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Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge


I am so enjoying my discovery and exploration of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels. In February I read The Dean’s Watch, and I wrote that it might the best book I read this year. I read The Rosemary Tree last summer–and relished the author’s insight into human psychology. I also read Gentian Hill in 2014, and I put it on my list of ten best adult fiction books I read last year. Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library has recommended Valley of Song to me, and many, many readers have recommended Ms. Goudge’s children’s fantasy The Little White Horse. I think Goudge is the sort of author that I’m going to enjoy stretching out and reading in a leisurely manner, two or three of her books per year, spaced out over the course of the year.

That said, Pilgrim’s Inn was lovely, and it made me crave more Goudgian writing. I’m trying to think what actually happens in the story. A family buys an old inn and moves to the country. One character struggles with a “mental breakdown” in the aftermath of World War II. Various characters struggle with their own secret sins and temptations. One married couple falls in love with each other all over again, and another man and woman learn to love each other in spite of the difficulties and impediments to their union. Children act like children and do very childlike things, but the insight into child psychology and children’s thought lives is amazing. Altogether, it’s not at all a plot-driven novel, and I can see how today’s readers, trained by television and movies, would find it slow and somewhat sentimental, perhaps becoming restless and even bored. I had to consciously slow myself down and appreciate the unhurried pace of the story and of life in the English countryside with people who are still trying to build new lives after the hour of the war.

The inn itself is a sort of a magical place, and several encounters and chance meetings in the woods m=nearby produce healing and psychological breakthroughs. The air and atmosphere of the novel is Christian without the spiritual underpinnings becoming intrusive or didactic. The characters grow and learn and make surprising decisions and revelations, just as people do in real life.

I can’t imagine a more enjoyable summer reading book than Pilgrim’s Inn. Slow down and enjoy a sojourn in post-war England with some really intriguing people living in a wonder-filled place. Oh, I forgot that there’s a matriarch in the story who begs to played in a movie version by Maggie Smith. They had better hurry up and make the movie because I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Do you ever cast the characters in your favorite books?

“As this world becomes increasingly ugly, callous and materialistic it needs to be reminded that the old fairy stories are rooted in truth, that imagination is of value, that happy endings do, in fact, occur, and that the blue spring mist that makes an ugly street look beautiful is just as real a thing as the street itself.” ~Elizabeth Goudge

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The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.

Were the Romanov family a Christian family, persecuted by the evil Communist revolutionaries and ultimately martyrs to their (Orthodox) faith?

“Alix (Alexandra) . . . spent hours a day on her knees in prayer.” (p.28)

“God’s will must always be accepted without complaint. After all, everything that happened in life was the result of God’s will, so it was pointless to question the meaning of events. ‘God knows what is good for us,’ Nicholas often reminded himself. ‘We must bow down our heads and repeat the sacred words, ‘Thy will be done.”” (p.43)

“Typically Nicholas believed Alexei’s illness was God’s will, and so he accepted it passively. ‘My own fate and that of my family are in the hands of Almighty God.'” (p.55)

“Alexandra believed Rasputin’s healing powers were a gift from God, the answer to all her long hours of prayer.” (p.87)

“Alexandra wanted to do more. So she enrolled in nursing courses, and she took nineteen-year-old Olga and seventeen-year-old Tatiana with her. . . Working in the wards, the students washed, cleaned, and bandaged maimed bodies, mangled faces, blinded eyes.” (p.138)

“‘It is necessary to look more calmly on everything,’ she (Alexandra) said three months after her husband’s abdication. ‘What is to be done? God has sent us trials, evidently he thinks we are prepared for it. It is a sort of examination—to prove we are ready for His grace.'” (p.185)

“Their mornings began and evenings ended with prayers.” “Marie offered to read aloud from the family’s favorite collection of sermons.” (p.228)

Or was Nicholas an evil, violent man and was Alexandra blinded by her near-idolatry for Rasputin and for her icons to which she turned in faith that they would make her son well?

