Archives for posts with tag: World War II

51Gg7c6xadL._AC_US327_QL65_Jennifer Egan began the research for her latest book years ago. It was 2004 when she first learned of the significance of New York’s waterfront and the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The result of her years of research and interviews is a very compelling read titled Manhattan Beach.

The novel is in a way three different stories intertwined. The central story is Anna Kerrigan. She is both a secondary character and the catalyst for change in the stories of Eddie Kerrigan (her father) and Dexter Styles.

The Depression changed the fortunes of the Kerrigan family.  Before the crash Eddie and his wife Agnes worked in theater and lived well with Anna and her disabled sister Lydia. Eddie was forced to take a job with an old friend as a bagman to support his family.

He took Anna with him when he could as no one caused trouble in front of a child.  They formed a close bond that Anna believed was unbreakable until the day she accompanied him to see Dexter Styles. The meeting at Styles’ home wasn’t the normal errand she ran with her father but for a new job.

Anna didn’t know about the job but she knew instinctively that Eddie wanted her to lie about the day. Eddie began to worry about what he had exposed Anna to plus his new job took him to places a child couldn’t go.  The errands ended and the bond broke. Eddie worked long hours and one day he didn’t come home. As days turned to weeks the family accepted he wasn’t coming back and life went on.

Anna is in college when Pearl Harbor is attacked and the U.S. joins the war.  She gladly leaves college to work in the Naval Yard. She is patriotic and eager to do what she can for the war effort but longs for something more exciting than measuring small parts for ships.  Though frowned upon Anna goes out each day at lunch to explore the shipyard and witness the different jobs being done. She discovers the divers.

With so many men fighting the war women are doing jobs traditionally done by men but diving isn’t one of them. The suit alone is a deterrent because of the weight.  The dress or diving suit weighed 200 pounds with the shoes 35 pounds, then add the collar and helmet at 56 pounds and the belt at 84 pounds.  With the suit on you had to be able to walk with all that weight and perform tasks as delicate as unraveling a knot while wearing the three-fingered gloves.

Anna knows nothing of the requirements but she is determined to try. Her life outside the Naval Yard revolves around the care of Lydia but in her limited free time she visits her first nightclub. The club belongs to Dexter Styles. She remembers him and introduces herself but doesn’t reveal her true identity. Styles may hold the key to her father’s disappearance.

Dexter’s story now becomes part of the narrative. The author not only did her homework on the waterfront and naval yard but on organized crime as well. Styles runs his own small criminal empire and he married into society.  His relationship with his boss and his connections through his father-in-law make Dexter feel he is close to untouchable. But no one is untouchable.

Anna gets her chance to dive but tragedy at home has left her living alone. To escape her loneliness and to celebrate her new job as a diver Anna goes out and ends up at Dexter’s nightclub. She doesn’t see him but he finds her and what happens next changes the course of both their lives.

Anna does learn at least part of what happened to her father but not all of it. We now get Eddie’s story. Eddie was an astute, observant man and at his core moral. His jobs provided for his family and put him in a position to see things he couldn’t ignore. When one of his friends is murdered he makes a decision that changes all of their lives.

Egan’s writing style immerses you in the story but Eddie’s story was so compelling that it was as if I was reading another novel. I forgot about Anna and Dexter as Eddie’s life unfolded.

This is not a perfect novel. The switches in storyline from one character to another kills the momentum a little and she rushed to an end.  Anna’s life is glossed over at the end when before it was rich with detail.  But I’m being picky because the novel is well-done and an engrossing read.

The characters come alive in your mind and you can see the waterfront and hear the ocean. When I was a teen I read “Hannah Fowler. I don’t recall much about the story but I’ve never forgotten the character. This novel is like that – the nuances of the story will fade but I’ll remember Anna Kerrigan.

Accidental PresidentSome of the most significant events in world history transpired in April through August of 1945. Germany’s surrender, the creation of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the testing and use of the atomic bomb, and Japan’s surrender to end World War II all happened from April 12 – August 14, 1945 – the first 4 months of the Truman presidency.

A.J.  Blaine has penned a compelling chronicle of this time in The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. This well-researched work takes the reader day by day through this momentous period but this is not a dry timeline of events. Blaine brings the events and people to life on the page and you feel as if you are in the room.

