Tag: Autobiographical

Book Release | a Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other, by Ralph Webster | Summary and Excerpt

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a Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other
The Third Reich is rising.  The creeping madness in the heart of Germany will soon stain the entire world.  This is the chilling account of one family as they flee for their lives.

Blurb

The Wobsers are prosperous, churchgoing, patriotic Germans living in a small East Prussian town.  When Hitler seizes power, their comfortable family life is destroyed by a horrifying Nazi regime.  Baptized and confirmed as Lutherans, they are told they are Jewish, a past always respected but rarely considered.  This distinction makes a life-and-death difference.  Suddenly, it is no longer a matter of faith or religion; their lives are defined by race.  It is a matter of bloodlines.  And, in Nazi Germany, they have the wrong blood.

Genres:  Memoir; Historical Novel; Biography
Page Count:  372 Pages
Release Date:  June 28, 2016
Paperback: $15.95  Kindle: $9.99
ISBN: 1533656924 (ISBN13: 978-1533656926)
Publisher:  CreateSpace

Goodreads | Website |  Amazon

About the Author

bRalph Webster is retired and lives with his wife Ginger on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  An enthusiastic world traveler, he is the son of immigrant parents; refugees who were forced to leave their homelands and families for reasons that defy comprehension.  Through this prism, he has a profound respect for those who must leave their lives behind, and whose only dream is to journey to a welcoming land where there is freedom and opportunity to create a better life.  This is his first book.

 

Goodreads | Amazon

Excerpt

We had no idea, no reason to expect that Father’s business would become a target, too.  There was no forewarning.  That morning, along the front of his building, in large red letters, was the message, “Udo Wobser is a Jew!”

I speak as an adult now, with the collected wisdom of age and hindsight.  I will always remember that Saturday through the eyes and mind of a ten-year-old boy.  That was the day Father became known as Udo Wobser, the Jew, no longer simply as Udo Wobser.  That was the day I learned that I could be both a Jew and a Lutheran at the same time, that being a Jew was about bloodlines and ancestors, that it was about race, not only religion.  That was the day I learned I was still a German, but now I was a German Jew.  That was the day I learned that my family was a member of a much larger family, a family that ran generations deep, a family that was viewed with disdain and contempt.

From that date forward, a line had been drawn.  It wouldn’t matter what we thought, how we had lived, what we believed.  Please don’t misunderstand.  We had never rejected the notion.  We simply had never been taught to embrace it.  Before April 1, 1933, I never entertained the idea that our family was Jewish, that I was a Jew.  It meant nothing to me.  If asked the question, I would have answered, “No, I am Lutheran.”

Ultimately, the answer was not ours to give.  Others told us who we were.  Both Mother and Father were descendants of Jews.  There was no denying.  There was no appeal.

At times, I wonder what Mother and Father really felt that day.  Given the choice, how would have they answered the question.  Did they consider themselves Jews?  Now I know their answer was obvious.  Our opinion did not matter.  There was no choice.  No one asked.  The question was not needed; the answer was evident.

 

 

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The Autobiographical Elements in The Shining, by Stephen King

7133789Have I ever told you about the time I discovered Stephen King? It was at a wedding. A classmate’s wedding. An unlikely place to discuss horror books (or is it?) I can’t remember which classmate it was (I had attended quite a few underage weddings that year), but I remember this conversation so well. A few of us were discussing books and one of our teachers, dressed in one of the most beautiful lavender silk saris I’ve ever seen, told us how she had bought four Stephen King books at a second hand book store for 80 bucks the previous week. We made the right noises to convey our jealousy towards that cunning bargain. Another classmate then told us how she herself had read a King’s book recently and was blown away by it.

I was known as the book lender of the group, and was in no mood to reveal that I had no clue who Stephen King was. What I did, instead, was get a copy of the only Stephen King book I could find at a second hand book store. Quite possibly, the same one my teacher had gone to.

The book was Dolores Claiborne and I hated it. It felt, in my head, rather noisy. I swore off King’s books.

Four years after the events described above, I found myself running for King’s books like it was winter and they were warmth (weird, yes, I know. Creepy, yes, I know that too). I eventually realized he mainly wrote horror stories (which I didn’t know at the time I read Dolores). I read all his short stories, and to this day, I haven’t read anything that is as terrifying and disturbing as Gray Matter, from the collection Night Shift. I read his works with slight distaste and a perverse need. Something bigger than guilty pleasure, and almost as enticing as slow self destruction.

