There has been a lot of discussion up here along the very northern edge of the United States about daylight savings time and changing of the clocks each spring and fall. Our Canadian friends to the northeast do not change their clocks and many Mainers believe we should join them in Atlantic time or whatever it is called. Personally, I do not mind the fall back and spring forward exercise each year. I enjoy the dark late afternoons before Christmas, the lights come on in the houses as people prepare supper or do late afternoon chores. It is kind of cozy looking to see the homes all lit up, many have candles in the windows at the start of the season preparing for Christmas. In the spring, we all love that extra daylight at night with its reminder of summer evenings and campfires. Of course, there is another side to the change in time and that involves the children going off to school in the dark. Grace and Ethan used to catch the 6:30 bus and it was dark many a day, as a parent or grandparent it causes a bit of concern because of the increased chance that a driver will not see a child crossing despite those very bright yellow and red lights employed by the bus drivers.
One of the reasons I love the November 6 fall back is more than the extra hour of sleep I get, but I associate it with the start of my fall book-reading challenge. Now, I read books steadily throughout the year, but there is something about the kids returning to school which gets me anticipating the books just waiting for me in the novel section of the library. Dave jokes that there is a wing with my name on it- trust me there is not, but I do love a good book. I decided several years ago that I would start with the A’s and proceed to read books in alphabetical order in the large novel section of the library. Now I do not read every book and author. It does have to call to me, and I admit I favor authors who have written a series of books or those who have really artful covers. I particularly like mysteries that are not about vampires or some such. I am now into the H’s, and I have read many authors I never would have considered if it was not for this method.
My most recent was written by Olivia Hawker. It is a historical novel set in Germany in the 1940’s. The main character was a Franciscan friar, a teacher of music at a school for disabled children in the early days of WW2. His order was disbanded by Hitler, and he served in the German Army for a time, until injured. The story opens with him responding to an advertisement by a widow with three children who needs a husband to help survive the deprivations of the war and help with her children. She marries the young friar (not knowing he was ever a friar) and it follows their marriage, his deep love for his stepchildren, and the eventual love and trust with his wife Elizabeth, that develops years into the marriage. It examines the changes the German society went through: confiscation of civilian guns, demonizing/death of news media, the pressure on the churches to tow the Nazi line, rounding up the Roma, the disabled, the gay, transgendered and mentally ill and confining them to camps/death/experiments, and of course, the scapegoating of the Jews and their final Solution. In the quiet and safety of their home, Anton and Elizabeth wonder where and when the German people went wrong and began to accept these acts, one at a time, as normal. It also touched on the distrust in their own small town and the absolute corruption of power. And while neighbors took care of each other, performed quiet acts of resistance and waged heroic efforts to bring about the end of the war sooner rather than later by assassinating Hitler.
I always read the author’s remarks at the end of the novel and to my great surprise I found out the protagonist was her husband’s family member. She wrote that she felt the time to do this novel was now because of the similarities between Germany of the late 30’s and the United States in the last several years. She fears for our democracy and felt it was time to tell this story. Some of it is fictionalized and names are changed but the protagonist’s name is his own, the marriage did take place and you learn about their lives after May of 1945.
This is a book I probably would have not checked out had I not been doing my systematic alphabetical reading program. I am so glad that I read it. The struggles that the townspeople went through at the hands of those firmly in the camp of the SS were heartbreaking. Men taking advantage of married, single and widowed women, threatening their children and their husband’s lives if they were not “cooperative” to them. Knowing the fate of the disabled children taken away on a gray bus to their death, the constant hunger and deprivation their family experienced called into question God’s presence with them, and the reason for it all.
I encourage you to get to know Franciscan Friar Anton Starzman and Elizabeth Herter and the people of Unterboihingen. Their experiences certainly make you wonder about what you would do if you found yourself walking a mile in their shoes. It also drives home the choices we face now to prevent history from repeating itself.