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The Wind in My Hair–compulsory hijab
The Wind in My Hair
by Masih Alinejad with Kambiz Foroohar
In her memoir The Wind in My Hair, Masih Alinejad, in exile first in Great Britain and later in America, tells the struggles she had and all Iranian women still endure with laws in Iran that make wearing the hijab compulsory from age seven. The “morality police” in that country take this law over what women wear to the extreme. Women can be beaten, flogged, and jailed if even a strand of hair escapes the hijab. Women who have resisted this compulsory law have had acid splashed in their faces and have been incarcerated, tortured, and sometimes raped.
Masih tells her personal story of an impoverished, but mostly happy, rural childhood with conservative parents. Always a bit of a rebel, Masih was expelled from high school in her final semester and jailed for belonging to a small anti-government secret society. Later as a parliament reporter, she was banned from the parliament building for asking the wrong questions.
In exile Masih worked tirelessly and sometimes under threats of violence for the rights of women in Iran. There are more issues involved than compulsory hijab, but that is a visible sign of the control men have over women in Iran. Masih used the tools of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to broadcast her positions in Iran where the government controls television and newspapers. The movements she started were given exposure internationally via the Internet.
Masih is highly critical of female politicians and government employees who visit Iran but are unwilling to bring up women’s rights in official discussions and wear some version of head covering during their visit. Masih made recordings of Iranian families’ stories about their dead or missing loved ones called The Victims of 88. Brave women flooded her social media accounts with pictures of themselves without the hijab in the interest of freedom. The Wind in My Hair is well-written by a journalist-storyteller who has lived the story she tells. It will grip you and not release you as you ponder the freedoms you currently enjoy in your own country.
Category: History, Memoir
Notes: Perhaps because she was not raised American, perhaps because she is a journalist, Masih’s perception of current politics and reporting in the U.S. seem somewhat skewed. She clearly understands that you can’t trust reports in Iran, but does not seem to realize that there is censorship in the U.S. by big business, politicians, and the media working in concert. That viewpoint does not change the importance of her analysis of the Iranian government’s control over its people following the deposition of the Shah.
Publication: May 29, 2018—Little, Brown, & Co.
“The Americans are coming to steal Iran away. They’ll kill us all.” I really thought we’d face another war immediately. It was not rational, but, like millions of Iranians, I had been brainwashed by the daily propaganda on the national television and radio stations. I thought it was only Khomeini who was strong enough to stand up to the greedy U.S. capitalists. Many years later, I discovered that Khomeini was a coldhearted dictator who ordered the execution of thousands of Iranians.
I didn’t even know what charges I faced. No one had read the complaint against me. I had no lawyer to defend me. I was forced into giving a confession, and now all that remained was for this judge to pass a sentence. It didn’t sound very just. Later in life, I discovered that there is not much justice in the Islamic Republic.
There is a predictable cycle in Iranian politics, as predictable as the weather. Every year, for a few months, the government relaxes its grip and some actions are tolerated—women can show a few inches of hair under their head scarves, or men and women can actually walk together without being married, or the newspapers can publish mildly critical articles. Then, just like the dark clouds that gather in late autumn, the freedoms are taken away and transgressors are punished.
Feliz Navidad! A Christmas Tree for Book Lovers!
This Christmas tree made from books is in the Biblioteca Gertrudis Bocanegra, a public library in Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, México. The library is located in Plaza Chica, officially known as Plaza Bocanegra. The library occupies a 16th-century the building that was a San Agustin church. It was built in 1574 and converted into a library in 1936. The mural in the background was created by Juan O’Gorman. It depicts Michoacán’s history beginning with the pre-Hispanic era and ending with the 1910 revolution. I visited this library when I lived in Pátzcuaro, and the mural is incredible. The building is located on a plaza with numerous small shops (tiendas) and a very large outdoor market (mercado). The plaza is always bustling with pedestrians, autos, taxis and public transportation vans (combis).
Thanks to Rick M. of Michoacán who granted permission to display his photograph.
Below is a picture of the exterior of the building.
