Tag Archives: History

Lucky Child by Loung Ung

Overview
BOOKS - Loung Ung

Title: Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind
Author: Loung Ung
Series: Daughter of Cambodia #2
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, History, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 27th February – 13th March 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 2000
5th sentence, 74th page: While they chatter away about the farm and the weather, Cou slowly fold Khouy’s clothes and lays them on the plank.

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Synopsis

The author of the critically acclaimed bestseller First They Killed My Father returns with a searing and redemptive story of life in America as a Cambodian genocide survivor.

After enduring years of hunger, deprivation, and devastating loss at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, ten-year-old Loung Ung became the “lucky child,” the sibling chosen to accompany her eldest brother to America while her one surviving sister and two brothers remained behind. In this poignant and elegiac memoir, Loung recalls her assimilation into an unfamiliar new culture while struggling to overcome dogged memories of violence and the deep scars of war. In alternating chapters, she gives voice to Chou, the beloved older sister whose life in war-torn Cambodia so easily could have been hers. Highlighting the harsh realities of chance and circumstance in times of war as well as in times of peace, Lucky Child is ultimately a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to the salvaging strength of family bonds.

Thoughts

This is just as hard hitting as the first Ung book, First They Killed My Father. It is dark, twisted and definitely the type of book that you need to read only in certain moods. But it is also important, poignant, and brilliantly written. I loved every moment of reading this. Even if it wasn’t the type of book that I wanted to read each and every day.

The entire time I read this memoir, my heart honestly ached. It is an incredibly tragic tale. One that, even though Loung gets out of Cambodia young, continues on. She manages to write about her PTSD and the difficulties of adapting to a foreign country in a way that is a little heartwrenching, incredibly realistic, but still not so overwhelming that you can’t stomach the idea of reading the story. It’s a fine line to walk when retelling tales of war and PTSD, but Ung manages to do so in a relatable and approachable way. Now I can’t wait to read the final book in this trilogy!

My sister is my favourite person in the world. She is my best friend, confidant and the person that honestly understands me more than anyone else. It is obvious from the way that she writes that Ung feels very much the same. Which probably is what made this story so hard for me to read – Loung and Chou are separated for fifteen years in a time that would have been crucial to both of them in their social and physical growth. It is definitely a little heart wrenching. But I love that there is this constant reminder that sisters are forever. That no matter the time that passed, they were still sisters and still loved each other dearly.

This is a great way to tell the story of two sisters – you journey alongside both Loung and Chou to find out what their lives were like after the war and the genocide. It helps to show how different twists of fate can make two lies. And how intensely the past can affect our every day lives. It is one of those stories that will stick with me forever and I will probably reread this multiple times in the future.

<- First They Killed My FatherLulu in the Sky ->

Image source: Loung Ung

Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Overview
Truganini - Cassandra Pybus - 9781760529222 - Allen & Unwin ...

Title: Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse
Author: Cassandra Pybus
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Australian authors, Biographies, History, Indigenous Australians
Dates read: 2nd – 20th July 2020
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Year: 2020
5th sentence, 74th page: She was grieving the loss of their youngest son nine months earlier, and it was also time to reconnect with his five surviving children.

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Synopsis

Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, just off the coast of south-east Tasmania, throughout the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn’t know this woman was Truganini, and that she was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne, of whom she was the last.

The name of Truganini is vaguely familiar to most Australians as ‘the last of her race’. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy: the extinction of the original people of Tasmania within her lifetime. For nearly seven decades she lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than most human imaginations could conjure. She is a hugely significant figure in Australian history and we should know about how she lived, not simply that she died. Her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini’s extraordinary story.

A lively, intelligent, sensual woman, Truganini managed to survive the devastating decade of the 1820s when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. Taken away from Bruny Island in 1830, she spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highland and through barely penetrable forests, with the self-styled missionary George Augustus Robinson, who was collecting all the surviving people to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She managed to avoid a long incarceration on Flinders Island when Robinson took her to Victoria where she was implicated in the murder of two white men. Acquitted of murder, she was returned to Tasmania where she lived for another thirty-five years. Her story is both inspiring and herat-wrenching, and it is told in full in this book for the first time.

