Monday, July 31, 2017

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins

Margaret And The Moon tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, computer scientist and the first software engineer. Margaret earned a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in philosophy from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1958. During her time at Earlham she met James Cox Hamilton and they married after she received her B.A. She postponed work on a PH.D when she was offered the opportunity to work on the Apollo missions. At this time there were no such disciplines as computer science and software engineering, the latter a term Margaret coined while working on the Apollo program. She was responsible for the on board flight software for the Apollo and Skylab missions.

Before working on Apollo Margaret worked at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) developing software to aid in predicting weather and she also worked on the SAGE Project at Lincoln Lab where she first developed software for predicting weather systems and track their movements. This latter ability was refined for use in tracking hostile aircraft, as the Cold War was in progress. Margaret joined Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT which was involved in the Apollo program, responsible for developing software for the Apollo command module and the lunar lander.

Margaret And The Moon tells the story of how Margaret's curiosity about the world around her and her love of math led her to her career in mathematics and ultimately into coding. And that's a good thing because unknown to those of us who were watching the first lunar landing in July of 1969, Margaret was the person who saved the mission.When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were attempting to land the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the moon, the on board computers sent out an alarm. The alarms indicated the computers were overloaded with too many tasks and the landing would be aborted. But the code that Margaret Hamilton had written had foreseen this very thing and it ordered the computer to ignore those tasks and give priority to the lunar landing tasks.

Robbins picture book takes young readers through the story in a simply way and then at the back provides an Author's Note about Margaret Hamilton as well as a Bibliography and offers Additional Reading resources. Lucy Knisley's illustrations were done using ink and paper and coloured in Adobe Photoshop.
The wonderful photographs of Margaret throughout her life can be found
on the inside of the back cover of the book. A better option would have been to include these on the pages at the end.

For more background information on Margaret Hamilton, read Wired Magazine's great article, "Her Code Got Humans On The Moon -- And Invented Software Itself".


Book Details:

Margaret And The Moon by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley
New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Names They Call Us by Emery Lord

Lucy Esther Hansson saves the day for her friend Brianna at prom but can she save her mother from cancer?

Prom night turns into the most difficult night of Lucy Esther Hansson's life. After rescuing friend Brianna who is dumped by her date at prom, Lucy and boyfriend Lukas stay to help clean up. Principal Cortez tips Lucy off when he tells her they are thinking of her mother. This immediately upsets Lucy because it reminds her of freshman year when her mother had breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy but did not require chemo or a mastectomy. Suspecting her mother might be ill again Lucy calls home and her mother confirms her worst fears. Lukas drives a devastated Lucy home. At home her mother tells Lucy that a lump was found during a check-up two weeks prior and the biopsy confirmed cancer. She is scheduled for surgery on Monday morning and that her father will be telling his congregation in the morning.

During the service, Lucy who is angry at God, decides to leave before her father informs his congregation. Lukas is shocked at Lucy's anger and her lack of faith in God. Her mother tries to reassure her. The next day, May 1st, Lucy's mom has both breasts removed and spends two days in hospital. The month of May is filled with graduation parties, exams and her mother's recovery from surgery as well as many doctors appointments and tests. The tests reveal that Lucy's mother's cancer is in her lymph nodes and she requires six cycles of chemotherapy.

In June, before Lucy and her parents set out for their summer camp at Holyoke, Lucy's mother approaches her about the possibility of spending the summer Daybreak, the camp across the lake. Lucy's mother's friend Rhea Mills runs Daybreak, which just had a counselor quit. Her mother suggests that the camp which is for young people who have experienced trauma in their lives, would give Lucy a chance to make new friends and better help her cope with her mother's situation. Lucy refuses but her mother tells her that she needs her to go so that she will know she will be okay without her.

Lucy is thrown another curve when she meets Lukas and he tells her he wants to put their relationship "on pause". Upset that Lukas has talked with everyone but her, Lucy agrees. Lukas wants to "reassess" their relationship when he comes to visit her at Holyoke in July.

Lucy arrives at Holyoke and meets Rhea who shows her to Cabin 3A where she will be staying with nine campers and two other counsellors. Anna Miroslaw, one of the counsellors gives Lucy a tour of the camp and introduces her to counsellors, Henry Jones, Mohan Tambe, Keely Simmons and Garcia. When a fight breaks out between two campers, Lucy feels overwhelmed and has an asthma attack, but Anna reassures her that feeling overwhelmed is common.

From the beginning Lucy finds herself attracted to Jones, a tall, dark-skinned counsellor with a big smile. They find an immediate connection because like Lucy, Jones is a musician, he plays trumpet. Jones draws Lucy into the his group and also helps her fit in by having her accompany the kids choir for the talent show. Lucy gradually begins to become part of the group, accompanying Anna, Simmons, Tambe and Jones on their Friday night parties, saving Neveah who has an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Lucy discovers that these counsellors have been at Daybreak for several years.

But as the weeks pass, Lucy begins to form friendships that help her understand life and resilience of the human spirit. Daybreak is full of secrets and secret wisdom that help Lucy cope with this stressful time in her life.

Discussion

The Names They Call Us is about a young girl's journey to come to terms with her mother's illness in the midst of growing into adulthood. Lord who breaks her story into four parts, spanning from April to August, has populated her story with a cast of very diverse characters; transgender Anna Miroslaw, dark-skinned Jones and Rhea, Rose Min who is Asian, pregnant fourteen-year-old Tara and a host of characters from various backgrounds.

Lucy, daughter of a pastor, staunch Christian and an accomplished pianist and captain of the swim team, experiences two stressful events just before the beginning of summer; her mother's cancer has returned and her long-time boyfriend Lukas decides to take a break from their relationship. The return of her mother's cancer creates a severe crisis of faith for Lucy.  She begins struggling with her faith because she believed that if she prayed to God he would heal her mother. Instead her mother is ill again and she sees God has having broken his end of the bargain. "I prayed while scrubbing dishes after dinner. I prayed with every stroke, back and forth, back and forth, down my swim lane. I prayed while walking between classes...I should have begged." In the bathroom she questions, "...I think up at God: We had a deal. How could you? How could you?"

