Category Archives: literature

The Ship of Souls: Salt to the Sea

“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

These simple words lie at the heart of Ruta Sepetys’ World War II masterpiece, Salt to the Sea. In it, she tells the story of the greatest maritime disaster in history: the wreck of the Wilhelm Gustloff. A Soviet submarine sank this German ocean liner on January 30, 1945. A staggering nine thousand people perished. (By comparison, the Titanic’s death toll was one thousand five hundred.) Because the Gustloff’s passengers were refugees from Nazi-occupied lands, their deaths went largely unreported and unmourned in the English-speaking world. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in history, yet Sepetys’ fictional account was the first I ever heard of this tragedy.

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Daughters of Fortune: WWII in Fiction

Written by Judith Pella, the four books which make up this series mark the starting point for much of my fascination with the 1940s. Following the stories of three very different American sisters, through their experiences Pella brilliantly brings to vivid life many of the divergent perspectives and events that occurred across continents throughout WWII.

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James Herriot: All Creatures Great And Small

I both love and dread reading British author James Herriot. I love him because I consider him to be one of the greatest writers of all time. And I dread reading him, because any story of his that features a dog or cat will make me cry. Since I usually listen to his books on audio with the rest of the family, this means a lot of discreet eye-wiping and some flat out bawling into my coloring book.

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The Maze Runner: Leaders Three

For the uninformed, The Maze Runner is a dystopian film about a community of boys trapped in a Glade located in the middle of a Maze where the walls change their configuration during the night. In the night, evil creatures called Grievers hunt in the Maze, and woe be to any Glader caught outside the Glade when the doors close at sunset.

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The Power of Words in Matched

 I’ve read a lot of dystopias; I enjoy reading the authors’ “what if” speculations, and I value the repeated reminder of the power of the individual, the value of the individual. Maybe it helps to empower me? Or value others? The Giver was my first and favorite dystopia. I’ll always treasure the story’s value to not only me as a person but also as a reader. However, Matched by Allie Condie took a perspective on dystopias I hadn’t yet seen in other similar books: It harped on the importance of history, poetry, and just plain old words. Condie used Cassia’s character to remind me of the value of written words by personifying books and using Cassia to show someone starved of the written word.

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Circus, But No Bread: The World of Panem in The Hunger Games

In 1516, Thomas More published Utopia, and the world learned a new word to describe a perfect society. Of course, the converse also had to emerge, so audiences have also enjoyed fictional accounts of when a society becomes the worst version of itself: the dystopia. This narrative is fertile ground for examining many themes. One recent popular and successful example is The Hunger Games trilogy. The world of Panem in The Hunger Games offers a profound commentary on the culture we live in as all good dystopian stories do because of the ways it bears a resemblance to our reality.

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Dystopian, But Not Depressing: Fahrenheit 451

I don’t care much for dystopian fiction. The intentional bleakness, the pervasive misery, the general feeling of “mankind screwed everything up and now the world is a sucking, swirling eddy of despair punctuated only by brief flashes of false hope” —none of that appeals to me. And yet, I love Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 dearly. 

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The Strange Affair of Fairy-Kind

Every morning I bet you wake up and think, “Today I will contemplate the Napoleonic Wars and the many ways they could have been won or lost.” Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. Even I, a History Major, admit I never gave old Bonaparte more than a passing glance when I was poring over history books. So I wouldn’t blame you if you retorted, “Heck, I’ve never given over three seconds thought to the old dude” and move on with your day.

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The Giver: The Value of Memories

The Giver will forever (at least, foreseeably) be my favorite dystopian novel. It was the novel that caused my 11-12-year-old self fall in love with reading. The power of the individual to take down an entire society led by adults appealed to my rebellious spirit. It was relatable to me that adults would rob youths of their freedoms under the guise of protecting them (I felt so oppressed… looking back, I have no idea why!). In this book, these adults do it to other adults and even themselves, so ignorant to what they are actually doing, and the author masterfully presents the problematic nature of this “protection.” Through this perceived protection, there is a clear clash of the themes of taking and giving.

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