as Jak whom he's known her since they were young enough to share a bath. Their moms are best friends.  Jak knows that Shane helps a few guys get dates with girls but she does not know about the Galgorithm because Shane is scared she will judge him. They have both been accepted for college in the fall but will be a thousand miles away from each other, something that causes Shane to be anxious about. "I probably won't miss all her antics when we go away to school, but I'll definitely miss her Jakness - her quick draw with a joke, her oddly endearing anxieties, her energy."

One of Shane's clients is Reed Wannamaker, a skinny junior whose desperate to date Marisol Cuellar. Shane encourages Reed to follow through on his initial contact with Marisol. Reed decided that in order to follow the first of Shane's rules which is to be different, he would hit Marisol with a tennis ball during gym class, providing him with the chance to go up and talk to her. This worked better than he anticipated because Harrison Fisk, a senior who is the starting pitcher for the baseball team punched Reed in the face. Marisol accepted Reed's friend request.

One of Shane's success stories is Anthony McGuinness and Brooke Nast, also known as Hedgehog and Balloon. They've been dating for six months after Shane helped Anthony who had been crushing on Brooke since fifth grade to finally get together with her. Now they want to set up Shane with Tristan Kellog, the It girl from the junior class. But Shane is still recovering from his break-up with a girl two years older than himself whom he calls Voldemort.

However Shane finds himself advising Mr. Kimbrough, the grade ten math teacher. In his early thirties, Kimbrough tells Shane he's heard that he is an expert in dating and romance and that he's noticed Shane advising Adam Foster. Shane in fact did help Adam start to date Olivia Reyes. He also tells Shane he's heard about an algorithm. While Shane tells Mr. Kimbrough he's not a dating expert he does agree to help him.Kimbrough indicates that he is crushing on Deb Solomon, a history teacher, whom he considers to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Shane advised Mr. Kimbrough to trick Miss Solomon into believing he is asking numerous teachers if they want to attend a Civil War exhibit.

Shane tells Jak about Hedgehog and Balloon setting him up with Tristen Kellog and she agrees that he should date Tristen. His initial impression of Tristen who's very pretty is that she might not have much substance to her. But he quickly discovers that she's leading a Habitat for Humanity trip to the Midwest to build homes for those who lost them due to tornadoes.

While Shane continues to advise Mr. Kimbrough and Reed and help Adam deal with being dumped by Olivia, he also struggles to cope with dating Tristen. In order to  help Adam out of his funk, Shane tells Adam to "find that girl you have a crush on, go right up to her, and do your thing."  However, one day when Shane and Jak are at lunch, Shane is stunned to see Adam making a move on Jak. He realizes that Adam is using the galgorithm on his best friend. Although he tries to seem noncommittal, Shane tries "to push any uneasiness...deep, deep down, as far as it will go."

The next day Shane runs into Adam at Perkin's Beanery waiting for Jak to show up. It turns out both guys are waiting to meet Jak and Shane realizes that Jak asked him to show up later in case she needed to bail from her date with Adam. Shane is peeved that Adam didn't tell him about crushing on Jak but he behaves diplomatically and leaves the two of them However, he does recognize Jak's disappointment while he realizes that Adam is a lucky guy dating Jak. Even though Shane and Tristen are now an "item" Shane can't quite get used to his best friend seeing another guy. It isn't until Shane rescues a very drunk Jak from her first keg party that he begins to realize that he has "feelings" for her.

Discussion

Galgorithm is a fun summer read about the hazards of friendship, dating and falling in love. The focus is on the main character, Shane Chambliss who fancies himself as a sort of expert in interactions between guys and gals,"the Robin Hood of romance" who evens "the playing field between the jocks and the have-nots." In order to give teen guys a dose of confidence he tells them he has worked out an algorithm that predicts the behaviour of girls. In fact, the "galgorithm" as he calls it, is fictitious, as he reveals later on in the novel. His system seems to be working until Mr. Kimbrough publishes his own "galgorithm" on his blog and it is discovered by one of the students. The resulting chaos sees relationships crash as the female half of all the couples believe they have been manipulated. Eventually though some of the couples like Hedgehog and Balloon come to realize that it's not so much about how they got together but that they are together. It's the message Shane's parents were trying to impart to him when they finally told him the truth about how they met. They met in an unromantic way and felt they had to create a different story for how they fell in love. It's a lesson Shane himself will soon experience with Jak.

Set against Shane's sometimes hilarious narration is his gradual realization that he has fallen for his best friend. This realization brings both terror and dismay because of Jak's response after his break up with Faith years ago made Jak insist they would never get involved romantically. "In the wake of Voldemort, Jak told me explicitly that this was a line she would not cross. We will never be more than friends. She's been consistent about that point ever since."

This leaves Shane deeply conflicted especially after his feelings for Jak persist even when she's at her worst, vomiting on him in the bathtub after the keg party. "I thought that maybe I just had a moment of weakness in the bathtub. Maybe I was just a little buzzed. But when I woke up the next morning, my feelings for Jak, whatever they are, were still there. I don't really know what they mean and I don't even know if they're real." Compounding his confusion is his relationship with Tristen, who is very understanding and finds Shane to be "sweet" and "loyal". Shane knows after his break-up with Faith that he's been guarding his heart but now he wonders, "But what if, in the course of protecting myself, in the course of finding other people their soul mates, I miss the real thing?"

