The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

img_7212Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Date Read: December 17 to 20, 2020

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I picked up this book as a new addition to my states collection a few years ago, when a friend and I took a trip down to Louisville for a few days. While we spent most of the trip enjoying beverages and tacos on patios, we did a fair share of neighborhood exploring as well. Carmichael’s Bookstore was only a couple miles from where we were staying, so we set out to patio hop our way to and from the store one afternoon. I was unsure of what book I might choose to represent Kentucky in my collection, but Carmichael’s made it easy: this book set in Kentucky and by a Kentucky-based author was a new publication, as well as being on the staff recommendations list.

This unique historical fiction is a book for people who love books. It combines two aspects of history that I previously knew little about: the Depression era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Service and the historic blue-skinned people of Kentucky. The latter, actually, I had not heard of before seeing this book. The book follows Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and the last in the line of a blue-skinned family. She loves reading, and is passionate about her job of sharing books with the hill people of Kentucky. She travels a weekly route exchanging books for her patrons. She connects to each of them through a mutual appreciation of the books, always keeping an eye out for new materials to suit each of them from the library’s extremely limited catalogue.

Initially, I thought that blue-skinned was an exaggeration—perhaps referring to people who were abnormally pale or sickly appearing. However, as I was reading it became clear very quickly that it truly meant blue. I did some mini-research, which led me to the real family that Cussy Mary’s was based on. The “Blue Fugates” lived in Kentucky from the early 1800s until as recently as the 1970s. I do not want to give too much away, but will say that it is a fascinating example of recessive genetic traits. The book does delve into the details of this eventually, as Cussy Mary works with a local doctor who is intrigued by her condition.

This turned out to be much more than I was expecting, with an ending that I did not see coming. Cussy Mary spends most of her life surrounded by tragedy: poverty, hunger, discrimination. Despite being pushed to the fringe of society by her classification as “colored,” she persists in a dedication to her patrons through both her books and her attempts to bring a little ease to their lives. There are a few dramatic turns toward the end of the novel, which are taken in stride, and appear to be heading toward a fairly clean and mostly happy ending for Cussy Mary—but it did not turn out exactly as I had anticipated or hoped. I do not want to say that I was dissatisfied with the ending, as it was quite fitting given the context of the story.

Boris’s Thoughts: “I suppose that book for book people means a book for book cats. 4 paws.”

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

img_3982Book: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Date Read: April 8 to 16, 2020

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I have seen this book all over Bookstagram for the last few months, so when I saw it in a small bookshop I decided that I needed to give it a try. I feel like this is a little outside my normal reading realm, as I am not usually a historical fiction reader. (I know this is based on a true story, but as it is not purported to be a fully accurate factual account of events, I think it should still be considered a work of fiction.) I wish I could give a good reason for my tendency to steer away from historical fiction, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. I suppose this genre just does not seem to jump out to me in the same way that others do.

That all said, I quickly found myself totally engrossed in this story. The cover declares it to be a story of “love and survival,” although I feel like those two descriptors should be reversed. No doubt this is a love story that will satisfy any romantics out there, but I personally found the survival aspects of the more intriguing. Both Lale and Gita must fight for their survival, constantly walking the line of making life bearable and endangering themselves and others.

An interesting aspect of the story is the fear associated with their positions—Lale as the Tätowierer and Gita simply as a person put to work. Despite their treatment as prisoners, they are at risk for being labeled as conspirators against their own people. Lale is reluctant to become the Tätowierer, but rationalizes this with his own survival, and the thought that he can at least try to treat new prisoners humanely as he does his work. It is an interesting perspective on difficult choices: is it realistic to think that they would refuse to work when the other option is death? Although not quite overtly stated, the guilt associated with his assigned work is the driving force in his dangerous efforts to help others in the camp.

I suppose I would be remiss to completely disregard the love story aspect of the novel, since I imagine that is what held the appeal for many readers. Of course, I cannot blame them—it is beautiful as a love story as well. While I always give an internal eye roll at the “love at first sight” trope, this definitely goes beyond that in its depth. Lale and Gita find themselves in a harrowing time and situation, forcing their relationship to develop in a nontraditional manner. There are countless obstacles at hand to separate them, and so much uncertainty in their lives that this bit of happiness seemed a saving grace for them both. The relationship was certainly against the odds—both in surviving the camps, and then locating each other afterwards when they were forced to flee independently.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Hmmm. This is different. I like it! 3 paws.”