Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel is a terrifying story of the Holocaust during World War 2. Elie was born in Sighet, Transylvania. He lived a normal age until the day that he and his family were taken to a concentration camp formerly called Auschwitz. There he is separated from his mother and sisters. He is told to lie about his age and job in order to survive.

After he tells a guard about his age, he is led away with his father. Some days after, they are taken to Buna, a work camp. They work long hours and are very malnourished. Due to the harsh conditions, the Jews must look after one another. This behavior doesn’t last long, and soon all the Jews care about is that they survive. This pushes many of them to commit horrific crimes for extra rations of bread. They quickly lose faith in God and no longer pray. This brings on a worse despair. After some months of labor, the prisoners are soon to be liberated by the Russians. Because of this, the Germans decide to move the prisoners. They are forced to march through a snowstorm to another concentration camp called Gleiwitz. Once at Gleiwitz, they are crammed into cattle cars. All 100 prisoners that hadn’t died were tightly packed against one another. Most cannot take anymore pain and die on the train. Once the train stops at Buchenwald, only 12 prisoners get off of the train. Soon after arriving, Elie’s father dies of dysentery on April 11, 1945. After experiencing so much, this breaks Elie and he is transformed into only a skeleton of a man.

-E. Vargas

Night by Elie Wiesel is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

Gee, Caesar, What Should We Do About the Barbarians?

The love-hate relationship (one-sided) between Rome and the Germanic “barbarians” is very complicated yet very interesting. There are so many stories about Rome’s ransack of Germanic homelands and the heroic uprisings from the barbarians who almost took over the hub of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, while the Germanic people wreak havoc in the city, surviving Romans gathered at the hill and was able to protect themselves with cunning deceits and its disciplined military, thus originated the meme — “when you bribe a barbarian tribe you bribe to get rid of a barbarian tribe you bribe to get rid of a barbarian tribe you bribe…(you know that this is going to go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r….or…maybe not)”. And this is how the Romans annexed the barbarian lands into their own provinces.

Over the time period 753 BCE to 476 CE, Rome’s relationships with foreign peoples reversed chronologically from a dominant power an unstable and declining empire. Rome’s change in power is directly relevant to its political shifts, which closely resembles that of a roller coaster — first it went upward. The escalation towards the peaks precedes the rapid downward gradient until it crashes to the ground. The early conquering of Germanic states was gory and violent, it laid foundation of enmity in the hearts of the barbarians. It raises up from the rules of the seven kings to a republic, around 500 BCE as Rome’s early expansion.

Then in 27 BCE, the establishment of the Roman Empire made way for a golden era of peace and prosperity, and that is when the roller coaster reached its peak. Rome’s superior power has become insuppressible, and the Roman Empire has had enough of bloodshed as well as warfare. As a turning point, Rome changed their approach to its conquered peoples, granting them Roman citizenships instead of treating them as war slave. In return, the subordinate provinces were willing to fight for Rome and acknowledged the Empire’s dominance and superiority (whether forcibly or voluntarily). Nevertheless, they fear Rome.

However, Rome entered its downfall in 5th century CE. The riders and citizens of Rome alike are screaming with shock and agitation against this quick turn of events. Along the downward slope, emperors came and died and was replaced by another, whether they were barbarians or natives, they could not survive the curse of the Third Century Crisis.

But who knew that a even greater danger was coming towards Rome amidst of this chaotic era?

The entrance of Attila the HUN, famous for his nosebleed, changed the relationship between the century-old nemeses. When previously, the two groups fought each other with contempt for their ill-treatments to each other “vanished” under Attila’s banners. The once glorious Roman Empire “bowed down” to the Germanic people and “humbly” asked for alliances to defeat the horrifying monster-from-the-east.  The Visigoths consented to Emperor Valentinian’s wish. The consent signified the decline of Rome’s military power, as it was insufficient to defend itself from the Huns.

Funny thing is, Emperor Valentinian’s sister Honoria once wrote a letter to Attila for help, as she expressed her love for Attila and her desire to escape from Rome. In return, she would give half of western Europe as her dowry. This scheme was uncovered by Emperor Valentinian, but it showed that Rome was not a unified state any longer, its internal instability helped the to ensure its faltering authority.

Eventually, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths few years after their “alliance”. The once omnipotent empire collapsed at the hand of its Germanic enemies.

-Kate L.

Film Review: Gladiator — When Rome Comes Back to Light

“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.” ― Marcus Aurelius

What was Rome like? Based on all the historical texts and books we read, and the movies and videos that we watched — extravagant and grandiose couldn’t be more pertinent here. In the magnificent villas surrounded by luxurious furnishings, rich men and women in crimson, indigo, and saffron yellow silk tunics were served with cornucopia and exotic dishes. Servants and singers chanted carmens and played tibias along with Roman poetry written by Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. A Roman bath at the end of the day and away from partying lives would be more than one could ask for…

Maximus Decimus Meridus made Rome’s march to victory against the barbarians possible.  He brought prosperity and glory to Rome and the Empire. Yet, the greatest General of the Roman Empire had not even set foot in this Xanadu once in his life. He was out on the battlefields when Commodus, the son of the Emperor, hid in the carriage. It was not because of Maximus’ bravery and excellence in war that earned him the trust of the man in purple, but it was his heart for the people that ‘persuaded” the emperor to give him Rome.

He declined. All he ever wanted was to return to his family. He turned his back from this beautiful city, the fruit of his accomplishment.

But…it was too late…

Fate seemed to detest a hero who did not follow the conventional path. No one would have thought Maximus would eventually enter the gates of Rome invited by vengeance. Sold as a slave who is “a father to a murdered son and a husband to a murdered wife, Maximus became a gladiator. Driven by intense grief and the desire for revenge, he fought his way to most grandeur fighting pit in all of history only to discover the truth about himself and Rome.

The reality was antithetical. Under the facade and the rule of a tyrant, daily lives of the people were casted over with a shadow of suffering and fear.  It is till then that Maximus understood why Marcus Aurelius trusted him instead of his very own son. The emperor’s words of responsibility, “To give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. ”

The story of Maximus’ return of power to Rome is intertwined with trust and betrayal, hope and despair, as well as love and camaraderie. Rome is the light of the world, but it can be dimmed if misruled. Is Maximus truly the one to bring back and turn on this light?

The ending is very sentimental (not going to spoil anything, just my personal feeling). But Maximus Decimus Meridus will be forever known by time as the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who defied an emperor.

There was a dream that was Rome. It was light.

-Kate L.

The film Gladiator is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Captain’s Dog by Roland Smith

Image result for the captain's dog cover imageIf you’re looking for a heartfelt tail of bravery and affection, The Captain’s Dog is the book for you. The many chapters are told from the perspective of Captain Meriwether Lewis’ dog, Seaman. Because of this, you’ll hear about antics that will make you smile, adventures that will leave you on the edge of your seat, and tales that will bring you back in time.

The plot almost exactly follows the events of the expedition, giving you historical content as well. The author describes events and adventures in depth, making you feel like you’re there with the expedition crew. From deserting members to a deadly mountain crossing, no detail is left out.

As you read through the book, you learn of Seaman’s abused puppyhood and the savior he found in Captain Lewis. Seaman proves to be a valuable asset to the team, warning of bears and cheering up saddened trekkers.

All in all, I loved the whole book, down to the last word of the epilogue. I hope I’ve interested you in this work of art. Even cat people will fall in love with the charming and lovable Seaman. I hope you will find time to read this great book.

-Joshua M. 6th Grade

The Captain’s Dog by Roland Smith is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Inspired by Marvel’s Thor franchise as well as the upcoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Gaiman’s book really took hold of my interest, as I could not help but pick it up.  In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman re-paints the pictures of ancient Norse mythos to the modern eye, while still keeping true to its roots.  It begins with the legend of creation of the nine worlds, or realms, as also described in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There are dwarves and giants, gods and goddesses, and a small section about the mortals living on Earth.  Two topics most compared were, however, the god of thunder and the god of trickery.

Thor and Loki are considered brothers, despite their first introductions: Thor was the son of Odin, and Loki was the son of giants.  There were no definitions of the type of these giants, so the MCU may have created their own story to describe Loki’s past.  Moving past their beginnings, Gaiman takes the reader through an abbreviated retelling of the gods of Asgard and their troubles, especially with Loki.  However, the author kept true to the end, rather called Ragnarok, as the myth goes.

Norse Mythology was quite telling and insightful, as I was able to experience epiphanies, as holes in the myths were filled.  Also an author of comics, intelligent children’s books, and intricate novels of the history of divinity, Neil Gaiman definitely made these myths into a worthwhile story.  Fans of newly-popularized Game of Thrones, as well as the age-old Lord of the Rings, will definitely enjoy this light read for its crossover themes.  Five stars for Gaiman’s Norse Mythology!

Maya S.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

The History of Thanksgiving

Turkey, breaded stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, and apple cider? Sound familiar? You got it.

The meal of Thanksgiving is a hearty one, shared with friends and family. You know the star of the meal, the turkey, but have you ever wondered how the first ever Thanksgiving was celebrated? It was nothing like the one we have today, that’s for sure.

You’ve probably heard of the Pilgrims, traveling across treacherous oceans on the famous Mayflower to reach Plymouth, escaping from religious persecution. It all started in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

First off, turkey wasn’t the bird of choice for the first Thanksgiving meal. It is suspected by researchers that duck, geese, swans, or a now extinct bird named passenger pigeons would be the main wild bird of choice. It is possible that the birds were stuffed, though probably not with bread. The Pilgrims instead stuffed birds with chunks of onion and herbs.

In addition to wild birds and deer, the colonists and Wampanoag probably ate eels and shellfish, such as lobster, clams and mussels. They had a well-balanced diet, with chestnuts, walnuts, and beechnuts. They also grew beans, pumpkins, and squashes. All this, naturally, begs a follow-up question. So how did the Thanksgiving menu evolve into what it is today?

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, was a leading voice in establishing Thanksgiving as an annual event. She is also famous as the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Beginning in 1827, Hale petitioned 13 presidents to make it a national holiday. Finally, she pitched her idea to President Lincoln as a way to unite the country in the midst of the Civil War. In 1863, he made Thanksgiving a national holiday, a day to give thanks.

Throughout her campaign, Hale printed Thanksgiving recipes and menus in Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also published close to a dozen cookbooks. Hale is readying women to accept the idea of Thanksgiving, and instructing them what to cook. And the Thanksgiving food that we think of today — including roast turkey, creamed onions, mashed turnips, even some of the mashed potato dishes? You can find them in her cookbook.

-Katharine L.

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.