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The Screwtape Letters–twisting good into evil

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

Welcome to the inside-out, topsy turvy world of The Screwtape Letters, correspondence supposedly written by Screwtape, an experienced devil who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter, in the process of keeping the human assigned to him from becoming a Christian and making good choices. The human is considered a “patient.” God is called “the Enemy,” and Satan is referred to as “Our Father Below.” As you can imagine, this short book is not a quick read as you have to turn familiar designations of God and Satan, as well as your whole thought process, around so that the book will make sense.

First published in serial form in a newspaper, it is divided into chapters which are letters generally focused around one topic such as gluttony or humility and gives advice on how to twist things that God has created in beauty and purity into something that will draw the patient away from God and onto sinful paths.

I am glad I read this book, but I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I would an entertaining mystery or a gentle romance. It is quite witty with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. It challenged my mind and spirit as I tried to decipher C.S. Lewis’ message. Reading The Screwtape Letters is rather like looking into a mirror. Beware! As you see a reflection of yourself in some of the passages, you may be inspired to make changes in your own life that will result in your reflecting God’s image rather than the one Satan would appreciate. With much food for thought, The Screwtape Letters could be read and studied many times, especially over the course of a lifetime, deriving a new depth of meaning applicable to you personally with each reading.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fiction

Notes: C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. He is the noted author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters was originally published in 1942.

Publication: 1959—Macmillan Publishing Co. 

Memorable Lines:

All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Music and silence…how I detest them both!…Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.

And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

The Medallion–for the love of a child

The Medallion

by Cathy Gohlke

The MedallionWhat is worse than being a Pole during World War II?  Being a Jew.  

And what is worse than either? Being a Polish Jew, a target for abuse, humiliation, torture and destruction.

The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke tells the story of two families whose lives and deaths become joined through the horrors and hardships of life in Poland in World War II. Janet is a Polish fighter pilot married to Sophia, an English citizen, alone in Poland, but with a heart for Jewish children. Rosa has to make the most difficult decision possible to save her beloved daughter’s life. Her husband Itzhak, an electrician, endures the most horrific task assigned to any person by the Nazis, digging up mass graves with his bare hands. Can anything good possibly emerge from the desperation of this story?

Many of the characters in The Medallion are fictional, but are inspired by interviews and textual research. Some are found in history, including Irena Sandler who rescued 2,500 children and Dr. Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage.

The tales of these two families are difficult to read but also inspiring. Towards the end of the book, when the war is over and all should be well, it isn’t. Sophia finds herself in a moral and personal crisis of faith that intimately affects the lives and futures of herself and those she loves most.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: The end of this book also includes discussion questions, notes to the reader about the writing of this book, and historical notes.

Publication:   June 4, 2019—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

“Adonai makes a way when there appears no way. It is His specialty. Remember the Red Sea.”  The words of her old friend came back to her, just as they did so often when Sophie felt at her wits’ end.

The Germans wanted to make certain that Poles were equipped only to follow orders, mostly for menial labor. They espoused the belief that a thinking Pole was a dangerous Pole. Hence, Polish schools were closed and thousands upon thousands of children did not learn to read or write—unless they were taught in secret.

“We’re not meant to handle life alone, Sophie. It’s too hard, too unpredictable, too messy and big. There is One who is willing and ready to help, to travel with us, if we let Him.”

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm–starting again

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm

by Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close FarmI had strong mixed feelings as I read Coming Home to Holly Close Farm. The tale begins with Charlie (Charlotte) having the worst Friday of her life when she discovers her lover is married with three children. Fallout of this revelation is that she also loses her home and job in one fell swoop. Charlie is a likable main character—smart, attractive, funny, and like many women, gullible when it comes to believing the one she loves.

Author Julie Houston’s book is actually two interwoven stories, and Houston handles that complexity well. One, of course, is the story of Charlie as she starts to rebuild her life. The other is the story of Madge, Charlie’s great-grandmother, and her love of a bomber pilot in World War II. Madge kept her past a secret from all of her family and as the story develops you can see why. It is only revealed because Madge, in her nineties, decides to sell part of Holly Close Farm with the proviso that the buyer must hire Charlie to be the architect for the house renovations. Once that decision is made, the secrets begin to trickle out.

My difficulty with the book is partly one of personal taste. I read it based on the appeal of the plot summary. It seemed like a gentle romance with a complex plot. It is a good plot, but too much of the book is about characters who bed hop, and it is replete with British vulgarisms. In the second chapter there is an extensive description of bawdy pranks on an airliner. This type of humor set a bad tone for me and though that is the worst of it in the book, the other elements continue. While I enjoy Britishisms in books to enhance the setting and characters, the vulgarisms detract for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: includes bawdy humor and British vulgarities

Publication:  February 5, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Funny how sorrow makes you slop around in old trackies, eschewing the shower and make-up, but fury has quite the opposite effect.

“You know, war invades not only countries but also the mind and spirit.”

“…finance and big business and being in the centre of London was never really my thing but you get yourself on the treadmill and it’s going so fast you can’t get off.”

The Escape Artists: A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War

The Escape Artists

by Neal Bascomb

The Escape ArtistsWar is such a horrible thing—vicious, destructive, and despicable. It brings out the worst and the best in man. We see both in Neal Bascomb’s true recounting of the largest escape of WWI by the British at one time—twenty-nine officers of whom ten actually made it out of Germany to Holland without being recaptured.

Bascomb’s well-researched tale The Escape Artists is divided into four major sections. In the first, “Capture,” he provides a glimpse into the personalities and lives of some of the major players in the escape, their role in the military, and the circumstances of their capture. 

The second section, “All Roads Lead to Hellminden,” describes a number of interment camps but focuses especially on notorious twin commandants, Karl and Heinrich Niemeyer. Both prisoners and commandants could be transferred at whim in Germany and being transferred could be positive or negative for a prisoner. This section details life in the camp and shows a better situation for officers than that experienced by enlisted soldiers who were put in labor camps. Officers, instilled with the patriotic drive to do whatever they could to hinder the enemy and return home to fight again, spent a lot of their energy devising and executing escape plans. If their attempts were unsuccessful or they were recaptured, the punishment was generally a long and uncomfortable time in a small isolation cell—dark, very hot or very cold, dirty, overrun with vermin, and little food. This trial on the body, mind, and spirit might last several days, weeks or months. Nevertheless, instead of deterring escape attempts, it prodded the officers into yet more clever tries.

“The Tunnel” describes the huge group effort spearheaded by an officer named Gray to construct a very long tunnel and plan how to proceed once outside the walls of Holzminden. All of the background material in the first two sections was essential, but at this point the story really takes off and you will want to keep reading until finished. The last section. “Breakout,” shares the actual escape attempt.

To write this book, Bascomb read a lot of books on the escape and the interment camps, interviewed descendants of the officers, and relied greatly on primary documents including memoirs and letters from the time. His narrative style is effective and the subject matter is interesting. Having read several books on labor and death camps, it was interesting to read about the British officers, drawn from all over the globe. Many of them were young pilots from exclusive schools and families. They had little training, but were very patriotic and had a honed sense of duty and honor. One surprising detail for me was that the imprisoned officers were able to write to their families and receive packages and money from them. Not everything went smoothly in that process, but they were better off than those in labor camps. They even had orderlies from the enlisted ranks of prisoners to make their beds, etc. This was not a luxury situation by any means, and the men were quite bored and frustrated whiling away time when they felt they should be fighting. 

Neal Bascomb is a former journalist who turned to writing nonfiction books  full-time in 2000. He is the award winning author of nine books for adults and three for young adults.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: History

Publication:   September 18, 2018—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Memorable Lines:

The greatest resistance of all would be to escape. 

None of the diplomats gathered in The Hague in 1899 or 1907 could have anticipated the vast populations of prisoners that would come out of industrialized total war—nor the challenges this would involve. In the first six months of World War I, 1.3 million soldiers became POWs across Europe.

The arrival in December of Harold Medlicott had bolstered the mood throughout the camp. The officers believed that if anybody could escape Holzminden and humiliate Karl Niemeyer, it was Medlicott. A legend even to the German guards, he had broken out of nine camps already, never using the same method twice.

Harvey might not get another chance to escape, but in aiding Cartwright, as in countless other efforts to help his fellow prisoners, he found freedom within. In his own way, he was a breakout artist.

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