This is a beautifully rich tale of life and death, love and art in Florence Italy during the tumultuous 15th century. Told in first person from the viewpoint of a young Florentine girl, but told as her final life’s work as an old woman.
The young girl, Alessandra Cecchi, daughter of a rich textile merchant in Florence, knows she isn’t like her sister or other girls around her. Her passion of art and learning overpowers her, and alienates her from the life of sewing and searching for a rich husband.
Alessandra is also tall, awkward and not beautiful like her sister. Called a “giraffe” by her hateful sibling Tomaso, Allesandra searches for meaning to her life.
Alessandra falls for “the painter” who has been commissioned to paint the ceiling of her families chapel. But she marries a chosen husband “Cristoforo” who turns out to only have married Alessandra to appear heterosexual, which he is not.
During a terribly violent time in Florence as the church and the people battle for control, Alessandra lives a tumultuous life of her own not able to love the one she wants.
After I finished the book I spent some time in a discussion group about the book, interested in what other readers theories were about if “the painter” in the story is supposed to be a real person from the era. Certainly the book weaves real characters with fictional ones, and towards the end of the book there is a reference to Michelangelo that made me think this is who it was supposed to be. In the discussion group there was a wide range of strong opinions, and nobody seemed to know for sure. Theories included Michelangelo, DaVinci and several other 15th century painters.
Only Sarah Durant knows for sure.
A beautiful story about a period in history I knew little about.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Four stars for The Birth of Venus by Sarah Durant.
Read last week’s review of The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.
-Wladyslaw Szlengel, Polish Jewish Poet of the Ghetto
Auschwitz famous gate
Why I Came to Poland
For many years I have wanted to come to Poland. My first realization of that desire was when I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice. My god. That movie changed me. I was only twenty-two years old I think. Very naive.
“Is it best to know about a child’s death, even one so horrible, or to know that the child lives but that you will never, never see him again?” ― William Styron, Sophie’s Choice
I don’t remember learning much about World War II or the Holocaust in high school. Was I absent that day? I remember Anne Frank however. We read that in junior high. We discussed it in class, but my memory of it being a bit edited as perhaps they thought we were too young. They were trying to protect us. But who protected Anne? No one.
I don’t think you can be too young to hear these stories. How else can the facts sink in, in a way that it becomes a part of our daily conscious where we naturally abhor intolerance and speak out against it? How else can our youth be fully informed, aware and not jaded – as the horrors of that time in history slip farther into the past?
WWII had only been over for 15 years when I was born. It’s been longer than that since September 11th happened (17 years). Time is a convenient blanket, smothering the memories and protecting complacency.
Jewish families being herded out of Krakow
Complacency is the world’s evil and our world is full of it today, yesterday and always.
I am by no means a WWII or Shoah expert. But I have a place in my heart that aches for what happened here in this beautiful country of Poland that I have fallen in love with these past two weeks. I want to think of what happened here in human faces and real lives, but the numbers haunt me and I need to share;
Three MILLION Jews exterminated in Poland, half of the six million killed in total
Only 10% of Polish Jews survived
Another estimated but undocumented 1.5 million ethnic Poles killed – many for helping, aiding or hiding Jews
Suitcases of victims
Human beings like you and me. People with names. Birthdays. Lives. Goals and dreams. Doctors and lawyers. Teachers and housewives. Students. Rabbis. Men, women, children and entire families. Grandmothers. Beautiful young women. Little boys. For no reason other than hate.
“You kill yourself when you hate. It’s the worst disease in the world.” ― William Schiff
After I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice in 1982 I began to search out books and movies about the topic. Not just about Poland but about the war, and the death camps. As you are aware I read a lot. I have been deeply touched by many books – in fact many recently, that have come out about this topic. Although some of these books and movies are fictional, many are not. And there is so much to learn from both the non-fiction and fiction stories.
Jewish Cemetery Kazimierz (Krakow)
The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. That first year they stripped Jews of their possessions and their jobs and herded them into walled off ghettos. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest and contained more Jews than in all of France. More than 100,000 people starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto. Many more died of horrible disease such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery because medical care was unavailable. If you haven’t seen the movie The Pianist it’s a must. Haunting story of the Warsaw Ghetto.
“Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.” ― Wilm Hosenfeld, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45
By 1941 Hitler’s right hand man Himmler began his calculated plan to
Bullet riddled ghetto wall Warsaw
annihilate the Jews of Europe through genocide. Within two years 800,000 people had been shot to death and buried in mass graves.
But it had only started. The 1943 Wannsee Conference launched the final solution of the “Jewish question”. Six death camps began the mass extermination through gas chambers using Zyklon B. Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of these.
From the ghettos in Krakow, Warsaw and around Europe the Jews were loaded on trains – told to take minimum belongings and their valuables for their new life in the East. Thousands would die on the trains, suffocated and
The selection process at Auschwitz on arrival by cattle car
starved. Their valuables? Pilfered and to this day most unaccounted for.
Have you seen the movie The Women in Gold? It addresses the issue of the things the Nazi’s stole from their Jewish victims, particular a painting in this case by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.
They’ll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they’ll have to admit to it all.
– The Women in Gold
Cattle Car that brought victims to Auschwitz
Those who arrived at the death camps were quickly processed through selection. Most were dead within their first few hours at the camp, stripped and taken to the “showers” which of course were not showers. Anyone lame or old or young or unable to work was exterminated immediately. The rest would work to death.
The Paradise of Death
It was like an old religion Dividing the saved from the damned. Only that the saved went to hell. The damned- to the paradise of death – Raquel Angel Nagler
Auschwitz was also home to the notorious Doctor Mengele who did unspeakable things to children, twins and other unusual “specimens” who he used as human guinea pigs for his “research”. Have you read the book Mischling? One of the most astonishing stories I have ever read. Astonishing and sickening.
“The whole world will never look back. And if they do, they’ll probably say that it never really happened.” ― Affinity Konar, Mischling
It’s disgusting to me there are still those who believe it never happened. Same people who think we didn’t land on the moon? Same people who don’t believe in Global Warming?
Idiots. This is fact;
1.5 million Jewish PEOPLE died at Auschwitz; 200,000 of them children
Memorial in Krakow for 65,000 Jews killed from that city
3 million Jewish PEOPLE exterminated in Poland
6 million Jewish PEOPLE murdered in WWII
150,000 Non Jewish Polish PEOPLE died
23,000 Roma Gypsy PEOPLE killed
15,000 Soviet POW PEOPLE killed
25,000 others GONE
Where the death camps were
Before the war began Poland had the largest Jewish Population in Europe. More than 3 million citizens whose ancestors had been in Poland for more than a thousand years. Only 10% of the Polish Jewish population survived WWII and the genocide.
Many ethnic Poles died trying to help the Jews. But others turned against them. It was similar in other countries. While there are many stories of resistance fighters in France and Poland there were other citizens who helped the Nazis. Recently I read the book Sarah’s Key and learned about the French Jewish Roundup in Paris in July 1942. I had never heard of this horrible thing before. Shame on all those whose smugness, prejudice and hate killed so many.
“The truth is harder than ignorance.” – Sarah’s Key
Where they burned the bodies
The thing I keep asking myself is why did we not help them? Where was the United States? Where was the League of Nations? Where was the Catholic Church? As early as 1941 it was common knowledge in the world leaders what was happening. People and governments looked away. Partly because they were afraid, or busy fighting other battles, but this was genocide. Pure and simple. And no one came.
The remains of the incinerators the Nazi’s destroyed at the end of the war
My time in Poland has been both lovely and gut-wrenching. The Poland I see as a visitor is beautiful. But I know, like all nations, there are underlying problems and anti-Semitism is here. As an American I am painfully aware of how ignorance begets hate and intolerance – rampant in my country. In the past, in the present and more likely than not in the future – there will be hate. People who can’t or WON’T tolerate anyone who is different from them.
I don’t believe hate is something you are born with. It is learned. Hate and prejudice is learned. Just like empathy and tolerance is also learned.
It brings me back to two things I promote on this blog;
TRAVEL – My message through this blog has always been one of inspiration. And inspiring anyone to pack a bag and go to an unknown place is my greatest goal. You will be changed. You will be full. You will be amazed, what travel can do to your life, your prejudice, your tolerance and your happiness. Just go.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
Those who didn’t die on arrival lived in hell
2. READ – My other message on this blog is to read, read, read. And if you can, learn to read outside your comfort zone. Read history, and fiction and non fiction and more. There is nothing so simple as reading a book that can open your mind to the world outside your door. Just read.
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” —Malorie Blackman
Poland and Auschwitz are sacrosanct now. Everyone should come here to feel and remember the human lives. The very real human beings who became ashes.
But of course it’s not possible for everyone. So read. Watch films. Learn. And most importantly, remember. Remember a little girl. An old man. A family. Most importantly remember what we humans have allowed to happen in our recent past. Think about the Holocaust in names and people’s lives rather than numbers and dates. Don’t let that die. Otherwise, nothing was gained and we all are lost.
(This is nowhere near all that is out there. Just some suggestions)
The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne
Mischling by Affinity Konar
Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Ireana’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Maus by Art Spiegelman
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Where victims were sent
The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas
The Hiding Place
The Diary of Anne Frank
Life is Beaiutiful
Son of Saul
Au revoir les enfants
The Women in Gold
Fiddler on the Roof (not WWII but spectacular anyway)
Big swing for me this week. Going from reading last week The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k to one of my FAVORITE books I read as a child, the beautiful children’s book Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
The house we are staying in comes with a tremendous library of books – a wide range of genre’s, including historic children’s novels like Black Beauty written in 1877. I read this book when I was ten years old and it had a powerful impact on me. So when I saw the book here in this house I picked it up and began to read. I enjoyed it just as much 48 years later.
As a child I had never read a book like Black Beauty, a story of compassion and cruelty and horses, told uniquely from the point of view of the horse. Based in England in the late 19th century when horses served in so many working capacities, Black Beauty tells the reader about the life of a horse, birth to death and all that it encompasses.
While researching to write this review I stumbled upon an NPR story that vividly mirrors my feelings about how Black Beauty changed the way I look at horses, and frankly other animals as well.
I am so glad I chose to read this book again. As an adult I could take away some new lessons from Black Beauty that I may have missed as a child. But the story still held me, the characters both human and animal captivated me and Black Beauty clearly remains a classic for all time.
Read it again or for the first time. Fabulous.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
This blog contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you purchase this book. Any money earned goes directly to offset the costs of the maintenance of this blog. Thank you.
Book Review The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson
This book will offend some people. And frankly I thought the title was more about marketing than about the content of the book. And seriously in the first few introductory chapters of this book Manson finds every possibility, and I mean EVERY, to use the F word. He is rather obsessed with the word. And although I get that he is trying to make a point about living a life of not giving a F*** to obtain happiness, but frankly too many F*** made me really give a F*** about getting to the point already!
All that said I stuck with the book, and his tone and vocabulary settled down a bit. Manson, a very successful blogger, writes the book in an effort to help people realize his view that positive thinking is not the goal to true happiness – not giving a F*** is the key. His argument in a nutshell is improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach the lemons better.
A message I agree with and live by and believe makes me a much happier person than some people I know.
Since the book is a self-help book I’ll share a couple of passages I particularly enjoyed. Manson says;
“…pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them.”
” It’s strange that in an age when we are more connected than ever, entitlement seems to be at an all time high…The more freedom we’re given to express ourselves, the more we want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree with us.”
“Even Oprah says each and everyone of us can be extraordinary. The fact that this statement is inherently contradictory – after all, if everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary.”
“We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.”
“If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are its really just you versus yourself.”
“Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits.”
So there you have it, some of my favorite passages from the book. And as you can see not an F word in sight.
I enjoyed the message, the positive outlook that is very similar to mine. Being happy is a choice. So stop the pity-party. Just make the right choice. Go. Be. Happy.
Three stars for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson
This blog contains affiliate links. If you purchase the book we may receive compensation. Any money earned goes back to supporting the costs of maintaining this blog. Thank you.
Book Review Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I loved this book. I had added this book to my list ages ago, finding it on a must read 2017 list. But it took forever for it to show up available on Kindle and I had forgotten about it.
But wow. Worth the wait. One of my favorite reads so far this year. Another book I expect to see become a movie. But read the book – don’t wait for the movie.
Mandel creates a cast of likeable characters with a variety of interests and histories including a wide range of ages, talents, abilities, ethnicities, genders and economic backgrounds. These characters unwillingly become entwined when the entire earth is subject to a pandemic flu. The flu ends the world as we know it and kills 99% of the population.
Whoa say what? And I loved this book? I truly did. Frightening because it’s very believable, captivating because you feel for the characters, frightening because it’s plausible, well-written with an interesting and well thought out plot development and oh did I mention Frightening??
My husband read this book and also loved it. The funny thing is if I had been told the plot of this book I may not have read it. But I am really glad I did. A perfect mix of sci-fi, drama, mystery and suspense.
Shaker Heights is a perfect little community outside of Cleveland. Perfect houses. Perfect lawns. Perfect jobs. Perfect schools. And the perfect Richardson Family. Leading this family is Elena Richardson, lifelong Shaker Heights resident and a perfect citizen who follows the rules.
The perfection begins to unravel the day Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights, moving into a rental house owned by the Richardson’s. Mia, an unconventional artist and mother, as far from the Shaker Heights kind of women Elena Richardson aspires to.
Mia’s mysterious past, Elena’s nosy obsession, Pearl’s friendship with the Richardson children and Izzy’s (the youngest daughter) obsession with Mia and desire for a different life than Shaker Heights, will collide in a heartbreaking tale of loss in so many ways.
Little Fires Everywhere will make you sit up and think about your own choices in life, secrets you carry, decisions you’ve made and what really is the meaning of family and mother.
This blog contains Affiliate Links and I may receive a commission if you purchase this book
Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman
As I read this book I kept thinking “this will definitely be a movie”. So as I started to write this review I googled it, and sure enough it will. One of Reese Wetherspoons upcoming movies with her new production company. And in fact she may even play the title character.
Whaky and quirky and lacking most social skills, Eleanor Oliphant leads an overly structured life with no friends, no family and very little interaction with anyone. Except her co-workers at her office where she has worked for nine years. But her co-workers find her really strange, and Eleanor has no idea why.
Except for the large burn scar on her face – Eleanor thinks she’s normal. Well, maybe except for the three bottles of vodka she drinks on the weekend, Eleanor thinks she’s normal. Maybe the fact that she wears only black pants and white blouse everyday, or she eats the exact same thing everyday – or she speaks to her mother every Wednesday night even though she doesn’t know where her mother is. Eleanor realizes that probably isn’t normal. Eleanor’s obsession with a local rock star seems normal to her – in fact she is so sure the rocker will fall in love with her, if they could only meet. Not normal.
Eleanor’s life changes the day she coincidentally meets the new I.T. guy at her office and coincidentally is walking out of the building at the same time as he is and they coincidentally see an old man have a heart attack on the sidewalk right in front of them.
And so begins Eleanor’s life lessons in learning to have a conversation, break from her routine, speak the truth about her past, her sister, her mother and all that took place in her abused and horrible childhood. Eleanor’s introduction to reality begins right there.
Sometimes laugh out loud, sometimes get your tissue, Eleanor’s story and those who rescue her is endearing and emotional, hysterical and sobering. Watch for this one on the big screen.
Five stars for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.