The dangers with books on ADHD and autism

In Sweden there is a game called “Fia med Knuff” and a while ago, I was recommended a book called “Sofia med Knuff – inte ett dugg annorlunda” (“Sofia with a shove – not different at all”), which title is a pun on this game’s name. It is supposedly a book about what it feels like to be eight years old and have ADHD. But I fail to see what the game and book have in common, more than that you can get knocked off-balance or get knocked out in school, if you do not receive the help and understanding which you need. On the other hand, the game, is all about knocking off your opponents pieces off the board, while you yourself get your own pieces to goal. And is that not what an autistic person does? Not thinking about how the opponents will feel when having their pieces taken off the board? A person with ADHD, is not quite as self-centred as that.

But let us leave the game itself, and move over to the book, which has been advertised heavily on Facebook and especially in the ADHD group, “Underbara ADHD”. I decided to not invest any money in this book, since it is not a text-book on how to help your child with ADHD. I had the library buy it. It is a book about Sofia and I can not remember the details about it, whether Sofia exists or not, if she is the daughter of the author or not. But I will always say this, about all books that are meant to enlighten people about ADHD and autism: What is true for one child, is not true for another, what works for one family does not work for another. You must never compare yourself to what you read. It will cripple you! Every human being is unique and even though books like this CAN help you to not feel alone, they are never the recipe for success. A book written by a parent, is not going to help you in your parenting, since your circumstances are different. And a book written by a psychologist is not guaranteed to help you, since at the end of the day, the psychologist goes home to his or her perfectly normal family, and she or he will NEVER know what it is like to live in it all, 24 hours a day.

I did not like this book. I am going to be honest, but I did not feel this a good description of what ADHD is at all. It started out

Sofia with a shove – not at all different

fine and my son with ADHD recognised at once what she has, because he has it too. But then it stopped being ADHD in our opinion and what the author was really describing, was nothing but Asperger’s. And then I ask myself, what I have asked myself for years: What is really, I mean REALLY the difference between ADHD and autism? Sure, there are subtle differences like hyper activity in the ADHD child. And biologically one has too much of one chemical in the brain (ADHD) while the other has too little (Autism) of the same chemical. But that said, what is going on then, when your child has both? I do not have the answers, but I will say this, that I doubt that Sofia would get just an ADHD diagnosis, if tested today at BUP in Lund, but she would also get one of Asperger’s. And since they are now stopping with that particular name for it and calling everything autism, she would indeed get an autism diagnosis.

If we go back to the title of the book, I must say that telling people that these children are not different at all, is an outright lie. They are different. Everyone can see that and hear it. That is why they get a diagnosis in the first place! Because they need help. Because their ways are so different from the rest of society’s, that they do not fit in. Their ways are causing them problems. Their way of thinking is different. That is how habilitation explained autism to my older son “Kitty”, when that diagnosis was added to his ADHD one: “Autism is thinking in a different way”. So do not give a book a name which claims that these children are not different. They are. But in many ways, in a good way. They are different yes, but the thing which ought to be pressed, is that it is alright to be different. Or should be in a perfect society. But society is not perfect, is it. Everyone judges. USA even has a president today, who has no qualms with pointing out that different is NOT alright. The title of the book, needs to be changed!

I do agree with the author’s inscription: “To all fantastic children who struggle to fit in! You are perfect just the way you are. It is the school and the rest of society, which should be adapted around you.” It has to be, if these children are going to succeed. If they fail, we will get a dangerous society. And it will cost more, than preventive measures.

In the book, we get to follow Sofia for about 24 hours. And during those 24 hours, the author crams in all of Sofia’s symptoms:

1. Sofia has a best friend who is very tolerant. Sofia is always the one in charge, while her friend Molly adapts to her wishes. Sofia is the one who comes up with the games to play. Since children with autism have a difficult time to play, I would say that this symptom is one of ADHD. My son’s teacher always used to complain that he wanted to be in charge and decide what games should be played. His classmates were NOT tolerant though and his Catholic old-fashioned teacher saw his “problem” as a real bad character flaw. One that we needed to talk to him about, so he would cease doing what he was doing at recess. He was not allowed to be himself. He was not supposed to share his wild ideas so freely. Even if some children without imagination, enjoyed his ideas!

2. Small children are screaming beside  the playground in the school yard and Sofia has a tough time handling screaming and loud noises. This is a clear sign of autism! Being sensitive to noise. But they are all sensitive to different senses. My oldest son Johannes can not stand the light, nor noise made by others. But it can be anything from touch, smell, taste to sound and light. My youngest son “Gubby” have a tough time with texture and his brother “Boo” with touch. (I have four autistic son’s, so I do have a little bit of experience to take from.)

3. When Sofia finds out that Molly is going on vacation to Spain for two weeks, she has a melt down. Alone for two weeks. She gets aggressive. Kicks a football goal and hits Molly. This is also autism in my opinion. Not being able to see the other’s side to things. Being upset about the change about to happen. Things not becoming the way you expected it to. Both ADHD and autism like routines and do not want changes. But it is the autistic child who gets a big time melt down, when things are about to change or has changed. “Boo” screaming his head off when his best friend F. is not visiting his grandmother as usual, on Friday afternoons. The internet having problems, when “Kitty” planned on playing on the computer, brings a meltdown out of this world.

4. When school is boring it is tough to sit still. Clearly an ADHD problem. But, my youngest son “Gubby”, who displays very clear signs of autism to everyone, does something which his other autistic brothers do not do. He “flaxes” like a bird. His arms go up and down like a bird preparing to take off in flight and he runs when doing this. Or he hits his wrists together like a seal. He does this when upset, tired, happy, confused, when he doesn’t know what to do, when something exciting is happening and when he gets BORED. So, not sitting still when things are getting boring, is a grey zone.

5. To say that ADHD is a different way to act, a different way to think, is getting too close to autism, in my opinion. And to any other mental disability for that matter. A better way to describe ADHD would be to not have any breaks. To act before you think. To live like every minute is the last. To think outside the box. Not being able to concentrate for too long. And to not being able to imagine the consequences before it is too late. Your thoughts always wandering off.

6. With every diagnosis a child gets, it is important to stress to the child, that the diagnosis is just a label for how the child acts and thinks. That the child is not its diagnosis and that it is the same person before the verdict, as after. This is discussed in the middle of the book, where Sofia wonders if she is a different person after the psychologist has told her that she has ADHD. And not wanting other people to know about it, even though she has seen that it has changed her teacher’s tolerance level. This is something which ought to be discussed more. Who does one tell? Not all parents and classmates will handle it in the correct manner. They will use the information against the parent and against the child. It will in many cases be the cause for bullying. The well-meaning parent of the child, having given the bullies the proper, perfect ammunition, by telling.

7. Sofia wants leggings or boy’s clothes, since they do not hurt and do not sit tight. This is as autistic as it can be. To have an autistic child means that you are on a constant hunt for the right clothes. Seams that do not hurt, trousers without hurting buttons or without buttons and zippers all together, since some children like mine, can’t handle those two. One child not being able to stand the touch of the fabric, so that child wanting baggy trousers that can just be pulled up. Another child not being able to handle the air between skin and fabric and wanting tight things. That child also being afraid of dropping the trousers when moving. This is AUTISM in my world and it is a constant struggle for the parent to find the right items in a world of fashion, that does not cater to needs, only to popularity and non-autistic designers wanting to try out new ideas. Part of the problem also being that from the age of eight, children are supposed to dress like miniature teenagers and 20 somethings. The clothes are not made to move in. And they are not made for children with diagnoses who are always a couple of years behind their peers in maturity. Still playing or moving around, instead of sitting bent over a mobile phone!

8. Sofia, at eight, only owns one kind of books and those are cook books. An entire bookcase full of them. Obsession and autism go hand in hand. My “Gubby” is obsessed with houses. Building them on Minecraft, watching restoration programs on TV, asking questions his mother can not answer, about house building details and suggesting that we stop at strangers’ houses to go in and have a look around, to determine if they are modern houses or not. Needless to say, one has to put a stop somewhere. But it has him very disappointed. Sofia’s cooking interest goes beyond interest. It is an obsession and not quite “normal” for an eight year-old.

9. Sofia is good at maths. She is ahead of everyone. This is most unusual for a child with ADHD,  since they get bored with repetitive things like math problems are, in math books. But this girl has finished the book ahead of everyone. This to me, also screams Asperger’s. It is very important though to NEVER assume that an autistic person has a special talent. You must never ever ask “What is your talent then?”. Mozart might have been a genius. Einstein the same. But only about 5% or less of autistic people, have a special talent. All the rest, are like us. Average or even have a low IQ. I would say to Sofia’s teacher: Let her do what she is good at! Do not hold her back. Because what these children have real problems with, is always self-esteem. Let them feel and know that they are good at, at least one thing, and let them thrive there! They get so much bad feedback from teachers, class mates, other children, people around them, that they must be allowed to shine, if possible. It will outweigh everything they are not so good at.

10. Sofia can not think if it is too noisy, nor if it is too quiet. And it must not be messy around her. Is this an ADHD symptom though? My autistic sons have all sat with head phones (the ones without a cord connected to some audio device.) They shut out all background noise that can be difficult to an autistic child. But you hear when someone speaks to you. I would say that both the ADHD group and the autism group have a difficult time with mess and noise. And today’s saving schemes in the schools, due to councils lacking the funds, have made school a nightmare to all these children, since the results have become classes with 30 students in each. A room full of 30 children is not going to be quiet. Unless one has an Austrian fighter pilot for a teacher, like I did in high school. We were scared stiff and you could hear a needle drop. But that was a big exception to the rule. In one way, these saving schemes are bad for the children who already have a diagnosis, but they have also caused the problems in the first place. Small classes mean peace and quiet, and mean that ADHD might never be discovered. You only get a diagnosis when there is a problem. And in a good environment, a lot of the symptoms will not show or be so obvious!

11. Sofia has bad habits like whistling, constantly clearing her throat in class, especially when it is quiet, and sitting drumming on her leg, when watching TV. This vex people. Autistic people have this “problem”. They get obsessed with it and can not stop. Snapping fingers, hitting their heads, flaxing like my “Gubby” does, clapping wrists like he does, clearing the throat is something both he and “Kitty” do, making noises when eating… I have never heard of it being something done by a person with ADHD.

12. But speaking out of turn, definitely is. Children but also grown ups with ADHD, can not wait their turn, they are too impatient for that. At the same time, a child or grown up with autism, will also interrupt and they speak on something entirely different from what the rest of the group is discussing.

13. Chewing on her clothes, has nothing to do with ADHD! It is clearly autism. It is done unconsciously, as is chewing on other things and pulling at clothes so that the neck lines get enormous or break.

14. Before “Kitty” received his autism diagnosis and only had his ADHD one, he had a difficult time standing in queue for the school canteen. Of course there was kicking and shoving. But also bullying and the noise level atrocious. But to be honest, his autism did not fly on him one day. It was always there, hiding under the hyperactivity. I would say that the school canteen situation is tough on both. It is not clearly an ADHD thing. I for one am delighted that both “Boo” and “Gubby” are at schools where there are no canteens. They all eat in their classrooms and the noise level can thereby be kept to a minimum.

15. Sofia has problems with gym class since there are certain things she can not do physically. There is nothing which connects ADHD with motor skill problems, but there is with autism. “Boo” has gross motor problems and fine motor problems which is very common in autism. He is clumsy in other words and can not partake in ball games and many other things, since it is physically impossible for him, on top of getting vexed with others. Sofia does not want to undress either. At “Kitty’s” resource school/special needs school, there is a rule that they do not have to change clothes for gym nor do they have to shower afterwards. Because one of the things the teachers have understood, is that autistic people do not like getting undressed in front of others. But I would say that it has something to do with reaching puberty, as well. My two younger boys, 10 and 8, have no problems with ripping off their clothes, at the pool, on the beach or in any place really, in front of spectators, because they do not understand that the social code says NO. In other words, I would not say that this symptom of Sofia’s is an ADHD one. Nor do I believe for a second, that an eight year old would have the problem, even if it is autistic, unless she comes from a very prudish family.

16. Connected with this, is the problem of not wanting to use public loos and the ones at school. Autism means noticing the smallest imperfections. Including dirt and pee drops. Obsessive Compulsiveness goes together, hand in hand, with autism. Washing your hands over and over again. Not wanting to get dirty. Not wanting to get wet. “Gubby” will change clothes if he gets a drop of water on them. I have to inspect his hands, since he does not feel clean. He can not stand to wear hand lotion even though we have to put it on, because his hands are so dry they crack and bleed. He will walk around with his hands in the air begging to be allowed to wash it off. ADHD? Then why does my four boys with autism have this obsession? My oldest would never go to any other toilet, than ours at home. He managed to plug up the entire pipes with his heavy-duty dumps, because his number twos, were all backed up, condensed excrement! Our loo could not handle his behaviour! And his father went down with intestinal flu, after having to deal with the pipes and standing up to his knees in his son’s poo.

17. Sofia explains that her mum does not understand her. That she wants to hug her when Sofia does not want to. That she buys skirts when Sofia wants trousers. That she disturbs her, when Sofia wants to be alone. Most parents of children who have ADHD and autism, do their very best at learning what works for their child and not. Some are better at it than others of course. Fathers seem to have a more difficult time accepting these children’s eccentricities. But as my doctor says, perhaps they can only handle so much. We are all different in how much we can cope with. I can sense when hugging is not a good thing. When the child wants time out. When my boys need space. Their father and siblings do not have the same radar. But the sum of it all is, that it is important to find out what makes your child tick and trying to avoid it at all cost. You do not buy skirts for a girl who wants to wear trousers, because that will cause unnecessary conflict. Choose your battles. Clothes are not worth the effort.

18. The last thing brought up in Sofia’s day, is how she has forgot hot pads one too many times, when taking things out of the oven, so her mother has decided to not let her do it again. Poor work memory, is present in all my four boys. “Gubby” remembers bad things. He will stay away from things which has hurt, for the most part. And he will NOT agree to try again. Work memory being poor, is both an autistic and an ADHD thing.

When Sofia’s testing is brought up in the book, we are told that the psychologists at BUP (child & youth psychiatry) are there to help, that they are the ones that are testing the child and cares about the child. I do not agree, nor does anyone else in Sweden who have had to deal with BUP. I have met five different psychologists at BUP  so far and none of them have been nice. So why is the author saying that they are nice? My hypothyroid doctor says, “BUP is an awful place one should avoid. It is the last resort. I do not recommend anyone going there”. I totally agree with her. They are definitely not there for you, but are only the social services extended hand. They are there to see if you as a parent can cope and if you show one little crack in the facade, they will report you. To sit and say different in this book, is wrong.

So, what conclusion do I draw after reading this book to my children? Because this book is intended to be read in the classroom and to children. It is not a good book explaining ADHD. The child with ADHD will not recognise itself and that is BAD. A child with autism will not recognise itself either, since it does not see its own problems. My 13-year-old is still in a denial stage. If the book, does not describe your child’s behaviour in particular, your child will not recognise itself and thereby say that “Sofia is weird and I am nothing like that! I don’t do those things!”.

As a parent, I can recognise my children’s behaviour, in Sofia, or similar behaviours. But then comes the problem that the book clearly states that she has ADHD and my boys have autism. What conclusion am I to draw then? If I was a teacher or a parent whose child had just received a diagnosis of say autism, then I would start questioning the diagnosis, after reading this book. Now, “Kitty” has had his ADHD diagnosis since 2009, “Gubby” and “Boo” have had their autism diagnoses since 2014 and “Kitty” received his in 2015. I have read SO MUCH so far, that I can say that this book about Sofia is not a good book about ADHD. And if psychologists say that it is, then psychology frames need to be redefined. Then it is time, to pull ADHD in under the umbrella called autism spectrum. And then the entire system needs to be changed. Children with ADHD must be assigned assistants in school, they must be granted additional funding and they must receive all the help that autistic children are entitled too. In my opinion, if THIS book is a description of ADHD, then ADHD is just one variation of autism.

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Swedish National Insurance for whom?

A couple of years ago, when my children were still in pre-school here in Sweden, I was introduced to a new word. I think I noticed it thanks to my autistic son “Gubby”. He expected the same people to be at the pre-school every day, and when they were not, it made him upset. Especially when it said VAB under his favourite teacher’s photo, on the entrance notice board. In the end I had to humiliate myself and ask on his behalf, “What does VAB mean?”. I was quickly informed that it means Care Of Sick Child (Vård Av sjukt Barn).

I can’t say that I feel too excited when I find out that one of my autistic boys’ teachers or assistants are home with a sick child, since it means upheaval for them. And it means dealing with people I am not used to deal with, people who know nothing about my sons’ problems. But on the other hand, teachers and assistants are only human. They are first and foremost mothers, fathers, wives and husbands. As it should be. So, VAB is a nuisance to live with. Until you need it yourself. And can’t have it. Then you get really mad at all those days, that teachers are off on VAB.

Ordinarily when one of my children are sick, it means that the child has to be carried out to the car with a bucket in hand. And all the rest of the passengers in the car, hope that if the child vomits, we will all survive the ordeal of smell and mess. I am forced to do this several times a day, since the boys can’t get themselves to school. But Monday, we faced a new situation.

Friday, when I fetched “Gubby” (who attends grade one at a Montessori school in our neighbour village), I found him laying down on a garden wall. Head on his assistant’s lap. When I felt his forehead, he was not hot but he said it hurt inside his head. Now, my son not only has autism, he also has severe language disorder and his right kidney does not work more than 10%. We drove to “Boo’s” school and I could see in the rear view mirror that “Gubby” was fighting fatigue and looking miserable. He did not want to walk in to fetch his brother, which he always does, since he is afraid of sitting alone in the car. That means that he really felt pits. That afternoon, he slept on and off, but when it was time to go to habilitation for our weekly bathing session, he wanted to go. So, we thought that the paracetamol had solved the problem and that the assistant must have been correct, when she said that he probably had just had too much sun.

After our “swimming”, we headed to the mall so I could look at what remained of the booksale, since the price of the remaining books was now 50% of the sale price. But poor “Gubby” just sat on a shelf and started to complain about tummy ache. I asked him if he was hungry, but he said no. On the way home, we stopped at the big arches, since the boys thought they deserved that, with their sister in Rome, Italy! But little “Gubby” did not want the cheese burger he had talked about all morning. He only wanted something to drink, so no toy for him. And at 08:00 the next morning, he woke me up asking for medicine, since his head hurt so bad. I gave paracetamol and went back to sleep, since I had sat up watching TV too late, the previous evening. At 09:00, I put out my hand to touch my son and he felt like a hot kettle. I rushed up and got the thermometer and with paracetamol in his body, he had a fever of 39 degrees. On to the phone of course. T. called the general number and became number 27 in the queue and then moved on to become number 32! Swedish health care for you. They can not even get the telephone queues to work. I called another number, was connected to the hospital and they wanted me to come in, since he has autism, which means he can not really explain how he feels, and he has a sick kidney. They just wanted to make sure it was influenza and nothing else. This was 09:00 and the first appointment available was at 16:30.

It was influenza, but now we faced a real dilemma. Sure, I could take this very sick boy in the car, to drop his brother off at school and fetching him, day after day, for the expected week to ten days of illness. BUT Monday, at 09:00 “Boo” was supposed to go to habilitation to swim with the physical therapist. These appointments are very sought after, so IF you get to have swim lessons with her, you only get three times per term. Last term he did not get to go at all, even though he can’t breathe and move arms and legs at the same time. He does one at a time and that does not count as knowing how to swim, according to the school requirements. Sure, he has been going to the pool with his class, getting swimming lessons. But his assistant refused to put on swim clothes and get in to the pool with his charge. So there was a lot of fighting, swearing at the swim teacher and endangering the other students. Some weeks he was not allowed to come with, as punishment, and there was zero learning taking place. At the end of the term, he was the only one left in the training pool, while all the others in the class, were having fun in the adventure pool. Which also became a matter of contention, as far as my very autistic “Boo” was concerned. All the swimming in the council pool was a disaster and he needs the calm environment at habilitation. He needs more than three lessons of course, but beggars can’t be choosers.

But you can’t take a child with high fever, head ache like a volcano under eruption and vomiting, to a pool. The parent is expected to don swimsuit and be in the pool with the child getting a lesson, you see. So, we came up with the solution, that T. would take VAB and go with “Boo” to habilitation, since I obviously can not split myself in to two mothers. I would stay home with “Gubby”, so he did not have to go out. But National Insurance would not allow this! I do not work, therefore I am to look after all our children. And yes, I am expected to split myself in to two people and be there for the child which needs to go to habiliation and be at home, holding the vomit bucket, for my sick boy. My husband is not entitled to be home at all. The only thing people told him to do at work was pretend that he himself was ill, but then he would not get any pay at all. Or he had to say that he was working from home and risk his boss’ anger, since there were meetings to attend. In other words, VAB is only for a two-parent-WORKING family.

Last year, around this time, it was ME who had the influenza. If there is one thing which must never happen, it is me becoming so sick I can not stand on my feet. Because the same rules apply then, as above with the VAB. I was sooooooo ill. My head hurt so bad I was vomiting. The fever was debilitating. I hurt all over and had to hold on to the children to stand up, hold on to the car and walls when they were not available. I tried to sit down and run my household in the mornings, getting the children ready for school. And shaking I sat down in the car and drove them to school. The teachers staring at me and telling me that I ought to be in bed. What? Were my children supposed to stay home from school till I got well, then? Noone had a solution to the problem, so I kept up this crazy thing for almost two weeks! I dropped them at school, drove home and crashed in bed with the mobile clock waking me up, to go fetch them. And then in the afternoons, while they watched film after film beside me, I slept on the sofa in the living room. When they were hungry, “Boo” tried to help himself and “Gubby”. I could not put up a fight, so there he stood in the kitchen making smoothies, decorating the entire kitchen counters, cupboards, floors and walls with strawberries and all the other ingredidents. The kitchen looked like a WWIII zone when my husband got home at 18:00 and all I could say to my defence was: “I have told you I feel pits”. But National Insurance do not cover stay-at-home-mums. We are not allowed to be human. We can’t ever get ill. We have to carry on, no matter how we feel. Our husbands are not entitled to do what all other father’s can do: Take over when the wife can’t do her job.

Sweden might think it has the perfect system, but my group of people, which is a minority, I agree, is excluded from the benefits which are used and abused by the rest of the population. There was even an investigation going on, a couple of years ago, when it had been discovered that parents filing for VAB, indeed did not have any sick children at home. Pre-schools and schools were contacted to see if the children had really been absent on the days, that the parents demanded payment for. Claiming they had been off work with sick children. Instead of putting money in to such a ridicous investigation, it would have been better to look over the policy all together and see if it works for EVERYONE in reality. Our family is the proof that it does not. We have three autistic children who can’t attend council schools, which means a lot of driving to other villages and towns, to independent schools. And when ONE child is sick, the entire house of cards, tumbles down. With autistic children, you do not have a social network of friends who can help out. It comes with the territory to be totally isolated, when your childrens’ handicaps are of the nature they are. Noone wants to go near you, and if they do, they do not understand how to handle the children. Once again, Sweden kicks on the ones already laying down. We carry our children on our shoulders all on our own, with all the problems they do come with. And for the most part we do it with a poker face on. Noone must know how tough it really is. But to not be allowed to be home with those children, when they are ill, and get the money everyone else receives… Is that not taking it one step too far?

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My Friday Book: “Fever at Dawn”

Fever at Dawn

Fever at Dawn

Three weeks after V-E Day/8th May 1945, Míklos Gárdos arrived as a very sick young man, from Bergen-Belsen, to Sweden. Like most of the inmates from the camp, he had typhoid and tuberculosis. On arrival to Lärbro, a town on the island of Gotland, he was told that he would only live for six, at the most seven months.
Looking at his wedding photo, on a news clipping, which is the only document in the book, which shows what he really looked like, you really would not believe, that what happened next, really happened. He was a skinny, scrawny thing, and I would say entirely unattractive with metal teeth and glasses thick as bottles. In my world, he would also be unattractive because of his ways: cramming communism down everyone’s throats, making himself out as too important and lying. In other words, having too high thoughts about himself. But perhaps this is the reason why he managed to beat the odds? Because he beat the odds.

Míklos refused to act sick or accept the death sentence. Instead he set out to find himself a wife! He was 25 years old and was not a dreamer as far as accepting the fact, that noone in his family probably had survived the holocaust. But he wanted a wife at this time of his life and he was not too picky. As long as she came from or around his native town of Debrecen in Hungary, he would accept pretty much anyone. He managed to compile a list of women under 30, who came from the right area, had survived the holocaust and were currently in some hospital in Sweden, just like himself. The next step was to send off 117 letters to those women and wait. All letters being identical except for the salutation phrase. The letters being nothing but a chatting up line, him wondering if they knew him before he was sent off to forced labour, and him claiming to have worked as a journalist in Debrecen before then, even though he was just an errand boy for eight days, before the Nürnberg laws forbade him to work at a newspaper.
At the same time, 18 year-old Lili Reich (in reality Agnes Biro), was taken to a hospital in Eksjö, Småland, with kidney stones. Míklos letter to her, had not made an impression on her, but her new-found friend Judit Gold, packed it for her, together with a diary and a tooth-brush, to go to Eksjö. Judit also encouraged Lili to answer the letter, because obviously the man must feel very lonely.
Míklos had a best friend in Lärbo, named Harry, who also had health issues of course. But the only thing we get to hear of Harry’s illness, is his impotence and how it bothered him, since he used to be a Don Juan. How long they had been friends, is kept a secret and if they shared the same fate in Hungary, is not told either. To be honest, we are not told much about Míklos war years. After Míklos was put in forced labour by the Hungarian military, he escaped in 1941, and joined the Russian partisans. They trained him to spy behind enemy lines, but he was caught as soon as he jumped in behind the front and all his teeth were knocked out, during the torture which ensued.
Of Lili, we find out nothing really, except how she reacted to letters she received. We know very little what life was like for her, before she came to Sweden. Only that she lived with her mother and father close to a train station in Budapest. That her father was a travelling sales man, selling bags and suitcases. And that she was taken for dead, when the Swedish delegation of doctors arrived to Bergen-Belsen. One of them, luckily noticed a tiny movement in a finger, and thereby saved her life. We also find out that she felt so fed up with being Jewish and what had been done to her and all other Jews, that she claimed to be Catholic. When she and the others arrived in Småland, she was given a Catholic family for host family. All patients receiving a host family, who they could spend holidays with and have dinners with, as soon as they were not contagious anymore.
Míklos was soon moved from Gotland, with all the other Hungarian men, to Avesta, which made him very unhappy. He did receive 18 answers to the 117 letters sent and he kept up correspondence with nine of them, but Lili was his favourite. Probably because to her, he was very educated and very well versed in the way of the world. She admired him and absorbed everything he said like a sponge.  Soon she was as in love with him, as he was with her. Even though they had not seen photos of each other. As a matter of fact, he did no dare to have his photo taken, since he was sure his looks would turn her off. And this is a very funny part of the book, since he lets himself be photographed with Harry, to send to Lili. But he forces the photographer to make Harry focused and himself unfocused. The girls could not understand why he would send such a photo! I would also have questioned the sanity of this man!

Míklos left, Harry right

Miklos left, Harry right

The two “lovers” planned to meet, because of how they felt and because Míklos had such little time left and this is basically what the book is about. The refugees were not allowed to just travel around like they wanted to. They could not just take a train and go visit someone. All of them were sick, that is why they were here in Sweden in the first place. To get well and then get repatriated. They got a little bit of pocket-money, but that was not enough to do anything grand really. Míklos and Lili had to plan very carefully. Especially since some refugee girls had behaved very poorly in other places, not living up to the moral standards of the day.

Lili had help from her best friend Sára Stern, who had been allowed to join her in Eksjö, but Judit Gold, who also had arrived, did on the other hand, do everything to prevent further association between the two “lovers”. Why? Well, that becomes clear at the end of the book. But we could say, out of spite. She did not want this man, but noone else was supposed to either.
When it was finally time for the youths to meet, Míklos did several things. He had received money from an uncle, in Cuba, and with them he bought three chocolate bombs from a bakery, yarn for Lili to knit him a sweater with and nice brown fabric, for her to make in to a winter coat. Loaded with all this and suitcases, he set out on the long train journey. Of course fate had to put a twist on everything, so he fell and broke one of the lenses of his glasses. The man who arrived in Eksjö looked like Frankenstein’s monster. Dressed in a too large coat, with metal teeth gleaming in the evening light and with one eye covered with the daily newspaper’s front page! Lili went in to shock and had Sára pretend to be her, but they did not fool Míklos. It did not take long for Lili to warm up to her letter writer though. So much so, that he three days later, went home an engaged man.
But life did not get particularly better. When the girls were moved to Berga instead, someone stole Lili’s fabric, which devastated her. She realized that someone really hated her, when the police found it, all cut up in strips. Míklos, who wanted to visit her again, for Christmas, was not allowed to do so, which made him run away and as punishment he was sent way up to the north of Sweden, to a community called Högbo. The two of them continued their plans though and one part of the plan was, to convert to Catholicism for real, and live happily ever after as Catholics. Míklos managed to buy rings, by pawning Harry’s violin, and then they just waited for an opportunity.
But Judit tried to prevent all their plans. She sent letter after letter to a Rabbi Kronheim in Stockholm, who had been chosen to take care of all the refugees’ spiritual needs, as well as psychological health, while in Sweden. In her letters, Judit divulged everything which was happening between Lili and Míklos, claiming that Míklos was a con man. Kronheim went to see Lili, first of all, trying to make her see sense about converting and marrying a dying man. And when she would not listen, he went to see Míklos, but he quickly realized that Míklos was not going to bend more than Lili had, so he suggested they marry in the synagogue in Stockholm. The congregation and rabbi Kronheim would pay for absolutely everything. He would write everyone who needed to give their permission, he would see to that Míklos got new porcelain teeth… The offer was made in such a way that they could not refuse! It meant that they could marry quickly. So they married in February 1946 and newspapers covered the story. The couple even received a congratulation letter from the Swedish king. That summer, they moved back to Hungary, because a miracle had happened. Míklos lungs were slowly healing themselves and he actually lived for another 52 years.
We do not find out what happened to his friend Harry, nor Sára, even though they were such important people in the story. Judit Gold, ten years older than the other two girls, was not mentioned further either. But, one did find out one thing and that is that she was one of the 117 women who received a letter from Míklos. She had no interest in answering it, since she thought it an outragous gesture of him to send the letter in the first place. But perhaps she did regret herself, when she saw her friend’s happiness? Or she could not stand seeing happiness so close? I think everyone who reads the book, will draw the conclusion that she was the one who stole the fabric and cut it to pieces, depriving her sick friend of a well needed coat.

I have given this book four stars because two things really bothered me with it, which pulled the rating down. The first thing which bothered me, was the fact that the Swedish edition needed to have gone through a last editing and spell check. Here and there sentences did not make any sense, especially having words lacking some letters. It seems like someone was typing too fast and missing letters, and why was this not caught before going to print?
The second problem I have with this book, is a major one. Either it is a novel or it is a biography. It seems like the author or the publishing company, can not decide which it is. A novel does not need any explanations what so ever. BUT since the book contains documents and photos, in the last part of the book, to prove the story authentic, it has left the novel category. And entering the biography category means, that the author needs to add one chapter of explanations. Why did he keep his dad’s real name in the book but altered that of his mother and her parents? Who was the second couple in the wedding photo, since the newspaper article mentioned no names? Was it Harry? Judit Gold obviously did everything to stop Míklos’ and Lili’s relationship from start to finish, out of jealousy, but was she just added for effect or was there really a Judit and did she really do what she is accused of in the novel? And the Rabbi, did he con them in to having a Jewish wedding and prevent them from converting to Catholicism? Since it clearly is NOT a novel in the ordinary sense, explanations are needed. The reader deserves to find out what is truth and what is artistic liberties. I for one, did not read the book because I was dying to read about true love, but I read it to find out how the Jewish survivors were treated here in Sweden, after the war. I read it, to find out details about their lives in refugee camps and hospitals. What the policies were, from the Swedish side. Obviously, one realizes that conversations are made up, to get to a point, and to make the story interesting/gripping. But I want to know how far away from the truth, the author went. Because if this was a novel in the ordinary sense, the story would be unbelievable. But only because the story is based on the author’s parents’ letters, does it become a remarkable story.

Wedding photo found on the internet of Míklos Gárdos and “Lili” i.e. Agnes

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My Friday book: Lebensborn or “Nowhere’s Child”

Barnet från Ingenstans

Barnet från Ingenstans

Through my life I have discovered that some people will only feel like victims when they are informed of being just that. But from that moment, they can not think about anything else and will sink deeper and deeper in to self-pity and rage. Not until 2008 when she was 64 years old, did Kari Rosvall discover that she was a Lebensborn child and suddenly her life was not worth a spit. Suddenly she started talking about guilt and shame but also about anger and other feelings. And I am sorry, but for me, her story only comes off like a scream for attention. A long poorly written 229 page long scream.

