Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Playing With Matches by Lee Strauss and A Piece of Blue String by Lee Strauss

First, thanks to Netgalley and All Night Reads for allowing me to read an e-galley of this.  When I also saw that there was a very short novella that went with Playing With Matches, which was called A Piece of Blue String, I had to go download it, especially once I understood what the blue string in the title referred to.  And it was fortunate that someone finally understood that a 20 page story should be free to download, so I immediately got it downloaded.  As I've mentioned before, like many people I have always been fascinated with reading about World War II and the Holocaust.  Of course it was The Diary of Anne Frank that probably first got me into reading about it, and if you go back through my blog, you can find many other books I've read on this topic.  This book comes from a different side though.  One thing I mentioned in my review of The Book Thief is how it was interesting to read about the time from a German family's point of view, as opposed to what is usually written about, the Jewish point of view.  And this book does the same.

The main character is Emil Radle.  He is German through and through, he is in the Nazi group for kids before they get into Hitler's Youth, and is often ashamed of his parents when they say anything that is doubting what Hitler is trying to do, things that truly he could turn them in for.  Even when another kid in his school does turn in their parents, though, Emil doesn't think about doing that.  Well, let's say he thinks about how he could, but never thinks about wanting to.  And you do have to commend him a bit on his loyalty to his country.  And you can see how he wants so badly to grow up like his Uncle who is a pilot of the Luftwaffe.  His uncle visits, and you can even see the strain between his uncle and his parents.  His parents are worried about what these things will do to their country.  Afraid that it won't all be as good as promised.  At first Emil has a girl that he grew up with who is Jewish.  When he tries to talk to her, by going into her family's bakery and buying something, an SS officer steps in, and makes them give Emil his money back, but lets Emil keep the pastry.  Emil is a witness to all the glass being broken on Kristallnacht from the windows of all the Jewish owned stores.  He watches his friend and her mother as they later have to shovel the snow off the sidewalks.  And even risks himself by giving them his gloves.  And of course, he sees when they are shipped to Poland, as they are told by the press, in order to be out of their country, and sent to camps to work.

Emil really does want to be a good Nazi, but every once in awhile he does have his doubts.  His best friends are Johann and Moritz.  And one day he finds them doing something extremely dangerous.  They are listening to a radio that broadcasts British news.  And the reports here aren't quite as positive and wonderful for Germany as the German news announces.  But what really strikes Emil and his friends is that even though they are reporting the victories for the Allies, they also report their own losses.  There is no word of any losses for the Germans, when hearing the German news, or reading the German papers.  And soon, it becomes something that Emil and his friends want to share with the rest of the German people.  And so they begin hand writing flyers to leave around for people to find. Again, something so dangerous.  It is here that Emil gets to know Johann's sister Katarina better, even falling in love, as much as can be done in this time.

As we read about in The Book Thief the German people are struggling.  What food is being produced in the towns is being sent to the soldiers fighting.  Soon Emil's mom must go to work, and Emil's father is sent to the war.  And as it seems there are more and more losses, and food is getting even scarcer, younger boys are being sent, including Emil, I think at the age of 15 if not younger at first.  Emil and his friends keep hoping with all that they heard happening to defeat the Germans, the war will be over soon.  But it is not over in time to save many of them.  But of course, as we all know about that time, that is the truth, sad though it may be.

Once again, I haven't read many books from the German point of view, and even though Emil does come around for awhile after listening to the British news, there are also times at the end where he does begin to feel a bit of the same, loyalty to his own country, especially as he sees his country being destroyed the Americans and British, and the horrible ways the Russians are fighting back.  I think it is easy to see how these feelings could have existed.  I know it is harder to look back, knowing what was really going on, and feel any sympathy for the Germans, but this can help to make it easier to see why they may have sat back.

Now a quick review of the short story A Piece of Blue String.  It is the diary of Katarina.  We get to see her side of the story, how she deals with all of this as a female during the time period.  How she wants to fall in love, but after losing people she's loved, isn't sure if it is worth it until the war is over.  It wasn't the best novella I've read lately, and definitely it was a good thing that it was free.  But it still had some great things to read and a few bits that really did contribute to the story, and make the crush/love between Emil and Katarina seem pretty sweet.

One final note, I loved that a character was named "Moritz", as that is my mother's maiden name!

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