Saturday, 15 October 2016

October Quicklit: Memoirs

Joining the link-up at Modern Mrs Darcy to share quick reviews of recent reads.

I haven't been writing about books here for a long time, let alone participated in link-ups. I have quite a pile of books I've read in the meanwhile, and I'm not even going to attempt putting them all into a blog post.

So, what we get here today is a collection of memoirs I've read in the recent months. As biographies and memoirs are among my favourite genres, it's not surprising I've read a lot of them lately.

First, some World War 2 stories:

Harrell, Edgar: Out of the Depths

The subtitle basically says it all: 
An unforgettable WW2 story of survival, courage, and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Edgar Harrell, with other survivors of the USS Indianapolis, was stranded in the Pacific Ocean for five days after the ship sank. This is Harrell's story, and also a tribute to God who sustained him and saved him through the ordeal (and to the others from the ship - both those who survived and those who didn't). 
Author's website:

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice:
let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
Psalm 130:1-2 (KJV)

Anita Dittman: Trapped in Hitler's Hell: A Young Jewish Girl Discovers the Messiah's Faithfulness in the Midst of the Holocaust

This story is so amazing that it's hard to describe it. Anita's mother was Jewish, but her father was (Aryan) German, and he left his family when these kinds of "mixed marriages" were attacked under the Nazi rule in Germany. Anita and her mother had become believers in Jesus already before the war, and they had little but their faith and their Saviour to rely on, as their lives became increasingly difficult.
(It's probably not a spoiler to say that Anita survived the war. :) )

Author's webpage:

Leon Leyson: The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leon Leyson was one of the youngest workers on the famous Schindler's list, and this is his memoir. The book appears to be geared towards young readers (perhaps from 11 years up?), because I found it in the children's history section at our library, but it's a good read for anyone interested in this period of history.

Leyson begins with his memories of his early childhood in a Polish village and in Krakow, where the family moved before the war, when the father got a factory job there. Leon turned ten around the time Germany occupied Poland, and so his memories give a child's perspective on the war and the worsening persecution of Jews. It is clear that if Leon's father (and other family members, including Leon himself) had not been hired by Oskar Schindler, the chances of the family's survival would have been extremely slim.

Then moving from World War 2 to other periods....

Ravi Zacharias: Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows

Ravi Zacharias is a famous Christian apologist, though I have to admit his name wasn't really familiar to me. 
However, I really enjoyed this memoir I bought when it was on sale for Kindle. Perhaps my favourite part was Zacharias's description of his childhood and teenage days in India, both before his coming to faith in Jesus and after. Colourful, vivid stories of escapades with friends, problems at school, disagreements with his father, desperation, suicide attempt, and then the change in his life when Jesus became his Lord and Saviour, and the active and dynamic faith life in India with his Christian friends. The rest was interesting, too (his moving to Canada, studies, marriage, God leading him into ministry, etc.), and I'm planning to read more of his writings (apologetics) at some point.

Carolyn Weber: Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir

A young Canadian student gets a scholarship to study a year at Oxford, England. There, she goes on a spiritual journey that leads her into Christianity.
I loved many things about the book. Carolyn's student life, the people she meets and the friendship, the conversations, just simply the setting of Oxford with all its unique characteristics and traditions. I cannot read too many books set in Oxford. I love the idea of Oxford, and yes I love the actual place, too, though sadly I've only been able to visit as a tourist. Getting to experience it through a book is some consolation when not able to go there in real life.

Helen Russell: The Year of Living Danishly

When Helen Russell's husband gets the job offer of his dreams at Lego Company(!), Helen agrees to move to Denmark for a year. One of the things she finds out about Denmark in advance is that it is often ranked as the happiest country in the world. This gives Helen, a journalist, an idea for a research project for her Danish year: why, exactly, are the Danes so happy, and what can she learn from them and apply to her own life?
I like reading memoirs about moving to a different country, and here the personal story is combined with "happiness research" and interviews with specialists in different areas of life. This combination works very well. Yes, Danes are happy for a lot of reasons, and yet Russell does not gloss away the hard and not-so-happy parts of Danish life, either.
The premise was somewhat reminiscent of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, but I found Russell's story easier to relate to - and maybe funnier, too, with all the additional elements of navigating a new culture. Russell is British, and Denmark is not very far from Finland, both geographically and culturally. (Though I'm sure I'd have my share of culture shocks if I were to live in Denmark - there are plenty of differences, too.)
Author's webpage:


  1. These sound really interesting to me, Tuija, especially the last two. Does the Danish one mention pastry? It better, or I won't read it (ha ha). I don't think I'll ever go to Oxford either, unfortunately, but you never know. Thanks for sharing your book list.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jeannie1
      Let's put it this way: Helen Russell is very fond of Danish pastry. I don't recommend reading those parts when hungry. :)

  2. These all sound great! I have not read Ravi's memoir but I really liked two of his books I have read so far: Jesus Among Other Gods and The Grand Weaver. I LOVED Surprised By Oxford. I have recently been on a memoir kick myself. If you like cooking memoirs, I'd recommend Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. I LOVED it and am currently listening to the book she wrote previously.

    Here are my September reads: