Reading about World War II

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, this book is hard to read, unrelentingly dealing with atrocities as it does. But it is important. Snyder clarifies (in a section at the end) his selection of boundaries, examples, and the final number, fourteen million, as writing a history “about deliberate mass murders” (411). Snyder notes that these mass murders, “the Holocaust, the other German mass killing policies. and the Stalinist mass murders became three different histories, even though in historical fact they shared a place and a time” (377), that place being the Bloodlands and the time 1933-45. One of his goals is to strip away the separate myths with their victimhood claims and exaggerations so as to get at an analysis and comparison of Hitler and Stalin and what they wrought.

The Bloodlands are defined as a space between USSR and Germany where the rulers shifted, and at one time or another people spent time under each of them. Sometimes both at once. Snyder indicates that punishment was, at time, worse because of the combined enforcement. The period is so complex with the shifting occupations and loyalties that is was easy for me to get lost among the trees and to lose sight of the forest. (No doubt because it is a period I’d not studied yet–my high school and undergraduate “modern” history stopped at World War I–as well as it being a complex mix of ruling parties.) A rereading is in order, after some time passes.

Even as Snyder draws our attention beyond the Holocaust, he never minimizes the Holocaust. Its chapter is full of harrowing detail. But there are also chapters on forced hunger in Soviet Ukraine, mass shootings of Jews and non-Jews, mass killings of prisoners-of-war among other events. He also traces the narratives of the times: initially it was to Stalin’s advantage to minimize the Holocaust in order to elevate his supposed victimhood of USSR, so its telling was suppressed; when it later appeared, Auschwitz was emphasized out of proportion. Snyder seeks to right this imbalance.

Snyder’s ending focus on humanity is forecast by his intermixing of individual anecdotes among the statistics, but he stresses the need to see not only the humanity of the victims, but also of the perpetrators. “The moral danger, after all is, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. . . .[T]o deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible” (400).

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Finally Reading a Nobel Literature Winner

By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After a long wait (300+ holds before me), I finally got this book. It was worth the wait. It tells of interpersonal treachery, of governmental treachery, of hopes and dreams. As a postcolonial novel, it deals with issues of imperialism (some benefits, mostly destructions) and the problems of forming a government after independence.

It opens with Saleh Omar (alias Rajab Shaaban) awaiting Rachael, who turns out to be a person working with refugees and quickly shifts to a recollection of his entry to UK from Zanzibar and how, long ago, he acquired a prized possession he now carries with him. Mostly the early narrative is reflective with occasional appearances of Rachel in the present. The reflections are triggered by something in the present, and the shifts are adequately signaled. Several chapters into the novel, there is another narrator for a couple chapters, Latif Mahmud, whose life has paralleled that of Saleh for a few years. The two have heard totally different tellings of experiences involving both families. Latif is a language scholar and is called upon to translate because Saleh has feigned not speaking English. And though he gives up the pretense, the two recognize each other’s name and eventually meet. The later narrative intermingles conversations between them with recollections of the past.

The pace is slow. The description is rich throughout. In addition to setting the tone of various locations, it informs an audience who would be unfamiliar with the places. It is so well written that I never felt it as intrusion, always as essential, even as character at times. Sometimes it was the detail of nostalgia for an abandoned past.

Definitely worth the read, and a prompt to read more of Gurnah’s works.

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SAHRR 5, 6 in Progress

Well I had hoped to have prompts 5 and 6 finished, but got only so far as cutting pieces and making four pinwheels. Prompt 5 and its linky is here and prompt 6 here.

The farther along in a medallion, the longer the rows. I am always lulled into thinking a project is going speedily on the early borders. And it was even more lulling this time to be piecing only partial, rows, but the square-in-a-square border will be pieced all the way around (60squares and 248 triangles plus the pinwheels). It also takes longer to cut from scraps than from yardage. (The pathos of many excuses, LOL)

The sixth prompt was pinwheels. And I decided they would be perfect to transition the design from the swirling motion to being contained, so each side will have one square that is a pinwheel. Though I didn’t have time to sew a strip, I had to lay it out for a preview. I doubt I’d have even thought of transitioning without the prompt, so I’m very glad for it.

I think it will work. In the week of 3/13 the linky will be open for us to show completed tops or quilts. I’ll have 5 and 6 completed, but probably not the whole top since I’ll need 20 more inches (10 more inches of border) to get to a usable size. Once I abandoned 40 inches, I gave no attention to finished size. Just made rows the size needed. We’ll see how far I get–I do have a plan.


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Show Quilt Finished and Named

After a concentrated week, I got the quilt finished for the local guild show, right on time. First I had to add the final 2-inch border. I’d had it cut out and managed not to lose it for a couple years. I added it the lazy way, cutting a strip and sewing instead of measuring first. I’d been careful up till then and thought the last one couldn’t make that much difference. It turned out that I had to take a little tuck when quilting to absorb some extra on two sides. Lesson learned. Next to make the back.

The plaid is flannel; the red and yellow are not. I’m determined to use up stash for backings, even though it usually means piecing them. I do try to do some designing when piecing them, but don’t always get fancy. This one was mostly plain and utilitarian.

Next came quilting. I’d originally planned some fancy quilting for the big triangles and some experimenting on each border. But with the time crunch, I decided to go with a simple meander.

And it seems no matter how careful I am, at less once I catch the back in the quilting. Sigh.

But eventually I did get it all quilted, bound, and labeled.

It measures 68′ x 68′. Because the center block is named Turkey in the Straw and the definite square look of the borders, I named it Square Dance.

All the quilts we’d made in the project were to be shown in the 2021 or 2022 show, I forget which. But of course, both got cancelled. So I set it aside. It’s nice to have it finally finished. The show is March 10 and 11, Portland people (details here).

Now I can get back to the Stay At Home Round Robin. The sixth prompt is pinwheel. It may take some imagination to make that one fit in.

Quilt history:

Beginning October 2020

Sketching April 2021

Completed first border April 2021

Second border May 2021

Third border finished and fourth started June 2021

Fourth Border August 2021


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Decision Time SAHRR

After last week’s pause, I thought of one more possibility. I arranged the parts yet once more and decided this was it for the fist four prompts. And finally I sewed.

I managed to keep the best of each of last week’s ideas. I got the blocks spaced so that they were less cluttery, yet I kept the flying flying geese at the edge And the diagonal stars.

Emily of The Darling Dogwood provided the fifth prompt, which I find just perfect: square in a square. It is time for the fly away browns to be corralled, and the square-in-a-sqiare block will make a nice whole border. In brown. I’m beginnng to think the image the quilt makes has changed from juggler to fireworks.

I’ll not get to making the next border right away. I got a sudden jolt of time reality when I saw the drop off dates for my guld’s spring quilt sow. They are two weeks earlier than I had remembered, and one of the qults I entered isn’t finished yet. So I have to shift my attention for a week. Meanwhile you can go to Emily’s blog to see the linky with all the different interpretations of the prompts. And I’ll be back to check on the sixth prompt, and hopefully be ready to sew again. After some serious math to make the row work out.


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Still Undecided on SAHRR

I left off leaning toward a rectangle with stars going diagonally (here) on my stay-at-home-round-robin. I pondered it a day or so and decided, No, I’d keep the quilt square, and I’d figure a use for it whatever size it ended up, or add borders or something. But my first thought was that there was way too much white space. (I know lots of negative space is a feature of modern quilt design, but it wasn’t working in this design in my head. Proportions were off, I think. By then I had the second prompt from Chris at Chrisknitssews, (The link is a generic link to Chris’ site; I will edit if I find how to get to a previous post.) the hourglass block. Maybe I could combine them.

By the time I finished making the 8 additional star blocks and the hourglass blocks, Anja at Anja Quilts had published the fourth prompt, flying geese, so I made those as well then started laying out the pieces.

For the first try. I considered keeping the diagonal star arrangement. but combining a star with a row of patterned blocks instead of a plain strip. It seemed it would work with hourglass and flying geese, and I could always repeat spool or hourglass if the next prompt didn’t work. So I laid it out.

I’ll admit to being disappointed; it had looked a lot better in my head than it did on the floor. Here it just looked cluttered and busy. I did like the positioning of the flying geese and I could tinker with using fewer hourglass blocks. Or I could try something else.

So I tried a row of three stars, now that I had 12 to work with.

So far so good. It didn’t seem to lose the spiral motion. So I added the hourglass and flying geese rows.

