Books: The Tumbling Turner Sisters” and “The Aftermath”

 

The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay

I listened to this book on CDs in the car.  When I do audio books while driving, I’m not looking for anything “heavy” and the Tumbling Sisters was certainly light enough as to not distract me from the crazies on the road.  It is the story of several sisters who form an acrobatic troop in the 1920s and start out on the East Coast Vaudeville circuit.  They are forced to do this because of their father injures his hand in a brawl and is no longer able to work.  The family is always one paycheck from eviction in upstate NY so their mother decides to have the girls learn to tumble in order to try and make money.  We have Nell, a widow with a small boy, Gert, an independent soul who wants to be out on her own, Winnie, a nurse’s aid who loves science and wants to go to college and Kit, the youngest (her character is never flushed out in the book).

The plot is predictable as the chapters alternate between Winnie and Gert and their perspectives on life.   Slowly but surely, the Turners climb the rungs of Vaudeville moving from small towns to larger ones with bigger venues and greater purses.  Of course, the older girls find love, one in an interracial relationship, and their mother flirts her way through the many towns they travel through.  Along the way, there are historical references including “Blackface” acts; the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; Boston’s Great Molasses Flood; Woman’s suffrage and the Seven Sister’s colleges.  The novel’s last big scene involves the Seattle Lincoln Hotel Fire.  While these references are interesting, there is not enough depth to them or Vaudeville for my liking.

This is a straight forward novel and the ending won’t be a surprise to readers.  It is a relatively fast paced and reasonably interesting story.  You won’t be any worse off for reading it, will learn a little about life in Vaudeville and if you are looking for this type of fiction, you should enjoy the book.  If you would like some more depth for your novels, look elsewhere.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Aftermath provides a glimpse into life in Germany, specifically Hamburg, in the period immediately after WWII.  The author is British as are the main characters (a British colonel and his family) who are assigned to the British zone in the war’s “aftermath”.  The author’s own grandfather was the British governor of the Hamburg district so he knows of what he writes.  Like the character in the book, Brook’s grandfather allowed the German family in whose house he resided to stay.

I found the book predictable in terms of the various romances although the ending was a bit disjointed.  The author seemed to do slightly better with the male character development than the female.  I never thought the female lead, Rachel Morgan, the Colonel’s wife, acted in a way that made sense given what we knew about her.  I also thought that a third major plotline about the orphan boys who roamed Hamburg trying to survive using black market cigarettes was not as well integrated into the story as it could have been.  The author apparently wrote the book with a movie in mind and it shows in the writing.

The Aftermath is a good introduction (or reminder) of life in post-war Germany in an area that not many readers are probably aware of.  The book cried out for a prologue that could have explained more of the background so that when the reader embarks on the 1946 “aftermath”, they have some knowledge of what led to the destruction of the city.  Hamburg was bombed in 1943 in a raid which caused the loss of 40,000 lives and the displacement of over one million people.  It was often referred to as the “Hiroshima” of the West.  I ‘m glad I read the book and I’m looking forward to the seeing the movie which stars Keira Knightly as Rachel Morgan and Alexandar Skarsgard as the German architect and owner of the home the Morgans are staying in.

Some Good TV and a Very Good Movie

I’m trying to tie up a few loose ends before heading out for vacation and a break so here is a brief post covering some good entertainment.

Movies:

The Innocents

This French film takes place in Warsaw in the aftermath of WWII and is based on a true story. A young female French Red Cross doctor attending French POWS (Mathilde) is called to a convent where several nuns are pregnant after having been raped by Russian soldiers. Mathilde continues to go to the convent secretly to provide ongoing prenatal care because she can’t walk away from the nuns who have only her to help. She faces opposition from some of the nuns who are so shamed they don’t even want her to examine them as well as the Mother Superior (who you may remember from Ida). The nun is not only trying to deal with the shame but syphilis and fear for how the nunnery will fare in the communist environment. Her actions, however, are horrific.

Mathilde develops a respect for the life of the nuns and the role of faith in desperate situations despite the fact that her parents are communists and she is not religious. She works closely with one of the nuns who is more secular to help deliver the babies. The story is dark with an encouraging end, which I suspect is happier than the true story. The actress who plays Mathilde is able to carry the film despite being on screen virtually the entire time. The film is complex and nuanced and provides a very different plot then we have seen in WWII movies.

The cinematography is excellent as most of the outdoor scenes are grey with snow and dark trees. The bleakness of these scenes is artfully contrasted with the black and white habits of the nuns. It’s really quite beautiful.  The film is very good and I’ll be interested to see if it makes it to the finals of Oscar’s Best Foreign Film category – it certainly should be in contention.

TV:

Finales:

Thirteen (BBC America)

The BBC series finished up this past week and it was a satisfying end to what was a pretty good show. Ivy, as you may recall from a previous post, was kidnapped at age 13 for 13 years when she escaped. For several episodes, we witness Ivy’s attempt to fit back into her family and society in a world that had changed dramatically during her years of captivity. The police in this series were pretty incompetent and went overboard on their interactions with Ivy. They even accused her of the killing the kidnapper’s brother and threw her into jail. Of course she was innocent but it was only one of many missteps by the authorities. Then, another girl was kidnapped and all of a sudden, the police need to enlist Ivy to help them find the girl.

In the finale, through some more police ineptitude, Ivy gains the release of the young girl but is recaptured by her kidnapper. Fortunately, this didn’t last too long and she escapes in a satisfactory conclusion to the story that includes the death of her abductor. This was a one and done mini-series – no season two but was a very good summer show. Along with Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and HBO’s “The Night Of”, we got some surprise summer TV quality. All are worth watching.

Binging:

Jane the Virgin, Season 1 (Netflix)

I have not been able to binge as much as I had expected to this summer due to all the sports and the last two weeks of political conventions but I am making my way through Season 1 of Jane the Virgin. I never gave the show a chance when it first came out having dropped it after the pilot thinking that it just wasn’t my thing. The critics never gave up on it though so I decided to give it a second look. I have watched about one half of Season 1 and am enjoying it more with each new episode. It has more heart than just about anything you can watch on TV and the acting is great. Each character is complex and engaging me in their stories. I guess technically it is considered a comedy but I find it more dramatic in the way it plays out. I hope to get through the rest of Season 1 before the end of the summer. If you haven’t seen it, try it by watching at least 7 or 8 episodes of the first season.

No posts for the next couple of weeks!