Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.Jean Rhys
I love a good book. You’ll rarely see me without a book or if you do, double check that I’m not listening to one. The books I’m going to present to you this week are ones I’ve read in the past two weeks and oddly enough, they’ve all had an impact and made bold statements that resonate in these troubling times.
If nothing else, I hope you have a few more books to add to your to-read pile after reading this post!
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Written by Kim Michele Richardson, this book follows the life of Cussie Carter, the last living female of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky. She earns a living as a librarian for the Pack Horse Library Project, a service created by the WPA in the 1930s to bring books to families and schools in the hills of Kentucky. She ventures out on treacherous and difficult paths to deliver books each day with her sassy, but devoted mule Junia to bring education and joy to those who would normally never be able to enjoy it.
She faces discrimination due to her rare skin color at nearly every turn, but Cussie never lets it define who she is or prohibit her from her mission. She befriends nearly everyone she meets and learns how to love herself despite how her skin color is viewed and she endears herself (in quite a charming and selfless way) to everyone along her route. This character unknowingly becomes the soul of the Kentucky hills where she runs her book route.
During a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, as it should be, this book became a powerful tool to show the need to end systemic racism. Despite her skin color, Cussie’s troubles are far from fictional and reflect poignantly on today’s protests without every trying to do so. If you’re looking for a book that is based on true events about overcoming racism and obstacles, this is a great one to sink your teeth into. I listened to this audiobook and finished it this morning. While it’s not something I normally read, it left me feeling like maybe, just maybe, we can make positive changes outside the pages of a book.
The Alice Network
Few people realize the scope of the sky networks in World War I. Fewer still realize that women played a huge role. The Alice Network is not only a novel by Kate Quinn but the name of the real spy network that weaved its way impressively through Europe during the first World War. The story jumps between the WWI with the heroic and tragic story of Eve Gardiner as we follow her journey of espionage and post WWII with the unconventional socialite Charlie St. Clair as she collaborates with Eve in an unlikely partnership to find her cousin in France.
Few partnerships are as mismatched and endearing as Eve and Charlie. Eve suffers from extreme guilt, alcoholism, and PTSD and Charlie is an unmarried, pregnant, young woman who wants nothing more in life than to find her cousin who disappeared into Nazi-held France. Both go in search of the truth that happen to coincide in mesmerizing ways and their journey forges a camaraderie that will leave you feeling so hopeful for the future.
I could probably read World War books every day of my life and still never feel like I’ve read enough. While I’m fascinated by history, I’m also deeply moved by the stories whether real or based on the truth. Atrocities should never happen, especially on a scale as large as the Holocaust. This book serves as a reminder not only of the effects of PTSD over decades and the scars left behind by past and current wars or movements, but also of the resilience of the oppressed. These women had two very different life experiences and never once gave up trying to cement their place in life despite obstacles and constantly being underestimated. I didn’t want this book to end.
Rose Under Fire
A novel by Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire follows Rose Justice, an ATA pilot who ferries planes towards the front during World War II. On a routine job to fly a plane from Paris to England, Rose is captured by the Germans and taken to the notorious women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck. There she witnesses the atrocities committed by the Nazis and befriends women who have survived despite the odds. Despite her circumstances, Rose Justice still clings to poetry, hope, and the friendships she forged during her imprisonment.
The narrator tells her stories in the form of journal entries and flashes back to her time spent in the concentration camp. At first I didn’t like this way of telling the story because it gives the plot a sense of hope, knowing that she escapes or is liberated at some point and can write about her experiences. The further I got into the book, the more I appreciated this woman’s outlook on such a horrific experience. The narrator brings other women in the story together, helps save lives, and instills hope. Her courage wavers several times and you can feel her struggle oozing off the page, but I just felt more touched and disgusted at the humans who could horrific things to other people. She also shows that courage and fear aren’t mutually exclusive and that it takes a bit of both to accomplish something truly meaningful. I think we could all use a Rose Justice right now.