Self’s Intro to Author Laurie R. King

Is apparently this book, No. 17 in King’s Sherlock Holmes + Mary Russell mysteries.

No. 17.

Self knows she needs to come clean: She could not read to the end of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days. She could not read past the Russians belligerently recruiting Arvid Harnack (while Mildred is out of town, in Copenhagen — but could she have made a difference? But could the Russians have been a little less showy with their knocking on the Harnacks’ door with not the slightest compunction about informants? After all the trouble the Heaths took to have their 11-year-old disguise the Harnacks’ activities! Self couldn’t stand those Russian thugs.)

Anyhoo, Castle Shade reads fresh. She can’t believe it’s the 17th in a series. She confesses that, in the beginning, she found the idea of a married Sherlock Holmes a little far-fetched, but once she started reading, she found the scenes between MR and SH very crisp. Story’s got a fascinating setting, too: it starts on a train headed to Dracula’s castle! Yes, that’s right: the intrepid pair are headed to Romania. Oooh! Stay tuned.

What It Was Like in Berlin, 1932

New book, started just today. It’s by a woman named Rebecca Donner, and the subject is her great-grandaunt, Mildred Harnack, who was married to a German, Arvid, whose fate is a family secret, because it was very bad: it seems she was imprisoned by Hitler and executed, and what family would want to talk about something like that?

Self only heard about Mildred Harnack from a book review in The Economist (August 2021). Self saved the review and now, finally, she holds in her hands All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler.

Mildred was from Wisconsin. She met Arvid when they were both students at the University of Wisconsin. In 1932, she was a part-time instructor at the University of Berlin, where she taught American Literary History.

It’s a good thing her great grandniece knows how to tell a story. She uses present tense, which hints that at least one of her goals is to make this story immersive: it’s not going to be a “Mildred did this, then Mildred did that” kind of thing. No, Rebecca’s actually going to put us in Berlin, which so happens to be a place self has visited, long ago, when she was invited to read from her book Mayor of the Roses by the House of World Culture. Just a few weeks ago, she was in Berlin again, this time April 1945 Berlin, through the eyes of Anonymous in A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City.

1932 Berlin is very different from 1945 Berlin (of course). Mildred would be two years dead by the time Anonymous began writing her diary (Self wonders if Anonymous would have heard of Mildred Harnack? Anonymous was a journalist, so in all probability she would have heard of Mildred’s arrest and execution). Here is Mildred walking through Berlin in 1932:

She reaches a wide boulevard: Unter den Linden. She turns right.

The boulevard takes its name from the profusion of linden trees flanking it, trees that are in full bloom now, cascades of tiny white blossoms perfuming the air she breathes. But all this beauty can’t mask the ugliness here. Swastikas are cropping up like daisies everywhere: on posters pasted to the walls of U-Bahn stations, on flags and banners and pamphlets. A white-haired, walrus-mustached man is leading the country right now, but just barely. President Paul von Hindenburg is eighty-four, tottering into senility. A politician half his age is growing in popularity, a high-school dropout named Adolf Hitler who, Mildred predicts, will bring “a great increase of misery and oppression.”

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, p. 16

Six-Word Saturday: “Routine Medical Examination, Sit and Wait”

Thank you to Debbie at Travel with Intent for hosting the Six-Word Saturday challenge.

Self is in the closing section of Semezdin Mehmehdinovic’s My Heart, his (really quite lovely) meditation on the frailty of the body, on the melancholy of aging, of saying good-bye.

Awesome Book. Five Stars.

It is a triptych: the first third is about his “first heart attack,” at the age of fifty. The middle section is about a road trip he takes with his detached son. The final section is about the after-effects of his wife’s stroke.

Does it sound depressing to you? It sounded depressing to self. At first, she wasn’t sure she wanted to read it. Perhaps she’d just skim.

She was wrong. If the first third didn’t quite grab her, she was glad she stuck with it. By the end of the father-and-son road trip, she was hooked.

The last section is like a love letter to the narrator’s wife, it so tenderly describes the most devastating after-effect of her stroke: her memory loss.

Holding hands, we step into the circular glass door through which I have often passed over the last months. Our moving shadows break up in the glass. The melancholy of late summer. We go up in the elevator to the fourth floor. We’re in the hospital for a routine medical examination. We sit and wait. In the silence, we look at a painting in front of us by an anonymous artist. And then Sanja asks: “Isn’t it a pitiful destiny for an artist for their works to end up on the wall of a doctor’s waiting room . . . ?”

My Heart, p. 223

It’s a book about grief, but it is not depressing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day, First Saturday of 2022

Yet for all that metal he still made it to mass,
honored the Almighty before the high altar.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a new verse translation by Simon Armitage

Berlin, Friday, April 20, 1945

11 p.m., by the light of an oil lamp in the basement, my notebook on my knees. Around 10 p.m. there was a series of three or four bombs. The air raid siren started screaming. Apparently it has to be worked manually now. No light. Running downstairs in the dark, the way we’ve been doing ever since Tuesday. We slip and stumble. Somewhere a small, hand-operated dynamo is whirring away; it casts giant shadows on the walls of the stairwell. Wind is blowing through the broken panes, rattling the blackout blinds. No one pulls them down anymore — what’s the point?

A Woman in Berlin, p. 6

Self wonders who the translator is? Because this reads very smoothly, I almost forget it was originally written in German.

The translator’s name is Philip Boehm.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Berlin, the Conquered City

How the narrator reacts to food:

The gas is running on a tiny, dying flicker. The potatoes have been cooking for hours. The most miserable potatoes in the country, good only for distilling into liquor, they turn to mush and taste like cardboard. I swallowed one half-raw. I’ve been stuffing myself since early this morning. Went to Bolle’s to use up the pale-blue milk coupons Gerd sent me for Christmas. Not a moment too soon — I got the last drops. The saleswoman had to tilt the can; she said there’d be no more milk coming into Berlin. That means children are going to die.

I drank a little of the milk right there on the street. Then, back at home, I wolfed down some porridge and chased it with a crust of bread.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, pp. 3 – 4

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City

She vividly evokes the civilians trapped in Berlin and deprived of meaningful news. They know only that information from the western front, where the Americans have just reached the Elbe, is by then irrelevant. “Our fate is rolling in from the East,” she writes.

— from the Introduction, by Antony Beevor

Fires at Sea

The battle on the Java Sea, a battle between mis-matched opponents (The Allies were much less prepared than the Japanese), is muddied by a lack of direction in command. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is the classic David vs Goliath match-up. Ship of Ghosts, however, is more like The Charge of the Light Brigade. Or at least that’s the way James Hornfischer writes it.

Admiral Doorman (Dutch), on his flagship the De Ruyter, is leading the Allied fleet back to port on Java when he gets a command from a superior to engage AGAIN. So he orders his ships to turn around. As the Allied ships head back to the scene of battle (a battle which they very decisively lost in the afternoon), they pass survivors of the earlier sinkings — “the swells here and there were dotted with men adrift” — and once again, the Allied fleet pass them by, with the exception of the HMS Encounter, which stops and takes aboard 113.

Three of the ships that escaped being torpedoed in the afternoon, are now torpedoed. GAAAH. So stupid. Admiral Doorman’s own ship, the De Ruyter, is hit. He orders the remaining ships to head back to port instead of trying to recover survivors. “The standing order that disabled friendlys should be left to the enemy’s mercy came with no exception for” admirals. So the De Ruyter is left to struggle alone. It was “an hour and a half before she finally sank.” A sailor on the Houston described hearing “nine separate and distinct explosions before we cleared the horizon. Admiral Karel Doorman was never seen again.”

btw, one of the Allied ships was sunk as it approached harbor, by a mine. A mine set by the Dutch just that morning, in anticipation of an enemy invasion.

Self always found it difficult to understand fires at sea. Wouldn’t it be easy to put out fires, surrounded by so much water? She learned from reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, however, that fires are one of the most common reasons for death at sea. Moreover, for the survivors, there is nowhere to go. A ship is a floating island. In fact, again from reading TLSOTTCS, she learns that most of the crew probably could not swim. And even if you happened to be one of the lucky few who could swim — sharks! Gruesome.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

On the Java Sea, 27 February 1942

I’ll say again, no one can write naval battles like James D. Hornfischer. When he died, June 2021, the world lost many stories, still begging to be told.

On 27 February 1942, the world had its first taste of the “astonishing range” of a new type of torpedo, the Japanese Type 93. An international flotilla of carriers, cruisers and destroyers (American, Australian, English and Dutch) were in defensive formation, trying to stop the advance of a massive group of Japanese battleships heading towards the strategic Australian port of Darwin.

The first to be hit was the HMS Exeter, but the Australian captain of the Perth raced towards it, “firing floating smoke pots into the sea that churned out white clouds” and bought the Exeter precious time. The next to be hit was the Dutch destroyer Kortenaer, which was screening the Allied flotilla from the west and “found herself broadside to a spread of Long Lances.” After one “tremendous explosion” produced “a tower of seawater that swallowed her nearly from forecastle to fantail,” the ship lay “broken in two, jackknifed and foundering . . . a few men desperately scrambling to cling to her barnacled bottom. A few of them” were still able to flash a thumbs-up sign to the passing Allied ships. “No ship stopped to take survivors,” there was no time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

City Sonnet Color Challenge, Dec. 4: Rosy Brown

Self is typing this in Offspring Pizza in Boonville. She’s 40 miles south of Mendocino (her final destination)

It’s a very chilly, overcast day. Which is why she ordered a gorgonzola/persimmon/radicchio pizza, and it is just dee-lish!

Posting this for City Sonnet’s Colors and Letters Challenge. Dec. 4 is a color: Rosy Brown. This is a picture of a painting behind the bar. She thinks the poppies are Rosy Brown. Her camera conked out, so she had to take the picture with her MacBook.

Offspring Pizza, Boonville (Opened just three weeks ago)

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