Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Finds: September 4

Haven't done Friday Finds in a long time. Which is a good thing. It means that my TBR pile has not gotten any bigger.

This weeks theme is Non-Fiction Finds. I have a total of 5 books that I have found courtsey of the book blogging world. Without further fanfare here they are:

The Weight of A Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
General Kamel Sachet was a favorite of Saddam Hussein's, a hero of the Iran-Iraq war, head of the army in Kuwait City during Desert Storm, governor of the province of Maysan, and father of nine children. When author Wendell Steavenson became intrigued by his story, she began with a few questions about Sachet and his fellow Baathist loyalists: "Why had they served such a regime? How had they accommodated their own morality? How had they lived? How had they lived with themselves?" Her journey to find these answers took five years, and an accumulation of facts, opinions, fears, confessions and suspicions from Sachet's family, friends, and enemies. The result is not just a gripping account of one man's rise and fall, but a vivid and compassionate portrayal of the Iraqi people.

As Sachet rose from policeman to Special Forces officer and then General, he made more and more sacrifices to remain in Saddam's good favor. Steadfast in his loyalty to God and his President, Sachet attended military executions and endured his own imprisonment as Saddam's behavior took increasingly paranoiac and power-crazy turns. But when it came time for Sachet's sons to do their military service, he refused to let them join the "criminal" organization to which he had given his life. Kamel Sachet realized, too late, that he'd become a participant in the terror regime that had strangled his county and destroyed its people. Through his story and the stories of those around him, Wendell Steavenson shows the choices Iraqis have had to make between exile and collaboration, God and jihad. Here are the Iraqis behind the headlines and the tragedy begotten of unintended consequences. And here is the first full-length narrative from an immensely talented journalist who has already been compared by critics to Bruce Chatwin and Ryszard Kapucinksi.

Passing Strange by Martha Sandweiss
The secret double life of the man who mapped the American West, and the woman he loved

Clarence King is a hero of nineteenth century western history; a brilliant scientist and witty conversationalist, best-selling author and architect of the great surveys that mapped the West after the Civil War. Secretary of State John Hay named King the best and brightest of his generation. But King hid a secret from his Gilded Age cohorts and prominent family in Newport: for thirteen years he lived a double life as the celebrated white explorer, geologist and writer Clarence King and as a black Pullman porter and steel worker named James Todd. The fair blue-eyed son of a wealthy China trader passed across the color line, revealing his secret to his black common- law wife, Ada Copeland, only on his deathbed.

King lied because he wanted to and he lied because he had to. To marry his wife in a public way as the white man known as Clarence King would have created a scandal and destroyed his career. At a moment when many mixed-race Americans concealed their African heritage to seize the privileges of white America, King falsely presented himself as a black man in order to marry the woman he loved.

Noted historian of the American West Martha Sandweiss is the first writer to uncover the life that King tried so hard to conceal from the public eye. She reveals the complexity of a man who while publicly espousing a personal dream of a uniquely American race, an amalgam of white and black, hid his love for his wife, Ada, and their five biracial children. Passing Strange tells the dramatic tale of a family built along the fault lines of celebrity, class, and race from the Todd s wedding in 1888, to the 1964 death of Ada King, one of the last surviving Americans born into slavery.

War by Clara Kramer
This heart-stopping story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis is based on Clara Kramer's diary of her years surviving in an underground bunker with seventeen other people.

Clara Kramer was a typical Polish-Jewish teenager from a small town at the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded, Clara's family was taken in by the Becks, a "Volksdeutsche" (ethnically German) family from their town. Mrs. Beck worked as Clara's family's housekeeper. Mr. Beck was known to be an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a vocal anti-Semite. But on hearing that Jewish families were being led into the woods and shot, Beck sheltered the Kramers and two other Jewish families.

Eighteen people in all lived in a bunker dug out of the Becks' basement. Fifteen-year-old Clara kept a diary during the twenty terrifying months she spent in hiding, writing down details of their unpredictable life--from the house's catching fire to Mr. Beck's affair with Clara's neighbor; from the nightly SS drinking sessions in the room above to the small pleasure of a shared Christmas carp.

Against all odds, Clara lived to tell her story, and her diary is now part of the permanent collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Annie's Ghost by Steven Luxenberg
Beth Luxenberg was an only child. Everyone knew it: her grown children, her friends, even people she'd only recently met. So when her secret emerged, her son Steve Luxenberg was bewildered. He was certain that his mother had no siblings, just as he knew that her name was Beth, and that she had raised her children, above all, to tell the truth.
By then, Beth was nearly eighty, and in fragile health. While seeing a new doctor, she had casually mentioned a disabled sister, sent away at age two. For what reason? Was she physically disabled? Mentally ill? The questions were dizzying, the answers out of reach. Beth had said she knew nothing of her sister's fate.
Six months after Beth's death in 1999, the secret surfaced once more. This time, it had a name: Annie.

Steve Luxenberg began digging. As he dug, he uncovered more and more. His mother's name wasn't Beth. His aunt hadn't been two when she'd been hospitalized. She'd been twenty-one; his mother had been twenty-three. The sisters had grown up together. Annie had spent the rest of her life in a mental institution, while Beth had set out to hide her sister's existence. Why?
Employing his skills as a journalist while struggling to maintain his empathy as a son, Luxenberg pieces together the story of his mother's motivations, his aunt's unknown life, and the times in which they lived. His search takes him to imperial Russia and Depression-era Detroit, through the Holocaust in Ukraine and the Philippine war zone, and back to the hospitals where Annie and many others were lost to memory.

Combining the power of reportage with the intrigue of mystery, Annie's Ghosts explores the nature of self-deception and self-preservation. The result is equal parts memoir, social history, and riveting detective story.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones
In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.

I would just like to note that all synopsis are from Google books except for Annie's Ghost which came from good reads.


  1. They sound like amazing books. The one about the mapper sounds intriguing - crossing the colour line.

  2. I don't read non-fiction books, but Annie's Ghost does look interesting.

    ~ Popin