“They (the police) shared Nicholas’s view that ‘the Yids,’ as he derisively called his Jewish subjects, ‘must be kept in their place.'” (p.69)

“Nicholas decided to crack down on all of his subjects. Now, he declared, they would ‘feel the whip.’ Perhaps then they would think twice before rebelling.” (p.79)

“Their work (the pogroms) delighted Nicholas. Once, after reading a particularly gruesome report of hangings and beatings, he turned to an aide. ‘This really tickles me,’ he said. ‘It really does.'” (p.80)

“Alexandra firmly believed Rasputin was God’s messenger, sent to guide them through the war. ‘I fully trust in Our Friend’s wisdom endowed by God to counsel what is right for you and our country,’ she wrote Nicholas.” (p.148-9)

Both, I think, however contradictory that may be. The book is certainly a warning to those of us who are Christians: we may be blinded by our own prejudices and those of our culture into believing things that are contrary to the gospel of Christ and into acting upon those erroneous beliefs. We must always compare our actions and beliefs with the yardstick of Scripture and ask for specific guidance from the Holy Spirit. I believe that if Nicholas and Alexandra had done so in regard to the Jews and to Rasputin, that guidance would have been granted to them.

Ms. Fleming does a good job of presenting a balanced and intriguing picture of the Romanovs, and I recommend the book.

A Train in Winter by Carolyn Moorehead

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Carolyn Moorehead.

This book tells the harrowing story of 230 French resistance fighters, women, who were sent first to Auschwitz in 1943 and then to to Ravensbruck in 1944. By April 1945 after twenty-nine months of torture, imprisonment, and starvation, when Ravensbruck was liberated, only 49 of the 230 French women who had left Paris for Auschwitz survived.

Unfortunately, I had trouble keeping up with the various women’s names and backgrounds and feel it would have been better for the author to have concentrated her narrative on just a few of the women, those she was able to interview and get more information about. Nevertheless, the story of what these women endured at the hands of their Nazi captors was painful and appalling even to read about, and I was reminded again of just how cruel and sadistic we humans can be.

At the same time I was reading this book about these mostly Communist and atheist female resistance workers in France (only a few of the women professed to be practicing Catholics), I was also reading aloud The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom to my two youngest daughters. Corrie and her sister Betsie lived in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, and there their family ran an underground resistance network that mostly hid Jewish people and smuggled them to safe houses in the country or out of the country. In February 1944 Corrie and Betsie were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck, the same camp where the French women had already been transferred.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes much the same horrific conditions that the author of A Train in Winter tells about as she relates the experiences of the French prisoners. They all experienced the same fleas, lice, nakedness, cold, hunger, violence, and brutality. Betsie Ten Boom died after spending about six months in Ravensbruck. Corrie Ten Boom was freed about a week after her sister’s death and sent home to Holland, her release due to a “clerical error.”

The contrast between the Ten Boom sisters and the French resistors was not so much in their circumstances, except that the French women spent much longer in prison, but rather in how they responded to and saw those circumstances. Nor were the French women any more or less courageous or perseverant than Corrie and her sister Betsie. Upon their return, however, the surviving French women “shared the same sense of alienation, loss, and loneliness. . . . There was no innocence left in any of them, and they would not find it again.” These women with their faith in country and in the Communist ideal “returned to families that had been broken up, houses that had been bombed or ransacked, children who no longer knew them. Many had husbands and lovers who had been shot by the Germans. Few, very few, found the life of happiness they had dreamt about.”

Corrie Ten Boom also returned from Ravensbruck traumatized and bereft. She had lost not only Betsie, but also her elderly father, Casper Ten Boom, who died in prison not long after the family was arrested. Other members of her family had been arrested and were believed dead. Her country, Holland, was in ruins. And yet, God turned Corrie Ten Boom’s life into a life of joy and forgiveness and ministry. Corrie wrote that it was those who were able, by God’s grace and mercy, to forgive, who were able to heal from the trauma and the suffering of the war. She went to live for another almost 40 years after her release from Ravensbruck, traveling all over the world and preaching the mercy and forgiveness of God for sinners.

The contrast between The Hiding Place and A Train in Winter shows the inadequacy of a philosophy based on the communist brotherhood of men. What happens when that philosophy is shown to be a farce in the face of true evil? Where does a survivor of such atrocious evil get the power and the trust to forgive, move past bitterness, and go on to live in community with other human beings?

Events and Inventions: 1944

January 27, 1944. The Red Army (Russian) relieves the German siege of Leningrad, pushing the Germans back beyond artillery range. Leningrad has been under German guns for 900 days, and over one million people have died of hunger, cold, starvation, disease or from direct warfare.

January 22, 1944. Allied troops land on the beaches of Anzio in southern Italy.

March 18, 1944. Mt. Vesuvius erupts for last time in modern times.

June 4, 1944. The U.S. Fifth Army under the command of General Mark Clark enters Rome, freeing the city from German occupation.

