The Fifth Column by Ernest Hemingway

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The Fifth Column is a play by American writer Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1938. The play tells the story of Philip Rawlings, an active, attentive warrior at night, though ostensibly a bystander with no connection to Spain. This play is the only one that Hemingway wrote in his whole life and has a strong autobiographical character. Rawlings, the hero, was based on Hemingway. The Fifth Column is a three-act play depicting the Republican government in Madrid besieged by Franco rebels during the Spanish Civil War. An American, Philip Rawlings, and a German, Max, sent by the Republican government security service to spy bravely on the rebels, capture an important prisoner, and then let him escape.

Many fifth column members were subsequently captured. Under severe torture, they confessed their accomplices, and three hundred others were arrested. Rawlings and his assistant Max eventually break up the rebel spy ring in Madrid’s fifth column. In time of peace, everyone’s life is equal, and no one can deprive another person of the right to live. But when the smoke of war is in the air, it is easy to form a disorderly ethical environment. Especially when the unjust party temporarily wins, they do not care about ethics at all, but enjoy the privileges brought by the victory of war and indulge their desires to do whatever they want.

The evil side of human nature is concentrated. Hemingway’s writing has a special style, that is, colloquialism. It is in these seemingly plain colloquialisms in his novels that the atmosphere of the story is profoundly delineated, as is also the case in The Fifth Column, where the story appears to be simple, but the ups and downs of the characters are clearly revealed in the spoken language. The play focuses on Philip’s love affair with Dorothy, the daughter of a middle-class American, who is vain and incompetent. In the end, Philip gave her up for his political convictions in favour of a grisly Moorish woman. From Dorothy’s characterization, it is clear that Hemingway has begun to use the rich but insatiable American female as a symbol of a hostile class in The Fifth Column.

-Coreen C.

True at First Light by Ernest Hemingway

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True at First Light: a novel written by Ernest Hemingway after a trip to Italy and his return from hunting in 1949. It reflects the author’s abhorrence of war, his concern for the future of mankind, and his reflections on the value of life, love, and death. The book’s title, taken from the dying words of Confederate General Thomas Jackson during the American Civil War, shows Hemingway’s tough-guy character — and that of himself — facing death. Although the novel is not his most famous work, it reflects the personal life of the writer incisively and vividly from one side, so that readers can have a comprehensive understanding of Hemingway.

Hemingway went on his second safari in 1953-1954 with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh. The couple, along with several locals who were working with them as their helpers, hunted a vicious lion. They also shot some gazelles, leopards, and sand hens on the way, which reflected the author’s pure and friendly sense of loyalty to the ignorant and loyal African indigenous people, Mary’s positive attitude towards learning shooting and training courage, and the happy atmosphere of their life together. Hemingway’s local girlfriend, Debba, is described in the book as “his fiancee” by Mary.

This girl was quite close to Hemingway, but she did not affect the relationship between the couple, showing a precious spirit of mutual consideration between people. An intricate counterpoint of alternating fiction and truth forms the heart of this memoir. In many passages, the author makes extensive use of this polyphonic tone, which will no doubt please any reader who enjoys this kind of music. True at First Light is a manuscript by Ernest Hemingway. The original was published in July 1999, just in time for the writer’s centenary.

What sets this book apart from many of his other novels is that it is an autobiographical novel written in the first person, so it feels intimate to read. It is a detailed and vivid account of the author’s second safari in Africa from 1953 to 1954 with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, and reflects Hemingway’s affection for the uncomplicated natives.The book is permeated with a cheerful atmosphere, and appreciating this work is like tasting a cup of fragrant coffee which makes people have a sense of clarity and cheerfulness. In a way, this book is not so much a novel as a colorful travelogue or memoir, and many of its passages are beautiful prose pieces that add to Hemingway’s many works.

-Coreen C.

Decision Points by George W. Bush

When finding out something new about a person, it is best to hear stories in their own words. In doing so, you can find out their own thought process for decisions they had to make and their reasoning behind what they did. I discovered this when reading Decision Points by President George W. Bush. This book dove deep into the thought process of the 43rd President of the United States and relayed his own account of the many crises that occurred during his two terms.

He organized the book into chapters relating to types of decisions he had to make versus writing the book chronologically. Some examples for chapter titles were Personnel and Campaigning decisions. It was a very good read and I suggest to everyone that they should check it out, regardless of your political tendencies or beliefs because regardless of party or platform every president has to make tough decisions to try to better the lives of American citizens so it is interesting to see President Bush’s own thoughts on the subject.

A few weeks ago I actually had the opportunity to go out to Dallas and participate in Camp 43 at the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the SMU campus.  Twenty-three students and I were given scenarios in which to make decisions under a time limit and understand the good and bad consequences of what we decided. The camp lasted three days and we heard from a variety of different speakers and participated in a variety of decision making scenarios. I had a great time and it was so fascinating to combine what I already know, what I read in Decision Points, and what I learned at camp to be able to make better decisions in my life and in my career later in life.

-Kyle H.

Decision Points by George W. Bush is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free using Overdrive

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Mountaineer Jon Krakauer had a long-lasting dream, ever since he was a little boy: to climb the world-famous Mount Everest.

Into Thin Air is, as Krakauer puts it, not exactly an autobiography but merely his own account of what really happened on the peak of Everest in the terrible tragedy in 1996.

Many people died on the expedition to Everest, like renowned guides such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. It appalled me to see the harsh conditions in which the climbers labored through, the various health conditions they had to endure, and just how difficult the fact of breathing was at such a high altitude.

I really enjoyed reading this book; usually autobiographies are not my favorite genre, but this one blew me away. Krakauer is very meticulous in detail, and he describes everything that happened on that mountain very specifically. I really appreciated that; I felt like I was there on the mountain with him and the other climbers, and knew exactly what he was experiencing.

The way he also described the feeling of being stranded and blinded in the middle of the snow storm on top of the world was superb. I mean, I was grabbing the book and frantically flipping through the pages, wanting to see if everyone made it out okay. They didn’t, to my horror.

In fact, in this book, I learned quite a lot of things that I had never known about mountaineering before, like these spikes on a climber’s boots known as crampons to help grip the ice, or how the climbers had to do acclimatization exercises before actually attempting to ascend the mountain.

Throughout the book, many brave climbers prevailed, and the cost of sacrifice and loss was sorrowful. Even though I had not known these people previously, I felt bad for their untimely fate. But many were brave and loyal enough to go back and and try to save their fellow climbers, and many that are alive today from the incident of 1996 thank those courageous climbers.

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone; this is one of my favorite reads! From action-packed to intense scenes, horrifying terrors to unthinkable grief, and courage and loyalty of many climbers on Everest in 1996, this book is truly excellent.

-Katharine L.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

Upon reading Mah’s Chinese Cinderella and its sequel, I recently was made aware of a precursor and her official autobiography.  Entitled Falling Leaves, the book follows the same plot line as her other two works.  However, what made it different was the voice Mah used as the story of her life progressed.

Little Adeline, originally Mǎ Yán Jūnlíng, was born into a high-class family in Tianjin, China.  Her mother, the light of her father’s life, died shortly after giving birth to Adeline.  This did not raise the youngest child’s status in the family.  From a young age, Adeline received nothing but resentment and mistreatment from her family, with the exception of her kind Aunt Baba.  Under the direction of the late mistress of the Yen household, Aunt Baba became Adeline’s surrogate mother.  But, Adeline was persistent to win her father’s attention, through and through, even to his deathbed.  She consistently was awarded medals and perfect report cards.  On few occasions, her father would notice, but with the addition of a new stepmother, Niang, Mr. Yen sent Adeline to boarding school.  Where, throughout the years she spent there, nobody paid her a single visit.

As Mah takes the reader throughout her painful life, she not only follows her own story, but retells her family’s (if they could ever be called that), so when the story concludes, all the pieces come together.  And, in Adeline’s case, quite heartbreakingly.

What Mah has written truly shows the willpower of human sufferance.  War-torn countries and refugees have stories worth sharing, inspiring the fortunate people of the free world.  However, within what may seem to be a noble Chinese household, the step-children, in particular the youngest girl, find a similar fates.  Though found the library’s adult section as it contains more mature content, I fully recommend Mah’s autobiography.

-Maya S.

The works of Adeline Yen Mah are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I think of poverty, I think of homelessness, starvation, sadness and hopelessness. I would never have thought that it could be adventurous and fun. But Jeannette Walls does not hold back and tells everything about poverty you never would have known.

In The Glass Castle, Walls tells the true story of her childhood. She grows up in the roughest parts of poverty with her two sisters, brother and parents. They constantly move all over the country. Which the kids think are adventures, but really, the parents are running from bills and responsibilities.

At first I was very skeptical of this book. My mom recommended it to me and sometimes when parents say you should read a book it can be super slow and super educational. I was worried the writing would make this interesting plot turn boring. But luckily, Walls is an amazing writer. She makes you feel like you are right there with them every time they leave in the middle of the night.

Normally when I love a book I read it as quickly as possible, but for this one I didn’t. I felt the need to soak in every situation. Sometimes, I had to put the book down and walk away before I began to read again because it got so intense. I highly recommend this book for anyone who understands funky families (which we all do) and it is definitely one of my favorites. And I hope the movie is just as good!

-Sophie W.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

It’s said that a mother is one of the most important people in a person’s life. To Maya Angelou, her mother, Vivian Baxter, was no exception. As Maya Angelou said about her mother, “You were a terrible mother of small children, but there has never been anyone greater than you as a mother of a young adult” (197).

Mom and Me and Mom follows Maya Angelou through her journey learning to trust and love herself and the people in her life. After being abandoned and sent to live with her grandmother until her early teenage years, Maya was astounded that she would have to live with her “movie-star” mother. Maya just could not get used to Vivian Baxter; she was so different than her grandmother. It would take years before Maya would call her mother Mom, frequently referring to her as Lady or Mother. Also, though Maya asked for advice from her mother, she took no charity and moved out to live on her own as soon as she was able.

But thanks to her mother’s guidance, Maya led an extraordinary life, raising her son and working so many unique and varying jobs that took her all over the world.

This novel was incredible! Maya Angelou is such an inspiration, with what she made of her life, despite some of the situations she was dealt. My favorite part of the book was how easy to read it was, even when dealing with tough topics. Maya Angelou told it as it was, with a level of grace that was amazing.

I heard about this autobiography through Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads. Emma Watson, in tandem with her work for UN Women, created Our Shared Shelf to promote feminism and equality. Their current recommended novel is The Handmaid’s Tale, which I can’t wait to read next!

– Leila S., 11th grade

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Book Review: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Farewell to Manzanar is Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s personal, non-fiction account of life inside the Japanese internment camps that the US government put in place during World War ΙΙ. Although many Americans acknowledge the injustice that was done to Japanese Americans during the period that they were relocated to camps along the western interior of the US, less Americans understand the full truth of what life was like inside these war relocation camps. In Farewell to Manzanar, Wakatsuki tells the story of her family’s time in Manzanar, their assigned camp, as well as detailing the repercussions that this experience had on her family.

One of the most interesting parts about Wakatsuki’s story is that she puts a great deal of focus on her life pre and post war. She does not talk only about her family’s incarceration, but also of their home before the turmoil of the war. She laces the chapters with memories from before her time in Manzanar. Wakatsuki also taps into the memories of her family in chapters where she is not the narrator. This story is not simply one about war; it also talks about a young girl growing up and discovering her interests in a place far from her home.

-Mirabella S.

 

Farewell to Manzanar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

 

Every Falling Star: the True Story of How I Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland

In utopian societies, life is perfect.  To young Sungju Lee, this was North Korea.  His father, an army general, was his greatest hero.  Someday, Sungju would fight in the North Korean army to beat the nasty Americans and cruel South Koreans.  In fact, when he was little, he and his father used to play a game with his father teaching young Sungju the ways of war.  North Korea would always win, for in Sungju’s mind, it was the best country in the world!  One of the strategies he used was a series of stones.  If a hideout was overtaken or deemed unsafe for the soldiers to return to, stones would be placed in front.  Little did Sungju know, this strategy would save his life.

One day, Sungju came home from school to find his parents packing up their things.  Sungju wondered if they were going to vacation to the ocean like he wanted.  But, instead they were going to the country.  Sungju then asked about where his dog would go while the Lees were on vacation.  His mother shamed him for asking, and Sungju felt bad.  He needed to be a good son so he could be in the regime and in the ranks of North Korea’s Eternal Leader, Kim II-sung.  As time passed and despite his complaints, Sungju would never return to Pyongyang.

Throughout the author’s heartbreaking story, I kept trying to push him forward.  I thought of the song “When You Believe” sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.  The lyrics speak of hope, and it was this hope which I was trying to infuse in Lee.  He endured many hardships at the tender age of 11 and suffered for five years before finally escaping the torment of his country.  Compared to other books highlighting political struggles and the impact on its citizens, this was one of the most compelling stories.  Unlike Chinese Cinderella, a deeply saddening story of a disowned little girl, everybody around Sungju loved him.  They were trying their hardest to make ends meet, but to say more would take away from Sungju’s story.

On a scale of 1 to10, Every Falling Star definitely deserves a 9 for its well-written passages and amazingly illustrated emotion.  Because Lee was not a native English speaker, when he came to the United States, he received help from Susan McClelland to lay out his story.  After finishing the book, I read an excerpt from him, saying that many of the characters’ (family members and brothers) names were changed because they were still living in North Korea.  This was done to protect them.  Please check out this book and be drawn into an intriguing story of overcoming life’s worst obstacles.

-Maya S.

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Book Review: The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass

frederick_douglass“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

When my AP Lang class was assigned to read The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, I thought it was going to be difficult to get through, but after only reading the first chapter, I was captivated by Douglass’ writing style.

As it was an autobiographical narrative, there wasn’t any plot, but in order to engage the reader as well as to demonstrate his impressive self-taught writing skills, Douglass uses deep rhetorical language to really get to the reader. He takes the horrific atrocities of slavery which he experienced and lays them all down in order for the reader to better understand this dark time in human history. The book is a fast read, and can easily be finished in a couple of days, at most.

“In a composite nation like ours, as before the law, there should be no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no white, no black, but common country, common citizenship, equal rights and a common destiny”

-Sara S., 11th grade