Lucy feels completely betrayed by God. She has been praying in thanksgiving all the time, for her parents, for Lukas and her Aunt Rachel. At church the Sunday after she finds out, Lucy finds she doubts Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. "Really, God? Where? I mean, seriously. Give me a dove with white flapping wings. A rainbow stretched over our house. Give me literally anything -- a feeling, a holy light, a burning bush..." Lucy looks at the statue of Jesus Christ above the altar and feels betrayed and alone. "He stands on the altar, stone arms wide and ivory palms up--a pose that used to look welcoming. Now He looks halfway to a shrug. Your mom has cancer again and there's nothing you can do about it. He's right. I feel helpless, hapless, planless."

This results in Lucy running out of church and when confronted by Lukas, she tells him, "I trusted God would heal my mom, and He did. Except He didn't." She finds Lukas's attitude patronizing because he doesn't have a sick mother. Lucy finds herself questioning everything about God. When Lucy's mother asks her to attend Daybreak, Lucy tells her mother that she needs to be around Christian kids, but her mother tells Lucy that faith isn't caught from other people. Lucy finds herself "hurt and confused by a God that has never hurt or confused me before."

when she visits Holyoke after her first week at the Daybreak camp, Lucy marvels at the faith of the young people there. "...I'm jealous --disgustingly, hotly jealous. My heart aches like the sore muscle it is. I covet their innocence, their easy belief. They trust the world; they trust God. They see him everywhere. Like I did, my whole life, and I didn't even know to appreciate how good I had it." Lucy puzzles over her mother's choice to read the book of Psalms, about praising and glorifying God when her mother is so sick. She also attempts to have her mother allow her to return to Holyoke for the rest of the summer. Lucy mentions the pregnant fourteen-year-old and is shocked when her mother expresses her concern that Lucy make her feel loved and supported. Lucy's parents have always taught her to wait until marriage for sex, and she can't understand her mother's disappointment with Lucy being shocked. However Lucy's visit ends with her trying to see traces of God in everything, just as her father mentioned in his sermon.

At camp Lucy finds herself still talking to God. She asks Him to help her be the good friend to Anna who it turns out is transgender. As she begins to learn the stories of the campers and the counsellors Lucy begins to feel gratitude for what she has - two parents who love her. "I've been so angry-- at God and the universe and cancer--that I think it's been hard to touch gratitude. That my mom can get treatment, that we have a support system, that I was born into such love."

From Henry though, Lucy learns the most. Henry lost his sister who committed suicide when he was ten years old. Despite being angry at God, Henry decided to chose to believe in Him. Lucy wonders if she too can choose to have faith. Over the next few days Lucy finds some measure of peace, "When I try to pray, I don't feel like a crazy person talking to a man in the sky. It feels like me choosing to ask the God I've always known for guidance. Even if one of my prayers is Please help me stop being so mad at You."

From her friends, Lucy learns how to cope with her mother's cancer and rediscovers her own faith. From Henry Lucy learns that real life is not an escape from trouble and that one cannot live in a bubble. Daybreak shows Lucy people go on living in spite of terrible things that happen. "Hasn't Daybreak shown me, day after day, that people can outlast unbelievable pain? That human hearts are like noble little ants, able to carry so much more weight than you'd expect. Hasn't my mom shown me that, every day of my life?" Keely tells Lucy, "You can be okay again. Just a different kind of okay than before." The Daybreak counsellors and campers are proof that people can survive terrible things and still have a good life.

By the end of the novel Lucy chooses to believe in a God that forgives people in a moment of despair and anger. "If I'm going to believe, it has to be in a God who would forgive my father for this word. I have to believe in a God who knows how much my father loves my mother. I have to believe in a God who would sit beside my father in that car, place His hand on my father's back. And maybe it took me until now--until this terrible moment-- to realize, but I do."

The Names They Call Us is a novel that explores a whole host of themes besides faith; that of friendship, family, dealing with loss and forgiveness. In some ways the novel takes on too much. There are several subplots; Lucy and Lukas, Lucy and her new relationship with Henry, and the secret past of her mother that Lucy uncovers at Daybreak in the midst of a medical crisis. The novel takes its title from the names people give others when they sometimes speak without thinking. For example, when Lucy's mom asks her to consider going to Daybreak Lucy refers to the camp as "the hippie camp".As Anna gives Lucy a tour around Daybreak, she refers to the Christian camp Holyoke as "It's some crazy church camp..." Lucy says nothing to counter Anna's remark because "It's just that...telling people you're religious can make them assume a whole list of things about you."

Overall a very modern take on faith in the contemporary genre of young adult fiction.

Book Details:

The Names They Call Us by Emery Lord
New York: Bloomsbury                       2017
388 pp.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

DVD: The Zookeeper's Wife

The movie, The Zookeeper's Wife tells the remarkable story of the courageous actions of Dr. Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina who were the zookeepers at the Warsaw Zoo in Warsaw, Poland in the 1930's. For their actions in aiding the Jewish citizens of Warsaw during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Zabinski's were honoured by Yad V'shem as Righteous Among Nations.

The movie opens in Warsaw, Poland, in the summer of 1939 with Antonina opening the zoo in the morning, welcoming people. On her bike, Antonina rides through the zoo greeting the different animals, giving viewers a quick tour of the zoo and the many animals; the elephants, zebras, monkeys, lions, cheetahs and giraffes. That night at a dinner party at the zoo, with many Germans in attendance people make fun of Antonina for her care of the animals. Dr. Lutz Heck, director of the Berlin Zoo is in attendance and while he ridicules Jan he seems more But their view of Antonina changes when Jerzyk, the zookeeper requests her help for Kasia, an elephant in distress. Antonina saves Kasia's baby. She is applauded for her successful efforts.

The next day the Zabinski's discuss leaving Warsaw after they see how the Jews in the city are being treated. Jan wants Antonina and their son Rys to go to Zaliesie, but Antonina refuses because she believes people should not simply run away from what they fear. On September 1, 1939, Warsaw along with the rest of Poland is bombed. Jan is in so Antonina grabs Rys and after quickly packing a suitcase they head for the train station. There they learn there are no trains running but meet up with Jan who takes the back to the zoo. Their beloved zoo has been bombed and many of the animals killed. Some of the animals were shot by the Polish soldiers, others including lions, tigers and camels run free. Many of the escaped animals are brought back to the zoo by the people of Warsaw.

The Germans arrive in Warsaw after Poland capitulates with Rommel warning the Polish to accept the Germans peacefully. Herr Heck arrives with the information that the zoo is to be liquidated for use as meat, firewood and soap. He makes Antonina an offer to take the prize animals to Germany and return them after the war. Antonina agrees but Jan who was not present at the time of the discussion is furious.