Thoughts

This was an amazing, must-read for all Aussies. It was one though that I would read a chapter and then pick up another, happier book. There is this tragic feeling that runs all the way through. There aren’t happy moments. This doesn’t give you hope for the future. Instead, it reminds you of the many atrocities which we really should be condemned for… but it’s well-worth the read. And impossible to forget.

The whole journey in this book is somewhat heartbreaking. But the very end of it… that was just a whole other level. Particularly considering Truganini feared her body being taken for science and begged someone to bury it in the deepest water she knew… only to find out that when she passed… her body was taken and mounted in a museum. I just couldn’t believe the horror of that and the cruelty. There was just something so incomprehensible and… just… no… about the whole situation.

I’m always trying to find out as much as I can about Australian history. And for me, this was a fantastic piece of that. I knew next to nothing about the plight of Indigenous Australians in Tasmania when the settlers came. Although I still feel like I know next to nothing… I felt like there was so much more that was revealed in this novel. Alright, it probably wasn’t’ my favourite biography, Pybus has a slightly drier writing style than what I prefer. But overall, it was somewhat amazing and a great way to highlight the plight and true journey of one well-known Indigenous Australian.

I received this book at the beginning of the year. And my biggest regret? That I didn’t read it sooner. This is a book that I think all Australians should read. One that is amazing and impossible to forget. Definitely at the top of my suggestions pile…

<- More Indigenous Australians reviewsMore Australian author reviews ->

Image source: Allen & Unwin

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Overview
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold - Penguin Books Australia

Title: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Author: Hallie Rubenhold
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Feminism, History, Non-fiction, True crime
Dates read: 23rd April – 8th May 2020
Pace: Medium
Format: Non-fictional text, Novel
Publisher: Black Swan
Year: 2020
5th sentence, 74th page: On 16 April she was dispatched like a human parcel to Renfrew Road Workhouse.

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Synopsis

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhamption, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed in ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become more famous than any of these women.

IN THIS DEVASTATING NARRATIVE OF FIVE LIVES, HISTORIAN HALLIE RUBENHOLD FINALLY GIVES THESE WOMEN BACK THEIR STORIES.

Thoughts

This is a seriously intense, wonderful, powerful, amazing book. Like. Wow. I’ve recently become a little intrigued by Jack the Ripper, but, as with many others, I hadn’t really given huge amounts of thought to the women that he actually killed. Which I now feel kind of ashamed of. Because Rubenhold reminds us that these five women were, you know, people too. And should be remembered as such. Not for the way the died. Not for the way the media portrayed them. But for individuals in and of themselves. Women who loved, lost and experienced life. Women with families, husbands, children…

I tend not to read crime books before bed. It leads to some seriously whacked out and trippy dreams. Starting this, I figured that it would be okay to read before bedtime. After all, it’s about the women, not the murders. For starters, the introduction talks about Jack the Ripper a little more than I had wanted. And the last point made is that he didn’t kill prostitutes, he killed women while they were asleep. By themselves. I was a woman. By myself. About to go to sleep. Not exactly conducive to a restful nights’ sleep that.

Normally I like to pick up biographies because they’re not only informative, but they’re also incredibly easy to put down. That’s not the case with this novel. The first few chapters didn’t quite hook me, and I was completely able to put down the book whenever I needed to be productive. However, once I passed that point… I just couldn’t stop thinking about these five women. I couldn’t stop wondering about their lives, their loved ones. What they thought and experienced in their mysterious last moments… I just couldn’t stop thinking about it all!!! Which I think was the whole point of it… but still, not exactly my normal response for a biography…

I am still in awe of what I’ve read. I actually finished this book twenty-four hours before sitting down to write this review. And it took me so long to do so simply because there is an intense feeling that you get once you turn that final page. This intense feeling of not only wonder and amazement at what you just read, but also, for me at least, a sense of guilt. I’m fascinated by murders, but I have rarely seriously considered the Ripper women as individuals and women. Which is something I will endeavour to do more so of in the future. When I started this book, I couldn’t even remember the names of The Five. But now, I don’t think I’ll ever forget them…

<- The Covent Garden LadiesHarris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies ->

Image source: Penguin Books Australia

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

Overview
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by ...

Title: First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
Author: Loung Ung
Series: Daughter of Cambodia #1
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, History, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 3rd – 8th April 2020
Pace: Medium
Format: Novel
Publisher: Mainstream Publishing
Year: 2000
5th sentence, 74th page: Geak continues to cry.

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Synopsis

Until the age of five, Loung Ung lived in Phnom Penh, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official. She was a precocious child who loved the open city markets, fried crickets, chicken fights and being cheeky to her parents.

When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army stormed into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Loung’s family fled their home and were eventually forced to disperse in order to survive. Loung was trained as a child soldier while her brothers and sisters were sent to labour camps. The surviving children were only finally reunited after the Vietnamese penetrated Cambodia and destroyed the Khmer Rouge. First They Killed My Father is an unforgettable book, told through the voice of the young and fearless Loung. It is a shocking and tragic tale of a girl who was determined to survive despite the odds.

Thoughts

I bought this so that I would have an author whose names started with U. I had no idea what to expect and basically no knowledge of anything to do with Cambodia, refugees and the war in the 1970s. I mean, honestly, nothing. I didn’t even know that Pol Pot was associated with all of this… even though I know the name and that he’s a bad man. So this entire journey was one of discovery and just… awe. Nothing more than total and utter awe.

Until recently, I thought that I was a person made of some incredibly strong stuff. Tough, independent and of the ability to survive an untold number of things in my life. This story (amongst others that I’ve been reading) made me realise that I’m probably not made of this kind of tough stuff. What Ung and her family went through is just completely unfathomable. It is intense, and horrifying and more than a little heartbreaking. Yet, there isn’t this sense of anger throughout the words. Which took me completely by surprise. After all, the horrors that Ung witnessed and survived as a young girl… I just don’t have the words.

Normally I like to read a biography before bed time. After all, they’re not as intense and fast-paced as many of my other novels. So they’re normally a good pick for right before bed time. This really didn’t fit that trend. The first few nights of reading this, I just read a chapter a night. But on the final night? I read all of it. In one hit. Because I just had to find out how Ung survived… and if any of her family were also able to survive.

I just don’t have the words for how amazing this novel is. It’s something that I think everyone should read. That way we don’t take our lives and livelihoods for granted so much. Or at least, that’s how this amazing journey made me feel. I can’t wait to read the next two books in this series!

<- More Loung UngLucky Child ->

Image source: Goodreads

Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks

Overview
Image result for book cover rosa parks

Title: Rosa Parks: My Story
Author: Rosa Parks
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: History, Memoirs, Race
Dates read: 20th – 23rd November 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1948
5th sentence, 74th page: All this was to keep African Americans from being able to register.

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Synopsis

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus, sparking the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. A year later, when the boycott finally ended, segregation on buses was ruled unconstitutional, the civil rights movement was a national cause, and Rosa Parks was out of a job. Yet there is much more to Rosa Parks’s story than just one act of defiance. In straightforward, moving language, she tells of her vital role in the struggle for equality for all Americans. Her dedication is inspiring; her story is unforgettable.

Thoughts

I’ve known the name Rosa Parks for years. It’s just one of those well-known names that you find impossible to forget. I didn’t really know much about her beyond the fact that she was a big mover in the world of equal rights and there was something to do with a bus. So, I was incredibly intrigued to read her biography. And I’m incredibly glad that I did – not only was it an engaging read, but it was also incredibly eye opening.

For someone who knows next to nothing about American history, this certainly helped to fill me in on some of the tensions that are still occurring throughout the country. I’ve been reading a lot of biographies and memoirs lately that seem to fill in this gap, but Rosa Parks: My Story was telling the same tale with no gloss whatsoever. Somehow, her frank, open honesty was so much more intense than any of the other books I’ve read so far. The rest try to politely talk about violence and racism, Parks doesn’t do this. She’s not angry or vindictive, but there is no softening the history and her experiences. As I said, there is just this intense honesty in her writing that I haven’t had the privilege to experience of late.

Although I’m not supremely interested in American history, I would still suggest this book to anyone. It is about race and standing up for yourself. Equality and understanding that you have the same rights as everyone else. Something that effects everyone, world-wide. Some of the racism that is experienced today might be more subtle, but many of Parks’ experiences are still relevant and need to be discussed. Definitely the kind of book I’ll pick up again and again.

