Book Beginnings: True Believer by Kati Marton

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

How does an idealist turn into a willing participant in murder? How does such a person-who is neither poor, nor socially deprived-learn to crush those he loves for the sake of a cause, a promise, and an illusion?

Last week I featured the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. The week before it was the 2012 Kindle release of Lawrence Durrell’s 1960 travel memoir Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. This week it’s the 2016 biography True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy by Hungarian-American writer Kati Marton.

I’ve been wanting to read True Believer for the last five or six years. However, I had no idea until held a copy in my hands the author, Kati Marton also wrote The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. I thoroughly enjoyed her 2006 book and had I known she was the author of True Believer I would have read it a long time ago. After starting the book just this morning it’s shaping up to be a winner.

Instead of me blathering on, here’s what novel’s page on Amazon has to say:

This astonishing real-life spy thriller, filled with danger, misplaced loyalties, betrayal, treachery, and pure evil, with a plot twist worthy of John le Carré, is relevant today as a tale of fanaticism and the lengths it takes us to.

True Believer reveals the life of Noel Field, an American who betrayed his country and crushed his family. Field, once a well-meaning and privileged American, spied for Stalin during the 1930s and ’40s. Then, a pawn in Stalin’s sinister master strategy, Field was kidnapped and tortured by the KGB and forced to testify against his own Communist comrades.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Last week I started and finished the 2021 novel The Wrong End of the Telescope by Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine. Currently I’m still reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. With my nose buried in several books last week I managed to read just two articles. This week I’ll try harder and hopefully read more. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. Unfortunately for me, I have only two episodes left to watch. 

Everything else. Friday, instead of indulging in my weekly ritual of fine wine and conversation at my favorite local winery I drove up to Portland. After a quick trip to Powell’s Books I proceeded to my friends’ place for an evening of beers, fun and frivolity. Our wonderful hosts fired up the grill and put on the soccer game. After watching the home team come from behind to beat our hated rivals the Seattle Sounders a few of us stayed up past our bedtimes conversing on the porch. Saturday on my way home I hit a massive church yard sale and walked away with small stack of books, almost all of which were free. Among the treasures are Pulitzer-Prize winners American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

Late last week I finished Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal and posted my review. Currently I’m reading Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island and Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a CityLike I mentioned last week all three of these books are Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating article links into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. But with the recent week’s FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence many of my usual podcasts have been abuzz with commentary and speculation. This has made for some interesting listening.

Watching. Right now I’m watching just one TV show and it’s Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride.

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. On Saturday I took in a football scrimmage at the local university.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

I’m happy to report this week I finished Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School as well as David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. Impressive works of nonfiction,  both books are strong contenders to make my year-end list of Favorite Nonfiction

 With Jeffries’s and Gilmour’s books under my belt, I’ve gone back to reading Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a City and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal. I also started Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus: Life on a Mediterranean Island. As you probably guessed all three books are for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating these into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. Like I’ve said before, with so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. But with last week’s FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence many of my usual podcasts have been abuzz with commentary and speculation. This has made for some interesting listening which I’m sure will only intensify. 

Watching. After finishing up season 4 of Stranger Things it’s been all Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. I also caught on YouTube a special installment of the Lincoln Project’s The Breakdown, devoted mostly to the FBI’s recent raid on Trump’s Florida residence. “So much ‘criming’ as co-host Tara Setmayer described Trump’s ongoing attempts to subvert democracy and proclaim himself President for Life. 

 

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. 

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

After finishing Icelandic author Ólafur Ólafsson’s novel The Sacrament  I’ve returned to reading  David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples and Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. Late last week I also started Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan’s Sarajevo, Exodus of a City and Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

 

Articles. Even with my nose buried in several books I read a number of excellent articles last week. Inspired by Paula Bardell-Hedley’s outstanding weekly feature “Winding Up the Week” on her great blog Book Jotter I’ve started incorporating these into my Sunday Salon posts and will continue to do so in the future. 

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. After finishing up season 4 of Stranger Things it’s all been Mr. Robot. Like I’ve said before it just gets crazier and crazier thanks to insane plot twists, great writing and superb acting. It’s been one hell of a wild ride. 

Everything else. In what’s becoming a Friday ritual I met my professor buddies on Friday at our favorite winery for wine, conversation and a killer view. I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, but in the evenings I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two with my books and articles. 

 

Book Beginnings: Sarajevo, Exodus of a City by Dzevad Karahasan

Not only does Gilion host the European Reading and TBR 22 in 22 on her Rose City Reader blog but also Book Beginnings on Friday. While I’m no stranger to her European Reading Challenge, only recently I decided to participate in Book Beginnings on Friday. This week I’m back with another post.

For Book Beginnings on Friday Gilion asks us to simply “share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy and you want to highlight.”

MY BOOK BEGINNING

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the county’s largest city. Founded by Isa bey Ishakovic in 1440, it is also a typical Bosnian city. Built in the Milyatska River Valley, surrounded by mountains, Sarajevo is enclosed and isolated from the world, so to speak, cut off from everything external and turned wholly toward itself.

Last week I featured Icelandic author Ólafur Ólafsson’s 2019 novel The Sacrament and the week before it was David Gilmour’s 2011 The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. This week it’s Dzevad Karahasan’s 1994 account of a city under siege Sarajevo, Exodus of a City

Yet again I’ve opted to deviate from my originally designated 20 Books of Summer and instead read something for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Since Sarajevo, Exodus of a City was translated from Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian I’ll also be applying towards Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge.

Since the good people at Amazon said next to nothing about this book, other than it’s a “…firsthand account of the siege of Sarajevo and the flight of its citizens”, here’s how Publisher’s Weekly described it:

“I come from a destroyed country,” writes Karahasan, a Bosnian Muslim, in this collection of short pieces that range from elegiac meditations on Sarajevo to reflections on adjusting to life with snipers and shelling. Although translated with a clunkiness that is sadly characteristic of many Eastern European works published here, Karahasan’s account is often quietly devastating.

Library Loot

After returning a big stack of books to the public library the other day I was ready for more. In past Library Loots I’ve tended to feature books by authors from outside the US. I’ve also spotlighted stuff by American authors either about, or set in foreign countries. This week is no exception. Much of Canadian writer Yann Martel’s novel is set in Portugal while Per Petterson’s is set in his native Norway. While James Angelos is an American, The Full Catastrophe chronicles his travels through Greece in the wake of the country’s horrible economic meltdown. Lastly, Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan explores the horrors inflected upon his nation’s capital during the horrific Yugoslavian Civil War of the 1990s. I’ll be applying all four of these books towards Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and the bottom two towards Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge

  • The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins by James Angelos – The worldwide recession of 2007/2008 hit Greece hard. While many nations were able to bounce back after a few short years Greece suffered catastrophic  damage that lasted a decade
  • The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – 20 years ago Yann Martel’s Life of Pi rocked my world. If this 2016 offering of his is half as good I’ll be satisfied.
  • I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson – In 1989 as Communism unravels across Central and Eastern European a thirty-something Norwegian factory worker must come to grips with a failed marriage, cancer and the shattered illusions of his long-held communist beliefs.
  • Sarajevo, Exodus of a City by Dzevad Karahasan – I checked this one out last summer only to return in ignored and unread. I’d like to give it another shot. Just like last time I suspect I’ll either love it or hate it. Or both.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading to encourage bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write-up your post, steal the Library Loot icon and link your post using the Mr. Linky on Sharlene’s blog.  

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

I finished Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II   as well as Adam Hochschild’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. I read both books for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. 

Late last week I started David Gilmour’s The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples. So far it’s shaping up to be an excellent book and perfect for the European Reading Challenge. I’ve also resumed reading Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School

Listening. With so many things going on in the world there’s been no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. Despite this extensive list I feel I should be listening to much more. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. On Thursday after watching the January 6 Hearings I followed it up with an entertaining and informative episode of the Lincoln Project’s The Breakdown.    

Everything else. Yesterday my professor buddy and I had some great wine as we took in the amazing view at our favorite local winery. The weather at my place has been nice of late so I’ve been reading on my porch.  While I’ve been drinking coffee in the mornings, in the evenings with my book I’ve been known to enjoy an adult beverage or two.

 

 

20 Books of Summer: Rather Die Fighting by Frank Blaichman

Needing something representing Poland for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I happily helped myself to a copy of Frank Blaichman’s 2009 memoir Rather Die Fighting: A Memoir of World War II when I came across it during at the public library. I knew a little bit about Poland’s wartime Jewish partisans thanks to Matthew Brzezinski’s excellent 2012 book Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland and figured Rather Die Fighting would present me with a great opportunity to learn more.

Frank Blaichman was 16 years old when Germany invaded his native Poland in 1939. After witnessing the Nazis rounding up his fellow Jews for “resettlement” he fled into the forests and soon joined a band of Jewish partisans. Like so many teens across war-torn Europe he was forced to grow up quickly, electing to fight the Germans and their collaborators. Committed, intelligent, and wise beyond his years it wasn’t long before his commanders made him an officer.

Hard enough Blaichman and his fellow Jewish partisans had to fight the Germans but they also had to contend with a complicated array of rival armed groups, some with hostile intentions. While the Polish AK partisans also fought the Germans they were avidly anti-Semitic, and thus usually impossible to trust. Even worse were the German-allied, anti-Polish Ukrainian militias, as well as assorted Polish fascist groups. Even more cooperative partisan forces like the Polish AL or Russians had their own military and political agendas and weren’t entirely free of anti-Semitism. (It wasn’t uncommon for leaders of such groups to order hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned Jewish fighters to attack advancing German tank columns.)

Eventually, the tide of battle turned , the Red Army drove the Germans from Poland and Blaichman was absorbed into the Soviet-sponsored Polish regular army. However, not long after Germany’s surrender the former partisan and his young wife sought to leave Poland. With virtually his entire extended family dead, anti-Semitism on the rise and the prospects of living under communist rule unappealing Blaichman and his wife made their way westward and eventually settled in America.

Few Jewish fighters survived the Second World War. Fewer still went on to write about their experiences. With that mind, rare memoirs like Rather Die Fighting are a rare commodity and should be treasured.

Sunday Salon

For over a month I’ve been taking part in The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz. So far it’s been a huge success and I’m striving to make it a regular feature. So here’s another post. 

 

After putting aside both Stuart Jeffries’s Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School and Frank Blaichman’s Rather Die Fighting I started Adam Hochschild’s 2016 Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939. So far it’s been very good.

Listening. At least for one day last week the January 6 Hearings were back at it again. In addition to the many other ongoing political developments this has provided no shortage of material for my favorite podcasts. 

Watching. Mr. Robot continues to entertain with its crazy plot twists, great writing and superb acting. I also caught a few episodes of Stranger Things. Tuesday I took in the January 6 Hearings.

Everything else. Met my professor buddies for wine yesterday at an area winery. The weather has been nice so I’ve been reading on my porch. All good things.