You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category.

Diaries, letters, and photos access times past and enable researchers to ferret out their dark secrets. Publication of such materials makes present and up-close experiences of the human family from which we benefit, if we have the courage.

Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany, 1939-1945 (2016) is one such narrative. Its Polish American author Sophie Hodorowicz Knab undertook this challenge to honor her mother Jozefa, enslaved in 1943 within the munitions factory in Ulmstead, not far from Hanover, until the end of the war. She was thirty-two years old when taken from her Krakow home in her house slippers. Upon the right breast of her clothing was the hated purple P upon a yellow patch, stitched there following the 1939 occupation of Poland; its people were considered racially subhuman and expendable.

Her mother’s reticence to speak of her experiences later prodded Knab to comb the Archives in the United States, Poland, Germany, and England for evidence of the plight of forced civilian women in Nazi Germany: such only appeared in the 1980s. Her research uncovered records of their conscription, their divided families, filthy transit camps and cattle cars, abject poverty, extreme weather conditions, multiple diseases, malnutrition, starvation, forced abortions, crippling humiliations, 12-hour work days in agricultural and industrial settings, and newborns left to starve.

What fueled Knab’s research was the discovery of diaries, letters, and photos taken by these women. Interweaving them with the bitter facts of their enslavement added an indescribable poignancy to this scholarly work.

Indeed, the words and faces of these 105 women still tell their story.

 

 

Advertisements

Recently, a single red balloon found its way into my backyard, its bottom booted by trickster winds under brooding skies; its redness plummeted me within the experience of Pascal, the kindergartner in the Academy-Award winning short, The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse. Filmed in the run-down Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris, still recovering from the war’s devastation, the mood is somber, its grayness pervasive. Spare is the dialogue amidst the noise of street life.

On the way to school Pascal happens upon a red helium balloon snared within the crook of a streetlamp, frees, then, tames it: its brightness emboldens his fragile sensitivity, easily bruised by the crimped world of adults and hooligans around him; it becomes his confidante. A playful lei-motif traces their developing relationship, with its pranks, foolishness, joys, and grief.

But The Red Balloon is not just an ordinary movie. Its opening scene engages our imagination and plunges us into the world of symbols; some of the following are notable: grey clothing: mourning; the Cosmic Suffering Christ: red balloon; wetness: cleansing; the Divine Child: innocence; stone stairs: heights and depths; and redemption: the cluster balloon ride—thereby imprinting this story upon viewers for decades.

Even today, eyes quicken with smiles whenever the story of Pascal and his red balloon is shared.

Do treat yourself. Both the book and the short are still available on Amazon—even a freebie on YouTube.

 

“Sing God a simple song/ Laude Laude/ Make it up as you go along/ God loves all simple things/ For God is the simplest of all.” So begins Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1971).

These lyrics come to mind while perusing the slim volume of poetry, Coral Castles (2019) composed by Carol Bialock, RSCJ; its simplicity moved me to silence, within which I seek words to compose this blog.

Intimate with the Word and receptive to its imprinting upon her psyche for decades, Sister Carol channels ordinary experiences into poems, replete with metaphors; their simplicity dismantles crusty outcroppings in psyches and brightens skies. One- and two-syllable words couple themselves into indivisible wholes that implode within the reader/listener—like biting into a ripe peach that juices the palate with summer’s color. Single-stroke pen and ink drawings intersperse the pages—again, nothing superfluous—and give needed respite before entering the next poem with its revelation.

What appears so effortlessly composed, however, emanates from the poet’s life-long practice of loving the unlovable around the world: in homeless shelters, prisons, and hospitals, wherever she found them. Indeed, all of creation opens onto the Sacred. Through simple poems, Sister Carol Bialock enriches us by making this connection.

I am deeply glad—So will you if you avail yourself of this treasure, Coral Castles, available on Amazon.

 

 

Available on Amazon

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: