microhistory

READ THE WORLD – Czech Republic: How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel

How I Came to Know Fish is Ota Pavel’s memoir of his childhood in Czexhoslovakia, fishing with his father and his Uncle Prosek on the peaceful rivers and ponds of his country. But everything changes when the Nazis invade – Pavel learns to steal their confiscated fish back from the SS while his family still tries to provide for him and his brothers.

How I Came to Know Fish is a very short book, just over 130 pages long it’s a simple story about an innocent childhood and how that changes during war. It’s kind of a love story about fishing and will strike a chord more with those who love to fish and know the ins and outs of the best way to catch different fish.

While I was not particularly interested in the fishing part of the book (mainly as I have no real knowledge or interest in fishing myself) it was still well-written and accessible for fishing novices like me. It was when the memoir was more about how life was like in Czechoslovakia when the Nazi’s invaded that the story picked up for me. Patel recounts events quite bluntly, things like the fact his father and brothers were ordered to go to work camps is almost a passing footnote. As a Brit when we learn about World War II in school we largely learn about Britain’s part in the war, Nazi Germany itself but very rarely learn about the countries the Nazis invaded and how they controlled the people there.

Seeing how things changed for the Pavel’s, a Jewish family, even in subtle ways like the fact they were no longer allowed to keep pets was truly eye-opening. And also, atrocities like the massacre of the village of Lidice, an event I’d never heard of but Ota Patel could see the smoke from the ruins of the village from his hometown affected whole generations.

If you like a simply written story about a family, their love of fishing and how life can change during war then maybe pick up How I Came to Know Fish, it won’t take a lot of time to read at all.

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REVIEW: Letters from Baghdad (2016)

letters-from-baghdadA documentary about Gertrude Bell, the most powerful woman in the British Empire who helped shape the destiny of Iraq after World War One.

Letters from Baghdad is an interesting blend of archive footage and letters from Bell and first-hand accounts from her friends and colleagues. Bell’s letters are a voice over from Tilda Swinton while the letters and accounts from other people are from actors, playing the part of the real historical figures as if they were being interviewed. It’s an interesting setup that takes a little while to get used to but having all these first-hand account soon pulls you into the rich history of Iraq and Gertrude Bell. Also Bell’s letters helps you feel more connected to her as she not only writes about her day to day life in Iraq but her opinions on the people she meets and how she does miss her family, her father especially.

Gertrude Bell is a woman I had never heard of before seeing this film. Bell travelled across Arabia, sometimes being accused of being a spy, working in archaeological digs and ended up being recruited by the British Government to draw the borders of Iraq. She knew T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and Winston Churchill, she socialised with Muslim, British and German women alike and Iraqi royalty. It is a shame that she has been all but written out of history. She did a lot for Iraq including setting up the National Museum of Iraq practically single handed.

Letters from Baghdad is not only a historical documentary, it does shine a light on how British and American involvement in the Middle East has both aided and hindered the region throughout history, but it also looks at the attitudes of the time towards women in positions of power and who have independence, and how some of those attitudes have still not changed a lot.

If you want to learn more about Iraq’s history and a remarkable woman that has almost been forgotten from history, then do check out Letters from Baghdad. 4/5.

Letters From Baghdad – Official Trailer from Letters from Baghdad on Vimeo.

READ THE WORLD – Iran: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis ElenaSquareEyesSatrapi was the intelligent yet outspoken child of radical Marxists and the great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor and her childhood was always entwined with Iran’s history. As a graphic novel memoir, Persepolis follows Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War, to her adolescence in Europe and how she copes being so far from her family and her home.

There’s so much about Iran’s history and politics that I don’t know – I don’t have a very good understanding of what’s been happening in Iran recently, never mind what was happening in the country just under 50 years ago – but Persepolis did such a good job of shedding light on what growing up in Iran during a revolution and a war was like. The young Satrapi is constantly learning because the rules of her country are constantly changing. Persepolis is almost a crash course in Iran’s recent history and it’s a great introduction as you learn so much about what happened from someone who lived it. That being said, there’s still many elements that could be explored more but as it focuses on Satrapi’s experience rather than an expensive history, it’s understandable why there’s some gaps to what was happening between countries like Iraq and Iran, and Iraq and Kuwait and how countries like the USA and Britain were really involved.

Besides growing up in Iran, Satrapi also moves to Austria when she is a young teenager. She moves there alone, with no family and a limited grasp on French. In some ways Satrapi enjoys the freedom that Austria offers her compared to Iran but in others, she doesn’t feel like she understands how society in the West functions or if she fits in.

That’s what Persepolis is about really. It’s about a young girl who becomes a young woman and how she slowly discovers through trial and error who she really is and where she feels like she belongs. She may make different friends along the way and even have boyfriends but the one constant in her life, even when she was miles away from them, was her family. The relationship between Satrapi and her parents and grandmother is a wonderful element of the book and seeing how they all influenced her and helped her grow was really interesting and lovely.

The art style in Persepolis is relatively simple but effective. It’s all black and white and most of each panel is often made up of a speech bubble. The art style works because while it’s about difficult and complex topics, the language is also simple. This is because most of the book is from the perspective of someone who is twelve or a young teenager who may think she knows everything but really doesn’t.

Persepolis is a fascinating read about the difficulties of growing up in a war torn country and finding where you truly belong. It’s sometimes funny and often sad but it’s always enlightening. 4/5.

REVIEW The Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Aspden

FullSizeRender (96)In May 1969, the body of David Oluwale was found in the River Aire near Leeds. Oluwale had been homeless, an immigrant from Nigeria and a former patient in a mental hospital. The police didn’t care. Until eighteen months later when a lengthy campaign of harassment by two high-ranking policeman was uncovered. The Hounding of David Oluwale looks at the chilling crimes against David Oluwale and how the system failed him.

The Hounding of David Oluwale is an incredible true story. Not only does it look into what happened to David Oluwale but it looks at the broader context of Britain in the 1950’s and 60’s, the immigration from colonial countries to Britain, British people’s racism, the police’s bigotry and generally life in and around Leeds and how people thought of their city. While the book follows David Oluwale and retraces his steps from Nigeria to Britain, how he found work but eventually ended up in a mental hospital it elaborates on how Oluwale’s experience was part of a broader context of Britain at that time. (more…)