Local bibliophiles review their recent reads
This Book Look is the latest installment of a recurring round-up of book reviews by local readers. To contribute to this feature, contact the Kittanning Library. We would love to share your critiques & recommendations with other readers.
Review by Beth Milanak
This novel of historical fiction is based on the true story of the Kurc family— Sol, Nechuma, and their 5 adult children – and the struggles they endured as a Jewish family living in Poland during WWII.
At first it is hard to keep track of each family member but the more you read the easier it is to distinguish who is who. The story is based on the author’s grandparents’ real life story of their family’s survival during the Nazi regime.
Though true, their story is nearly unbelievable, and what they had to endure to survive is absurd.
They started out as a family enjoying their time together, at home; shopping at the local markets; visiting with neighbors and celebrating holidays; sharing their dreams, marriage, and babies. That was all about to change with war on the horizon.
When Hitler’s power starts to grow, the Kurcs begin to fear for their lives. Sol and Nechuma are forced out of their prosperous neighborhood into the Radom Ghetto, when the Germans take over their apartment.
The siblings are soon scattered, not just all over the country but around the world. Genek and his wife are sent to a slave labor camp in Siberia. Addy, who was in France at the start of the war, manages to escape to Brazil. The three other siblings – Jakob, Helena, and Mila – make their way to Warsaw, using disguises, false papers, and bribes.
Their incredible experiences escaping the German liquidation of the ghettos and concentration camps demonstrates what the human spirit is capable of doing to survive. The Kurcs truly were the “lucky ones”.
Beth Milanak is the head librarian at Kittanning Public Library, where she's been the executive director for seven years. After 13 years in library services, Beth still enjoys a good book. Her favorite authors include Stephen King and Lee Child. When she's not reading, Beth loves cooking, baking, and spending time with her family.
Review by Daphne Ruffner
This is a real life (non-fiction) detective story of four notorious cold case murders from the civil rights era. The writer, Jerry Mitchell, was an investigative reporter for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, for 30 years.
The cases include the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” case; the assassination of Medgar Evers; the firebombing of Vernon Dahmer; and, the 16th Street church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four little girls. These cases spanned a period of 30 to 40 years.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were civil rights workers attempting to register black voters in the south. They disappeared on June 21, 1964 and were discovered in an earthen dam later that summer, August 4, after a massive FBI investigation. The dogged pursuit of the open secret – that police and the Ku Klux Klan were responsible – took 41 years for justice. The final arrest occured in 2004 of a “preacher”.
Medgar Evers, an NAACP leader, was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 12, 1963. A high powered rifle with fingerprints was recovered and Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist was arrested, and two trials ensued, both ending in hung juries. In 1989 Mitchell began investigating and discovered jury tampering. Finally, in 1994, Beckwith admitted his guilt and was imprisoned for life.
On January 10, 1966, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the Klan fire bombed the home of Vernon Dahmer Sr. Dahmer, a friend of Medgar Evers and also an NAACP leader, was conducting voter registration at his grocery store. He subsequently died of smoke inhalation.
Numerous KKK members were arrested, including the Exalted Cyclops of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But it was not until 32 years later that the Imperial Wizard was arrested for ordering the killing.
Addie Mae Collins, age 14, Denise McNair, age 11, Carole Robertson, age 14, and Cynthia Wesley, age 14, all died in an explosion at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. In 1977 there was a conviction of the bomb maker. Thirty-seven years later a grand jury was convened to charge another.
Not all of the victims in these stories were African-American. Goodman and Schwerner were Caucasian. Schwerner was also Jewish, yet another group targeted by the KKK. All involved the Ku Klux Klan under a variety of names.
This was the deep south of the 1960s. Klan members were no secret and were often considered pillars of their communities and/or law enforcement. They were often protected by the community while others were intimidated against testifying.
These cases are not unique, only famous. There were innumerable fire bombings – particularly of black churches; lynchings; and, murders.
This book is not available at the Kittanning Public Library. I acquired it via the inter-library loan system from the Adams County Library. If you are interested, call the library or check with the front desk.
Daphne Ruffner is an avid reader and lover of good books. She can be found volunteering at the library and perusing patron donations and book sales for gently-used gems. Daphne plans and coordinates the much-anticipated Kittanning Library Book Sales.