My mother used to watch Lifetime movies (back in the ’90s when they were about battered women and mother’s whose children had drug problems) to remind herself that no matter how bad her day was it could easily be worse. Here are two books to remind you that life isn’t that bad … while also sort of scaring you because- holy shit if 2020 is just 2016: the remix then maybe the below stories aren’t that far in the past and God forbid history repeats itself.
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March, Lynda Blackmon Lowery with Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley
Lynda Blackmon was arrested 9 times before her fifteenth birthday.
Saying it was difficult growing up black in Selma, Alabama in the 1960s would be an understatement. It was dangerous for adults to march or protest because being openly political or being arrested could cause someone to lose their job. Since it was “safer” for children to protest they took up the mantle for civil rights and even had a system in place so they left enough children in school to do their homework and take their tests.
“There is nothing more precious walking on this earth than you are. You are a child of God. So hold up your head and believe in yourself.”
On March 7, 1965 marchers protesting the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson were attacked by state troopers armed with billy clubs and tear gas. Lynda was there, protesting as usual, and was so brutally attacked she awoke on a stretcher being taken to a hearse! The day, dubbed Blood Sunday, sparked national outrage and led to the Martin Luther King Jr march from Selma to Montgomery. Lynda was determined to join the march so Governor George Wallace could see her injuries from the state troopers. She was the youngest marcher, turning fifteen halfway through the march, and while she had a moment of panic that she would be killed along the way, she faced her fears and made her way to the capital.
This was an incredibly short read, geared more towards a younger reader, that packed a powerful punch.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris
“If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.”
In 1942 Slovakian Jews are forced to send one family member to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Lale Sokolov goes for his brother where he witnesses countless atrocities over the course of nearly three years. Lale uses his natural intellect as well as his fluency in several languages to earn favor from the guards. He gets the horrifying yet cushy job of Tätowierer where he marks every new inmate with a unique number. It is through this process he meets a beautiful young woman, Gita, and uses his sway with the guards to send her notes.
Lale is a complicated character. He gets extra food and even medicine for his fellow inmates but he does it by trading the stolen gold and jewels collected from the Jews when they taken into the camp with a German willingly who is willing at the camp for a salary. He is able to move more freely in the camp due to his relationships with the guards but this also puts his friends, especially Gita, on the guards’ radars. His problematic survival tactics (and again, it is complicated because Nazis) continue following his release from Auschwitz when he takes more stolen jewels from the Russian army who hires him as a pimp in order to finance his way back home- and back to Gita.
I am still not sure how I feel about Lale especially since, while The Tattooist of Auschwitz is classified as fiction, Lale and Gita were real people but the book is undeniably powerful. Part love story, part survival story The Tattooist of Auschwitz offers a devastating look at what it took to stay alive in the hellscape that was Auschwitz and Nazi occupied Europe.
“Politics will help you understand the world until you don’t understand it anymore, and then it will get you thrown into a prison camp. Politics and religion both.”