Saturday, October 14, 2017

York author Lucy Adlington reveals the secret sewing rooms at Auschwitz in her new novel

York Press features a review of Lucy Adlington's novel, The Red Ribbon, set in a fictional concentration camp during World War Two.

It was during her research into historical fashion that Lucy uncovered a footnote that lead to a remarkable story – and became the focus of The Red Ribbon.
She discovered that Hedwig Hoss, the wife of the commander at Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, loved fashion so much that she demanded a tailoring workshop be established, to be staffed by female prisoners. These prisoners were tasked with making beautiful clothes for Frau Hoss, as well as the wives of other male officers and female guards.
For a historian with a passion for clothes and fashion, The Red Ribbon was a novel she just had to write. Lucy was struck that in the midst of the horror of a concentration camp the frivolities of fashion could flourish. Hedwig Hoss is recast as Madame H in the novel. In real life, she employed prisoners to make her clothes, first at a room in her house (a villa near the camp), but by 1943 this was moved into a workshop at Auschwitz. She had 23 staff, making beautiful clothes for herself and other Nazi women.

read more here @ York Press and at Lucy's website


The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry

From The Daily Star, a review of Wendy Doniger's book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex & Jewelry:

The first seven chapters are about rings throughout history; in particular, they are all recognition stories in which a ring is a vital clue. They deal with sexual rings (chapter 1), rings found in fish and found (with children) in the ocean (chapter 2), rings of forgetful husbands (chapters 3, 4, and 5) and of clever wives (chapters 6 and 7). Chapters 1 and 2 are broadly cross-cultural (though largely Anglophone) and deal with a number of relatively short texts; the next three chapters concentrate on fewer stories discussed in greater depths, taken from individual cultures: India (chapter 3), medieval Europe (chapter 4), and the Germanic world (chapter 5). Chapters 6 and 7 deal with a single theme – the “clever wife” – in cross-cultural distribution. Chapters 8 and 9 veer ever so slightly into stories about necklaces in particular cultures and particular historical periods: a treacherous royal necklace in eighteenth-century France (chapter 8) and true-and-false necklaces in nineteenth century English novels and twentieth century American films (chapter 9). The final two chapters return to rings, to the invention of the myth of diamond engagement rings in twentieth century America (chapter 10) and a concluding consideration of the cash value of rings and the clash between reason and convention in myths about rings of recognition throughout the world (chapter 11).

read more here @ The Daily Star



The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936

Read a review of "The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936" by Ivan Christyakov at the StarTribune:

Police states spread complicity by forcing citizens into immoral roles. With “The Day Will Pass Away,” readers get a remarkable opportunity to peek into the 1930s diary of one such citizen — Ivan Chistyakov, a guard in the Soviet gulag.
Under Communist rule during the 20th century, Russia herded millions of residents into labor camps without trial. Many were sent thousands of miles to vast infrastructure projects in an attempt to shock-industrialize the nation. As purges under Stalin began and executions swept the country, Chistyakov found himself in command of an armed platoon on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway, an eastern outpost of the camp system.

read more here at Star Tribune


Sunday, October 8, 2017

'The Good People' by Hannah Kent


Foreboding builds from the get-go of “The Good People,” Hannah Kent’s haunting historical novel about a rural Irish community gripped by sudden death and suspicion.

Kent’s suspenseful storytelling plunges readers into early 19th-century Ireland. She brings vivid life to the hardscrabble scenes: dingy cabins and backbreaking work and the grim hiring fairs where poor children sell their labor to less poor people such as Nóra. When Nóra and Nance head off to confront the fairies, you can feel the mud sliding beneath their bare feet.

Although “The Good People” is fiction, it faithfully represents the hold of ancient Celtic myths on generations of Irish. It also lays bare some hard truths about human nature and leaves you thinking about belief, suspicion and what happens to a community when fear takes hold.

read entire review here @ Star Tribune

Survival guide for women immigrants to 19thcentury Canada


In a new edition – Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic (McGill-Queen’s University Press) – Cooke and co-editor culinary historian Fiona Lucas present what they refer to as a “historical toolkit.” Their study of Traill’s world provides the context and resources necessary to unlock the Guide and other historical cookbooks.

The Guide was first published 162 years ago, in 1855. Cooke says that the timing is ideal for reframing the work. Food studies and food history emerged as a discipline in the 20th century, she adds – it wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that historians began to consider cookbooks as a source of valuable information.



'In the Woods of Memory': Okinawan novelist makes history visceral

From an article in The Japan Times:

It is almost impossible to find a serious novel that does not touch on the subject of death. “In the Woods of Memory,” taking for its theme the death of the soul, is no exception.
The rape of a 17-year-old girl by four U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa forms the animating horror at the core of this story, based on a number of similar cases related to the author [Shun Medoruma] by his relatives.
In writing this novel, Medoruma creates a sound chamber of voices, time shifts and associations, moving back and forth from 1945 to 2005. He filters experiences through eye witnesses, a wartime Okinawan-American interpreter, an obsequious village ward chief, an American attacker now tormented in his old age by his collusion in an act of barbarity, and his grandson, who is given the harpoon head used by Seiji in the attack on his grandfather.

read more here @ The Japan Times

read reviews here @ Foreword Reviews, @ Asia-Pacific Journal, @ Stone Bridge Press


Imaging Reveals Medieval Manuscript Hidden in Book Binding

In the mid-16th century, a bookbinder picked up a piece of parchment — one that was already centuries old — and used it to bind a book of poetry. This parchment's text remained unreadable for nearly 500 years, but now, thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques, people can read its words once more, according to a new study.

An analysis of the sixth-century text revealed that it was part of the Roman law code. Whoever made the poetry book likely considered the text to be outdated, as at that point, society was using the church's code, rather than Roman laws, the researchers said.

read more here @ Live Science

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Brilliant Defense of Christendom


In medieval times, we are told that tyranny ruled, and the Church and the nascent State were constant rivals in the pursuit of dominance. So many modern historians have cynically reduced this period when Christianity prevailed to a time of cultural darkness and violent power struggles.
Our historian’s central thesis is simply stated: “I argue that thirteenth century France was not a world of the secular and religious vying for position and power, but a world in which the material and the spiritual were totally dependent on each other and penetrated one another at every level.”
He claims medieval society offered “a coherent vision of the whole in which mankind moved through grace from the lesser to the greater, from the fallen to the redeemed. It was an integral vision which included all of social reality and it was removed from our own.”

read more here 

'Flowering of the Bamboo': Revisiting the mass poisoning of 1948


The acronym GUBU (grotesque, unusual, bizarre and unprecedented) fits the mass murder at the Teihoku Bank in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948. Sixteen people were deliberately poisoned, including an 8-year-old boy. More money was left behind than stolen.
While the incident has long been pored over in Japan, Triplett’s book was one of the first to explore the explosive case in English when it was published in 1985. Triplett, a journalist and playwright, stumbled on the case upon hearing about Sadamichi Hirasawa, a painter who was convicted of the murders and sentenced, but never executed. He lived out his life on death row. Hirasawa’s conviction was widely disputed.
Triplett examines the case from two perspectives: Hirasawa’s and that of Unit 731, the Imperial Army’s secretive Biological Warfare outfit, which had been operational during World War II and had ties to the case.
Besides the forensics of the crime Triplett’s book portrays just how much Japan was in flux in the immediate aftermath of the war: The Americans were trying to pull Japan’s institutions out of a deeply ingrained feudalistic culture, the police wanted to get someone on the hook quickly, and the press didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory while trying to convict Hirasawa in the court of public opinion. A compelling read, even if it unearths more questions than it answers.
read more here 
@ wikipedia - Sadamichi Hirasawa

See also:
  • Unit 731: Testimony by Hal Gold
  • Occupied City by David Peace
  • Justice in Japan: The Notorious Teijin Scandal by Richard H Mitchell
  • The Super Sleuths by Bruce Henderson & Sam Summerlin