Krysia: A Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood During World War II
Rarely talked about, and written about even less, the deportation of Poles to Siberia by the Russians was nearly as brutal and just as senseless as the Jewish Holocaust. Thousands of people were killed before the journey even began, and thousands more died along the way. Krysia: A Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood During World War II tells one family’s story of a life ripped away.
With German aggression a real threat, Krysia and her family fear the Nazis more than anything else. After the initial invasion in 1939, they know their lives will change. However, the changes come not from Germany but from the Soviet Union. An agreement to split the territory between the two nations results in her family being exiled to Siberia and her father going into hiding. Told from the perspective and memories of 10-year-old Krysia, the book is an excellent way to introduce younger audiences to the truth about World War II without overwhelming them with the true horrors of the acts committed by brutal leaders.
Chicago Review Press
Krystyna Mihulka • Krystyna Poray Goddu
Cancer Country: A Survivor’s Memoir
Cancer Country is, as Chet Skibinski puts it, “a guide through my foreign country. It’s an armchair travel guide, safely away from the real thing.” In 2008, at 66 years of age, Skibinski is told that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Skibinski is considered cancer-free and in remission. That all changes a few months later when he receives a dismal prognosis of stage four lymphoma, this time affecting the bone marrow. Skibinski adds lightheartedness to a dark almost two-year season of his life.
Retired high school English teacher-turned-author, Chet Skibinski takes readers on a trip through his bizarre experiences with a disease “so rare, that only one in a half million Americans get it.” A relatively healthy man at the time, bar some peculiar itching, Skibinski takes to the drastic overnight morphing of his well being like an out-of-body experience. Certain that there has to be a cure, he begins to look for solutions…anywhere. And with, as Skibinski says, “absurdly optimistic illusions,” he explains how he approaches this foreign substance that has chosen to wreak havoc on his life. Skibinski’s candid storytellingreminiscent of George Carlin’s incessant tongue-in-cheek commentaries except with a light sprinkling of expletivesis absolutely dead honest and nothing less than hilarious.
Covering just about every emotion imaginable, and then some, as well as many sleepless nights, Skibinski fills these highs and lows with his crazy imagination, fixations with English Lit, and his love for a Porsche Cayman, amid extremes of fears and worries over medical protocol and test results to the mundane near-insane waiting periodsall surrounded by clever comparisons and multihued metaphors. A few great comparison examples include how chemo chemicals let loose in Skibinski’s body are much like a frat party or the Hells Angels in some small California town and how he associates his life after the bone marrow transplant to that of a factory turkey. And then there is this comedic, yet profound, line: “Adding up a person’s possessions at the end to determine the value of a lifetime seems about as irrational as doing an inventory at Walmart minutes before the coffin is lowered.”
Closing on an encouraging note, Skibinski’s sums up his account with this reflection: “Cancer takes a lot out of you, and one thing that it takes is optimismthat casual sort of optimism that you assumed was there all the time and would always be there, as dependable as a beating heart or a sunrise.” Funny and engaging, Cancer Country is, undoubtedly, an eye-opening must-read.
The Sky Detective
In 2001, Azadeh Tabazadeh receives the prestigious Macelwane Medal for her research on polar stratospheric clouds and the causes behind the degradation of the ozone layer. With every great achievement, there is a profound story. In the case of Azadeh, her account goes back to 1973 in Tehran to two life-changing experiences: receiving a chemistry kit from her uncle and developing a close relationship with Najmieh, the family’s housekeeper. Azadeh’s world suddenly turns upside down as her country succumbs to political struggles and calamity strikes her family. When she decides to escape in the hope of making it to America, Azadeh has no idea if she’ll see her family ever again.
Azadeh Tabazadeh shares a powerful story of determination amid despair. Tabazadeh’s first person narrative reflects the perspective of young Azadeh and her passion for learning. Falling in love with chemistry by the age of eight, Azadeh sets her educational sites on becoming a scientist. Tabazadeh not only portrays a child growing up in fun-filled and happy environment, but also a young girl who is slowly coming to terms with the world beyond her blissful bubble when she gets to know Najmieha girl from impoverished means.
Tabazadeh’s plot shifts as she paints a drastic portrayal of life in the midst of highly turbulent times. While lacing her text with the driving emotional tension between Azadeh and family members, Tabazadeh’s descriptions reflect a dark tone as Azadeh’s short-lived contentment quickly shatters during the Iranian Revolution (1978), Ayatollah Khomeini’s reign. His full-covering edict for females (ages nine and up), the American Hostage Crisis in Iran, and especially the Iran-Iraq War when Azadeh, her brother, and cousin eventually flee the country.
Engaging readers from chapter to chapter, Tabazadeh’s deft storytelling carefully builds to Azadeh’s harrowing journey to America. Tabazadeh’s punctuates her plot with two aspectsa combination of Azadeh’s pleasant flashbacks and determination to studythat become a means of survival for the seventeen-year-old who is striving for a better life. A stark, yet inspiring, presentation of hope in the midst of hopelessness, The Sky Detective is one gripping page-turner that is a definite must-read by all.
Crowning Glory — An Experiment in Self-Discovery Through Disguise
Stacy has had an unhealthy obsession with her own locks since middle school, when a careless remark brought unwanted attention to her hairs deficiencies. Add to this the issues shes had with men and relationships, and going out in general, and shes had a lot to handle.
