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, February 25, 2022

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive by Lucy Adlington - 2021- 391 pages

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive by Lucy Adlington - 2021- 391 pages

Number One Best Seller in History on Amazon

Website of Lucy Adlington 

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz is a very well done valuable addition to Holocaust studies. It focuses on a group of women confined to Auschwitz who used their sewing  skills to survive by creating outfits for the wives of important SS officers of the camp.  

Twenty five mostly Jewish women worked in a salon catering to the needs of he wives of the men in charge of killing Jews.  This enabled them to survive.  They worked inside, were able to bath (the wives did not want to be around what were referred to as “filthy Jews” for fear of Lice) and ate significantly better food than women doing hard physical work 12 plus hours a day in often freezing weather where any weakness got you selected for death.  The operation, called The Upper Tailoring Studio, was founded by Hedwig Höss, wife of the camp commandant, and was patronized by the wives of other officers and Nazi elite in Berlin.

The material used as well as equipment employed was all stolen from inmates.  Adlington brings vividly to life the horrible reality of Auschwitz for the young women inmates.  Older women, anybody who arrived with a child, were normally sent to the gas chambers upon arrival.  The Kapo of the Studio began as the personal dressmaker to Frau Höss. Soon her friends wanted outfits also so other women were invited to join.  Most were friends, family or from the same town as other workers.  Being a member of the group saved their lives.

Adlington shows us how having a circle of contacts was paramount to survival in the camp.  We see how some women never gave up hope and others said “the only way out of here is up in smoke”.  Of course the liberation of the camp by the Russians was a day of incredible excitement.  Before the guards all fled, they burned as much of the documentation they kept on their murders. 

We learn that being a top officer was a sure path to riches from stealing from the Germans what they stole from their captives.  Just being a guard gave you access to things taken from the suitcases brought by arriving inmates.  Most guards regularly sent packages home, some coerced women into being their mistress or simply raped at will.

Making use of extensive research and interviews with survivors Adlington exposes the hypocrisy and cruelty of the Germans.  They tried to destroy the humanity of the Jews making it ok to kill them but it was the Germans whose humanity was destroyed.  No German was forced to participate, they did it willingly and with great pleasure.

Adlington goes into a lot of fascinating detail about how the German fashion industry was impacted by the Nazis.  German women were supposed to be good house fraus, breeders for the Reich, the men hyper masculine super heroes dressed in uniforms meant to intimidate. 

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive by Lucy Adlington will fascinate any intelligent person who reads it.  Adlington tells a story that needed to be told about courage, dignity and humanity surviving under terrible conditions.

“Lucy Adlington is an author, presenter, and keen collector of vintage & antique costume. She writes both history-inspired fiction and fascinating social history books.

When not on the sofa reading & writing, she likes exploring vintage fairs, flea markets and car boot sales, looking for historical treasures.

She lives on a working farm in the north of England, with a patient farmer and a cat the size of a small armchair.” From the Author’s website 

I offer my thanks to Ms Adlington for this magnificent book.

Mel Ulm


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor - 2019- 307 Pages

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor -2019- 307 Pages

Bram Stoker

Born: November 8, 1847, Dublin

Dracula - Published 1897 

Died: April 20, 1912, London 

Shadowplay is fourth novel by Joseph O’Connor I have had the pleasure of reading.

Shadowplay, much of the work is set in London, tells a story centered upon Bram Stoker’s work as a theater manager.  Stoker’s relationship to two of the most important figures of the Late Victorian Stage is a central part of  plot, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.  Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats (described as resembling a silver back gorrila) and George  Bernard Shaw strut upon the stage.  Under it all, we see developing in Stoker’s mind Dracula.

Henry Irving was a famous Shakespearian actor, owner of the theater and Stoker’s employer.  He is volatile, wealthy, given to insulting Stoker, he called him “Auntie”, but he totally depended on Stoker to run the theater.  Managing the finances was a serious challenge.  Shadowplay was an education in Victorian Theater management for me.

Stoker’s wife does not entirely approve of the atmosphere of the theater.  Young actresses in scanty outfits, heavy drinking, late hours.  To compound it all Jack the Ripper is killing young women, terrorizing London.  Irving and Stoker make sure all the women of the theater make it home safely.

The novel is also about long friendships, aging, marriage and physical decay.  The prose is exquisite.

“Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor is the author of 18 books, including the bestselling Star of the Sea. His most recent, Shadowplay, won novel of the year at the Irish Book awards for 2019 and is also on the shortlist for the Costa novel . He is currently adapting the book for film.” From The Guardian

Mel Ulm


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Circe by Madeline Miller - 2018 - 338 pages


Circe by Madeline Miller - 2018 - 338 pages

An International Bestseller 

In September of last year I read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.  I, along with everyone, loved this retelling of a story from Homer.

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the story line drawn from the Iliad,from the point of view of Patroclus.  Patroclus and Achilles meet when they are in their early teens.  Patroclus had been sent as a punishment for an accidental killing to the Kingdom of the father of Achilles. Achilles is the son of King 

Peleus and a sea nymph, Thetis. When his mother sees Achilles developing  feelings  for a mere mortal boy she with out success tries to end the.  Achilles was prophesied to be the greatest warrior of the Greeks, remembered forever.

In the Odyssey Circe is a minor character, famous for turning men into pigs.  In this marvelous book, we follow her through thousands of years.

Circe’s father is Helios, God of the Sun, one of the Titans.  Her mother is a nymph with alluring powers based on her beauty.  Circe is a strange child, turning mortals for companionship.  She learns she can through witchcraft turn rivals into monsters and can even threaten the Gods.

For disobedience Zeus banishes her to a remote island.  Here she will sharpen her crafts and encounter legendary figures from ancient mythology including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, Odysseus.

Circe has a son by Odysseus.  The Goddess of War and Wisdom Athena demands he be given to her to be killed least he do something terrible in the future.  Circe summons all her powers to protect her son, casting a spell over the island.  As the years go by her son learns Odysseus is his father and builds a boat to go to Ithaca.  Penelope and her son importantly enter the plot.

There all sorts of exciting and often terrible scenes of the harm vengeful and petty Gods and supernatural creatures do to mortals.  As I read on I was kept in suspense wondering what else can happen?

At the close of the books there are lists of figures in the book and a reader’s guide.

Madeline Miller grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students for over fifteen years.

She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.

The Song of Achilles, her first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. Miller was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller, and won the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award and the Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award, as well as being shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction. Circe also won The Red Tentacle Award, an American Library Association Alex Award (adult books of special interest to teen readers), and the 2018 Elle Big Book Award.  It is currently being adapted for a series with HBO Max. Miller's novels have been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and Greek, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Telegraph, Lapham's Quarterly and She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” From

I hope so much she will give us a third novel soon.

Mel ulm

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami - 2003, translated from The Japanese by Allison Markin Powell


 Website of The Japanese Literature Challenge 15- hosted by Dolce Bellezza 

The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami - 2003, translated from The Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

This is my 14th year as a participant in The Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Docle Belleza.  Through this I discovered hithertofore unknown to me writers whom I have added to my read all I can lists.  

The requirements of The Challenge, explained in The Website, are simple. Read one book written by a Japanese author and post a link to your comments on the Website.  The Japanese Literature Challenge opened up a fantastic Multi-Dimensional area of literature to me.  You can also meet others who share your interests and perhaps expand the reach of your website.

I have previously read and posted upon two novels by Hiromi Kawakami, Prade and Strange Weather in Tokyo.

In July of 2021  I read Hiromi Kawakami’s delightful novel Strange Weather in Tokyo.   Strange Weather in Tokyo centers on the very slowly developing relationship between a single woman in her late thirties,Tsukiko, and one of her former high school teachers, Sensei,at least thirty years her senior. They run into each other in a bar by accident.  They have frequent unarranged meet ups at the bar, which serves great food along with Saki and beer. She assumes he is a widower.

As time passes a shared love of food, proximity and their history brings them into a more intimate relationship.

This is a very subtly developed story line.  Each character keeps things in reserve.  Both are deeply lonely.

Parade is also about odd bonds formed to combat loneliness.  Here it is with traditional Japanese spirit entities which can only be seen by one person or perhaps also their close companion.  The entities have interesting personalities.

I was delighted to see a third of her novels, all translated by Allison Merkin Powell, The Ten Loves of Mishimo, on sale for $1.95.

This book is structured in a very interesting way, in ten chapters ten different women give an account of their relationship with Mishimo. Mishimo is a now a thirty something business man, single.  We do have accounts of him in his School days also.  Like her other novels, this is about people seeking an escape from loneliness.  Most of the women do sleep with him and all eat with him.  Foodies Will enjoy this.  Every woman has her own vision of him.  None of the relationships endure. The Challenge of The Ten Loves of Mishima is in trying to put together a whole character from fragments.

Hiromi Kawakami is one of Japan’s most acclaimed and successful authors. Winner of numerous prizes for her fiction, including the Akutagawa, Ito Sei, Women Writers (Joryu Bungako Sho), and Izumi Kyoka prizes, she is the author of The Nakano Thrift Shop, a Wall Street Journal Best New Fiction pick, Strange Weather in Tokyo, Manazuru, among

others. Her short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review and Granta. She lives in Japan.

Mel Ulm

Friday, February 4, 2022

. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Eric Larson - 2020 - 593 Pages


The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Eric Larson - 2020 - 593 Pages

A New York Times Bestseller

World War Two - September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945

America, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 2, 1941 enters the war.  Churchill knew England needed America as a full ally to beat Germany. Larson vividly shows us Churchill’s efforts to get Franklin Delano Roosevelt to give England aid.  Before Pearl Harbor many Americans took an isolatiinist stance.  The end did not come quick but now Hitler’s fate was sealed.

Winston S. Churchill - November 30, 1874 to January 24, 1965

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." Churchill then turned to a colleague and said, under his breath, "And ... we will fight them with the butt end of broken bottles, because that's bloody well all we've got."  June 4, 1940

I offer my thanks to those in The Facebook Serious Non-Fiction Group for letting me know what a great work of narrative non-fiction The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Book by Erik Larson was.  Even though of course I knew the outcome Larson maintains a high level of excitement and suspence.  This is a truly wonderful book.

Winston Churchill was for sure who  England very badly needed to lead them during England’s darkest hours.  

Churchill was a great orator, both in Parliment and on his periodic BBC addresses to The Nation.  He never hid The danger of German invasion but he built up the strength and Will to fight on in the English.  

Larson  brings to life numerous interesting persons in Churchill’s war Cabinet, each with their own strong personality.  Unlike Hitler, Churchill did not surround himself with cowering sycophants but strong knowledgeable men not afraid to contradict him, though he for sure had the final word.

We also get to know his wife Clemintine Churchill, a lady one cannot but admire,his three daughters and their romantic interests, and his gambling spend thrift son Randolph and his long suffering wife Pamela.  All of this “humanized” Churchill.

Larson marvelously describes The Blitz attack by German bombers on London and other cities (September 7, 1940 to May 11, 1941).  Churchill would walk through damaged areas, met by cheering crowds. The Germans could not understand why England did not turn on Churchill and surrender. Larsen shows us Command apparatus of The RAF and The Luftwaffe.

Plus Churchill loves his cat Nelson, often sleeping with him.

One person in The Serious Non-Fiction group said this was a hagiographical biography.  This is simply incorrect. Larson details Churchill’s drinking, his hosting of dinners way in excess of ration regulations, his neglect of citizens of the Empire in Africa and Indian, his pampering of his children, his holding of meetings while in the bathtub.

ERIK LARSON is the author of five national bestsellers: Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm, which have collectively sold more than 9 million copies. His books have been published in nearly twenty countries.

My thanks to Alan u for providing me with the Amazon Gift Card which allowed me to read this book.

Mel Ulm

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Reading Life Review - January 2022

Row 1

  1. Zakiya Dalila Harris - USA - author The Other Black Girl - first appearance
  2. Barbara Pym - UK.  - featured numerous times

Row 2

  1. Erin Thursby - USA - author Florida Oranges: A Colorful History - First Appearance 
  2. Dee Brown - USA - author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. First Appearance

Row 3

  1. Caroline Elkins - USA - Pulitzer Prize Winner  - Author Imperial Reckoning : The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya.  First appearance.  I hope to read her forthcoming second book in April, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire
  2. Isabel Wilkerson. USA - Pulitzer Prize Winner - author of Caste: The Sources of Our Discontents and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.  All teachers of American history should be required to read these books.

Five of The January authors are Americans, one is from The UK.  Five are women.  Four appeared for The first time. Two are no longer living.

Two novels and four works of narrative non-fiction were featured 

Books read in January on which there is no post

  1. Genius and Death in a City of Dearms: Odessa by Charles King
  2. Wild Women and The Blues by Denny Bryce
  3. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Going Forward, I hope to continue Reading at about The same pace but I anticipate posting on fewer works.

Blog Stats

As of today The Reading Life has been viewed 6588239 times

There are currently 4037 posts online 

Home Counties of Visitors in January 

  1. USA
  2. India
  3. The Philippines 
  4. Canada
  5. Turkey
  6. Germany 
  7. The UK
  8. Japan 
  9. France

The top most viewed posts were all on short stories 

I offer my eternal thanks to Yujelyn Norte Ulm