I’ve been thinking about history. Because of Christmas dinner.
See, we’re at my mom’s for Christmas break. That meant a lovely Christmas and a nice Christmas dinner. My mom invited over a couple of friends. One of them was my stepdad’s brother. The other was a friend of my mom, a lovely Dutch woman. They’re all in their 70’s, so they all have a lot of history to share.
But the story my mom’s friend told was really something. Here is the synopsis:
When she was really little, like toddler age, the Nazis occupied their town or village. During that time, someone or someones shot and killed two Nazi soldiers. The Nazis couldn’t figure out who did it, and no one would confess. Because revenge and punishment, the Nazis then randomly chose a two men to stand in for the killer or killers–in a Dutch concentration camp (I believe it was Amersfoort). And this woman’s father, the village barber, was chosen to serve.
He survived through sheer luck and timing: it was towards the end of the war, and when parts of the Netherlands were liberated, the Germans began shipping people to German camps. At one of the stops on the train ride, things were so chaotic that her father and his friend just got off the train, and got on another train to return to their village (I would think it was somewhat more complicated than this, and I plan to do some research to find out what I can).
The camp is now a museum, as it should be. We should remember human ugliness, be forced to confront it on regular basis. How else can we ensure that we don’t repeat it?
I feel like by not remembering stories like this we are doomed to repeat history. We need to stop attempting to erase the bad in history. Look at the Confederate flag. Yes, it should be taken down from statehouses and any place related to current governments. But it should be in museums and memorials, because it was a part of history. Yes, part of it represented slavery, a VERY ugly part of our country’s past, and that part has become a symbol for modern racism. But it also represents a part of the American South’s history, and a time when the United States was divided. We can’t erase it, and we need to remember it, so we don’t repeat it.
My 12 year-old learns very little about concentration camps in school, and that could be because she just hasn’t gotten into that part of world history yet. We’ve told her about it. About how ‘going along to get along’ and not speaking doesn’t really help anyone. How controlling speech, deciding what can be talked about and not talked about is the road to fascism.
The U.S. has survived for nearly 240 years because people have the right to speak their minds. Not everyone has to like those thoughts and opinions, and no one has to listen, but everyone has the right to let those thoughts and opinions fly.
We need to realize that there is evil out there, and to look at history so we can recognize it. If we wallpaper over the bad, we won’t know what it looks like when it returns. If we don’t know how to recognize it, evil will sneak in and get us every time.
So open your eyes. Teach your children history. Talk about things you’d rather not talk about. Listen to the speeches you’d rather not listen to–that way you know what evils are attempting to sneak up on us. Read, or watch, or browse, news that maybe is on the other side of your political bent. Keep an open mind, but don’t forget history. Don’t forget how Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Lenin. . . (this list could go on and on) took over because good people were kept down, were afraid to speak up, were not given the right to speak in opposition. In the U.S. we are given that right, and we need to use it!!!
Okay, onto a book that looks at one of the ugly parts of U.S. history–The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende.
. . . there was only one aristocracy, that of decency, and that this was not inherited or bought with money or titles, but was only gained through good deeds.
Alma Belasco’s parents make a hard decision in 1939–they send her away from the impending Nazi invasion to live with her uncle and aunt in San Francisco. Living in the rich opulence of their seaside home, she meets Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the Japanese gardener. Connected in childhood through innocent games, the two are cruelly pulled apart when the Fukuda family is relocated to an Utah internment camp.
After World War II, the two meet up again as adults and fall in love. After they are torn apart, the two continue to find each other time and again, a life long love impossible to ignore.
As readers, we meet Alma when she puts herself in San Francisco’s Lark House, a retirement community/nursing home that takes no payment and is eccentric in its inhabitants. Alma takes on Irina Bazili, an immigrant with her own troubled past with which she must come to terms.
With the help of Alma’s grandson Seth, Irina uncovers the secret passion of Ichimei and Alma while putting Alma’s own papers and history in order. Through letters and memories, readers are privy to Alma’s history and memories.
Seth falls in love with Irina, and stays by her side through the story, although she isn’t ready to love. With the help of Alma and Seth, Irina faces her own past and realizes it can’t find her forever.
The Japanese Lover is Allende at her best. Beautifully written, Allende brings together many stories and generations in one beautiful tale. Multiple layers are brought together seamlessly and perfectly.
Both Alma and Irina are flawed, proud characters, similar in many respects. Both are wonderful protagonists that readers will cheer for in many respects as they make hard choices for themselves and those they love.
My only had one real problem in this book. It comes with a decision Alma makes that seemed a little heartless to me, and the consequences she has because of this choice at the end of the story. I thought the ending of that storyline was a little trite (even if it is what I hope would happen). I don’t want to get into any deeper spoilers, so I won’t tell any more–but when you read the book I think you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Even after this flaw (in my opinion), I give The Japanese Lover 4.5 stars. Allende does it again!!!