Credit for this photo belongs to Wiper México, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52416290
Into the Forest–A Holocaust Story of Survival, Triumph, and Love
Into the Forest
by Rebecca Frankel
So many books have been written about World War II and, more recently, about the Nazi treatment of Polish Jews. Rebecca Frankel adds Into the Forest to the collection. It is nonfiction that in many parts the reader would wish it to be fiction, that the torture, annihilation, and deprivation should not really have happened. It is the story of the Rabinowitz family, of the many Jews who died, of the love that persisted through two years of living on the move in the cold forests, of digging holes in the ground to hide from Nazis. It is the story of survival, of triumph as the lives of some of the people in the book intersect years and thousands of miles later.
This book was emotionally difficult to read, knowing it is nonfiction, and thus was a slow read for me. The author knew first hand some of the people she wrote about. She spent five years researching and interviewing. There is a huge section of copious notes detailing where her information came from for each chapter.
The Prologue ties the tale together and is worth rereading at the conclusion of the book. There are two chapters that set the stage of what life was like in the little Polish village of Zhetel before the invasion of the Russians, followed by the occupation of the Germans. Then the focus lands on the German-created Jewish Ghetto, the Polish Resistance, and the various “selections” in which laborers and those destined for the mass graves were chosen. The “lucky” escaped to a huge forest, but many died there as hunted animals before the liberation came. The Rabinowitz family had their eyes set on a future in Palestine, but they had many more moves in their future and were caught up in the growing prosperity of the 1950’s. Into the Forest is a challenging book worth reading. It shows Jewish life and customs in the midst of both tribulation and good times. The book thankfully ends on positivity as the author stresses the various types of love woven into the book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: History, Nonfiction, Memoir
Publication: September 7, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
The forest, however, would not be exempt from the war’s brutalities or the bare-knuckled survival required to endure it. Nor would it provide ample shield for the Jews or the partisans—Russian and Jewish alike—who had taken shelter here and set up their outposts in its wilds, no matter how dark or deep. The farther they went and the safer they were, the more determined their killers became to root them out.
In some areas, the advertised reward for information on the partisans or hiding Jews was a single cup of sugar. Which was either a reflection of the paltry value of a Jewish life, or the peasants’ depth of desperation.
But Moscow’s successful onslaught had made the retreating Nazis more dangerous and, however unimaginably, even more murderous. Himmler issued an order to those in the path of the fast-moving Soviet troops: destroy all evidence.
How the West Brought War to Ukraine–understanding how U.S. and NATO policies led to crisis, war, and the risk of nuclear catastrophe
How the West Brought War to Ukraine
by Benjamin Abelow
A short book, How the West Brought War to Ukraine, presents an important but controversial view of which countries are behind the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. To understand Benjamin Abelow’s thesis, you have to revisit history going back almost 200 years to the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, the United States made it clear that foreign forces placed near U.S. territory are in violation of that policy and provide a reason for war. If you follow that to its logical conclusion, countries massing troops on Russia’s border, especially with weapons whose capability allows reaching within Russia’s borders, is clearly an offensive act.
For years, the U.S. and NATO have been setting up countries that border Russia with military aid to be able to fight a proxy war. Abelow explains “How the Narrative Drives the War” in his introduction in which he lists the Western provocations. The rest of the book is an amplification and explanation of each one of these. One of his most compelling arguments is asking his reader to put the U.S. in Russia’s position. What would the U.S. do? How would it react if foreign forces massed on the Mexican or Canadian border with the ability to send destructive weapon fire into the U.S.?
The author is not a Putin lover, but he does try to present the other side, the side the Western media is not showing. The author is sympathetic to both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers. Among the many leaders he quotes, he includes Chas Freeman, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. He speaks of the U.S.’s two contradictory aims which will result in many deaths. Dripping with irony, Freeman says “We will fight to the last Ukrainian for Ukrainian independence.” The author also spreads the blame around to many Western leaders (including George W. Bush, Trump, and Biden) who have reneged on promises to secure borders and have propped up regimes whose goals were to break down those borders. You may or may not agree with the author, but if you read the book, you will be able to have an informed opinion about this conflict which could potentially evolve into a nuclear war.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: History, Nonfiction, Politics
Notes: 1. I always try to learn from history, and there are very few politicians I trust. I have to ask why we are involved in this conflict. It is hard to convince me that it is out of concern for the common man and woman in Ukraine when there are conflicts and genocides all over the world that we ignore. It seems something more than altruism is at play.
