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Scribblings and scrawls of a hopeless romantic soul

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World War II

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Genre: Historical Fiction/War/Young Adult
Copy: Online
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌗

Short Synopsis: 

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.

What I liked:

1. The POV. This is the first WWII novel I have come to read that is not centered on the plight of Jews during Hitler’s regime (which just reminds me again that I must not call myself a well-read person). It gave me a glimpse of the side of war that I have not paid close attention to before: the struggles of the lesser known European countries during Stalin’s rule. One will have to read this novel with a lump in their throat. From the first page to the last, there were suffering and misery and death. There were moments of hope, too, sneaking in and out of their gray days. But as with all wars, nobody truly wins in the end.

The POV from a teenage Lithuanian girl is also a welcome take. And the use of art (drawing) to reveal the truth and to connect with others is powerful move. I find the bittersweet flashbacks of Lina’s family life before the war a breather. It reminded me of the real humans before they were turned into a walking ghost.

2. The characters. Each individual is a gem, from the likeable to the unlikeable. The characterization felt real and I found it easy to jump from one shoe to another. It was an emotional rollercoaster living the lives of these characters. Their pain, frustration, fear, anger, madness — I felt it all. The only thing that felt distant to me is their resilience (perhaps reading the book in these anxious times made it so).

Continue reading “Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys”

Book Review: Echoes by Danielle Steel 

Genre: Historical Fiction/War/Romance
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Against a vivid backdrop of history, Danielle Steel tells a compelling story of love and war, acts of faith and acts of betrayal…and of three generations of women as they journey though years of loss and survival, linked by an indomitable devotion that echoes across time.

For the Wittgenstein family, the summer of 1915 was a time of both prosperity and unease, as the guns of war sound in the distance. But for eldest daughter Beata, it was also a summer of awakening. By the glimmering waters of Lake Geneva, the quiet Jewish beauty met a young French officer and fell in love. Knowing that her parents would never accept her marriage to a Catholic, Beata followed her heart anyway. And as the two built a new life together, Beata’s past would stay with her in ways she could never have predicted. For as the years pass, and Europe is once again engulfed in war, Beata must watch in horror as Hitler’s terror threatens her life and family–even her eighteen-year-old daughter Amadea, who has taken on the vows of a Carmelite nun.

For Amadea, the convent is no refuge. As family and friends are swept away without a trace, Amadea is forced into hiding. Thus begins a harrowing journey of survival, as she escapes into the heart of the French Resistance. Here Amadea will find a renewed sense of purpose, taking on the most daring missions behind enemy lines. And it is here, in the darkest moments of fear, that Amadea will feel her mother’s loving strength–and that of her mother’s mother before her–as the voices of lost loved ones echo powerfully in her heart. And here, amid the fires of war, Amadea will meet an extraordinary man, British secret agent Rupert Montgomery. In Colonel Montgomery, Amadea finds a man who will help her discover her place in an unbreakable chain between generations…and between her lost family and her dreams for the future–a future she is only just beginning to imagine: a future of hope rooted in the rich soil of the past.

What I liked:

  1. It is a story of war. Of war between races and war between faiths. Of war between families and war between selves. Of the war from within and the war from without. We are never short of historical fiction that portray life during the WWII — The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, All the Light We Cannot See, The Book Thief, you name it. In Echoes, Danielle Steel zooms into the very nucleus of society, the family, to illustrate the influence of war and its costs.
  2. It is a story of family. Three generations of women — Monika, Beata, Amadea — carried me on a compelling journey against the backdrop of war. Each of these women experiences internal and external conflicts, and confronts them in contrasting ways. Monika, weighed down by her husband’s domination, is unable to stand up for her daughter. Beata, who found courage in love but lost it upon her lover’s death, becomes a cowardly widow and a distant mother to her kids. Amadea, forced to mature at an early age, grows with a free mind and spirit but is thrust into the horrors of death camps. It was fascinating to follow how these women held the family together… and separately.
  3. It is a story of love. Echoes depicts love in all its phases and faces. Romantic love, familial love, enduring love, self love, agape love. The kind of love that takes you by surprise; the kind of love that takes its time. The kind of love that blooms because of shared pain; the kind of love that grows with patience. A love that hurts; a love that heals. In the midst of confusion and chaos, there was love at heart of the story.

What I didn’t like: None, actually. If there’s one thing I would have loved to know is what happened to Amadea’s mother and sister. But I do appreciate how Danielle Steel made the plot more realistic by not giving us that closure. Because back then, people were taken away… and no one never knew what happened most of the time.

Favorite quotes:

The essence of prayer is not to think a lot, but to love a lot.”

“Don’t hate anyone,” Beata said quietly. “It’s too much work. And it only poisons you.”

“I fear that once you put weapons in men’s hands, they don’t let go of them easily.”

Final Thoughts: This book is a reminder that we cannot escape the echoes of our past. But just as what Monika, Beata and Amadea did, we can always choose to live in the present and move forward. Overall, it’s an enjoyable first read for me. And I would definitely dare to try another Danielle Steel novel again.

Have you read Echoes? Did you like it as much as I did?

Three days later

tied haired woman wearing top photo – Free Neck Image on Unsplash

I must carry on. Live this life, get up, pick the debris of your memories scattered on the floor. Breathe.

