Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Wallenberg is Here! -- A True Holocaust Story

Carl Steinhouse’s new book, Wallenberg is Here!, tells a fascinating, true story about a "lost hero." Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat of the famed Wallenberg family, used his wits and resources to take on the Nazis in Budapest, Hungary. His efforts saved tens of thousands of Jews from certain death.

Wallenberg is Here! brings a historical story as historical fiction, a novel with dialog, conflict, and suspense. Character contrast is shown between the selfless Wallenberg and his greatest foe, Adolph Eichmann—"the bloodhound" of the Jews. The story gives a detailed chronology; each scene begins with a heading of the date and exact place, even to precise streets or buildings in Buda or Pest, the two parts of Budapest. For further variation, Wallenberg is Here! alternates between short narrative prose describing overall events, scenes involving Wallenberg and his associates, and anecdotal scenes with various individual Jews – some of whom soon perish, others who escape impending destruction, and others who are rescued by Wallenberg.

The horrific story is (of course) similar to others from the Holocaust, with events that call to mind, for example, scenes from the movie "Schindler’s List." In tribute to that now well-known event, the author includes brief dialog referring to Schindler. Though Wallenberg’s story takes place outside the concentration camps, it includes all the other horrors: innocent people shot at random in the streets; Jews herded onto cattle cars; others shot and thrown into the Danube River; and still more marched for miles to the nearest train loading points. As with any book dealing with this subject, Wallenberg is Here! does not make for easy, fun or light reading. But the real world often contains such unpleasant and depressing events, and Wallenberg offers hope in the midst of a terrible situation. Though Wallenberg and his associates are hopelessly outnumbered, they do what they can, giving protective custody with Swedish Schutzpasses to thousands. As the persecution intensifies, and anarchy reigns in the new Hungarian "Arrow Cross" government, all Wallenberg can do is put out small fires in a blazing forest – jumping from one emergency to another, and the reader feels the hopelessness of the situation. Yet from the many Jews saved from each crisis, spreads the whisper "Wallenberg is here."

Steinhouse concludes the intriguing "hero" story with its tragic aftermath, in which Wallenberg quickly disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Unbeknownst even to Wallenberg, a new Cold War had begun even before the "hot war" had ended, by January 1945. Having told a great, true story from history, the author adds a call for action – for the U.S. government and the world to learn the rest of the story from the former Soviet Union.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Somewhere A Song: Follow-Up to Pella's "Written on the Wind"

Somewhere A Song, the sequel to Judith Pella's Written on the Wind, begins immediately where the last book ended. Soon all three Hayes daughters--Cameron, Blair, and Jackie--hear the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor -- December 7, 1941. Cameron has just returned to the Soviet Union; Blair has been living in the Philippines for a few weeks; and Jackie continues her life in Los Angeles. The story covers events of the next six months, until June 1942.

Though the book opens and closes on Cameron's life, Blair's story is the most exciting and developed one. After all, as Cameron knows too, the action is now in the Pacific. Blair matures through her hardships, as she faces evacuation from Manila, separation from Gary due to the war, and then a rough lifestyle in the wilderness of the Philippines. Later she and some friends live for a while with Christian missionaries in a remote area. The once-spoiled "glamour girl" learns to survive by depending on God, noting that He always provides others to help her along.

Cameron, meanwhile, has changed her attitude from religious indifference to outright hostility. Her harsh attitude poses irreconcilable differences with Alex--her recent romantic interest--and his new-found Christian faith. The story of Cameron's Russian half-brother is developed more, with a few tantalizing clues for Cameron as well as the reader -- again to await further development in the next book. As in the first book, Cameron's American journalist and Russian friends are back in their minor roles, including the Fedorcenko family. Fans of Pella's "The Russians" series can appreciate these minor characters in this new "Daughters of Fortune" series, with a glimpse at the later years of Anna Yevnovna, her son and grandchildren.

Jackie's story is again too brief (another excellent storyline), but includes more of her relationship with a Japanese-American man, Sam, and a surprising outcome. As hostilities increase in California, towards Japanese after Pearl Harbor, Jackie and Sam must decide what's most important in their lives. This part of Somewhere A Song also discusses the internment camps for Japanese-Americans, a subject also dealt with in another recent Bethany House historical novel (All the Way Home, by Ann Tatlock).

Somewhere A Song is another excellent addition to Judith Pella's "Daughters of Fortune" series. Building on the events from the first novel, it continues several interesting plot developments. Again, several story elements are left hanging, for the reader to eagerly await the next book.