2. I have bumped this review ahead in my queue because the book’s message is time sensitive. Recently, pipelines that are important to our world were blown up, and this morning I read that an important bridge suffered an explosion in the Crimea and apparently several people lost their lives. There has been war and conflict in that part of the world for centuries, but it seems there currently is evil afoot with a very destructive path.
3. For memorable lines for this complex topic, I am just noting one paragraph rather than 3 shorter passages. I think it presents the theme and the persuasive writing style of this book quite well.
Publication: August 31, 2022—Siland Press
Had the United States not pushed NATO to the border of Russia; not deployed nuclear-capable missile launch systems in Romania and planned them for Poland and perhaps elsewhere as well; not contributed to the overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian government in 2014; not abrogated the ABM treaty and then the intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty, and then disregarded Russian attempts to negotiate a bilateral moratorium on deployments; not conducted live-fire exercises with rockets in Estonia to practice striking targets inside Russia; not coordinated a massive 32-nation military training exercise near Russian territory; not intertwined the U.S. military with that of Ukraine; etc. etc. etc.—had the United States and its NATO allies not done these things, the war in Ukraine probably would not have taken place. I think that is a reasonable assertion.
Through Gates of Splendor–a call from God
Through Gates of Splendor
by Elizabeth Elliot
Five young men felt God’s call to share the good news of Jesus with an Ecuadoran Indian tribe that had never had positive encounters with outsiders. Their bad experiences date back to the ruthless rubber traders of the 1870’s—“civilized savages against unbaptized savages.” They had Stone Age technology, were feared by other Indians for their unprovoked ambushes, and had a language known only to themselves. The missionaries and their wives had a daunting task. They started by evangelizing more friendly local tribes and establishing bases, many refurbished from areas abandoned by Shell Oil Co. From these bases they did flyovers of the Auca land, first to find where in the jungle the Aucas were living and later to communicate with them by dropping gifts to demonstrate their friendly intentions.
When they felt the time was right, they finalized plans to land and meet with the Aucas in person. The book becomes very intense at that point. After an initial positive meeting, there is literally radio silence instead of the expected call back to the wives. A search and rescue team went in consisting of Ecuadorian military, volunteer missionaries and Indians, and U.S military. It was a dangerous mission.
Although the preparation and action are the basis of the story, the core of the book is faith in God. Elizabeth Elliot, the author of Through Gates of Splendor, was the wife of Jim Elliot, the first missionary of the group to respond to God’s call to contact this people group who had never heard of Him. Jim Elliot was willing to die if need be to share the good news of salvation to the Aucas. He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The story of the lives of these young men and their dedication to God is inspiring and many of their notes and thoughts are recorded in this book. In its pages you will see a vivd picture of what God’s call can look like as well as how these missionaries and their wives responded.
Category: History, Christian, Memoir
Notes: The 40th anniversary edition which I read included:
2. Photographs, many taken at great peril by a Life magazine reporter who chose to stay with the search party when he could have returned to the base and safety.
3. Two Epilogues. One was written in 1958 explaining the immediate aftermath of the first contact and one written in 1996 relating the lives of the families as they evolved over the next 40 years.
Publication: Originally 1956
40th anniversary edition in 1996—Living Books (Tyndale)
“If that old engine had quit up there, God alone could have saved me. I might just as well admit it frankly right here; I don’t like to fly over stuff like that and I have to have a pretty good reason to be over it without a good position-check and a good river to identify my position by. But these are people for whom Christ died, and you have to find them before you can take the Gospel to them, so I was happy to have stumbled on them.”
Pete Fleming was one of those who could not be content while the Aucas remained in darkness. In his diary he wrote: “It is a grave and solemn problem; an unreachable people who murder and kill with extreme hatred. It comes to me strongly that God is leading me to do something about it, and a strong idea and impression comes into my mind that I ought to devote the majority of my time to collecting linguistic data on the tribe and making some intensive air surveys to look for Auca houses….I know that this may be the most important decision of my life, but I have a quiet peace about it.
