Struggling

Chapter 3 of Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy is very, very hard to read.

The strength of this book is that it really puts you inside Ethel’s head. Which means, of course, you will find the end depressing.

Her stress has been building slowly since Chapter 1. By Chapter 3, her hopefulness is still present but she can’t see what the reader sees, she can’t know what the reader knows. AARGH.

For instance, we find in Chapter 3 that these two naive young people, Julius and Ethel, were lonely IN their marriage. They were so poor, Ethel had to “occasionally” borrow small food items from neighbors “that she never returned” and everyone just learned to look the other way. The worst thing for her, though, was not their poverty, but the sight of her husband “failing.” Julius, on the other hand, was lonely because his Russian handler worried that Julius might be compromised and stopped seeing him for eight months. During which time Ethel got pregnant again, probably as her way of reassuring Julius that she had absolute faith in him as a husband and father!

Finally, Julius’s handles is called back to Moscow. He feels he must tell Julius in person, so he takes him to a nice Hungarian restaurant. And then breaks the news.

This is the agent, Feklisov, writing from memory six months later:

  • “Julius stopped, looking at me wide-eyed. A few long seconds went by. “What do you mean,” he asked. “You’re leaving me? Why?”

Oh God. This is so painful. Self wants to kick Julius for acting like a lovesick puppy. With his newly pregnant wife at home.

Stay tuned.

The Noose

Self pulled a switcheroo one sleepless night and decided to read Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. Something about the prose, something about the hour, something about her mood — she put aside Chris Offutt for later.

The past few days, she’s been reading about idealistic young Ethel Rosenberg, and she hopes her heart doesn’t break too much later, when Ethel is sentenced. It’s bad enough reading about what a hard worker she was, how determined she was to be a good wife and mother, and how all her life she yearned for music and scrimped and saved to buy herself a piano.

Of Julius and Ethel, it is pretty clear that Ethel is probably more intelligent. Definitely, she’s the one more rooted in family (as the woman usually is, even now). So when Julius gets flattered into passing on information to a Russian agent on p. 58, it is quite a gut punch.

Julius Rosenberg to his Russian “handler,” Alexander Feklisov, who was four years Julius’s senior, who’d “been working in New York since 1940”:

  • “I know you may not be aware of it, but our meetings are among the happiest moments of all my life . . . I have a wonderful wife and son whom I adore but you are the only person who knows all my secrets and it’s very important to be able to confide to someone.”

Damn you, Julius Rosenberg and also damn you, Alexander Feklisov!

The Russians expressed skepticism, remarking with cool detachment that his “health is nothing splendid.”

Past Squares 7: A Look Back at This Kickass Reading Year (2021)

This is also today’s post for Life of B’s Past Squares!

Adolf Hitler, Aspiring Artist

“The rapid catching of an atmosphere, of a certain mood, which is so typical of a water color and which, with its delicate touch, imparts to it freshness and liveliness — this was missing completely in Adolf’s work,” a friend named Kubizek recalled.

The Gallery of Miracles and Madness, p. 67

I suppose you couldn’t really call Kubizek a friend, since in reality Hitler had no friends. But Kubizek did get close enough to be shown examples of Hitler’s art.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Economist: Books of the Year 2020

A list from a list (highly idiosyncratic — in which self decides which kind of writing she’s going to spend most of 2021 doing)

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR

  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama – “A reminder that the 44th president is one of the best writers ever to serve in that office”
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City, by Amy Stanley – “The everyday struggles of an obscure woman in Tokyo in the first half of the 19th century”
  • Kiss Myself Goodbye, by Ferdinand Mount – “The hilarious tale of a . . . pathologically inventive aunt in raffish, upper-class Britain either side of the second world war”

HISTORY

  • A House in the Mountains, by Caroline Moorhead – “Weaving deep research into a compelling narrative . . . about four women fighting with the partisans in northern Italy in 1943”
  • Alaric the Goth, by Douglas Bain – “Colorful portrait of the city and empire in the fifth century”

FICTION

  • The Slaughterman’s Daughter, by Yaniv Iczkovits – “Late 19th century picaresque about a Jewish mother in the Pale of Settlement who sets out to retrieve her wayward brother-in-law in Minsk”
  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart – “Coming of age in Glasgow in the 1980s”
  • Homeland Elegies, by Ayad Akhtar – “Part autobiographical tale about growing up as a Pakistani-American through the age of 9/11 and then Donald Trump”
  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi – Opens with “I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.”