On a whim, she purchases a long, red wig, and notices not only the way people respond to her but also changes in her behavior. These events lead her to do an experiment using the same wig in various natural hair colors. In addition to doing important fashion research, it keeps her busy and focused for several weeks, perhaps stopping her critical evaluation of herself and her unpredictable states of psychosis.
She finds an assistant to help with observing and tabulating information, and sets up the experiment. She will wear basic black, tailored for various locations, in New York City, so the focus stays on the hair color. The last week, her control week, will be her natural hair, in the same clothing and the same general places. Her observations from each hair color red, black, blond, and brown include her honest take on her personality changes as she dons the locks about the city. She incorporates her assistants notes and includes related events that happen outside the experiments parameters.
Her honest recap of events sometimes borders on too much information, but helps to show her personal growth throughout the experiment. Her quick, witty self-evaluation during various phases of her experiment bring humor and lightness to something that could have been dry and boring, but is instead engaging and intellectually stimulating. Photographs that coordinate with each chapter help to bring visual interest. Even though the experiment did not strictly follow the accepted scientific research method, those reading this out of pure personal interest may find themselves agreeing with her findings and wondering about the role of hair color in society.
The World We Left Behind
As The World We Left Behind, a Journey from Georgia to Maine begins, author John Morris is at a very low point in his young life. Still only in his twenties, he feels overwhelmed with futility. He lives in the North Carolina community where he grew up. With no college education, he works the night shift at a nuclear facility, in a job he believes will lead nowhere. He has recently broken up with the woman hes been living with, and he finds himself lonely and trapped in a nearly empty apartment. Over and over again, he contemplates leaving everything behind, drawn to the idea of taking to the Appalachian Trail. He spends the first 90 pages of the book in a state of ennuibemoaning his dead end job, in various stages of alcoholic stupor, and stocking up on hiking equipment he fears he may never use. He is stuck. The challenges of abandoning everything he knows and embarking on the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail are daunting.
Finally, however, Morris frustration with his status quo wins out. He leaves new girlfriend Melody and travels with his hiking pal, Torry, to Gainesville, Georgia, just a couple of hours from Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian Trail begins. Its here where thru-hikersthose who hike the entire trailset out.
Morris plans to hike all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maines Baxter State Park. To reach his destination, he must hike through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. He is not prepared, physically or psychologically, for the rigors of the trip. Cold and filthy, hes constantly exhausted under the weight of his pack. Hes brought with him too many things he doesnt need and has left behind some essential equipmentincluding a water filter to purify his drinking water. The trail is often more crowded than Morris had anticipated. He meets some potentially interesting fellow thru-hikers along the way, including folks with great trail names, like Hopper, Woodstock, and Bubblegum, but, somehow, the reader never really gets acquainted with these folks. Perhaps its because Morris never seems to make a true connection with them. For example, about CookIN, a former shop teacher from Indiana, Morris writes, I wondered how you went from being a shop teacher to wanting to walk a 2,199-mile trail but I never thought to ask him
The most compelling part of The World We Left Behind comes toward the end of the book, when Morris describes a near-disastrous solo hike. In this section, the reader feels the cold and terror of Morris experience, and it makes for a great read. One cant help but admire Morris for having the courage to leave the comforts of home and embark on a rigorous, months-long hike. His book reads something like a journal: He relates his day-to-day adventures and shares plenty about the mistakes he makes along the way and the physical challenges he faces. But he shares few of the insights one would expect such a personal quest to provide.
The book is a lengthy one, and this is just the first volume in a trilogy: As this first book comes to an end, Morris has made it only as far as Tennessee. The story would be strengthened, as would the readers enjoyment, with a disciplined editing and a focus that reveals more of the writers inner journey, as well as his outer one.
Confessions of a Headmaster
Confessions of a Headmaster takes the reader on a journey through one prominent California educators life and how he came to open his own highly acclaimed school that would go on to produce high-achieving graduates while taking a look back at where author Paul F. Cummins got his start and how his experience with his own education paved the way for a future generation.
Unlike the typical memoir, Confessions of a Headmaster doesn’t start at the beginning. The book is broken into several different sections, part I entitled Crossroads 1970 and Onward. Crossroads is the name of the first school Cummins opened in Southern California and became the first of many successful ventures into education reform in the area. Cummins became the headmaster of St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal School in Santa Monica in 1970. Knew nothing of elementary education, no credentials. But, as he writes, the board was desperate. From there, he paints a vague picture that he came from a hippie school background where kids play guitar and have long hair. But, apparently, the board was impressed with his background and mentions his PhD from USC, BA from Stanford, Harvard MAT. Its not until part II in the book well learn more about that.
Although the memoir describes itself as working to achieve social justice through education for all youth: from children of celebrities to foster and incarcerated youth, we dont get to see the actual social justice part until the part III of the memoir: New Roads and New Visions 1990 and Onward. Confessions of a Headmaster is less of a coming into ones own story of struggle and determination of bringing social justice to minorities, but rather just the story of a man from a privileged background and how he used that to his benefit. No doubt Cummins is well regarded in education community of Southern California, and it is exciting to see that he is branching out into using his connections in communities that could use his experience.