World War II -- fiction
We are all very familiar with the atrocities engineered by Adolph Hitler, but less is heard about the atrocities that occurred at the direction of Joseph Stalin. Twenty million people were murdered under his leadership. In the book Between the Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys gives a very compelling account of the Soviet invasion of the country of Lithuania in 1941. Lists of people who were considered enemies of the state were compliled, and these people were removed from their homes and workplaces. These people were often professors, teachers, writers, artists, and librarians. The men were sent to prison and the women and children to forced labor camps--some of which were located in Siberia and the Arctic Circle. These individuals were separated from family members and forced to live under extremely harsh conditions with none of the comforts of home. They were not given food or medical attention. The women and children were shoved into railroad cars and sent away without ever being told where they were going.
The main character in this book is named Lina. She, her mother, and her younger brother are removed by force from their home and sent to Siberia. In Siberia, which is harsh enough to begin with, they have to scrounge for anything to eat. Even one potato becomes a luxury for the prisoners. Beets become a treat. The prisoners are forced to dig with shovels which have no handles, and they sleep on the freezing cold floor of a shack.
In An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro gracefully explores the experiences and memories of a disgraced artist living in post-war Japan. The novel is seductive and haunting, but I was also impressed by its substance and depth.
Mansuji Ono, the novel’s protagonist, was once a great artist whose paintings commanded respect throughout Japan. Following the end of World War II, however, Ono experiences a surreal displacement. From Ono’s perspective, the former order he was a part of has not only been abandoned, it has been rejected and renounced as the epitome of disaster. Instead of enjoying the power and prestige that accompanied his former reputation, Ono finds himself adrift, an aging man who wanders through a crumbling house, where all traces of his past life have been “tidied away.”
Rupert Holmes’ Swing has more than a touch of noir—and its own soundtrack. Set in San Francisco in 1940, vagabond jazz musician Ray Sherwood has been made a very interesting proposition. A beautiful, young Berkley music student wants him in a most peculiar way. She’s won an international contest for composers, and her piece needs to premiere at the Golden Gate Exposition in just a few weeks. What she needs from Ray are his talents to orchestrate her music for many instruments. Ray is enchanted by Gail’s breezy joie de vivre and her snappy patter even as his own troubled past makes him hesitate. But the tenor veers from sweet romance to dangerous liaison when a lovely woman plunges to her death mere feet from the happy couple, changing this composition’s theme from serenade to police siren.