Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells
Canterbury Bells represent Gratitude in the Language of Flowers

Friday, January 5, 2018

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

An extraordinary novel based on the true story of a family of Polish Jews who are separated at the start of the Second World War determined to survive-- and to reunite.

But equally as fascinating a read is the author’s own true story and how she came to write the book.  At age 15, the seeds for this novel were planted when a high school teacher assigned an I-search project for students to explore their ancestry.  In talking with her grandmother, Hunter, who not being raised in the Jewish faith, was surprised to learn that she came from a family of Holocaust survivors.  She didn’t think about the project for another six years until she attended a family reunion where more stories of the war were revealed.  “I knew then that I needed to investigate and write about what happened.”

Hunter took off on a nine-year journey, armed with a digital voice recorder, that took her around the globe. The result is her acclaimed book starring her ancestors, the Kurc  family.

Page one opens in the spring of 1939 in Radom, Poland, where three generations of this family are doing their best to live normal lives, even as the shadow of war looms closer.  The talk around the Seder table is of new babies and budding romances.  But soon the horrors become inescapable. Driven by an unwavering will to survive and by the fear that they may never see each other again, the Krucs must rely on hope, ingenuity and inner strength to persevere.

This novel spans five continents in six years.  It transports the reader from the jazz clubs of Paris to Karkow’s brutal prison to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag. 

There are countless stories of WW II and often when I begin reading one, I wonder how it will differ from the others. This one, because it is based on truly incredible circumstances, renews the human spirit and  yes, it is aptly titled.  They were indeed the Lucky Ones.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

I fell in love with author Elizabeth Berg’s writing back in the early 90’s with her first book, Talk Before Sleep. Since then I count 23 novels in 23 years and she rarely disappoints. Her trademark is the ability to make everyday and ordinary people characters you want to spend time with, meet for lunch, and so often, people you hate to say good-bye to on the last page.  Having heard her speak on two occasions at bookstores in Phoenix, I felt the same about her as she displayed the warmth and compassion evident in so many of her characters as they deal with difficult situations in their life.  A former nurse, many of her stories deal with sickness and death, subjects she seems very familiar with. In spite of the topics, her books are always uplifting.   As author Fannie Flagg says about Berg’s latest book, Arthur Truluv, “I dare you to read this novel and not fall in love with Arthur…he will make you laugh and cry…and what it means to be human.”

Arthur Moses, at age 85 goes to the cemetery every day to eat his lunch at his late wife Nola’s grave. At night he scrounges up whatever canned goods he can find in his pantry, tries to prevent his cat, Gordon, from running away and dodges the busy-body next door, Lucille, who keeps trying to entice him to her front porch with her delicious baked goods.

One day at the cemetery Arthur meets a troubled teen-aged girl, Maddy, who often cuts classes at her near-by school where classmates torment her and make her the butt of their tasteless jokes.   An unlikely friendship forms between this grieving senior citizen and the girl with a nose ring. She dubs him Arthur Truluv for the devotion he displays to his wife each day and for his loving and positive responses to every outrageous thing she says or does.  Mandy, whose mother died when she was a baby, has been raised by a well-meaning but distant father so she seeks love in all the wrong places—like a handsome Wal-Mart employee who of course turns out to be a cad.

A few sub-plots are interesting also:  Lucille’s rekindled romance with a former high-school sweetheart and Arthur’s walks through the cemetery and his uncanny ability to sense what a person’s life was like as he reads their name on their tombstone.

Not to be a plot spoiler, I will just say that these 3 characters—Arthur, Mandy and Lucille come together in a way that renews the human spirit and shows how small acts of kindness turn friends into family.

Although Arthur Truluv is the antithesis of recent literature’s grumpy golden agers, like Olive Kitteridge and A Man Called Ove, there are many similarities by the end of the book.