Blaine starts his narrative on April 12th which began as an ordinary day for Harry Truman. He rose at his normal early hour and took his walk before heading to his office in the Senate building. But this was no ordinary day and by nightfall he was sworn in as president and briefed on the secret weapon being developed, the atomic bomb. Stunned by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, many in the country wondered who Harry Truman is and would he be able to do the job. Truman himself said “I’m not big enough for this job”.

Before continuing with Truman’s presidency Blaine gives us an abbreviated biography. The author uses these pages to show us the qualifications and character Truman brought to the White House. He never went to college but he was well read and loved music. He was devoted to and loved Bess from the time he met her. In the Army during World War I he showed his ability as a leader but was unsuccessful in business. Even though he was elected with the help of Tom Pendergast (who ran Kansas City politics) Truman was honest in all his dealings as presiding judge in Jackson County.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate while Pendergast was still powerful and was dubbed the senator from Pendergast. But he won, to the surprise of many, a second term after Pendergast’s arrest and imprisonment. His committee to investigate waste and corruption in the national defense program saved money and brought him some national recognition.

Even though Truman wasn’t a complete unknown, the Democratic Party was stunned by his nomination as Vice-President for Roosevelt’s historic fourth term. He was a reluctant nominee but once nominated he campaigned tirelessly for the president.

Even though he was Roosevelt’s choice for VP he was not part of the inner circle and was not included in briefings or negotiations. On April 13th, his first full day as president, Truman began to learn the depth of what he did not know.

As Blaine recounts the next 123 days not every decision and meeting is detailed. Instead you get a sense of just how busy each day was and the amount of information Truman has to absorb from meetings and reports. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman’s cabinet meetings were for reporting and information. Following this meeting he would sometimes spend his whole morning in back to back 15 minute meetings.

During the first 2 weeks of the new administration, Roosevelt was buried, Nazi death camps were liberated, the United Nations conference began in San Francisco, Berlin fell, Mussolini was executed, Hitler committed suicide, and on President Truman’s 61st birthday, Germany surrendered.

The next weeks and months were more of the same with a deteriorating relationship with the Soviets, the war with Japan and the fulfilling of his official duties as president. The conference with Stalin and Churchill was to begin in July and the president wanted to be prepared. While determining what he believed was best for the U.S., Truman was aware of his obligation to honor both the agreements Roosevelt had made and the man himself.

The Potsdam Conference, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 14th ends this historic and pivotal 4 months.

The biographical information was an important part of the book but slowed the pace of the narrative. Once the countdown of days began however, this work was hard to put down. This fascinating look at what has to be one of the most difficult periods any president has faced, shows that the man who thought “he wasn’t big enough” greatly underestimated his abilities.

Food critic and author Ruth Reichl was the editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine, is the host of “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth” on PBS and has written several best-selling memoirs. Now she’s brought her knowledge and expertise to the world of fiction with her first novel, “Delicious!”

Billie Breslin has moved across the country and landed her dream job at the iconic food magazine Delicious! Even with her new job Billie is lonely, and to fill her days she begins a weekend job at a food shop, Fontanari’s.

Billie came to New York to escape a trauma and though it haunts her, letters to her sister show she is finding her way. She is making new friends and has an article published in the magazine. Then the magazine is shut down.

Billie is kept on staff to honor the Delicious! Guarantee: “Your money back if the recipe doesn’t work.” Alone in the mansion that has been the home to Delicious! for 100 years, Billie does her best to help with recipes, some decades old. In the pursuit of a 40-year-old recipe she finally ventures into the library, which has been closed for years.

The beautiful room is fascinating, and with the discovery of a secret room full of letters, Billie meets Lulu Swan. Lulu is 12 when she begins a correspondence with Chef James Beard. The first letter is dated November 3, 1942. Lulu is seeking help as she takes over the cooking while her father is at war and her mother now works.

Lulu comes alive through her letters, and with her words we see life on the home front during World War II. In her quest to find all the letters and her search for what happened to Lulu, Billie begins to heal.

This is a first novel and has a couple of clumsy places, but they are forgiven with the eloquence of the rest of the book. Reichl is wonderful with characters, and it is fascinating how real Lulu and her life become in just a few letters. You’ll find this very enjoyable read on the New Book Shelves at the library.