Staff Reviews

last updated 3/22

 What We Mean When We Talk About Anne Frank

I will admit I did not pick up Nathan Englander’s book of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank on my own, nor would I have been drawn to it, if it had not been literally put in my hands by Daiva. Honestly I did not want to hear another story / anecdote/ conversation/ debate about Anne Frank. Well I gave it a shot anyway, and frankly, found the book not only very readable but also quite thought provoking. So no it is not another history of Anne Frank, but rather a collection of stories that each raise common taboos or not often discussed controversial ideas. Each story introduces a topic, whereby the characters either discuss or represent competing philosophies on the subject matter.

In the first story, which the book is collectively named after, we meet two couples, the wives of each which are long reunited. One couple lives in Israel, the other in America and immediately they are positioned against each other in all matters of debate—from what it means to be truly Jewish to the legitimacy of Kosher food. And then comes the Anne Frank Game—where one must declare whom, if their was another Holocaust, would risk their lives to protect you and your family. It is subjects like this that Englander dares to introduce so that we are forced to think more openly about tragedy, family, and personal and group identity. As this book provides worthy discussion I recommend reading it with someone or as part of a book club.

 Empires and War

 

“…No tribe in the history of North America had more to say about the nation’s destiny…” (p. 12)

 

S.C Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon chronicles the rise and fall of the great Comanche Tribe and its subsequent effects on both the development and lifestyle of the Western United States. While detailing the history of what we know about this tribe, both through individual accounts and documented events, Gwynne weaves in the story of the kidnapping and adoption into the Comanche tribe of the young Cynthia Ann Parker. Parker, who later became infamous as “white squaw” lived with the Comanches from 1836, when she was 9 years old, until 1860 when Texas Rangers recaptured her. Her story, and the rise of her son Quanah as the final leader of the tribe, fits as a piece to the greater puzzle in understanding the US/ Comanche relationship.

Through the story of Parker we learn that the Comanches were undeniably misunderstood by the white settlers of the time. Comanches prided themselves on their abilities as warriors and horsemen, kidnapping and stealing were an integral part of to their lifestyle—one, as we know that would never coalesce with white settlement.

Five years ago I read Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of The Modern World, after which I spent almost four months studying abroad in Mongolia. Mongol culture has a long history of war and violence. While reading Summer Moon I could not help but find strong parallels between ancient Mongol culture and that of the Comanches. As the Comanches once were, Mongolians are nomadic and judge their wealth on their possession of meat and horses. I recommend reading both books as they serve to bring about questions regarding how environments affect our behavior, human nature, and the nature of morality.

The idea of Empire, and what this word means, was a reoccurring thought for me while reading Summer Moon. Is war both a prelude and a necessity to the making of an Empire? I think about the notion of the US Empire (political and cultural) and am forced to wonder if while within the boundaries of the Empire do we for the most part believe that our reality/culture is the “right” “moral” or “good” life? Or is Empire simply a grand illusion? Summer Moon, in its message of understanding things in historical and cultural context can provoke thought into some of these matters. Cynthia Ann Parker grew up in the tribe, married and had two kids. When she was finally “rescued” she had forgotten most of her English and tried repeatedly to run away from her white family. She clearly believed in the Comanche Empire above and beyond any notion of an American Empire.

 

Into the Silence by Wade Davis

Wade Davis’ newest book Into the Silence details the extraordinary first surveys, journeys, and attempted conquests of Mount Everest. Beyond a mere tale of adventure, Davis recounts the multiplicity of events and circumstances that made this epic come together. The threads of two central stories are carefully woven together—the expedition itself and the First World War.
I rarely pick up books about climbing and mountaineering. I find it easy to get lost in the technical language and often think the plot lines too narrow in focus. Actively underlining and starring sections, I found I could not stop gasping and calling people over in order to read aloud facts that I had never before learned regarding WWI, India, and several of the main characters involved. 
Mountaineers and climbers will no doubt find this book magnetic, and I would even extend the borders of interest further to include anyone taken by history, anthropology, and even psychology. By thorough and engaging storytelling, Davis is able to show how the developments of the First World War not only led to, but necessitated a conquest of Everest. These first men were not just mountaineers, they were soldiers—and they were survivors. Reading about their journey from this perspective, one understands Everest in a whole new light.

-Miriam Schaffer-

 

-The Night Circus-

In an attempt to reacquaint myself with the language and style of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus I casually flipped open the book.  This is what lay before me on the page:

The Cloud Maze

An Excursion in Dimension
A Climb Through the Firmament
There is No Beginning
There is No End
Enter Where You Wish
Have No Fear of Falling

Fate,I think.  It is as though the book knew I wanted to write about it and so brought me here.  Perhaps this may seem outlandish, but then I would doubt whether you have embarked on the dazzling tale of The Night Circus yet.  The Cloud Maze is like the story itself—a magical adventure that is both without time and timeless.  My “accidental” discovery of this symbol is therefore not only something of a personal triumph but also a consequence of fate precisely because that is how one begins to think when allowing oneself to be subsumed into the main attraction in The Circus, Les Cirques Des Reves—the Circus of Dreams. Morgenstern’s seductive prose invites us to become a part of the story, enveloped into the black and white tents, the smell of caramel apples, and the feelings of wonder.  It is in this venue that we watch a competition forged by opposing teachers of magic and illusion, to be played out by their respective protoges Celia and Marco; a battle that will leave only one winner.
Beyond a whimsical adventure story, The Night Circus is also a story about love, fate, moral obligations, and the meaning of time. The story is laden with mystery and wonder, being that it is about a Circus of Dreams.  Through interpretation of the motives and desires of the characters, the reader will necessarily become a part of the events—an elite circus attendee, what are called reveurs—dreamers.

Now the circus is open.  Now you may enter. 

-Miriam Schaffer-