<- BecomingFollow the Rabbit-Proof Fence ->

Image source: Amazon

The Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla by Nikola Tesla

Overview
Image result for book cover inventions, researches and writing of nikola tesla

Title: The Inventions, Researches, and Writings of Nikola Tesla
Author: Nikola Tesla
Series: Barnes & Noble Leatherbound
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Easy reading, History, Non-fiction, Science
Dates read: 16th October – 15th November 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Non-fictional text
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Leatherbound
Year: 1995
5th sentence, 74th page: Fig. 61 is a vertical cross-section of the motor.

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Synopsis

The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla is the definitive record of the pioneering work of one of the modern world’s most groundbreaking inventors. During the early twentieth century, Nikola Tesla blazed the trail that electrical technology would follow for decades afterward. Although he pioneered inventions like alternating current (AC), radio, wireless transmission, and X-rays, and worked with innovators like George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, the once celebrated Tesla was later largely forgotten by history. With illustrations and diagrams of many of Tesla’s early patents and inventions, as well as dozens of thought-provoking lectures and articles, this volume offers a rare glimpse of a true genius at work.

The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla is one of Barnes & Noble’s Collectible Editions classics. Each volume features authoritative texts by the world’s greatest authors in an exquisitely designed bonded-leather binding, with distinctive gilt edging and an attractive silk-ribbon bookmark. Decorative, durable, and collectible, these books offer hours of pleasure to readers young and old and are an indispensible cornerstone for every home library.

Thoughts

This was an interesting, fun and open read. I mostly bought it because I needed it to complete a reading challenge, and well, the cover was really, really pretty. What I didn’t expect was that I would enjoy this adventure so much… after all, it’s been quite a while since I picked up anything physics-related.

Physics is an incredibly intense and fun subject – one that I’m kind of realising I miss a bit. This book explains that fact really well – not only is the use of electricity really intricate and intense, but this collection actually manages to explain it in a really fascinating way. And accessible… you don’t need a physics degree to understand what discoveries and creations Tesla came up with. The diagrams also go a long way to helping you understand exactly what engines, power sources and discoveries he made.

I did really enjoy the biographical aspects of Tesla’s life throughout this as well. Although it was very science-heavy, there was just enough of the personal to keep even the least scientifically-minded person engaged. So, not only did I learn a lot about what the actual discoveries, researches and inventions of Tesla were, I also learnt quite a bit about his personal journey and life in his obsession with electricity.

 <- Dracula and Other Horror Stories ReviewBeauty and the Beast and Other Classic Fairy Tales Review ->

Image source: BookDepository

The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis

Overview
Image result for the mammoth book of celtic myths and legends book cover

Title: The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends
Author: Peter Berresford Ellis
Series: Mammoth Books
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: CelticHistory, Mythology, Non-fiction
Dates read: 25th October 2018 – 22nd September 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Non-fictional text
Publisher: Robinson
Year: 2011
5th sentence, 74th page: Where are the gods and their goddesses, where the heroes and noble knights?

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Synopsis

STIRRING SAGAS FROM THE ANCIENT CELTIC WORLD

From an oral history and storytelling culture dating back to the dawn of European civilization, the Celtic peoples have developed one of the world’s most vibrant mythologies. In this collection from Irish, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Manx and Breton sources, Peter Berresford Ellis has brought together the classic myths and legends, as well as exciting new tales which have never been published.

Berresford Ellis, a foremost authority on the Celts, brings not only his expertise but also his acclaimed skills of storytelling to this original and enthralling selection of gods and goddesses, magical weapons and fabulous beasts.

Thoughts

This is a bit of a hard slog of a book. Not in any negative sense, but in the sense that it is over 500 pages of Celtic mythology. Which encompasses all of the wonders of their convoluted names and intricate kinship ties. It doesn’t really matter which tale you read, this is something that can be a little bit difficult to work with. Especially, when like me, you know nothing about the names and communications of people from this part of the world.

I’ve long been fascinated by Celtic folklore. And I have dabbled a little bit in this world. However, The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths & Legends was a GREAT way to immerse myself in this otherwise unknown world. Now, when I read stories which have obviously used a thread of this tradition and folklore, I can recognise it, and even understand it a little more.

Each section of this book starts with an introduction which highlights the region which the myths come from and where these retellings are sourced from. As many of the folklore of the time was orally passed, it was interesting to see where this had been pulled from – opening up a new world but also helping to tie it to the past and the roots of the tale.

