A Promised Land – Book Review

By: Barack Obama

A Promised Land is part 1 of Barack Obama’s autobiography. I chose to read his book to learn more about him and how he worked to become the president of the United States.

“The truth is, I’ve never been a big believer in destiny. I worry that it encourages resignation in the down-and-out and complacency among the powerful.”

My review:

The writing style of this book really impressed me; it was very easy to read and understand.  Obama managed to make the most complicated topics seem straightforward.  I appreciated the seriousness of everything he wrote about but, I was glad to see him include humorous anecdotes from time to time. 

I enjoyed reading his perspective on the actions he took during his presidency, especially the actions his supporters questioned.  From the American people feeling like he “bailed out the rich CEOs and banks” to the ridiculous media attention on the birther conspiracy, he focused on trying to explain how he handled those situations to the best of his ability.

“When things are bad,” Axe said, walking next to me as we left the December meeting, “no one cares that ‘things could have been worse.”

Some things I didn’t like:

In his explanation of certain events, he included far too many details.  I felt like I was reading about the 2008 economic crisis for days, and while I understand its importance, I also think it could have been summarized.  At times I found myself skimming through some topics because he had already given me a basic understanding of the situation.  I felt this way in many other chapters as well; it just seemed like it could have been shortened and still conveyed the same message.

I was really disappointed that this book was only part 1 of his autobiography; it seemed like a little less detail would have easily allowed this book to cover his entire presidency. However, I do really like where and how he chose to end this book. The event he chose brought back a time where Americans could finally unite under a significant triumph and not focus on disagreements between party lines.

“I recalled a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “The Drum Major Instinct.” In it, he talks about how, deep down, we all want to be first, celebrated for our greatness; we all want “to lead the parade.” He goes on to point out that such selfish impulses can be reconciled by aligning that quest for greatness with more selfless aims. You can strive to be first in service, first in love.”

Final thoughts:

Overall, I liked this book; I feel like I got to know Barack and his family on a more intimate level. However, it was very long and detailed, so if you haven’t read autobiographies before, this may not be the best place to start.  This book has also made me much more interested in learning more about Michelle Obama, and I have definitely added her book Becoming to my list of books I want to read.

The Tattooist of Aschwitz – Book Review

By: Heather Morris

“Something off the tracks catches his eye, a flash of color. A flower, a single flower, waving in the breeze. Bloodred petals around a jet black middle. He looks for others but there are none.”

The same author writes the Tattooist of Auschwitz as Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris. She wrote The Tattooist of Auschwitz first. Since I had already read Cilka’s Journey, I was vaguely familiar with the main characters of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Cilka’s Journey didn’t fully give away the story but, I knew how it would end for the two main characters.

This book is inspired by the story of Lale Sokolov, a survivor of Auschwitz. However, this is a work of fiction. Heather Morris brings together Lale’s accounts and her creative storytelling skills for this book.

“How can a race spread out among multiple countries be considered a threat?”

My summary of the book:

Lale Eisenberg (Sokolov) is the main character, the tattooer of Auschwitz. We follow his journey from Slovakia to Auschwitz. In Slovakia, the Germans told all Jewish families to send one child over eighteen to work for the German government. Lale volunteers for his family, says his goodbyes and heads to Prague for deportation. It is still unclear what the Germans are doing with these Jewish workers, and there is still hope that if they work hard, they can return to their families. Therefore, Lale believes that he is saving his family by volunteering for the Germans; he believes he has spared his family from the atrocities that await him. He shows up for duty dressed in fine clothes to be presented respectably to the Germans. What he encounters is nothing he could have prepared for. Lale is forced onto a train with many other men, unaware of what awaits them on this journey. Many men hope and pray this train ride will be the worst part of their work assignment; when they arrive at Auschwitz, they cannot believe what they are witnessing or what they are being forced into.

After some lucky turn of events, Lale finds himself being taken out of hard labour and asked to train to become the camp tattooer. At first, he is horrified by the idea; he cannot imagine tattooing other people the way he was. However, he quickly understands that by becoming the tattooer of Auschwitz, he can get out of hard labour, his new value could also save his life, and he knows with his new status at the camp, he can help his fellow prisoners. Therefore, he accepts the position. Almost immediately, he receives extra food, which he hides for his old block mates, and is given a new single bedroom. He feels very guilty receiving these perks and promises himself to help other prisoners with his new status in the camp.

One day while Lale is keeping his head down and tattooing the new prisoners, he catches a glimpse of a woman. This woman catches his attention immediately. He is struck by her beauty, a beauty that is somehow radiating in this horrific place. After she leaves, he makes it his goal to find out who she is and which block she lives in. Lale eventually finds this woman and learns her name is Gita. This is the beginning of a beautiful romance that somehow manages to grow under horrifying conditions. This love also gives them another reason to survive the camps and gain their freedom.

“…you will honour them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”

My review of the book:

Although this story is not an exact re-telling of Lale’s life, the reader is very aware that everything happening at these camps did occur to someone. Thankfully some prisoners did survive this camp and were able to tell the story of their experiences. I don’t know what parts Morris creates and what parts are true, but the fact that Lale could survive the camp seems unimaginable. How anyone manages to go on each day under those types of circumstances shows the type of courage and strength humans can have.

“But how do you say goodbye to your mother? The person who gave you breath, who taught you how to live?

This is an incredible story of survival, love and courage. No matter what awful event occurs in the camp, Lale still chooses to go on, to fight to live, to fight for freedom. Morris does a great job at connecting her readers to the characters, making them feel emotionally attached to what happens.