As of now, I think I like it. I may stitch it and stop dithering, or I may just wait to see what prompt #5 brings.


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Kingsolver’s Novel

I sewed too slowly to get this week’s border done on time so am waiting to post it till I have the next prompt. Meanwhile it was hard to put down Demon Copperhead.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this was a hard read because of the child welfare and drug themes, it was a well written narrative. Demon Copperhead survives many hurdles, including some misplaced loyalties. But there are also savior figures who help him along as others are pulling him down. Influences in the extremes and in the middle are believable. The push-pull between the negative and positive forces holds in balance till almost the end. Time expands and contracts in the telling, as needed, so my attention held throughout the long novel.

I’d sort of anticipated the ending, not wanting all the pieces to end as they did. But they seemed better when actually occurring. I did like the scene where Demon drives and recalls past events as a summary of past actions in the plot–useful in such a long novel where my mind was always in the present. Reminders were good.

Kingsolver’s mentioning the novel as a modernization of David Copperfield makes me want to read the older one soon. Somehow I made it though school without ever reading it.

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Everybody Reads, 2023

This book has been chosen as the Everybody Reads by the county library this year. Because so much time has passed since I read this the first two times, I’m rereading it so the details will be fresh for group discussions coming up. While I could have integrated the notes into one, I’m going the lazy route and just including all three. Besides the time benefit for me, you can see where I change my mind. 🙂

Also, I see the spoilers can’t be hidden in the transfer from Goodreads, so I’ll label them and maybe you can avoid them.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the third reading (2023).
And I’m glad that I have read it again. I see more connections with each reading. This time I was struck by the parallel between Ruth, who was experiencing writers’ block in trying to write her mother’s story, and Nao, who intended to write Jiko’s story but kept writing her own. (Of course we did get a picture of Jiko, but it wasn’t her full story.)

And because one Everybody Reads gathering focused on the Buddhist elements in the novel, I realized more was Buddhist than I’d realized on the first two readings. And on this reading, the Buddhism, as such, and climate science felt wholly integral to the storyline and characters.

This time I saw that Ruth had translated the journal rather than that Nao had written it in English. I don’t think I’d paid much attention to the footnotes on the first two readings; this time I noticed where Ruth said she had made notes when translating, so I read them. Most were useful, and they serves as a reminder that it had been written in Japanese.

After the second reading (2015)
One of the pleasures of a second reading is that no longer needing to find out “what happens next?” frees one to enjoy other features. And to revise previous opinions. Or to see that the wrong questions were asked. I started reading with a focus on Ruth, as planned. The more I read the more I realized that it was not really two stories alternated, but one continuous narrative, that Ruth’s portions could not be separated from Nao’s . SPOILER: There was so much preparation for Ruth’s dream encounter with Nao’s father, Haruki, that it wasn’t deus ex machina at all. Early on Ruth had two dreams of Jiko. There was the time discussion where Oliver reminds Ruth of the ten years that had passed from the writing of the journal to the present. There were the statements of Jiko involving apparent contradictions being equally true and the flow of identity and time. It is “background” until the disappearance of words in the journal. END SPOILER

I still feel the philosophy was mostly well integrated. Possibly more actual Buddhist early on and more new age when it gets heavier at the end.

I could pause and savor the many puns on “time being,” such as “Mind and words are time being. Arriving and not-arriving are time being” (347). Also enjoyable were the meditations on moments and on “now/Nao.”

While I had intended a second reading eventually, I am glad for my book group selecting the book to prompt me to do it.

After the first reading (2014)
One of my favorite narrative structures is one that combines a past (through letters or journals) and a present story. And that is the basic structure of this novel. Ruth in the Pacific Northwest on a remote island finds a packet containing a journal and other objects washed up on shore, possibly from the earthquake and tsunami a couple years before, . The chapters alternate between Ruth, the finder and Nao, the writer. At first I wondered why Nao would have written a journal in English–it became clear when she revealed that she had spent her early life in California.

The pacing is interesting. Instead of racing through the journal, Ruth paces herself slowly to reflect the pace it was written. In addition there is a French journal and some letters in old Japanese–these do not get translated immediately, but add essential information when they do.

The characters are well drawn, sometimes interesting, sometimes ordinary. Sometimes likable sometimes less so–but as more is revealed, the major characters become more likable. The minor ones, the school contemporaries, not so much. At one point in the middle I found myself wondering about Ruth’s chapters. Would her story be worth a novel without having found the journal? What were the parallels that were going to pull the two narratives together? I may reread it and focus more on Ruth, though the natural focus is Nao.

Science, philosophy and religion were woven into the novel, generally not too heavily, though heavier at the end. The novel is a kind of exploration of time, of existences, of influence. How seriously are we to take the question of who is creating whom? I was intrigued by the moments of magical realism, though I have not yet decided if they were integral or an easy solutions to narrative problems. SPOILER:Was the happy ending believable? Contrived? I realize “happy” may be a stretch since the father and daughter may have perished in the tsunami–this possibility leads to calling it ironic rather than happy; however, the question remains about Ruth’s intervention in the father’s intended suicide. END SPOILER And did I learn about Buddhism or New Age cooptations of Buddhism? I will ponder these when I reread also.

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SAHRR #2: Indecision

Wendy at Pieceful Thoughts posted the second prompt for the Stay At Home Round Robin yesterday. The prompt was “any star.” which appeals to me. I picked the Friendship Star–if it is still named that when the center is a four-patch. It seemed good to echo the center ov my center block. Choosing the star wasn’t the cause of indecision; layout was.

Ever since I’ve been doing medallion quilts I’ve wanted to do one with pieced triangles to set the center on point. I always consider it, but usually my center block doesn’t like being on point. This was no exception, although in my mind the design “standing” on one “leg” seemed it would add motion to the juggler motion already noted. But it didn’t.

Instead of increasing the motion it decreased it. The dark squares formed solid looking verticals and horizontals and way too much stability. So no on-point this quilt.

I’d also considered closing it in with the next border and starting ordinary borders but a suggestion from last week to continue the spiral effect caught my fancy. My first thought was to do so with a star on each side.

I wasn’t thrilled, but then further borders could make it work. I began to think measurements. The star row will be another 3-inch border, and my original plan had been a 40 x 40 quilt. That would leave only 6 inches for the next four borders. And making the stars smaller than a three-inch block wouldn’t seem to be good proportion. Even though Sally Collins in her Borders, Bindings, and Edges recommends the border pieces be smaller than pieces in the center block. I’d not started out with smaller. And in addition the 3-inch spool block looks larger than the 3-inch star block–very interesting what placement of lights and darks does. Of course I could also change the finished measurement goal. But if I were to go for a larger quilt I’d probably want a rectangle. So I considered two stars top and bottom.

It has potential, and I like it better than one on each side. But there’s one more thing to try: echoing the three squared that make the juggler effect with a placement of three.

I think I like it. But again a lot depends on what the next prompt brings. Oh I know I can skip a row or modify a row, or do my own thing. But for me part of the challenge is to take the prompt and make it work.

So, till next week . . .


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A Book on Policing

One of the heavier books I’ve read recently! Worth it though.

Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing by Bernard E. Harcourt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a mix of empirical study analysis, theory survey, and rhetorical analysis. The author warns the reader that the empirical chapter is necessarily heavy in detail and can be skipped; however I slogged through it. I remembered enough from my one college course to recognize that he was asking good questions of prior studies, though I’d forgotten most of what i once knew about the actual formulas and their results. He used the analysis to separate “broken windows” policing out from other causes of a decrease in crime, thus removing claims that the policing method worked.

In the theoretical section he challenges the categorization of order/disorder using a Foucauldian analysis of subject creation. He questions the assumption that the category “disorder” is fixed and natural, pointing out disorders like white collar crimes and police use of excessive force that are not included among public drunkenness. In his analysis he claims that the manner of policing creates the category “disorder” as it is used then assumed preexistent.

In the rhetorical section he traces the history of the use of a “harm principle” to determinine when government can intervene in individual action. He shows a gradual movement from harm/no harm to analyses of multiple harms. And the “harm principle” doesn’t provide a way to weigh among harms. By the conclusion he is arguing that harms done by aggressive policing need to be considered along with harms of the act being constrained for a total anaysis of harm.

Although written in 2001, it still has relevance. I’m interested in following up to see how many of his ideas have been incorporated into later studies and also to see how his thinking has evolved.

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