Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, June 9, 2023

Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze - 2008- 829 Pages

Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze - 2008- 829 Pages

One of my core interests is the Holocaust. Of course this needs to be understood in terms of the places and the era in which it occurred, Germany and the territories it conquered during WW Two.

The Holocaust (1933–1945) was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators.The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the years of the Holocaust as 1933–1945. The Holocaust era began in January 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. It ended in May 1945, when the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. The Holocaust is also sometimes referred to as “the Shoah,” the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.” From The Website of The US Holocaust Museum 

Tooze's book goes into copious detail about how the economy in Nazi Germany was shaped by the goals and beliefs of Adolph Hitler and his supporters.

One of the platform ideas that helped make the Nazi party popular was their harsh criticism of the post WW One Versiles Treaty. The Treaty, among other things,prohibited Germany from rebuilding its military, imposed reparations and confiscated territory. The Nazis blamed the extreme decline in the German economy on the Treaty. They saw it as engineered by an international Jewish conspiracy. 

Tooze shows us how, with the full cooperation of wealthy German industrial concerns like I.G. Farben, BMW, Siemens, Damiler-Benz and others began a massive built up of the German Army and the airforce.

"The cultural crises of early twentieth-century Europe, the vacuum left by the secularizing tendencies of the late nineteenth century, the radicalizing horror of World War I, all demand attention from anyone seriously interested in plumbing the deeper motives of National Socialism. How else can we understand a regime that took as its central objective the destruction of European Jewry, an objective apparently devoid of all economic rationale, a project that, if it can be understood at all, seems to be intelligible only in terms of a violent theology of redemptive purifica tion?" From the book

Hitler wanted to expand Germany territory way into the east, basically killing the Jews and starving millions. The plan was to use this space to produce food for Germans.  

Tooze details the internal political developments within Germany. A top priority was to insure adequate food supply at home. Nazi leaders realised unless Germans had good diets they would not support the party.

In Hitler's mind the complete extermination of the Jews of Europe was always a top priority. At first he did not talk a lot about it but as Tooze illustrstes it was by early 1940 a dominant factor.

Tooze shows how concentration camps figured into the German economy as a cheap source of labor. The Holocaust was also explicitly viewed as eliminating people viewed as nonproductive, the old, ill, young children.

Russian prisoners of war up to 600,000 died from over work and starvation, as did millions in the Ukraine and Russia.

At first Jews were allowed to emigrate if they could pay huge fees. Jewish owned businesses were turned over to Germans.

Ultimately the German leadership knew they would probably be Defeated once America with its huge economic capability entered the war.

"This book is the first in sixty years to offer a truly critical account of the performance of the German war economy both under Speer and his predecessors and it casts stark new light on his role in sustaining the Third Reich to its bloody end. For it is only by re-examining the economic underpinnings of the Third Reich, by focusing on questions of land, food and labour that we can fully get to grips with the breathtaking process of cumulative radicalization that found its most extraordinary manifestation in the Holocaust. The first aim of this book, therefore, is to reposition economics at the centre of our understanding of Hitler’s regime, by providing an economic narrative that helps to make sense of and underpin the political histories produced over the last generation." From the book

 Tooze has produced a brilliant highly illuminating history.

Adam Tooze holds the Shelby Cullom Davis chair of History at Columbia University and serves as Director of the European Institute. In 2019, Foreign Policy Magazine named him one of the top Global Thinkers of the decade.

Mel Ulm


Thursday, June 8, 2023

Thec Ruling Familiies of Rus: Clan, Family and Kingdom by Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski - 2023- 300 Pages

 The Ruling Families of Rus- Clan, Family and Kingdom by Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski - 2023- 300 Pages

Kyivan Rus’ was a state in northeastern Europe from the late ninth to the mid-sixteenth century that encompassed a variety of peoples, including Lithuanians, Polish, and Ottomans. The Ruling Families of Rus explores the areas history through local families, revealing how the concept of family rule developed over the centuries into what we understand as now as dynasties. The authors spend a good bit of time talking about, using a term from David Fisher, what are called "historical fallacies". One such fallacy is to start from a point in history after the era you are studying and portray the past only as it leads to the future. In the case of Russian studies it would often taken history as an inevitable march to the Romonovs.
"In other words, as Fischer states it, this represents ‘a complex anachronism , in which the antecedent in a narrative series is falsified by being defined or interpreted in terms of the consequent’. The historians’ fallacy here, in what may be a classic example, judges the relevance of events in early Rus in terms of their leading to the creation of the Russian dynastic state, from the end of the fifteenth until the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, there is another chronological dimension that will lead eventually to the present-day state of Russia. In this respect, according to Fischer, what has been created is ‘the mistaken idea that the proper way to do history is to prune away the dead branches of the past and to preserve the green buds and twigs which have grown into the dark forest of our contemporary world’. 30 The various branches of the history tree that do not lead to the present are chopped off as irrelevant.What we have tried to do in this book is to study early Rus until the sixteenth century from the point of view of the people who lived it, what they knew and what they didn’t know at the time. Our evidence tells us that, among other things, they did not know that they were part of a dynasty. They did, however, know that they were part of a family." From the text.

Ascension to the throne in the period was not strictly through the oldest son. First it would pass through the ruler's brothers. Rulers saw themselves as part of a family, not a dynasty.

Each of the 12 chapters focuses on the family of a different ruler. Marriages were arranged to increase power, develop trade and promote peace.

Some rulers paid tribute to the Mungals, church architecture was adapted from the Byzantine Empire.

Here is how the authors tell us Rus began

" the locals proved to be unable to rule themselves and, thus, the ‘Varangian Rus’ were invited back to rule over them: ‘Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it . Come to rule and reign over us.’ Thus, the author of the much later pvl account, writing at the behest of the descendants of these same Rus, or at least for people claiming descent from them, had now created a proper origin story – not one of conquest and bloodshed, but one where their ancestors were invited in as saviours and peacekeepers by a local population who were unable to take care The explorations of these Scandinavian travellers seemed eventually to turn to conquest or, at least, tribute-taking, as recorded by the pvl. However, only a few years later, the pvlsays that: ‘The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves.’ This expulsion of the tribute-taking Scandinavians is the real beginning of the creation story of Rus"

This book took my knowledge of Russian History much further back than the Romanovs. I highly reccomend it to all into Russian or Medieval European history.

Christian Raffensperger is the Kenneth E. Wray Chair in the Humanities at Wittenberg University.

Donald Ostrowski is a lecturer at the Harvard Extension School and an associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Helen - by Euripides-First Preformed 412 B.C.E. Translated by Emily Wilson -This play is included in The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides-Preface, general introduction, play introductions, and compilation - 2016 by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm

 Helen - by Euripides-First Preformed 412 B.C.E. Translated by Emily Wilson -This play is included in The Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides-Preface, general introduction, play introductions, and compilation - 2016 by Mary Lefkowitz and James Romm

An Ancient Reads Work

Euripides-480 to 406 B.C.E 

Plays by Euripides Previously posted upon


Trojan Women




Cast of Characters in Helen in Order of Appearance 

HELEN, wife of Menelaus 

TEUCER, a Greek hero from Salamis

 CHORUS of Greek maidens 

MENELAUS, king of Sparta 

THEONOË, priestess and sister of Theoclymenos 

THEOCLYMENUS, ruler of Egypt


CASTOR and POLLUX, semidivine brothers of Helen (also known as the Dioscuri)SERVANT

 THEONOË, priestess and sister of THEOCLYMENUS

Setting: Helen takes place in front of the palace of Theoclymenos, ruler of Egypt.

"Helen by Euripides presents a very different account of the person of Helen depicted in the Iliad. Homer presented a faithless wife who abandons her much older husband because of an infatuation with a handsome young Trojan prince, Paris, visiting the court of her Macedonian husband, Menelaus, on a diplomatic mission. Her lack of decent morals and unfaithfulness ended up destroying Troy and costing 1000s of Greek lives.

Ever since Homer’s Iliad, Helen had been associated in the Greek mind with beauty, sexual allure, and a faithlessness and cunning born of these two qualities. To build a tragedy around such a woman—the polar opposite, in terms of stature, of Antigone or Medea— as Euripides did in 412 B.C. was a daring move, almost certain to produce a play that was not, in fact, tragic." From the introduction 

Euripides presents a totally different story. His Helen never went to Troy, never was unfaithful. Instead the Goddess Hera, jealous because she lost a beauty contest, created a spirit figure in Helen's and sent this to Troy.

The real Helen made it to Egypt. As I did not already know what was going to happen I found the plotting quite exciting.

EMILY WILSON is Associate Professor in Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work includes Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton; The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint; Seneca: A Life; Seneca: Six Tragedies; and a new translation of the Odyssey.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Property Of by Alice Hoffman - 1977 -280 Pages- Her Debut Novel

 Property Of by Alice Hoffman - 1977 -280 Pages- Her Debut Novel 

Alice Hoffman works I have so far read

The Marriage of Opposites- 2015
"Everything My Mother Taught Me" - 2016
"The Book Store Sisters" -2022
The Foretelling - 2006
"Conjure" - 2014
Aquamarine- 2001
The Ice Queen - 2006
Property Of -1977

 "On the Avenue in the bleak area where New York City blends into suburbia, the Orphans, their fast Fords and their Chevys 'coated by ice and leather and white dust', prepare to engage in deadly, intricately structured games of combat. It is a world of grotesque, horrifying violence, fear, bravado and drugs, redeemed in the minds of its inhabitants by codes of honour, by chivalrous intentions and by the purity of their struggle for power, dominance, territory. This is the setting of Alice Hoffman's unsparing and unsentimental novel. Her heroine, 17 years old, quick witted yet vulnerable, falls helplessly in love with McKay, the Orphan's 22 year old president and their doomed love story is told in desperate counterpoint to the punk lyrical flippancies of throbbing car radios and jukes." From Penguin Press

I have read several highly laudatory reviews for Property Of, Alice Hoffman's debut novel. I found some of the narrator's descriptions of life on the streets, of the impact of drugs, very elegant. Personally I found the subject matter of little interest and the characters the same. I finished Property Of because I am attempting a read through of her work. It became a Slough through for me. 

The reviews praising Property Of were all written long after she became one of America's most loved writers.

I will read at least one more work by Alice Hoffman this month, I hope.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

THE GLATSTEIN CHRONICLES By Jacob Glatstein, Part One - Homeward Bound- first published 1936 - translated from Yiddish by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman -2010- with an Introduction by Ruth Wisse

THE GLATSTEIN CHRONICLES By Jacob Glatstein, Part One - Homeward Bound- first published 1936 - translated from Yiddish by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman -2010- with an Introduction by Ruth Wisse

Jacob Glatstein 

April 20,1896 - Lublin, Poland
1914- emigrated to New York City (due to increasing antisemitism) - joining his uncle-In NYC, he found thatYiddish, the common language of several million immigrants, generated newspapers, theater companies, publishing houses, humor magazines, a music industry, and an aspiring high literary culture. He began a long very successful career as a writer in various genres.

November 19,1971- New York City

The Voyage Out is part One of a fictionalized personal account of a Yiddish writer who returns to Poland in 1934. Conceived as a trilogy, this project was begun shortly after Glatstein returned to New York. The first installment appeared in the little magazine Inzikh (In the self) in 1934, and the book Ven yash iz geforn (When Yash set out) was published three years later. In The Voyage Out the preponderance of plotting takes place on a seven day cruise from New York City to Paris. From Paris the narrator travels on to Lublin to see his mother. He has not seen her since he emigrated to New York City twenty years ago. His siblings sent him a letter saying "hurry back, your mother will die soon".

In her introduction Professor Wisse compares The Voyage Out to The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (published in 1924). 
 After departing and checking into his second class cabin, he begins to explore the ship. He evaluates everyone by their lucks, especially women. On this seagoing Magic Mountain there are numerous ethnic categories he sees. The narrator has lots of conversations with other Jews about the good and bad aspects of being Jewish. The impending disastrous shadow of Hitler ominously looms over all the Jewish passengers. Of course in 1936 no one knew how bad it would be for Polish Jews. There are groups of Russians, some born in America, believe firmly in the dream of a communist state. Others have fled from Stalin.

When the ship lands, ship board connections are quickly forgotten. 

Aboard ship people feel free to embellish there travel plans. A trip to visit a tin-smith uncle becomes a journey to inherit a huge tin mine.

Many on ship want a bit of romance. The presentation of women in The Voyage Out is very descriptive of their bodies, with a fixation on bosom and bottom sizes. A group of 15 year old girls are up for anything.

There a lots of very telling conversations. Some passengers just want a captive audience. Class lines are very clear aboard.

"Unlike his Yiddish contemporaries and predecessors who were raised mostly on Russian, Polish, and German literatures, Glatstein also read Anglo-American literature, including T. S. Eliot,Ezra Pound, and James Joyce—expatriates like himself, who rendered the disintegration of their inherited traditions as masterworks of wasteland and exile...The Glatstein chronicles stretch like a tightrope across a chasm. Book One, “Homeward Bound,” opens as the poet sets out for his native city and ends with the train conductor’s call for “Lublin!”. From Professor Wisse's introduction 

I will share a few passages- the news of the Night of the Long Knives has reached the ship:
"I realized that to the Gentiles, Hitler meant something altogether different than he did to me. My non-Jewish fellow passengers . . . regarded Hitler as merely Germany’s dictator. To me, to 600,000 German Jews, and indeed to all the 17 million Jews worldwide, Hitler was the embodiment of the dreaded historical hatemonger, latest in a long line of persecutors that stretched from Haman . . . wielding a bloody pen that was writing a dreadful new chapter of Jewish history." This is not just a novel, but a prophecy.

The fact is that a real war is being waged against us, a war of attrition . . . There’s no escaping it: all the countries have imposed a siege . . . Believe me, the Poles are much cleverer than Hitler. They don’t rant and rave, they just pass over our bodies with a steamroller and drive us right into the ground . . . Formerly you could escape by emigrating. Today our people are staring death in the eyes...

“It started with Pharaoh who bathed in the blood of Jewish children. Why, oh why, why do we deserve this, Mr. Steinman? What do they have against us, Mr. Steinman?”

“Ah, you’re raising fundamental questions,” Steinman said. He had become grave. “You want to go to the root of things. Well, I’ll tell you: they want to destroy us, nothing less. Yes, to destroy us. For instance, take me—I am a patriotic Pole. And yet they’d destroy me too. They want to exterminate us, purely and simply. Yes, exterminate us.”

Thecprecarious situation of European Jewry comes more clearly into focus. On his way through Germany en route to Warsaw, the train is boarded by a group of Hitler Youth. “My first reaction wasn’t rage but childish surprise, that what I had only read or heard about I was seeing with my own eyes,” the narrator notes. “I thought of New York, where giant rallies were being held, protesting these very salutes, and here I had spanned the magical distance and come face to face with the actuality.” Later, upon arriving at his aunt’s home in Warsaw, he observes: “My aunt had never been known to keep a neat house, but now the gloom stemmed from poverty, not sloppy housekeeping. The difference was obvious. Poverty wasn’t merely black but muddy black, the earthy color of things about to crumble.
I am very grateful to the publisher and translators for making this powerful work available in English.

I will post on part two, set in Poland soon.

Mel Ulm



Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Reading Life Review - May 2023 - Future Plans

The Reading Life Review - May 2023

Row One. Left to Right

1. Sarah Shimonovitz- Ukraine to of War Time and Holocaust memior- first appearance on R.L
2. Rebecca Donner- Canada- historian- author of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days- National Book Award Winner for Biography and a New York Times Best Seller
3. Elyse Hoffman- USA-Elyse Hoffman is an award-winning author who strives to tell historical tales with new twists. She loves to meld WWII and Jewish history with fantasy, folklore, and the paranormal. She has written six works of Holocaust historical fiction: The Barracks of the Holocaust five-book series and The Book of Uriel. Elyse’s books are the way to go if you love history and want to read some unique stories. From her website. First appearance on RL. I hope to read more of her work

Row Two- Alice Hoffman - U.S. A. - this is her six appearance on RL- She has written over 30 novels and numerous stories. I have eight of her works on my E- Reader waiting to be read.
2. Jennifer Homans- USA- Ballet Critic for the New Yorker- author of two essential books- Mr. G: George Balanchine’s century and Appolo's Angels: A History of Ballet- I am so thankful to her for the beautiful books.
3. Erin Litteken- USA- author of two historical novels set in the Ukraine- I highly reccomend her works.
4. Nalo Hopkinson- USA- highly awarded and influential science fiction writer. I have posted numerous times upon her works. I suggest all new to her work start with The Salt Roads
5. Salman Rushdie- India- featured several times

Row Three
1. Priyamvada Gopal- India To Uk- Cambridge Historian -author of Insurgent Empire: Anti-Colonial Resistance and British Dissent- - first appearance on RL
2. Olivia Schreiner- South Africa's first great writer- I thank Priyamvada Gopol for mentioning her- first appearance on RL- an early voice of repudiation for British Rule in South Africa-
3. J.P. Doughty - USA- Professor at Stanford most recent book, In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo-Océan Railroad and the Tragedy of French Colonialism (W. W. Norton, 2021), tells the story of one of the deadliest construction projects in history. Between 1921 and 1934, French colonial interests recruited -- most often by force -- more than 100,000 men, women, and children to work on a 500-kilometer stretch of rail between Brazzaville and the Atlantic Coast. In the end, tens of thousands of Africans were dead, killed by mistreatment, starvation, and disease. - from Stanford University - first Rl appearance
4. Alessandro Manzoni- Italy- The Betrothed is an Italian historical novel by Alessandro Manzoni, first published in 1827, in three volumes, and significantly revised and rewritten until the definitive version published between 1840 and 1842. It has been called the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language.
5. Euripides- Greece- I have posted so far upon five of his plays

Home Countries of May Authors
1. USA-7
2. India- 2
3. Isreal-1
4. Italy - 1
5. Greece- 1
6. Canada- 1

Eight featured are women , four men. Four are deceased, seven were featured for the first time.
Four works of non-fiction were featured as were Four short stories and four novels. A drama by Euripides was also featured.

Blog Stats

We crossed the Seven Million Page Views Mark in May

Page Views to Date

There are currently 4,210 posts on The Reading Life
The post viewed posts are on Short Stories

Top Home Countries of Visitors in May
1. USA
2. Singapore
3. Philippines
4. India
5. Isreal
6. Canada
7. UK
8. Germany
9. Russia
10. Ukraine
11. France
12. Pakistan
13. Sweden
14. Indonesia
15. Ireland

Future Plans

My outlook on life and what I read was forever altered when my wife passed away on January 19, 2022.  For a while I slowed down my reading, thinking why bother. Then I began to read to seek the experiences others have had dealing with a cataclysmic death and to occupy my mind. 

Future Plans

I recently began reading the work of Alice Hoffman. She has published over 30 novels. I hope to read at least one a month. I have eight on my tablet now.

I will continue my focus upon the Holocaust, Yiddish Literature and world history.
I hope to continue my Ancient Reads Project.

Mel Ulm
With the assistance of
Ambrosia Bousweau and
Oleander Bousweau

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman- 2005 - 224 Pages

 The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman - 2005- 224 Pages

Alice Hoffman works I have so far read

The Marriage of Opposites- 2015
"Everything My Mother Taught Me" - 2016
"The Book Store Sisters" -2022
The Foretelling - 2006
"Conjure" - 2014
Aquamarine- 2001
The Ice Queen - 2006

The Ice Queen focuses on a woman we first meet in her early teens. She lives with her mother, her father deserted the family, and her older brother Ned. The mother, 32 is out for a very rare evening of socialising with two friends. The girl, whose name we never learn, wishes her mother will die and never come home. She does. The girl, who narrates the story and her brother go to live with an aunt. The girl retreats into a world of dark fairy tales and tries to avoid an emotional attachment to anyone. As she ages she while in high school has sex with the boyfriends of girls at her school she knows. She becomes a reference librarian. She starts an affair with a police officer, having frequent sex in his car. 

She is struck my lightning.

“It was the oddest thing. It was as though I were a cloud instead of a human being. I could feel the charged atoms in the air…While I was getting into bed there was a lightning strike nearly five miles away. The strike split a pine tree in two and started a fire that burned several houses down to ash. It was summer lightning, the kind that appears without thunder, without a sign. But I didn’t need anyone to tell me about it. It was the one thing I could feel deep inside.”

She moves to Florida to be near her brother, now a university mathematics professor and his wife, also a professor.

She becomes part of a group of lighting strike victims being studied at the University.She meets other people who have been struck by lightning and discovers an entire community of misfits just like her who have been impacted by something entirely out of their control which has forever changed their lives

I found this a very thought provoking work. It made me reflect on how a sudden never anticipated event can have a powerful influence. I have had a terrible unexpected event in my life remove much of my anticipated hopes for a happy future. I dwell much of the time on this, trying to find a way forward.

There is deep pain at the end but the narrator finds meaning.
There are elements of the occult
and magic in The Ice Queen. 

Alice Hoffman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers, Magic Lessons, and most recently, The Book of Magic. Her works have been translated into more than twenty languages, she has been 

Nominated for multiple awards, and adapted for the screen. She lives in Boston. Visit her website at

My next Alice Hoffman novel will be Property Of.
Mel Ulm