Four more...

Educated by Tara Westover
This is Tara Westover's jaw-dropping memoir about growing up in a Mormon fundamentalist family in Idaho. Born to survivalist parents who believed all governments were hostile and intent on stealing their freedoms, Tara and her siblings were kept "safe" by keeping them out of school and away from hospitals. Education at home was hit and miss, sometimes ignored altogether, and injuries and illness were treated at home using only Mrs. Westover's herbal remedies. The Westover's parenting was haphazard at best, neglectful and abusive at it's worst. The awe-inspiring thing about this story is how Tara survived all that and managed to do enough on her own to get accepted to a college and eventually earn a PhD. There were times when I was so upset with her parents that I couldn't keep reading, when I had to put the book down to take a breath, but then I'd have to keep going because the story is so incredible. This one is a must read. 

Note: I've just learned that Tara's mother has written a book in response to this one called Educating, where she tells the story from her point of view. I probably won't read it; I have no sympathy for her or her husband after reading Tara's.   

Defending Jacob by William Landay
The story of a family whose lives take a sudden, terrifying turn for the worse when their teenaged son is accused of murder. Jacob's father, Andy, is a prosecuting lawyer who switches sides to lead his son's defense. I'm not a crime novel reader usually, but I thought I should try one on audio to see if I might like it that way, and it wasn't bad. It's a character driven story, as much about the effect of Jacob's trial on his family as about the trial itself, but still suspense builds and keeps you needing to know what happens next. With a surprising twist late in the book, and an ambiguous ending, it's everything regular crime/thriller readers could want. I thought it was a fairly good story; I just don't think it's my genre.

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
I was drawn to this one by the blurbs on the cover; "utterly charming", "pretty much flawless", "perfectly pitched" and "a fairy tale set in idyllic English countryside". It was a charming fairly tale set in Dorset, and I enjoyed it, but apparently less than those readers did. Jack and Sadie Rosenblum are immigrants who left Germany just before the second world war when things began looking grim for Jewish people. Jack's dream was to become the consummate Englishman, and he had a list of items to accomplish toward that end. One such item was membership in a golf club which he sadly came to realize would never happen simply because he was Jewish. Racism was alive and well in England as well as Germany, though it had a more polite face among the English. Undaunted, Jack decided he must build his own golf course, and have it ready in time for a tournament to celebrate the young Queen Elizabeth's approaching coronation. 

Then come the many mishaps and catastrophes that threaten to derail his dream. It is a fairy tale in many ways: every disaster is righted by some new slightly-less-than-realistic event, there are mystical elements to the story, and there are happy endings for all the good people and fitting ones for the bad.

I can see why other people loved it, but for me it just didn't come together. Too many times the protagonist was faced with an unsolvable problem, only to then easily solve it and move on to the next. And I got bored in the sections that focused on building the course. Maybe if I was a golf fan... 

It wasn't what I was hoping for, but I'm not sorry I read it. Jack and Sadie are interesting and in some ways even endearing, but it was a bit over the top for me.   

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
A small town in an unnamed country is invaded by an unnamed (but clearly recognizable) enemy, with the conquering party expecting submission and co-operation from the conquered. Boy will they will be disappointed. 
Written as propaganda in the early years of WWII, this short novel (a 2-3 hour read) explores how war affects both occupier and occupied, soldier and civilian. There were moments when I felt sympathy for both sides, but they were brief; subjugation destroys fellow-feeling quickly. Ultimately the book is a call to stand up and fight, doing whatever it takes to push through to the inevitable triumph of democracy. When the mayor is asked to tell his people not to fight, he answers "The people don't like to be conquered, sir, and so they will not be. Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars. You will find that it is so, sir."

The title, a quote from one of Shakespeare's plays, speaks to Steinbeck's belief that like the moon, freedom may be down, overcome, for a time, but it will always rise again. It can never be permanently defeated. 

I've learned since reading the book that Steinbeck intended it to be performed on stage, which would account for the characters feeling a bit flat and the dialogue a little over dramatic. But it makes a fine story and it's easy to overlook those things when you find great lines like these: "Dr. Winter was a man so simple that only a profound man would know him as profound." and "Joseph was elderly and lean and serious, and his life was so complicated that only a profound man would know him to be simple"

Propaganda it may be, but good propaganda, and a couple of hours rooting for freedom can only be time well spent.


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