Category Archives: Travelogue

Why? #BookBytes 7

For BookBytes today I have picked this quote from Jet Lag by Ann Birstein. Talking of Auschwitz the author says:

The million and half Jews had been shipped from all over Europe for the privilege of being murdered here. From all parts of Poland, of course, but also Hungary, Slovakia, Greece. Why? Why go to all that trouble? Why not shoot them on the spot? But I was thinking in terms of Nazi efficiency. I had forgotten the other why. Why murder them all?

Jet Lag, Ann Birstein

This is something I have often wondered. Why take the trouble of transporting millions and millions of Jews only to kill them? And again I have to remind myself that the bigger question here is ‘Why kill them at all?’.

Although the book didn’t move me as much as other WWII literature, it is worth a read. You can read the detailed review of the book here.

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

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Jet Lag #BookReview

Book: Jet Lag
Author: Ann Birstein

I took up JetLag on a recommendation from Sonali’s Book Club. That it was a World War II book was of course another big reason.

This is a travelogue..

..by the author who signs up for a European Discovery Tour – a trip that would take her to Jewish sites across Eastern Europe. She feels the need to explore her Jewish roots, to see the ‘origin’ as she puts it.

Along with her on the tour is a group of people each prompted by their own reasons. They travel from Warsaw and Auschwitz to Lithuania, Chez Republic and Hungary visiting all the sites of the horrible tragedy that was WW II. In Lithuania she visits the Yeshiva (Jewish Educational Institution) where her father had studied and tries to imagine what his life would have been like.

What I liked

The book brings home the tragedy in all its horror. Through Ann and her erudite guide we get to know of countless stories of life in the ghettos. These are stories of horror of course yet also of hope because people continued to believe that the madness had to end.

The Jews led almost regular lives, at least initially. They ran libraries, taught music and organised children’s operas. It is amazing how people kept on living ‘normal’ lives even in the most cruel, abnormal conditions. It shocked me to realise how easily we adapt to and accept whatever circumstances we are forced to live in. And that, I believe, is the biggest lesson history teaches us – to protest an unfair act no matter how small.

Many of them defied the rules too. They did it systematically and repeatedly till even that became their new normal. Above all, they wrote and photographed, constantly chronicling whatever was happening around them, leaving it all for posterity even as their numbers depleted day by day with groups of them being transported to the ovens.

Some instances talked about in the book will stay with me for a long time.

There were mentions of people like Emanuel Ringelblum the Warsaw Ghetto chronicler, Photographer George Kadish from Kovno, Lithuania and Abraham Sutzkever with his lyrical yet terrible descriptions of the holocaust. I spent hours looking each of them up on the Net and following their pictures.

The statistics are stunning in their enormity.

What could have been better

While the ghetto stories were inspiring as well as heart-breaking, the memoir didn’t draw me in. The narrative never became personal hence turned dull in parts.

Also, the people on the tour didn’t really come together as a group. I missed the warmth, the mutual sympathy that comes through a shared tragedy. Most of them had back stories but they were rather tenuous ones and I couldn’t connect with them with the exception of Rita and Max. They had both been at the concentration camps when they were young. Rita, as an 18-year-old, was incarcerated at Auschwitz and her husband Max was on the Schildler’s List. Their stories were moving, their dignity in the face of trauma, impressive. A book from their perspective would be worth a read.

I struggled with Yiddish terms and was glad I was reading it on the Kindle so I could look up the words as I went along.

Last thought: This one certainly deserves a read, however it is more of a fact file on WWII than a personal narrative.

Linking up with the Write Tribe Reading Challenge – This is my review for ‘A book written by a female author’.

Click here to buy this book

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain – A review

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain
By George Mahood

Free country.jpg

7.30 am in the morning, Land’s End, Cornwall England.

Two men stand in their boxers, just their boxers. It is colder than what they’d bargained for, the gravel cuts into their feet, and they get more than a few ‘what are the weirdos upto’ galnces.

That’s George and Ben – a photographer and a composer/actor respectively.

So what are they doing, almost naked, at Land’s End? For the geographically challenged, Land’s End is the most South Westerly part of England. This slightly crazy duo plans to cover the length of England, from Land’s End to the top of Scotland, a distance of about a 1000 miles, on bikes without money, clothes, shoes, food …… or bikes. Yeah right, they have no bikes just yet. Or maps to guide them either.

They are counting on the generosity of strangers to lend them bikes, feed them, clothe them and give them a place to sleep each night.

Stranger than fiction, right?

The book traces their adventures as they cycle on a mountain bike and child’s road bike (Yeah they do manage to get those), through the length of England and finish the trip on the terms they’d set out with.

The review

This book is definitely more about the journey than the destination – a hilarious, heartwarming journey. George and Ben wind their way through back roads and tiny towns, giving us a ride through the gorgeous English countryside.

However, what remains with me is the sheer audacity of their endeavour. Being a rather self-conscious person, I can only commend the courage it takes to approach a stranger and ask for a favour. And here are these two men asking not just for food, but also clothes and shoes and bikes, then bike repairs, all for free. They even mange to wheedle out ice creams, free ferry rides and a night in the theatre too. They are ready to wash dishes, clean hotels, sing carols, cook a barbecue and even scavenge rubbish bins.

The other thing that struck me was the positivity in the book. There is very little mention of the physical challenges the journey must have thrown up. For untrained people to cycle three weeks at a stretch mustn’t have been easy. Yet they do not dwell upon hurting knees, going hungry or meeting unpleasant people, not to say about putting up with each other under such stressful circumstances and shared meagre resources.

They bicker and argue ‘like an old couple’ but most of the way it is a laugh-out-loud journey full of ready humour and plenty of wit that reminded me of a Bill Bryson travelogue.

If you like travelogues this one’s for you. If you do not, read it to reaffirm your faith in people, read it to believe that the world is yours if you have the gumption to take it on or read it simply for a few laughs.

Day 1 of the #BarAThon Challenge  from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is Stranger than fiction.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON