Tag Archives: War

Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic

Overview
Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic - Penguin Books Australia

Title: Zlata’s Diary
Author: Zlata Filipovic
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Memoirs, War
Dates read: 25th – 26th March 2021
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Puffin Books
Year: 1993
5th sentence, 74th page: We don’t think about the shelling or the war.

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Synopsis

I’m trying to concentrate so that I can do my homework (reading) but I simply can’t. Something is going on in town. You can hear gunffire from the hills!

This entry in Zlata’s diary in April 1992 shows how the war draws relentlessly closer to her hom ein Sarajevo. When she starts her diary, Zlata tells of her normal, happy life with her family and friends. But soon they are fighting to survive. Zlata’s very personal accoutn is a vivid portrait of an innocent child caughht up in a terrible war.

Thoughts

I put this book on my wish list because it was a book read by the Freedom Writers. I knew absolutely nothing about Sarajevo or Bosnia or the war that was occurring literally on the day that I was born. And although I still don’t know much at all about the politics of the situation and all the ins and outs. Reading about a child’s thoughts during war… terrifying.

After having read The Diary of Anne Frank, it is terrifying to read yet another tragic story. Although, admittedly, there was a much happier ending to this tale. The innocence of Zlata just shines out of the pages, and the terror and confusion that she felt… it is an incredibly uncomfortable read this novel. One that I would suggest for everyone. But still incredibly informative.

I had to read this novel in small bites – it is incredibly heart wrenching and horrifying. It is also kind of hopeful. A great reminder of the power of the human spirit. The part that I loved the most about this was the power of the human spirit. And the ways in which all of Zlata’s family and neighbourhood banded together to support one another. It’s not the kind of thing that can always be hoped for, and it is a reminder that people can survive anything.

Zlata’s diary is a powerful and wonderful read. It is definitely not a feel good story or one that I necessarily felt the need or desire to read before bedtime, but it was definitely one that I will go back to in the future. And I would most definitely recommend it to others.

<- The Happiest RefugeeThe Diary of a Young Girl ->

Image source: Puffin Books Australia

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

Another One in from the Cold by Marion Arnott

Overview
Image result for the mammoth book of ghost stories by women book cover

Title: Another One in from the Cold
Author: Marion Arnott
In: The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women (Marie O’Regan)
Rating Out of 5: 3.5 (Liked this)
My Bookshelves: Ghosts, War
Dates read: 15th November 2020
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Robinson
Year: 2012
5th sentence, 74th page: But the smiling boy in the stiff new uniform was a composition in shades of shadow; even the tartan trews and diced cap, which she knew to be bright colours, were grey and greyish and darker grey.

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Synopsis

It doesn’t matter how many generations go by, it’s important to bring in loved ones from the cold. Particularly in this short story that focuses on those lost in the period of the World Wars.

Thoughts

This story is very true to its title – bringing in loved ones from the cold. It’s about returning lost ones from the World Wars to family. Even if its almost 100 years after they were lost. It’s about loved ones and the people that we have lost and making sure that they return to the fold, eventually.

I know next to nothing about my ancestors, so having a story that has psychics focusing on ancestors and general returning of the loved and lost made me feel a little nostalgic. And honestly lonely. After all, I have very few ties to ancestors and can’t imagine the strength of these connections. It helped to add to the sense of tragedy that this story left in me.

Another One in from the Cold is a reminder that it is important to return, even if it is generations after death. After all, family is still family.

<- Let LooseMy Moira ->

Image source: Goodreads

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Overview
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Title: Everything is Illuminated
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Rating Out of 5: 2 (Managed to read it… just)
My Bookshelves: Contemporary, Historical fiction, War
Dates read: 24th – 27th August 2020
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2002
5th sentence, 74th page: It was the same reason that I would not be able to repose.

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Synopsis

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

Thoughts

I really wasn’t a fan of this novel. The best word to describe my response to it – confused. Just. Seriously confused. I had to read this for a book club, so after discussing it for over an hour, I felt less confused. But not really… mostly our discussion was on how much we didn’t enjoy this and how confused we all felt to be quite frank.

One thing I can say about this book is that it is very well written. I loved the technical talent that was being shown. But I think that this technicality drowned out the story that I wanted to read / hear. It also made it a well written book technically, but one in which I really didn’t bond with any of the characters. I finished this and felt…. “eh”.

There was some really good humour and I did like how the language was written. It was written in a way that highlighted the language barriers and differences in translation that non-native English speakers use. It was well done and highlighted Foer’s understanding of being a non-native English speaker.

To be honest, my absolute favourite thing about this book was simply the dog – Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. I like the idea of Seeing Eye Bitch to a man who isn’t even blind. But really, that was the main redeeming factor in my mind…

<- More contemporaryMore historical fiction ->

Image source: Goodreads

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

Overview
Tomorrow, When the War Began, John Marsden - Shop Online for Books ...

Title: Tomorrow, When the War Began
Author: John Marsden
Series: Tomorrow #1
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Australian authors, Dystopia, War
Dates read: 6th – 11th August 2020
Pace: Fast
Format: Novel
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Year: 1993
5th sentence, 74th page: We agreed on total silence, and we left Kevin’s old corgi, Flip, chained up at the Mackenzies’.

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Synopsis

TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN:
The astonishing adventure begins

Ellie and her friends leave home one quiet morning, wave goodbye to their parents, and head up into the hills to camp out for a while; seven teenagers filling in time during school holidays.

The world is about to change forever. Their lives will never be the same again.

Would you fight? Would you give up everything? Would you sacrifice even life itself?

Tomorrow, When the War Began asks the biggest questions you will ever have to answer.

Thoughts

I first read this book when I was about ten years old. My mum probably didn’t quite realise what an intense story she was buying me. But it was certainly a great read, even back then. But, now? As an adult? Wow. I had actually forgotten just how damn good this book actually is! It’s brilliantly written, has a seriously intense storyline, manages to somehow be relatable in unrelatable circumstances, and, the part that I probably like the most… it has a great and strong character development / arc that makes you want to pick up the next book immediately and without reservation.

As with my first reading through of this when I was younger – it makes me incredibly grateful for the life I lead. Especially with the global climate right now. It just makes me more and more grateful for what I have in my own life. It’s definitely charmed living in Australia, and I just can’t imagine my life being torn apart in one moment as it is in this novel. It’s so lovely to read a book that highlights the good things in our lives by showing just how quickly things can go drastically wrong.

As I mentioned in my first paragraph, one of my favourite things about this novel is the way in which Ellie evolves as a person. At the beginning she’s a fairly typical teenager. Worried about boys, her friends and slightly rebelling against her parents. Even the first moments of the war are a little disjointed to her. But, as the story evolves, so does she. Quite drastically, but in a way that is entirely plausible. I love that her self-awareness and understanding of her own motives grows as she becomes a stronger, more independent woman. It means that I can’t wait to see how she further evolves as things get darker and darker…

I love novels that, when you’ve turned that final page, you constantly think about them. Either because of the emotions that they impart, or, as is the case with this book – a question that you ask yourself. In this case, I am constantly wondering what I would have done / would do in this situation. And whether I would even survive (I strongly suspect I wouldn’t… but it’s an interesting thought exercise). Now I have to weigh up the pros and cons of whether or not I want to read the next book just now… and whether my heart can bear the intensity of the storyline…

<- More John MarsdenThe Dead of the Night ->

Image source: Fishpond

Human Acts by Han Kang

Overview
Human Acts : Han Kang : 9781846275975

Title: Human Acts
Author: Han Kang
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Asia, Historical fiction, War
Dates read: 22nd – 23rd July 2020
Pace: Medium
Format: Novel
Publisher: Portobello
Year: 2014
5th sentence, 74th page: How can that be possible?

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Synopsis

Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.

Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. Already a controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea, it confirms Han Kang as a writer of immense importance.

Thoughts

This was nothing like what I expected. Although, to be fair. I really didn’t know what to expect – after all, this is my first piece of Korean Literature. And my first novel that has been translated from this language. It was a great story. And I loved the ways in which some of the idiosyncrasies of another language worked their way into this story.

Effectively, this story works as six separate tales. That are all interrelated. They tell the stories of people whose lives were interconnected when their world came crashing down in war. I loved the set up – it showed so many different perspectives to the same events. And at different points. Some were in the present day, some in the past.

At the end of this novel. My heart just. Hurt. Seriously. Hurt. It was such a tragic tale. And. Just. Wow. So much heart pain. I sat there, staring at all of the happy books on my shelves that had far happier stories in it…

Some of the war stories that I’ve read have a bit of a positive light and spin. This is not one of those stories. There is such a feeling of tragedy. This is just all about the atrocities of humanity. And the horrible things that we do to one another. It is completely obvious why this is an award-winning novel. Definitely one that I would like to return to in the future…

<- More Asia reviewsMore War reviews ->

Image source: Bookdepository

Down Among the Dead Men by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois

Overview
Image result for the monstrous ellen datlow book cover

Title: Down Among the Dead Men
Author: Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
In: The Monstrous (Ellen Datlow)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Dark fantasy, Horror, War
Dates read: 20th April 2020
Pace: Medium
Format: Short story
Publisher: Tachyon
Year: 2015
5th sentence, 74th page: He fingered the spoon compulsively, turning it over and over; it was hard and smooth and cold, and he clenched it as tightly as he could, trying to ignore the fine tremouring of his hands.

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Synopsis

He always thought that they were friends. That he was their saviour. But, then he realises that they’re all dead here. Just some are a little more dead than others.

