Tuesday, December 2, 2014

5 Book Reviews of Works by 5 Extraordinary Women [Part 2 of 5]

I read in order to write better. And my novel "The Zebra Affaire" is filled with strong female characters. But I recently noticed an anomally in my reading patterns, that frankly astounded me. As a man I've tended to read books only written by men! 

      Surprised by this myopic pattern, I set about righting this wrong and immersed myself in five books written exclusively by women. And what a revelation it has been. It is my pleasure to introduce you, by the reviews I have written, to these five illuminating books.

Hiding in a Cave of Trunks
Ester Benjamin Shifren

From Ester Shifren's remarkably detailed work you will re-visit an extraordinary family history.
A fascinating family saga of occidentals in the Orient, as war clouds loomed over Shanghai, and then the family's subsequent POW deprivations at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. From Ester Shifren's remarkably detailed work you sense her great affection for Shanghai, and in her telling both the vitality and tragedy of its fascinating people are clearly voiced. And in a way this echoes the travails experienced by Ester and her family. They were happy there, and prospered. Then the Japanese invaded.

You must read Hiding in a Cave of Trunks to truly appreciate the unique and unkind path the Benjamin family were subjected to during those troubled times, and to admire the indomitable creative spirit of the author--who was at the time a very young, but plucky little girl. To me, this is what makes this book so unique and appealing: Ms. Shifren tells the story from two perspectives; that of a wide-eyed child (with all the immediacy, exuberance, naivety, and confusion that youth offers) and then of a wise, sophisticated, well-travelled woman (who has done her research, including recorded testimonials from those that were there). It is such a fresh, inspired way to re-visit history.

My final thought when I finished reading Ms. Shifren's compelling book was wonderment at the fascinating lives "lived" by ordinary people like you and me. And, how fortunate we are that Ester Benjamin Shifren took the time to tell us her story.

Available at Amazon.

A Dream Fulfilled
Amb. Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe

A Riviting Personal Story of Sacrifice for the Idea of Human Freedom and Dignity.

In a time when we see ambassadorships cavalierly handed out as rewards to those who merely "bundled" the most money for a presidential election, it is gratifying to see that in the tip of Africa a diplomat received her High Commissioner appointment to represent her nation based solely on merit. And boy, did she earn it: The Hard Way! In reading Ambassador Lujabe-Rankoe's harrowing story, it becomes evident how difficult her journey was; the personal cost was awful. But in telling her story, the ambassador deservedly indicts the brutal apartheid regime. But she displays generous grace and humor to those that were kind.

Thandi was always destined to serve, but her early ambitions to be a nurse in South Africa were crushed by early activism protesting the apartheid laws. As she became immersed in the freedom struggle, she found herself in danger, and fled her native land. With the threat of death a constant, due to the apartheid regime's sustained efforts to assassinate the ANC leadership, Thandi (often with a child in tow) was constantly on the move to various destinations in Africa, and even Norway. I was amazed at this formidable woman's ability to adapt to these new communities, cultures, and societies--yet, at the same time successfully championing all humanities cause.

And that is what finally makes the reading of this book so satisfying: Redemption. After 33 years in exile (and after Mandela's 27 years of imprisonment), both their dreams were finally fulfilled with Nelson Mandela's 1994 ascendency to the presidency. And as a fitting reward for her profound contribution to the freedom struggle (not merely based on gratuitous political favors) Ambassador Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe was appointed High Commissioner, with the mandate of representing her first-time free nation to the world. And as ambassador, and knowing so well the countries she was posted (due to her past travels) she served her nation brilliantly.

I strongly recommend this book those who appreciate autobiographies and memoirs, African studies, political science, 20th Century world history, women empowerment, stories of personal courage and sacrifice, and compelling tales of inspiration.

Available at Amazon

[Review by Mark Fine, author of "The Zebra Affaire"]