Book Review: Dancing Through Darkness by Ann Markham Walsh

Book Review: Dancing Through Darkness by Ann Markham Walsh

“Many will not want to know my story. For some, it is too painful…” Selma Engel begins in her memoir, Dancing Through Darkness, written by Ann Markham Walsh. And in fact this story is filled with so much tragedy it threatens to leave you breathless. But it is quickly shadowed by shafts of hope, courage and unrelenting love in the face of the impossible.dancing through darkness

Selma Engel’s (born Saartje Wijnberg) story begins in Zwolle, Holland where she along with her mother, father and three brothers lived their lives happily, ordinary. Her family owned and ran a quaint hotel in Zwolle and her parents worked diligently to provide a good life for the family. Selma was a sheltered girl whose needs were more than met as she helped out when needed but spent much of her time playing with friends. She was only ten years old when Adolf Hitler began serving as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. His nefarious plans for the Jewish people were completely unbeknown to this budding family.

Her life and that of her family were abruptly interrupted in 1942 when Nazi SS troops invaded the family’s hotel in Zwolle. They were ordered to take only what they could carry and forced to flee. By this time Hitler had already banished the Jews living in Germany, to ghettos. They were forbidden to use the libraries, parks and other public places.

Over the years the brutality of Hitler’s actions, and the commands carried out by his army have been well documented. But this is not a documentary. It is one woman’s story. It is one account. It is personal.

In 1943 Selma was sent to a death camp in Sobibor. It was there she met Chaim, a young, Jew from Poland. Their meeting was through the humblest of circumstances; hungry and weak from days without food, they were forced to dance with each other for the sport and amusement of German soldiers. What could have proven to be an embarrassing time by two young strangers turns out to be a moment where love fills the heart of both and soon after the two become almost inseparable, (careful of course to remain under the radar of trigger happy guards whose wrath could be inflicted anytime for almost any reason). The atrocities that these two witnessed weakened their resolve and threatened to break their will, but the hope that they would one day have a beautiful life together outside of the walls of death empowered their will to survive. Regardless of this hope there were no exit strategies for those sentenced to death camps.

Selma recounts on more than one occasion that Chaim almost lost his life. On one occasion, every man in the camp was lined up and every tenth man was shot. Chaim was number nine that night. Another time, on the night of the unlikely and dangerous escape from Sobibor, Chaim was forced to kill a guard, because another escapee
became too afraid to; it was either kill or be killed.

Ms. Markham Walsh deftly injects historical facts which, coincides with Selma’s experiences. Much of Selma’s diary has been transcribed and included as well as love letters the couple wrote to each other. Many of the diary entries were written while in hiding after her and Chaims’s escape from Sobibor; and Selma’s pain can be felt with each entry. Many times it sounds hopeless, but such is the reality when all has been stripped from you—except your resolve to survive.

The story is candid and frank as Selma shares her thoughts on those who deny the atrocities ever happened; and of those powers that claimed they weren’t aware of what was being done to the Jews. She also lends her thoughts on granting forgiveness to the man who was the overseer of the annihilation of more than six million human beings. Her story is a reminder of the humanity and courage of others. It is a story of how love can conquer in the direst of circumstances, and that hope is always possible.

Book Review: The Taste of Salt

Book Review: The Taste of Salt

When doing book reviews I try to feature new, upcoming talent. I love the freshness and enthusiasm of new authors. But when I recently read, The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate I knew I had to do a review. The Taste of Salt is the story of Josie Henderson an African-American marine biologist who happens to come from a family where substance addiction has been prevalent for the past two generations.taste of salt

Josie moved away from Cleveland, Ohio years ago leaving behind the pain and ill memories of growing up with her alcoholic father, Ray. Later her brother Tick would struggle with that same addiction and then some. Although her father has since recovered and is now living soberly while trying to make amends with his damaged family, her brother Tick is right in the midst of his battle.

The story begins with her coming back to her hometown to release her brother from his latest stint in rehab. According to Josie, it’s the least she could do considering she has kept her distance from Cleveland and her family for many years. The city has deteriorated, and like her family it brings her shame and disappointment. She lives with her husband in the comfortable, quaint town of Woods Hole. We don’t know the exact location of the city except that it is near the ocean. She loves her job, loves the ocean as it is the place where she feels the most at home. It is the thing she has become the most connected to.

