What’s Ashley Reading?: The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

First line: In the dead of night, during the dreary month of March, the Chelsea Hotel is a quiet place.

Summary: Hazel Ridley is from a stage family. Her father spent years on Broadway, her mother as his manager and her brother was an aspiring actor but Hazel has never been able to find her big break. She decides to sign up for the USO tour. When she arrives in Italy she meets Maxine the leading lady of the troupe and they quickly become close friends.

Upon Hazel’s return to New York City she finds an apartment at the Chelsea Hotel in order to work on her idea for a play based on her time in the war. With Maxine as the leading lady it appears that the show is going to be a hit until her name appears on the list of suspected Communists. As the Red Scare begins to take over the country, Hazel is worried that her show and life may not be what she once believed it would be.

My Thoughts: Like Davis’ other works, this centers around a New York City landmark, the Chelsea Hotel. It plays just as much of a role as the characters. It is the home of creative types during the twentieth century including Mark Twain, Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller. The hotel has a fascinating history. As with other historical novels I love to look at pictures. It is a gorgeous old building.

The Chelsea Hotel in New York City

I learned more about McCarthyism and the Red Scare while reading The Chelsea Girls. It seems like a scary time. The Cold War is going on. You do not know who you can trust. Neighbors are turning in neighbors. This brought it more to life than many of the history textbooks I have read throughout my school years.

I was rather disappointed in The Chelsea Girls. In her previous novels there is a dual narrative with one being in the past (usually the 1920s) and one being modern. It was not so in this case. It did switch between the two main women but it did not seem to have the same magic as her others do. I liked it but it is probably my least favorite.

FYI: Try her other books, The Address, The Dollhouse and the The Masterpiece.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

History has been my favorite subject since middle school.  I loved the stories of people’s lives and how they shaped the world we live in today.  I read a lot of historical fiction novels.  When I was younger my interest was on World War II and the Holocaust.  It was and is hard to imagine what happened and reading about it helped me to understand it better.

We have some wonderful databases that are useful when studying history.  It covers world and American history.  There are links to articles and journals that are helpful for writing research papers.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

First line: Lale tries not to look up.

Summary: Based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia, who spent several years in Auschwitz as the Tatowierer. His job was to tattoo the numbers onto the arms of all incoming inmates. He witnesses shocking things every day. It is hard to imagine a happy world after the atrocities of the camp. When he meets a young woman, Gita, he uses his influence to keep her alive and safe.

Highlights: This story is heartbreaking but also beautiful. Lale is put in the most terrifying place but somehow keeps his spirits up in hopes of a brighter future. He learns quickly how to navigate life in Auschwitz. He “befriends” an officer who gives him news of the camp. The job of tattooist is a stroke of luck bringing him privileges which he uses to help out his fellow inmates. He was a good and honest man who did much to keep people alive and strong. It shows how being kind can lead to good things. I love his relationship with Gita. Even in such a horrible place he found the love of his life.

The writing was very simple but the story is powerful. It is shocking to hear the stories of survivors of such a place. I cannot even imagine living through those conditions. Read the author’s notes at the end where she discusses the interviews over years where Lale told his story.

Lowlights: Like I said before the writing is very simple. Sometimes it seemed a little choppy but if you can get past that the story is well worth the read.

FYI: If you found this interesting then check out The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.