I have read what a lot of people have written on Goodreads about this book. Too late. And for the most part, it seems like noone was aware of the Lebensborn program. Which for me, a historian is difficult to fathom. I have known about the Lebensborn program since I was 14 years old and started my fascination with world war two. Not that I knew a lot about it back then, but I did have the essential knowledge that Hitler for one, encouraged German Aryan couples to have as many children as possible. Women received medals depending on how many they gave birth to. But Hitler realized that it would take too long to build up a Master Race, no matter how many children the German women gave birth to. This was in the days when you did not have a child out-of-wedlock unless you wanted to live out your life in shame. So he ordered the Nazi men, to have extra marital affairs with young Aryan maidens. Homes were set up for this purpose. For the sexual encounters but mainly, so that the women would have a safe haven to hide in, while pregnant. Obviously, their “elderly” parents might not appreciate their daughters sacrificing themselves in that manner, for the Reich. I mean, there is a limit to how much one is ready to put up with!

These children, brought forth in such an unorthodox manner were, together with all the legitimate children born, the future, the Master Race of blond and blue-eyed children, that Hitler wanted for his Third Reich which was going to last for a thousand years. When he started to occupy the rest of Europe, he extended the program to include children already born. Blond blue-eyed children were kidnapped in various countries, to be raised in Germany by loyal Nazis. Their parents never knowing where their children had disappeared to.

Norway, was invaded and occupied in April 1940. Now. I am not a Norway expert at all. But its world war two history, is not just that of brave resistance. Many Norwegians had no problem with the Nazis at all. Especially not the young Norwegian women. While kidnappings of children occurred in many occupied countries, there was no need to do so in Norway.The women gladly bedded the German soldiers and there were 500 000 to choose from! Norway was considered a good country to spread your seed in, since they were Aryan in Himmler’s opinion, and nine Lebensborn homes were set up for the purpose. The end result was 12 000 babies.

Now, in 2002, many of these sued the Norwegian state for maltreatment. Because when the war was over, the population finally got to act out their frustration. They had lived under a harsh regime, having Germans everywhere, telling them what to think, say and do. And they had seen these women getting advantages, flirting and having fun, for years. They reacted like the French, Dutch and Belgians. They took their rage out on the women and called them whores. And in that society and in that time period, that is what those women were. If you were not married to a man and had sex and children out-of-wedlock, you were classified as a whore. But they did not only take their rage out on the women who had been with Germans, they also took it out on the result of these liaisons. The children became targets for bullying and all sorts of cruel treatment. I can fully understand, those children demanding an apology in 2002! Because while their mothers’ behaviour was questionable and their fathers’ not something to applaud, the children did nothing wrong. They did not ask for such parents!

But the problem with the book I have just finished, is that Kari was not one of those children. Yes, she was a Lebensborn child. Her mother Åse Löwe did at some point have sex with a German soldier by the name of Kurt Zeidler. Kari was born in September 1944 and she was taken to Germany to be raised in the program. I suspect the plan was to place her in the home of a Nazi couple, but since the Allies stood on Germany’s doorstep by then, this never took place. But contrary to her peers from Norway, who would have had interesting stories to tell, she did not grow up in Norway and never had to feel the brunt of the Norwegian hate and anger. In a way, this makes her story as uninteresting as it gets. (And by the way, my explanations above, are not in the book, but comes from MY knowledge!)

Kari spent about a year in Bremen. She was not abandoned nor was she unloved, in Hohehorst. After the war, it was decided that

Hohehorst Lebensborn

Hohehorst Lebensborn

she and all the other babies from Norway, staying in Bremen, were not welcome in Norway, so they were taken to Sweden instead. The story she tells after that, is not unique. She ends up in an orphanage, like all other children without parents and noone in their right mind will say that an orphanage is a good place to grow up in. Look at Russian ones, look at the ones in China, children becoming mentally retarded from lack of physical contact. Put on “Annie” or read Dickens for heaven’s sake. Spending time in an orphanage is a nightmare and even more so, when you are not chosen by the couples arriving to adopt. This is what happened to Kari till she one day did get chosen. But health care in those days was not tip top and the adoptive father died, which forced the mother to return Kari, to the orphanage. And like one can read in “Anne of Greengables”, returned children cause a totally different problem than the ones who arrive for the “first time”. Kari, did by the age of three, not talk, which is nothing unique. My aunt, did not say a single word before she was three and she did not grow up in an orphanage nor was she part of the Lebensborn. You can’t blame a child’s speech problems on those things, I’m afraid, even if it sounds good for the story.

When she was three, Simon and Valborg, a childless couple arrived and they very much resemble Matthew and Marilla in “Anne of Greengables”. Simon being the loving kind one and Valborg, being the practical, realistic farm wife, who did not show a whole lot of affection or emotion. But they gave her a happy childhood. They loved her, fed her, kept her safe. And like in all farm communities in those days, the rumours spread. A childless couple do not just come home one day with a child of their own. It must have been adopted from an orphanage and most children in such, were abandoned by unmarried mothers. So the fact that some people whispered about her being illegitimate, is not strange at all. That is what society was like back then. There was a reason bastards were not completely accepted. They caused trouble for the community in an economical way, but also could mess up inheritances. Since centuries back, they were seen as a possible cause for problems. Economic burdens but they were also suspected of having the same sort of morals, as their deviant parents! 1940s Sweden was no different than the 1740s.

Hardly the look of a maltreated, unhappy child

Hardly the look of a maltreated, unhappy child

When she was old enough, her parents told her that she was adopted, since they thought it only fair that she knew. But it did not cause her any trauma, since she knew they loved her like their own. But of course, she like all other adopted children, started to wonder about her origins. Why did my mother give me up? Do I have siblings? Every country have their own TV documentaries about all these grown ups searching for their roots. And as we have seen on TV, their biological parents are not always happy to see them, when they show up on their doorsteps. Kari asked the usual questions, but of course her parents could not answer. In those days, such information was confidential. How could a parent otherwise feel safe? And the new parents had to be given a chance of really becoming the adopted child’s real parents, without interference.

When Kari was 17, she left home to move to town and take a job. Simon encouraged her to travel instead of staying in the little village for the rest of her life, like he had done. The 1960s did offer new possibilities for both women and men. She applied for a job, but needed to tell where she was born and she of course did not know. A priest supplied her future employers with the information: Norway. Now, people in the 1960s were not backwards. Kari should have put two and two together. Born in Norway, 1944, German Occupation, given up for adoption… But she did not put anything together. What she did do though, was sending a letter, a couple of years later, to the Red Cross, asking for information, if they had any. When she finally heard from them, they did not want to be bearers of bad news, but told her to fetch a train ticket and an address to Oslo. She was off to see her mother Åse.

But from the book, you get the feeling that Kari acted wet noodle and after two weeks her mother did not want her there anymore. Åse was not the sort of woman who showed affection either. (I wonder if any women of that generation did? My grandmothers did not!) She refused to say anything about her former “lover”. And while she took Kari to see her mother Anna, her brother Alf and Kari’s half-brother Per, she introduced Kari as a friend. Now, if Kari was so anxious to know of her past, of her three first years in life, to not feel like a child from nowhere, why did she not put Åse on the spot? She could have sat down and said that not knowing was wrecking her life. That she could not go on living without knowing the truth, no matter how bad it was. Instead, the women seem to have remained quite for two weeks and that was that.

Kari went back to Linköping, married Daniel, had baby Roger and when the baby turned one, Daniel dropped down ill. Why Kari tells us details of everything else in her life and does not explain that part, is beyond me? What disease lands you in a hospital for years? The doctors told her that it would be a long, long time before Daniel would be well again, so it did not sound lethal. But what happened after that, made no sense at all. She and Daniel decided to get a divorce! Why? And his mother promised to help out with the baby, but added that Kari would meet love again. But  three years later, she dropped down ill at work, with porphyria. She was ill for two years and instead of Valborg or Daniel’s mother taking little Roger in to their care, he was put in a foster family. How does that make sense?

When she turned 50, she met a 15 year younger man, named Sven Rosvall. By then she had tried to visit Åse again, for Roger’s sake, but Åse was not interested in any further contact. Kari still oblivious to what happened in Norway during the war. I mean, we are talking 1994 here! Not until 2008, when she and her husband Sven had lived in Ireland for over a decade, did she run in to a man, a historian, at a party, who told her that she might be a Lebensborn child and if so, she was entitled to money from the Norwegian state. This perked her interest. I am sorry, but that is how it all comes off. Perhaps she did not care about the money, but she seems to have cherished the thought of belonging to a group of victims.

But she never was a victim! She was a child given up for adoption, yes. But is that being a victim? Åse actually saved her life, by letting the Nazis take her. Åse subsequently went on to be tortured. She told Kari that it was the Nazis, but that was hardly true. She had given them what they wanted. An Aryan child. But the people who would have wanted revenge, were the Norwegians. They must have been the ones giving her scars and cutting off her nipples! She could have demanded an apology alright and money for her sufferings. Åse’s family turned her away. The only one still talking to her, was her blind mother Anna. Her son, from an earlier liaison, was brought up by her brother. But she just hid with her shame. Kari never had to share her fate though. She was spared all the humiliation that all the other Lebensborn children remaining in Norway, had to suffer through. She really should have been ashamed for joining them in their monetary claim!

imageWhen she found out that she indeed was a Lebensborn child, she wanted to see where she was born and where she was taken to in Germany. That would be natural in my opinion, to any child. But what happened next, does not make sense. She keeps on repeating in the book, how Hitler created her, how she thereby feels shame. Because she was considered perfect. Because as a baby, she was put on a pillow under a swastika and an SS officer took an oath on her behalf, that she would be loyal to the Führer. Honestly, who cares about their mumbo jumbo ceremonies? So what, that Hitler wanted to create a Master Race. We know that there is no such thing. There are no perfect genes. If anything, Kari proved that by getting porphyria, which is a genetic disease, and then she got breast cancer. None of us are perfect or safe from diseases. Anything can happen. The Lebensborn project was a mad plan, like many of Hitler’s plans. What is tragic, is not the women that agreed to it. Because nowhere has it really been written, that the women were forced. The men happily obliged. Martin Borrman’s wife wanted him to populate the entire Germany by himself! She encouraged her husband to make lots of women pregnant!

No, the thing we must pity, are the innocent children who fared very ill, when the Nazis no longer were in charge. But for the children to feel guilty because some man promised on their behalf to be loyal to Hitler, that is utter nonsense. We are only guilty when we break an oath WE have given and when having given that oath with sound mind. A baby can’t swear an oath. So these babies promised nothing. They had their free agencies given to them upon birth, by God, and what they chose to do with that gift, was up to them. Not a Nazi officer.

