Apr 20, 2023
Pick up a Book!
I don’t know about you, but these cold unpredictable northern winters have encouraged me to do a lot of reading. I’m actually writing this during a snowstorm. Over the past couple months, I’ve read books of all sorts and would like to share a few of my favourites.
1) The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull
The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull is two stories, both from the perspective of Olga Romanov. The first story is set shortly after her father Czar Nicholas II abdicated from the throne in 1917. The second is set a few years prior, when Olga was a nurse taking care of ill soldiers during the First World War. While aspects of this book are historically accurate, this is a work of historical fiction. The author interprets the thoughts that may have been going through Olga’s mind during these two transformative periods of her life.
This story is beautifully written as the author takes you into the mind of Olga Romanov. Throughout the book, the reader connects with her struggles of romance, her sheltered life, her brother's illness, and the many other activities going on behind the walls of the Romanov palace.
I have studied these events in substantial detail throughout my academic career, but what stood out with this book is the new perspective the book offers. Most of what I have previously looked at analyzed the political aspects of the event portrayed in the book, but The Last Grand Duchess is a more intimate account of the events.
The book is 400 pages, and available in audiobook format. For those who love historical fiction, I would highly recommend this book.
2) The Dressmakers of Auschwitz by Lucy Adlington
This was one of the non-fiction books that I’ve read this winter. The Dressmakers of Auschwitz describes the stories of several women who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp by sewing dresses for the wives of Nazi leaders, and mending the uniforms of the very soldiers who were trying to eliminate them. The book describes the lives of the women before the war, and the events leading up to the Holocaust. It describes how the government required Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their clothing, how they took away Jewish businesses, and the transportation to “work camps”.
While this is a difficult read; as most books that tell the story of the Holocaust are, it is well worth the read because it looks at the Holocaust through the lens of clothing, providing a new perspective on the events that took place. It discusses the development of AEDFA (Federation of German-Aryan Manufacturers of the Clothing Industry). AEDFA was created to run Jewish businesses out of the clothing market. An image of a label is featured in the book. It also mentions how once they kicked the Jewish dressmakers from their businesses, they forced them to work as slaves because they couldn’t find non-Jewish people with the same skill set and talent.
To make these stories connect with the reader, the author includes photographs of the dressmakers before and after the war, and with their families. The author also goes into significant detail of the activities that took place inside Auschwitz. So much so that the reader feels like they are standing beside the women as they are being examined or beaten. There were some points I had to set the book down because it was too much. It is an impactful book, and I highly recommend reading it.
The Dressmakers of Auschwitz is 400 pages and is also available in audiobook format that is read by the author.
3) The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio is perhaps my favourite of the books I have read this winter. It is a collection of 100 stories that were written in 1348 during the Black Death (a global epidemic of bubonic plague). The Black Death is the backdrop for the story. Ten people, seven women and three men, isolate themselves in a house for ten days and each tell ten stories based on the theme of the day.
There are stories of sadness, heartbreak, love, triumph, and comedy. It was originally written for women who had their hearts broken. Boccaccio intended the stories to be used as a way to occupy the minds of women who overthink their loss.
Another interesting component of The Decameron is the introduction. The introduction describes what is happening in Italy during the plague. Boccaccio describes how people reacted, what had changed since the start of the plague, and how people coped with it. I found it quite amazing how similar his description was to how the world reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, the book is 800 pages. I know it’s long, but definitely worth it, especially if you’re in a similar situation to the women that this was written for almost 700 years ago.
Other books I didn’t put here, but would also recommend are The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Weyward by Emilia Hart. I hope some of these recommendations help you decide on your next read.