My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You are two related books presented in one (a format completely lost on the Kindle where I read them!). One tells the story of the author’s family before and after the war in Bosnia, and later in Canada.The other contains his own childhood memories.
I found the family history to be the more interesting of the two, and not only because it takes place in the context of a major conflict. He talks about his parents with kindness and respect as they first attain respectability, before the war, and then go through exile and emigration to end up in a country full of friendly people but also strange, for them, customs.
The Little Exile presents itself as a novel that’s very heavily inspired by the author’s real life, as a young Japanese-American who lived in California and was interned, with her parents and brother, in a camp with minimal comforts, after Pearl Harbor.
The story is poignant, both at a personal level, for its young heroine, and also as a scandalous racist act. I wonder why the author chose to present it as a novel. Perhaps to avoid embarrassing family members? It’s too bad because parts of it seem to flow much better, perhaps because they are simple (and evocative) descriptions of what really happened, while others seem forced, even unbelievable. For instance, when the family is forced to leave its San Francisco business and home, the claim is that a large number of neighbors gather to wish them well–but at the same time the forced sale of the business was for a pittance. One would think that the two would not be compatible.
My favorite book on this topic remains When the Emperor Was Divine.
The Red Address Book belongs to a dying nonagenarian and is one of the most pleasant feature of the story, as it structures the chapters by important people in her life (almost all of them no longer with us). And what a life she has led! It includes two childbed deaths, a suicide, several orphans, a tragically lost love, a miraculous survival from a bombed military ship during WWII, a dead baby, a crazy French woman, a rape, sexual assault, and more, much more. If you can believe all the tragedies and lucky coincidences, you will love the book, as it’s told in a cheerful and engaging way.
I just could not believe.
The hero of Memento Park is a moderately successful actor who leads a good life in Los Angeles with his model-girlfriend, while his difficult father lives in New York, far away that he can ignore him. But once he learns that he may be able to recover a painting that was stolen from his family by the Nazis, he tries to understand why his father will have nothing to do with the painting–and falls in love with his lawyer, creating all kinds of complications. It’s all quite fun and entertaining despite the very serious questions the book poses, mostly because the hero seems at a remove, somehow, maybe acting in real life as he does on the job.
Florence Gould, as portrayed in A Dangerous Woman: American Beauty, Noted Philanthropist, Nazi Collaborator – The Life of Florence Gould is a fascinating, if often repulsive woman whose avowed quest for money succeeded beyond her early dreams, I’m sure, as she became fabulously rich by cleverly leveraging her second husband’s money into hotels, casinos, and collaboration with the Nazis. She managed to work around that, too, and keep up her status as a philanthropist and donor to the Met in New York (perhaps recycling her ill-gotten paintings there?)
The book spends a lot of time trying to untangle a money-laundering scheme she was involved in during WWII, but the rest flows better. Today, she would be the head of Enron, perhaps?
The Impostor is biography of Enric Marco, a Barcelona man who claimed for years that he was a Holocaust survivor but was unmasked by a persistent historian who showed that he had never been detained in a Nazi concentration camp — and had so many other lies and embellishments embedded in his life story that additional wives, children, jobs, and political adventures seem to surface in every chapter.
The author very literally takes us along in his quest for the truth, which is sometimes charming, as when he relates his then teenage son’s reaction to the lies, but also makes for a drawn out and discursive story — as if the many lies weren’t enough to delay the conclusion. The most interesting parts of the book, to me, were the ability of the character to subtly change any story into one that was more heroic, more remarkable, and just credible enough to pass muster with the general public, and the wonderful assistance he got of the end of the Franco era, during which many records were lost, and many Spaniards decided that they would invent a more glorious resistance to the dictator. The book shows how important the work of historians can be.
Having loved The Shadow District, I enjoyed The Shadow Killer for much the same reasons, namely the intriguing setting of WWII Iceland and the personalities of the local detective and his temporary partner, a so-called West Icelander, an officer with the Canadian army whose parents immigrated from Iceland. The book starts with a murder that seems pretty straightforward but gets very complicated quickly as it become clear that it’s not a simple jealousy murder, but one borne by a complicated espionage intrigue. I don’t much care for espionage and the story did not change my mind. Read The Shadow District instead.