June 6, 1944. Allied troops storm Normandy in northern France. Operation Overlord brings over 100,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops to the beaches of Normandy under the orders of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied troops in Europe. See the movie, The Longest Day, for a dramatization of the invasion of Normandy.

June 13, 1944. Hitler unleashes Germany’s flying bomb, the V-1, on southern England. The deadly V-1’s are launched from catapult ramps at Pas de Calais in northern France, and they have already made direct hits on several buildings, including a convent, and hospital, and a church.

June 20, 1944. An attempt by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler fails. See the movie, Valkyrie, for a dramatization of this event, with Tom Cruise playing Colonel von Stauffenberg, the main conspirator and assassin. Hitler takes his survival as a sign that fate has intervened to preserve his life for the further glory of the German people.

August 25, 1944. Paris is liberated by Allied troops, led by the Free French. General de Gaulle marches in triumph through the crowds down the Champs Elysees.

October 26, 1944. General Douglas MacArthur and the American Navy return to the Philippines after the Japanese are defeated in a three-day battle off the coast of the island of Leyte.

December, 1944. Civil war breaks out in Greece in the aftermath of the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation. British troops fire on a demonstration organized by the EAM, made up of Communists and other leftists. The People’s Liberation Army (Communist) seizes part of Athens, but they are defeated and dispersed for now.

Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend.

Townsend, Formerly the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is a veteran on the “God beat”, having written for several U.S. newspapers and other publications. In this book, he has given readers interested in World War II and its aftermath an insightful look at a quiet and unassuming hero, Lutheran pastor and chaplain Henry Gerecke. Pastor Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1943. He was at the upper limit of the acceptable age range for the chaplaincy, but the army was in desperate need of more chaplains to meet the spiritual needs of the men in the U.S. Army who were fighting both in Europe and in the Pacific.

This book was especially poignant for me for a couple of reasons: one, my father-in-law, John Early, was an army chaplain during World War II. Although he served stateside for his entire war, he could easily have been sent to Europe and then to Germany to minister in some of the same circumstances that Gerecke served in. In fact, Gerecke’s personality, background, and ministry reminded me of my father-in-law quite a bit. Both men came from rural homes and ministered in small, lowly places before the war. Both men were humble evangelical preachers who longed to see men (and women) come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Both attended chaplain school at Harvard University, and both worked hard with the help of a much appreciated chaplain’s assistant to counsel, preach, lecture, file paperwork, write letters of condolence, and do many more services to the soldiers under their care. My father-in-law spoke often and fondly of his assistant, Donald.

The second reason that the book spoke to me had to do with Chaplain Gerecke’s particular assignment, after the surrender of Germany, to attend the trial at Nuremberg and minister to the high-ranking Nazis who were on trial there. According to the Geneva Conventions and U.S. army regulations, the United States was responsible to provide spiritual comfort to the Nazi prisoners. having a German chaplain did not seem advisable since the prisoners were being held in strict confinement and their captors were concerned that they might be the object of attempts to help them escape or commit suicide. Because he could speak German and because he was recommended by colleagues as a dedicated Lutheran minister, Gerecke was asked to extend his service in the army and come to Nuremberg to minister to such notorious criminals as Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, and Hermann Goering, head of the German Air Force and Hitler’s designated successor. Gerecke found himself preaching and eventually administering communion to some of the world’s worst criminals, men who were responsible for the torture, rape, and death of millions. What an amazing story of courage, spiritual discernment, and grace!

There are aspects of this story that Townsend discusses thoroughly and then leaves as open questions. Should Gerecke have given communion, a sacrament in Lutheran theology, to men who may have only been “jailhouse converts”? On the other hand, should he have honored the request of one of the Nazis to commune, even though the man made it clear that he did not believe in or put his trust in Christ, but simply wanted to receive communion as a sort of insurance? (Gerecke refused communion to the man under those circumstances.) Can or should a Christian minister promise forgiveness to men who sinned against so many, a great number of whom were Jews whose understanding of forgiveness might be much different from a Christian understanding and who might very well resent the offering of forgiveness on their behalf without their consent? What was Gerecke’s role as a minister of the gospel in the face of such evil men? Does the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness, extend to such perpetrators of such horrible crimes? I appreciated Townsend’s discussion of such thorny and difficult moral and theological dilemmas and his leaving it to the reader to decide for himself what the answers to those questions might be.

“Those chaplains believed that God loves all human beings, including perpetrators, and so their decision was more about how to minister to the Nazis, not whether they should. The process of ministering to those who have committed evil involves returning the wrongdoer to goodness, a difficult challenge when faced with a leader of the Third Reich. For Gerecke and O’Connor (the Catholic chaplain at Nuremberg) that challenge meant using what they had learned about each defendant to spiritually lead him back from the place where he’d fallen to a place of restoration.
. . . A middle-aged American preacher . . . was attempting to bring what he believed was God’s light into a dark heart. The Nuremberg chaplains were not judging the members of their flocks, nor were they forgiving their crimes against humanity. They were trying to lead those Nazis who were willing to follow toward a deeper insight into what they had done. They were attempting to give Hitler’s henchmen new standing a human beings before their impending executions.”

Excellent thoughtful, challenging nonfiction about a humble but steadfast pastor who served God in the darkest of prisons.

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Erle Stanley Gardner and 5 Things That Made Me Happy Today


Over the weekend, I read four Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner. I think I needed to de-tox from reading so much about the “roaring twenties” and Warren G. Harding’s infidelities and his lack of common ethical sense. Perry Mason only flirts and skirts the edges of legality, unlike Mr. Harding who was apparently juggling multiple mistresses while he was in the Senate and while he occupied the White House.

What did I read?
The Case of the Nervous Accomplice. Sybil Harlan hatches a plot to bring her wandering husband back to the fold by throwing a monkey wrench in the business deal he and his paramour are working. But then another party to the deal ends up dead, and Sybil is the obvious suspect. This one was pretty good, and I didn’t see any obvious holes or issues.

The Case of the Careless Kitten. The behavior of a kitten is the main clue that resolves the murder mystery. This story is OK, but there is a a minor character, used as a red herring, who is a Japanese (or possibly Korean) “houseboy.” He is written as a stereotypical “sinister Japanese” character, which since the book was published in 1942, right after Pearl Harbor, is not surprising. It’s a wonder he wasn’t made more sinister–even portrayed as a spy or something worse. But the racist treatment of the character is rather jarring to this contemporary reader’s ear.

The Case of the Vagabond Virgin. At the end, the denouement, of this story the solution is either wonky or I didn’t understand. The murderer uses the victim’s car as a getaway car, drives it to Vegas, leaves it there, and flies back to LA. But neither the police nor Mason seem to have noticed throughout the entire book that the victim’s car was missing. That doesn’t make sense to me.

The Case of the Crooked Candle. Too technical for me, with not enough emphasis on characters. The case hinges on a complicated timeline and high tide and low tide and the burning of a candle in a leaning boat. But I don’t know why anyone would leave a candle burning on a table in a houseboat containing a murdered man.

So, I took a break from true and sordid history to read about not-so-true or even true-to-life murder mysteries. Now I think I’m ready to go back to the twenties and see how Florence Harding manage to deal with her husband’s death and his loss of reputation afterwards.

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Per the ever-inspiring Melissa Wiley, here are five things that made me smile today (Thank you, Lord, and thanks, Melissa, for the idea.):

1. Listening to Read Aloud Revival, Episode 10, with Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles. It’s just so encouraging to hear people talking about their love of books and reading and classic literature.

2. Chocolate-covered cherry Bluebell ice cream.

3. Reading Gulliver’s Travels with my almost 16-year old and discussing as we read. What was Swift trying to say about England in his story about the tiny Lilliputians of his imagination? And why is his story filed with scatological references that will fascinate and amuse the high school students (boys) in her homeschool literature class?

4. A new family joined my library.

5. Reading half of the book Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems to one of the children in that new library family, and then getting a hug from the child as the family went out the door. Happy Pig Day to me, too.

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Careless People by Sarah Churchwell


Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell.

Essentially, this book focuses on the autumn of 1922 when F. Scott Fitzgerald was beginning to think about writing The Great Gatsby and when all of the reading public was fixated on the salacious details of the Hall-Mills murder case in New Jersey, a bizarre and celebrity-driven murder and investigation that played out in the newspapers and probably influenced Fitzgerald’s story of murder and infidelity in several aspects. Ms. Chruchwell also includes the before and after stories of how Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda came to be the celebrities that they were and of how Scott Fitzgerald finished writing his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, and even what happened to him and to Zelda after that novel was published.

I learned several facts that I didn’t know while reading this volume of history and literary criticism combined. F. Scott Fitzgerald was only twenty-six years old in 1922 when he began planning his novel, and only twenty-eight when it was published. Zelda was even younger, born in 1900, twenty-two years old in 1922. She was only nineteen when she married Fitzgerald in April, 1920.

Their daughter, Scottie, was about a year old when they decided to move to New York from St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m not sure how the baby survived, although they did hire a nurse to take care of her, since the parents seem to have been constantly and continually drunk throughout the entire time that they lived in New York. I also am not surprised that Fitzgerald didn’t get far beyond the planning stages in writing his Great American Novel; I am surprised that he was able to write a coherent sentence, much less a number of short stories and the seminal beginnings of what would become The Great Gatsby.

“In May 1924 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Europe, to put the temptations of the New World behind them, with the conviction that they had left their old selves behind forever.” The temptations accompanied them; they got drunk in France just as well and just as often as they did in New York; and their marriage began to disintegrate. But Fitzgerald did write his novel, set in 1922 and based on the characters and the adventures that he and Zelda experienced in New York in that memorable fall of 1922. In particular the Hall-Mills murder case became a part of The Great Gatsby, inextricably intertwined in the characters of Daisy and Tom and Nick and Jordan and Gatsby himself and in the ideas of romantic adultery and carelessness and mistaken identity, insoluble crimes and American idealism.

If you’re fascinated by the Jazz Age, Prohibition, flappers, Scott and Zelda, and The Great Gatsby, Careless People has some good factual material as well as speculation and philosophy about the era and the meaning of the history and the novel and their intersection. The author gets a little carried away at times with passages like the following, coming at the end of each section of the purportedly nonfiction prosaic tome:

“Life is always there waiting to be transfigured into a splendid fiction, however sad or sordid its origins. A story of adultery ends in the violent extinction of a woman of tremendous vitality. A dreamer keeps faith with the faithless, an a double shooting draws coder in the cooling twilight, as e writer tires to determine whether what he holds in his hand is the past, or the future.”

However, reading about Scott and Zelda did make me think about sin and its intractable hold on our lives, about how genius can transcend even the tragic and injurious decisions we make, sometimes, and about what the real meaning of The Great Gatsby is. Did Scott Fitzgerald understand the tragedy of his own novel? Did Zelda? Do I?

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy– they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Scott and Zelda were careless, too, and sort of rich, but there came a time, later, when the piper had to be paid, and the party was over, and both their lives ended tragically. I wonder how many “messes” the “golden boy” and his “first American flapper” left in their wake? If sound self-righteous and Pharasaical, I don’t mean to be. I also wonder how many messes I’ve left for others to clean up and how many more I might have run away from if I had been rich and able?

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North Korea in Books


North Korea is notoriously the most closed society and country in the world. I couldn’t take a trip there even if I wanted to or had the money to go.However, reading these books about North Korea and North Korean defectors made me want to know more —and inspired me to pray for those who are trapped in Kim Jong Eun’s “socialist paradise.”

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden. The man is Shin Dong-hyuk. His story is just about as intense and harrowing as that of Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame, but Shin’s story of torture, tyranny, and brainwashing begins from the time of his earliest memories. Shin was born in North Korea’s infamous Camp 14 to parents who were matched and allowed by the authorities to reproduce in a very limited way, to parents whom he never learned to love and from whom he received very little love or encouragement himself. He is the only known prisoner to have successfully escaped from a “total-control zone” prison camp in North Korea alive. Here you can hear a taste of Shin’s story in his own words:

Shin Dong-Hyuk’s story is not over, or even near over, and it remains to be seen what God will do in his life.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick follows the lives of six north Koreans (and their families to some extent) over the course of about fifteen years, from the early 1990’s until 2009. All are former residents of the city of Chongjin, located in the northern part of North Korea near the border with China. All six escaped North Korea to go first to China, then to South Korea. Ms. Demick, a journalist who spent some time living in Seoul and covering both Koreas, interviewed these defectors and worked to understand and enter into their lives to write this book about the famine in North Korea that extended through the last decade of the twenty-first century as it was experienced by average people in that country. The title comes from the children’s theme song of the 1970 North Korean film We Have Nothing to Envy in the World. The irony is inescapable as one reads of children eating grass and tree bark to fill their stomachs and old people dying quietly of starvation. The people of North Korea, for the most part, actually do have nothing to envy because information is so tightly controlled and limited that they don’t even know that the rest of the world does not share the harsh conditions that their succession of dictators, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and now Kim Jong Eun, have inflicted upon them.

I plan to read more about North Korea soon, including the following books:

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.
The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom by Blaine Harden (the same author who wrote Escape from Camp 14).

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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.

“I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I had nightmares about killing the Bird from which I woke up shouting and swearing. My running legs were gone and I couldn’t compete anymore, which broke my heart. I wanted to strike it rich, but lost money instead. I drank and fought. I knew I was on the wrong path—but didn’t know what to do about it.” ~Louis Zamperini

If the movie Unbroken, or even what you’ve heard about the movie or the book by Laura Hillenbrand, is your only acquaintance with Louis Zamperini, then you already know that he was an amazing man with an almost unbelievable life story. What you may not know is what Paul Harvey used to call The Rest of the Story.

I would suggest that anyone who was captivated by Mr. Zamperini’s story in the movie should immediately, without delay, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you just aren’t a reader and can’t bring yourself to read that wonderful biography, then Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In tells the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story in a much shorter format, 224 pages laid out in easy to read chunks or chapter of three or four pages each. If you’ve already read Unbroken, but can’t get your friends or family members to read it, give them a copy of this book. Louis Zamperini’s character, warmth, and wisdom shine through the pages here just as they did in the pages of Unbroken.

David Rensin, who had already worked with Mr. Zamperini on his autobiography Devil at My Heels, met with Zamperini again for about six months to complete this book because Louis said he still had stories he wanted to tell. The stories in the book, which was completed two days before Mr. Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, continue to illuminate the life of this man who not only was a hero, but also a very broken and vengeful man after his return from prison camp. In Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand tells what it was that made Louis Zamperini whole again, in her words. In this book Mr. Zamperini gets to tell us about his recovery in his own words.

“I had nothing left to lose.
That admission itself was the beginning of my recovery. I’d always known that I’d come home from the war with a problem, but I had never been willing to ask for help—from anyone.
But now I had, and my whole body and spirit felt different. Wonderful. Calm. Free.”

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Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Many things about this book are odd, beginning with the co-authors. One of the authors is the subject’s second cousin, or some such relation. He must have been involved in some way, at least as a witness to Huguette’s mental state, in the controversy that broke out after Huguette’s death about her will and the disposition of her fortune. Yet, he is a co-author of this book that purports to be an objective view of the many controversies surrounding Huguette’s life and death. (The introduction notes that Mr. Newell was not in line to inherit any of Huguette Clark’s fortune.)

Then, there’s Huguette Clark herself. Born in 1906, Huguette Clark lived for 105 years. She was heiress to a fortune made by her father W.A. Clark in copper mining, railroads and other enterprises. Ms. Clark, married only briefly and soon divorced, became a recluse as an adult and spent her final twenty years living in a hospital in New York City, not because she was ill but because she felt safe there. She gave her day nurse, Hadassah Peri, millions of dollars in cash and gifts while she was still alive and left the same nurse millions in her will. She spent most of her adult life painting, taking photographs, playing with dolls, and designing dollhouses. She liked to watch cartoons, analyzing them frame by frame, particularly The Smurfs, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons. She kept two uninhabited mansions that she never visited, one in California and another in Connecticut, in mint condition with millions of dollars paid to caretakers and taxes over the years. She was, in her own words, “a little peculiar.”

Despite the copious research that certainly informed this book about a reclusive heiress and her family background, the authors are unable to answer the question that most interested me: why was Huguette Clark so reclusive and almost afraid of new people and strangers and yet so generous to certain particular people in her life? She gave millions of dollars to her day nurse, and yet she was unwilling to give her phone number to her cousin. Nevertheless, even though I din’t really understand Huguette Clark much better after I read the entire book about her life, it was still thought-provoking to to try. What does great inherited wealth do to a person’s psyche? Is it different if you inherited the money than it would be if you earned it? Was Huguette simply a fragile, anxiety-ridden person who figured out the best strategy for handling her fears and insecurities?

I also wanted to know at the end of the book what happened to Ms. Clark’s money? The dispute over Huguette Clark’s will had not been settled at the time of the publication of Empty Mansions. Wikipedia to the rescue:

On September 24, 2013, the will was finally settled with the majority of the distant relatives receiving a total of $34 million. The nurse received nothing, and agreed to return $5 million of the earlier $31 million gifts to her and her family. The bulk of the substantial remainder went to the arts, including the gift of her estate in Santa Barbara to a new foundation, called the Bellosguardo Foundation.

Was she happy with her dolls and cartoons and empty mansions? Or was she as empty as her houses, with the dolls and dollhouse projects only a distraction from the emptiness of her life? I rather think the latter, but only God can judge a life. I’m certainly not sure after reading this true story that being a millionaire is all it’s cracked up to be.

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