September, 1955, was the month in which Operation Auca really started, the month in which the Lord began to weave five separate threads into a single glowing fabric for His own Glory. Five men with widely differing personalities had come to Ecuador from the eastern United States, the West Coast, and the Midwestern States. Representing three different “faith-missions,” these men and their wives were one in their common belief in the Bible as the literal and supernatural and perfect word from God to man. Christ said “Go ye”; their answer was “Lord, send me.”
Seabiscuit–racehorse with a heart
Seabiscuit: An American Legend
by Laura Hillenbrand
Seabiscuit is the story of an incredible racehorse who took the nation by storm at a time when people needed something positive. He lacked perfect conformation. It seemed like he never got a lucky break when it came to weather or rulings about the amount of extra weight added to his saddle for the races. What he had, however, was strength, speed, competitiveness, and the ability to give all that was asked of him. He also had a supportive team that never gave up on him.
Laura Hillenbrand had been writing about horses and racing in periodicals for years. In Seabiscuit she took that writing to a whole new level, researching, interviewing, delving into archives and corroborating the facts. Then she worked her magic as an outstanding writer to organize the information and make it come alive in word pictures that capture the reader’s heart and imagination.
Hillenbrand doesn’t just help the reader understand and come to love Seabiscuit as his fans did. She takes us into the life of Red Pollard, the jockey who knew Seabiscuit and his ways best. She introduces us to owner Charles Howard and trainer Tom Smith who were as unlikely to be part of his success story as Seabiscuit himself. We are treated to mini-biographies of those around Seabiscuit and the general nature of racing and betting in the 1930’s.
As a complete novice in the world of horse racing, I had to labor a little initially to follow the details, but I soon caught on and began chasing the powerful horse across the pages of this well written book. Hillenbrand’s words are chosen with care and create images in the mind and stir emotions in the heart making this a truly unforgettable piece of nonfiction.
Category: Nonfiction, History
Notes: I purchased the Special Illustrated Collector’s Edition which contains more photographs than the original publication. I highly recommend this edition.
Publication: 2003—Random House
Red Pollard and George Woolf had signed on to a life that used men up. But for all its miseries, there was an unmistakable allure to the jockey’s craft, one that both found irresistible….When a horse and a jockey flew over the track together, there were moments in which the man’s mind wedded itself to the animal’s body to form something greater than the sum of both parts….At the bottom of the Depression, when wrenching need narrowed the parameters of experience as never before, the liberation offered by the racehorse was, to young men like Pollard and Woolf, a siren song.
Seabiscuit seemed a cumbersome giant in comparison. At 1,040 pounds, he outweighed War Admiral by 80 pounds, with six feet of girth and a markedly wider chest. But the big body was perched on legs a full two inches shorter. His neck was thick, his head heavy, his tail stubby, his boxing-glove knees crouched….the mane plaits didn’t lie right and stuck out like quills. the horse stood straddle-legged, as if perpetually bracing himself against a strong wind.
A mournful hush fell over the barn, broken only by the long, low moans of a saddle pony who missed his absent stable companion. All evening long, the deep sad sound drifted out from the shed rows.
The Nine–despair and courage
by Gwen Strauss
Five years of research and writing went into the creation of The Nine, a nonfiction work that focuses on a group of nine women, most in their twenties, who joined the Resistance movement in World War II at various times and places. Six were French, two Dutch, and one Spanish. They were individually captured and sent to worse than horrible Nazi internment camps.
The author was able to interview her great aunt Helène who spoke five languages and was the leader of this band who joined together to survive and escape. Strauss followed quite a maze of information and was aided by many including families of “The Nine.” The book begins with Helène’s story which for me was emotionally difficult as she provides some details of her capture and torture. There were some types of torture, however, that Helène would not discuss or even name. The rest of the account moved more quickly as we learn more about each of the young ladies in the first nine chapters along with descriptions of life in a labor camp. Each chapter moves them closer to either death or escape. Most of the rest of the book lays out their last days together and concludes with what happens after the war is over.
The ladies did not share their stories with very many people for a variety of reasons which the author relates. Several wrote about their experiences in unpublished formats to be discovered after their deaths. Many former prisoners of World War II suffered again after their presumed return to safety—homes and loved ones were gone, their bodies were physically ruined, and society turned against them. Statistically they were lucky to survive, but they bore visible and invisible scars. Most returnees were reluctant to discuss their imprisonment with even those closest to them and found that, in general, people did not want to hear about their experiences.
I highly recommend this book for the author’s insightful and thorough reporting about the brave women of the Resistance and the cruel and evil system that treated them as vermin. One of the policies that I sadly see repeated currently is those in power inciting division to weaken and control those under them. In the camps, the Poles received the best treatment from the Nazis, followed by the Reds. Every group looked down on another in the camps with the Roma (Gypsies), criminals, and homosexuals regarded as the bottom of humanity.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: History, Nonfiction (Adult)
Notes: 1. Subtitled: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany
2. At the first of the book there is a list of the women with their nicknames and a brief description
3. At the end of the book are notes about the author’s journey into the past, a bibliography, notes on each chapter, and a list of the illustrations (which sound interesting, but were not included in my Advance Reader Copy).
Publication: May 4, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
The Jewish prisoners were given the worst rations, worst living conditions, and the hardest jobs. They were already the most traumatized group, having suffered pogroms, witnessed mass murders, and narrowly escaped the gas chambers. All of them had probably seen their loved ones die, and they may or may not have counted themselves lucky to be alive.
They were proud of how they served each other, divided food equally, and maintained their civility in such an uncivil place. It had kept them strong when others become more and more like animals, lost their sense of themselves, and fell into dark despair.
In the sea of people who seemed to have been tossed up like pebbles on a beach, the prospect of finding their loved ones felt nearly impossible.
Souvenirs from Kyiv–devastation of war
Souvenirs from Kyiv
by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger
I want to believe Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s stories in Souvenirs from Kyiv are more fiction than history, but I know that is not true. She has researched and conducted interviews with survivors of World War II and its aftermath. She has compiled their memories into composite stories that share brutal truths about war. Her goal Is to “make it clear that conflict is not about two teams meeting on the battlefield—one called ‘good’ and one called ‘bad.’ There are no winners in this story.”
These tales are emotionally hard to read; I put aside the book several times to regroup. Because the author is Ukrainian-American, I expected the book would be slanted towards the Ukrainians. While they are certainly the focus, they are not depicted as guiltless. The barbarism of war is demonstrated in acts performed by Germany, Poland, the USSR, Ukraine, and the United Nations. “Sides” were not clear cut and people had to quickly change their nationalism based on necessity for survival.
In Ukraine’s War of Independence (1917-1921), a chant was popular:
Glory to Ukraine.
Glory to the heroes!
Death to the enemies.
It was revived in the 1940’s as a partisan group struggled to “ ‘purify’ Ukraine of Jews, of Poles, of Nazis, of Soviets.” The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was founded after WW I. It fractured into two groups, each fiercely loyal to its leader. They expended energy which would have been better used in fighting their common enemy. That is an easy position to take from my safe twenty-first century armchair.
The author creates believable, fictional characters. Through them she makes real:
–the desperation of those in labor camps
–the hard work required just to survive each day
–the quick adjusting of priorities for those fleeing
–the raw, animalistic violence that emerged during the fight for survival—whether to get a place in a bomb shelter or to grasp a stale piece of bread.
There are also shining lights:
–parents sacrificing for children
–the kindness of a German officer leading a refuge family to safety during a bombing
–everyday citizens risking their lives by sharing their homes and what little food had been left for them by ravaging soldiers.
These are all stories that need to be told, but the tale goes further. When the dust of battle settles, what happens to the survivors? To what country will they claim allegiance? Even those captured by an army and put in uniform or forced into slave labor, can be blacklisted as traitors in their home country. There is the unimaginable prospect of labor camps once more. If these threats are not realized, the survivors still have to overcome physical and mental hurdles of reintegrating into a society, perhaps not the one of their birth. During and after the war, Ukraine Diaspora occurred in the U.S. and in Europe.
