Monday, November 30, 2020

Climbing Lessons, by Tim Bascom

Members of St. Timothy’s Brew, Books and Banter book club had the great opportunity to visit again with author Tim Bascom, this time to discuss his new book, Climbing Lessons, via Zoom.  A couple of years ago we enjoyed his visit to discuss his first book, Chameleon Days, his memoir of growing up in Ethiopia, where his parents were missionaries during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the honor of his presence after his second book, Running to the Fire, about his return to his teenage life in Ethiopia, during the Marxist Revolution that overthrew the emperor.

Climbing Lessons is a collection of moving stories illustrating the bond between fathers and sons, a bond often nurtured through outdoor adventures, and how that changes with generational time. Beginning in small-town Kansas, these tales span three generations. The first part of the book focuses on his life as a son and grandson. Early on, he describes how his over-eager father, while trying to demonstrate how to climb a huge sycamore, ends up dropping 12 feet and landing on his back, unable to move. Stunned, he finally recovers, and gasps, “So that’s how it’s done.” In that moment, he becomes a symbol for all fathers, trying to lead, failing, but getting back up to continue showing the way.  This “climbing lesson” is just one of 40 stories, drawing on the experience of four generations of his Midwestern family.

I was struck by the fact that, during the book, there were so many comparisons between Tim’s and my lives, beginning with the fact that we both grew up in rural Kansas communities, graduated from the University of Kansas, taught in college, and authored books. In the indented sections below, I describe some of those similarities. 

While Tim had two sons, I had two daughters. In one of the stories in this first section Tim talks about spanking – some he got from his father, and those he gave to his sons.  I was reminded that, by contrast, I only got spanked once by my father, who was unhappy that I spilled mercurochrome on my parent’s new blanket. 

The book’s second part depicts stories about his life as a father where he experiences failures also. When Tim takes his own turn at fathering, he realizes that his previously devoted toddlers are turning into unimpressed teenagers. No longer their hero he had hoped to be, he must accept a new, flawed version of himself, not unlike his father before him. 

Tim and his wife Cathleen, an Episcopal priest, parent a couple of boys, the first one nearly dies of “failure to thrive." After three more years, another son is born, and Tim takes them on hikes and tells them stories. In one chapter, he goes hiking with his youngest son, his brother and nephew. He takes great pleasure in seeing the strong bond between his 16-year-old and the mischievous nephew. Several months later, the family moves through a terrible crisis as their nephew commits suicide. When Tim’s sons go off to college, charting their own courses, they both struggle to deal with the loss of their cousin. 

Tim talks about his sorrow that his first girlfriend left town with her family.  That happened to me too. Also, in Taking a Hit, he describes his initiation to football, where he got smeared, but didn’t quit.  By contrast, in my first game, I received the kickoff and ran down the field until I got smeared. Upon being tackled, my helmet fell off and rolled down the field. Several guys from the other team thought I fumbled the ball and jumped on it.  When I got to the sidelines, I found that our coach also thought I fumbled the ball and was livid, critically yelling at me.  At halftime, we were behind, and our coach went on a rant about how we should be doing better – for him. Not for the team, or the town, but just for HIM. It was such a bad environment, after the game I quit the team. Although I always felt guilty about quitting, but in retrospect, given all the current issues with brain trauma, I’m glad I didn’t spend a lot of time on the football field afterwards.

The last section mainly deals with the health problems of his father. After his father shatters a hip, Tim races home to Kansas.  Drawing on his father’s strength and experience to care for his boys, he realizes he must now assume a caretaking role.  When he later receives news that his father has had a massive heart attack, he races back to Kansas again. His father conveys to Tim that it will soon be time to take the role of showing his sons the way.  “You’ll get your turn.  Trust me, we all do.”

In the final section, Tim describes his two cats. The kitten is hyperactive, constantly leaping toward any distraction.  The older cat, by contrast, likes to snuggle.  We have two cats with identical tendencies. He also describes his grandfather Doc Bascom, as being extremely smart, productive and admired by all.  It reminded me of my grandfather, Hank Mayse, who was a lawyer, postmaster, editor of the county newspaper, and very much admired by all.

While many can tell family stories, few can tell them with such warm-hearted detail as Tim. He succeeds in creating something both intensely personal and irresistibly universal. Although the book’s primary focus is on the beauties and difficulties of father-son relationships, the stories in Climbing Lessons warm the reader’s heart. Bascom’s skillful prose style immediately draws one into these moving tales.  These brief inter-linked stories show that abiding affection can prevail, bringing fathers and sons closer, even as they tackle the steepest parts of the climb.

Bascom completed his MFA at the University of Iowa, taught at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and now heads up the Kansas Book Festival in Topeka, Kansas, where his wife Cathleen is the Episcopal Bishop of Kansas. — Ken Johnson

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

This is a remarkable book, a feat of imagination, research, imagery, and character development. The winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, it can be a challenge to read—no cruise-control mindless scanning will get you through this one. But once you finish, your world will look different. You’ll sit in your backyard and wonder what the trees are saying to one another. You’ll take a special trip to check out one of the few remaining chestnuts in Iowa. You’ll start noticing trees on your daily walks—how one gingko loses its leaves all at once and another does so gradually. You’ll recognize trees as part of their own communities and as protectors of our own. This book will stay with you, and it is worth every minute you give to it.

In The New York Times, Barbara Kingsolver wrote about how author Richard Powers, a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, created a work of art with significant scientific merit:

The Overstory accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size. 

Powers told the Guardian that he read at least 120 books on trees and this research changed him. He talked about his motivation for the book and its effect on him:

When you look at the statistics of what’s happening to species, to rainforests, to forests of all kinds, it’s so overwhelming that it’s difficult to believe it. It’s utterly daunting. I wanted to tell a story about ordinary people who, for whatever reason, have that realisation about the irreversible destruction that’s happening right now and who get radicalised as a result. The book explores that question of how far is too far when it comes to defending this place, the only place we have to make a home. The act of writing this book has made me more radicalised, for sure.

In a PBS Interview with Jeffrey Brown, Powers explained the scientific backbone of the book:

Whatever I present in the book as scientific fact was, to the best of my ability at the time of publication, verifiable, consensually repeated and agreed upon. 

The book seems so real that, as Kingsolver wrote, readers Google characters to see if they actually exist. In some ways they do. One of the central characters, Patricia Westerford, is a scientist who discovers that trees communicate with one another, creating a community in which members help others in crisis, plan for the future, and guard against common threats. This is based on the ground-breaking work of real-life ecologist Suzanne Simard. In The Overstory, Westerford writes a book, The Secret Life of Trees. In reality, author Peter Wohlleben wrote  The Hidden Life of Trees in 2016, using Simard’s work as a central focus. 

Literary Hub writer Kevin Berger spent a day visiting Powers in his Appalachia home and was there at the poignant moment when the author read Kingsolver’s review for the first time. “I have found my people,” Powers said. And, for every writer who feels compelled to crank out words for the sake of words, Powers emphasized the importance of the contemplation he learned living near the forest, a truth for most of what we do in life:  

When I lived in cities, I wrote out of a tremendous work ethic. I felt if I were to be a serious writer, I needed to produce 1,000 words a day. When I didn’t, I was tremendously anxious. But since coming down here, and committing myself to communication with the plant world, I’ve been much more comfortable in letting an hour or two or more go by in a reverie state. I don’t feel compelled to have a word count at the end of the day, but rather to prepare myself as a ready receptacle for whatever might happen.

This is a book about trees, but it's also about us. Trees have natural resilience. Those we destroy today will provide roots and seeds for regrowth, which may take hundreds, even thousands of years. Whether humans will be around to see that resurgence is an open question.—Pat Prijatel

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah

When a book begins with a nine-year-old getting pushed out of a moving bus by his mother and ends up twenty years later with him hosting The Daily Show, you want to see what mysteries unfold in the middle. 

Trevor Noah’s mother, who he calls a “force of nature,” is the one who shoved him out of the speeding minibus, jumping out with him—to protect both of them from a driver who showed serious intent to harm them both. And so begins the book about a young man who took after the mother he adored, refusing the rules intended to keep her, and him, in their proper places—whatever that was in South Africa’s system of apartheid that separated people by race to a degree that few understood. Chinese were colored, but Japanese were not, and Trevor, who had a white father and a Black mother, wasn't considered colored, but mixed, an entirely different category, with different rules. Their union was illegal, so he literally was born a crime.


Obviously a bright child, Trevor learned to master the many languages and accents of his complex and diverse neighborhoods, including English, Zulu, German, Afrikaans, and Sotho, which gave him an advantage when getting mugged, cheated, criticized, conned, or when just wanting to communicate with somebody different. 


Language, he writes, is part of a shared identity and “even more than color, defines who you are to people.” Language can unify and divide us, he says. This makes the story of his high school matric dance (prom) even more ironic.  He wooed a girl for a month, considering her the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. When she agreed to go to prom with him, he spent a fortune getting the right outfit and planning the perfect night. He was late picking her up, then got lost, and they were two hours late to the dance. Once there, she refused to get out of the car, and he had no idea why. It turned out she was terrified of the whole chaotic situation, something she could not communicate because she did not speak English and her language, Pedi, was one of the few he couldn't speak, a fact that somehow eluded him in his ill-fated courtship.


Much of the book is about how he tried to find his place as a light-skinned Black man, finally turning to comedy to try to make some sense of it. He was such a misfit, in fact, that at one point neighbors used him as a guidepost when giving directions: “The house on Makhalima Street. At the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right there.”


Noah’s mother, Patricia, had no interest in remaining a subjugated woman and living her life defined by White culture and Black men. She chose to have a child with a man of German-Swiss descent, with no plans of ever marrying him; she trained as a typist at a time when women were supposed to stay at home; and she moved into neighborhoods that were alternately dangerous or above her “station,” all to avoid staying in a small village or a small life.


Patricia was Trevor’s guiding light, foil to his escapades, greatest love and greatest challenge. His biological father remained in his life, even though that was not part of the original agreement and offered a touch of support from a distance. His stepfather Abel provided a model of the kind of man he did not want to be.


For her part, Patricia saw Jesus as her guide, and she and Trevor spent most of each Sunday going to three different churches—White church, Black church, and colored church, providing a framework for her faith, but demonstrating the divisive society in which they lived.


Trevor countered constant bullying with humor, which became his defense and led to a high- paying career. As a teenager, he was eating caterpillars to keep from starving, which he describes in appalling detail, while iiving in a garage or sleeping in cars every night and wearing clothes too big for him so they didn't have to replaced so often. Now, at the age of 36 he is making $8 million a year.


The book is essentially an interwoven series of monologues that are harrowing, insightful, terrifying, sad, and, because of the telling, often funny. But there is nothing funny about the system of apartheid under which Trevor was born and the racism and classism in which he lived. Perhaps there will be a sequel to this, explaining how he ended up where he now is. Better yet, maybe his remarkable mother will write a book. — Joe Kucera and Pat Prijatel

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

Patchett is a connoisseur of imperfect characters who are compelling mixes of the saintly, the clueless, the wise and loving, the selfish and manipulative—characters the reader can’t help but care about because they are just so human.

In The Dutch House, Patchett uses the grand VanHoebeek’s mansion that came on the market after World War II as the spine of the multi-generational story. When Cyril Conroy buys the Dutch house (with all the VanHoebeek’s personal possessions and three servants included) as a surprise for his wife Elna, it is a cruel gift to the quiet, would-be nun. 

The changes brought about by moving into the Dutch house eventually send Elna fleeing to Bombay to work with Mother Teresa (who is actually in Calcutta). After she leaves, the Conroy children, Maeve and Danny, are in the capable, loving hands of the housekeeper, the cook, and the nanny, Fiona (aka Fluffy), who is a warm, humorous presence from before the beginning of the story through the end, three generations later.

Danny, as the narrator, shows us life in the Dutch house. After their mother, who has been disappearing for increasingly long spells, seems perhaps not to be coming back ever, he and Maeve wonder if she is dead. Probably, their dad tells them. She probably died in India. Information which is neither comforting nor edifying. 


Then young and attractive Andrea begins to come and go in the Dutch house. The children are left on their own to figure out what this means. Maeve becomes suddenly and seriously ill with diabetes. Despite all this, young Danny still feels secure and loved by the servants and especially his sister, who has taken on a quasi-motherly role. 


