Friday, December 27, 2013

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin: A Book Review

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Holocaust 
Author: Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography & Memoir, History, Christian
Publisher: Hay House
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 215
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished. But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans.

     Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. 

     It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God. She emerged from her bathroom hideout having discovered the meaning of truly unconditional love—a love so strong she was able seek out and forgive her family’s killers.

     The triumphant story of this remarkable young woman’s journey through the darkness of genocide will inspire anyone whose life has been touched by fear, suffering, and loss.

      My Review:  Immaculee Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell tells her story of survival and of her relentless faith in God during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. She survives by hiding in a tiny hidden bathroom with seven other women and young girls at a local pastor’s house for 91 days. The only concealment she has from being found out is a bookshelf that covers the bathroom door. During this time of terror, Immaculee finds peace, comfort, and hope of God’s boundless love. Immaculee believes that she will survive the genocide because of her faith in God, and begins to start planning for her future.

     In the beginning of the book, Immaculee came from a loving family with father, mother, and three brothers. Her parents raised them up without the knowledge of the discrimination of the different races. They believed that everyone in Rwanda were equal and that everyone was their brother and sister. However in fourth grade, Immaculee realizes the racial conflicts between the Tutsis and the Hutus, when her teacher called rolled by their races, and Immaculee didn’t know which race she was. She also found out that she was having a tough time getting into high school and college because she was a Tutsi.

     However, Immaculee experienced bloodshed, violence, and hatred when in her freshman year in college she came home for Easter vacation. There the genocide of Rwanda had begun. The Hutu army wanted to exterminate the Tutsis. Because Immaculee’s father was in a position of power and authority, he tried to make peace with the Hutus, but didn’t succeed. Hundreds of Tutsis came to Immaculee's yard for protection of the genocide. However, even though Immaculee's father and the Tutsis tried to defend themselves against the Hutus, they knew that they would not succeed. 

     In order to protect his family, Immaculee's father sent Immaculee, her two brothers, (one of her brother was in college out of the country) and her brother’s Hutu friend, who was staying with them for the holidays, to stay with a local Hutu pastor. When they got there, the pastor was left with a difficult choice. He could only protect women. He sent her brothers and her brother’s friend out of the house and told them to seek asylum elsewhere. Her parents, two brothers and brother’s friend would later be killed by the Hutus. Immaculee and seven other women and young girls hid in a bathroom with only a shower stall and toilet, and there was no place for a sink because of the small size. There they stayed, while many times the Hutus would come into the house looking for them, and they were afraid. Sometimes it was so risky that the pastor could not even bring food and water, and many times they were starving and dehydrated. They couldn’t move a muscle.

     During this time of fear and terror, Immaculee clutched to God. She was a Roman Catholic, and would pray the rosary. Sometimes she asked the pastor to bring a bible. Her prayers gave her peace. She then contemplated God’s word, and decided to forgive the Hutus for the genocide. She also started to plan for her future by trying to learn English from an English dictionary her pastor gave her.

     Overall, I felt this book to be an important book about faith and the love of God. It is through her hope and God’s infinite love that she found peace in a troubled time. It was her faith in God that helped her survive the Holocaust. The novel is thought-provoking and teaches us to forgive even people who have done us wrong. I encourage you to read this book for it will be a hopeful message of God’s love, and that where there is darkness, there is also hope.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an interview with CBS News as she talks about her book and her story of survival and forgiveness:



Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: A Book Review

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By The Taliban
Author: Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography & Memoir, Modern History
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: October 8th, 2013
Pages: 352
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: “I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.”

     When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

     On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. 

     Instead, Malala's miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

     I AM MALALA is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls' education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

     I AM MALALA will make you believe in the power of one person's voice to inspire change in the world.

     My Review: Malala came to worldwide media attention when she was 11 by writing a BBC Urdu blog under the name Gul Makai about her life under the Taliban rule. She made even more global attention when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking up for girl’s education. Because of her heroic deed, she became the youngest to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In her memoir, with the help of her ghostwriter, Christina Lamb, Malala speaks with a passionate and active voice about the right of education for both boys and girls. With a fiery spirit, Malala greatly instills change and to be the voice for the voiceless.