Although this book is historical fiction, I learned a lot about the strife between Ukraine and its neighbors. Conflict is not new in that area. The author made history come alive with characters caught up in a war not of their making. It is important to read the forward. The first story slowly immersed me into the time period. Then the rest of the book sped by quickly. This author has written other books, and I am interested in reading them as well. Although Souvenirs from Kyiv is about Ukraine, its theme, the devastation of war, has worldwide applications.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: 1. A map of Ukraine is included.
2. The book ends with a letter from the author and also a valuable glossary. Some foreign language words are defined within the story, but the glossary is helpful for the other terms.
Publication: April 22, 2022—Bookouture
I think of the Germans picking up and fleeing, the Red Army laying claim to the scorched land, and I know that one oppressor is no better than the next.
[Pretend death notification letter composed by an enlisted Ukrainian forced into the German army.] As we waited for our weapons to thaw, your son took a bullet. He did not die a hero. He did not kill many Red Army troops. He was shot, and others have died of TB, frozen to death, or have simply lost hope. You may stop sending blankets. They go to the officers, anyway. You could send clubs and knives, for we have been forced to turn into primitive cavemen. Our weapons are useless in this frozen land.
…if he has learned anything on this journey, it is this: he will give up everything—including his principles, including his painting, his life—to keep his family alive.
Code Girls–The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II
by Liza Mundy
Nonfiction has the potential to be deadly boring or magnificently interesting. Liza Mundy’s Code Girls without a doubt falls into the latter category. It is not an easy read, but it is fascinating. Code Girls tells the tale of the essential role the code breakers, who were mostly women, played in the eventual Allied defeat of the Axis nations in World War II. If you are envisaging a handful of young women holed up in a room in D.C., think again. The Army’s code breakers numbered 10,500 with 70% of them women and most working out of the Arlington Hall campus in Virginia. The Navy’s group numbered 10,000 with half of those stationed in D.C. of which 80% were female. Both groups rose to those numbers from a mere 200 code breakers each in a short amount of time. These women came from all walks of life and backgrounds. Among the first recruited were college educated, low paid, school teachers at a time when a low priority was placed on education for women. Many of these women had a background in math and science, and all had a good memory. They were analytical and could approach problems in novel ways.
The code breakers’ stories went untold for most, if not all, of their lives because they were sworn to secrecy. They considered the work they did a duty of honor to their country and to the men in their lives. They understood that their work could literally save lives, perhaps even of their own loved ones, by intercepting and decoding enemy messages. It is a testament to their trustworthiness that Germany and Japan never knew that their transmissions had been intercepted. Even roommates and spouses could not speak of their work outside of their assigned workplace.
The author, Liza Mundy, had two hurdles to jump, both of which she accomplished with finesse. The first was her thorough research which is documented through 39 pages of notes and bibliography. Then she wove the hard facts into a narrative with a very personal touch derived from many interviews. She doesn’t just write that Washington, D.C. was inundated with uninitiated girls pouring in from all over the country needing housing, food, transportation, and training. She presents the scenario through the eyes and voices of the “girls” who lived it. Not everyone, of course, had the same experiences, and those experiences varied according to many factors including whether they were working for the Army or the Navy. They arrived with no assignments, just the promise that they would be helping their country.
The war period (1939-1945) was a time of great social upheaval. For most people, a woman’s place was in the home. Suddenly men were going overseas and their jobs needed to be filled along with positions created by the manufacturing needs of the war machine. There were many stereotypes that were broken down, and others that were not put to rest so willingly or easily.
Code Girls is masterfully written and a wonderful tribute to those women whose secrets can now be told. It should be “required reading” for all Americans who don’t want history to repeat itself, for readers who want to understand what previous generations endured to stand against tyranny, and for men and women interested in the societal changes that occurred as a result of World War II.
Category: History, Nonfiction
Notes: The author sets the stage for the reader through her own notes as to how the book was written, information on the initial recruitment of women, and an introduction that discusses society in the U.S. at that tine and the military’s “bold” decision to recruit women. My copy of the book has an “Afterword for the Paperback Edition” in which the author shares the overwhelming response her book received from the code breakers and their families. The book also includes photographs of some of the women interviewed and more generic photographs of the code breakers at work. There is also a “Glossary of Code-Breaking Terms,” a very valuable “World War II Timeline,” and a “Reading Group Guide” of discussion questions.
Publication: October 20, 2017—Hachette Books
Successful code breaking often comes down to diagnostics—the ability to see the whole rather than just the parts, to discern the underlying system the enemy has devised to disguise its communications. The Japanese, Agnes diagnosed, were encoding their messages and then using something called columnar transposition, which involves writing the code groups out horizontally but transmitting them vertically, aided by a grid with certain spaces blacked out, whose design changed often.
It was the first time many of the women had spent time in a bona fide workplace—apart from a classroom—and they discovered what workplaces are and have been since the dawn of time: places where one is annoyed and thwarted and underpaid and interrupted and underappreciated.
She and the other women knew that ship sinkings were the logical and desired consequence of their concerted efforts. They did not feel remorse. America was at war with Japan; Japan had started the war; the lives of American men were at stake, not to mention America itself. It really was that simple.
The Hour of Peril–The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln before the Civil War
The Hour of Peril
by Daniel Stashower
This nonfiction account of an assassination plot against President-elect Abraham Lincoln required extensive research as much was written about the plot at the time, but many of the primary source documents present conflicting perspectives. I don’t think the author of The Hour of Peril, Daniel Stashower, had any intention of creating a tome that parallels current events, but it is hard not to make comparisons as we watch history repeat itself.
The politics of the elite to gain money and power is certainly a theme as well as inciting ordinary people to take extra-legal actions. Good and bad, ethical and immoral, slave vs. free, states’ rights or federal control—they all play a role in the politics of that time.
The rights of men to live freely and the rights of states to determine their own laws clash as the Union begins to disintegrate. Lincoln’s position is that new territories being added must be free, but that he would not advocate changing the slavery laws as they currently existed in the various states in the Union. This position incited those who felt Lincoln went too far and those who decided he had not gone far enough. There were just too many people unwilling to compromise.
As Lincoln headed to Washington, he wanted to greet as many people as possible and was not concerned about his safety. When Allan Pinkerton, a detective with a reputation for being “fierce and incorruptible,” was hired to secure the rail lines the president would be traveling on through Maryland, he discovered that there was a plot to assassinate Lincoln. At that time the focus of his investigation changed. He used the same techniques he had used for years to infiltrate groups planning railway robberies, but his operatives had to intensify their efforts because the time frame for discovery was very short. Pinkerton devised an extremely complicated plot that was successful but did require some last minute changes.
A lot of The Hour of Peril was about Pinkerton and included some discussion of Kate Warne, the first female detective in the United States. Pinkerton requested absolute secrecy of the very few people who were informed of the plot and countermeasures. He was dismayed when he discovered that Lincoln and several people close to the president-elect had, in fact, disclosed information about the travel plans, possibly endangering Lincoln’s life.
The Hour of Peril is not a quick or easy read, but well-worth the time invested. There is much information about and insight into the Civil War era and politics in general to be gained.
Category: History, Nonfiction
Publication: 2013—Minotaur Books
Among those attempting to defuse the crisis was the recently defeated candidate, Stephen Douglas, who selflessly carried a message of unity to hostile audiences in the South, attempting to calm the secessionist fervor and broker a compromise.
He would have been wary of revealing too much in a letter, especially one sent to a politician. As Pinkerton had told Samuel Felton at the start of the operation, “on no conditions would I consider it safe for myself or my operatives were the fact of my operating known to any Politician—no matter of what school, or what position.”
As far as Pinkerton was concerned, there would be no future disclosures. He had sworn the main participants to secrecy, and arranged matters so that the minor players had no sense of the larger plan. In many cases, even those directly involved in carrying out crucial elements of the detective’s design were ignorant of the roles they had played. Once again, secrecy had been the lever of his success.