When their dad marries Andrea, she brings two little girls, Norma and Bright, into the Dutch House. Maeve and Danny come to love the little girls, but Andrea—in a vein of casual cruelty, gives Maeve’s room to Norma when Maeve goes off to college. And when Cyril dies of a heart attack shortly after Maeve graduates, Andrea calls Maeve and says of Danny: “Come and get him.” Thus Danny and Maeve are summarily banished from the Dutch house and Norma and Bright.  Equally shocking, Maeve and Danny discover Andrea now owns everything: the Dutch house and all of Cyril’s real estate and investments. Danny and Maeve are left with Maeve’s car and a foundation established for the education of Cyril and Andrea’s four children.


Thus begins Danny and Maeve’s period of watching the Dutch house and plotting. In Maeve’s car, they take up posts, smoking and talking, with Maeve planning ways for Danny to use up the foundation money by the longest, most costly education imaginable. And from this revenge plot, Danny eventually and unwittingly becomes a doctor, when all he wants to do is get a little money together so he can start investing in real estate and follow in his dad’s footsteps.


Danny’s girlfriend, Celeste, in training to be the best doctor’s wife ever, discovers she has married a landlord instead of a doctor—repeating Elna’s pattern of discovering her husband was not who she thought he was. And Danny ironically repeats family history too by surprising Celeste with a beautifully restored brownstone in Manhattan not at all to her taste.


Over the years, through various bits of information, Danny and Maeve gradually come to understand their mother is still alive, living and doing good works among the homeless in the city. Danny struggles with how to feel about this, but Maeve embraces the woman she still calls Mommy. 


Near the end of the story, Elna convinces her children, as only she could, to go with her to visit the Dutch House.  This causes a tectonic shift among the characters. Now demented, Andrea is enormously comforted by Danny, who she believes is Cyril returned to her. Ever compassionate (except perhaps to her young children) Elna moves back into the Dutch house (unchanged all these years) and works with Norma (who actually did want to become a doctor) as Andrea’s caretakers. Maeve, who feels abandoned by her mother once again, dies of what is surely meant to be taken as a broken heart. 


As the story ends, Danny and Norma become siblings of sorts (“a half-sister from a second marriage,” as Danny cautiously puts it). Elna begins to disappear among the poor again. Danny finally gives up his rage at his mother and replaces it with “familiarity.” Danny and Celeste divorce. Fluffy visits the Dutch House now and then and sleeps in her old room above the garage. And May—Maeve’s namesake—gains fame and fortune as an actress and ultimately buys the Dutch house and brings back parties reminiscent of the VanHoebeek era. And the portrait of Maeve, originally painted to stare down the VanHoebeck’s portraits hanging across the room, looks to all the world like May. There’s a sense of rightness about this ending. Finally, the Dutch house has come into its own as the Conroy house.


The Dutch House is a rich and conversation-provoking story showing us the human condition in fascinating particulars. — Sharelle Moranville

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century, by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Is this book autobiography?  Memoir?  Is it the story of a quest for the answers to an absorbing crime story with an uncertain ending?  Is it scientific history?  Answer: All of the above!  In weaving together these several strands, this non-fiction tale led to provocative discussion. 

Kirk Wallace Johnson opens his tale autobiographically:  He’s suffering from PTSD in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.  His current work, seeking to resettle Iraqi interpreters in the US, meets with limited success and constant frustration.  To relieve his depression, he takes up fly-fishing.  From his guide, he learns about fly-tying, the creation of beautiful works of art that are ostensibly for use as hooks to attract salmon.  In reality, these salmon flies are almost never actually used to fish.  They are bought and sold and hoarded as the works of art they are.  Trouble is, however, that the “best” require the use of rare and expensive bird feathers, many from extinct or near-extinct birds. 

As the author enters the world of the fly-tiers, he starts to hear of a theft from the British Museum’s ornithological collection held at the Tring Museum outside London.  This theft was accomplished by a young man, barely out of his teens, named Edwin Rist.  To explain not only the lure of the beautiful bird feathers that drew Rist to the heist, but also the scientific value of the birds taken, the author discovers the work of naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, who in the middle years of the 19th century, traversed the Malay Archipelago where he gathered and catalogued over 125,000 specimens of rare birds.  His meticulous efforts to tag the date and location of each skin, as the bird carcasses are called, led him independently from Charles Darwin to arrive at the theory of evolution via natural selection.  

