The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss (Simon & Schuster, March 2015) examines the traditions of the assassination of Julius Caesar, clearing up the myths (such as Shakespeare’s play) from reality. Analyzing such an historic event from 44 B.C. is not easy since eyewitness accounts are few and far between and records of supposed eyewitnesses are always questioned. Yet, Strauss’s book provides an entertaining and thorough examination of the most pressing people and events leading up to the assassination, the deed itself, and the immediate result.Continue Reading
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin is a lighthearted look at a serious time in Russian history. From the other books I reviewed this week about Pakistan child slavery and the Sudanese civil war, I have had a heavy week for reviewing difficult subjects. Breaking Stalin’s Nose, on the other hand, is a completely fictional story, but it still rings true.Continue Reading
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011 National Book Award for Young People and Newbery Honor Award) is a novel in poetry about a young girl’s relocation to American from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is about the challenge of starting over and the pain of discrimination in a strange new country and culture. It is a beautiful story for the curious child.
Many of the chapters could stand somewhat alone as they explore different aspects of the journey away from the familiar (in Kim Ha’s case, the busyness of the Saigon markets and their loving home) and into the foreign (a community in Alabama in post-Civil Rights era 1907s). Some of her challenges are specific to her situation as a refuge from Vietnam (such as the language barrier and obvious cultural differences), but others are the difficulties of growing up. I loved to see this unique perspective of the 1970s.
Ha’s story is painful for the aware reader. We know that America will not be as delightful as she dreams in the beginning, that her father will be hard to find, and that traditions are difficult to uphold so far from the familiar marketplace. As an adult, though, I found myself learning a lot about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I’ve always heard of the Vietnam war from the American soldiers’ side. I think it is important to also learn about from the perspective of the native Vietnamese, and this account from the perspective of a refuge was definitely a needed voice in the literature about the era.
I was grateful to discover, in the author’s note at the end, that many of the events are based on her own experience as a young refuge in a prejudiced America. I am not happy she had to suffer similar frustrations as the character in her novel, but I am grateful to know that the voice was a sincere and realistic one.
Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson (originally published 2012) is an amazing nonfiction account of the Titanic disaster, drawn directly from first-hand accounts written by the survivors of the Titanic crash, as well as the letters and notes of those who did not survive.
What most impressed me by Ms Hopkinson’s account was the amazing readibility of the story. She quoted from first-hand accounts throughout, but it never felt dry. Instead, she provided a clear framework for why the ship was so incredible, the events leading up to the crash, the crash itself, and the aftermath of the disaster. The people who’s stories she shared became real. I could not help becoming emotional as I imagined the moments of realization among the passengers and crew as they realized the painful fact: the ship was going down. Continue Reading