In October of 1940, the Germans begin rounding up the Jewish citizens of Warsaw and placed into an areas of the city called the Warsaw ghetto. There is little food and fuel for the coming winter. Several of their Jewish friends Szymon Tenebaum and Magda Gross meet with the Zabinskis. Magda tells them that Maurycy Fraenkel a gentle man has been incarcerated in the ghetto. Szymon knows there is nothing the Jews can do and so he requests that the Zabinski's keep his insect collection which represents his life's work. They agree to do this and place it in their basement. Later that night Antonina suggests that perhaps they can save one life and hide Magda in their home. Jan is initially against this because they know the penalty will be death. However, Antonina believes they must help. "So we just close our eyes and let her go? Our dearest friend in all the world."

Magda is taken in and Antonina and Jan tell her she must stay quiet until cook leaves for the day but that at night she can come out and walk around. They learn that the Jewish people are suffering terribly, that there is little food and no wood. Their friend Maurycy is practicing law from a storefront in the ghetto and that it is impossible to get into the ghetto without a pass. Jan informs Antonina that there are people who want to help by hiding Jews in the zoo until safe houses can be found for them. Now it is Antonina's turn to object but when Jan tells her the Jews are trapped and starving she says "A human zoo." The two come up with a plan.

The Zabinkis travel to Berlin and tell Herr Heck they want to save their zoo because they have spent many years building it. They suggest creating a pig farm to feed the German soldiers, feeding the pigs with garbage from the ghetto. Heck tells the Zabinkis that Hermann Goering has given him permission to attempt to breed aurochsen from bison. Jan is incredulous because aurochsen have been extinct for three hundred years. He agrees to the pig farm because unknown to the Zabinkis he can use the zoo to breed his aurochsen.

The pigs arrive and Jan goes to make his first pick-up of garbage from the Warsaw ghetto. On his first trip he witnesses a young girl being forced into an alleyway by two German soldiers to be raped. Jan manages to spirit her out of the ghetto along with several boys who hide under the garbage. Each trip to the ghetto brings more women and children to the basement of the Zabinski's home in the zoo, where they stay hidden during the day.

One night the Zabinski's receive an unexpected visit from Dr. Ziegler of the Ghetto Labor Bureau and a friend of Symon. He tells them that Symon has died and asks to see his insect collection.During his visit, Ziegler tells Jan he knows what they are doing and he informs Jan that the Bureau has two doors, one of which opens into the ghetto. He tells the Zabinskis they can use the Bureau to smuggle people out of the ghetto. In August of 1942 the Warsaw ghetto is cleared. Jan begs Dr. Korczak to escape but he tells him that this is a time for calmness and asks Jan to help the children climb into the train.

Gradually Urszula with the help of the animals and her ability to paint, begins to recover from the rape, coming out of her shell. Many of the children begin painting on the walls of their hiding place.  On April 19, 1943 the final extermination of the Warsaw ghetto is undertaken and the ghetto is burned to the ground. As the Nazis work to find every Jew in Warsaw, the stress begins to wear on Jan and Antonina's marriage. Herr Heck is infatuated with Antonina who must force herself to show interest in his attentions. Antonina and Jan have a second child, Teresa.

As Germany begins to lose the war, Jan and Antonina must persevere. Jan participates in the Polish Army uprising in 1944 but is captured and sent to a prison camp. Although the Polish army is defeated, the Russians advance into Poland and the Germans are forced to evacuate the city. Hoping to learn of Jan's whereabouts, Antonina visits Herr Heck. He attempts to rape her but stops when he realizes that she was only pretending to like him. He then draws the conclusion that Antonina has been faking other things as well - hiding Jews in the zoo. Antonina must try to save those in her care at the zoo.

Discussion

Directed by Niki Caro, The Zookeeper's Wife is a moving portrayal of the plight of Jews in Warsaw and the heroic efforts of Jan and Antonina Zabinski to save as many Jews as possible from certain death. Antonina and Jan Zabinski, beautifully portrayed by Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh, managed to hide three hundred "guests" in the Warsaw zoo on the pretense of running a pig farm. With the exception of Rosa Anzelowna and her mother who had their hair dyed and moved to a boarding house in Warsaw, all those hidden survived the war. The Zabinskis and their family survived the war; Jan returned home from the prison camp. They rebuilt their zoo and the Warsaw Zoo is still open to this day.

The Zookeeper's Wife is based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Diane Ackerman. It is a dramatization of the events that happened and as such is not accurate. For example, it was much too difficult to simply drive a truck filled with food scraps out of the Warsaw ghetto as portrayed in the movie. The Nazis thoroughly searched every vehicle entering and leaving the ghetto. The character of Urszula is likely fictional as the Zabinski's never kept any sort of record of who passed through the zoo on their way to safety. They were cautious and everything was meticulously planned.

Although the movie is essentially about Jan and Antonina's work with the Resistance to save Jews from the Warsaw ghetto and ultimately death, there is a subplot that revolves around the (fictional) relationship between Antonina and Herr Lutz Heck, newly appointed director of the Berlin Zoo and the zookeeper's wife, Antonina. This relationship did not exist in real life. Heck was a friend of the Zabinski's before the invasion of Poland and he was always kind to Antonina, but once the zoo was turned into a farm, Herr Heck left for Berlin and therefore there never was any opportunity for the romance portrayed in the movie. However it is this relationship that adds considerable drama to the film.

Some might not care for movie's understated approach to portraying the brutality of the Holocaust. Much of the violence is implied and rarely shown; Urszula's rape is off screen as are the murders of several Jews, and even the burning of the ghetto, Caro relies on the images of burning buildings to convey the horror. The film misses portraying the Warsaw ghetto uprising of August 1944 which happened after the liquidation of the ghetto. Instead the threat of danger is more subtle, the cost of discovery means certain death not only for the Jews in hiding but also for Jan and Antonina. Knowing this and being very organized, the Zabinskis took great care. The Jews at the zoo were moved well before the Warsaw ghetto uprising because Jan was involved and this would have made the Zabinskis and the zoo suspect. In this regard, the climax of the film, where Herr Heck realizes that the Zabinskis have been hiding Jews in the zoo and sets out to search the grounds is completely fictional and serves as dramatic license.  

Chastain who was envisioned by director Niki Caro as the actress of choice to play Antonina gives a believable portrayal of this remarkably courageous woman. The Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Center has a good section on Jan and Antonina Kabinski.


This short documentary, Hiding Like Animals tells the story of survivor Stefanie Sitbon whose parents were helped by the Zabinskis.

And finally the trailer for the Zookeeper's Wife. Although not an accurate account, the movie may encourage viewers to read the book about the Zabinskis and to dig a bit deeper into their remarkable story.




Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali

Max is born on April 20, 1936, the same day as Adolf Hitler. He chooses that day as it will bring him the blessings of the Germanic gods.Max sees himself as the firstborn of the master Aryan race; he wants to be supple, lean, swift, hard and tough. He wants to hate rather than love. His mother, Frau Inge who is tall, blond and blue-eyed applied to be a Schwester (Sister) and underwent a series of detailed physical examinations. She had to prove she had no Jewish blood in her ancestry. His father was an SS officer who was paired with her.

Max is born in Steinhoring Home, on the outskirts of Munich. His birth, like those of the other babies in the Lebensborn program, is kept secret. Steinhoring was an asylum for mentally ill people but they were "relocated" - exterminated and the home was renovated. At birth Max too undergoes a detailed physical examination by SS-Oberfuhrer Gregor Ebner who, after taking numerous measurements, classifies him as being of the Nordic Aryan race. Max's mother is not allowed to hold him until he has passed the examination.

Max's mother, Frau Inge struggles after his birth as she encouraged not to use endearing terms and he is often taken away from her. Max notes that there is a sort of "magic cord" between him and his mother that allows him to sense what she is feeling. A week after his birth, Max is christened by Adolf Hitler in a ceremony attended by Reichsfuhrer-SS Himmler, Max Sollman (director of the Lebensborn program), the Fuhrer's personal doctor, Dr. Karl Brandt and his wife Anni Rehborn, Dr. Ebner, along with the mothers from Steinhoring and other Lebensborn homes. Max's mother receives an autographed photograph of them with Hitler and Max is given the new name of Konrad von Kebnersol, a mix of Dr. Ebner's and Herr Sollmann's names.

Life at Steinhoring is unsettling. Max becomes upset when he witnesses babies being removed from the home by Josefa during the nights. One night after being tenderly hugged by his mother, Max hears his mother being escorted from the home, screaming and crying. This event results in Max becoming sickly as the "magic cord" that existed between him and his mother is no longer there. He also discovers that some of the babies in the nursery have been taken to Ward 15 in the Steinhof Institute in Vienna where they undergo experimentation and are ultimately euthanized. These children, who suffer from minor defects such as harelip (cleft palate), asthma and deafness are called "rabbits". This terrifies Max to the point that he decides to banish all memories of his mother and to force himself to accept the wet nurse.

The process of adopting the babies begins, and while other babies from the nursery are adopted, Max is repeatedly not chosen. One night he is kidnapped from the nursery by a woman who has escaped from a prison camp. This woman, Magda, saw her newborn baby, Maciej shot. Max remains with her for five days as she slowly starves to death. He is rescued in terrible condition. In an attempt to rehabilitate him emotionally as part of an experiment, Max is left alone and not comforted. "Even when I yelled my head off -- my arms outstretched so they'd open the door, so they'd come and hold me, cuddle me, comfort me -- no one ever came. "

As Max grows into early childhood, Germany goes to war. Max becomes "the perfect sample product" of the Lebensborn program. The mothers who come to Steinhoring looking to adopt want to cuddle him but are not allowed to do so. When he is four years old, Max is taken to  Poznan Poland where he is used as a lure to help the Nazis steal Polish children. Working with the "Brown Sisters", Max entices other children his age to tell him about their families and where they live. During the nights the SS soldiers visit the children's homes and kidnap them. Eventually Max is sent out with a Polish concentration inmate, Bibiana. The two are very successful and Max begins to bond with her as she holds his hand, hugs him and plays games with him. But when Max tells her that his mother is Germany and his father is the Fuhrer, Bibiana revolts and she is killed. This deeply upsets Max who struggles to eat and begins rocking himself. But things only go from bad to worse for Max as he is exposed to more and more depraved situations.

Max Sollmann
Max watches the SS soldiers have sex with the German prostitutes and rape the Polish women. He hides in the back of a truck and watches the SS soldiers kidnap Polish children from their homes. Soon he is recruited to take part in the hunt for blond, blue-eyed Polish children whom the SS can kidnap. After leading a group of children safely back to their mothers, Max cruelly reports them to the soldiers. At a party in his honour the German prostitutes expose themselves to him and Max gets dangerously drunk on the left over liquor. At age six he is sent to Kalish, the SS Gaukinder Home which is the central district home of the Polish Lebensborn. There he sneaks out during the night to view both the boys and girls as they undergo the Nazi selection process by the doctors at the school. He also witnesses the murder of a boy he befriends. But when a Polish Jewish boy, Lucjan who is renamed Lukas by Dr. Ebner, arrives at the Lebensborn school, Max is about to discover everything he's been taught about people, life and the Third Reich is very different from reality.

Discussion

Max is a disturbingly explicit account of the Nazi's successful program to breed racially pure "Aryan" children for the Third Reich.  All  the horrific details of the Lebensborn program are revealed in this novel through the use of omniscient first person narration of a child. The narration begins when Max is an unborn baby about to be born in 1936 through the war until the fall of Berlin in 1945. Max comes into the world, a die-hard Nazi, determined to fulfill his mission in life as a model Aryan. He's even willing to offer his life at birth should he not meet the Aryan standards. Fortunately for him, he passes and is allowed to be reunited with his mother. Soon Max experiences repeated traumas along with intense Nazi indoctrination that begin to shape him into a cold, calculating child. Can there be any kernel of love and compassion inside such a child? This is the question Cohen-Scali sets out to explore in her novel.