Thoughts

There seem to be a few Jewish / war / prisoner of war stories popping up in my reading at the moment. And although they’re completely heart-wrenching, kind of devastating and seriously intense… they’re also kind of completely amazing. And I am definitely in love with them. What I didn’t expect was to find one such story in a collection of monstrous fantasy stories…

At the beginning of this story, I figured it was going to be dark. After all, it starts with the moment that the narrator first realises that his friend is a vampire. But, then I thought he was going to be a nice vampire… there were so many justifications for his actions. And then things got dark again. Which to me, is the mark of a great story – one which takes you through ups and downs and makes you constantly question your assumptions. The fact that it was done in only a very few pages just made it all the more impressive.

This short story had a much darker, more twisty ending than what I had expected. Which, of course, is kind of why I loved it. There is something fantastic about a dark ending that leaves you disquieted and uncomfortable.

<- The Chill Clutch of the UnseenCatching Flies ->

Image source: Amazon

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

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Overview
Image result for book cover the zookeeper's wife

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife
Author: Diane Ackerman
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves: Book to Film, Memoirs, Non-fiction, War
Dates read: 23rd September – 3rd November 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Headline
Year: 2007
5th sentence, 74th page: If Jan were dressing beside the terrace door, Antonina wouldn’t have spotted him.

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Synopsis

When Germany invades Poland, Luftwaffe bombers devastate Warsaw and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals killed, or stolen away to Berlin, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski begin smuggling Jews into the empty cages.

As the war escalates Jan becomes increasingly involved in the anti-Nazi resistance. Ammunition is buried in the elephant enclosure and explosives stored in the animal hospital. Plans are prepared for what will become the Warsaw uprising. Through the ever-present fear of discovery, Antonina must keep her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and animal inhabitants – otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes – as Europe crumbles around them.

Written with the narrative drive and emotional punch of a novel, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a remarkable true story. It shows us the human and personal impact of war – of life in Warsaw Ghetto, of fighting in the anti-Nazi resistance. But more than anything it is a story of decency and sacrifice triumphing over terror and oppression. Jan and Antonina saved over 300 people from the death camps of the Holocaust.

Thoughts

This novel is intense, stunning and completely unforgettable. Most of the time I find memoirs relatively easy to put down, but that really wasn’t the case with this one. I looked forward to crawling into bed every night to read a few chapters before turning of the light and laying my head down. There was just something about the writing, the story and the fun tangents throughout that drew me in from the very beginning.

This year I seem to be on a bit of a memoir kick. I’m enjoying memoirs and biographies about WWII in particular. This was a completely different aspect of WWII though. One that I hadn’t really considered – what Poland went through throughout and before the war. The way in which Ackerman writes about this helps to expand my knowledge – she doesn’t just talk about Antonina and her family, but also the people and occurrences around them. It’s a rabbit hole of information that is impossible to forget.

Now that I’ve read this book, I would be fascinated to see how it was dealt with in the world of movies. Sometimes this happens in such a wonderful, natural way… but in others, not so much. I might just have to hunt out a copy to see if it meets the very high expectations that this book has given more…

Most of the memoirs I have read are filled with emotion and personal anecdotes. This one reads a lot more like a historical text. There’s some very dry facts interspersed throughout. Yet, these are balanced by foreshadowing, and the emotion comes from the plight of the people, not from the words. Likewise, Antonina’s comments and diary quotes are scattered throughout to help bring everyone even closer to life. Completely unforgettable and definitely a book I’m going to pick up again and again!

 <- The Salt Path ReviewCork Dork Review ->

Image source: Goodreads

Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky by Brian Trent

Overview
Image result for the mammoth book of dieselpunk book cover

Title: Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky
Author: Brian Trent
In: The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk (Sean Wallace)
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: Dieselpunk, War
Dates read: 26th April 2019
Pace: Slow
Format: Short story
Publisher: Robinson
Year: 2015
5th sentence, 74th page: Li sighed and, switching to Chinese, said to Xin, “Salad, an American euphemism for -“

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Synopsis

The Steel Dragons of a Luminous Sky are an elite force that aim to turn the tides of the world. But maybe not all is quite as it seems in this battle to save the world.

Thoughts

This was kind of convoluted, and a little difficult to follow at times. Maybe because I really don’t know much about the World Wars – there seemed to be details in this that would provide me with a bit more information. Having said that, it was still incredibly enjoyable. I liked the idea of a secret society that wants to turn the tides of the war. And, from my understanding. Change the world while they’re at it.

Although I liked the premise of the story, the dying impartments of the true goals of the Luminous Sky kind of made me uncomfortable. The idea that one ruler to bring together all of the world would bring peace is just… hinky. And whilst peace is an admirable goal, I think that the one ruler idea is one that isn’t a great idea. And it’s definitely the idea that resonates most uncomfortably with me.

<- Instead of Loving HeartTunnel Vision ->

Image source: Running Press