Sad Stories

How are you all doing on your to-be-read books so far this year? I accepted a reading challenge for reading the classics and read a book in each of the six categories. Feeling I had to complete the goal helped me through some of the drier parts of Moll Flanders or Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley.


Stories about brave women

I love memoirs and biographies most of all. I love to read how people live their lives and overcome difficulties and tragedies. I couldn’t put A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown down! Although it is shocking, it is also inspiring. And all true! Removed to a foster home at the age of eleven, Cupcake (real name) survived the most unbelievable abuse and yet managed to finally escape and redo her whole life. It was the best book I’ve read so far this year!

I put off reading A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard because I knew it was the story of an eleven-year-old girl kidnapped and held for 18 years by a very sick man. There were several parts that were painful to read but Dugard tells her story in a matter of fact way. I was also amazed by how upbeat she is today. She moved beyond being a victim and doesn’t dwell on the time she lost.

Jaycee at eleven

Jaycee at eleven

Both of these books impressed me with the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability of these two women to live through many painful things yet rise above it. Bravo!

I have read many stories of the  Nazi concentration camps, but The Seamstress, A Memoir of Survival by Sara Tuvel Berenstein was riveting. Born into a large, warm family in what was then Romania, Sara leaves home to become a dressmaker. Her talent gains her many wealthy clients until she is swept up and taken to Ravensbruck. She is one of a handful of survivors and manages to keep her sister beside her the whole time, willing her to stay alive.


From the concentration camps of Austria to work camps in China during the Cultural Revolution is a big jump, but the next book I picked up was The Secret Piano by Zhu Xiao-Mei.  Zhu was three years old when she first remembers her mother playing their piano.

Evicted from their home and reviled as a bourgeoisie family, they somehow manage to hold on to this instrument throughout all. A gifted pianist, she passes the exam to enter an elite music school, only to see all the sheet music and records burned by the Red Guard. Deprived of the chance for an education, she spends many years in a labor camp with very little to eat. The story of how she survives and remakes her life is an inspiring tale.


Sara Berenstein as a young seamstress in Bucharest

In spite of the tragic stories told, each of these books leaves one feeling moved and inspired by the strength within these women. Can we all overcome when faced with such dire circumstances or are these four women exceptional people? I’m sure they are, but it gives us hope and courage to think that we can also rise above whatever hard times are ahead for us!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Becky nielsen
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 20:39:10

    Thanks for these mini reviews, Leah. I’ll put them on my list. I just recently listened to the audio book The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty; it’s fiction, well written, and includes the real life character of Louise Brooks, who was a silent film star. But the story is more about the life of the woman who chaperoned Louise briefly. I had never heard about the orphan trains but they were used in the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s to move children out of the east coast cities to homes further west. Some children found good homes, some were treated as slaves or were abused. That alone is quite a story. right now I’m reading Great Expectations for the first time. and recently I read Anne of Green Gables – see why it was so popular!


  2. leahmama1
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 22:40:03

    Glad to hear from you again. I am interested in reading about the orphan trains. Is there a non-fiction book about them too? I see you have been doing a lot of reading ! I have not actually read the whole Anne of Green Gables series. Great Expectations and David Copperfield are my two favorite Dickens’ books. I love the character of Miss Haversham. The idea that nothing has changed in her house all those years fascinated me when I first read it.


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