Has it REALLY been 21 days since I’ve posted here? Wow. July has been busy and I guess that means I have been completely absent. At some point I’ll catch you all up on what’s been going on in my life, but for today I’d like to catch you up on what I’ve been reading. So here’s the rest of what I read in June, and soon I’ll get started on what I’ve been reading this month.
Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story Rediscovered by Trudi Kantor
Published by Scribner
Trudi Kantor was an Austrian hat designer in the 1930’s who was exceptionally talented in her field and as a result, traveled all over Europe to be creatively inspired and to sell her hats. When she fell in love and married Walter Ehrlich, a Jewish businessman, right as the Nazis came to Vienna, everything in her power was focused on getting herself, her new husband, and their families as far away as possible.
I liked this little-known memoir quite a bit. At first I thought “another World War Two book?” but this one is different because it’s got a lighter feel that most books of this genre can’t get away with. Kantor was fleeing the Nazis, and that’s a huge part of her story, but it’s not her whole story. Not even close. She was a fabulous, fashionable, and very wise woman who had a lot to contribute to the world, and her memoir shows that. There is definitely a brevity to her story, especially towards the end, but the book also shows a side of the war that is sometimes glossed over – that of ordinary people who were just trying to live their lives, go about their regular days, when the Nazis changed everything for them. That was most definitely my favorite aspect of the memoir, and why I can recommend Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Knopf
This novel is so many things – a love story, an immigration story, a story about race in America, a story that illuminates how globalized this world has become, and even more than all of that. Born and raised in Nigeria, Ifemelu goes to America for college, hoping that her boyfriend Obinze, will soon follow. But red tape holds him back, and their separation causes the two of them to follow very different paths in life. Fourteen years later, when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria for the first time since her departure, everything is the same as how she left it yet completely different – including and especially Obinze.
I feel that what I wrote above simplifies Americanah into a simple story about missed opportunities and unrequited love – and in a way, the book is about those things. But it’s about so much more than just those things. I loved this novel. Loved it and was challenged by it, loved it because I was challenged by it, actually. Reading about the immigrant experience, reading about race in America from a non-American Black, reading about someone who is half the globe away from her family for fourteen years (when I complain when it’s been more than three or four months since I’ve seen mine), reading about being so in love with someone that it’s easier NOT to talk to them than to confront the fact that you’ll never be together in the way you want, all of this and more is what I loved about Americanah. It’s fantastic. Please read it yourself.
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Published by Free Press
Somali-born Ayan Hirsi Ali is one of the most controversial women on earth. She left Somalia for Holland at the age of 20, claimed refugee status as a way to escape her arranged marriage, and ended up in the Dutch Parliament. She made a video denouncing Islam that caused filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to be killed and caused huge issues within the Dutch government. Infidel is her memoir, mostly about her years growing up in a Muslim country, but also focusing on how she escaped that culture and what has happened in her life since.
Just a few things about this book, although I could write a way longer post and have a lot more to say. One, I was shocked and saddened by what an awful and abusive childhood the author experienced. Regardless of religion, no child should be forced to grow up the way she did. Two, I think it’s incredibly brave of her to so loudly denounce Islam, a religion that historically has been linked to abuse of women and girls, that requires women to have very few (if any) opportunities to make choices in their own lives, being a woman herself. She’s the very definition of feminist and I applaud what she’s doing – speaking up, being honest, showing people the realities of the world she grew up in, one in which millions of women and girls suffer silently today. All of this while receiving death threats on a daily basis from the men who oppose the truth she’s telling – it’s a brave thing this woman is doing. While most of her memoir is the story of her life, the very end is a passionate call to action and this was by far my favorite part of the entire thing.
I listened to the audio of this and I do not recommend that. I had a difficult time understanding the narrator which detracted from my enjoyment and appreciation of the book overall. I highly recommend Infidel, and definitely encourage print over audio.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth
This novel, bringing to life war-torn Chechnya with fictional characters but a not-at-all unrealistic story, is haunting and beautiful all at once. When eight-year-old Havaa’s father is “disappeared” by the Russian military, she is taken in by Akmed, a neighbor, and brought to the only remaining hospital in the city to hide. The only doctor left at said hospital, Sonja, has zero interest in hiding a young child from the military, but obliges when Akmed agrees to assist her with some of the patients and their many unmet needs. As the story takes shape, it becomes clear that absolutely nothing is a given in this horrifying time and place, and these characters’ lives are incredibly fragile – yet their humanity is most certainly still in the forefront of their story.
I had a difficult time with this novel, probably because I expected to love it to the moon and back and I am not even sure I liked it. I definitely appreciated it – I learned about a war that I am ashamed to say I knew little about, I felt deeply for these characters and the atrocities they were forced to endure, and I thought Marra’s writing was just gorgeous in its stark simplicity. Ultimately, I found myself staying at arm’s length from the novel, though, and I don’t know if that’s because it was just too difficult for me to wrap my emotional brain around. The few times I’d picture myself in this situation were enough to make me a blubbering mess, so I had to turn that part of my brain off while reading the book. I don’t know. I liked it but didn’t all at the same time. Does that make sense even a little bit?