     The story begins on October 9, 2012, the day Malala is shot. Her attacker sneaks onto the back of Malala’s school bus with a Colt .45 in his hand. He asked everyone on the bus a question, “Who is Malala?” Everyone turns to look at Malala, and he fires three bullets at her, one of them at her head. Malala didn’t have the chance to say anything to her attacker. She is critically injured, but survived the attempt on her life. Her story then jumps to her life in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where she recounts the deeds of the Taliban and the cruel nature in which girls are treated there.

     In Malala’s memoir, she describes the beauty of her homeland, and the customs and hospitality of her people. She also describes the love, support, and encouragement her parents gives her to help give her courage in the face of great adversity as she speaks’ for women’s education. She also talks about the politics and history of Pakistan. She tells us about the establishment of the Taliban, how they came into her valley unnoticed, and her life under the Taliban. She describes that time as a time of fear. Yet even though there was fear and terror under the oppression of the Taliban, Malala felt bravery and courage to speak up. In a time when she felt the hatred of man, she also experienced God’s limitless love for her and her people.

     Overall, I felt this book to be one of the most important book I have read. It is thought-provoking, and it makes us realize the privileges and freedom we have in the United States. Malala encourages us readers to speak up and to be a voice for those who do not. Malala proves that anyone no matter how young or small can make a difference to their community, their country, and ultimately their world.  I recommend this book to anyone.  Read it, and you will never again forget to appreciate the blessings of literacy and freedom we have.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is an interview of Malala with Diane Sawyer as she talks about her book:



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir: A Book Review

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: December 3rd, 2013
Pages: 608
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.

      Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.

      As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII. 

      Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.

      My Review: Elizabeth of York is the only English queen to have been a daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to English kings. She is also the first Tudor queen. Unlike her granddaughter, Mary Tudor, who is the first sovereign queen of England, the first sovereign queen would have been her grandmother, Elizabeth of York. However, in a time where women were seen as unfit rulers to the crown, Elizabeth merely became a queen consort to another English claimant and king, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty. 

     Despite Elizabeth’s colorful and personal history, she is often shrouded in the background. Most of the attention goes to her father, her uncle, and her husband. In fact, she is unfairly most known as the mother of Henry VIII. Alison Weir’s biography makes an attempt to bring Elizabeth from the background and into the spotlight. However, doing her best to highlight her accomplishments, it is often due to lack of primary sources the Elizabeth is still in the background and is outshined by the presences of the English kings. 

     Elizabeth was born in a time of an English civil war, known as the War of the Roses. At that time, there were two kings and two queens on the English throne. Elizabeth was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodeville, who was the first commoner queen in England. Her father Edward IV defeated the other English king, Henry VI, and there were no more claimants to the throne, except for one nominally small voice, Henry Tudor. After Edward IV’s death, Elizabeth’s brother Edward V, who was later joined by Richard, Duke of York, went to live in the Tower at his coronation. Within days, her uncle Richard III proclaimed Elizabeth and her siblings illegitimate, and crowned himself king. Her brothers mysteriously disappeared in the Tower. Eventually, at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor became king and later married Elizabeth of York, thus ending the War of the Roses.

     In spite of the lack of primary sources regarding Elizabeth of York, Weir tries her best to bring Elizabeth’s personality to light. I felt like it was a personal story for Elizabeth, one that touched her deeply because the death of her of her father, and the disappearance of her brothers in a few short months, and also with the death of her son, Arthur. Weir does a good job in trying to portray how Elizabeth must have felt and reacted to the tragic events of her life. Elizabeth is also known to be pious, sweet, and generous. Therefore, while she goes through a lot of grief, she devotes herself to her faith and trust in God.

     Overall, Weir’s biography of Elizabeth of York shows her a strong woman of faith and virtue. She is portrayed as a loving sister and devoted wife and mother. This biography is filled with romance, danger, mystery, and court intrigue. The writing can be dry at times, and sometimes read like a textbook. However, Elizabeth of York deserves some attention because she helped change England.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Romanov Bride: A Novel by Robert Alexander: A Book Review

The Romanov Bride: A Novel
Author: Robert Alexander
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: 2008
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: As the Russia of Nicholas and Aleksandra rushes full speed toward catastrophe, The Romanov Bride follows the lives of two revolutionary souls, that of Grand Duches Elisavyeta (or Ella), sister of the tsaritsa Aleksandra, and that of Pavel, a simple village man yearning for more.
The life of Grand Duchess Elisavyeta begins like a fairy tale - born a princess of Germany, she marries the Grand Duke Sergei of Russia and enters the most lavish and magnificent court in the world, that of the mighty Romanovs, where she is renowned for her sumptuous fashion, jewels, and beauty, not to mention her kind heart. Her husband, however, possesses no such grace, and he rules Moscow as he does his wife, with a cold, hard fist.

