Review: Andra and Tatiana Bucci – Always Remember Your Name

Always Remember Your Name
Andra and Tatiana Bucci

“A haunting WWII memoir of two sisters who survived Auschwitz that picks up where Anne Frank’s Diary left off and gives voice to the children we lost. … An unforgettable narrative of the power of sisterhood in the most extreme circumstances, and of how a mother’s love can overcome the most impossible odds, the Bucci sisters’ memoir is a timely reminder that separating families is an inexcusable evil.”

I have been ‘enjoying’ a number of non-fiction novels lately about the Holocaust. I say ‘enjoying’, but really they are quite sad reads due to the devastating loss of life as a result of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. I found myself horrified and yet not surprised at the level of brutality exhibited by the Nazi’s. It’s one thing to have a critical idea of World War II (as I’ve said before, my history knowledge is poor) and another to really experience it as these writers did.

To hear that 230,000 children were deported, and that less than 200 survived is horrific. No, that’s not a typo. Somewhat confusingly perhaps, the book blurb suggests that all of these children were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death. This was not the case – the majority of children were simply gassed to death because they were deemed to be useless. Andra and Tatiana remain together because they are thought to be twins – and remembering their names is crucial in being able to return them to their parents many years later.

I am haunted by the last fact I learnt in The Keeper of Miracles – some people don’t believe that the Holocaust happened. This makes it all the more important to keep publishing, promoting and researching literature about this catastrophic loss of more than six million lives. This book should be higher on the high school reading list than the iconic fiction book of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which has noticeable inconsistencies with the real events of the Holocaust) or the very dense memoir If This is a Man. Always Remember Your Name gets full stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 20 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Lucy Adlington – The Dressmakers of Auschwitz

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz
The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive
Lucy Adlington

“At the height of the Holocaust twenty-five young inmates of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp – mainly Jewish women and girls – were selected to design, cut, and sew beautiful fashions for elite Nazi women in a dedicated salon. It was work that they hoped would spare them from the gas chambers… Weaving the dressmakers’ remarkable experiences within the context of Nazi policies for plunder and exploitation, historian Lucy Adlington exposes the greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Third Reich and offers a fresh look at a little-known chapter of World War II and the Holocaust.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel approach to World War II history in a way that made it approachable and interesting to me. For anyone who has an interest in fashion this book is going to be a great read. The author clearly had favourites! The key two women presented in a favourable light were Hanyu, who she presents as fearless and spunky, and Marta, who is compassionate for her team.

I have to complain a little that I found the multiple narrative perspectives difficult to follow. I would have much preferred that each chapter approached what a single woman faced at a time, particularly near the end. I couldn’t work out who died, or who lost their entire family – but perhaps this was deliberate to highlight the sheer number of murders in this book.

There is a lot of background information before we get to the part where the women make dresses! Since I was expecting it to focus on the fashions and specific circumstances of the dressmakers, I spent the first half of the book waiting for ‘action’. This was shallow of me, as I did learn a lot of facts about the Holocaust from a woman’s perspective, which I think has been unstudied/undiscussed in this area of work.

The old adage is that truth is stranger to fiction – in this case non-fiction is horrific enough that it’s not necessary to read a fictional horror novel! I find myself still better fascinated with true history such as this book and the upcoming Always Remember Your Name, or The Keeper of Miracles, rather than fictional novels set in the time of World War II. That being said, I did read The Kitchen Front recently which of course had a rather simplistic happy ending.

Hachette | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Meshel Laurie – CSI Told You Lies

CSI Told You Lies
Meshel Laurie

“CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne… Join Meshel Laurie as she goes ‘behind the curtain’ at VIFM, interviewing the Institute’s talented roster of forensic experts about their daily work. Her subjects also include others touched by Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations, including homicide detectives, defense barristers and families of victims as they confront their darkest moments.”

I felt quite conflicted about this book. While I enjoyed some of the history of forensics in Australia, I wasn’t actually that satisfied. I kept pressing through in the hopes that I would get something really interesting from the book (a bit like I did with On a Wing and a Prayer) but I was ultimately disappointed.

Promising me that it’s a book that will give ‘victims a voice through forensics’ makes me think that the forensic scientists will be recreating the picture of what happened when someone died – but not really. It’s not even a complete book of victims who were identified only by forensics – many of the stories are about victims who had already been identified and forensics had very little to do with giving information.

This author may have had an agenda. Later in the book she spends quite a lot of time discussing murders that didn’t need to be solved forensically that are mainly about women who are murdered, the language around their marital status (or job)  and the killers who just needed to kill someone. While I found those stories interesting (and valuable) the forensics involved weren’t key to solving the crime.

The most interesting fact that I learnt was that cruise ships have morgues! That of course then lead me to google it, and it turns out it’s a legal requirement that cruise ships have a morgue (although if they run out of space they put the bodies in a food freezer emptied of icecream).

Reading this sort of book makes me wonder whether I should have gone into a forensics career – and then I realise it’s a lot of anatomy and man, I hate anatomy! I’m going to pass it on to a friend that is also totally into reading about this topic, and hopefully he enjoys it more than I did.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Di Websdale-Morrissey – On a Wing and a Prayer

On a Wing and a Prayer
Di Websdale-Morrissey

“In 1934, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor announced a London-to-Melbourne air race to celebrate his city’s centenary. The audacious plan captured imaginations across the globe: newspapers and magazines everywhere were filled with it; the world’s pilots scrambled to get sponsorship; and the organisers scrambled to get the rules straight and permission to fly in foreign air space. Sixty-four entrants from eleven countries signed up, but only twenty planes eventually took off on 20 October 1934. The winner arrived in Melbourne seventy-one hours later—but three planes crashed and two pilots died in the attempt.”

I’m not 100% sure what I expected in this book. I initially didn’t pick it up to read because I thought it was a fiction novel and it triggered memories of Jackie Chan’s film, Around the World in 90 Days. However, when I finally picked it up I found an interesting non-fiction about an event I’m sure many people know nothing of!

While the blurb tries to draw in a reader with the fable of Albury saving the Uiver, this is really quite a small portion of the book. The book is written sensitively and clearly, and deals fairly with all of the pilots in the race. Not only does it have the details of the race, it also has the back story and the endings (ie. ongoing lives and deaths of those involved in the race). As usual for many of Text’s books, there are some beautiful colour photographs reproduced lovingly to illustrate and bring the characters to life.

This book is going to suit anyone with a love of engineering, planes and Australian history! It’s written in a nice engaging manner, and even someone like me who can’t care less about history can enjoy it. It’s a very suitable present for the plane fanatic in your life.

Text Publishing | 3rd September 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Timothy C Winegard – The Mosquito

The Mosquito
Timothy C Winegard

“Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution? The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.”

It’s that time of year where I try to purge the books that haven’t been read in a year from my shelf. Several have somehow missed by rader – perhaps I couldn’t face this one with another epidemic going on. I can think back to the end of 2019 and remember that I was very grateful that COVID-19 wasn’t vector-borne, because that would make it almost impossible to eradicate. Unfortunately, life a year on suggests that there is still more disease to deal with (as I write this review, the first vaccines are being administered in the USA).

Nevertheless, this is an interesting, if somewhat dense, book about vector-borne diseases – specifically those transmitted by mosquitoes. I somehow didn’t get past the introduction and first chapter, probably because my background as a mosquito scientist. There is a focus on malaria, which is of course the most ‘popular’ disease. My own mosquito-borne disease choice is dengue, so I wasn’t as wrapped in it. Dengue is an emerging epidemic, so it’s not really mentioned in here.

The chapter titles of this book are quite inspired! Unfortunately, for me it eventually turned out that I didn’t finish reading it. It truly was a history rather than a science-filled narrative of the mosquito. I’m just not that keen on history (coming from someone who thought that the ‘cold war’ was cold because it snows in Russian…).

A really cool fact I learn from this book was that malaria was used in the 1920s to treat syphilis! The guy that thought of the idea got a Nobel prize, and so people would line up to be given malaria in order to treat their STI. Then a couple of years later we discovered antibiotics, thank goodness!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a hardback at this price point, but sadly it isn’t. It’s solid book that is going to be the perfect gift for someone who loves history.

Text Publishing | 20 October 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback