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
Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim
Sabeeha Rehman has met successive challenges in adapting to modern America since marriage brought her to New York from her traditional Muslim Pakistani family in 1971. Her memoir reveals how she became a guiding light for other immigrant Muslims seeking a place among often ignorant and unwelcoming surroundings. When her physician husband’s career and her young sons’ schooling enabled her to continue her studies, she become a hospital administrator and found time to develop cultural and social ties for the initially small Muslims community on Staten Island.
The book, compelling on several fronts, shows how much energy she expended, holding tight to her own religious practices while helping to organize a mosque for Muslims who immigrated from countries beyond her own homeland, launch a newsletter for those keen to stay in touch with their traditions while adapting to an American lifestyle, stage a children’s play show-casing famous Muslims of the past, and taking a seat on several organization boards. Each challenge is described with a sense of fun as well as achievement, none more enjoyable than the Muslim Fair held on Mother’s Day when women competed for a raffle prize, circumventing the Muslim ban on gambling by allowing free entry.
The segments switch back and forth from her early years to the present, each clearly identified to allow no mistake about the what and where of the events she describes. Threading My Prayer Book will inevitably receive plaudits, and hopefully many will mention Rehman’s astute, witty, and endearing style as she tells a story that began with a lastingly successful arranged marriage.
The Game Warden’s Son
When two fishermen tried to conceal the red meat bait in their cooler, warden Steven Callan and his colleague suspected an illegal kill. Their suspicions are confirmed when they spy a flock of vultures nearby feasting on a wild burro carcass with its hind leg removed. Not for the squeamish maybe, but all in the day’s work for Steven Callan, who followed his father’s footsteps as the title suggests, and recently retired from his years with the California Department of Fish and Game. On lists of favorite careers, game warden surely comes close to the top. Even if the sun didn’t invariably shine as Callan would have us believe, life could be pretty attractive spent along the California coast protecting wildlife on land and sea.
A witty and enlightening memoir, The Game Warden’s Son brims over with tales of stake-outs using disguises and subterfuge to trap transgressors. The wardens’ experiences are a revelation as Callan describes miscreants illegally nabbing endangered abalones and duck, slaughtering deer for meat or antlers, trading in bear claws to adorn Indian jewelry, and finding other inventive ways to challenge the law.
The book outlines routine day to day work in a series of lighthearted chapters, but focuses on the offenses poachers and hunters mistakenly believe they can get away with. The book’s slang or jargon related to wildlife is a fun bonus and makes the timely account of environmental protection even more enjoyable.
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.
Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands
Jorge P. Newbery began a quest for Olympic greatness when he took up bicycle racing at the age of 19: The year was 1984, his hometown of Los Angeles was host to the Olympics, and his father had just given him a used bike. Newbery bought some books on bike racing and started training 500 miles a week. It was the burn zones he experienced in training and racingthose periods of extreme effort that separated the winners from the rest of the cycliststhat gives his new memoir its name. Burn zones became his metaphor for pushing through all the challenges hes faced as a serial entrepreneur. Focus on enduring the pain until the pace slows, he writes.
Burn Zones: Playing Lifes Bad Hands, Newburys new memoir, is a remarkable story. For decades, Newbery believed that he could win at anything he set out to do. For decades, that proved true. Indeed, his quest for the Olympics was not as farfetched as it might seem. Newbery was already accustomed to setting and reaching astonishingly high goals. He got his first job at the age of seven, delivering a daily newspaper from his Raleigh Chopper to houses in his neighborhood. Soon, he was delivering two competing dailies. At 11, he bought a used, oversize tricycle fitted out with a freezer unit: He pedaled it around his neighborhood and to various road races, selling ice cream treats. Then he started a record company and representative alternative bands. All this before he got that bike for his 19th birthday.
He didn’t make it to the 1988 Olympics, but participated in distance racing around the country. His first significant failure, he writes, came when he fell ill during a 21-day stage race in Mexico. He couldn’t finish the race. He returned home and drove himself harder, training more and losing so much weight that his family started calling him Skull. When he developed bronchitis, he decided it was time to look around for a new challenge. He met someone in the mortgage business and was intrigued both by what she did and how much money she made. So he got his real estate license, his first Brooks Brothers suit and a job as a loan originator. A few years later, he joined forces with a partner to launch a mortgage company. He soon started buying up rental properties in Los Angeles. He started with small properties, and then branched out to larger properties around the country. His specialty was acquiring housing projects in distress and turning them around. At the peak of his real estate business, he owned more than 4,000 apartments and a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars.
Then, in 2004, a natural disaster struck one of his largest properties, the 1,100 unit Woodland Meadows in Columbus, OH. Virtually overnight, he lost everything: Tens of millions of dollars and thousands of apartments. He was crushed and $26 million in debt. He was not yet 40. He struggled with his losses and the shame of his very public failure, negotiating debt relief and trying to figure out what he should be learning from the crisis and how he could go on. In the midst of his struggles, he got a call for help from a friend who was losing her house to foreclosure. He wasn’t able to help her; he had too much debt of his own. But the call got him thinking about all of the people in similar situations: Too much debt, unaffordable mortgages, and far too close to losing their homes. He started formulating a plan for his future. He would create a business designed to help others, staggered by crushing debt, to stay in their homes. He founded the business, American Homeowner Preservation, and today runs it out of Chicago.
Newburys story of winning, losing everything, then rebuilding a life in which his purpose is helping others rebuild their lives makes for a compelling read. Not every reader will share his unrelenting drive and focus or his taste for risk-taking, but his telling of despair and humiliation at the darkest hours and how he turned his loss into strength and success are both thrilling and inspirational.
What I’ve Learned from You: The Lessons of Life Taught to a Doctor by His Patients
The doctor/patient relationship is one of the most intimate. Vulnerable, your health in their hands, you may feel powerless and subordinate. After years of schooling, residency, and intense training, doctors seem to know everything; many of them seem to think they do. Additionally, doctors are more overworked than ever and frequently the patient/doctor relationship fails. But this isn’t always the case; every once in a while you meet a physician who takes the time to listen, who treats patients as individuals, personally. It is obvious that Scott Kelly, M.D. is such a physician, sincere when he says he feels honored to serve his patients. Dr. Kelly has written a beautiful memoir marked by humility and wonder as he recalls patients who have had a lasting impact on his life. Far from the pompous, omniscient, and aloof clinician, Kelly is all too aware of his own failings as he struggles, through medical school, residency, stints in the ER, and the tightrope balance between work and family. Although warned to keep his interactions with patients strictly professional (i.e., detached), he allows himself to open up to some of them, to listen, and then to learn. This book is his journey through those lessons.
The writing in this book is sensitive, marked with grace and absolute respect for his patients. Each of the short chapters begins with a personal memory; then Dr. Kelly introduces us to one of his patients. Each taught him an important lesson, on themes as varied as marriage, friendship, faith, happiness, responsibility, perseverance, grief, joy, and love. The book follows Dr. Kelly’s experiences mostly chronologically, so you get to experience the highs and lows of his training and residency, as he learns to keep people in the center of practicing medicine, and through his articulate character sketches, you feel that you know his patients too, or that you wish you could have. You meet Joy, whose deep faith steadied Dr. Kelly in the face of man’s inhumanity. Harrison reaffirmed the necessity of having a strong sense of purpose, and living true to yourself. Emily’s chronic, but privately-endured, pain reminded him to be gentle and compassionate–we don’t know the burdens other quietly carry. There are many others, each story told with love and sympathy, neither moralistic or pedantic. These are lessons we all, in our human endeavor, need to learn, and learn again.