Many Holocaust books, fiction and non-fiction, have been written over the years. Each one adding a different perspective to these horrible events. This was definitely a unique perspective, following the life of the man that is responsible for the lifelong tattoos that Holocaust survivors are now known for. I also really liked that Morris continued the story after the evacuation of Auschwitz. The reader could learn how these prisoners were eventually freed and understand the lack of help they were given in finding their way home. Most Holocaust books don’t go into the details of how these Jewish people, now freed, found their way home. For some, home was a long way away, and it wouldn’t have been an easy journey to complete. Overall I think this is a good book that shows a new perspective on how prisoners lived in Auschwitz.

“To save one is to save the world.”

What historical fiction books have you read recently?

Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader – Book Review

By: Matt Qvortrup

For some time now I have been looking for a biography written about Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. Merkel has interested me for many years and I believe she is an incredible role model for women. Regardless of where you stand politically seeing a women lead one of the largest economies in the world is an incredible thing. After a couple weeks of research I chose, Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader by Matt Qvortrup to learn more about this inspirational woman.

The beginning of this book logically began with Angela Merkel’s childhood, which I really enjoyed reading about. I was shocked to hear that her family moved from West Germany to East Germany. A move that many questioned, especially since Angela’s father was a minister and communism frowned upon religion. She was asked to volunteer with various communist organization, which she obliged because to decline the offer would mean no possibility of being accepted into university. She did as she was told in order to avoid any scrutiny from government officials, she knew she and her family were always being watched. She gets accepted to university and begins to study physics, eventually completing her doctorate in quantum chemistry. These are just a few of the Merkel’s accomplishments.

Eventually the book progresses to her political life, exploring how she initially got into politics and how she made her way up the ranks. The book also explores the difficulties she faced as a woman politician during that time. Showing, even more, how impressive her progression in the political sphere really was. Qvortrup also explores her Chancellorship, focusing on her accomplishments and her disappointments.

Unfortunately, once the book got to Merkel’s political career, the book was a bit hard to get through.  The author gave too many details on the specifics of the political world of Germany.  As someone who is not from Germany, I was a bit confused, it just seemed the author moved too far away from the main topic.  At this point in the book, my interest began to decline. It took me some time to convince myself to keep reading this biography and to complete her story.


My Life in France- Book Review

By Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme

My connection to this book:

This book is written by Julia Child and her nephew Alex Prud’Homme. I began reading this book because I was about to move my family from Canada to an entirely different continent, Europe. I was very nervous about this move and a bit worried about what I would do without my family, friends and my job.  My sister bought me this book, the story of how Julia Child moved to Paris, France,for her husband’s work. She thought it would be an excellent book to read to prepare me for living abroad.

Although the book was a very good read, it didn’t do much in preparing me for our big move. Child discusses how she wasn’t very close with her father and that her mother passed away years before. Child was also very thrilled for the opportunity to live in Paris full time. So I learned pretty quickly that our stories didn’t really line up. However, I decided to keep reading because it was an interesting biography of a successful woman.

Book break down and my review:

This book discusses Child’s life beginning with the meeting of her husband, Paul. The book then maps out her life in Paris and her path to becoming one of the most well-known chefs. Child discusses how her culinary journey in French food began and how she later made it into a cooking empire. Her story is very awe-inspiring and quite fascinating, especially as a woman during that time. Her entrepreneurial skills, which she discusses in this book, can be transferred into any career. Therefore, for any women looking to begin a new career, I would highly recommend this book.

There are some topics that I found difficult to get through. Sometimes she goes into a bit too much detail about her recipes and the specific ways she cooks. I don’t have a significant interest in cooking, so I found those sections to be a bit difficult to focus on. There were some paragraphs I skimmed or read over because it focused too much on the break down of her recipe. However, if you are someone who is looking to learn more about French cooking, than those parts of the book would be great for you!

A Place For Us- Book Review

By Nicholas Gage

A Place For Us by Nicholas Gage is the sequel to the autobiography Eleni. Gage continues where he left off in his previous book, beginning with Eleni’s children’s arrival to America and their unification with their father, Christos. Christos has never met his son since he was born right before World War II and, he hasn’t seen his daughters in many years, so this is an emotional meeting for the family. Although this is a joyful moment, it is also filled with sadness as the family feels the immense void that exists without Eleni. Nicholas, although excited to finally meet his father, feels anger and resentment towards his father. Nicholas doesn’t understand why Christos did not bring his family to America sooner; if he had, Eleni would still be alive today. This theme of anger and resentment is shown throughout most of the book regarding Christos and Nicholas’s relationship. As well, the reality of who his father is, something he has been dreaming about for many years, is a bit disappointing. Christos is a Greek immigrant who is desperately trying to make a name for himself in America. He has taken on some business venters, which have not worked out as well as he had hoped, and he isn’t living the glamourous American life Nicholas always imagined. Nicholas begins to feel embarrassed by Christos. This is an interesting moment in the book, a moment I think many children of immigrants could at one point relate to. Young children don’t understand the struggles of immigrating to a new country and creating a good life for one’s family, they only see what they don’t have, and other kids do have, which could lead to feelings of embarrassment. A Place For Us continues through Nicholas’s childhood and into his adult life; he includes stories about what happens to his sisters and how they all make America their home.

I was very intrigued by this story, the story of a Greek family immigrating to America. My family immigrated to Canada from Greece, and I felt by reading this book, I got a glimpse into my grandparents’ immigration story. I think it gave me a better understanding of the difficulties they experienced. For this reason, I really enjoyed reading this biography. Like in his first book, Eleni, Gage writes about his story with so much detail that you often forget that it isn’t a work of fiction. If you like memoir’s or reading about immigration stories, this would be an excellent book for you!