But what of Edwin Rist?  Rist is an American young man studying flute at the Royal Conservatory in London, hoping to be selected to play with a major European orchestra when his studies are completed.  He is also an up-and-coming expert fly-tier, featured in the fly-tying world’s website as “the future of fly-tying.”  He needs money to purchase the exotic bird feathers to use in tying his flies.  His visit to the Tring museum awakens him to the possibilities of securing a supply of rare feathers for his own fly-tying and of a steady source of income from feather sales to other fly-tiers.  

The subtitle speaks of obsession and there are many to examine in this book.  There is, first, the scientific obsession of Alfred Russell Wallace, the collector of the specimens, who from his lower-class origins sought academic recognition that was at the time only granted to upper class Britons.  There is Edwin Rist’s obsession with tying classic fishing flies that motivates the theft.  And there is the author’s own obsession with the crime and with recovering feathers for the museum, an obsession that has therapeutic value in alleviating his PTSD symptoms.   

Fly-tying with exotic feathers has exerted an obsessive pull on anglers and on pure hobbyists, with an upsurge of interest in the late 20th century.  With that enthusiasm comes the obsessions that fuel an underground market in rare and often illegal feathers.  Edwin Rist fell into this obsession as a young teenager.  He was later arrested and tried for the theft, was found guilty but lightly punished with a short period of probation after pleading incapacity due to Asperger’s syndrome.  

Many of our discussions were prompted by the judicial treatment of the case.  Could the system do justice to all the interests of society?  The police were essentially done when Rist was identified and tried.  The prosecutor and judge felt limited by prior decisions on the Asperger defense.  The museum’s interest waned when the specimens that were recovered were missing their sourcing tags or had been cut into marketable parts.  The general silence of the “feather underground” made it more difficult to track the fate of the specimens.  What do we think should have been a just punishment or a restorative action imposed on Edwin Rist?  And could he have pulled this off alone?  

Where does the value of the specimens to the scientific community collide with the value of the birds as objects of true beauty that the public might want to see?  Fly-tiers ask:  “Why does the Museum need so many examples of the same bird anyway?”

The Feather Thief is a good read, provocatively posing questions to which different readers might well derive different answers. — Jeanie and Bill Smith

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger

This quiet, gentle story is remarkable for the artistry of it words, the realistically oddball characters, and its touch of Northwoods magic realism. The main character, Virgil Wander, almost drowns when his car slides off the road and into Lake Superior. The accident damages his brain and, as a result, he quietly and gradually reinvents himself, leaving behind his hesitant, staid self—the “former occupant” of his apartment, clothes, and life. In his place is a man willing to take a few risks.

Comparing his flight into the lake with his new life, he says: 

“A person never knows what is next—I don't anyway. The surface of everything is thinner than we know. A person can fall right through, without any warning at all.” 

Virgil owns a down-on-its-luck movie theatre, the Empress, and is also Greenstone’s city clerk. (When he explains this latter job, he addresses the reader directly asking, “Did you think I made a living at the Empress?” It’s a delightfully engaging moment.)

After his plunge into the lake, Virgil has a unique mental quirk: He cannot remember adjectives. But no matter, Enger demonstrates the power of all parts of speech, in quote-worthy paragraph after paragraph, as Virgil creates a new life from the leftovers of his old one. The language alone makes the book a wonder to read.

For example, when Virgil first meets the mystical Rune, he describes how the old man smoked his pipe: “The smoke ghosted straight up and hung there undecided.” Who needs fancy adjectives when you can create an image so economically and so powerfully?

And when Virgil finds the ominous Adam Leer burning clothes behind his house, he again evokes the smoke-in-need-of-direction image, this time using an adjective in a way that makes the reader wonder why other writers haven’t used this description: “Tendrils of tea-colored smoke uncurled to explore the immediate region.”

Some lines are laugh-out-loud funny, as when Virgil observes, “The evidence of my life lay before me, and I was unconvinced.” 

Virgil, who narrates the book, introduces us to his community in the bad luck town of Greenstone, Minnesota, north of Duluth. Residents have landed there by chance, as Virgil did, lured by a lake view and cheap real estate; others were born there, as was the mysterious and sinister Leer; and then there's the elfin Rune, who shows up on the shore of Lake Superior flying kites. 

But these are no ordinary kites—they're so mystical that people passing by stop and wait their turns to fly the giant dog, or the bike with wheels that turn, a burning fireplace, or even an anvil. Rune is in town looking for stories of his son Alec, whom he never met, and who flew out over Lake Superior one day in a tiny old plane, never to return.  Nadine, Alec’s widow, takes over his neon sign business, creating pieces of art she sells nationally; Virgil loves her from afar, assuming he has no chance with her, until he does. When the two finally connect, he observes, “She kept looking away then back to me, as though at a nice surprise. This was maybe best of all. I never once expected to be someone’s nice surprise.” 

Two fatherless boys, Bjorn and Galen, help pull Virgil toward himself and away from the previous tenant, aided by Ann and Jerry, married but not really, who are trying to move beyond the margins of their lives.  Then there’s a giant sturgeon, a bomb, a festival called Hard Luck Days, and a cameo by Bob Dylan, who wrote a song about Greenstone, but Virgil can’t remember which one. And a priceless set of old movie reels Virgil refers to as imps in a jar, and which get the Empress a new roof.

Like the kites, the characters’ lives move with slow precision and eventually reach a conclusion that ties the story lines and loose strings together. A few bits are left hanging (What actually did happen to Leer?) and some are tied up with a bit of sadness (Jerry’s luck gets harder, although he might have left the city better off).

Toward the end of the book, the community comes together for Virgil, who does not expect it, and he says, poignantly, “Your tribe is always bigger than you think.” 

At the very end, in Rune’s city of Tromsø, Norway, Nadine and Virgil face an unknown future, but with a fresh outlook that mirrors the theme of the book:
“We all dream of finding but what’s wrong with looking? When the sun rises we’ll know what to do.”

                                                                                                                                    —Pat Prijatel 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

In The Garden of Beasts:Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, by Erik Larson

This solidly researched account of Germany and the U.S. before World War II reads like a novel full of intigue, love affairs, disloyalty, honor, dishonor, evil, and power. Erik Larson tells the story from the unique perspective of the American ambassador from 1933-1938, William Dodd, and his family. Dodd was a scholar who was looking for an ambassadorship simply because he wanted to finish his three-volume book on the Old South. He ended up in Berlin because nobody else wanted the job—a fact he didnt realize until he was committed to the position.

Dodd was a Jeffersonian Democrat who chose to live on a budget and walk to work instead of being chauffered about in a giant gas guzzler, as was the custom of ambassadors.He remained a misfit during his entire time in Germany because he was not one of the wealthy elites who normally fill such posts. Initially, he argued away the threat of Hitler and the Nazi party, but ultimately he tried to warn the Roosevelt administration of the reality of Hitler's danger to Germany and to the world. He was deemed an alarmist by his "colleagues" in Washington, and his warnings were dismissed as the work of an academic unqualified for diplomatic work.

Larson demonstrates how America and the German people might have stopped the pure evil that descended on Germany, but they chose to leave it to others, thinking it would get better on its own. Worse, many Americans at the time excused Hitler's most despicable acts, reasoning that Jews caused their own problems.

Larson researched hundreds of books, artices, and newsreels, but relied heavily on Dodd's papers and on his and his daughter's autobiographies. The daughter, Martha Dodd, was a notorious partier who had affairs with Germans, Russians, and anybody in between. She was blindsided by Nazi charm, until their crimes became too obvious for her to ignore. Her story is a juicy counterpoint to her father's more staid approach.

Larson shows the complexities of the era, creating in Dodd a character who has the guts to publicly decry Nazi policy, but who remains somewhat naive about the political web he's caught in.  Likewise, Larson makes clear that, while many Germans remained complacent and complicit in Hitler's evil, some even within the Nazi hierarchy tried to work against Hitler.

After Dodd was replaced as Ambassador, he toured the country, warning Americans of the true evil of Hitler's regime. Even then, he was often seen as exaggerating. —Pat Prijatel