Monday, December 19, 2016

A Review of 'We All Wore Stars' by Theo Coster

"In 1941, Theo Coster was a student at the Amsterdam Jewish Lyceum, one in a class of 28 Jewish children that the Nazia had segregated from the rest of the Dutch population.  Among Theo's fellow students was a young Anne Frank, whose diary would later become one of the most important documents of the Holocaust.  In this remarkable group portrait, Coster and five of his fellow classmates gather their personal stories and memories of Anne.  The accounts collected here do not just help us rediscover Anne Frank.  They also stand on their own as remarkable stories of ingenuity and survival during the Holocaust-- from Albert Gomes de Mesquita, who hid in ten different towns across Europe-- to Hannah Goslar, who experienced the horrors of Bergen-Belsen but also made a miraculous reconnection with Anne days before her death."

When I picked up this book, I didn't expect to be reading the words of the person who invented the game "Guess Who."  That's a fun fact for you.

Having lived in the Netherlands, my interest in Anne Frank has only intensified.  I have found it interesting to hear what other people thought about her and what they remember about her.  This is a very special account indeed because the author and those he spoke with were all classmates of Anne's.  They were all moved to a Jewish school in Amsterdam when Jews were being separated from the rest of society.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more information about Anne from the perspective of other people who knew her, but this book was redeemed by the stories of her classmates and how they got on during the war.  In terms of fatalities, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of Jewish citizens killed during this time.  This is largely because the Netherlands was relying on the fact that they would once again be neutral during this war, as they had been in the first World War.  But Germany had other ideas... they burst through the borders and just decimated the place.  From then on, life for Dutch Jews was essentially doomed.  Only 27% of Dutch Jews survived the occupation.  This is compared with a 60% survival rate in neighboring Belgium and 75% survival rate of Jews in France just a couple countries south.  It's absolutely astonishing.  That's partially what makes this book such a blessing to have.  They could have easily been the other 73% of the Jewish population who would never make it home.

The variety of experiences depicted in this book was incredible.  Theo Coster's experience was rather tame-- he did move from home to home with people who would take him away and disguise him as a Christian nephew and grandson.  He was able to go outside and go to school and enjoy a more or less normal life (normal for what was going on during the time).  But then he speaks to others and they went into hiding like Anne did or they were on the run, constantly looking for safety and stability until the end of the war.  There is no one experience when it comes to surviving World War II.

Whether you're interested in Coster's connection with Anne Frank or not, this is well worth the read.  I like it because it brings more humanity to those directly affected by the Nazi regime in World War II.  Anne might be the poster child for victims of the Holocaust, but she is certainly not the only one who fell victim.  These other stories drive home just how big this series of historical events was.

I give 'We All Wore Stars':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, December 16, 2016

A Review of 'Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster' by Jon Krakauer

"A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that 'suggested that a murderous storm was bear down.'  He was wrong.  The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more-- including Krakauer's-- in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster."

This was a book that was on the summer reading list for my ninth grade students.  I was asked to read as many of the books as I could prior to school starting.  This is one that I read after school started that really took me by surprise.

This is not a typical read for me.  I'm a person who gravitates toward young adult fiction, realistic fiction, memoirs about personal change... this book had some new elements (to me) in it that really challenged me as a reader.

One way that I made it through this very dense book was by using the note-taking methods that I have been teaching my students.  I was able to mark vocabulary, write about my personal connections to parts of the text, etc. and be able to keep track of everything throughout the book.  It definitely slowed me down, but with this book, I think you need to slow down and weigh out each word, making connections and propelling yourself from major point to major point.  It's kind of like mountaineering, in a way.  You have to make sure that you understand everything and that you're secure in your footing and your knowledge before you tackle a more complicated piece of the book.  If you don't, you fall off and will probably die... well, you would if you were climbing Mount Everest.  When you fall off while reading, that's when frustration occurs and you just don't finish.

I think after reading this book I appreciate people who have mountaineering as a hobby (if you can call it that... one does not casually climb a mountain).  It's a terribly risky business and I didn't realize just how technical it is.  It's a skill that engages you both physically and mentally.  No part of you can shut down.

