WWII Linky

The 2014 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge With a Twist has begun. For September and October, reviews for the WWII should be linked here.

To be clear, you don’t have to read just WWII books now, but any of the books that fit the war categories. We’ll just be posting the linkies for the reviews in the months we designated here.

Welcome to the WWII Reviews linky for Sept./Oct.:

Looking for the Linky for the Gulf Wars, go here.

Looking for the Linky for the French and Indian War, go here.

Looking for the Korean War Linky, click here.

Here’s the Linky for WWI, go here.

Week 2: The Monuments Men Read-a-Long

Welcome to the 2nd week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. For this discussion, we have read through Chap. 28.

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

Here’s the read-a-long schedule:

Sorry today’s discussion is a little behind, but here are my initial thoughts and Anna will chime in later in the comments.  Feel free to add your thoughts or questions.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section one of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 29-42.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 24.

I’m curious to hear what other readers think about the Monuments men and if anyone has a favorite.  I really like Stout because he seems to make things happen, even if he has to think outside the box a lot, and I really like Rose Valland.  She’s enigmatic as well as unassuming, which made her a great spy for the French Resistance while France was occupied by Germany.  It got me thinking about whether someone else like her could have made it through the entire war without being caught and that maybe the fact that France is the hub of art and artists made it easier for her to survive the war right under the noses of the Nazis.  She recorded as much as she could about the art they took and where they took it, as well as the conversations she heard them have.  I cannot imagine stealing documents, copying them at home, and returning them to the Nazis with them none the wiser.

This section also had some photos, which made some of the pieces and people become more real for me, like the tapestry they talked about.  I had an idea what a tapestry from that period might look like, but the photo showed me it was much longer than I had imagined.  Does anyone else find that the pictures helped them visual the pieces of art and people?

One of my other favorite anecdotes in this section was the entanglement of The Raft of the Medusa being caught in the low-hanging wires of the streetcars in Versailles.  I could picture that vividly and how shocking that might have been to see, especially afterward when they had a truck escort and men with poles moving the wires out of the way as they continued on their journey.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section two of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 29-42.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 24.

Week 1: The Monuments Men Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. For this discussion, we read from the beginning through Chapter 14.

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: “degenerate” works he despised.

In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture.

Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world’s great art from the Nazis.

Here’s the read-a-long schedule:

  • Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14
  • Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28
  • Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42
  • Friday, October 31: Chapters 43-end

Sorry today’s discussion is a little behind, but here are my initial thoughts and Anna will chime in later in the comments.  Feel free to add your thoughts or questions.

What I found so interesting is how disorganized this mission was, even though art historians and other experts in the military thought it was a good idea to preserve the great art of the world in spite of the destructive nature of war.  Even though there were no supplies given to this group, they were able to improvise enough to get themselves to the locations they needed to get to and to mark special sites in a way that kept people from destroying them — such as using signs that the place was full of mines and to keep out, rather than signs stating they were protected works of art and history … signs that likely would have been ignored by soldiers.  They had not set chain of command and no procedures to follow, it was interesting to see how they remained organized and able to accomplish some of their goals in spite of that — possibly because they were in the military already and were disciplined.

Included in the beginning about the mission was another example of the Nazi’s meticulous nature, having sent ahead soldiers and others from Germany to these foreign countries to make lists of art and historically significant buildings and more ahead of the German movement to conquer the rest of Europe.  The fact that the Nazi party and Hitler changed laws to make their actions legal doesn’t surprise me, but it is different than what most dictators would have done — they simply would have reached out and taken what they wanted without bothering to change the laws.  Hitler often made it a condition of a nation’s surrender to hand over art works, which was also unique.  It was interesting to note that Hitler even thought himself entitled to art work that was not Aryan or made by those of superior birth.  But there seem to be these contradictions all the time with Hitler.

Was anyone else appalled that Hitler and his soldiers were using the guise of the Red Cross to go into churches and other places to steal art?!  I know that this is war and he had an agenda, but it was even more appalling to me that he would use an organization meant to help the injured and in need to carry out his thefts of art.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on section one of the read-a-long, and we look forward to the next section: Chap. 15-28.  We’ll post the next discussion on Friday, Oct. 17.

October Read-a-Long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter

As part of the War Through The Generations 2014 Reading Challenge with a Twist, we’ll be hosting a read-a-long for WWII.

In October, we’ll be reading The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.

Discussion questions will be posted on Friday for the designated chapters.  Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Oct. 10: Chapters 1-14
  • Friday, Oct. 17: Chapters 15-28
  • Friday, Oct. 24: Chapters 29-42
  • Friday, October 31: Chapters 43-end

We hope you’ll be joining us next month for our WWII read-a-long.