     For Pavel and his bridge, though, living in Sankt Peterburg means sharing a crowded cellar with other families, and being barely able to afford bread. Nevertheless, they are full of optimism, for their grandparents were serfs and this young couple is the first to leave the countryside to seek a better existence.
  
     However, after an explosive confrontation between peaceful demonstrators and tsarist soldiers, the lives of Ella and Pavel take two very different turns, but the fire of revolutionary Russia eventually links their fates forever.

     Robert Alexander once again masterfully combines the power of true history and riveting storytelling to bring this fascinating and legendary period to life.

      My Review: The Romanov Bride is a fictional biography about the life of The Grand Duchess Elisavyeta, the sister of the Tsarina Alexandra. It is set in the backdrop of imperial Russia that is on the brink of the Russian Revolution. The story tells the of the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta marriage to a Romanov to her sad tragic end. It also focuses on how the revolution greatly impacted the country of Russia. It is not only a period of darkness for the nobility but also for the common class.

     The story is told in vignettes depicting certain events from the life of the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta. It is told from Elisavyeta’s point of view, but also from Pavel, who is a Revolutionist and is her initial enemy. At first, it seems that Elisavyeta and Pavel are very different. Elisavyeta’s political views are for imperial autocratic rule, and Pavel’s believes that the power should be given to the people. When Elisavyeta’s husband is killed by the revolutionaries, she gives up her wealth and devote herself to live in poverty, and become a daughter of God, and help the poor, needy, sick, and wounded citizens of Russia. When Pavel’s wife is killed by the Imperial guards, he turns to revenge, anger, and hatred. He ruthlessly murders whoever gets in the way of the Revolution. Yet is seems that Ella is light, while Pavel is dark. Although they have taken different paths, they still are concerned about the fate of the country of Russia, and both of them are on a spiritual path of repentance.

     Overall, this story is about repentance and redemption. These two people are seeking for light in a country that is brutal and violent. the setting was well-developed. However, I found that while the characters had potential, I found that the way they were written fell flat and was poorly executed. Elisavyeta was one-dimensional. She is portrayed as a saint. There is nothing contradictory to her that made her seem realistic. We are more told of their personalities and actions rather than shown. I recommend this story to people interested in learning about the imperial Russia, the Russian Revolution, and the Romanovs.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Here is the author's official book trailer for The Romanov Bride:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I, Mona Lisa: A Novel by Jeanne Kalogridis: A Book Review

I, Mona Lisa: A Novel
Author: Jeanne Kalogridis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: 2006
Pages: 544
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: "My name is Lisa di Antonio Gherardini Giocondo, though to acquaintances, I am known simply as Madonna Lisa.  My story begins not with my birth but a murder, committed the year before I was born."

    Florence, April 1478: The handsome Giuliano de' Medici is brutally assassinated in Florence's magnificent Duomo. The shock of the murder ripples throughout the great city, from the most renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to a wealthy wool merchant and his extraordinarily beautiful daughter, Madonna Lisa.

     More than a decade later, Florence falls under the dark spell of the preacher Savonarola, a fanatic who burns paintings and books as easily as he sends men to their deaths.  Lisa, now grown into an alluring woman, captures the heart of Giuliano's nephew and namesake.  But when Guiliano, her love, meets a tragic end, Lisa must gather all her courage and cunning to untangle a sinister web of illicit love, treachery, and dangerous secrets that threatens her life.

     Set against the drama of 15th Century Florence, I, Mona Lisa is painted in many layers of fact and fiction, with each intricately drawn twist told through the captivating voice of Mona Lisa herself.

      My Review: Mona Lisa is one of Leonardo’s da Vinci’s most famous portraits. Her smile has captured the hearts of millions for centuries. Yet, it seems that the woman in the painting is more mysterious than her smile. It is because we do not know much about the life of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous model. We know that she was an aristocrat, and that she married a silk merchant. However, Jeanne Kalogridis re-imagines the life of the model of Mona Lisa, and her story into a tale of mystery, thrills, and suspense.