Upon releasing Tick from rehab everything changes. It is now that she begins to face the family demons from which she has run from for so many years. Her relationship with her father is strained at best. She has trouble accepting the fact that he is clean. There is so much pain and so much left unsaid. And although she was extremely close to her brother growing up, his addictions have damaged ties and neither of them seem to be able to fix them.

Her brother Tick struggles soon after his release from the facility, loses his job and stops attending AA meetings. Off the wagon again, his mother puts him out and he finds himself at Josie’s doorstop; no one else will deal with him. She hasn’t talked about her family much to her husband. How could he possibly understand? He has a white middle-class upbringing and no kind of experience with this kind of dysfunction. She has been able to avoid exposing this part of her life until now.  Here in Woods Hole Josie must face this generational demon if she is to save her brother–and herself. It is here where she must come to herself and face her own demons.

The Taste of Salt seamlessly alternates points of view from Josie’s, to Ray’s, and to Tick’s and back again. It is written mostly in first person and is told in manner in which a story is told to a dear friend. This narrator hides nothing. She glosses over nothing. She never pretends to find all of the answers.

But with poignancy she chronicles how it all begins with the slow death of unrealized dreams, life’s let-downs and, for reasons inexplicable, the urge to continue bad behavior at the risk of losing it all.

Southgate writes boldly, sometimes simplistically, but always engaging. The Taste of Salt is filled with heartbreak and hope. It is about family and the power that binds it. It’s one of those novels that settles itself deep into your soul and rests there until you are thinking of those characters long after the last page has been read.

Book review: Drop Out by Neil D. Ostroff is not about hopelessness

Book review: Drop Out by Neil D. Ostroff is not about hopelessness

When I first came across the novel Drop Out by Neil D. Ostroff I knew I’d get around to reading it eventually. Although the subject matter was a bit heavy the cover indicated to me that it wouldn’t leave readers feeling hopelessly dismayed. And I was correct.

Drop Out is the story of Nathan Cruz a young man who has been living reclusively in Key West since the events of September, 2011 when he was tragically trapped in one of the Twin Towers and badly burned as a result. Nathan was able to help many to safety, but could not save his family.

For more than ten years Nathan has live a life void of as much human contact as possible. All of that changes upon meeting Miriam Kanter, in the midst of a hurricane. Their friendship is altogether desperate, unlikely and lovely.

I was immediately impressed with the details that Ostroff lends to describe the events of September 11. He writes with detail but neither pity nor debasement, the struggle of thousands of people clamoring to get out of the building alive.  It seems, even though we watched from the comfort of our homes on television, we were spared much of the torturous desperation of the victims that day and the sense of immediacy that only comes from being there. Well, Ostroff takes you there.

The specifics in the book give  new brilliance to the tragedy and the transformation of ordinary humans into desperate souls fighting for their own existence. With unflinching detail he describes from Nathan’s point of view bodies plunging  to their death in an effort to escape a certain fiery demise. The specifics in this case I believe were necessary in order to get a sense of the load of guilt and agony the protagonist has been shouldering since that day. You empathize his plight. You understand his withdrawal from society. In the wake of so many deaths you get why Nathan feels like neither a hero nor a survivor. He is simply existing. Miriam, on the other hand, challenges Nathan on every front and causes him to look again at his summation of his life. Miriam sees him differently than he sees himself: “She turned and looked at my face but not at my scars.”

My major issue with this book is that some parts seem rushed. And it could have been lengthier. It could have gone into broader detail, the depth of his relationship with Miriam and perhaps the commonalities they had with each other beyond their physical limitations and small talk. I would’ve loved to have seen deeper character development throughout. Overall, this was a good read and I am excitedly anticipating Ostroff’s next work.

