‘Renia’s Diary: A Holocaust Journal’

renia's-diary-spiegelAs we near a world where survivors of the Holocaust are soon to be figures of the past, the stories, memories, and mementos of those who are still among us start to hold an even greater weight than they already did. Elizabeth Bellak is one such survivor who decided, after decades of hiding away her sister’s diary, to share it with the world.

Renia Spiegel was a young Jewish girl living in Poland when Hitler came to power. Her diary chronicles the time before Hitler and the war all the way to her experiences living and hiding in a ghetto before being killed by the Nazis. Renia’s Diaryis exactly what its title betrays: a diary. Renia shares with us her feelings about school, her friends, boys, her complicated relationship with her mother who is not with her, as well as poetry to encapsulate it all.

The historical importance of a document like this makes readers wonder what historians will glean from the text through close and continued reading over the years.

Full of interesting details and facts about the time, as well as melodramatic, teenage angst, Renia’s Diaryis a diary in every way, sharing the inner most thoughts and feelings of a young girl living through the hardest time of her life.

Slated for publication by St. Martin’s Press in September 2019, you can preorder a copy of Renia’s Diaryfrom your local independent bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘At the Narrow Waist of the World’ by Marlena Maduro Baraf

at-the-narrow-waist-Baraf.jpgAt the Narrow Waistof the World by Marlena Maduro Baraf is a narrative that investigates mental illness, issues of belonging, and the influence of family and generational past.

Told as a memoir that focuses on Baraf’s own mother, At the Narrow Waist of the Worldcenters most of its conversation on mental health and how sanity is a complicated aspect of the human condition. Throughout Baraf’s life, her mother suffered from a number of psychotic breakdowns and spent years in psychiatric facilities. Through her memoir, Baraf attempts to both capture the memory of her mother and form a greater understanding of her mother’s influence in her own life.

In tandem with Baraf’s struggle with her mother and their nuanced relationship is Baraf’s internal battle with the notion of belonging. Growing up Jewish in Panama while attending a Catholic school, Baraf was at a constant loss as to how she fit in to the world around her.

At the Narrow Waist of the Worldtells one woman’s story of navigating the struggles of her adolescent and young adult life and how she both overcame and still lives with those struggles. While none of Baraf’s burning questions are necessarily answered, she does seem to come to peace with and embrace some of the more difficult aspects of her life.

Mixing English and Spanish, text and photographs, letters and remembered dialogue, At the Narrow Waist of the World is an eclectic and quick read.

Published by She Writes Press in August 2019, At the Narrow Waist of the World is available for purchase at your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Naturally Tan’ by Tan France

naturally-tan-france

Television personality and fashionista Tan France of Netflix’s Queer Eye has written his first book, Naturally Tan.

France covers hot topics such as race, sexuality, and depression while also getting in-depth on some of lighter topics like (unsurprisingly) fashion, dating, and shoes. What makes the book so unique and inspiring is France himself. His tone of voice, his compassion, and his blunt attitude make the reader feel like she’s a friend or at least an interviewee.

France, an Englishman with a heritage in Pakistan, is one of the first openly gay Muslim men on television right now. Throughout Naturally Tan, he talks about his struggles with being himself in a society that looks down on a lot of what makes him who he is. Above and beyond his heritage and sexuality, though, France makes the book more about providing the inspiration to be who you are than it is about glorifying himself for being who he is.

The book, like its title and author, is full of smart and witty phrases, anecdotes, and advice (both fashion and life) from France. While it can often read like a stream of consciousness, or even a one-way conversation, Naturally Tanhas the intrigue and momentum to keep you reading.

France is a voice we don’t often hear from, even in our more modern (and we hope) progressive age, but it’s one we need to hear more of.

Slated for release from St. Martin’s Press on May 14, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Naturally Tan by Tan France at your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

the-first-conspiracy-meltzer-menschThe First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch tells the story of America’s first acts of criminal espionage against the government and the government’s first act of counter espionage.

Meltzer and Mensch follow the development of a plot against the Continental Army prior to the start of the Revolutionary War and follows this plot through to the independence of America from Great Britain. The plan involves bribery, treason, and potential plans for murder, and the plan it seems infiltrated the army itself involving people close to George Washington both professionally and personally. While following this plot, Meltzer and Mensch are also keen to point out the ways in which this first act of counter-espionage came to inform current institutions such as the Secret Service and FBI.

While the book is teeming with fun historical facts and interesting tidbits from America’s cultural past, it too often reads like a textbook. The characters are distant and unreachable, possibly in part because of their historical presence and also because of Meltzer and Mensch’s marriage to telling the truth. It’s arguably challenging to create a compelling character when you can only know that character through Congress notes and an odd journal entry. Similarly, the conflict in the book, while undeniability riveting in its content, is not as much so in its telling.

Throughout the course of the book though, Meltzer and Mensch achieve their goal of telling the history of American counterintelligence and sharing details of American history that might have been glossed over in our grade school textbooks.

Slated for release by Flatiron Books in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch from your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

 

‘Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir’ by Jean Guerrero

crux-guerreroWhat is it that determines definitions: defines something as one thing instead of another? What delimits fiction from reality, sanity from insanity? Borders: the lines that stand between; the lines that distinguish “different” from “same.” Borders that are rarely clear and often obfuscated by our own perceptions, by what we bring to the table, the baggage we carry.

Borders are what Jean Guerrero investigates in her narrative nonfiction release Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir. Guerrero sets out not only to tell her story, but to tell that of her father through both her memories and the investigative work it requires to unravel her family’s troubled and often curricular past.

Guerrero begins by setting the scene, by introducing the reader to her parents, to what life was like growing up as the child of her parents. Her mother, an acclaimed doctor with expectations that reach no lower that straight A grades and flawless chastity, holds one end of the parenting tight rope. Her father, a potential schizophrenic who sees every action as sabotage or a symptom of being spoiled, holds the other. Guerrero finds herself trying to walk between them, seeking desperately to both please and thwart their expectations, wishes, and demands of her.

Most of Guerrero’s life is spent without her father, wondering where he is, thinking he’s dead. The other part of the time, Guerrero spends, at least her childhood, terrified of her father. Terrified of his mania, of his accusations, of feeling like a failure in his eyes. Her mother spends most of Guerrero’s childhood trying to forget her husband, arguing that he’s schizophrenic and telling Guerrero, whenever she acts out of line in her mother’s eyes, that she suffers from the same mental illness. Her father meanwhile, claims he is being targeted by the CIA for mind control experiments, and Guerrero experiences moments that make her question the dubiousness of his statements.

Guerrero finds her way through her troubled childhood to come out an investigative journalist constantly seeking for the truth that alluded her as a child. But the biggest mystery, the biggest truth she hopes to hold is that of her father’s life. Travelling through Mexico to piece together the mystery of her family and her father’s past, Guerrero uncovers a cycle of abuse that has perpetuated her family’s suffering. She learns of the terrors that the women who came before her suffered to give her father life and her. She learns of the terrors her own father suffered and that potentially led him to the depths of his current despair.

A beautifully moving and terrifying memoir, Crux is a book that attempts not to teach, but to learn and keep on learning beyond the pages of its covers. Guerrero brings to the table systemic issues that cannot be eradicated by a single story, but she suggests that maybe through constant inquiry, searching, and an attempt to do better we can break free of the demons of our past.

Slated for release by One World Press on July 17, 2018, you can preorder a copy of Crux: A Cross-Border at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old’ by Parker J. Palmer

on-the-brink-palmerOn the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer, is a collection of essays, poems, and stories that tell the story of Palmer’s coming in to old age. Palmer’s main themes surround issues such as: living a full life, finding your vocation, being grateful, understanding life’s lessons, and making the choice to be happy despite your circumstances.

Palmer breaks his book up into seven distinct parts, each with a different message related to aging. Throughout On the Brink of Everything, Palmer shares personal experiences, mostly revolving around his career, his vocation as a writer, and his spiritual leanings as a devout Quaker.

Many of Palmer’s musing may resonate with people young and old, but readers who are unfamiliar with his work should be warned that On the Brink of Everything is heavily leaden with spiritual and didactic lessons that may also feel burdensome.

Released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers on June 26, 2018, you can purchase a copy of On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old by Parker J. Palmer at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘American Wolf’ by Nate Blakeslee

american-wolf-nate-blakesleeLike watching Planet Earth in your mind’s eye, American Wolf, is an adventure that lets you experience moments on Earth that most people haven’t even dreamed exist. Author Nate Blakeslee tells the story of O-Six, one of the most famous Yellowstone wolves. O-Six was shot by a hunter during a brief period in which wolves were removed from the endangered species list. Blakeslee tells O-Six’s story through a variety of lens covering issues of politics, environmentalism, and humanity.

Told is a very Eric Larson style narration, American Wolf is a literary non-fiction work that covers fact with the guise of fiction. Blakeslee’s sources include everything from interviews to field notes, and his method for compiling these facts build beautifully into a narrative form that tells more like a story than an account of history. Part of what adds to the literary element of American Wolf is the multiple points of view that Blakeslee takes up throughout his telling.

O-Six is only one of many characters who makes an appearance in American Wolf. Others include O-Six’s murderer, alias Steven Turnball; wolf expert Rick McIntyre; the wolves of O-Six’s pack and those of rivalry tribes; as well as senators, governors, and even Barack Obama. Blakeslee’s drama weaves between wolves hunting food, humans hunting wolves, humans fighting humans and wolves fighting wolves all the while allowing readers to see all sides, even if one side is clearly preferred.

While Blakeslee advocates strongly for the wolves in American Wolf, he does not do so at the expense of the other players on the field. He very pointedly captures the arguments from all sides: arguments about the controversial reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone in the early 1990’s and the debates around when and if to remove the wolf from the engendered species list and thereby open the wolf to being hunted. We hear from ranchers, from hunters, from environmentalist, and politicians, seeing the intricacies of what one act can do to a person, a town, a country.

Blakeslee does a fantastic job of capturing the unique and desolate beauty of Yellowstone from the point of view of a creature few who’ve travelled to Yellowstone have even seen. Barreling through trees, battling against bears, fighting for survival, Blakeslee makes his readers feel like they are there, swooping through the forests and plains of Yellowstone beside the wolves. And when you aren’t in the park, the battles are just as heated in civilization.

A beautiful, moving, and essential piece of literature during a politically heated time, American Wolf was published in 2017 by Crown Publishing. You can purchase a copy of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.