Book Review

All About Books: Hardy, Eliot, and Ten Boom

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I recently finished reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I’ve read it once before, back in my heathen college days, and didn’t like it. I suspect I was too stupid to appreciate Hardy’s vocabulary and too shallow to appreciate his detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and architecture.

Let me tell you, though, I couldn’t put the book down this time, even in spite of its daunting 362 pages.

This is the same copy I read in college. It even had my old notes in it, which were hysterical to read.

Far From the Madding Crowd is set in rural nineteenth century England and follows the fate of Gabriel Oak who meets and falls immediately in love with a very vain woman named Bathesheba. Then we meet two more men in the novel: Mr. Boldwood and Captain Troy.

Now just looks at those names. What comes to mind? There are so many biblical and ancient references in this book that it’s no wonder I was clueless the first time I read it. (Which is why, by the way, it’s worthwhile to revisit a book that one read a long time ago.)

In any case, this book was amusing and a sheer delight to read.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

I read this book by George Eliot (i.e. Mary Ann Evans) for four reasons:

  1. It’s short.
  2. It’s a Victorian novel. (I love Victorian novels.)
  3. I enjoyed two of Eliot’s other novels, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, so why not read another?
  4. Since the gals (and Mr. Banks) were reading it at the Literary Life Podcast, I wanted to follow along with them.

Now, did I like it? Meh. It picked up as I went along, but I must admit, I got tired of the didactic tone, and I found parts of it unbelievable–possible, yes, but unbelievable.

Basically this novel follows the plight of Silas Marner, a thwarted weaver living in the sticks who loses all, but gains something even better. I won’t spoil it for those of you tempted to read it, for it is worth a read.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve written about this excellent book before. (Click HERE for details.) The reason I reread it was for a local book club–The Well-Read Mom.

As I’ve said before, if you haven’t read this autobiography, you are missing out. Corrie Ten Boom tells her story of hiding Jews during WWII and of how she survived a Nazi concentration camp. I give it a 10+.

Go buy a copy NOW. You won’t be able to put it down.

Bonus Book Mention: And now, a book I tossed into the trash…

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This book was another read for the Well-Read Mom Book Club. It seems that every year at least one sketchy book is selected.

I tried to finish it, really. But page after page was chock full of occult practices and disordered sexual references, that I quit on page 47. I then looked up the author. It would appear to me that she had an agenda with this book. She wrote it specifically for Young Adults and even won awards for it. Disgusting.

I should have known even before page 47 when Alvarez has one the older sisters tell her younger sister that, “Sometimes you need to do a bad thing for good to come.”* Nope. No, you don’t. The ends never justify the means.

It’s not that authors can’t write about bad or evil things, though. They can, but what matters is that the good is good and the bad is bad. It’s harmful to read books that don’t get virtue and vice right. In others words, you can’t pass bad things off as good, which I think Alvarez does.

Alvarez even admits to having no biographical information about these four sisters who died in the Dominican Republic under a totalitarian regime, and the picture she paints is, well, disturbing. She’s got them playing fortune telling games with a priest, buying and reading spell books behind their mother’s back, drawing pictures of private male anatomy and then laughing when caught, participating in a girl stripping naked for others just to look at, and finally, where I quit, the masturbation scene.

Now you tell me, with zero biographical information, was all that necessary? Or is Alvarez sending a different message? Regardless of what other messages she may want to portray in the book, it would appear that Alvarez is trivializing and therefore normalizing these other completely disordered and disgusting behaviors. And remember, her intended audience are teenagers.

What Am I Reading Next?

I don’t know yet. I might pick up George Orwell’s 1984. Or I might read another Dorothy Sayers detective novel. Or maybe Agatha Christie?

What are you all reading?

*I can’t verify the exact quotation, because I threw the book away. But if you still have the book, check between pages 40-46. Then throw that trash away.

Book Review

Holocaust Memoirs: Book Review

I recently finished reading Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz.  It’s the real-life story of Rena Kornreich and how she survived 3 years living the Auschwitz Death Camps.  It’s gruesome, shocking, and sad.

It should be required reading for anyone mature enough to handle it.  (Maybe as young as 17.)

In the last year or so, this is the third book that I’ve read pertaining to survivors of World War II.  All three books are worthy of your consideration and your library shelf.  I’ll list them below:

  1. Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz by Rena Kornreich
  2. The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
  3. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ll also mention that all 3 books are very complimentary.  Rena’s Promise chronicles the life of a young Jewish woman, bereft of faith, but suffering tremendously for it.  She certainly lived an active Jewish life prior to the war, living with her family, but at the death camps, and without blatantly stating it, she loses her faith.

In fact, one wonders if hate hasn’t crept into her heart as she participates in the beating of a superior.  Throughout her time in Auschwitz/Birkenau, she wonders, “Where did God go?”  She’s grappling with the question of a good God allowing evil.  And she has no answer.  She can only rely upon herself to survive, which she does against all odds.

It’s truly miraculous how she and her sister survive such torture.  (Note that I used the word “miraculous.”  She wouldn’t use that word.)

The second book on the list is one that I previously reviewed for these pages last year.  (Click HERE for it.)

The Nazi Officer’s Wife is also the story of how a young Jewish woman, Edith Hahn, survives the war, but her story is dramatically different than Rena’s.  Hahn does end up in labor camps, but then is able to hide and take on the identity of a gentile, thus avoiding the death camps.  Eventually she marries a German officer.

This book is so valuable for not only her personal story, but for a close look at the German Thing from the inside.  It’s so eerily close to what’s happening in our culture that it makes your skin crawl.

Since I am always interested in the question of Faith, I can’t help but compare Rena’s story to Edith’s.  Even though Edith does not practice her Jewish faith, she has more hope.  She notices something is missing.  Rena’s is much darker by contrast.

Lastly, I read a book called The Hiding Place a few months ago.

While I’d rate the previous two books as a 10, this book gets a 10+.

At the outset of World War II, Corrie Ten Boom was a middle-aged spinster, helping her father fix and sell watches in Holland.  They were devout Christians who helped Jews hide and escape, but the Ten Booms were eventually discovered by the Germans.  This book tells about the horrific (and heroic) suffering of Corrie, but more importantly, it shows her immense love of God in a dark, dark place.

This is the stuff of saints.  You need to read it.  In fact, you should read all 3.  Why?  Because if we don’t get it, then history will repeat itself.  This evil and tragic event has eternal consequences.  We cannot in fact understand who we are today, without understanding that horrible war–it’s beginnings and aftermath.  We are still suffering the consequences of those driving ideologies.

Final Question

Has anyone read any other good, first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors?  I’m especially interested in the men.  What was their experience?

If you’ve read any, drop a line in the comments box.

Of course I have read Fr. Goldmann’s account of his miraculous survival in his book The Shadow of His Wings.  Truly, that book is one of the best books ever written, and by a Catholic priest serving in the SS no less!  I’d review it, but it’s been years since I’ve read it.  Probably many of you are already familiar with it?