     The story begins with the a murder of the brother of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence Duomo. This murder has a lasting stain on Florence, especially the Medici family and who vows vengeance on those against the murderers. The story then shifts to Lisa Gherardini’s story, and it is she who narrates the story. She falls in love with the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici and forms a friendship with Leonardo da Vinci, who is interested in painting her. It seems as if she is living in a fairytale. Her happiness is short-lived when she finds out that there is a plot to get rid of the Medici family.

     The setting of Florence is very grim. It is a city that has violence, conspiracies, and murders. The most influential man in Florence, besides the Medici family, is the fanatic priest Savonarola. He is against the Renaissance movement, and views it as an abomination to God. In fact, most of his scenes occur at night which enhances the dark atmosphere of Florence.

      Overall, this book is filled with danger, suspense, mystery, romance, friendship,and suspense. The plot is filled with twists and turns till the very end. It is a book that that cannot be put down until the very end. The characters are realistic, relatable, and well-developed. Lisa Gherardini is a smart, brave, and strong heroine. The friendship between Lisa and her painter, Leonardo da Vinci, is kind and sweet. He treats her as her mentor, and he is very knowledgable about the conspiracies in Florence. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Leonardo and his Mona Lisa. I also recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good thriller and suspense novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium by Paolo Cesaretti: A Book Review

Theodora: Empress of Byzantium
Author: Paolo Cesaretti
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Vendome Press
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 384
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Theodora of Byzantium, rising from the lowest ranks of Byzantine society, became one of the most important and powerful women in history. In this gripping biography, Theodora's full story is revealed for the first time, according her a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great women.

     Theodora's meager beginnings as the daughter of a bear-keeper could not have foretold her astonishing future as the wife of Justinian, the powerful ruler of the Byzantine empire. An actress at the time who was chastised for her scandalous performances, she eventually caught the attention of the young Justinian, who was no doubt charmed as much by her beauty as by her cunning.

     Justinian and Theodora ruled the empire together from their rich and bustling seat of power in Constantinople, making decisions regarding the fate of their kingdom that would reverberate for centuries to come. Time and time again, Theodora's wisdom and counsel to the emperor saved Justinian's empire and assured their place in history.

     Hailed by European reviewers as "Book of the Year" upon its publication in Italian, Paolo Cesaretti's book gives a balanced portrait of an intriguing figure who, in the face of those who tried to defame her, rose from the ranks of the poor to build an empire at the side of her ambitious husband.

     Paolo Cesaretti, a professor of Byzantine studies, teaches at University of Chieti, Italy. In addition to many books on a variety of subjects related to Byzantine art and history, he regularly contributes to important Italian publications including Corriere della Sera.

         My Review: The first that I ever came across Empress Theodora was when I was a sophomore in high school, and we read her speech from Procopius's History of the Wars, where she is said to persuade her husband to stay rather than fleeing by saying, “Purple is a noble shroud.” I was then reintroduced to Theodora in my freshman college seminar, where we studied Byzantine art. Because of this, I wanted to find out more about her.  Paolo’s Ceasaratti’s Theodora: Empress of Byzantium is a very comprehensive biography of Empress Theodora. 

     Because I did not know much about her, it was fascinating how she rose up from humble beginnings to become an empress of the Byzantine empire. Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer and a dancer and an actress. After the death of her father, Theodora had to become the main breadwinner of her family. She then became an actress, and later catches the eye of Justinian, who at the time was heir to the Byzantine Empire. They had to wait until Justinian became emperor because he was not allowed to marry an actress.

     There is very little information about the empress. Most of the information we have of Empress Theodora comes from Procopius, who is biased against Theodora and greatly disliked her. However, the author has made a great attempt to write a full biography of her. This author focused on Theodora's rise to become an empress and as a brave, intellectual ruler. For it was her advice that Justinian listened to and followed, when there was a revolt in Constantinople. The author also focused on her contributions to help women’s rights, for example women can divorce and own land. It also showed Empress Theodora as a woman who was deeply religious and pious. 

     Overall, this book portrays Empress Theodora as a complex but intriguing figure in history. She is shown as a woman that had made great contributions to women’s rights in her empire. She is also a woman that ruled equally with Justinian, and whom Justinian relied on as a partner and for inspiration. Therefore, I believe that Empress Theodora deserve great attention and study, for she is a woman of admirable accomplishments.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars