A Thousand Splendid Suns

I recently finished reading Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. A friend recommended the book to me a couple of months back, but I honestly can’t remember who it was! Part of that forgetfulness is because it took so long for the book to become available through my local library. Anyway: I had previously read another book by Hosseini, The Kite Runner, and I enjoyed it. So I was excited to give this one a try. It describes the day-to-day experience of people living in Afghanistan over the last few decades of war and turmoil. And I’ve been wanting to better understand that part of the world. So it felt like a special surprise when I was informed that the book was available, right around the start of a little Thanksgiving Break.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

It was a compelling read. The primary action follows two women in Afghanistan. The first grows up in a rural area, the illegitimate daughter of a local business man. The second grows up in Kabul in a more traditional family. But their lives become intertwined in interesting, unexpected ways (I won’t spoil the story). And through all of the political upheaval — everything from the Soviet invasion, to the Taliban takeover, to the American War on Terror — they figure out ways to survive. And even to contribute to society in constructive ways.

I think the book helped me to realize the special burden carried by women and children in places like Afghanistan. For years at a time, women in Kabul were essentially kept on house arrest. So, if the men in their lives were not kind or considerate, they had no recourse. They couldn’t speak up for themselves. They couldn’t travel on their own. And they couldn’t even manage their home life in ways that were agreeable to them. There’s a lot of pain in the story of A Thousand Splendid Suns (which is apparently a historical, poetic reference to Kabul). But there’s also hope.

Hosseini is an excellent storyteller. His characters, his settings, and his plot structure are all top-tier. His writing makes me want to visit Afghanistan, even with all of its challenges. And this book made me cheer for the Afghan people, even in all their disparate complexity. So, in any event, I’m very glad I got the opportunity to read A Thousand Splendid Suns. And I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something to read in the upcoming winter reading season.

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Wardrobe Change

Blue Clothes

I’m ending my string of thematic clothing weeks. The last full week of November was my Week of November Blues. And I took it to a level that none of my previous weeks had been taken. Not only was it blue shirts; it was blue pants, and blue socks, and blue underwear. Nothing but blue for a solid week. And then I noticed that I was only four days away from December. So, I decided to hold off on the wardrobe change. To turn my seven-day vigil of literally wearing my November Blues on my shirt sleeve (and everywhere else) into an eleven-day vigil to run out the month.

And finally, today, I decked myself out with a green T-shirt, a crimson sweatshirt, and even some Christmas socks. It honestly felt way more cathartic than I expected it to feel! It felt like a prophetic act, or some kind of performance art. Even in getting dressed this morning, I thought of the Bible’s wisdom from the Book of Ephesians:

With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.

Ephesians 4:17-24

Take off the old. Put on the new. That’s what I want to do with my seasonal depression (and my sin nature, too). It probably won’t be as straightforward as choosing colorful clothes instead of blue clothes. In fact, I expect there to be setbacks and sad days. But I want to live with a sense of hope and mindfulness. I want to remember God’s goodness, even in the dark days of winter. And whenever I start to feel burdened by the blues again, with God’s help, I want to try another wardrobe change.

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Spotify Year Wrapped 2022

Spotify Year-Wrapped 2022

Spotify has created its own holiday. Have you noticed? Its annual publication of listeners’ “Year Wrapped” at the end of November / beginning of December feels momentous. My family looks forward to it for weeks ahead of time. And when the day comes, we join the millions of other people to celebrate. Which is ironic because we pay money to use their streaming music service and help to market their product to the rest of the world. I can feel cynical at times, obviously, but I also feel some of the joy that comes with this holiday. Music is fun. Learning about individual personalities, patterns, and preferences is fun. And sharing broader cultural experiences is fun, too. I’ve even noticed that other streaming services have started releasing their own versions of year-end analysis for listeners, just to get in on the Spotify Year Wrapped party.

Spotify Year-Wrapped 2022

Since the last time I shared the results of my Spotify Year Wrapped, in 2020, I’ve noticed that I’ve become even more entrenched in the world of Spotify. My minutes of use have climbed every year, yet I don’t even think of the fact that I’m spending money every month for our family to use this service. It’s almost like a basic utility. In some ways, this might be exceptional (Spotify suggests that I listen more than 66 percent of other users). At the same time, I used it even less than everyone else in our family — in some cases, just one-fifth of others’ usage!

As in previous years, the listing of artists seems to indicate a preference towards which albums I listened to in their entirety. But in this case, it actually seems to pretty closely approximate true listening patterns. The only exception is probably Taylor Swift coming in as my Number Three Artist for 2022. In addition to giving her newest album a few listens, I happened to drive to Tennessee with a bunch of “Swifties” back in March. And that probably skewed the numbers a bit. But I’m not mad. In fact, I wear that Taylor Swift ranking as a badge of honor.

Spotify Year-Wrapped 2022

The clearest outcome of my Spotify Year Wrapped was my devotion to Rex Orange County and his newest album, “Who Cares?” He played the Spotify game brilliantly. In January, he released his first single from the new album (and it was a banger!). He released another great song in February. And then he dropped the whole album in March, with nine full months of listening opportunity to follow. I even went to one of his concerts in May.

Since then, unfortunately, Rex Orange County seems to have gotten himself in some trouble. I guess he’s still “innocent until proven guilty.” Still, that definitely dampens my devotion. But it’s hard to look at the results of my Spotify Year Wrapped and not notice his prominent position. So anyway: I think this holiday provides some insights into my personality and preferences. But it’s not very deep. Just an occasion to observe with friends and family.

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Spirited

Have you seen the new movie on Apple TV+ called “Spirited?” It was just released last week, though Apple has been promoting it for a little while now. It’s got a lot of big-name actors in starring roles. But I haven’t heard of many other people in my relational circles talking about it. Maybe that will still come with time and the continued ramp-up towards Christmas. Or maybe the film is harder to handle because of the way it defies easy categorization: part-comedy… part-musical… part-Christmas… Anyway: I just saw “Spirited” with my family this weekend, and I’m curious to talk about it with others. So: let me know if you’ve seen it and what you think about it, if you ever get the chance.

Personally, I enjoyed this film way more than I expected. I mentally prepared myself for a mid-range “Will Ferrell comedy.” Hopefully something better than, say, “Semi-Pro“… but not as good as “Elf,” most likely. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by how much it made me tap my toe to the music, by how much this movie made me laugh, and by how much it made me think.

“Spirited” is, first and foremost, a musical. The plot structure, the music, the choreography, and the background cast of the film all come from the Broadway tradition. And even though I’m not an expert, I have to say that it’s a pretty good musical. Its writing is creative and compelling. Its choreography is fantastic. Maybe even groundbreaking: the way that the “Unredeemable” number plays with light… the way that “Ripple” uses water… The music was somewhat predictable, in the way that it follows the conventions for how a lot of Broadway music sounds and feels — but it raised the hairs on the back of my neck, like so many other good musicals do. And I think it holds its own as a fine example of that genre.

Secondarily, “Spirited” functions as a comedy. It plays to the strengths of its leading actors: Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. But not purely in a slapstick, over-the-top, Will-Ferrell-Doing-Everything-with-a-Funny-Accent-or-Afro way. In fact, the film writers actually seem to play with some of these expectations. They have Will Ferrell do “Will Ferrell Things,” only to be thwarted by Ryan Reynolds doing “Ryan Reynolds Things.” “Talladega Nights” versus “Deadpool,” if you will. The movie also relies on some inventive comedic refrains that brought deep belly laughs when they were recycled at unexpected moments later in the film. But, again, “Spirited” is a musical first, comedy second. So, some of the comedic elements are more muted than one might expect from looking at the movie poster.

Last but not least, “Spirited” is a Christmas movie. And another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at that. Some people are going to think that’s great. Other people are going to groan. And as much as I’m a sucker for Christmas pageantry, I empathize with the groaners. A lot of Christmas movies are white noise. Formulaic Hallmark movies or only slightly better than Hallmark movies. And there are definitely certain marks that “Spirited” makes a point to hit. But not at the expense of just settling into a trope.

This film is actually trying to say something.

Themes of redemption and salvation are explicit throughout the film. What does it take to overcome the mistakes of our past? How do the things we do in life affect what happens to us after death? How do we deal with the battle between our self-centered tendencies and our impulse for love and relationship? There’s subtlety, complexity, an acknowledgement of mixed motives that I appreciate. The message of “Spirited” is not a Christian message, so I can’t completely jive with everything they’re trying to say. Still, there’s some real substance there. And at the very least, I appreciate the way it could stimulate thought and discussion.

I think “Spirited” is a worthwhile watch. I recommend it to anyone who likes musicals, comedies, and/or Christmas movies. And, again, I’d love to interact with anyone who has their own take on this film, once it circulates a little more broadly.

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New Holiday Traditions

Families form traditions. And traditions form families. Our household has collected got a whole heap of traditions over the years: from two tradition-rich families, from multiple cultures, and from our own set of experiences. But a new generation is coming of age, and we’re learning that we may need to hold some of these traditions lightly. As our family continues growing and expanding, we simply cannot (or at least should not) do everything that we’ve “always” done. And honestly, it’s just more fun to keep ourselves open to new holiday traditions: some of which may only be with us for a few years, and some which may come to be held most dearly by the next generation (or generations).

This holiday season, I’m already noticing a few new things that might represent new trends. And I’m curious to see which of these new holiday traditions might stick with us…

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner at Home

Thanksgiving Eve

Of all the holidays that our family observes, Thanksgiving is probably the one with the most fluid traditions. For one thing we typically rotate, every other year, between Thanksgiving with the extended Asp Family (my parents and their descendants) and Thanksgiving with the extended Anderson Family (Marci’s parents and their descendants). Secondly, we had a solid decade in our family’s formative years when we lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean from our extended families, almost never making it back to the United States for Thanksgiving. So, there really is no one way that we’ve always done things. And now that the next generation is rising in to young adulthood, we’re starting to wonder how future iterations of this holiday will play out.

It also happened that this year’s extended family Thanksgiving celebration was with my side of the family and all of its attendant dietary restrictions. Several of my relatives can’t eat gluten. A couple others don’t do well with dairy. And another has problems with fructose. But in our household, many of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes are high in gluten, dairy, and fructose! So, we struck upon an idea to do a sort of “Thanksgiving Eve Feast” once our older kids came “home” from “college” this week. This allowed us to make all of our favorite foods with sufficient quantities of leftovers to allow for continued enjoyment over the extended weekend. And, as an unintended benefit, it got the vast majority of our food preparation out of the way on Wednesday, so that our Thursday morning was delightfully relaxed.

We haven’t made any sort of commitment to keep doing it this way in years to come, but I kind of hope that it will become a new tradition.

Asp Family Christmas Music Draft

Asp Family Christmas Music Draft 2022

Our family loves Christmas music. But we’re pretty strict about waiting to start playing our favorites until after Thanksgiving. Over the years, we’ve decided that “after Thanksgiving” means “at the conclusion of all the formal Thanksgiving Day festivities.” So: as soon as the last guest leaves our house… or, as soon as we get in the car following a visit to someone else’s place for Thanksgiving Dinner. And this year, for the second year in a row, we decided to organize our listening through a draft. Like what professional sports teams do in acquiring the rights to sign new young talent to their roster, or the way that guys do a Fantasy Football Draft, making a contest out of football statistics. Each person in the draft gets an even number of picks, in successive rounds of selection, until the roster of that year’s recruits is formed.

Both last year and this year, we decided on five rounds of selection. With five of us in the family, this creates a playlist of twenty-five songs, or about an hour and a half of music. We each have our favorite artists and albums, so the playlist reflects personal preferences — but we all enjoy all of the music, really. And just like our Summer Playlists, these Christmas playlists creates a record of our evolving preferences. It’s a delightful mix of music that I find myself going back to, again and again, even when the rest of the family isn’t around. In case you’d like to hear this year’s version for yourself, here’s the 2022 Playlist (bonus points to anyone who can guess who drafted in which order!).

Euchre

BeReal Playing Euchre at Anna's

I discovered Euchre during my early adolescence. It had a lot of strange rules and traditions. But the more I practiced, the more I enjoyed the card game. My skill and enjoyment of Euchre probably peaked during my college years, playing late into the night in Conklin Hall at Bowling Green State University. But my affection for Euchre peaked later, after our family had moved to Europe. From that vantage point, I could see how distinctly Midwestern the game was. And when a rare foursome could be scraped together on that side of the Atlantic, it felt extra special. It reminded me of home.

So, when my sister suggested that we play a round of Euchre after the Thanksgiving feasting was done, I was excited to revive my own interest in the game and — hopefully — kindle new interest from the younger generation. We decided to form four teams of two, pairing experienced players with less-experienced players. And we played slowly, explaining the decision-making process as much as possible, choosing to end with the first team scoring five points (instead of the usual ten) to make the whole experience more user-friendly. All in all, the experiment seemed to be a success. But we’ll have to see how hard it is to scrounge up our next game at Christmastime.

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World Cup 2022

Dutch Pride for World Cup Opener

Our family follows international soccer more closely than most American families because of our decade in Europe. And we have especially fond memories of summer celebrations of the World Cup in 2010 (which happened while we were living in Amsterdam) and World Cup 2014 (which happened after our move to Kent but happened to coincide with a trip back to the Netherlands for a visit). However, we weren’t sure what to make of World Cup 2022 — scheduled for November and December because of climate conditions in the host nation of Qatar. Would it be just as fun in the winter as it is in the summer? Would it be just as fun cheering on the Dutch National Team from Ohio, instead of Holland?

We decided we wanted to bring as much soccer spirit as we could to World Cup 2022 and then let the rest of the chips fall where they may. The picture above shows the clothing that Cor chose for his last school day before the Thanksgiving Break!

Dutch Pride for World Cup Opener

The rest of us expressed our Dutch pride in other ways. I went with their 2014 Away Jersey, to express my support for the Dutch Team and continue my Week of Blue Shirts.

Dutch Pride for World Cup Opener

Elliot went with a vintage 2001 “oranje voetbal” shirt. I purchased it in Amsterdam when we traveled with a team of staff and volunteers from our church network to explore the options for a new church plant that came to fruition a few years later. I bequeathed the shirt to Elliot for Sinterklaas last year, and I feel a strange sort of pride — on multiple levels — when I see him wear it.

Dutch Pride for World Cup Opener

Olivia wore every bit of Dutch clothing that she had with her in her dorm room. None of it was officially-licensed merchandise. Still, I think she gets creativity points for making it work. I especially liked her earrings that resembled plastic cubs containing some sort of milky-orange bubble tea.

At game time, our family assembled at Panini’s Bar and Grill, in downtown Kent. The host at the restaurant put the soccer match on three different screens for us. Our family of five represented a majority of the customers there at the time. So, we felt free to get a little bit caught up in the action. After the Dutch team’s first goal against Senegal, we knocked over one chair and spilled one glass of water. But for the most part, we were pretty respectable.

Watching the Dutch World Cup Opener at Panini's Bar and Grill

Our team scored its second goal, sealing a 2-0 win, right at the end of the game. Right before I had to take Olivia back to campus for class and then head to a work obligation myself. Still, we got to see the whole game. And it was a win for Oranje. So, all in all, it felt like a fun way to start World Cup 2022.

Watching the Dutch World Cup Opener at Panini's Bar and Grill

I’m still not exactly sure how it’s going to feel to fit World Cup spectating in around other holiday comings and goings. But it actually feels kind of special that the group stage (which has the most games at the most unusual times of day) is largely playing out over our Thanksgiving Break. Assuming the Dutch manage to advance, their knockout games should happen largely on Saturdays. So, it will probably work out. Especially if the Dutch perform well.

Watching the Dutch World Cup Opener at Panini's Bar and Grill
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Week of Sweaters

Sweater Week

I’ve continued my “Week of _____ Shirts” themes for over a month now. Does anybody care?!? I don’t know! Does it amuse me, in any event?!? Yes, it does! This last week, my daughter Olivia decided to join me for my “Week of Sweaters” — which also happened to be suggested by my brother, Jay — so those are some fun communal elements. But ultimately, I understand that this is relatively meaningless internet content that appeals mostly to me.

I was initially going to do Sweaters for Week 46, but the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny in Ohio that week. Consequently, I switched to H2O Shirts. And it ended up working out perfectly, since Week 47 has been quite cold and snowy: a.k.a. “Sweater Weather.”

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be keeping this up, but here’s the run-down on the last five weeks:

  • Week 43: Week of Flannel Shirts
  • Week 44: Week of Running Shirts
  • Week 45: Week of Collegiate Sports Shirts
  • Week 46: Week of H2O Shirts
  • Week 47: Week of Sweaters

For Week 48, I’ve already decided that I’m going to do a Week of Blue Shirts. Part of the reason for this theme is its versatility. It can look dressed up, when necessary (like for a family Thanksgiving celebration). But it can also be quite casual, when circumstances allow (like for the weekend after Thanksgiving, just hanging around the house). It will also allow me to support the Dutch National Soccer Team in the upcoming World Cup (since my favorite Dutch soccer kit is the away uniforms from 2014). And, perhaps most significantly, I like the idea of putting away my “November Blues” at the end of the week (which is basically the end of the month, too) and swapping them out for brighter clothes and moods, Lord willing.