I’ve realized now that I keep going back to King not because of his skills. It’s admirable that he’s written more stories than most authors we know. But it’s not just about the volume either – they are all good stories. Although, I am not particularly a fan of his writing skills. Sure, I love his metaphors, I love the vivid imagery. But I’ve found faults with how swollen his books are, when they could easily have been much more compact. All that padding lessens the impact of the horror he wants to conjure up in the reader’s mind, and which is why, I have repeatedly and truthfully insisted that his books don’t scare me. In all honesty, I find Shaun Hutson’s no-brainer slashing scarier than King’s works and I’ve read Japanese thrillers that can give you far worse nightmares. I’ve read King’s On Writing, and I remember literally and exactly only two sentences from it, and I liked the memoir part more than the writing part. But I go back to King’s books, always. With a lot of respect and a deep sense of loyalty that – one that I cannot fully comprehend myself. I feel defensive of him in a way I don’t about authors I like more. It’s strange, and perhaps that is why The Shining affected me so much. And I’m not even talking about the supernatural elements (although, yes, this book will go down in history as the first King book that scared me).

It is a well known fact that authors leave pieces of themselves in all their characters. But often, the heroes we create are the superhuman versions of ourselves. Ideal, better men and women than we really are. It is a question that has often nagged me: do we only glorify ourselves through our characters, or do we dare to write the worst about ourselves? The dirt and the mess? Do we dare? I found my answer in Jack Torrance, the unlucky, alcoholic, down-on-his-last-buck protagonist of The Shining.

When asked about how he came up with the story, King narrated the incident where he and his wife spent a night at a Colorado hotel which was closing for the season. He had a nightmare involving a fire hose, which provided the inspiration for what later became one of his best known works. The room they stayed in was, no points for guessing: 217. But the real source of inspiration lies much deeper. And its clues lie in King’s anger at what the movie version did to his book.

Movies, in general, do not do justice to the books they’re adapted from. We know this. Authors have every right to be peeved. We know this too. But King’s anger draws itself from a personal well. An episode of Friends refers to The Shining as “a book that starred Jack Nicholson”. I bet that made King cringe, and why shouldn’t it? The character whom Nicholson portrayed on screen was a crazy axe-wielding maniac. It isn’t just that he wasn’t the Jack Torrance King wrote about. It was that it wasn’t who King himself was.

I read the book over a period of a few weeks (given my limited reading time, and the fact that this too is a well-padded book). One evening, the Mr. was watching a video on YouTube about the differences between the book and the movie. It was a coincidence; till I said something about a scene in the book, I did not know what he was watching nor did he know what I was reading. The video covered unimportant, secondary details (such as how book-Danny is 5, telepathic and intelligent, but movie-Danny is 7 and ordinary), but not the finer points that really mattered. It mattered to King that Wendy, a strong, sensible, caring woman in the book, is portrayed as a “screaming dishrag” in the movie. “That’s not the woman I wrote about,” he says. It mattered to him that the supernatural elements in the book were written off as psychological issues in the movie, thereby negating even the title [The Shining refers to Danny’s psychic abilities. He sometimes speaks to a “friend” Tony, who tells him things that are about to happen. The movie dealt with this… differently. It is interesting to note that the book is dedicated to King’s son, and he writes “keep shining”]. It matters that Jack, an ex-alcoholic like King himself did not slowly descend into madness because of the evil hotel, but was already crazy to begin with, someone whom the audience would never really sympathize with. And King has sympathy for all his characters. Torrance was not given a chance at redemption in the movie, but in the book, he does have a moment of clarity. The book has a heart, the movie does not.

The book is King’s confession – of his rage (especially directed at his children), his alcohol and drug abuse, his fears of failing as a writer. It cuts closer than On Writing. Jack Torrance is him, or who he was. The Shining was written at a time when King had some financial stability to speak of. But that does not erase the years he grew up watching his mother’s struggles, or the early years before he sold a story. Jack’s innermost thoughts are King’s innermost thoughts – why doesn’t Jack leave the Overlook hotel knowing how suicidal it is to stay? Fear. He has absolutely nothing to fall back on. All of these are King’s wounds and bruises that he smashes with roque mallets on to paper, exorcising his own demons, giving them forms of bloated dead bodies and blood and brains on the wall.

In The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah, King all but says it out loud that he and Roland are the same person. You see King in all his characters, but not as loud, as neon, as obvious as you do in the villainous Jack Torrance, the angry man you somehow sympathize with (so much so that I felt guilty using the word “villainous” above). Why? Because it’s an angry side we all have, but we dare not talk about it. The real ghost of The Shining isn’t the Overlook hotel or the fire hose or the topiary animals, it is the mirror it holds up to ourselves. By showing us how he could have turned out to be when he was at his weakest, King shows us how we could be at our weakest. It shows us the evil inside our own hearts.

And it’s scary as hell.

Goodreads | Amazon

References: Rolling Stone | Salon | Guardian | The Dissolve 

Bengal Nights, by Mircea Eliade (Translation: Catherine Spencer)

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“I do not love her, I admire her. She disturbs me. Her body and her mind are overwhelming.”

Bengal Nights, or Maitreyi, or La Nuit Bengali by Romanian historian Mircea Eliade is a title I came across by accident. After reading the summary on goodreads, I was quite intrigued, but what drove me nuts was the fact that this book was not available anywhere. This gave Bengal Nights the halo of “the book that I couldn’t have” and like all things we cannot have, it only made me want it more. Otherwise, there is no chance on earth that I would hunt far and wide for a romance. I had given up on ever getting a copy of this book, after searching for it for about a year, when just as unexpectedly, I found it!

Looks like this is the year of romance for me. *secretly hopes not*

Summary <may contain some spoilers>: Alain (Eliade’s alter ego) is a European engineer working in Calcutta. His life is filled with frivolous parties with his friend Harold and “the girls.” While working on a project in Assam, he contracts malaria and is hospitalized. When he regains conciousness, he is surrounded by his friends, all of whom have a prejudice against India and its people. Just then, his employer, Narendra Sen, visits him with his sixteen year old daughter Maitreyi, and invites him to stay at his residence as he recovers. Alain’s friends are convinced that it is a ploy to make him fall in love with Maitreyi and get him married. Alain does not believe it; also, he dislikes Maitreyi’s appearance. However, he accepts Narendra Sen’s offer and moves to his house. Maitreyi is interested in learning French, and soon, he begins to give her French lessons, while she teaches him Bengali. He is sure she is flirting with him, but she assures him that she is in love with Rabindranath Tagore, her teacher, to whom she had once given her word she would never fall in love. Later, however, under the pretext of arranging books in her father’s library, she calls Alain for help and challenges him to invoke feelings in her. She soon realizes she is truly in love with him, and Alain realizes he has been in love with her since the very first time he saw her. Things soon take a turn for the worse when Maitreyi’s parents come to know of the affair, and it leads to a tragic end.

Although this book is set in the early part of the last century, I am unable to call it a historical romance. The main reason being, although most of the customs and traditions mentioned in the story are now outdated, the story could as well have been set in present day India.

Never have I ever read a story of such inner turmoil, such indecisiveness and such passion. Eliade writes in detail about each of Alain’s emotions, his every thought and he employs a rich vocabulary while doing so. The flaw, however, is that it fails to invoke anything in me, as a reader. Why is it that despite such vivid detail, as a reader, I neither sympathized with the tragic situation nor felt any flicker of emotion in my heart? The only reason I could think of is, Eliade’s writing is too much like spoon-feeding. It crosses the thin line between vivid detail and the murder of imagination. It leaves the reader with the sole job of reading, and not imagining – not completing threads in his or her own mind.

Yet another thing I do not understand is, whilst Eliade has published this as an autobiographical work, he gives himself an alias. He mentions Maitreyi (and her guru, the well known poet Rabindranath Tagore) by the real name, and also writes about every little thing they experienced, with, seemingly no thought to consequence. Why then has he adopted an alias for himself alone?

I would recommend this book only for the setting – Calcutta through the eyes of Alain looks charming, haunting, and beautiful, though he was, at the beginning, filled with prejudice against the land and its people. As a literary piece on the whole though, it leaves something to be desired.

Rating: 3/5

Get it here: Amazon

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, was the only blog I used to follow back in the day when I was still a baby allie-brosh-hyperbole-and-half-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookin the blogosphere. I stopped following it around the time I stopped blogging (2010-2011) and when I returned to the scene, I realized Hyperbole and a Half was not being updated as frequently as it used to be. Some of you know that I returned to blogging to help cure me of my depression (which it has, in large part) Around the time I had been away, Allie had shared her depression story, in her unique, trademark style accompanied by colourful MS Paint comics. Later, in the year 2013, she shared the story Depression Part Two, which really resonated with me. It gave words to that which I had been struggling with for so long, especially the following:

“I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore. But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck.”

Hyperbole and a Half – the book – is a collection of a few of the stories from the blog, with all the pictures. It is a hilarious take on life and – as Allie puts it – unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem and other things that happened. It has several laugh-out-loud moments, although the stories follow no particular order. Exactly in the style of the blog, they are non sequential. The best part about this colourful book is that it reaches a wider audience, to those who had not heard of the blog before this. And it is something that all of us would enjoy reading.

I was hoping to find some of my favourite stories from the blog that have not been included – such as the famous Alot, How A Sandwich Makes You Its Bitch, and The Year The Easter Bunny Died. But I am glad I have this beautiful, funny book in my collection. I do hope Allie returns to blogging soon. I miss reading her!

It’s a really quick read – I finished it in just under 3 hours, which is I think the fastest I have ever read a book – given my limited reading time and everything.

Get the book here: Amazon

I hope you like it as much as I did.