Baptism of Lebensborn child
Max's trauma begins immediately after birth and continues throughout his life. He is measured and examined for defects and soon his mother is removed from his life. This is "scary" for Max who simply wants to lie next to his mother and nurse. When babies with defects are removed from the nursery for experimentation, Max has nightmares and fears he will also be taken away and experimented on. When he is kidnapped from the Steinhoring nursery just before his first birthday in 1937 and is rescued five days later in serious condition, Max receives no comfort and is placed in quarantine - "I had to stay alone all day, locked in a room at the back of the building, so my crying wasn't heard." When Bibiana, is executed for rebelling against the kidnapping of Polish children, Max gets a "tummy ache" that won't go away. He stays alone and begins rocking himself. He experiences anger over Bibiana's rebellion and even dresses in the rags he used when with Bibiana because they retain some of her smell. After helping a few Polish children escape, Max experiences anger that these children have mothers who love them. Instead of helping them, Max decides that one of the boys "must become German" and turns them in. When Max's friend Wolfgang is murdered in cold blood in front of him for not saluting a German officer, he is unable to sleep, has nightmares and begins wetting the bed. Max is six years old at this time. Without comfort, he uses the distraction of watching young girls being stripped and examined for the program at Kalish. In Berlin he witnessed more shootings, rapes and the murder of his friend.

All of these events, each shocking in its own right, show Max as a victim who struggles to protect himself by denying what's happening and by attempting to take some kind of control over his life. Despite his fear, and believing he is the vanguard of an Aryan nation destined to take over the world, Max views himself as a leader for his peers whom he refers to as his "buddies". He wants to be seen as "made of Krupp's steel." As a result, he views any action that enhances the Aryan nation as acceptable in spite of his fear or even natural revulsion. When babies are removed from the nursery for experimentation, Max comes to believe this is acceptable for the success of the Third Reich. "I understand now that my buddies' sacrifice was essential in guaranteeing that the Reich's medical science is the finest in the world. Markus, Edith, Klaus, and all the "rabbits" from the other Homes can be proud because they will be contributing to great discoveries: vaccines against tuberculosis and typhus (diseases spread by Jews and Gypsies), medications to heal the wounds of our soldiers at the front...I know now that we make up a chain, every link of which, even the smallest is vital. The weak die so the strong can become invincible." When the bond between Max and is mother is broken, at first Max is upset but he comes to view this as making him stronger. "...no more magic cord! It no longer exists. I've cut the umbilical cord once and for all. My memory of Mother is fading...I can't remember her smell anymore, or the feeling of pressing against the soft pillow of her breasts. Soon I'll have forgotten she existed. Besides, I'm going to erase the word mother from my vocabulary." When Max becomes the linchpin in the kidnapping of elite Polish children in order to Germanize them for the Third Reich, he believes this is necessary, "Such a brilliant idea! A bit like a blood transfusion. New blood for Germany, while weakening the enemy."

However, Max's view of the world is changed by his interactions with Lukas, a Polish Jew who physically is the Aryan ideal. This is a complete puzzle to Max who has been indoctrinated into the belief that all Jews look a certain way. Lukas tells Max that his mother was a beautiful, intelligent Polish woman who was educated and spoke French and German fluently. He was saved from the Jewish ghetto when his parents sent him away to be hidden by a non-Jewish Polish woman. Lukas's life was saved, his father and brother perished in the Jewish ghetto and his mother was sent to Treblinka. Lukas's story confuses Max, who begins to question what he's been told. "Perhaps Lukas's family didn't deserve it? Perhaps an exception should have been made for them? Perhaps there are good Jews? How do you know? At this point in my thinking, I admit that I'm lost..."

Max 's doubt is increased during biology class which is devoted to learning how to identify Jews based on physical characteristics. Lukas who is Jewish has none of the "identifying" characteristics. "But on the other hand, something wasn't quite right. If you wrote Lukas's statistics into the chart the teacher had given us at the beginning of the class, his would be identical to the Aryan measurements. Moreover, Lukas had the green racial fitness certificate. I wanted to tell the teacher everything, that Lukas was Jewish and Aryan -- so he could explain the contradiction to me, once and for all." "I'm surprised how, Polish or German, Aryan or not, we aren't that different. For the most part, my buddies here are just like the ones I had in Kalish. They have the same faults, especially the six-year-olds. It's hard for them to get up at 6:00 on the dot to go running...Hard to get dressed in a rush...Hard not to fall asleep in class."   At the Napola Max is forced to another realization; "I'm surprised how, Polish or German, Aryan or not, we aren't that different. For the most part, my buddies here are just like the ones I had in Kalish. They have the same faults, especially the six-year-olds. It's hard for them to get up at 6:00 on the dot to go running...Hard to get dressed in a rush...Hard not to fall asleep in class."

Max believes his contact with Lukas is "de-Aryanizing" him. And yet when Lukas is sent to a munitions factory Max experiences distress both over his absence and the fact that Germany is losing the war, leading him to begin cutting himself. When Lukas returns he is depressed, chain smokes and won't eat. Max cares for Lukas and learns the source of Lukas's turmoil when he tells him about the "Final Solution". "The events of the past few months have shown me that they don't tell us everything at the Napola. Information is filtered, altered. The things Lukas told me before he left for his training, things I refused to believe, have been proven to be true." All of this only deepens the conflict within Max and he begins to understand that he has been a part of something terrible.He decides to keep his bargain with Lukas and to tell his story in the orphanage in Bavaria.

Max is a very different historical novel, written from a unique perspective. Well worth the time if the reader is not familiar with the Lebensborn program. The character Max is fictional, however Lukas is based on Salomon Perel, who was able to pass himself off as Aryan and who survived the war. Max Sollmann, Gregor Ebner, and Johanna Sander were all real life people. The Author's Note at the back details more about these people and the Lebensborn program, as well as providing readers with follow-up material.
Prospective readers should know that this book contains explicit sexual content. Because of the graphic violence and sexual content this novel it is recommended only for older teens and adults.

The Jewish Virtual Library and information on the Lebensborn Program.

Book Details:

Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali (translation from the French by Penny Hueston)
New York: Roaring Book Press 2017
421 pp. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline

This edition of the Orphan Train Girl is based on Kline's New York Times bestseller, Orphan Train and is for younger readers. Orphan Train Girl weaves together two stories, that of Irish immigrant Niamh who is orphaned in a fire in 1929 and that of Native America Molly Ayer who is living in a foster home. Both girls are connected by a common thread that includes the loss of family and identity.

Molly Ayer lives with her foster parents, Dina and Ralph  in Spruce Harbor, Maine. One day while at the Spruce Harbor Public Library Molly tried to steal a paperback copy of The Secret Garden. She was caught by the librarian, Mrs. LeBlanc and her social worker, Lori was called. Lori arranged for Molly to do twenty hours of community service and Dina and Ralph agreed she could continue to stay with them. Molly's best and only friend, Jack came up with the idea that Molly could help clean Mrs. Daly's attic. Jack's mother cleans Mrs. Daly's home and had mentioned that the elderly woman needed help with this task.

