Kathy Kacer’s To Look a Nazi in the Eye, reviewed for Netgalley

To me, this book is divided into two parts: the good and the bad, so I will divide my review into two parts.

The Good…

To Look a Nazi in the Eye is a very important book for young people to read. The horror of the Holocaust cannot be adequately described in a book review, but it stands as the most atrocious act of genocide in the history of the human race. Our younger generations need to understand the level of cruelty, hate, and inhumanity that fed into the Holocaust. They need to know about the Nazi extermination campaign and the amount of planning that went into trying to wipe out entire populations for not fitting Hitler’s “preferred profile” of an acceptable human being.

The chapters that contain testimony and personal statements from both the perpetrator and the victims of the Holocaust are very important. I found myself examining Oskar Groening’s testimony, dissecting every sentence and trying to find an ounce of remorse or shame. I saw no evidence of either, but readers will have to reach their own conclusions on that just as the survivors who listened made theirs.

Testimonies from the victims are the most important part of the book. It is essential that younger generations understand the brutality and suffering endured by Holocaust survivors. They were beaten, starved, experimented on. Some lost every living relative. The suffering did not end when the war did, and trials such as Groening’s are their only chance for even the tiniest slice of justice. The book could have been much improved with the inclusion of more survivor testimonies and input.

The Bad…

Jordana. Everything having to do with that self-serving narcissist was intolerable.

I found her to be overdramatic, overly emotional, and selfish. Instead of coming off as an intelligent young woman in college, she came across as a bratty teen getting something she didn’t deserve. I see no purpose in her attending the trial. All I could think as I read was that she had taken a seat at the trial that should have gone to someone who had survived a concentration camp or lost a loved one to the Holocaust.  Someone who had a true purpose and right to be there.

She was terribly naïve and her reactions to the people around her were childish and ridiculous. She admits to being bored at the trial, as if the entire affair is for her entertainment purposes. With her inflated sense of self-importance, she somehow managed to make the trial all about herself instead of the real focus: a Nazi who helped murder hundreds of thousands of people and the survivors who came in the hope of seeing justice done. Her personality was a distraction to the important court case and overshadowed the bigger message of this book.

So, my advice is read the book for the survivors. Read the book for the trial and its outcome, but skip as much of Jordana as possible.

McCullough’s “Flood” is rich with history and detail

On Memorial Day in 1889, the South Fork dam, overburdened by monsoon-like rains and years of neglect, gave way and a disastrous flood ripped through the working-class town of Johnstown, PA. The town was wiped out and over 2,200 people lost their lives.

While much has been written, and embellished, about the flood and its aftermath, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough’s work on the subject is the best and most factual to date. The Johnstown Flood overflows with information that is well-written and engaging. The meticulousness of McCullough’s research comes through in the many journals, diaries, newspapers, and personal accounts that he cites throughout.

McCullough spends several chapters building up the image of the town prior to the flood, giving the reader a portrait of Johnstown and its people. It was an industrial place with iron works, steel mills, and railroads providing most of the employment. The population was a diverse one, drawing immigrants from Europe and Great Britain. Life was hard and the people were poor, but the town was booming and employment was steady. On May 31st, the townspeople were preparing for the Memorial Day parade and lamenting another rainy day.

The author also introduces readers to the men of The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, the same men who owned and failed to maintain the South Fork Dam. Most were Pittsburgh magnates of steel mills and railroads. Many were or would become millionaires. The club was their rural retreat, a means of getting out of the hot city during the warm summer months. The South Fork Dam was their key to ensuring that members had a lake full of fish to catch and a body of water large enough to sail on. Unfortunately, none of them ensured that the old dam was sound. By the time the club members acknowledged that it wasn’t, it was too late.

Unlike the sensationalized accounts written by journalists who traveled by train, horse, or foot to reach Johnstown just days after the disastrous flood, McCullough’s Flood conveys the horror of the aftermath without unnecessary embellishments. Human bodies damaged beyond recognition, bloated animal carcasses washing ashore, a debris pile made up of smashed houses, train cars, lumber, barbed wire, mattresses, and stranded survivors that caught on fire. The threat of disease. None of these things required dramatization, and The Johnstown Flood is much more poignant without such manipulations.

The book is an enticing and informative account of social injustice. The homes, livelihoods, and families of the working class residents of Johnstown were destroyed by the cavalier and indifferent attitudes of the wealthy. Not a single club member was ever held accountable for a disaster that caused $17 million (the equivalent of $460 million today) in damages and destroyed an entire town. Perhaps the most evocative part of the book is the 17 pages it takes to list the names of the 2,200 people who died in the flood. Gripping and factual even 50 years after its initial publication, this book is well worth reading.

Glaser’s The Book Jumper doesn’t stick the landing

Major Spoilers…

Mechthild Glaser’s The Book Jumper has a very promising start. The plot is fresh, the location is an island off the coast of gorgeous Scotland, and the main character has the ability to jump into the plot of any book (though all those written about seem to be Classics) and walk through the stories and even interact with the characters as long as she doesn’t interfere with the plot or change the story in any way. Which probably would have worked out just fine for Amy Lennox if someone else hadn’t been jumping into the book world and stealing ideas from the books. The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The cyclone from Wizard of Oz. A monster from The Odyssey.

It’s up to Amy and fellow book jumper Will to solve the mystery of the thefts, which should all be very compelling reading except the story moves so bloody slowly that I felt as though I was dogpaddling through treacle.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Say I am Amy. I come from this awesome Scottish Isle called Stormsay. My people are sooooo special because we can jump into any book we want. Pardon me while I derail, but personally, I would have chosen something a little more modern. Hello, Song of Fire and Ice. Psst, Ned. Hey Ned, don’t go to King’s Landing, man. Trust me on this one, dude. Heads will roll, mainly yours, if you leave the North. Okay, jumping back on track here. So, I’m traipsing through the jungle with Shere Khan, watching some poor sop get drunk on ink, breaking all the carefully laid out rules, and I come to the revelation that all is not well in Booklandia. Do I immediately hatch a plan to catch whoever is stealing story ideas? No. Instead, I drag my feet through almost 200 pages of drudgery, name a whole bunch of people as the definite perp without actually solving anything, and then end up trapped in the book world with my possessed boyfriend and a psycho princess hell-bent on getting what she wants.

And instead of paddling through treacle, the action suddenly speeds up like the log flume ride at Busch Gardens. And a whole bunch of stuff which could have been spread out to make the rest of the book less boring, instead practically trips over itself to make it onto the page before the book ends. And we readers are left with this vague, half-assed resolution that doesn’t quite make sense. Okay, so Amy’s pedigree is half-human, half-book character, which we’ve known for quite a few chapters now, but all of a sudden she is going to lose her book jumping ability? Since when and how does she know this? As far as we readers know, Amy is the only person of this pedigree in existence, so I just can’t imagine how she jumped to that conclusion. And how nice that her boyfriend is left forever in the pages of his favorite book, not dead, but not really alive. And she’ll never see him again when she mysteriously loses her ability to book jump, but she seems fairly okay with that.

I, however, am not okay with that because I invested a lot of time in reading these disappointing 373 pages and, in the end, all I am left with is disappointment and quite a bit of anger at such a waste of an idea. What could have been a fascinating adventure in the land of literature ends in a poorly executed tome that missed the mark entirely.