first paragraphs · tuesday sparks · tuesday teasers

TUESDAY SPARKS: INTROS/TEASERS — WALLED-IN — APRIL 9

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today I’m excerpting from a memoir that I received for review:  Walled-In:  A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by J. Elke Ertle.

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Intro:  I lie motionless under my soft, warm comforter.  My head nestles into the thick, square eiderdown pillow and my back and shoulders melt into the mattress like butter on toast.  Tapsi, my four-year-old dachshund, lies curled up between my feet.  Cradling the covers with my legs, I take a deep, long breath.  I feel content from head to toe.  Today is a big day.  Today is my twenty-first birthday.  Today, unfettered life will begin.

The hypnotic tick-tock, tick-tock of the alarm clock on the small laminated table cuts through the silence.  I sit up, forcing Tapsi to adjust her position.  Inky darkness.  Shivering in the sudden cold I strain to read the time:  5:45 a.m.  Through the small bedroom window, I gaze outside.  No stars.  Droplets hit the windowpane.  A typical November day in Berlin.  I glance at the clock a second time.  Only a few more minutes before I’ll have to get ready for work.

***

Teaser:  After the War

When my mother stepped into my aunt and uncle’s pub, Zum Kuhlen Grund, holding me, a newborn, in her arms, she consoled herself by saying, “I’ve lost almost everything in the war.  This little bundle is mine.  I won’t let anyone take her away from me.”  p. 3

***

Amazon Blurb:  In this true story, two obstacles threaten the freedom and autonomy of a young girl born and raised in postwar West Berlin: The Berlin Wall and the harsh rules her uncompromising parents impose. J. Elke Ertle recounts the mounting East-West tension that leads to the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Airlift, and the construction of the Berlin Wall. But the brick-and-mortar monstrosity is not the only insurmountable barrier Elke comes to know intimately. As the only child of uncompromising parents, she is brought up to unquestioning obedience. When she rebels against their unrelenting rules, the ensuing parent-daughter conflict parallels in intensity the Cold War between East and West. Elke finds herself incarcerated behind walls as impenetrable as the one that divides her city. On her 21st birthday, a startling and unexpected revelation strengthens her determination to opt for freedom and to immigrate to the United States. Interweaving history with her personal experiences, Elke takes the reader on a remarkable journey into her closely supervised, yet happy childhood, her youthful disillusionment, and her deliberate, albeit difficult decision to choose freedom.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

Come on by and let’s chat about our books.

book review

MEMORABLE CHARACTERS & BEAUTIFUL PROSE — A REVIEW

8136642“Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls’s magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car (“I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn’t need to be fed if they weren’t working, and they didn’t leave big piles of manure all over the place”) and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in Glass Castle.

From the very first page of Half Broke Horses, I was hooked. Lily Casey’s first person narrative brought me right into the midst of her world: a world that started in West Texas, but would lead her to numerous places, from Arizona to Chicago and back to Arizona, with a few jogs along the way. Through her eyes I saw the gorgeous, yet sometimes brutal Southwest, from a new perspective. I could admire her energy as she trained those “half broke horses” that occasionally came along. And her determination to earn her education in spite of the odds against her.

Some might describe her as stubborn, while others can see that she had the stamina necessary for the life she had chosen. A life thrust upon her by birth and family, but one to which she returned after deciding that “city life” was not for her.

Her persistence in showing her children the life lessons she wanted them to learn had the opposite effect on her daughter Rosemary (the author’s mother). Rosemary preferred living life for the moment, since the future was not something one could count on. I liked this excerpt that shows us the companionship between Lily and her husband Jim, and their philosophy, too, as they watch their daughter after her wedding to Rex Walls:

“Jim put his arm around me and we watched them take off up the street, heading out into open country like a couple of half-broke horses.”

The author describes that she gleaned the facts of the story from those she interviewed, but that she recalls her grandmother’s distinctive voice: a wonderful detail she has brought to the reader as she tells the story. A story that I won’t forget…and to which I offer five stars.

book review · family connections

SPARKING NEW BONDS AT LONG LAST — A REVIEW

In her newest memoir, Carrie Fisher pierces through the façade and zeroes in on the main issues about life, love, celebrity, and mental illness. And she does it with that famous humor that certainly speaks to the healthy benefits of laughter.

From her drug-imbibing days to her recent journey into ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), Fisher manages to make everything about what might be considered a disastrous kind of life, with all the side-effects of fame, parental abandonment, and well, mental illness, and turn it into a joyous celebration of the nuggets of wisdom one can gain while traveling the dark side.

She shares thoughts, memories, and laughs about the dearth of her short-term memory after her ECT; and just when you start to feel a little sad for her, she segues into the wonders of her relationship with her father, at long last. During his dying years, and when she actually parented him, she discovered that giving him what she wished he’d given her led to a rich and wonderfully blessed reunion. I like how she phrases it in this excerpt:

“To parent my parent was the pathway to my relationship with Eddie Fisher, my old Pa-pa. Enough of a relationship to where I miss him now. A lot. And I miss him in a very different way than how I missed him throughout my childhood.

“Then I missed the idea of him. Now I miss the man—my dad.”

Shockaholic is a wonderful foray into Fisher’s interior world, for which I’m giving five stars.

book review · social connections

AN ODYSSEY OF CONNECTIONS

Two intensely private writers who are also fiercely independent meet one day on a dog walk.

They had actually briefly met once before at a writers’ event some years earlier, but on this day, their real journey begins, as they walk their dogs.

They connect on many levels: Gail Caldwell, the author of this memoir of friendship, is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer; Caroline Knapp had written a book that chronicled her struggles with alcohol. First they connect over their love of dogs and then with their writing journeys and their loneliness. Later, Caldwell will also share her own odyssey with alcohol.

Caldwell grew up in the Texas Panhandle and then fled to various cities before finally settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Knapp grew up. In midlife, they have both settled in here and this is where their friendship journey takes off.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship circles from when they met back to their various separate journeys and reveals a bit about their relationships, their successes, their challenges—and then zeroes in on the time they begin the friendship. What happens after the friendship has cemented itself is the biggest challenge they will face together: Knapp’s diagnosis of Stage Four lung cancer. That particular challenge will require all the strength they each have, but will also show the solidity of their friendship.

Through the days and nights leading up to Knapp’s death, we are gifted with those thoughts and feelings that only someone on this particular journey can feel. Afterwards, we visit the loss, the challenges, even the events related to the dogs…and these moments carry us into the very heart of those feelings. Near the end of this tale, Caldwell writes something that I found wonderfully true: “I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures. Sometimes I think that the pain is what yields the solution. Grief and memory create their own narrative….”

And then Caldwell begins again, but as with all memorable friendships, she is forever shaped and altered by the bonds that connected the two of them.