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Book Nook - 17-07-2017

Monday, July 17, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Race Against Time
There have been so many books about the Holocaust, no aspect of the horrifying genocide of Jews by the Nazis remains uncovered. Still, more and more writes go back to that era, to tell more stories, which perhaps, is a good thing—it never lets us forget. And the times we are living, fraught with violence and hatred of the ‘other,’ we need constant reminders that communal madness has no race or colour.

The One Man by Andrew Gross is a well-researched book about the race between the Germans and the Allied Forces to create a nuclear device that would help end the war.  Meanwhile the progrom in Germany and other Nazi-occupied territories went on unchecked; the bits of information that leak of the concentration camps are too shocking to contemplate. The worst of these camps was Auschwitz,  where the worst atrocities were committed—torture, mass murder and unimaginable cruelty. It was also the most tightly guarded camp, still two men had managed to escape and brought with them stories of the camp, but also information and a rough map.

One of the men, separated from his family and pushed into these camps is Alfred Mendl, a physicist, who had done the work most crucial to develop an atomic bomb.  The Americans decide that if they have to beat Germany in the war, they have to get that formula. A Jewish American, Peter Strauss comes up with the audacious plan of smuggling in a man into Auschwitz and getting Mendl out. It seems impossible, but worth a try. But who would volunteer for a suicide mission?

Strauss finds an intense young man, an intelligence operative, Nathan Blum, who had managed to get out of Poland, leaving his parents and sister behind. When they are shot dead by the Nazis, Nathan lives with his grief and guilt, hoping to get out of his desk bound translation job and “do something more.” Being a Jew and a Pole, he is ideal for the job, and, quite aware of the risks, he agrees.

He manages to get into Auschwitz and does the impossible—locate Professor Mendl among the thousands of prisoners, in two days; but getting out is tough. The Germans are not fools, they intercept messages and figure out that somebody has infiltrated Auschwitz, what they cannot comprehend is why anyone would want to get into that hellhole?

Alternating between the preparation and training to send Nathan on that dangerous mission, and the unbearable life behind the electrified barbed wire fences of Auschwitz, Gross keeps the pace pulse-pounding, yet allows breathers to develop the characters and their relationships. In the midst of such evil, there is also goodness, love and compassion.

It is a book that moves and thrills in equal measure till it reaches its explosive climax.  It is quite literally unputdownable.
 
The One Man
By Andrew Gross
Publisher: PanMacmillan
Pages: 416



Excerpt of The One Man
APRIL 1944
The barking of the dogs was closing in on them, not far behind now.

The two men clawed through the dense Polish forest at night, clinging to the banks of the Vistula, only miles from Slovakia. Their withered bodies cried out from exhaustion, on the edge of giving out. The clothing they wore was tattered and filthy; their ill-fitting clogs, useless in the thick woods, had long been tossed aside, and they stank, more like hunted animals than men.

But now the chase was finally over.

“Sie sind hier!” they heard the shouts in German behind them. This way!

For three days and nights they had buried themselves in the woodpiles outside the camp’s perimeter wire. Camouflaging their scents from the dogs with a mixture of tobacco and kerosene. Hearing the guards’ bootsteps go past, only inches away from being discovered and dragged back to the kind of death no man could easily contemplate, even in there.

Then, the third night, they clawed their way out under the cover of darkness. They traveled only at night, stealing whatever scraps of food they could find on the farms they came upon. Turnips. Raw potatoes. Squash. Which they gnawed at like starving animals. Whatever it was, it was better than the rancid swill they’d been kept barely alive on these past two years. They threw up, their bodies unaccustomed to anything solid. Yesterday, Alfred had turned his ankle and now tried to carry on with a disabling limp.

But someone had spotted them. Only a couple of hundred yards behind, they heard the dogs, the shouts in German, growing louder.

“Hier entlang!” Over here!

“Alfred, come on, quick!” the younger one exhorted his friend. “We have to keep going.”

 “I can’t. I can’t.” Suddenly the limping man tripped and tumbled down the embankment, his feet bloody and raw. He just sat there on the edge of exhaustion. “I’m done.” They heard the shouts again, this time even closer. “What’s the use? It’s over.” The resignation in his voice confirmed what they both knew in their hearts: that it was lost. That they were beaten. They had come all this way but now had only minutes before their pursuers would be upon them.

“Alfred, we have to keep moving,” his friend urged him on. He ran down the slope and tried to lift his fellow escapee, who even in his weakened condition felt like a dead weight.

“Rudolf, I can’t. It’s no use.” The injured man just sat there, spent. “You go on. Here—” He handed his friend the pouch he’d been carrying. The proof they needed to get out. Columns of names. Dates. Maps. Incontrovertible proof of the unspeakable crimes the world needed to see. “Go! I’ll tell them I left you hours ago. You’ll have some time.”

“No.” Rudolf lifted him up. “Did you not vow not to die back there in that hell, just to let yourself die here…?”

He saw it in his friend’s eyes. What he’d seen in hundreds of other sets of eyes back at the camp, when they’d given up for good. A thousand.

Sometimes death is just simpler than continuing to fight.

Alfred lay there, breathing heavily, almost smiling. “Now go.”

From the woods, only yards away, they heard a click. The sound of a rifle being cocked.

 They froze.

It’s over, they both realized at once. They’d been found. Their hearts leaped up with fear.

Out of the darkness, two men stepped forward. Both dressed in civilian garb, with rifles, their faces gritty and smeared with soot. It was clear they weren’t soldiers. Maybe just local farmers. Maybe the very ones who had turned them in.

“Resistance?” Rudolf asked, a last ember of hope flickering in his eyes.

For a second, the two said nothing. One merely cocked his gun. Then the larger one, bearded, in a rumpled hunting cap, nodded.

“Then help us, please!” Rudolf pleaded in Polish. “We’re from the camp.”

“The camp?” The man looked at their striped uniforms without understanding.

“Look!” Rudolf held out his arms. He showed them the numbers burned into them. “Auschwitz.”

The barking of the dogs was almost on them now. Only meters away. The man in the cap glanced toward the sound and nodded. “Take your friend. Follow me.”


Hickory Dock
There are readers who love damsel-in-distress novels. Diane Chamberlain’s The Stolen Marriage falls firmly into that category and would satisfy her fans.  Others might find it jarringly old-fashioned, though it accurate in depicting life in the US in the 1940s.

The book is set in the American South around World War II, when pretty Tess Demello is waiting to marry her childhood sweetheart. Her fiancé, Vincent Russo, is a doctor who goes off to deal with a polio outbreak in Chicago and takes much too long coming back.

Distressed by his absence and apparent indifference, she goes to Washington on a trip with her friend Gina, and after too many drinks, wakes up next to a man she just met. Henry Kraft is a furniture tycoon from a town called Hickory, and the strong, silent type, who also lost his control due to intoxication.

 A few weeks down the line, Tess finds herself pregnant, and her Catholic upbringing prevents her from going ahead with a back alley abortion. Instead, she goes to meet Henry for help, and he offers to marry her.  She cannot bring herself to face Vincent, so she agrees to the proposal, even it means breaking her own heart and that of Vincent, not to mention the two families.

Henry’s mother, sister and the wealthy social circle of Hickory hate Tess and make to attempt to hide it. They look down on her ambition to be a nurse and want her to become another vacuous high society, like Violet, the girl Henry is supposed to have dumped to marry her. Tess is utterly miserable, though she tries very hard to adjust.  Henry treats her well, but obviously does not love her.

Several passages make one gnash one’s teeth, but then Chamberlain deals with topics like racism, class snobbery, women’s independence and public health.  Eventually Tess does find her voice and  purpose in life.  Which makes the melodrama that went before worthwhile.
 
The Stolen Marriage
By Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages:  384


ALSO RECEIVED
Sandhya Menon’s exuberant Young Adult novel is a bestseller that pleases its target group. Says the synopsis, “The arranged marriage YA romcom you didn't know you wanted or needed... Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He's rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she's got other plans...

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works even harder to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

As joyfully refreshing as Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi is a frothy, funny contemporary romance told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists. While Dimple is fighting her family traditions, Rishi couldn't be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents - could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?”
 
When Dimple Met Rishi
By Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 380

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I recently got married. It was an arranged marria
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