There is an old saying that we never really appreciate those closest to us until they are gone. Such is the case of the family of an elderly Korean woman from the countryside who goes missing one day. Mom and Dad visit the city quite often to see their grown children and grandchildren. On this particular visit, however, they decide to take the subway to their son’s house rather than have him pick them up at the train station.
When the subway train pulls into the crowded station, Mom and Dad forge their way into the car. As the door shuts, Dad turns to speak to Mom, only to discover that she has not made it onto the train. As the crowd swelled and pushed to board, Mom was pulled away from Dad and left behind on the platform. Dad gets off the subway at the next stop and returns to the station, only to find that he is too late. Mom has wandered away. When she does not show up at her son’s house by the next day, the distraught family begins a search for her. As the search continues, family members recall memories of Mom’s life and woefully regret the roles they each played in taking her for granted.
Told from the viewpoint of various family members as well as Mom herself, this is a touching yet not overly sentimental portrait of family dynamics and the extent to which a mother’s love shows no bounds. This book should appeal to those readers interested in contemporary Asian culture as well as those who look for a book that is strong on family dynamics.
Erik Larson's new book is the story of an American family living in Germany during one of its most provocative times. William Dodd hadn’t even made the short list of candidates for Ambassador to Germany at the beginning of Roosevelt's presidency. Roosevelt had just been in office months and there had not been an Ambassador to Germany in over a year. No one wanted the job. One of Roosevelt’s insiders suggested William Dodd who was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago. He spoke fluent German and had received his doctorate in Germany.
When Dodd received the call, he was languishing in his department. He hadn’t achieved everything he had hoped and thought that this might be the pinnacle of his career. So he, his wife, adult son Bill, and adult daughter Martha, went to Berlin in 1933. His charges were to lay low, not cause trouble, avoid the "Jewish problem" and try to impel the new leadership to pay back its debt from the first World War.
Before he went to Berlin, Dodd thought that the rumours of beatings and disappearances had all been, as the German government had explained, blown out of proportion. But as Americans were showing up to the consulate bloody and beaten, Dodd came to realize that things were much worse than originally thought. Washington was of little help in giving direction. But like many foreigners, Dodd did not believe that the German government, with so much in-fighting, would last for very long. He watched horrified as Hitler’s government, which in 1933 seemed unorganized and ruled by thugs, shored up its power into a war machine.
Meanwhile, daughter Martha was having the time of her life in 1930’s Berlin. She met high ranking party officials, spies of all sorts, and writers and actors. Martha was having a ball, until some of her lovers went missing or were killed. She also discovered that she was being used as a pawn for many sides. Slowly, Martha began to see the dark side of Berlin.
Covering the times from 1933 until 1938, Larson gives us what life was like for Americans in Berlin, even those with special privileges such as the Ambassador. Washington was no help to what Dodd saw. He felt very alone as what he witnessed compelled him to speak out for honor and character to no avail. What he had hoped would be a pinnacle to his career ended in pain and sadness.