After finishing this book, I also have no desire to climb up Mount Everest.  Even though I knew it is the tallest mountain in the world, I don't think I realized just what would make climbing this mountain so challenging.  I had no idea what it would be like to live on such low amounts of oxygen.  I don't think I realized that timing can play a role in what weather you will experience on your climb and that that will affect your ability to have a strong and effective climb.  It was crazy to read about how Jon Krakauer summited Everest and started his descent, to experience only two hours later, the death of five people on the same climbing team as him.  Had he been a little slower or stayed on the summit much longer, he too could have been killed.  That's absolutely amazing and terrible to me that such a little amount of time can make such a big difference.

I didn't realize that they just leave the bodies of people who die on the mountain.  Some Google searches and some YouTube videos from Caitlin Doughty from Ask a Mortician have told me that there are still about 200 bodies of fallen climbers left on Mount Everest, frozen in time, exactly how they died.  The bodies of the people who died on this very expedition are still up there and apparently if you choose to climb the mountain, you'll likely have to step over their bodies in order to continue climbing.  That's such a haunting thought...

While this book stretched me a reader, I am very glad that I read this book.  I have a new awe for mountaineering and a strange fear of Mount Everest.  I have a new appreciation for people who are able to take such risks and want to challenge themselves in this way.

I give 'Into Thin Air':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

To The Bride and Groom

Note: It has been several months and I have been well-aware of the fact that my blog has been wasting away without even so much as a book review.  But now that I only have a couple more weeks of student teaching followed shortly by graduation, my workload is slowly becoming less and less and so every now and again, I have pockets of down time.  This weekend is one of free time pockets and so I thought I'd do a little bit of a life update and share some photos of a very important time in my life.

This past August, I married my best friend.  Maybe it's a cliche to start out a post this way, but it's true.

In December 2014, my now husband proposed to me in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam while I was finishing up my time abroad.  With school and other life things, we waited over a year and a half to be married.  Finally, on 19 August, the big day arrived:

I spent the night at home with my parents, slept in my childhood room, and got ready for the day surrounded by friends and family.  It was lovely.

I had gotten my dress (that is, picked it out at the Bridal shop) about a week after returning from my semester abroad in the Netherlands.  My veil was my mom's wedding veil, but changed around a little to suit my needs and taste.  It was strange to be so made up (I never wear make-up in my day-to-day life) and to be so dressed up.  I've found that when I'm supposed to look nice for an event (like prom or my wedding), I always surprise people because I don't normally look this way or try this hard to look nice.

I hate having my picture taken, but this was a totally different experience.  To have a photographer follow you around all day was just a strange experience, even though I appreciated his friendliness and flexibility.  This person was also the guy who took our engagement photos, so we had worked with him before.  What made this part of the day special was that my husband and I got to be together all day and we got to be with our sisters and friends for most of the day.  Because all of us are in school and involved in a whole bunch of other activities, it's rare to get us all together in one place.  But this was nice.

Finally, after hours and hours of taking pictures, it was time.  The pastor of my family's church married us, because we had a great bond with her (I was her daughter's first babysitter after she was adopted).  We didn't get married in a church, but we got married in a hall called the Klub Haus, which takes pride in its German heritage.

The reception afterwards was amazing-- I danced to Golden Slumbers by the Beatles and The Sound of Silence covered by Disturbed with my dad and my new husband and I danced to La Vie En Rose covered by Louis Armstrong.  It was so much fun to dance with my friends who came to celebrate our day with us and dance with my family too.  We danced up until the last possible minute!  

This is mostly an excuse to share these beautiful picture that our photographer took.  

Weddings are difficult to plan, even when you're splitting it between several people.  I was just so happy with how the whole thing came together.  The food was great (hamburgers and chicken for dinner, ridiculously good cupcakes for dessert), the place looked beautiful, and it was really great to have almost everyone I know in attendance!  This is a day that I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.

Thank you for celebrating the start of our married lives together!  We can't wait to see what adventures will come next!