If you have any kind of interest in mythology. Pick this book up. Maybe do like I did, and read a few stories before turning to something that doesn’t have so many incredibly similar names. But still pick this book up. It is phenomenal, potent and completely impossible to put down. One that I would highly recommend to all fans of the past, supernatural and myths.

 <- The Mammoth Book of Celebrity Murders ReviewThe Mammoth Book of Classic Chillers Review ->
Image source: Amazon

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington

Overview
Image result for follow the rabbit-proof fence book cover

Title: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence
Author: Doris Pilkington
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Australian authors, Book to Film, History, Indigenous Australians
Dates read: 8th – 12th June 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Year: 1996
5th sentence, 74th page: It was at that moment this free-spirited girl knew that she and her sisters must escape from this place.

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Synopsis

This is the true account of Doris Pilkington Garimara’s mother Molly, made legendary by the film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’.

In 1931 Molly led her two sisters on an extraordinary 1,600 kilometre walk across remote Western Australia. Aged 8, 11 and 14, they escaped the confinement of a government institution for Aboriginal children removed from their families. Barefoot, without provisions or maps, tracked by Native Police and search planes, the girls followed the rabbit-proof fence, knowing it would lead them home.

Their journey – longer than many of the celebrated walks of our explorer heroes – reveals a past more cruel than we could ever imagine.

Thoughts

I watched the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence years and years and years ago. But I only recently found out that it was actually a book. Written by the daughter of Molly, the girl who made all of the strong decisions in their journey. Which of course meant that I had to buy the book straight away. And sink my teeth and brain into this amazing journey. Something that made me uncomfortable to read about, but not as bad as I thought it would make me feel.

This is a must read book for any Australian. It’s a part of our history that is just touched upon, but by Doris writing of her mother’s plight, her family’s history and the colonisation of their country, you suddenly become far more aware of what the First Nations people went through. Although the movie tends to be something that is watched in high school, the book gives a lot more background on the family structure and relationships of the girls. The past and the history of their families and peoples’ before they were even conceived.

I was expecting a lot of angst out of this story. I was expecting a tale that would make me feel guilty, because the movie kind of does. But it isn’t like that. The facts are simply laid out and the determination of Molly is highlighted again and again. It makes you admire her and wonder what would happen if you were in that situation. How you would deal with something that was so unfathomably horrible, and find a way to fix it.

This is one of those books that I’m going to make my children (if I have any) read. It won’t leave my shelf and isn’t one that I’m going to give away. It is an incredibly easy book to read and one that when you close the last page, you just lie there kind of stunned. Stunned at the strength and resilience of one small girl. Filled with admiration of her strength and power. Seriously. Just read this book.

<- Rosa Parks: My Story ReviewGogo Mama Review ->
Image source: Wikipedia

The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper by Maxim Jakubowski & Nathan Braund

Overview
Image result for the mammoth book of jack the ripper book cover

Title: The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper
Author: Maxim Jakubowski & Nathan Braund
Series: Mammoth Books
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Crime, History, Non-fiction
Dates read: 13th March – 1st June 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Non-fictional text
Publisher: Robinson
Year: 1999
5th sentence, 74th page: It may be, as is generally assumed, that Louis Diemschutz, returning home, interrupted the murderer and prevented him from performing his usual mutilations.

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Synopsis

Jack the Ripper – all the evidence, all the key theories, fully updated with the newest ideas

The crime world’s most enduring mystery, the identity of Jack the Ripper, has plagued professional historians, criminologists, writers and amateur enthusiasts for over a hundred years. Chief suspects include Montague John Druitt,Walter Sickert, Aaron Kosminski, Michael Ostrog, William Henry Bury, Dr Tumblety and James Maybrick.

This newly updated volume offers the fullest ever overview of the Whitechapel Murders case. It collects not just the key factual evidence but also 17 different arguments as to the identity of the Ripper, including the more recent theories from Patricia Cornwell and others. Contributions from the world’s leading Ripperologists include William Beadle, Martin Fido, Shirley Harrison, James Tully and Colin Wilson.

The essays are supported by a detailed chronology, extensive bibliography and filmography.

Thoughts

I’ve been hearing about Jack the Ripper for as long as I can remember. I always knew that there were many different theories surrounding who, what, why… but nothing is truly known. So, I thought it might be about time to read a little more about this infamous serial killer. Especially since I have a few books based around him and I really wasn’t quite adding up the hints and information that was found in some of the short stories I’ve been reading.

I love the way that this book is broken up. To start with it outlines the very basics of the known facts of the case. The five known, canonical victims. It tells us the very basics and all those little clues which have lead to theory upon theory being built up. Then, it takes you in for a deeper look at each of the five victims. Showing testimonies, court statements and aspects of the coroners report to give you even more facts. I ended up taking quite a long time to read the first part of this book, just because the sheer number of facts and figures was a little overwhelming. But in the best sense possible, considering that this is a non-fiction book…

Finally, the different popular theories are highlighted in small chapters by “Ripperologists”. They take the facts that you’ve spent an age reading and present them to you in a whole new light. Which made things kind of difficult for me…since every single version sounded plausible. This is another one of those books that I will pick up again and again, learning something new and different each time. Being fascinated and drawn in over and over.

 <- By the Light of My Heart ReviewThe Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories Review ->
Image source: Amazon

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Overview
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Title: The Radium Girls
Author: Kate Moore
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Feminism, History, MemoirsNon-fiction
Dates read: 30th April – 5th May 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year: 2018
5th sentence, 74th page: The girls of Radium Dial, outside their studio; forever young and happy and well.

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Synopsis

All they wanted was the chance to shine. Be careful what you wish for…

‘The first we asked was, “Does this stuff hurt you?” And they said, “No.” The company said that it wasn’t dangerous, that we didn’t need to be afraid.’

As the First World War spread across the world, young American women flocked to work in factories, painting clocks, watches and military dials with a special luminous substance made from radium. It was a fun job, lucrative and glamorous – the girls shone brightly in the dark, covered head to toe in dust from the paint.

However, as the years passed, the women began to suffer from mysterious and crippling illnesses. It turned out that the very thing that had made them feel alive – their work – was slowly killing them: the radium paint was poisonous.

Their employers denied all responsibility, but these courageous women – in the face of unimaginable suffering – refused to accept their fate quietly, and instead became determined to fight for justice.

Drawing on previously unpublished diaries, letter and interviews, The Radium Girls is an intimate narrative of an unforgettable true story. It is the powerful tale of a group of ordinary women from the Roaring Twenties, who themselves learned how to roar.

Thoughts

There are books that will completely change your world. Reconfigure everything that you think, believe and feel and make the whole world slot into a new form. That’s what this book was for me. When I bought this book, when I first started reading it, I was fully expecting an intriguing tale. One that would be about some amazingly strong women in the past. But not anything beyond a really good read. I was wrong. I felt like my entire reality was shattered and then remade as I read this.

I had no idea that radium was something that was once used in industrial processes. Really, my only knowledge of this element comes from the fact that Marie Curie discovered it. That, and I know that it is very, very dangerous and kills people who come into contact with it. Beyond that knowledge, all I knew about the potential for this story was that these girls used radium paint and were all going to die. That in and of itself was going to be a tragic enough story. But then the large companies and legalities of their fight started to make its way into the storyline… cue a number of very late nights because I couldn’t wait to find out how the bad men were going to get their legal comeuppance.

We don’t think much about many of the health and safety legislations that we all tend to obey. Or at least, I know that I don’t. I don’t really worry all that much about whether my place of employment is adhering to the laws. I just figure that they are, and I’m not going to get sick and die from their activities. Mostly, I still want to believe this, but after reading about a bunch of young girls who felt the same thing, and got burned for it… I’m a little less willing to follow anything on blind faith. After all, even when the girls questioned whether their activities were safe, they were still reassured. Repeatedly. And then they died.

This story might not have had an overarching happy ending. But it did have a triumphant one. Though so many women lost their lives before they could gain compensation for their trauma, many more were able to stand on the shoulders of those before them and find a way to get justice. And their legacy remains today in every moment that makes businesses culpable for their actions. In the amount of knowledge that we now have about the long-term effects of radioactivity, and in the understanding in why it is important to fight for what’s right. Even in the face of insurmountable odds.

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Image source: Simon & Schuster