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This paper presents my personal responses to the books: Outwitting the Gestapo, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, and Soul on Ice.

Outwitting the Gestapo byLucie Aubrac

Outwitting the Gestapo is Lucie Aubrac’s memoir that details what she had experienced as a French Resistance fighter in Lyon city during the Second World War. Lucie, together with her husband, Raymond Aubrac, who was a resistant leader, and other rebels were deeply involved in the routine resistance activities during the war, which entailed stealing guns, blowing up roads, finding homes and new identities for fugitives, publishing and distributing underground newspapers, as well as forging permits (Aubrac, 1994). Lucie’s great involvement in the resistance activities is evident in her daring rescue of Raymond from Gestapo’s clutches while being heavily pregnant, as well as in the numerous meetings she was leading with Klaus Barbie, under the false pretense (Aubrac, 1994).

Apart from Lucie’s determination and humble heroism illustrated by the above accounts, this story is made unique due to her irrepressible resourcefulness and energy, and the graceful manner in which she interlinks her separate and parallel lives. For instance, being an underground associate of the Resistance, Lucie could not reveal her exact identity even to her colleagues that she had trusted the most; something that compelled her to switch her names and identities (Aubrac, 1994). As a committed schoolteacher, Lucie applied history lessons to present events. Lucie’s struggle to balance between a mother, wife, patriot, etc.-  not only makes the story compelling, but also offers the balance to the readers’ understanding of the entire effects of the Second World War (Aubrac, 1994).

Besides, Lucie helped in setting her husband free from prison three times. Raymond’s final imprisonment was, however, very tormenting; he was trapped, seized, tortured and given a death sentence by Barbie himself. Lucie was greatly affected by the turn of events, but despite her anguish and pregnancy, she was able to trick the captors of her husband in meetings under false identities and mastermind Raymond’s terrifying rescue. In the collaboration with her colleagues in the resistance, Lucie devised a plan involving having almost an everyday contact with Barbie. She attempted to persuade Barbie singlehandedly to permit her to communicate with Raymond, making him believe that she needed to marry Raymond so as to be able to give her child his last name (Aubrac, 1994). Always changing domains and names, the members of the resistance lived constantly in fear of getting caught, but this did not get in the way of their missions. Their unwavering steadfastness and focus to achieve their goals is an illustration of true heroism. In addition, their devotion to one another, in my opinion, is what the true friendship being all about. Lucie’s escape to London by airlift, where she gave birth to her second born daughter, Catherine, is both tremendously exciting and breathtaking; it leaves the readers with the craving for more of such events (Aubrac, 1994). This memoir is indeed a vivid portrait of Lucie’s determination, bravery, devotion, as well as her love to her husband Raymond and France, which gives the readers a profound feeling of satisfaction.

The personable and poetic style in which the account was written is also extremely outstanding. Notwithstanding every struggle and problems that Lucie’s family and friends are going through, there is still a profound romanticism from her, which is not only a display of the honest passion to France and ordinary people, but also the concept of free will and liberty. A woman’s perspective during the French Resistance is incredibly gratifying. This is demonstrated by Lucie’s maternal and feminist aspects, with the former as being demonstrated by her pregnancy during the nine months covered by the book (Aubrac, 1994).

Even though this book many not be the usual piece to read in the celebration of the Mother’s Day, it very well incorporates the resourcefulness, courage and inconceivable love of every mother, refined by the everyday danger, to the deepest glow. I am certain that Lucie’s husband, children and colleagues are nothing but proud and impressed by her fortitude and courage that had enabled her to outwit Kalus Barbe. Not once, but three times did she organize the escape of her husband, alongside other Resistance leaders from prison (Aubrac, 1994).

Despite the numerous strengths of the book, it is not without its fair share of flaws. It is worth noting that the various plans that the author devised in an attempt to rescue her husband such as meeting with Kalus Barbe under false identity almost on a daily basis, were very risky. Until the end of the book, Lucie seems to be less concerned about being caught and that left me asking how she managed to remain calm and focused on her goal amidst the challenges she was going through.  Another thing that did not convince me is the way Lucie was capable of arranging for the buying of silencers from Switzerland, how she took a trip to Switzerland to bring the silencers, and afterwards, recross the border on the same day without raising suspicions (Aubrac, 1994). In general, this book is very challenging and interesting, and I highly recommend it to anyone with the interest in reading about the women’s bravery.

How We Survived Communism and even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic

This book is a collection of essays regarding the experiences, lives and sufferings of Drakulic, alongside other women under communism and immediately following its end in Eastern Europe (Drakulic, 1993). Drakulic, who was a Croatian author and journalist, did a remarkable job in presenting the deep domestic glimpses onto the Eastern European women’s lives, together with her individual experiences that are present in every essay. Even though the book had been written 20 years ago, it is still very informative and alive. Eastern Europe was under the rule of communist regimes for decades, especially by the Soviets and Tito. During that period, communism reformed the way of thinking of many Eastern Europeans. It robbed their hope of expecting things to get better in their lives, the will to oppose the dictatorial power, as well as the knowledge of better material situations within the Western world (Drakulic, 1993). One theme that is evident all over the book is the fact that communism was not just a political system, but a state of mind that had outlasted the regimes.

The place of women has been consistently marginalized in Eastern Europe, as well as in other parts of the world, and, therefore, this book is highly significant because it brings to light the experiences and perspectives of women from Eastern Europe. Another thing that makes this piece worth reading is the fact that it brings out the dissimilarities between Eastern Europe and the West. Being from the United States, it is not possible for me to envision and comprehend what these women had gone through, and how they coped with such experiences (Drakulic, 1993). This book, thus, increases my knowledge and understanding of what the Eastern European women had gone through while being under communism.

Drakulic’s book is a heartbreaking portrait of the individual resistance to the adversities during the communist era. It is very informative and eye-opening, and makes the readers question the communist era and the notion of feminism. The author narrates these personal tales both with empathy and humor, making the book interesting to read. As opposed to several feminist books which target only women, this piece is actually readable by both genders that, in my opinion, is because of its accurate details, which make every story in this novel so real.

One of the essays that was of interest to me was On Doing Laundry because it reflects just how this most ordinary chore has remained unchanged over the years, through the shift from communism to the democratic government. With the whole chapters on ordinary things such as laundry, Drakulic has been able to underscore the realism of the daily life in nations like Croatia and Yugoslavia. Another essay Make up and Other Questions also deals with the daily life details (Drakulic, 1993). It talks about cosmetics and fashion, their significance and shortage in communist countries, and the desperate lengths that the Eastern European women had to go to access clothes or cosmetics, or things that would make them have the feminism feeling in the society where feminism had been disregarded. This not only indicates the hardships that women in Eastern Europe had been going through under communism, but also the origin of feminism.

My major criticism of the book concerns the initial part of the book that talks about make-up, laundry, tampons etc. It is worth noting that these issues are important, but, in my opinion, the author talks more about them at the expense of life under communism, which should be her main focus. In addition, while the reading the book, I noticed that some words were missing and she also used certain words repeatedly. As noted from the title of the book, How We Survived Communism and even Laughed, one would expect the author to talk about how the women who lived under communism rose above their circumstances and lived a better life that is relatively filled with some laughter. However, the whole novel has an overtone of depression, hardship and misery, and there is nothing to laugh about. Thus, I feel betrayed by the book’s title.

In general, I must confess that this book has enriched my knowledge with regards to the history of Eastern Europe; there are a lot of things that I did not know prior to reading this piece. I am certain that a lot of other people are unaware of many things that happened in Eastern Europe due to the attitudes that the Western people have towards it. Accordingly, this book can be a great piece of reading for the people with interest in the history and culture of women from Eastern Europe, as well as the contemporary history of human rights and feminism.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver

Through Soul on Ice, Cleaver captures the experiences of the blacks within the ghetto prison and the American society, at large. This book comprises of both letters and the collection of essays written by Cleaver, while he had been in prison, where he gave a description of his conversion from a marijuana dealer and serial rapist into a believer and supporter of Malcolm X, as well as his relationships with the American politics (Cleaver, 1992). Throughout the book, Cleaver establishes the idea that the united black community was required to determine the destiny of blacks, which depended exclusively on the Black Power.

In the earlier chapters of the book, Cleaver expresses his hatred, outrage and disgust to white people and the white society, in the whole (Cleaver, 1992). Even though he admits to being infatuated by white women as evident by the freedom he feels when he places his arms around them, I fail to understand why he admits to hating them at the same time. I find it both shocking and horrible to admit to being a serial rapist of both white and black women and then passing it off as a revolutionary act. In my opinion, Cleaver’s justification for raping women was not honorable; and if his intention was to make somebody know his discontent with racism and oppression against blacks, then this idea was the worst one. He could have found other ways to fight racism than raping. In my opinion, Cleaver had the desire to change the society where he was living, but he had no idea how to make it happen, and that is why he felt that by trampling and defying the laws of the white men, he would achieve his goal. Raping women as a revolutionary method of bringing the change in the American society was the craziest idea ever. I think the hatred and anger that he felt towards the white race clouded his judgment to the extent that he could not think straightly.

The only way to bring any change was to establish an identity for black people by blacks all over the globe coming together as one to form the Black Power to fight for the rights of blacks. That is why, later in the novel, we see Cleaver realizing he was not the only black person suffering, but that millions of other blacks around the world were oppressed, despised and discriminated against by whites (Cleaver, 1992). With the time, Cleaver’s hatred for the white race had changed as he embraced the ideologies of the likes of Malcolm X, which saw him grow to be the part of the black revolution that was established upon self-determination.

The Vietnamese issue, which saw black soldiers being butchered for the sake of liberty of another race, cannot be left unmentioned. The government of the United States sent blacks to Vietnam to kill peasants that liked them, and they were fighting for their self-determination. This was interpreted by Cleaver as a trick by the white society to squash the black revolution, and that is why, he concluded that freedom and change had to take place instantly to enable black brothers and sisters around the world to gain the organizational communication and unity (Cleaver, 1992). The racial discrimination still exists in some societies to date, and, in my opinion, Cleaver’s call for blacks all over the world to come together as brothers and sisters may be the only way to fight for their rights. Though a bit harsh to the white community, this book is compelling and insightful with regards to the black experiences in the 1960s; and I would not hesitate to recommend it to those having any interest in the American history.

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