Molly meets Mrs. Daly - Vivian who is to the point but kind and who asks Molly about her life. Molly tells her that she is a Penobscot Indian and that when she was younger she lived on a reservation near Old Town. She doesn't tell Vivian that her father died in a car crash and her mother was unable to cope and eventually she was placed into care. After being shuffled around to various families she ended up with Dina and Ralph. When Vivian reveals that she too is an orphan, she tells Molly vaguely that there was a fire.

Vivian's backstory is revealed in the chapters about Niamh (pronounced Neeve) Power. Niamh arrives in America with her family, month on the Agnes Pauline when she is seven years old. Her family is from County Galway in Ireland and they arrive at Ellis Island having left their country because of the potato famine. Niamh's family thought they would find a better life in America but instead they found "the grimy streets of lower Manhattan, a dishwashing job for Da at a pub, and a small apartment on Elizabeth Street for ten dollars a month."

Nine-year-old Niamh's life is changed forever when a fire sweeps through their apartment. Mam wakes Niamh and takes eighteen-month-old Maisie, while Da tries to waken the twins, James and Dominick. But Niamh finds herself alone on the sidewalk. The doctor tells Niamh that her mother has died and that there is no hope for Maisie. With no family to take her in, Niamh is taken to the Children's Aid Society by her neighbor Mr. Schatzman. Weeks later Niamh finds herself boarding a train along with twenty other orphans, chaperoned by Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran. Niamh is given charge of a little boy named Carmine. Mrs. Scatcherd tells the children that they are on an orphan train which will take them (hopefully) to new homes in the countryside. One of the older boys, Dutchy doesn't want to be on the train as he'd rather be out on the street working shining shoes.  After a transfer in Chicago's Union Station that did not go well, Niamh finds herself and the rest of the orphans in Minneapolis at the Milwaukee Road Depot. Here people will come with the intention of choosing a child to take home with them. Both Carmine and Dutchy are chosen although Dutchy is not happy. He gives Niamh his lucky penny. Niamh then travels to Alban where she is picked by Mrs. Byrne who renames her Dorothy and sets her to work making clothing. It is the first of several terrible homes Niamh will be sent to before things get better.

As Vivian reveals her story it becomes apparent that she and Molly have much in common and what starts out as a boring attempt to help an elderly woman might actually come to mean much more to both of them.

Discussion

Orphan Train Girl juxtaposes two narratives, one in the present and one set in 1929-1930. The stories appear to be very separate- in the present day, Molly who has been caught stealing is sent to help the elderly Vivian clean out her attic while the story set in 1929 is about a poor Irish immigrant girl who is sent on an orphan train to find a new family.
However it soon becomes apparent that Niamh's story is really about Vivian when she was young.

Although Vivian and Molly seem very different, their lives are very similar. Vivian loses her family and thus loses connection with her Irish heritage while Molly who is half Penobscot, also doesn't have a family to care for her. Both Vivian and Molly experienced being sent to several homes where they were not treated well. Like Vivian, who ended up with the caring Nielsens, Molly too comes to find that Dina and Ralph also care for her and despite several misunderstandings, they affirm that they want her to stay with them.

Both Molly and Vivian are able to help each other because of their similar life experiences. Vivian, now elderly has come to terms with her experiences as an orphan and is able to help Molly. Likewise, Molly is the first person Vivian has ever told her story to. '"I've never told anyone else about my early life," Vivian continues.'I didn't even tell the Nielsens. We didn't discuss things much in those days. Nowadays people talk about everything.'"

Of the two narratives, Vivian's story about her experiences as an orphan train child was the more interesting one. Little has been written about the orphan trains and the ordeals orphan children experienced. Kline's novel certainly highlights how poorly these children were treated both by the social system in place at the time and by their "adoptive" families. Little regard was given to the health and education of these children, many of whom suffered traumatic loss and who were dearly in need of some love and care. Instead they were paraded in front of complete strangers who then chose them (if they were lucky). Most ended up on farms doing labor, others were sent into homes But Kline also shows that orphans today also face many of the same challenges. Molly struggles to fit in at school. However once her home situation improves, like Vivian she begins to reach out more and to make friends. Vivian shows Molly that there is hope for her life to get better.

Orphan Train Girl is an interesting read about the little known practice of the orphan trains in the United States. It should appeal to a limited younger audience interested in historical fiction.

Book Details:

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
HarperCollins Children's Books      2017
228 pp.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Lost and Found Cat is a picture book about a family escaping the war in Iraq who lose their beloved cat Kunkush. and their cat's incredible journey from Mosul, Iraq to Norway. On an August night in 2015 a family from Mosul begin their journey to escape the war in Iraq. First by car, then by foot across the mountains, and finally by bus to Istanbul, Turkey the family and their cat make their way to the island of Lesbos. All this time Kunkush has been safely hidden. Kunkush even manages to survive the crowded boat journey to Lesbos where he wanders off. Distraught, the family must continue on their journey. Meanwhile, people aiding refugees in Greece begin the search for Kunkush, starting a remarkable effort to return the cat to his family.

Lost and Found Cat is based on a true story of how many caring people came together to bring a lost cat back to his family. When Sura, an Iraqi refugee and her five children arrived on Lesbos, their white cat, Kunkush escaped from his basket. Although volunteers searched for hours, Kunkush was not found. The family moved on but the volunteers did not forget about the missing cat. Several days later, volunteer Amy Shrodes along with others noticed the bedraggled, filthy cat who seemed not to be a part of the cats who frequented the local cafes near the shore. Amy took the cat to a veterinarian who tended to the cat and gave him the name Dias. Now the search began for the refugee family who Kunkush belonged to. Using social media, including a facebook profile featuring Dias, Kunkush's family was tracked to Norway where they had settled.

Sura and Kunkush are finally reunited.
Illustrator Sue Cornelison's vivid paintings help to tell Kunkush's story. The back of the picture book features A Note From Doug and Amy about why they worked so hard to find Kunkush's family.

"We are living in an unique time in history, a time when the Internet allows us to meet people from other cultures and hear their perspectives about what is going on in our world. We all have something valuable to share and the ability to reach out and help. This story is about making that choice. It is only because of all the people who got involved that Kunkush found his family. His story helps us remember that we all need each other." 

The book also contains a map showing Kunkush's journey back to his family and many photographs taken by Doug Kuntz, Amy Shroder and Kunkush's family of Kunkush. Lost and Found Cat is a heartwarming story about how people working together can help one another in the most trying of times and how even the smallest of actions, such as finding a lost pet can mean so much.

Book Details:

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes
New York:  Crown Books for Young Readers       2017

Photo credit: http://www.lifewithcats.tv/2016/04/23/iraqi-refugee-cats-family-found-reunited-in-norway/

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins

Finding Wonders is a delightful novel-in-verse about three women who lived in previous centuries and who were interested in the natural world around them. During the time these women lived, people had very superstitious notions about the world in which they lived. Often women who showed any interest in what has become to be identified as science were considered strange at best and witches at worst. Atkins profiles three women: Maria Sibylla Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell

In the first story, The Artist's Daughter, Maria Merian was the step-daughter of an artist and lived in Frankfurt, Germany her parents, two older brothers and sister and their apprentice Andreas. Her story begins in 1660. Thirteen-year-old Maria is fascinated by caterpillars who mysteriously change from worms into moths and butterflies. Maria's inquisitiveness is considered different by her family; Andreas warns her against touching the caterpillar and seventeen-year-old Sarah tells Maria she's too old to be crawling under gooseberry bushes and in the mud.

When she goes to visit her Uncle Hans in the silk mill, Maria questions him about where the silkworms come from. It is a common belief that they come out of the mud and that they cause terrible things to happen. Hans won't directly answer Maria but gives her a few silkworms to take home and tells her to make sure they have fresh mulberry leaves every day.  Maria hides the silkworms in the attic and spends her time between chores observing the worms. She watches them eat, molt and spin a cocoon.
"Can watching what caterpillars become
show Maria where they come from?
How long must she wait
to see what will emerge?"
Maria's discovery opens her eyes to a world few understand.

The second story, Secrets in Stones is about Mary Anning who lived from 1799 to 1847 in Lyme Regis, England. Her story begins in 1809 when many discoveries are being made and the origin of life on Earth is being debated. Ten-year-old Mary and her father scour the sea cliffs near their home for the strange "curiosities" -
"stones with pictures of creatures or plants that seem
scratched by impossibly sharp needles or nails."

Mary's father sends her home as a rainstorms sweeps the coast, and returns hours later, badly injured from a fall when the cliff crumbles during the storm. As her family slips further into poverty due to her father's injuries, Mary begins scouring the cliffs for the curious stones to sell. After the death of her father and her baby brother, Mary and Joseph make an amazing find in the cliffs:
"A head with a pointed snout or beak is as long as her arm.
Scrambled, shuffled teeth make a jagged line.
Above the mouth is an eye, sun-shaped,
like those of fish or birds, with a patterned rim around."
It is a find that will change the mankind's ideas of Earth's history forever, opening a window to life in the distant past.

The third story, Many Stars, One Comet is about Maria Mitchell who lived in the 19th century. The story begins when Maria is twelve years old and her older brother Andrew leaves on a whaling ship. The Mitchells are Quakers who live an unassuming life, not partaking in some of the finer aspects of life such as frills on bonnets, music, parties or dancing. Maria's father has a telescope on the roof of their home, where he maps the stars. Maria has grown to love the stars and she spends evenings on the roof helping him with calculations. When her father mends chronometers, he teaches Maria how to repair them. When her father learns that the king of Denmark is offering money and a gold medal to anyone using a telescope to discover a new comet, Maria is intrigued. Her father tells her it is unlikely anyone in America will discover a comet mainly because telescopes are better in Europe and night falls there first. But Maria's persistence over the years pays off when she makes an amazing discovery.

Discussion

Atkins has told the stories of three girls who grew into women scientists as a result of their determination to satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. In Finding Wonders, the author employs free verse which allows her to create an engaging account of these young girls as they explore the natural world. Atkins states in her note at the back, "I chose to write in verse because of the permission it gives me to fill in what disappeared." Atkins wanted to write about these specific women because "...While some facts have been passed along, many memories of these women have turned faint. History tends to capture moments of discovery, so we miss much of what came before and after, including common experiences that may bond us."  While young women today might remember Marie Curie, Roberta Bondar and Rosalind Franklin, it's important to remember those who came before and to understand the obstacles they overcame.

Each of these young girls in Finding Wonders is encouraged to explore her world by her father. Maria Merian's uncle and her father encourage her to study and record her observations of the life cycle of the silkworm despite the superstitions of both her family members and society and the notion that such activities are not appropriate for young women. Mary Anning accompanies her father as he searches the cliffs for strange rocks which she later learns are called fossils, and Maria Mitchell is taught by her father how to use a telescope, to do important mathematical calculations, to set chronometers and he even provides her with her own workroom at home.

Each young girl must surmount obstacles either from their own families, circumstances or societal expectations. For example, Mary Anning isn't initially recognized as the one who finds the fossilized ichthyosaur but she persists in digging out this fossil and soon finds many more fossils including the first plesiosaur. Maria Mitchell works against the restrictions of her Quaker faith, while Maria Merian has to deal with the belief that a woman collecting insects and wading in ponds might be a witch.

Atkins free verse is beautiful and expressive. Atkins has Maria Mitchell describe her love of mathematics in a way that is realistic:
"She loves the elegance and economy of mathematics,
which can pry open the view of the heavens,
splinter ideas that have been held for thousands of years.
She's fond of formulas that mirror
nature's love of curving lines,
seen in seashells, plants that rise and bend back,
birds building nests, orbits of planets,
even truth, which spirals in and out of sight."

Atkins includes a detailed "A Note from the Author" at the back as well as a Selected Bibliography for further reading which young readers will want to check out. What would have greatly enhanced the stories in this fictionalized account is pencil drawings throughout. Finding Wonders' beautiful cover is only the first of many reasons why young readers should check out this book.


Book Details:

Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins
Toronto: Atheneum  Books For Young Readers     2016
195 pp.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Aluta by Adwoa Badoe

Aluta opens on July 22, 1982 with eighteen-year-old Charlotte Abena Mampomaa Adom being interrogated by a man about her reasons for being in Accra. He suggests Charlotte, who is secretary of her university's Student Representative Council, is attempting to attend a subversive NUGS (National Union of Ghana Students) meeting. Charlotte is slapped and forced  to drink water which has likely been drugged and she drifts off. Her memories form the story in Aluta.

It is 1981 and Charlotte is newly arrived in Room 803 at her residence, Africa Hall at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. She is eighteen years old and from Kibi, Eastern Region in Ghana. Her roommate is Mary, a third year student in social sciences. Her neighbors next door in Room 802 are Juaben and Sylvia. Two weeks in, matriculation happens and while trying to avoid being thrown into the lobby fishpond, Charlotte meets a boy named Banahene. Banahene introduces himself as Mary's cousin and Charlotte states it was never her intention to fall in love with him.

Mary has a fiance, William Opoku who is a Kumasi lawyer and of Ashanti ethnicity. Charlotte is impressed by his charm, and the sense of accomplishment he exudes. This is further enhanced by the Mercedes-Benz her drives with its black leather seats and tinted glass. Mary and Mr. Opoku take Charlotte out to dinner and dancing. At a night club in Nhyiaeso, Charlotte meets an older man, Asare who sometimes speaks with an American accent but although she dances with him, she rebuffs him because he is with another woman.

In school Charlotte is studying political science, history and English. She is not really interested in politics but gets drawn in by her political science professor, Dr. Ampem who invites her to his political group.   Dr. Ampem is passionate about the late Dr. Nkrumah, Ghana's former first president and he wants Charlotte to become part of the Student Representative Council and the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS). Charlotte is relentlessly pursued by Asare, who invites her to his home and asks her to be his girlfriend. He gives her gifts and money but Charlotte cannot commit to Asare. In the backpack is money, airline tickets from Kumasi to Accra and forms for a passport. Over the Christmas holidays the government of Dr. Limann is overthrown and Jerry Rawlings is once again in power, his government called the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). Back at university, Charlotte finds herself increasingly drawn into politics, especially after the universities are briefly closed and she and the other students forced to harvest cocoa. But as Charlotte's role in resisting the socialist government grows, so does the danger to herself and her fellow students.

Discussion

Aluta (which means protest march) is a gritty recounting of Ghana's struggle to create a democratic state out of the ruins of British colonial rule. Set in 1981-82, it tells the story of Ghana's university students who are galvanized to protest the brutal suppression of opponents by  the new Jerry Rawlings government. The main character, Charlotte Adom has no intention of becoming politically active. Her father has reminded her that she is in university to get a good degree. However Charlotte is drawn in by Dr. Ampem who hopes to influence "a new generation of highly intellectual and capable minds who might lead Mother Ghana to glory someday,..." It is the kidnapping and murder of two judges and a military officer that results in the student organization that results in NUGS attempting "to force the government to return the country to a democratic process."  The students, including Charlotte, do this by organizing a country-wide protest march, known as an aluta.Unfortunately, because of her connections to Asare, Charlotte doesn't realize the danger she is in.

The story is narrated by Charlotte whose voice in the novel feels somewhat muted. The novel employs in medias res - that is it opens in the middle of an event, that of Charlotte being interrogated and then fills in the details of how she came to this point. It then picks up after her interrogation and the terrible consequences for her. In her first year of university, Charlotte is transformed from a naive girl who doesn't know about hair straightening and makeup to a young woman eager to voice her opinion. "With each day that I lived on campus, I seemed to grow a little larger in my heart and a little freer from restriction. I was ready to turn into that cool, smart person who lived life with panache." She finds herself pursued by two men, fellow student Banahene and the wealthy, sophisticated Asare who is a middle man in the oil industry. Her friend Banahene shows her that life is more than parties and nightclubs, introducing her to political life. Charlotte discovers she has a flair for political discussion and her passion for the student cause eventually marks her as an enemy of the new government. In dealing with the consequences of her political involvement, Charlotte is both courageous and fragile. Her spirit is broken; Asare is on trial and Banahene is gone.


Badoe provides a portrait of an African country most Canadian readers know little about. Ghana, formerly known as the (British) Gold Coast, was a British colony from 1902 to 1957. Ghana gained independence on March 6, 1957, the first sub-Saharan African nation to do so. It's first president was Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah's government was eventually overthrown in February of 1966 as he became increasingly dictatorial. A series of coup d-etats resulted in a very unstable situation in the country until 1981 when Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings of the Provisional National Defense Council came to power. Rawlings overthrew President Hilla Limann, who was an elected president. Badoe's novel is set at the time of Rawlings ascension to leader of Ghana.

Aluta offers readers an insight into everyday life in Ghana. Charlotte comes from a working class family, her father is a teacher and so she is able to afford a university education. Badoe's main character, Charlotte is in many ways not much different from young people in Canada in the early 1980's. Like Canadian university students, Charlotte likes to dress up, go out dancing and meeting boys. She wears make-up, and her roommate helps her straighten her hair. Like most young people, Charlotte is enjoying the freedom distance from her parents gives her. And like some young Canadian students, Charlotte is politically engaged, attending meetings What is different is the relationships some of the young women have with older, established men. Charlotte's roommate Mary is engaged to an older, established man and Charlotte is actively pursued by a wealthy man, Asare who takes her to dinner, gives her money and clothing.

Where Ghana differs from Canada is of course in its political instability and the consequences of that instability. Unlike Canada, the student protests are quickly shut down and terrible things happen to some of the student leaders. Banahene is forced to leave the country after learning his life is in danger, while student leaders from Legon and Cape Coast are arrested and released only when they promise to support the government. Civil rights are unilaterally suspended. Unlike Canadian universities, the university Charlotte attends is not in good repair. The elevator in her residence building has been broken for the past eight years and has never been repaired, meaning Charlotte must walk up eight flights of stairs. There's a shortage of hot water.

Adwoa Badoe drew from her own experiences growing up in Ghana and wrote Aluta so she could tell the story of what happened during the years of revolution. At this time the news in Ghana was carefully managed so that its own citizens did not really know what was happening. Badoe experienced the 1981 coup in Ghana and like her protagonist, bagged cocoa. She now lives in Canada. Aluta is Badoe's second novel.

The author includes a glossary of terms and also an Author's Note which provides some background information on the events in the novel. Aluta does not offer a happy ending and its unusual theme might deter some readers. But for those readers interested in exploring a little known part of 20th century history this novel offers that chance.




Book Details:

Aluta by Adwoa Badoe
Toronto: Groundwood Books 2016
215pp.