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Waiting at the Cross

My seasonal depression has been ramping up recently, with all these gray November days. I’m not in a place of total despair. I’m spending a half-hour every morning in front of my Nature Bright SunTouchPlus sunlight supplement lamp. And I’m also exercising for a half-hour or more almost every day. So, I’m thankful to have coping mechanisms. To not be completely passive in approaching these challenges. But still, November is not my favorite month. And I usually want to get out of my “November Blues” as quickly as I can. But I’ve recently received some new perspective from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Mark that’s encouraged me to stay present in my sadness (or SADness, as the case may be). To think of it as waiting at the Cross of Jesus, like the two “Mary”s did.

It’s gut-wrenching to read the crucifixion experience, no matter what angle one takes. It was awful for Jesus, of course. But also for Peter, for Pilate, for the Roman centurion who supervised the process, and for everyone who happened to be passing by. On my most recent reading of the Gospel of Mark, however, I was especially struck by the crucifixion experience for the women described as “Mary, the Magdalene,” “Mary, the mother of James and Justus/Joses,” and Salomé.

In Mark 15:40, we read that “Some women were watching [the crucifixion] from a distance.” Apparently, they’d been there for a while. Probably the whole crucifixion, but definitely the moment of Jesus’s death (around 3:00 PM). The Gospel account elaborates, “Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.”

Then, the Bible describes the process of a Jewish council member making funeral preparations. This involved traveling from the crucifixion site into Jerusalem (a distance as short as half a mile, or as long as several miles, most likely traveled by foot). Once there, he would have needed to seek an audience with the Roman governor. Then he needed to have the actual conversation with the Roman governor. After all that, the Roman governor sent a messenger back to the crucifixion site to fetch the Roman centurion. The Roman centurion then traveled back into Jerusalem to appear before the Roman governor and verify the death of Jesus. And at that point, the Roman governor granted permission for the Jewish council member to make funeral arrangements. Then the Jewish council member traveled back to the crucifixion site again and prepared the body of Jesus for burial.

All of this would have taken hours. With those women just waiting at the Cross.

The biblical text suggests that at least the two “Mary”s continued to wait and watch while the body of Jesus was wrapped in linen cloth, transported to the burial site, and laid to rest in a tomb cut out of rock. In Mark 15:47, it says that, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” And again, this would have taken hours. Hours of grief. Sadness. Darkness. And painful waiting. They couldn’t do anything other than wait and bear witness. So, that’s what they did.

And this is where I feel challenged and encouraged by their example. These November Blues are hard. They contain elements of grief, sadness, darkness, and painful waiting. I typically want the difficulties to pass as quickly as possible. But maybe the best approach is simply “waiting at the Cross.” I can keep using my special lamp and exercising and taking multivitamins and talking about my seasonal depression. But I also need to keep waiting at the Cross. Just keeping the faith and keeping vigil while the sadness stays in front of me.

Such an act of faith won’t get front-page headlines. I’ve read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion hundreds of times without ever really noticing the way that those women just waited. For hours. With nothing but the bloodied, lifeless remains of their friend hanging on a Cross in front of them. But there’s something beautiful and meaningful in such sadness. And it doesn’t seem like mere coincidence that the “Mary”s and Salomé are the first witnesses to the Resurrection on that third day after the crucifixion (see Mark 16:1). I believe their joy was greater because their sense of loss was greater. When the light broke from the darkness, it unleashed something powerful in them. And in the rest of the world.

So, I want to keep trusting God through my current season of darkness and depression. Watching and waiting to see what He will do next.

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Two Photographs

Shelby, Ohio: Birthplace 1890 of the Seamless Steel Tube Industry in America

I often joke that I take the “Quantity over Quality” approach to photography. But today was a notable exception. I traveled back to my hometown of Shelby, Ohio, for a speaking engagement. And while I was there, I only took two photographs. But they both turned out beautifully, capturing the essence of the experience in profound ways that I could not have accomplished better with a hundred images.

One photograph features the sign that greets visitors driving into Shelby from the east, along State Route 96. It says, “Shelby: Birthplace 1890 of the Seamless Steel Tube Industry in America.” I’ve previously tried some, let’s say “medium-intensity” internet searching for this phrase or this image. But apparently, there’s some debate about the history of the seamless steel tube industry (worldwide, and also in America). In fact, there may be no one outside of Shelby, Ohio, who would corroborate such a narrative about the birthplace of the seamless steel tube industry. But I definitely remembered that phrase from my childhood. And today I at least managed to corroborate Shelby’s historical narrative with a sign.

Regardless of the historical facts, I love the way that this sign points to something essential about Shelby: its industrialism, its working class roots, and its pride in its history (especially its hey-day at the height of the Industrial Revolution). So, when I saw the sign on my way into town, I decided to stop for a picture. November provided its signature cement-colored skies in the background. Fallow farm fields stretched on either side. The sign has been pock-marked by time and teenagers with BB guns. So, it just feels like one of the Shelbiest pictures of all time.

Stained Glass Window at First Baptist Church of Shelby, Ohio

My speaking engagement was at the First Baptist Church of Shelby, where my Dad served as the pastor from 1987 to 1995. A lot of my childhood was spent in and around that community and its building on the West side of town. So, when I saw the midday light shining through that stain-glassed window, I knew that I wanted to grab a picture. Such evocative colors and textures! I used to think those windows — and indeed the whole building — were kind of ugly. Very different from ornate Catholic cathedrals or top-of-the-line “Seeker Sensitive” multi-purpose facilities of the late 20th Century. For whatever reason, on this visit, I was able to see the facilities for what they are: Mid-Century Modern. Consistent with the time period in which the building was erected.

First Baptist Church is beautiful in its own way. And I’m thankful for the part that it’s played in my life. The window seems emblematic of this perspective shift and this space. And I like the way that I framed the shot: simple, symmetrical, and suggestive of its broader surroundings. It just feels like First Baptist. And I’m thankful for what First Baptist has meant to me.

So that’s it. I just wanted to share these images. All of the ones I took today in Shelby.

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Prisoner B-3087

I recently finished reading Alan Gratz’s novel, Prisoner B-3087. It was recommended to me by my son, Cor. He’s recently become interested in the history of the Second World War, much like I was at his age. And when he told me about this book, it piqued my curiosity. The writing straddles some genre lines, containing elements of memoir, documentary, and historical fiction. The author, however, is clear on classifying it as a work of fiction, a novel. Even so, it’s a stark reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. And considering the recent rise in Antisemitism here in the United States, Prisoner B-3087 felt like a timely read. It also helped that the book was already downloaded to our family’s Kindle account.

Prisoner B-3087, by Alan Gratz

Anyway, the story functions as a coming-of-age story in many ways. It follows a character named Yanek, who is just about to turn thirteen years old in Krakow, Poland, in the earliest days of Nazi Germany aggression. He experiences the forced migration of Polish Jews into the ghetto, followed by systematic deportation to work camps and death camps. In his early adolescence, he’s able to stave off the worst of the atrocities by hiding out in a pigeon coop… working family connections to get enough food to eat… and even observing his Bar Mitzvah in a clandestine basement ceremony, under the cover of darkness. But eventually, Yanek is captured, separated from his family, and deported.

Yanek finds himself trafficked through many of the most famous aspects of the Nazis’ “Final Solution:” Auschwitz… Birkenau… Bergen-Belsen… cattle cars… Josef Mengele… gas chambers and incinerators… He makes it through the war because he is relatively young and able-bodied. And because he’s lucky. Along the way, Yanek vacillates between single-minded, self-centered survivalism and others-oriented, future-focused hope in humanity. And this ended up being one of the most compelling parts of the story to me. He doesn’t really come to a final conclusion. The war runs its course and spits him out as one of the survivors. But he has no great moral to his story. He just lives to live. So, it’s up to us, as readers, to decide how we want to interpret this story. I appreciate it when stories do this.

Prisoner B-3087 reads quickly and compellingly. Even though it’s targeted towards Young Adults, it’s a worthwhile book for many audiences. I appreciated the opportunity to go back to that period in history. I noticed highly relevant themes for our times, even in a narrative now 80 years old. And I found myself praying that we would never experience such a horrible Holocaust again.

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