Book Review: When Memories Fade by Tyora Moody keeps reader turning pages

WHEN-MEMORIES-FADE-197x300In When Memories Fade by Tyora Moody, Angel Robert’s life seems to be on the upswing; she has renewed her faith in God and has just celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday with friends. But increasingly with each birthday she is reminded of the missing pieces of her life. Twenty years ago on the night of her fifth birthday party, her mother Elisa Roberts walked out of their home, never to be seen or heard from again. The thought of what happened that night has haunted and tormented both family and friends for years, especially Fredricka, Elisa’s aging mother–Angel’s grandmother. Each passing year she looks into her granddaughter’s face only to be reminded of a daughter who mysteriously vanished; and it seems as if the community is no longer seeking answers. The thought that she may go to her grave never knowing the truth about the disappearance is becoming unbearable.  Angel is also pressed by this realization.

Five years ago Angel began working on a documentary of her mother’s life, but along the way she became sidetracked and it got put to the side. Angel’s interest in finding out what happened on that terrible night is piqued again, especially when her grandmother suffers a stroke.

Angel meets Wes Cade an investigative reporter whose father, an ex-detective worked on her mother’s case many years ago. These days the elder Cade’s memory is steadily diminishing due to Alzheimer’s, and moments of clarity are short and sudden. But this case, according to his son has always haunted him; it eventually changed him in a way that was troubling for Wes to witness.

As Angel and Wes come together to make the most out of what each has to offer, they often push each other to the limits as both have emotionally vested interests, but for different reasons.

When Memories Fade is of the mystery genre, but it is Angel’s faith that keeps her grounded and pushing to find out the truth despite obstacles and setbacks, as her mother’s disappearance is somewhat of a cold case after so many years. And it is the complexity of the relationships that drives the story. Although Angel loves and respects her grandmother, she is often annoyed that she is clinging to hope that, her daughter will suddenly reappear. Wes, on the other hand wants to find out why this case has disturbed his father for so many years. Why this case? What does he know and finds so troubling?

A mystery for certain it is the faith and hope of the characters that uplifts and makes it different from other mysteries. Initially the number of characters seemed to crowd the story, but as it turns out each has a significant role and placement. And Moody is able to intertwine this close-knit community of family and friends in an eerie connectedness that has you searching for the missing pieces and wondering what happened to Elisa Roberts and what does each one really know about the disappearance?

The story also touches on Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it has on family and relationships and the faith and love needed to sustain both the sufferer and the family. Moody’s When Memories Fade reminds you of the importance of hope even when there seems to be no reason to believe.

Book Review: Michelle Lindo-Rice’s Sing a New Song, rings with sweet melody

Michelle Lindo Rice’s Sing a New Song walks you down the path of a woman who finds out she has terminal cancer and begins a quest to find the biological father of her teen-age daughter before she dies. After living a life convincingly declaring that the father is her SingaNewSongex-husband her search is complicated because in fact, her daughter Karlie has five potential fathers. It may initially strike up images of any given episode of the Maury show where you comically watch this process of elimination. This is not that, but so much more.

Tiffany Knightly is dished the devastating news that her cancer is incurable and given a termination date of five months out. Once a well-known pop music singer, who has retired from the industry and lives a comfortable and quiet life in L.A. with her daughter, Tiffany painstakingly accepts her fate and focuses on ensuring her daughter Karlie is well-cared for. The money is not an issue; she can provide financially. But she wants Karlie to have a stable home once she is gone.

Tiffany moves back to her small hometown in New York, to begin her search. As we venture into the lives of these men, we find that they have their own set of home and family issues, which gives the reader a more sympathetic view of them instead of seeing them as preverbal sperm donors. Added to that is her tempestuous relationship with her mother, made so by the fact that the sexual abuse Tiffany suffered by the hands of her stepfather was rebuffed by her mother.

As it turns out instead of a simple venture of paternity testing, Tiffany finds herself intimately drawn into the lives of these men, all of which except for her ex-husband, she has not seen in years. For these guys for whom initial relationships were merely trysts, she unexpectedly shines light and love.

Sing a New Song has its sad moments but Tiffany unexpectedly changes the lives of these men while on her own quest and renews self-love as well. The story leaves the reader thinking how we are somehow all intricately connected, and love and truth can be found even in devastating situations.