Remembering 9/11

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War Through the Generations will never forget 9/11. 

Please take a moment today to reflect.

Final Week: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the final week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. For this discussion, we read pgs. 208-end.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Beware of potential spoilers.  Check out Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.

Serena: Wow, this book packs a lot in it!

Were you surprised by the outcome of the court hearing? I was but not overly so. I think there was some foreshadowing about how the term “shell shock” would not be received well.

Anna: Yes, it does! It was so hard for me to stay quiet about this last section of the book when we were discussing last week’s section. I had to keep reading since last week’s section ends right before the outcome of the court hearing, and I just had to find out what happened.

I thought the judge was leaning in Stella’s favor, especially since he didn’t seem to be too happy with Nicholas and his lawyer, and then August’s letter put a damper on all that. I had a feeling that would factor heavily into the judge’s decision, especially since the term “shell shock” was still so new at the time, and given that August thinks Etna may be the first woman diagnosed with the condition. I felt bad because August really thought he was doing a good thing with that letter.

Were you surprised by the revelation of Phillip’s sexuality? I wasn’t shocked by it, to be honest, but I was more shocked with Etna immediately turning to August and indicating that he was the reason she went to England. That confused me a bit because not too many pages before that, she mentions that seeing Phillip was the real reason she was going there. That being said, I really wasn’t surprised that Etna and August ended up together. I think they were well suited to one another.

Serena: I wasn’t really surprised by Phillip’s sexuality honestly. He seemed like he loved her but more in a way a brother loves a sister. Doting on them and protecting them, like he does with Etna. I do think that his falling out with his brother helped distance him from that sense of family, which may be why he readily clung to Etna — especially when he saw how passionate she was when in love.

I think August thought the letter would help, but the judge had the very opposite reaction, which isn’t hard to fathom given that she did abandon her kids in the first place.

As for Etna, I still cannot figure her out. She says one thing and then does another. She says that Phillip is the reason she was going back to England, but turns around and tells August that he was the reason. Perhaps I read too much into her comments about Phillip, but I did sense something sexual between her and August from the get-go, even though he was married.

Anna: I sensed something between them, too, from the very beginning — especially when he woke her up from that nightmare. At least they didn’t act on those feelings while Lily was alive. That might’ve clouded the whole ending for me.

Speaking of the ending, it definitely didn’t pack a punch like in Shreve’s other novels. But I was okay with it, because there was so much heaviness earlier on with the war, Etna’s memory loss/trauma, and the court case, that I was glad that the very end showed that she and August lived a fairly uneventful, happy life after all that. I didn’t have too much of a problem with Etna, given what she’d gone through. Maybe once the unfinished business between her and Phillip was dealt with, she could finally face her feelings for August? What did you think about the ending?

Serena: The ending left me a little let down. I prefer her punchy endings, and I felt like this one was rushed and glossed over. I feel like all the sort of “removed” passages about objects in the house and the events that pass were told to me not shown in favor of expediency. I felt cheated in a way.

I’m not unhappy that Etna’s life became calmer, happier, and independent, while yet full of family and love.

What about you?

Anna: I didn’t mind the ending. I sensed that Shreve went that route because Etna had endured so much previously, so seeing her living out the rest of her life in contentment with August was satisfying. I didn’t mind her glossing over what happened to the other characters so much because they weren’t a huge part of the story, and it’s almost like the story ended that night she and August were first together, when she finally realized that their intimacy was so much different and better than what she had with Nicholas. So I didn’t feel cheated in the end. I closed the book knowing that Etna found what she’d been looking for.

Or maybe it’s because Shreve sort of kept readers at arm’s length through much of the book, and I sort of became used to that by the end. I knew enough about Etna and August to care about them, and Shreve didn’t leave any loose ends, so I was okay. Actually, with all that they had endured during the war years, I would’ve felt cheated if there had been some big twist that turned the whole story upside down at the end and just left it like that (which is what I almost expect with Shreve’s novels, at least her older ones, i.e. The Last Time They Met). It’s almost as if she’s showing us how ordinary, flawed people can do extraordinary, out-of-character things during wartime, but when that’s all over, they’re just normal people who made mistakes and they likely will go on to lead normal lives. I don’t know.

Serena: I see your point. I just felt let down by the ending. It was flat to me. I think I would have preferred it to end when she got together with August. I think I could have lived with that and assumed she got her kids back into her life and was happy.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Come back in October, for a read-a-long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter for WWII.

Week 3: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the third week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. For this discussion, we read pgs. 139-207.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Beware of potential spoilers.  Check out Week 1 and Week 2.

Serena: Wow, what a section! This case seems to be moving very quickly, and it makes me wonder how different the legal system must have been back then to have a case move so quickly.

What did you think about how quickly Etna and her daughter Clara reconciled?

Anna: It was such an interesting section, that I must confess I went ahead and finished the rest of the book.

I wonder if the trial actually happened that quickly. Shreve doesn’t really indicate the passage of time, other than at the beginning of each section. It does seem that Etna spent quite a bit of time in Florida with Clara before heading up north to be with Nicky. But if it was quickly, I think it’s because Clara is older and she saw what her mother went through, even being called upon by her father to lie. So I don’t really think her parents’ problems went over her head, not at her age.

We got our first glimpse of Etna’s husband here, and what did you think of him?

Serena: Ah, Dean Van Tassel, what a stuck up, self-important ass! OK, now that I got that out of my system. Clearly he didn’t really love Etna — maybe just thought he was because he doesn’t know the difference between love and lust/obsession.

You really feel for Etna and her situation when you learn more about her husband during the course of the trial. He really wanted things to be his way and only that way. I can see why she would feel stifled. I do like how Shreve portrays the domestic as well as legal struggles of women during this time period — even though she freely volunteered at the front, she’s still constrained domestically.

Anna: I loved watching him and his lawyer get put in their places by the judge. I have no idea how Nicholas really felt about Etna; we just hear Etna discuss his inability to distinguish love from obsession. I would’ve liked to see something from his point of view because I just see a man who wants to control every aspect of his life; I’m not even sure why they married. His absence from the court room emphasizes his self-importance on the one hand, but it prevents readers from seeing his reaction when the lie and the rape are discussed.

I can’t imagine being in Etna’s position, where you’re only a wife and mother and unable to have any creative outlet. I can see why she needed the cottage, “a room of one’s own,” so to speak. Shreve really does cover a lot of ground when it comes to women and their roles in the family and society at large in the early part of the 1900s. I think this novel would make for a great book club discussion!

The shell shock diagnosis seems difficult for Etna to process, despite what she knows about it from her work at the front. Since this section ends prior to the outcome of the case, do you think August’s letter explaining Etna’s time as Stella Bain will help or hurt her case?

Serena: I honestly don’t know if August’s letter helps or hurts her case, but I would presume it would be helpful as he had first-hand knowledge of her care, but as he’s not really a specialist in the field, I’m unsure.

I do wonder about the passage of time, especially when she says Ferald, one of the witnesses, didn’t seem any older, even though she hadn’t seen him in three years. She’s only been away for three years, but her time at the front and her time without memory seem to have been longer than that to me. I think in that aspect Shreve has done really well to demonstrate how much can happen in such a short time, even things that she can’t remember. I wonder if that’s a fog of Etna’s memory coming into play. The time frame seemed longer to me, but it was only three years.

I wonder if August will make a reappearance in her life or if Mr. Asher, who had to have his face reconstructed, will be heard from again?

Anna: I like when I know how much time has passed, so I’ve sort of had to force myself to just go with the flow here, especially since much of the story is told in fits and starts and requiring some patience on the part of the reader. I’m sure that is intentional, given the book’s focus on memory and the way the brain processes things even when it is not fully conscious of them.

There definitely hasn’t been closure in her relationships with August and Phillip, so it would be safe to say that they appear in the next section. I don’t want to say too much since I read ahead, but given my schedule for the upcoming week, it’s a good thing I did.

Anyway, I was surprised how many different directions this novel has gone, from the front in France to the Admiralty in London to a courtroom in New Hampshire. There are just so many layers to this story.

What aspect of the book has interested you the most so far?

Serena: My favorite parts (if I can use that terminology) were at the front when she was aiding those in need and driving the ambulance. I did like her time outs with Asher at the front too, there was a mystery there, which I don’t think has been resolved. I know what his feelings might have been about Etna, but I certainly don’t know what hers are or were given that she never expressed them fully and has since regained her memory.

The court room stuff I can take or leave, though it was nice to see her interact with her kids, but I still would have liked her to focus on her memories of their times in the garden. That would have rounded out the picture for me.

I’m looking forward to finishing the next and final piece.

Anna: I agree that the war-related parts of the story are the most interesting, but the court room stuff really gives readers a fuller picture of Etna and what prompted her to go there in the first place.

I can’t wait to discuss the last section with you!

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Also stayed tuned for the final week’s discussion on Aug. 29, when we will discuss the final section of the book, beginning with page 208.

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