Kari went on to meet her brother Per after her mother Åse was dead. He did not want to dig in the past. Nor did Åse’s partner Arnt, whom she also got to meet. I believe that we all need to know our story to feel whole and complete. I can understand that Kari needed to find out what happened to her, during her first three years, in order to feel in control. But there is something wrong, when the person starts rejecting the adoptive parents, the older the person gets. When the person goes from feeling like a  loved child, to being an ungrateful grown up, only looking for the times, when the parents were not so perfect. And the reason for that being, that they want to be a victim of something, in order to fit in to the group, where they feel that they belong. Kari does not belong in the group of Lebensborn children, who grew up in Norway! She was not maltreated. She had a home, with Simon and Valborg. She had a happy home with Daniel and then on her own, with Roger. So why say in the end of the book, that she is a victim and that she did not get a home, until she moved to Ireland with Sven? Saying that she never had a mother. When she had Valborg.  It really is rude! Spitting everyone in the face. I can feel sorry for her, for the hardships she has gone through, with divorce, disease, missing out on years with her son Roger. But being adopted is not a misfortune! Nor are children raised by their biological mothers automatically granted unconditional love and affection! I agree with all the people who gave this book two stars on Goodreads. It was poorly written and to be honest, I learned nothing knew about the Lebensborn program at all! Either there is nothing more to know, or the ones who could REALLY tell a story, do not want to.

 

 

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Finds at the Swedish Book Sale 2017: Physical shops!

Well, it is here again! All booklovers’ feast. Bibliophiles’ heaven. And then I am one of the worse bibliophiles even though I am trying to restrain myself every year. Today I did the mistake of taking my two youngest sons with me, who are both autistic. Not that they were any problem really. But bringing them, meant bringing my husband as well, to mainly babysit them. And HE does not appreciate my book-shopping, one bit. So all I heard on the way home was how I can open a historical bookshop. When I informed him that noone would want to buy my books since they all have yellow highlighting in them, he changed it to me opening up a library at home. Not what one wants to hear in the early morning hours. Nor is it fun to have a conscience with you, telling you to put the book back, if you ask for advice!

All that said, I have done terrible damage to my bank account. Although it could always be worse I suppose. I say terrible damage, because I want to save as much as I can, in order to go on a holiday, with the family this summer. And it would be nice to do something else, than going to Legoland.

Having the boys with me, was actually good, because they were able to say right away “No I am not interested in that book!”, so I actually did not end up buying a lot of children’s books this year. “Boo” is dyslexic, so he is not really interested in books at all. He did come up with one of the  Wimpy Kid’s diaries books. But I suspected that it might have been one which I bought for his brother LAST year, at the book sale at the supermarket, and I did not want to buy a second copy, especially since his brother never opened the books I bought for him last year. It seems like autism and boys mean a natural aversion to reading. And I guess it stems

"The Big Guide to All the Characters"

“The Big Guide to All the Characters”

from having to make your own mental pictures and they are unable to do so. He did come up with two books he thought I should buy though, for sure, and they were identical. I actually thought it was sweet, since he was thinking about his little brother and he thought they should have one each. But I said no, especially since “Gubby” showed no interest what so ever in the book, nor in any other book really. He did take a peak in a monster book and he did ask if he could have this experiment book, which “Boo” picked for him. But I said no to that one as well, since one might as well borrow that one from the library. What did I buy for “Boo” then?

I did buy the “Chima” book he showed me, since he seems to be the only boy in the family who really has liked Lego Chima. And you get a little miniature figure with it, which he appreciated, even though he with his autism doesn’t know how to play with toys.

These books are nice for the dyslexic child, since a lot of it is pictures and it is a book of facts and not a story to read. You can read as much or as little as you want.

But I have jumped ahead of myself. To get the best deals, you need to be at the bookshop at 07:00 or before 10:00. That is when they sell four books for the price of three. And that was my goal this morning. And why do I say bookshop singular? Because in Sweden you basically only have one bookshop, the chain of “Akademibokhandeln” shops. Some towns might have some little independent shops, but it is most unusual, so there really is monopoly on books in Sweden. Unless you turn to the internet!

I chased the family out of bed at 06:45, like when school is in session. (They are off this week on sports’ holiday.) And as mentioned above, my husband was staying home to work, since otherwise I could not have gone at all. He will have to work the time in, this evening. I was not up for getting up at 05:45, but hoped that the books I was interested in and had marked in the sale catalogue, were not going to have sold out an hour after the doors opened.

So I got there at 08:00, the others dropping me close by and then driving off to find parking. Not an easy feat in Lund. I ran first of all, to novels. I do not usually go for novels but there was a book I have been wanting since it was published in 2015. I feared it

"Sunbleached by Life"

“Sunbleached by Life”

was going to be sold out but they had about 8-10 copies left, so no danger.

For everyone living outside Sweden, this man will be more or less unknown. If I was going to introduce him to someone, I would say that he always looks as happy as he does on the cover of this book! And he speaks like one of Tove Jansson’s cozy Moomin Trolls, with an irresistible Finland-Swedish accent. And he is funny! Very funny! It seems like he comes from a very original quirky family and he always tells the funniest stories about them, which this book also does.

Unfortunately, he has really become famous in Sweden for being a homosexual. And being the partner of Jonas Gardell, a comedian/author. They have always been very open about their relationship and their sexual preferences, but while I would never buy one of Gardell’s books, Levengood is something different entirely. He keeps the bedroom scenes private, which is what all of us heterosexuals do. While his partner Gardell crams it down our throats, seemingly living for sex and talking about it. Maybe that is why, Levengood is asked to host all sorts of events and comment on such diverse things like a Royal Wedding and the Eurovision Contest?  Because he knows what is appropriate! And because he can be nice to WOMEN! And because he shows the same enthusiasm for everything! I have high hopes for this book and that I will look as happy as Mark when reading it!

It also helps that Ilon Wiklund has illustrated it! The woman who has illustrated all of Astrid Lindgren’s books! I just love pictures by her. Cozy extravaganza!

While I was in the novel section, I looked at the special edition classics. My life is so tough as it is, with three autistic sons and a teenage daughter who makes their problems worse, by not accepting them as they are and doing the best of the situation, so I honestly was not drawn to any of all the Russian depressing authors. But I did end up getting a copy of “Silas Marner”. I tried to read it in English, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, 1989, but I was constantly nauseous and vomiting, so I never managed to get through it. Why? Because the paperback I had smelled and all smells made me heave. All these years I have connected the book with vomiting, but perhaps NOW I can put that past me, and actually read the book. After all, I loved “Middlemarch”, so why would I not love this one?image

I know it will not be the happiest novel, since it was written in 1861, when realism was the motto, and it being about a falsely accused man, whose life does not take a turn until he finds an abandoned baby to look after and raise. But I do know that it will have a happy ending. George Eliot will never let her characters end on an unhappy note.

The other book is one I have also wanted to read for a while now, which is the Pulitzer Prize winner for 2015, “All the Light We Cannot See” about Marie-Laure, a blind girl, and Werner, A German Soldier, meeting in occupied France during the war. It cannot be anything but good! It has won too many prizes to be bad. Otherwise, I am not the sort of person who enjoys reading novels written in our time, since they tend to be full of sex, swear words and being too politically correct, so that they always have a homosexual angle to them. Can’t stand it, so I hope this book will be full of neither, but just be a plain good book. When I had added these three books, I headed over to the history shelves in order to not miss out on the books I definitely had come to the sale to buy.

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I am glad that I got there when I did, since I took the last Bergman book, surprising this old man when I reached in front of his face to grab it! I would have been so upset if I had lost out on this one, which was the reason I got out of bed so early on a holiday. It is a book about “The Casablanca of the North” as the back cover states. Stockholm was the hot spot for intelligence during world war two and the most secret part was the C-bureau. I just must quote the back cover: ” It is the story of ‘the swallows’, the women who worked as couriers, infiltrators, informants and ‘escort girls’. They were at the bottom of the hierarchy in the intelligence department and yet they took the highest risks, sacrificed their bodies and future, sometimes their lives. Without ‘the swallows’, the German codes could not have been cracked and the information vital for Sweden, would not have been gained. But this is also the story of power, the power had by high-ranking officers, the police, the politicians and the trouble makers. Here you find out how Säpo, Must, FRA, BND, CIA and ‘Stay Behind’ were created.” Anything about women in world war two, has me interested!

The book they had plenty of, was “A Child From Nowhere”. It was not on my shopping list. But then I ended up buying it anyway, since it is about the Lebensborn program. Not that much has been written about that program since it is one of those subjects still considered a taboo. Not a whole lot of people want to talk about themselves as a product of this evil plan of Hitler’s. And I can imagine that a lot of the documents were destroyed. It is a very tragic part of world war two, since these children were created for the Reich and really did not have a place in post-war Europe. Their mothers got shunned. And often they were adopted by proper Aryan couples, who were supposed to bring them up as true Nazis. The book is Kari’s story, who was taken from her mother at age 10 days, to be raised by more suitable parents. She was brought to Sweden after the war, being adopted by Swedish farmers at the age of three. But she really wanted to know the truth and what she went through during the first three years of her life. That is what the book is about and I have no idea if it is a good book or not. But the Irish Times claims that she really opens up her heart and that it is a story full of healing, love and pain. Hopefully I did not waste my money and will learn a lot of about the Lebensborn program.

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“The Book Thieves. The Hunt for the Vanished Libraries”, was another reason for me to get out of bed early. This is a much spoken of book and one I really want to read since I do love books. I was happy that they had two left on the shelf when I grabbed my copy, right in front of a man standing reading on the back side of another copy of it. This will be a good read, that I know. It is the story about the secret story behind the 1930s book burnings in Germany. The Nazis stole millions of books from libraries all over Europe. Why? Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg competed against each other, since they had different goals with their thefts. “Himmler collected a big library about ‘the enemies of the Reich’. Chief Ideology creator Rosenberg’s plan was more ambitious – creating a new Nazi research and University system. The plan was to educate the future leaders of the Third Reich  but also creating lots of new research facilities in order to justify the conquests of land and the murder of Jews, Roma and political enemies.” I guess the author has tried to travel in the footsteps of the thieves, trying to locate the stolen books and finding out who once owned them.

“In the Shadow of Auschwitz. The Holocaust 1939-45” is about the holocaust of course. But the author wants to tell the story of the forgotten parts of Operation Reinhard. About the camps which are less known, those of Belzec, Sobibór and Treblinka. All talk has a tendency to concentrate on Auschwitz, it having become the symbol for the holocaust. But it is very important to remember the other camps. Especially since they were not work camps. They were solely created for one purpose only, and that was to kill Jews. When their task was completed, the Germans disassembled the camps so there would not be any evidence left. And the people having worked there as executioners, went on to other camps, now being considered experts on how to liquidate the Jewish race. An important book in other words. Hardly going to be a best seller on the book sale, but one which my library will absorb.

Walking to the cash register, I lifted out two books so that I would have eight books and get two of them for free. Moving out of the shop with the gaggle, I noticed that the religious bookshop Arken, almost opposite, was open as well. So we headed over there. But their sale was not as impressive. As a matter of fact, they did not have any order at all, the sale books being intermixed with regular prized books and only a red paper sticking up at the top, indicating that they were sale books. Very annoying! They could have created sections on a table in the middle of the shop, to make it easier for the customers. User friendly is the key word here. And I felt that I probably missed possible gems, the way their sale was set up. But upon entering, “Gubby” finally found  what

Noah's Arc alphabet puzzle

Noah’s Arc alphabet puzzle

HE liked. “Mamma, lets buy that one” he said and then he sat down in a 1970s egg chair, pulled down the “blind” of the chair and played on his daddy’s mobile. “Boo” sitting on a chair outside the shop playing on a tablet. T. zoomed through the shop determining that he did not see anything worth buying. I must say that I was disappointed and perhaps I should have left, but I did end up buying two more books:

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“My Wounded Heart” by Martin Doerry is one of the most traumatizing books I have read about the Holocaust and then I have read MANY. If you are ever going to read just ONE book on the Holocaust, THIS book should be the one you read, not the diary of Anne Frank. Yes, Anne was robbed of an entire life, she had to hide in fear and was turned in by strangers, which lead to a painful death. Tragic. But to be honest, her writings are those of a spoiled hotheaded child and teenager. This book in my opinion is a much better testament to the trauma of being Jewish during the Nazi era. I have read it once, in paperback, and decided to invest in a good hardcover copy, because I want to read it again. And I want my children to read it when they are ready for it. This woman must not be forgotten! Lilli Jahn’s life was as tragic as it gets. A woman sacrifices everything for her husband. Being Jewish, she goes against her family’s wishes and marries a gentile. She works as a doctor beside him and the couple are blessed with five children. But her husband is not faithful. And after Hitler’s ascent to power, Lilli gets more and more shut out from society. But she is safe since she is married to an Aryan. Only, he trades her for a younger model and the cruelty he puts Lilli through is beyond belief. He and his mistress basically treats her like a dog. Forced to live in one small part of the house, waiting upon the mistress, helping her give birth and so on. But the story gets more disgusting when her husband decides to divorce her, even though he knows that this will lead to her death! She is forced to move with their five children and when she is arrested and put in prison, her children are left to their own devices in a constantly bombed city. Needless to say, Lilli does not survive the Holocaust and you could say that it was her own husband who murdered her. Her letters to her children will make you cry. They are a scream for help but also has all the love of a mother in them.

“The pureness of the blood” is a book about Swedish anti-Semitism during the 1930s and the war years. It is also about the Swedish Nazis during this time period. Written by the foremost expert on fascism in Sweden, it is bound to be good. Especially since she is a professor at Umeå University, in the history department, and works with fascism researcher Roger Griffin from Britain. A must read for me, in other words. I must say, that Arken takes in the most unusual books which you will never find on the shelves in Akademibokhandeln. You just have to have the patience to search through their strange system of displaying books.

Walking away from the town center, towards the car, I got this idea for a treat. In December 2015, we all drove D. to the airport in Copenhagen. He was off to Birmingham and his two-year mission there. He had to leave very early, so none of us had breakfast before leaving. On the way back home, as soon as we got over on the Swedish side of the bridge, we stopped at Macdonald’s so the whining children could have some breakfast. They all took different things and “Gubby” wanted egg MacMuffin. Since then, every time we go to the big M, which is not often at all, he wants the same thing. He is autistic, so it does not matter how many times I explain to him that you can only order that in the morning. To him it does not make any sense at all, that one can not order the same thing throughout the day. And we never go to Macdonald’s in the morning! But today, it was still morning in my opinion, when we drove by the golden arches. We walked in 10:02 and they said “No, it is too late. We serve food now!”. Right! I explained how “Gubby” has dreamed of eating a MacMuffin since December 2015 and she called to the people in the kitchen, to see if they had any left. They did! So, he got his MacMuffin with bacon while “Boo” did the mistake of ordering one with sausage, which he did not like at all. T. had to finish that one. But “Gubby” was in heaven and said it was the best thing he has ever eaten! Big smile! But as soon as we got to the car, he started again, saying that next time we go, he wants the same thing. I give up. How to explain that the hot, hamburger-looking thing he ate, is not a hamburger at all? That eggs and bacon are associated with breakfast in English-speaking countries and therefore you can not get egg MacMuffin for breakfast at American Macdonald’s in Sweden? I guess this discussion will go on for years in our family? He will get disappointed over and over again. But he was at least not disappointed today. And he had a fun puzzle to build when he got home!

 

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My Friday Book: “Just One Damned Thing After Another”

imageAccording to Jodi Taylor who obviously is not a historian, this quote is supposed to come from economic historian Arnold Toynbee and is supposed to be “History is Just One Damned Thing After Another”. If you google the quote, you instead get “Life is One Damn Thing after Another” and was said by  Elbert Hubbard, while H.A.L. Fischer traded Life for History. In other words, this was not a very original thing to say nor a very original title for a book! But maybe I am somewhat biased, since I was not too happy about ordering a book with such a name. Unfortunately I had to order it, since I by mistake bought number four in the series, as a Christmas present for my husband, Amazon being very blurry about which book was which in the series. And these books have to be read in order, trust me.

While my husband started on other Christmas books, I ordered this one, and when it arrived, decided to read it myself first, since time travel has fascinated me since childhood. As a child I dreamed of jumping back to a time which seemed much nicer than the one I was born in to myself, which I found incredibly boring. And as a HISTORIAN, I would love to jump back in time, to see things with my own eyes and not just rely on sometimes unreliable accounts. But as a HISTORIAN, I also realize, that we can never ever allow ourselves to do such a thing, even if it ever becomes possible, because to jump back in time, will undoubtedly mean altering history. And one might assume, not for the better!

How would I classify this book? On Amazon they rave on this book series, saying that it contains so much that you can not classify it, but of course it is Science Fiction. It can never be anything but. And I am not an avid sci-fi reader. Sure, I have watched Star Trek, parts of the Star Wars films, Stargate Atlantis etc. But to read it, has not been my thing and I doubt it ever will, since I am one of those people who make pictures in my head of everything I read, and I can’t create all the technical things described in this book, in to my head, as pictures. I can not “see” what Taylor sees in front of her, as far as the Pods the people time-travel in and the equipment they use.

As I started to read the book, I did not realize how technical it would get. Nor did I expect all the foul language used by the people in the book, of course determined by the author. I absolutely did not expect the graphic descriptions of the sex Max and Chief Farrell have. And the further I got in to the book or the closer to the end I got, my rating of  the book went down. Partly because of the above, but also because things became too unbelievable. And then I am not talking about the time-travel.

My biggest problem with the book is with the heroine Madeleine Maxwell, never called anything but Max. Max is not someone I would have liked to meet. People might think that she is exciting and someone they want to meet, in book after book, but I started to resent her so much in the book, that I am sorry to say, that I will not give part two a chance. Max is NOT believable, because she is portrayed as a superwoman. And the sort of superwoman that she is, does not exist. No matter how you stretch your mind and no matter how much of a feminist you are. Women can, yes, but they can’t go beyond the biology of the body. If you are so pissed that you do not hear people, can’t see straight nor stand on your feet, you can’t sober up in a second and think out an elaborate plan for a dangerous mission! Taylor will not let nature take its course, and then it becomes too much of fantasy for me! Perhaps time for you to make your mind up, whether you agree or not?

Storyline:

Max, is a woman who, by the clues given, has grown up in an abusive family, but without the social services intervening. Teachers knowing fully well what she was growing up with. Not believable! Failing school, she is given one last chance, by a Mrs. De Winter. She not only grabs it but goes on to graduate with a Ph. D. from the University of Thirsk. Upon graduation, the same Mrs. De Winter suggests that she applies to St. Mary’s for a job, and escorts her there herself. Max is introduced to everyone, on a walk about the premises, with “she has not had the interview yet” and feels that there is more to the place, than what she is shown. While being interviewed by the boss, Dr. Edward Bairstow, she finally asks why she was introduced in that manner, whereupon tons of papers are pulled out for her to sign and she gets to go on a second walk about, where everything is revealed. Clients hire St. Mary’s to go back in history to observe and document things. Unfortunately, things are not entirely safe, since a LOT of the historians die in the process. Two time-traveling pods have disappeared, without a trace, being searched for by the others, but neither historians, dead or alive, or pods have been found.

Max is all excited about joining the group. And starts her training at once, with her fellow trainees. This being a problem of course, since they travel in teams, two by two, man and woman. Why is that a problem? Too many people! Taylor has to have trainees fail and die in rapid succession. In Max, you have the typical abused person who trusts noone, a loner who likes to do things her way, who talks to noone, becomes friends with noone. But she is finally forced to work with a partner named Sussman. A man full of himself, knowing exactly how smart he is. A man as intolerable as she is.

Max is a combination of Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Greengables as a child, and all other smart anarchist girls you can think of. She will cheat when she can. She can do anything. And of course is the smartest of the lot. And this had me tired of her, half way through the book. Like when they are to do their solo jump and all the other trainees emergency extract themselves from where they have jumped to, when they realize that they have not entered the time period they were supposed to go to. And she just stays in her pod for weeks, eating of the rations, sunning herself and just waiting for the date she is supposed to go back. This woman is ice-cold and has no fear. Supposedly a result from her family life.

When the final test arrives, she decides to cheat and not go on the survival trip they are supposed to go on. She is too lazy and does not like to be uncomfortable going without shower, food and getting rained on etc. So she works out a plan for hiding in the paint store. There she will sit and review everything for their written exam. Only, they have decided to do inventory the day the trainees leave for their survival test and she is almost caught. Almost. Because she finds a cloaked pod in there and Chief Farrell, chief of the technical officers. He lets her hide in his pod, since he has more than a soft spot for her.

She qualifies for historian, as does Sussman. And historians continue to die, from accidents during time travel. Like one of them helping a mother and her two children during a riot, getting his head slashed in the process. And this is when the book does not make any sense anymore. They are not supposed to interact with history, they are only supposed to observe quickly and get out off there. But they do not. When the publishers describe the people on the cover as disaster-magnets, they make the people sound funny, like it is them being clumsy or something. But the accidents which happen, are because they interact and because they are not the only ones travelling in time, the others being on the scale of Voldemort!

Max first real mission, is one which should not have taken place at all according to the statements at the start of the book. “Not to intervene”. Because they sit there and plan to intervene. A WWI anniversary is coming up and people are questioning a fire, which took place in a casualty clearing centre, in an old manor house, close to the Somme. Sussman, Max and experienced Kalinda Black, are going back to stay for a week, investigating what happened and when. Good enough. But they are not to observe only. Kal and Max will be working as nurses and Sussman as an ambulance driver.

You might think at this point, “how fun!”. I did not. There is no way a 21st century person can don a nurse’s uniform or an ambulance driver’s and not stick out. People around you will notice that you use words not used at the time, you will have mannerisms they do not. In WWI they will most likely shoot you as a spy! There is no way to melt in and less so the longer you stay. And a pod that looks like a small hut standing in the middle of things? But Taylor makes it work even though there is a fat chance of it working in reality. Kal and Max gets a crash course in medicine and work as nurses day after day, meeting up with Sussman every day, just to make sure they are all alive. All the historical “events” they go to, are described quickly, just to make us believe this is an exciting novel about history time-travel, but not enough is described to make me A HISTORIAN impressed. It is more about relationships and a growing darkness.

Upon meeting Sussman one day, Max volunteers to do one of his chores, getting blankets from the linen storage and when she opens the door, she is hit by a ball of fire. She gets out, even though she got a door slammed on her head, because SHE is a superwoman and outside she and Kal help as many soldiers and patients to safety as they can. Once again interfering with history, perhaps saving people who should have died and not having offspring. And confusing officers, who wants to take THEM to safety, reporting THEM, as missing and dead. As they get back to the pod, burned, Sussman sits in the pod, all safe and has not helped a single person to safety, but himself. He is surprised to see Max alive and Kal tells Max, to never ever trust Sussman, that their lives always are dependent on their partners and that Sussman is not a partner to rely on.

Getting back, it is time for Sussman and Max to start preparing for their next mission, which is going back to the dinosaurs. Months of preparing. Here I get angry, because Taylor, Historians are Historians! We do not study stars, nor do we study flora, fauna and the behaviour of dinosaurs. But she is so desperate to send them there, for her story, that superwoman Max can do this as well, even though it has nothing to do with history. At the same time, Chief Farrell is trying to speak to Max, who is always off in her own world or drunk, according to him. When he does not get the opportunity to speak to her in the garden one day, he decides to talk to her, when she, Kal and Helen the doctor, has gone off to a hotel for a spa weekend. Why he has to talk to her is beyond me. Why her of all people? Because otherwise the storyline will not hold up!

This is when the story has had it for me. Suddenly the author says that Max has been to St. Mary’s for five years. How is that possible when the training only takes a couple of months and she has just qualified? And she puts on a gold dress and goes to this hotel, letting us the readers know and understand that usually people at St. Mary’s never set their feet outside their place of work. That is not normal nor believable. It is not normal to not know who the prime minister is in your country, whether you are a historian or not. On the contrary we are very well aware that while we are studying the past, today will also be the past one day, so we pay extra attention to current events.

Chief Farrel gets to talk to Max finally, in her room, when she is drunk as usual and thinking that they are going to have sex. He tells her that he is from the future and so is Dr. Bairstow. But Bairstow came back in time before him, to found St. Mary’s and has aged of course. Chief was married and had two sons and a mother in the future, but his wife abandoned him and an influenza killing everyone under the age of 20 and above 50, or was it 60, killed his sons and mother on the same day. He started drinking but was saved by starting to work at St. Mary’s. But that St. Mary’s is a totally different institution, going back in time for profit instead of knowledge. Voldemort or Clive Ronan, from that time, has stolen two pods and killed historians from Max’s time. That is why the Chief has come back, to try to prevent the future from becoming the way it has. Weird.

Sussman and Max jump back to the Cretaceous period and suddenly 74 days have passed there, without a word about those days. They only have about two weeks left of their mission and is going to go exploring the North Valley, which they have avoided up to then. This is when she is woken up by Sussman standing naked above her with an enormous erection and eyes intent on rape. Superwoman to the action. She disables him and gets him out of their living pod, putting a voice lock on it. And she decides to keep everything businesslike from then on. What was it before? Walking off towards the valley, she gets struck by something from behind and tumbles down a hill, getting trapped under a tree trunk. She hears raptors and stay as quiet as she can, till she knows the danger is over. Upon getting back to where she fell, she finds Sussman’s foot and shoe and lots of blood. He is gone. Dinosaur snack. But does she go back to her own time? No, she coldly finishes the mission.

When she gets back, she gets to see how Sussman filmed the attempted rape. And when she is alone, Chief shows her that it was Sussman who hit her on the back, so that she fell. And after she fell, lots of people arrived on-screen, arguing with Sussman. Arguing and then killing him. Basically. Sussman had for some reason been paid to kill Max and take her back to St. Mary’s, in order to put a stop to their non-profit missions. But he had tried to rape her and hurt her instead, since he had hated her from day one, being jealous of her being a superwoman. The person mortally wounding Sussman, in the Cretaceous period, was Clive Ronan, from the future. And Max starts suspecting that Sussman was on his pay roll already during the WWI mission, when Sussman sent her to the linen storage. He was after all surprised to see her alive.

But Ronan is the real villain and he makes no sense. According to Chief, Bairstow, Ronan and this woman Annie, were a dream team in the future. Till Annie went back to James VI  and Annie was tortured because people suspected her of witchcraft. When Bairstow and Ronan arrived to save her, it was evident she was ill with something and while Bairstow wanted to treat her in the pod, Ronan pushed him out of the pod, shot him and abandoned him in the time of James VI. A search time went back for him, even though Ronan had said he was dead. Annie on the other side, was growing worse in sick bay and Ronan was getting in trouble for breaching protocol, so he took the very ill Annie, to escape in a pod. In the shooting which ensued, she was killed and he set out on a career of crime and murder. Now this storyline brought nothing to the book. It does not make any sense. Nor was it needed. It just makes it in to a bad sci-fi soap opera. Because from then on the book goes down hill, Ronan appearing everywhere to hurt and get revenge.

And not just that. The department puts together a spectacular hologram show for the University of Thirsk, who paid for the dinosaur expedition. The show is a success and it seems like St. Mary’s now will survive even though it has had a difficult time to make ends meet. It was fun to read what was shown in the “film” but when Max and Chief is on their way home in Bairstow’s Bentley, they crash. And here the book reaches a real low. On the main road, they have what I would call crude sex on the bonnet of the car. No other cars passing by? Is this typical British behaviour or a wishful dream of Taylor’s? And Max has no problems with Chief calling her Lucy, at the heat of the moment? Honestly! But Taylor’s sexual fantasies do not end here I’m afraid and maybe that is why this book series have become such a hit? I guess a lot of dirty minded women out there enjoy the thought of being 35 and having a silent, handsome, muscular man of 40, having sex with them six times in a couple of hours. On the bonnet of a car, against a pod wall, against a tree, in the shower…. Taylor obviously have not realized that this is physically impossible for anyone but a teenage boy. A man in his 40s does not have that stamina or physical apparatus unless he has swallowed an entire bottle of Viagra. And I am sorry, it just makes the book in to trash and made me end up giving it two stars on goodreads. There is too much crap in this book to give it more! To use the author’s vocabulary. No, she would have said worse things actually!!!!

Back from their sexual frenzy in a prehistorical setting Chief usually goes to, to be alone, they fall in to a party where the different departments fight over which is most important. After a brawl with the rest of them, Max tells Dieter, Chief’s colleague, that he can come with her back to the Cretaceous, to gather some last … what? Why go back? Because otherwise the book would be finished here! So they go back and they find a circus in the North Valley. Captured dinosaurs with targets painted on them, tourists to shoot them, the missing pods plus a strange big pod, pop music blaring out of speakers. They get back to tell the rest of the staff and now a big plan is concocted where basically everyone at St. Mary’s will be involved. They have to get Ronan scared.  They will go with all available pods, turn off the electricity and storm the camp or circus site. But things go wrong since when they cut off the power, all the dinosaurs get out of their cages.

The mission goes pear-shaped and another enemy of Max’s, sees her chance to get rid of Max. Isabella Barclay of the IT department, claims that the four people who should have come back with her, in her pod: Chief, Guthrie, Markham and historian Peterson, are dead. She refuses to send a rescue team and she takes over St. Mary’s, since Bairstow is on sick leave, having got hurt on the mission. Max is thrown out of St. Mary’s without pay, without references, with basically only the clothes she is wearing at the moment. She walks to the nearest town, where she just stays for four months, not working, not eating, living in a flat full of mold. She miscarries a baby she did not know she was expecting and lives with a chest infection. This is when Mrs. De Winter finds her, feeds her and together with Bairstow, they steal Chief Farrell’s cloaked pod. Superwoman Max who has anemia from the miscarriage, is undernourished and with a chest infection, goes back to the Cretaceous period and rescues the four stranded men. She saves their lives, by letting a T-Rex chase her all over a forest. Taylor, one word of advise. When a person has anemia they can not run. I have it myself and can not even walk up the stairs in my own house. I have also gone through three miscarriages and you are not up to any running what so ever for at least eight weeks. But Max can do everything. Anemia, blood loss and chest infection, at the same time and being malnourished, she can plan missions, run like the wind and you name it. This is not nice to read! It just makes you gag!

But it gets worse. They get back to St. Mary’s and take charge of the place again, humiliating Barclay and sending her packing. Max is told to not drink, that she needs weeks of rest and convalescence to recover from all the above ailments. Yet, the same night, she drinks herself into a stupor with Peterson, both intending to quit the place, after Chief has called her a slut for obviously having got pregnant with someone else, but him. Her having refused to tell him about the miscarriage and everything else she has been through and him getting it all wrong through the grape-vine. I know, do not blame me. Author!

In Max’s drunken state and being at death’s door, with all the physical illnesses added, she suddenly is superwoman again. She is sober in seconds and works out a plan how they can save St. Mary’s. In the morning she presents it and I do not see how what she plans on doing, is so much better than what Ronan is doing. They are going to rescue items that were destroyed in the past. Like the library in Alexandria. Suddenly she is not ill at all and the doctors who prescribed bedrest seem to have amnesia, because they plan for the mission, alongside her. And off they go to a burning library. They save as many scrolls as they can and take them to some caves where they will put them in urns, which an archeological team from the University of Thirsk will find, in the future, having been tipped off by St. Mary’s as to where to go searching. Only Ronan arrives with his gangsters and a shoot out takes place where valuable people get killed. Suddenly they are all gun slingers. But I guess Historians can do anything and everything. Where have I gone wrong?

Ronan steals the specially designed pod that Chief had designed and built for the mission, and it is the pod that they saw in the Cretaceous time. The one that got destroyed there. The book ends with Bairstow having paid Shakespeare to write a final play and having buried it so they could find it, at St. Mary’s, in their own time. How exactly is this different from what Ronan is doing? History travel to make a profit. I would say that it is Max that creates the horrible future Chief wants to prevent at St. Mary’s, with her plans to go back and save things from destruction. Altering history. And for Bairstow and Chief to not to see this?

I will not read any more books in this series since I hate series. And I hate how Taylor repeats “Historians are like this” over and over and over in the book. Making us sound like we are another species entirely from the rest of humanity! It makes me as upset as when Isobel (in Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club) in book after book drags up the fact that Jamie is so much younger than her and so beautiful and why is he content with her. You just get sick and tired of hearing things over and over again. Move on for heaven’s sake. I also hated the sex scenes described and Max’s Superwoman powers, which no human possesses. What could have been an interesting trail through time, the historians meeting interesting people, having perhaps a difficult time to get home, getting too much involved in history, would have been interesting. But not the direction that this book ended up taking!

 

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My Friday Book: “Salt to the Sea”

Although I would have named the book “What to do when you have watched ‘Titanic’ one time too many”! I was not one of those people sitting wiping my tears in 1998, when I saw Leonardo di Caprio freeze to death and Kate Winslet throw a priceless gem overboard, before joining all the dead on the Titanic, in the spirit world. It was a terrible Hollywood tra-la-la film and when someone on goodreads said “please make this in to a movie” (about this book) I shuddered at the thought. Not another horrible Titanic film!!!

Sure, all women wanted to look like the pretty Winslet girl and drooled over di Caprio, but my US penfriend and I both agreed at the time, that the filmmakers would have made history more justice, by telling one of all the sad stories that ACTUALLY happened on the Titanic. They were surely sad enough, every person’s story, its own tragedy. And once again, I ask what was wrong with true life? Why did Ruta Sepetys think that the real tragedies of Wilhelm Gustloff, were not tragic enough for a book? A ship with 10 573 passengers and 9000 of them drowning and yet, there were not stories worth writing a book about? I refuse to accept that.

So what was the point with this book? Call me paranoid, but it felt like the author is trying to do propaganda for the migrants leaving Syria and many other muslim countries right now, for a better life in the western world. A world they do not REALLY want to belong to. I can not be the only one who makes this observation. Because the way  this book is built up, is so bad, that there can’t be any other point with it.

I gave it three stars on goodreads but I will go back and change that to two stars, because it does not deserve three stars when I  had to start it over three times. When opening the book you are faced with JOANA, as the first chapter, and after ten pages, you have realized that the entire book is going to be written in this horrid way of person 1 telling her observations for two pages, person two for two pages, person three for two pages, person four, the same thing. Over and over and over again for 378 pages and it is not a style I like, nor anyone else I have taken a poll on. It makes for a very choppy story and I quit reading the book, two times. Every time I have re-started it, I have had to go to page one, because nothing stuck in one’s head, to move on from. In other words, either you read this book from start to finish, or you do not read it at all, because you will forget essentials, them not being interesting enough to store in your memory bank.

The story focuses on four youths, in their upper teens, early twenties. deliberately done of course, so she could squeeze in a very unbelievable love story. You have to have a Kate Winslet and Leonardo of course. Or? This book’s love story is ridiculous and an insult of  my intelligence! You do not start a romance when you are sentenced to rape and death! You run and you run fast, to safety or just away from the claws of your enemy. Basic needs have to be satisfied till you can look outside yourself.

We have Joana, the nurse, in her early twenties, who wants to care for everyone out of guilt. A girl, Florian, can not resist even though she is covered with mud and dirt. Because contrary to all other dirty people, she somehow is pretty. Joana, is travelling in front of the Russian Army, trying to avoid rape and being sent to the Gulags. She stems from Lithuania and has no problem travelling to Germany major, as a Volksdeutsch, planning on meeting her German mother there.

Florian, is the 18-19 year-old, who cares about nothing but his mission, which is to take a stolen Russian art object, to Kiel, where he will go search for his evacuated sister. He has looked after all the art objects stolen by the Germans, in Königsberg, East Prussia, together with a Dr. Lange and when he one day realized that Dr. Lange was just using him, for his own purposes, he stole the most prized object of all, an amber statue from the famous Russian Amber room. Hitler’s most favourite object, which was going to be the crown of his art museum in Linz. Revenge is sweet they say.

Emilia is the 15-year-old Pole, who should have been dead by all accounts, Hitler not caring too much about the Polish people. What Ruta forgets when she makes this little heroine in to a blonde, blue-eyed Pole, is that Hitler did not have any problems with Aryan looking Poles. They were taken to Germany and Aryanized, especially when they were children like Emilia. Why Emilia is fleeing all by herself is the question never answered. She knows Hitler doesn’t want her and her family is dead, so… But she is there only to make the story interesting. Which is too blatant!

Finally, we have the disgusting Alfred. Alfred is a looser, who has avoided all sorts of Nazism participation, out of fear. His mother has protected him against all evil, but in the last days of Hitler, not even he could avoid being recruited and this to the Navy.  But he is not against Nazism. No, quite the contrary. Mein Kampf is his bible and he believes every word of what Hitler says in there. Including that Alfred is a superior human being, of the master race. Hitler Jugend just did not understand that, nor his beloved Hannelore or his commanding officers.

While Joana, travels the road with blind Ingrid, the giant Eva, who only cares about her mother’s silver in the cart they pull with them, the shoe poet Heinz, a shoe maker, and little six-year-old Klaus, whose grandmother froze to death on the road, Florian and Emilia, take their time joining the group. And Alfred’s story, takes place in the harbour of Gotenhafen.

Alfred’s story, is the most pathetic one, and a drole part to read, every time it is HIS chapter. He writes these pretend letters to his Hannelore, where he makes himself out to be the most important man in the Navy. Being brave and doing a tremendously important service to the Fatherland. While in truth he is avoiding all sorts of physical labour, hiding, eavesdropping, and being a peeping Tom. Everyone who meets him, realize that he is some sort of psychopath, a looser and are disgusted by him. But Florian finds good use for him late in the story, when he speaks to his ego. What is it, that makes him so disgusting? Well, these pretend letters speak of a disturbed young man, spying on his neighbours and being despised by Hannelore and her family. So much so, that he turned her father in. And he is the sort of idiot, that did not realize that Hannelore would be arrested for being Jewish, just like her father. In the final Alfred chapter, one realizes the full scope of what he has done. He claims to love Hannelore but sent her to her death, because he wanted to punish her father for looking down on him, Alfred, a member of the master race!

Wilhem Gustloff, built in 1937 as a luxury vacation ship

Wilhem Gustloff, built in 1936-1937, as a luxury vacation ship. Get your facts straight Ruta! The ship was launched  5 May, not on the 30 January, like you said, to make it coincide with Hitler’s rise to power. Sorry one can’t falsify history to make a good story!

While Alfred and his fellow sailors prepare for a gigantic surge of refugees, wounded from the Russian front and a couple of hundred German equivalents of the British “WRENS”, the group of five walk the long road to the harbour. And Florian, is trying to get to the same point, with a gigantic shrapnel wound and fever. In a cave, he finds Emilia getting raped by a Russian soldier, and finishes that man off. From then on, he can not shake Emilia off. She becomes like a loyal dog, never leaving his side. They run in to the refugee group but Florian wants to be on his own, since he carries the stolen object and false papers, saying that he is a very important courier for Koch, the master thief, and one of the leaders of the Nazis.

After Joana, has taken out the shrapnel, he and Emilia tries to go off on their own, only to run in to the group again, and from then on, Florian stays with the group. Emilia has by then killed a German soldier by mistake and it has been discovered that she is eight months pregnant. Joana, the constantly caring person, does what she can for Emilia, realizing that she is Polish and in great danger. She steals documents off a dead Lithuanian woman, for Emilia, but the latter has to promise to keep her mouth shut. When they arrive by a great frozen lake, they lose their first traveller. Ingrid the blind girl, volunteers to walk first, to make sure the ice is safe and while the Russians are strafing the refugees, Ingrid goes through the ice. Joana tries to save her, but is pulled back by Florian, who by now is in love with this beautiful girl. Ridiculous! How pathetic can it get?

When they have crossed the ice, they need to cross water or walk a long distance around it. Florian, with his special courier papers, is entitled to be rowed across the water and takes with him the entire group while the horse and cart is sent around with a peasant family. Arriving at Gotenhafen, Eva refuses to give up her belongings and decide to wait for the cart. So she leaves the group, but the others try to stay together in a cinema. Florian, staying by himself in the projector room, finding time to flirt with Joana. Joana, quickly is allowed special treatment since she is a nurse. She will be helping the doctors on Wilhelm Gustloff. Alfred is recruited by Florian to help everyone. He gets Florian and Emilia on board as Joana’s patients, thinking he will get a medal by helping Koch’s agent Florian. Even Klaus and Heinz manage to get a place on the ship, thanks to the policy of children having precedence over adults.

On board the ship, Emilia quickly gives birth to a daughter, which she refuses to care for. While she has pretended that the father was the son in a farm family she was staying with, named Peter, the truth is that the family chosen by her dad, to go stay with for safety, was not all together nice. The mother of Peter, hated Emilia. Peter tried to be doubly nice to her because of his mother’s treatment, but he did not return the love, that Emilia had for him. And when the Russians arrived on the farm and wanted to have sex with Peter’s sister, the mother lied and said that she was ill, but that they could have Emilia, who was hiding in the forest. So, she got raped by all the soldiers and wanted nothing of the baby. Here comes the next pathetic scene, when Joana tells Florian that he must make Emilia take the baby. So this young man grabs the baby, kisses it, says how cute she is, looking just like Emilia and then suddenly Emilia loves the baby! Honestly!

Around 21:15 a loud bang is heard and panic ensues. 10 500 people try to get up to the top for the 12 life boats available. And now

Supposed site where Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed by the Russians.

Supposed site where Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed by the Russians.

we are on Titanic. Ruta is describing the film perfectly. Joana is put in a boat, Klaus is handed to her and Emilia refuses to give her baby to the sailor in charge but wants Florian to carry the baby down in to the boat. And off they go. Florian, Joana, Klaus and baby Halinka, while Emilia gets in to a lifeboat on her own, with Alfred and while Heinz drowns. In the boat, we find out how Alfred sent Hannelore to her death and when he realizes that Emilia is Polish, another enemy of the Fatherland, he tries to kill her, but falls in to the water himself and drowns. Deep sigh! And Emilia of course freezes to death since how else could Florian and Joana live happily ever after? With their kids? No, Emilia sits there and meets her mother and little brother who died at birth, but also her own daughter Halinka, who is well and dandy with Joana. In other words, not believable at all, even though I am a firm believer in that dead relatives who meant something to you, often come and fetch you at the death moment. But Halinka was not dead!

Torpedoes were marked "For the Motherland", "For the Soviet People" and "For Leningrad". The 4th one got stuck and was labelled "For Stalin". I found that apropo!

Torpedoes were marked “For the Motherland”, “For the Soviet People” and “For Leningrad”. The 4th one got stuck and was labelled “For Stalin”. I found that apropo!

Then you get forced twenty years ahead, when Florian gets a letter from a Danish woman. She has read that Halinka, is not allowed to compete in the Olympics, because she has no nationality, being born on a ship in the Baltic Sea. The article also described her parents Florian and Joana, her brother Klaus and a child born by the parents, in the US. From that letter one learns that Emilia floated ashore on Bornholm, a Danish island outside Sweden, with Florian’s rucksack containing the treasure, and Florian has instructed the lady, to bury the rucksack.

I would classify the book as chic lit, something for the teenage girl to drool over, since they are the only once believing in love at first sight, no matter the circumstances and the dirt. To me, an adult, it was a ridiculous and predictable book and so boring, that I had to force myself to finish it. But upon finishing it, I did google Wilhelm Gustloff and read some of the REAL survivor stories and just like with survivors of the Holocaust, there is a feeling that one only survives if it is meant to be. If one’s ticket has not been punched. Some may call it luck or chance, but I do not believe in chance anymore. The ones who survived did so for a purpose, because they were not finished with their mission on Earth.

It is also amazing how this tragedy, is one which is not taught in schools or at University. That it has just become a small side comment. Titanic was nothing to the numbers mentioned in the notes at the back of the book. Wilhelm Gustloff lost 9 000, General von Steuben 4 000, Goya 6 500 and two ships carrying Jews from concentration camps, 7 000. Why has this not been taught or spoken of? Well, Titanic was the first, so that will always be something else. Never had a ship so big, sailed off, and never before had so many travelled before, in the same vessel, and without sufficient life boats. And of course, in the case of Titanic, it was likeable people. Rich people, famous people, but the majority, poor people, emigrating to a better life in America, having used all their life savings, for the ticket.

Wilhelm Gustloff sank with a cargo of Germans. They were the enemy. It was soldiers, rich Prussian Junkers, Nazi officers and their families and most and foremost, Volksdeutsche, who had been equally happy about Hitler’s ascent to power. The picture one gets from google, is that it was a ship full of the master race which sunk, and that can be the explanation for the silence. It was just one more step towards victory, one more step to try to get Hitler to give up and surrender unconditionally. And as we know, it did not effect him one bit. He sat safely in his bunker for three more months, before he gave up.

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