“KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps” by Nikolaus Wachsmann— A Comprehensive Study

a history of concentration camps

Wachsmann, Nikolaus. “KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015).

A Comprehensive Study

Amos Lassen

This is the first comprehensive history of the Nazi concentration camps and in this landmark study, Nikolaus Wachsmann provides an unprecedented, integrated account of the Nazi concentration camps from their inception in 1933 through their demise, seventy years ago, in the spring of 1945. With all of the studies and research about Nazi Germany, there has never been a history of the camp system that tells the full story of its broad development and the everyday experiences of its inhabitants, both perpetrators and victims. , and all those living in what Primo Levi called “the gray zone.”

Much of the research material uses here had not be translated before and it gives some startling revelations about the camps. What we have here is based on many years of archival research, about the functioning and scope of the camp system. The book closely examines life and death inside the camps, and as well as how the camp system was shaped by changing political, legal, social, economic, and military forces, writer Wachsmann has produced a unified picture of the Nazi regime and its camps that we have never seen before.
 This is the definitive study of the camps with portraits of individual human beings. It is thoroughly documented, clearly and well written and easy to read.

The book is divided into 12 chapters that cover chronologically development of the camps chronologically the development of the camps from the early ones that were used for the political opponents to the final stage of war camps in which Holocaust and mass murders were conducted. We are also privy to the “perfectly conceived mechanism for the destruction of millions of people.”

Wachsmann also has provided an appendix in which numbers are shown – one that shows the daily inmate numbers in the SS concentration camps and prisoner deaths that were conducted there, as well as SS ranks with Army Equivalents for the better understanding.

 

“Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America” by C. Winter Han— Sidelined in the Community

geisha of a different kind

Han, C. Winter. “Geisha of a Different Kind: Race and Sexuality in Gaysian America”, NYU Press, 2015.

Sidelined in the Community

Amos Lassen

In today’s American gay culture—bars, nightclubs, magazines and the media, the white, buff, macho man rules the roost. He is the most attracted and the most desired. He is also the most emulated. On the other hand, gay Asian men are seen as submissive and/or too pretty. Gay Asians are often sidelined by the larger gay community. They are

“repeatedly marginalized by both the white-centric queer community that values a hyper-masculine sexuality and a homophobic Asian American community that often privileges masculine heterosexuality, gay Asian American men largely have been silenced and alienated in present-day culture and society.” In “Geisha of a Different Kind”, author C. Winter Han uses the West Coast Asian drag shows to the internationally sought-after Thai kathoey, or “ladyboy,” in order to construct a theory of queerness that is both inclusive of the race and gender particularities of the gay Asian male experience in this country.

The gay Asian male is observed here ethnographically and through readings of current media and popular culture depictions of Asian Americans, Han argues that gay Asian American men who have been used to gender privilege within their own communities, now must struggle with the idea that, as Asians, they have historically been feminized as a result of Western domination and colonization, and as a result, they remain minorities within the gay community, which is itself marginalized within the overall American society. Han also shows that many Asian American gay men can turn their unusual position in the gay and Asian American communities into a positive identity. Because they have a strong conception of self, they are much more able to convey a convincing erotic femininity. The book challenges the stereotypes about beauty and is an important investigation of nativity, and race and sexuality in America.

Han maintains a focus on the daily contingencies of these men’s lives making this book an important study of contemporary U.S. sex/gender systems and their links to racial formations. 
Below is a copy of the table of contents:

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Geisha of a Different Kind 1

  1. Being an Oriental, I Could Never Be Completely a Man:
    Gendering Asian Men 21
  2. Sexy Like a Girl and Horny Like a Boy: Contemporary
    Gay “Western” Narratives about Gay “Asian” Men 57

3. It’s Like They Don’t See Us at All: Race and Racism in Gay America 93

  1. Asian Girls Are Prettier: How Drag Queens Saved Us 127
  2. Finding Home in Gaysian America: Constructing
    Gay Asian Male Identities 156

Conclusion: Who Gets to Be Gay, Who Gets to Be Asian? 188

Notes 199

References 211

Index 223

About the Author

 

“Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights” by Ann Bausum— “History Walks Through the Door”

stonewall

Bausum, Ann. “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights”, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2015.

