Thursday, August 14, 2014

reading time

"No one can find it. That's the first thing. The Recording Room is on the eleventh floor, at the end of a rat-hued hallway that some workers at the newspaper have never seen." ~the opening lines of The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland.

That is where you will find Lena, the last transcriptionist for the giant New York City newspaper. At one time there were many transcriptionists in this Room, but it is a dying profession, dying like the printed word of the newspaper.

"Three black phones are mounted on a panel and linked to recorders with electrical umbilical cords so that reporters can call in to dictate their stories."

Lena sits alone with only a lone pigeon on the windowsill and the voices coming through the phone line.

"There is basic equipment required: a headset, a Dictaphone to play the tapes that must be transcribed, and patience, a willingness to become a human conduit as the words of others enter through her ears, course through her veins, and drip out unseen through fast-moving fingertips."

Lena lives vicariously through the reporters who call in from faraway places with exciting stories. Until she transcribes a shocking news story close to home, about someone she just met on the bus a few days before. The story about the blind lady who was killed after she climbed into the lion's den at the zoo. She cannot get the story out of her head, she remembers the woman's face, the woman's words that day on the bus…

This story of course hit home with me. The profession, the isolation, listening to the world outside while trapped in this little room looking out…

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I love about my job, the work is interesting, the flexible hours and flexible location, the lack of commute time and traffic and work clothes, all unbeatable. I love my job, I love my job.

And I love this book, I had never heard of transcriptionists at a newspaper, but it makes sense. Of course they are no more, now we can only read about how it was done in the old days, in The Transcriptionist.

"Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third." ~the opening line of Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

Modern development of an ancient burial ground brings up a lot of feelings and memories and something else - ghosts. Many of the local townspeople are involved in the story and history of the area, their stories all intertwine and connect. Interspersed throughout the book are quotes from what looks like official documents of the Vermont Eugenics Society, their purpose and actions in 1926 Vermont made the small town what it is today. Eugenics described as "the practice of selective breeding among humans."

Much like farmers manage their herds for superior stock, the population of Vermont was studied and charted and patterns emerged - patterns of families with undesirable traits, traits that caused them to be supported by the state in institutions such as prisons and 'homes for the feebleminded'. The plan was to sterilize these individuals so as to breed out the bad traits, mandated by the 1927 Sterilization Bill, leading to less state-supported individuals.

OMG! Did this really happen? Or is this just an author with an overactive imagination? A quick Google search confirmed it, the facts are there. Of course my next thought was - this sounds like Nazi Germany. More searching found that indeed Hitler used the United States' eugenics studies for his own master plan.

Created with good intentions, eugenics led to disastrous consequences. Among those was the Holocaust, in which Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany murdered over six million Jews, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others judged to be undesirable, all in the name of creating a 'master race' of humans. Vermont Eugenics
Back to the story - Second Glance has suspense and love and science, a murder mystery, with some little-known history thrown in, albeit history that is better forgotten, but makes for a very interesting story.

"My father trusted me with the details of his death. 'Ania,' he would say, 'no whiskey at my funeral. I want the finest blackberry wine. No weeping, mind you. Just dancing. And when they lower me into the ground, I want a fanfare of trumpets, and white butterflies.'"  ~ opening lines of The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

This story starts out as a simple story about Sage Singer, a baker, a loner who works nights. One of her customers is a nice old man, Josef Weber, a favorite in the neighborhood, retired teacher, coach. But then the twists and turns start, the stories come out. Mr. Weber is not his real name, he has been in hiding since WWII, a former Nazi guard during the Holocaust, and he wants her to help him die. Is he the same guard that Sage's grandmother remembers as a young girl, but refuses to speak of? The story flashes back to the 1940s, the stories of the guard and the girl making their way through Nazi Germany, until their stories intertwine and become one. There is also the present day story, the one of Sage the baker who struggles with Mr. Weber's request. Should she do it? Why her? He wants forgiveness for all the people he murdered, her people, her forgiveness.

A very interesting story, a story of families, justice, morals, revenge, forgiveness. Also interesting is that the two books I read recently by Jodi Picoult both took me to the Holocaust, this one a more direct route than the last. A good read, thought-provoking, history lesson. 

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