The world has not stopped revolving, I see. And my mom’s bacon and egg smell just the same. She lives with me now — for the mean time — using old age as an excuse to tiptoe into my room and check my chest for a heartbeat at night. Don’t laugh. Don’t make the funny face you always do whenever I tell you about my mother’s excessive paranoia. “I know!” I used to say, eyes rolling as I jump into your arms for comfort.

On the way to work, the old man on the street who once sold us matching rings smiles. I touch a finger which now feels bare. At two minutes past 11 o’clock in the morning, a Fat Man explodes over my life. There you are, laughing from a distance, with a woman whose hands are wrapped around your waist. I never thought the space you asked is meant for somebody else.

The sun shines with a blinding white flash in the sky. What a cruel twist of fate to see you two on the fall of Nagasaki. It’s only been three days.

“Are you crying, child?” the old man asks.

I wipe my mascara-stained tears, take a deep breath and walk away. “This is nothing. The people who experienced the black rain had it worse.”

MS

Two years ago, I wrote a Haibun titled Memories Sting. It was supposed to center on the tragedy of love but it somehow alluded to the ordeals of war. Revisiting my old blog posts reminded me of how I love weaving fiction with real history — of how comfortable it was to write Heritage and Some battles.

This story is my attempt to reconnect with the old me. It is also a commemoration of the Nagasaki bombing which marks its 75th year today.

Image via Unsplash

Memories Sting

beautiful, black, black and white and girl

I wake up with scattered thoughts of you. Memories tossed on my bedroom floor. I tiptoe as I reached for the remote control, aware of what could happen if I step on one of them. A headline flashes from the flat screen. Today the world remembers the 140,000 deaths of the Hiroshima bombing. I can already hear you laugh. You, in your black shirt with that big bold quote that says “Fuck Imperialism”. You like women who can’t spell capitalism and it’s exactly the reason why you held my hand. Because I hated the numbers.

Outside, the world is a limbo. Cars going to and fro in a dull locomotive pace. I remember you complaining how God is a lousy screenwriter. On how this universe has become lopsided because he has rounded animals and humans but fucked up with the food chain. Men killing animals. Men killing men. “What madness!” you used to yell.  God, I miss you and your opinions. Those random sarcasm that turn into a long eurhythmic condemnation.

I calculate my decision as I snug on my pillow. What are the odds of living if I get up on this bed? I remember hands wrapped around my waist, soft kisses on my nape. You gave a scientific inquiry on how long can hugs last. I got up because my answer still has not changed— infinite. Today the world remembers the 140,000 deaths of the Hiroshima bombing. I have never seen the Little Boy’s wrath. I have never washed my face with blood. I have never ran away from death. I have never fought my way to live. But those 140,000 men must have felt far more torment than this heartbreak. And so, with shame, I must carry on this fate.

the wind whispers woes
of the dead and the living—
how memories sting
MS


In response to dVerse’s Haibun Monday: Peace Memorial hosted by Frank J. Tassone and Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #206.

Image Source: Favim

Head over here to join the fun!

dverse

Heritage

jhardy

I am Guillermo Fransisco, commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 21st division, a patriot, a family man and a drifter soul— in layman’s term, a ghost.

For seventy-four years, I’ve guarded the forts of Corregidor, watched how the remnants of our battle slowly faded through time. This place, which once served as the battleground for freedom, is now considered a heritage site. Heritage. A term for the riches of the past passed from one generation to the other. I’ve heard all the stories from the tour guides but theirs were mere versions. Nobody lived to tell how the Fall of Bataan felt like.

Or if they lived, nobody dared to remember.


In response to this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt. Friday Fictioneers is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields where a photo is used as a prompt for a hundred-word piece of fiction. The photo prompt is a courtesy of J Hardy Carroll. Thank you!

I have always had an affinity to old places and heritage sites. When I saw the photo prompt, it took me instantly to the battles of Bataan and Corregidor. This story is inspired by one of the Philippines’ unforgettable event, The Fall of Bataan. Seventy-four years ago, on April 9, 1942, eighty thousand Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to walk their Death March.

Read more stories here:

Some battles

I am over you— or so I thought.

For the tears brimming from my eyes begged to disagree as I walked in the ruins of Corregidor, one step after another, while our tour guide, Mark, eagerly narrated the tragic history of its ruins. I should be sad for the thousands of souls who have suffered and died, fighting for their freedom against the Japanese troops. My heart should bleed for Bataan’s fall.

But no.

Instead, memory lane brought me to the footpath of our past. A battle that was only written in our history. A battle that I have never won. It was the time when we’re throwing curses at each other like they were mortars; each hit led to an explosion. We did all the talking but no one dared to liste—.

“Mika?” a voice stopped my reverie and I was back with the tour guide again. “Are you okay?” he continued.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I nodded. “Yes. I was just thinking that someone should have raised the white flag.”

Word Count: 175


Here is for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers prompt. Thank you Louise for the photo and PJ for another fun prompt. :):) 🙂

P.S. For some strange reasons I kept thinking of WWII when I saw this photo. Philippines, of course, was not spared from the bloodshed. A few hours after Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops came and seize occupancy in the country that lasted for 3 years. Thousands of Filipino and Americans suffered and died during that time. On May 6, 1942, at the Battle of Corregidor, Japan roared with victory.

…and sorry for the love twist. I couldn’t help it! 😀

Enjoy more stories here:

 

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