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October 08 - November 08 Book Reviews

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  Album of the Damned: Snapshots from the Third Reich by Paul Garson (Academy Chicago Publishers, $50). This haunting book of photographs taken of German civilians and soldiers at work and play during the era of the Third Reich is both shocking and numbing, showing the “normalcy” of living under such an evil regime: Common people can commit horrible crimes against humanity by blindly accepting labeling of others as legitimacy for committing crimes. Many of the photographs in this book came from family albums, most shot by amateurs or professional photographers embedded with the German troops and some offered for sale by Soviets after the war. This book documents a lesson we must not forget.—P.B.

    Things That Pass for Love by Allison Amend. (OV Books, $16.95). There’s nothing better than curling up with a great story collection, one where the author’s voice makes you feel like you’ve been granted a guilt-free window into someone else’s life. In Things That Pass for Love, Allison Amend does one better—she captures the voices of several characters so well that they come alive in all their varied compelling, disturbing, humorous and poignant ways. The collection kicks off with the story of a new teacher attempting to adjust to a live-in fiancé, disrespectful students and recurring, “News of the Weird,” worthy traumas that the rest of the staff and the kids are inured to. From there, Amend spins tales of a lesbian biology Ph.D. candidate whose lab experiments with mice have troubling consequences, a married executive with grandchildren who attempts to bond with the pre-school aged, biracial child he fathered during a mid-life crisis, a lonely, young trucker’s wife whose brother comes to visit with a girlfriend he doesn’t love, one of Cleveland’s most eligible bachelors revisiting the life he left behind in D.C. as he prepares to attend his ex-girlfriend’s funeral, a disabled war veteran who cruises garage sales at the government’s behest seeking to infiltrate religious cults and a professional book-club facilitator and erotica writer whose potential suitor appears more interested in her dog than in her. What makes Amend’s stories succeed is her ability to put herself in each narrator’s shoes and treat them with respect, looking at their hopes, fears, dreams and struggles toward acceptance of change, which invites us as readers to gently examine our own self-awareness while being immensely entertained by surprises that grow naturally from the all-too-human voices she creates.—Julia Borcherts

   The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield. (Bantam, $28). According to Benjamin Franklin, “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” With this book as a guide, greater wisdom can come into our lives sooner. Kornfield is the author of numerous best-selling books on meditation and Buddhist psychology as it relates to the Western world. Here he shares stories and practices that he has learned over a lifetime including 26 principles of Buddhist psychology and covers topics from understanding the self and using mindfulness as medicine to transforming suffering into abundance, letting go and awakening the heart through forgiveness.  If you are looking to live a life that is filled with freedom, joy and increased spirituality, this book provides plenty of stepping stones to create your own path to a happier and healthier life.—Kathleen A. Welton

   Freeing Tammy: Women, Drugs and Incarceration by Jody Raphael. (Northeastern University Press, $24.95). Conventional wisdom, at least in feminist circles, holds that “the personal is political.” But far too often, the personal serves as mass-market entertainment of the reality TV variety, but our storytellers often do not connect the dots linking the individual suffering to the public policies that represent, sometimes damningly, our will as a people. If it is true that we live in a culture that embraces stories devoid of political challenge, then Freeing Tammy, written by DePaul University scholar Jody Raphael, is truly counter-cultural. The story of Tammy Johnson, a formerly incarcerated woman who now works as a job development trainer for a drug treatment program in suburban Chicago, chronicles the detrimental effects of imprisonment on an already abused woman. Tammy, now in her 50s, was raised in a middle-class family, leaving home early because she felt she could not live up to familial expectations. After enduring abuse and turning to drugs and then non-violent crime, she was convicted of drug dealing and sentenced to prison. This book, the third in Raphael’s trilogy about Chicago women, chronicles Tammy’s life in prison while exploring the childhood sexual assault, domestic violence, addiction and crime that led her there. But Raphael goes a step further, challenging both the humanity and effectiveness of incarcerating poor and abused women who have committed non-violent crimes. While the treatment Tammy suffered in prison is indeed shocking, what amazes is her voice. Raphael’s work illuminates these problems and calls us to act upon them.
—Anne K. Ream

Published: October 11, 2008
Issue: November 2008 Investing In Chicago