Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

Book Notes

The book came along with The Ghost Map as a recommendation from Dave Pell on The Next Draft, a newsletter I strongly recommend. I've enjoyed all of Dave's recommendations, this is no exception.

The book, from 2007 so I'm quite late to reading it, follows Clarissa Iverton, whose father has just died, on her journey to find her biological father. Said journey started after Clarissa discovers the man who just died, Richard, is not actually her father as she was led to believe her entire life. When she finds out her fiancé knew that Richard wasn't her father, Clarissa table flips her life and does a runner, just as her mother had done fourteen years before.

I enjoyed the realism of Clarissa's actions, I know of few people who haven't wanted to walk away from everything during incredibly stressful times, even as the serendipity of the plot was a bit too neat. The book reads like a verbal montage of the let-me-track-down-my-dad adventure, which is an interesting writing style that works very well.

I enjoyed the book. It's a fast read, even if the subject isn't light.

Recently, everything around me felt familiar yet amiss, like the first time you ride in the back seat of your own car.
Location: 210

The cold on my ears was sudden and burning. I pulled up the hood of my parka. It was, like all hats and hoods, too big for my small head. I had no peripheral vision.
Location: 431

Two young women without coats ran out of a parked car and into a bar. Their arms were crossed over their chests, at nipple line.
Location: 438

The Ghost Map

Book Notes

This book was recommended by Dave Pell at The Next Draft. I have yet to read a Pell recommendation that wasn't fantastic, including this book, which tells of the London Cholera outbreak of the 1840s and 1850s, along with the scientific investigation by John Snow (who, in this case, does know something), and Henry Whitehead.

I enjoyed this book and, given the current pandemic, strongly recommend it. In it, we learn about the cholera epidemic, about just how grateful we should be for and how amazing is indoor plumbing with modern sewer systems that take human excrement away from us for processing (household cesspools and cellars with foot deep shit in them were the norm back in Victorian England and wow, ugh, no thank you). We learn about how short of a time we have had the germ theory of illness (hello, 1850s), and how our biases adversely affect our thinking when confronted with overwhelming evidence our beliefs are inaccurate (hello incredible denyings, ignorings, and twisting of facts to fit our views). We learn about inadvertent consequences of mundane actions (hello tea as the culturally predominant drink, which incidentally boils water and kills bacteria that cause illnesses, there by reducing infection rates). And we learn about how knowing community means more than power when fixing said communities.

I did so much enjoy this book. It is a quick read. The conclusion and epilogue seemed out of place, like a story continuing after the denouement, but are still interesting - read them as two separate essays included after the cholera tale told.

For the record, the way to survive cholera is lots of clean water, don't over do it, boil the crap out of it first.

The Volunteer

Book Notes

Recommended by Dave Pell of Next Draft, I picked up this book from the library quickly, to my surprise as it is a new release. Less than half way through, I bought a hardback copy for myself, and a digital copy that I promptly gave away. This book is worth reading, I will buy you a copy, too.

This is the story of Witold Pilecki who, despite the name of the book, was "volunteered" (read: politically blackmailed) to go to Auschwitz to collect evidence of the German actions in the camp. The prison had not yet become the death camps it evolved into, but it was still a place of horror when Pilecki went in. That he survived as long as he did, and also managed to escape to tell his story, is an incredible story worth hearing, listening to, reading.

Sad is the fact that Auschwitz is glossed over in many history books, if only because it comes at the end of a school year, mixed in with the short telling of World War 2. Sad is the fact that people deny it happened, or worse, claim that the Jewish people are complicit in their own destruction (yes, read the Amazon reviews, and see how polarizing the book is, and how many people claim Auschwitz didn't happen, wasn't "that bad," or was "their fault," it is horrifying).

Actually, "sad" doesn't begin to convey the depth of pain for these things. We fall into horrors one small step at a time. We become used to one action, and the next doesn't seem that bad. We adapt, oh so tragically, we adapt. “Witnessing the killing of healthy people by gas makes a strong impact only when you first see it,” he observed.

And yet, one can see in the telling of Pilecki's story that there will be those seemingly normal people who say, "No." No, this is not acceptable. No, this is not who we are. No, this is not who I choose to be. No, I will fight this, quietly or loudly, discretely or overtly, I will resist this.