CULTURE AND IDEAS

  • Leo Tolstoy, by Andrei Zorin – “Weaves together his times, his writing, his faith and his political activism”

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

  • Apollo’s Arrow, by Nicholas Christakis – “the history of plagues”

BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS

  • No Rules Rules, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer – “The boss of Netflix and his co-author explain how he arrived”

The Reading Year, So Far 2020

At the end of January, she landed on her first great read of 2020: Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory, by Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

February was TOTALLY GREAT! She spent the entire month reading two good books: The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, and I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.

The end of March brought her to Brideshead Revisited.

The end of April brought her to Leviathan Wakes, by James. S. A. Corey.

Last half of May: Caliban’s War (Book 2 of The Expanse) and Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker.

June: Abaddon’s Gate and Cibola Burn, Books 3 and 4 of The Expanse

July: The Snakes, by Sadie Jones

End of August: The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

September: Great, great month. Read In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow, and Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Sen. Joe McCarthy (totally absorbing, great biography) by Larry Tye.

Currently reading: Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha.

To look forward to this month: the official launch of Caroline Kim’s collection, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts, the winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize!

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Voice of America, 1953

from Larry Tye’s Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Sen. Joe McCarthy, Chapter 6:

  • Kaplan was an engineer at the Voice of America and the liaison with MIT on the radio transmitter project that Senator McCarthy was slamming as an instance of deliberate sabotage of America’s propaganda war with the Russians. In the heat of those hearings, early in 1953, Kaplan traveled to Cambridge to talk to the Voice’s MIT advisers. Co-workers say it was a fraught mission for the anxious Kaplan, who, despite the fact that he was merely a middleman, had long worried that he might be dragged into the controversy over the siting of the towers. When he got to MIT, the researchers who could clear things up weren’t available to meet with him. Kaplan came unglued. As he was leaving campus, Henry Burke was driving down the street in his ten-ton trailer truck. “I saw him standing on the sidewalk as if he was ready to cross, Burke told the police later. “I slowed the truck. When (I) got near him, he jumped in front of it.”

Kaplan was, Tye writes, “a fragile target,” under pressure in many areas, not the least of which was a sick wife.

Sen. Joe McCarthy blamed Kaplan’s death on “sinister forces.”

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Sen. Joe McCarthy 2.0

Replace McCarthy’s name below with Trump, replace ‘the Red Menace’ with Chy-nuh and you have McCarthy 2.0. History repeats itself.

After a bruising battle in the Senate, Joe McCarthy’s primary Democratic opponent, Millard Tydings, was left “exhausted and deflated.” Instead of “muzzling McCarthy, the Tydings Committee had given him a wider stage and a louder bullhorn to name his names.” Somehow, McCarthy “made himself look more like the aggrieved than the aggressor. His murky cause had become an article of canon for Senate Republicans. His audience never was fellow senators, or even the reporters in the gallery, but … chicken farmers and grocers … Ask God-fearing people anywhere who their white knight was in the crusade against the Red Menace and there were no longer ifs and buts, it was the battle-ready Leatherneck, Jousting Joe McCarthy.” (Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, p. 187)

p. 188: “Joe couldn’t forget a slight … Joe was the one framing the narrative.”

DEMAGOGUE: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy, by Larry Tye

from the Preface:

This is a book about America’s love affair with bullies.

Beginning IN WEST MILLS, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

The Charterhouse of Parma: Five Stars

In terms of her reading life, August was the bomb. All the books she read were library check-outs (YAY! Library’s back, it’s back, it’s back!)

She read, in addition to The Charterhouse of Parma: Colonel Chabert, by Balzac; First: Sandra Day O’Connor, by Evan Thomas; and The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste.

Excited to begin a new novel (and discover a new writer). Opening Sentence of In West Mills:

In October of ’41, Azalea Centre’s man told her that he was sick and tired of West Mills and of the love affair she was having with moonshine.

Well! That is some opening.

The author bio on the book jacket says that De’Shawn Charles Winslow is from North Carolina. He is a 2017 graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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