It takes other people to confirm to Shane what he feels - his ex-girlfriend, Faith who tells him he was so obviously in love with Jak, Adam who recognized that Shane loved Jak and backed off, and Reed who tells him "I've never seen two 'friends' who more obviously want to hook up." Shane is only certain of his feelings after he is in danger of losing Jak for good. Reed who decides to take over Shane's role as dating coach, gives Shane a dose of his own advice, be different, notice her, tell her.

Galgorithm is appealing because it's a story about a group of high school students trying to navigate the treacherously fickle world of teenage dating. Karo describes the high school scene with a certain flair, making it realistic in some ways yet over the top in others. (How many teachers come to a senior guy for dating advice?)  There is a whole cast of very different characters in the novel from Shane the sensitive, caring guy, Jak the irreverant witty best friend,  Harrison the jock struggling to cope with the bullying his two moms have experienced, Tristen the gorgeous, sexy junior who actually does have a personality, timid Mr. Kimbrough the bumbling math teacher who has the hots for Miss Solomon and Reed the skinny Dungeons and Dragons geek.The typical teenage boy humour will have readers laughing out loud while leaving them groaning at Mr. Kimbrough's math jokes.

Galgorithm is Karo's second young adult novel. Besides being an author and screenwriter, it comes as no surprise that Karo is also a comedian.


Book Details:

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo
New York: Simon Pulse 2015
310 pp.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide which saw the systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in Turkey. At the beginning of World War I there were approximately two million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish population never fully accepted the Armenian Christians in their country. There had been repeated attacks against them in previous years and the Ottoman government considered them a security threat. As a result the government which was controlled by three members of the Committee of Union and Progress called the Young Turks made a decision to eliminate the entire Armenian Christian population. The plan was to eliminate the leaders of the Armenian community first and then to systematically murder all the men. This plan began in 1915 and continued until 1923. The western nations of America, Britain and France protested against the massacres but in reality the international community did little to stop it. Despite the fact that there were many witnesses to the genocide as well as much documented evidence, Turkey has never admitted to committing genocide. Forgotten Fire tells the story of one young boy who witnesses the extermination of almost all his family.

In 1915, twelve year old Vahan Kenderian was the youngest child of a wealthy Armenian lawyer living in Bitlis, a province in Turkey. Vahan had three older brothers, Diran, Tavel and Sisak and two older sisters, Armenouhi and Oskina. His father was well respected by Armenians and Turks alike, who often came to Vahan's home to consult with his father. Bitlis did not have many Turks in 1915 but Vahan had heard about the massacre of Armenians by Turks years before in Adana. Vahan was really not concerned about this. He was a typical twelve year old from a well to do family, full of confidence that he would one day be a man of influence like his father.His father however thought Vahan to be lacking in character and discipline.

One day in the early spring of 1915, two gendarmes came to the house informing Vahan's father that he was wanted at the government buildings. Although his mother tried not to appear alarmed, the police summoning Sarkis Kenderian seemed ominous. He does not return and the in the days following his disappearance, strange things began to happen. Vahan saw bloodied and bruised men led away by the gendarmes. The shops began closing, Oskina and Armenouhi heard screams coming from the prison, Diran heard gunshots from the center of town and Tavel had heard that the homes of several Armenians had been burned to the ground. Armenian homes were searched for guns, churches were ransacked and priests accused of being traitors. Vahan and his family began to realize that the Armenian community was being attacked by the Turks.

Vahan's father's younger brother, Uncle Mumpreh is also taken away, being considered a revolutionary. Soon women and children, survivors of a massacre in Van where the men were murdered and their homes burned by the Turkish army begin arriving in Bitlis. Vahan and his family heard stories about Selim Bey, the governor VAn who had murdered thousands of Armenians. Karnigh their horseman committed suicide when he learned that his entire family had been murdered.  Soon hundreds of people, men women and children, the very young and the very old are seen streaming out of the city. Uncle Mumpreh is returned home a completely changed man. He filled three bags with poison and gave them to Vahan's mother and his two sisters telling them that if anything happens they are to take the poison in the bags. The next day soldiers arrive at the house and after terrorizing the family, murdering Divan and Tavel. Their murders forever change Vahan's family; his mother stares outside the window at the garden where her two sons lie buried, Oskina begins wearing their father's shirts, his grandmother reads the Bible and Sisak sits by his brother's graves, while Armenouhi rarely leaves her bedroom. A week later the soldiers returned, questioned Vahan's family and then take them to Goryan's Inn where they are locked in a room.

On the walk to Goryan's Inn, Vahan notices that everyone is gone, the houses are empty, the shops closed, the streets dirty.Vahan, his brother Sisak, his mother Meera, his grandmother and his two sisters Oskina and Armenouhi are kept locked in a room with other Armenian captives. At night the soldiers come to take the girls to rape them and when Armenouhi sees that this will be her fate she takes the poison and dies. Eventually all the remaining captives from the inn are marched towards Diarbekir, where Vahan and his family see hundreds of corpses along the road.  Eventually they arrive at the River Tigris which is filled with floating corpses. When the soldiers kill fifty of the Armenians, including his grandmother, on the banks of the Tigris, and later begin killing the boys, Vahan's mother insists that he and his brother escape during the night. Both Vahan and Sisak manage to do and so begins Vahan's long struggle to survive.

Discussion

Forgotten Fire is based on the true story of Adam Bagdasarian's great-uncle during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Bagdasarian's uncle, Vahridj Kenderian made a tape of his experiences during the genocide shortly before his death in America. Kenderian was able to emigrate to America, married and lived in New Jersey where he had his own business as a photoengraver. His life, according to the author was a happy one. Bagdasarian spent ten years writing Forgotten Fire as he found information at that time on the Armenian Genocide was somewhat limited. However, in the years leading up to the 100th anniversary of the genocide, much information is now available online. In addition, the murder of 1.5 million Armenian Christians was recently referred to as "genocide" by Pope Francis.

Bagdasarian chose the title, Forgotten Fire, as a reference to the tenacity and strength that adversity can develop within a person. In an interview from Random House he states,
"The Hitler quote at the beginning of the book is meant to convey that the Armenian genocide was a forgotten chapter in world history, and also show the connection between the genocide of the Armenians and the later genocide of the Jews. In other words, if we forget the past, we imperil our future. The “fire” part of the title refers to the part where Vahan’s father tells his children that steel is made strong by fire. The experiences in the book represent Vahan’s fire, the fire for all Armenians–the fire of adversity that either consumes us or makes us stronger. So “Forgotten Fire” stands for this fire of adversity for the Armenian people that was forgotten by the world." And in fact, loss and the ability to cope with adversity are strong themes in the novel.

Vahan is a remarkably resilient young boy who changes drastically from the boy he was before the genocide. Before the genocide, Vahan believed that "character and discipline were consolation prizes given to the meek, the unadventurous, and the unlucky." Vahan believed that time and destiny would bring him the blessings of a good life. "I knew that time and destiny were my allies, the twin magicians of my fate: Time would transform me into the tallest, strongest man in Bitlis, and destiny would transform me into one of the wealthiest, most admired men in Turkey." Ironically, Vahan is taken into Ara Sarkisian's home, an Armenian who at one time had been "a strongman in his village, performing feats of strength on the street for money." At seventy-four years of age however, time has taken this strength and he wisely tells Vahan to work for things that are more permanent than beauty and strength. " 'Time takes everything, Vahan. But your heart, your character, your faith, do not belong to time. So build your home here,' he said, touching his chest. 'And make that home strong, make that home beautiful. Then you will always be safe, and you will never be along.' "

By the end of his journey out of Armenia and to Constantinople, Vahan sees the importance of discipline and character. He is determined to learn as much as he can so he can become more for his family and for himself. The adversity has forged a steel inside him "that made it possible for me to get out of that bed and pretend I was myself; it was the steel that helped me study when all the other boys had gone to sleep." He comes to know "that character and discipline are the steel that fortify" life and that they will ultimately bring blessings that counter the "pain and disillusionment" of life.

Forgotten Fire spares young readers none of the atrocities committed during the Armenian genocide; the cold blooded murder of innocent people, the disappearance of Armenian leaders and intelligentsia, the burning alive of Armenians in their homes, the rape of young girls,mothers and the elderly, the death marches and the annihilation of entire families. The details are not graphic but simply stated in a way that is realistic. As a twelve year old boy, Vahan often had no idea at the time what was really happening. For example, when Uncle Mumpreh gives bags of poison to the women in the family, Vahan doesn't understand what the "trouble" might be.

Vahan Kenderian was an immature twelve year old boy who took for granted his family and the security of his home. At the beginning of the book he stated, "I walked with the confidence of a boy who has grown up in luxury and knows that he will always be comfortable, always well fed, always warm in winter and cool in summer." By the time Vahan has survived several years on the run and ends up in a girls orphanage in Sivas with nothing but the tattered clothes on his back, he "wanted a home and a family more than anything in the world." He knows "that there was probably no such place and no such people" as his home is gone and his family murdered.

Forgotten Fire is highly recommended to those who enjoy historical fiction. Vahan's strong narrative and the compelling story of a boy trying to survive under horrific conditions will engage readers completely. Bagdasarian has included a map detailing Vahan's journey and provides both a Foreword to set the historical background and an Epilogue that states what became of Vahan. Sadly one hundred years later, little seems to have changes with regard to genocide in this part of the world. The massacres of Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq by militant Islamists seems to demonstrate we have not learned yet from history. This only makes Forgotten Fire all the more relevant in educating young readers in the lessons history can teach.

For more information on the Armenian Genocide please check out the Armenian National Institute's website.

Book Details:

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian
New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, Inc.     2000
272 pp.