Posted in 1940s, Darya, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—A new diner

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few paragraphs after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya Koneva and her friends went in search of a new place to eat lunch.

Darya said she didn’t think she could walk all the way to Central Park to find a vendor, and asked for any other nearby place, so long as it wasn’t full of racists. Ilme then told her that while she was trapped in occupied Europe with oldest Kalvik sister Oliivia, the Japanese on the West Coast were put in internment camps.

The Kalviks’ radical mother Katrin wrote about twenty essays on the internment, which also happened to a lesser extent with German– and Italian–Americans, and to many Japanese in Canada and Latin America as well. Some of her colleagues went to the camps to report back, but Katrin stayed in New York to wait for any word of Oliivia and Darya.

Dmitriy finds a small diner five blocks down, without any other patrons, and the name Alberighi painted in yellow on the left window.  Figuring an Italian-run diner will be a safe, quiet place, he opens the door and helps Darya inside.

“You don’t talk politics here, do you?” he asks as he eases Darya onto a red plastic seat against the wall. “We just came from a place with some very ugly opinions.”

“No politics here,” the old man behind the counter says. “Just food and polite conversation.”

“I don’t have much of an appetite,” Darya says. “I’ll just nibble an appetizer.”

“Are you sure, Miss?  We have good food here, enough to bring your appetite back.”

I chose the name Alberighi in honor of the protagonist of the first Decameron story I ever heard, which the table of contents summarizes: “Federigo degli Alberighi, who loves but is not loved in return, spends all the money he has in courtship and is left with only a falcon, which, since he has nothing else to give her, he offers to his lady to eat when she visits his home; then she, learning of this, changes her mind, takes him for her husband, and makes him rich.”

The lady’s brothers mock her for wanting her second husband to be this poor man, and she responds, “I would rather marry a man in need of money than money in need of a man.” He manages his money much more wisely after their marriage.

Posted in 1920s, Aleksey Romanov, Arkadiya Gagarina

WeWriWa—Different from the others

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This scene picks up right where we left off, as morganatic princess Arkadiya Gagarina has finally been prevailed upon to dine with Aleksey and his guests instead of going right back to her hotel. Her left-handedness doesn’t go unnoticed, and she explains that’s her natural inclination, not the result of an injury like her limp. She’s a little worried she might have offended His Majesty, given the societal attitudes towards left-handedness.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit into 10 lines.

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With his mother and sisters during the Great War, demonstrating compassion for those who suffer, in one of their hospitals

“That’s certainly unusual, but I’m not offended, since my sister Maríya and my cousin Tíkhon paint and sketch with their left hands, and so did my Dyadya Mísha.  God makes everyone a little differently, even if we can’t always understand the reasons why.  It’s not always easy being different, but it helps to build compassion for others who are different or mistreated.  ‘To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others,’ as Giovanni Boccaccio says in the opening of The Decameron.”

“You’re very literate and well-educated.  I’m so proud we have such a national asset on the throne.”

During dinner, Arkadiya mostly listened to Dr. Freud, the Emperor, and the four government leaders discussing both national politics and international events.  She also took great interest in Dr. Freud’s reports on the paranoid, delusional Dzhugashvili, whom she was very, very thankful was still in prison.  Perhaps even more excitingly, the servants took equal part in the conversation, instead of merely standing about serving people or fading into the woodwork.  Tsar Alekséy II was the people’s emperor of everyone’s dreams, like night and day compared to his father and grandfather.

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Dzhugashvili, for those who don’t know, is Stalin, who’s been judged far too dangerous and unstable to be let out of jail and rehabilitated like Zinovyev, Kamenev, and several other reformed Bolsheviks. Instead of handing him the death penalty Grand Duke Mikhail wanted, Aleksey wanted to try to cure his mind (from the safety of prison). Carl Jung is also counseling him, though he’s not at this dinner.

Posted in 1940s, Shoah

My 2015 A to Z themes revealed

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Two years ago, Mina Lobo started the tradition of the A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal, and it’s been going strong ever since. Click on the above button to go to the A to Z homepage for the full list of participants.

My main blog’s theme is something I got the idea for from the last post of the 2014 Challenge. Some readers might remember that post, about Zagreb, Croatia, included a section on Ivan Vranetić, one of my heroes, a Croatian who stood strong against both the Nazis and Ustashis. One of the many people he saved was his own future wife, whom he had to wait almost 20 years to marry.

Hence, my theme (with four quasi-exceptions) is going to be:

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I’m going to be profiling those brave individuals who’ve been honoured by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, people who risked everything to save the lives of their Jewish friends and neighbours, sometimes even people they’d never met before. Some paid the ultimate price for their heroism; others were persecuted or shamed after the war for their actions; others continued helping people and aiding in the persecution of war criminals after the liberation. None of them did this to try to get any sort of reward, nor did they ask for or expect special treatment. It was just the right thing to do.

Three of my heroes were Jewish victims of the Shoah, and thus aren’t eligible for this prestigious honour. However, they also acted heroically, and did everything they could to save lives and ameliorate suffering. Another person has posthumously gotten several honours and memorials, but hasn’t been named as Righteous Among the Nations due to his complicated role in the war. However, he’s been one of my heroes since I first learnt about him at age sixteen, so I just had to include him.

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These people were both Christians and Muslims, from nations including Egypt, El Salvador, Bosnia, Macedonia, Greece, Switzerland, Albania, and Ireland. Some of them saved tens of thousands of people, while others saved just one family or individual. However, there’s no “only” when it comes to saving a life. As the famous line in the Talmud says:

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.  And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

Some of these heroes are in alphabetical order by their forenames, while others are alphabetised by their surnames. I chose people with interesting-sounding names, people from places not often heard about in the Shoah/WWII narrative, and lesser-known heroes. A number of these stories will include photographs illustrating some of the places involved, as well as photographs of the heroes when I could find them. All photographs are credited to the best of my knowledge.

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You’ll learn about heroes including:

The Hardaga family of Bosnia, whose good turn was repaid 50 years later during the Siege of Sarajevo

Bishop Pavel Gojdič, a fellow Slovakian who refused to betray his Greek Catholic faith

Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria, who risked his life and throne by repeatedly standing up to Hitler and refusing to deport his kingdom’s 50,000 Jews

Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat credited with the largest rescue operation of the Shoah, who saved over half the Jewish population of Budapest

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the first Arab and Egyptian to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations

The Veseli family of Albania, the first Albanians to become Righteous Among the Nations

Malka (Mala) Zimetbaum, who used her prestigious position to save lives and make people’s lives comparatively more comfortable, and later enjoyed a short-lived escape with her Polish Christian boyfriend Edward (Edek) Galiński. On a superficial note, as someone who loves younger men, I also love her for choosing a man over five years her junior!

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The theme on my other blog, Onomastics Outside the Box, will be names from The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio’s classic work from Medieval Italy. Since there are certain letters not used in Italian names (or any of the non-Italian names featured), some days will be wildcards and just feature names I like.

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In my alternative historical WIP, the Shoah essentially never happens, as the righteous, compassionate Tsar Aleksey II and Tsaritsa Arkadiya save over nine million people and even shelter many of them in the palaces around St. Petersburg. If only history really had happened like that!

Posted in Books

Top Ten Tuesday—Awesome Classics

Today makes 11 years since I first properly heard All Things Must Pass all the way through! It’s still one of the greatest albums of all time, bar none.

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Favorite Classic Books (however you define classic) or Top Ten Classics I Want To Read <or spin it some other way…”classics” in a specific genre?>.

1. The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. I just can’t give enough love to this book, which was finished somewhere between 1351 and 1353. (You can check out all my Decameron posts here.) It’s held up remarkably well over the centuries, with the vast majority of stories feeling as fresh, modern, and relevant as they did in the 14th century. I even know my two favouritest stories almost by heart.

2. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. This is another classic which has stood the test of the centuries. It’s such a timeless story of a man going on an amazing otherworldly journey to get back on track with his faith and life, all inspired by the great unrequited love of his life. (You can peruse my Dante posts here.) The opening stanza is one of the poems I know by heart.

3. La Vita Nuova, by Dante Alighieri. It’s a shame more people don’t know about this lovely, much-shorter autobiography and poetry collection. Dante’s love for Beatrice raises the question about the line between love and obsession, but he never really crosses the line and behaves inappropriately. He’s man enough to conceal his true feelings as best he can. At the end of the book, we see the genesis of his idea for The Divine Comedy, his way of immortalizing this great love for all time.

4. The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu. I haven’t yet read the entirety of this book, but I’m really eager to find a good, full-length translation. It’s widely considered the world’s first novel, by a female author, and set during the Heian era of Japanese history. What’s not to love?

5. The Ramayana. This is one of India’s two great national epics; it’s a shame more Westerners aren’t as familiar with it as they are with Greco-Roman mythology. If I said something like, “I feel like Kaikeyi when her mind is confused by the gods,” I’m sure no one would understand what I were talking about. I’d also love to see a retelling from Sita’s POV.

6. The Mahabharata. This is India’s other great national epic, about ten times the length of The Iliad and The Odyssey combined, almost two million words. I got a condensed version of sorts when I read Devi Vanamali’s wonderful book The Play of God, and would love to find a good, complete translation. The sixth volume includes…

7. The Bhagavad GitaOn the eve of the major war between the five righteous Pandava brothers and their hundred wicked cousins the Kauravas (including their unknown older halfbrother), middle brother Arjuna gets cold feet. He wonders about how moral and ethical it is to have to kill good people, his own blood, all because of a petty feud that spun out of control. His charioteer Krishna, his best friend, delivers a sermon meant to lift his spirits and urge him to fight. At the height of this beautiful sermon, Krishna reveals his true identity as Vishnu, and delivers the famous line about how there are many paths to the same God.

Do NOT get the A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translation, The Bhagavad Gita As It Is. A better subtitle would be As It Is NOT!  This arrogant fool had the balls to say his was the only correct translation, and that everyone else hadn’t done it properly.

8. The Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu. This book has meant so much to me since I first discovered it in January ’96, at age sixteen. Every time I read it, I come away with something new. I have the awesome Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation.

9. The Hemptameron, by Marguerite of Navarre. I haven’t read this yet, but I’m hoping it’s as awesome as The Decameron. This book was posthumously published in 1558, and consists of 72 stories. It was meant to contain 100 stories in 10 days, just as its inspiration The Decameron has, but only got as far as the second story of the eighth day.

10. The Persian Letters, by Montesquieu. This book is so freaking awesome. So many great books came out of the Enlightenment, and the best ones seamlessly combined a good story with promotion of Enlightenment values. I think my favourite part is when it talks about what a great magician Louis XIV is, but that there’s an even greater magician. “This magician is called the Pope.” Montesquieu used the supposed naïveté of the pretended real letter-writers to criticise French society and the Church.

Posted in Books

Express Yourself—Great Opening Lines

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I just did a similar post on 30 July for Top Ten Tuesday, but I don’t mind revisiting it.

1. The Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.” One of the best, most memorable opening lines of all time.

2.  Fragments of Isabella, by the late Isabella Leitner, née Katz. “Yesterday, what happened yesterday?”

3.  Dancing on the Bridge of Avignon, by the late Ida Vos. “Rosa de Jong dreams during the daytime.” Though her books would be classified MG in today’s market, I’ve always loved her writing. It appeals to both adults and people of the intended age bracket, for different reasons. Her books are also among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later.

4.  Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago, “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”

5.  The Divine Comedy!

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

6.  The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio. “To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others.”