“History Walks Through the Door”

Amos Lassen

It was in 1969 and before that being gay was a crime. Going out to a gay bar could be quite dangerous and people were arrested because of their sexuality. We were closeted and live lives that were marginalized. Gay men and women were sent to jail, their names were printed in the newspapers, they lost jobs and were publicly humiliated and disowned by their families. Many doctors considered homosexuality to be a mental illness. The few places where gays could meet and spend time together somewhat openly were the gay bars. Many of the bars were owned by the Mafia and Stonewall was one such bar. Stonewall was filthy and overpriced but it had a great location in the bohemian Greenwich Village in New York City.

Police raided the bars regularly but that night in June when they entered Stonewall, the unexpected took place. Tensions were very high and the crowd stayed and grew and grew and grew. Anger and frustration grew with the crowd and soon there was a riot and that riot became a catalyst. As gay people, the time had come to demand our rights and to fight back. The rest became history and Ann Bausum has captured it wonderfully for the young adult reader. The Stonewall Riot and the national gay rights movement were inspirational and here we get the details of what really happened. 

Ann Bausum’s riveting exploration of the Stonewall Riots and the national Gay Rights movement that followed is eye-opening, unflinching, and inspiring. She tells the story as if we were having a chat with her and does so with style, grace and passion. Most important is that she captures the anger that many felt that night.

 

“Familiar Feeling: Coven of Four, Book One” by Daniel A. Kaine— Believing

familiar feeling

Kaine, Daniel A. “Familiar Feeling: Coven of Four, Book One”, Wilde City Press, 2015.

Believing

Amos Lassen

Drew’s wife, Linda, died an unexplained death some three years before our story begins. One day, while cleaning out the attic in his house, he found a book of spells and thought to himself that what was written there had no value and, in fact, was kind of silly. But then he met Felix who came to life as he read the book, There was an immediate mutual attraction between the two men. Suddenly Drew feels as if he has some kind of power. But there is a problem. There is a coven of witches who worship demons near by and they are determined to get Drew’s power. Felix knows that the only way to help Drew is to teach him the ways of witchcraft. There just does not seem to be enough time.

When Drew opened the locked box with the key that Linda always wore around her neck, strange things start to happen. At the time that he opened the box, Linda’s cat that he has not seen since Linda’s death suddenly appears. Then there is Felix, a very sexy stranger who follows him wherever he goes. While out one evening, Drew is attacked in the bathroom of a bar. I understand that this is the first book in a new series, “Coven of Four” from Daniel Kaine.

Felix hopes that Drew is open-minded about his feelings and from what we can tell, he certainly is—it did not take long for either man to realize what was happening.

With everything happening so fast, Felix is forced to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and just pray that Drew is as open minded as his late wife was. It takes Drew and Felix about five minutes to sense the mutual attraction, and though Felix tries to push Drew away in the beginning he comes to realize that what brought him back to Drew wasn’t just the magic, or the fact they are witch and familiar, it was love. We learn the back stories of both Drew and Felix and while everything at first is not clear as to what really brings the men together, this is explained during the course of the novel. In fact, because this is the first in a series, everything will eventually be explained.

 

 

 

“A SINNER IN MECCA”— A Hajj of Defiance

 

 

 

a sinner in Mecca

“A Sinner in Mecca”

A Hajj of Defiance

Amos Lassen

Parvez Sharma went to Mecca on a pilgrimage and filmed secretly what he saw and then described it as “the frontline of Mecca” that is necessary to understand what it means to be a Muslim. He tells us that “Islam is at war with itself, and I have fought hard not to be a casualty.” Parvez, who is a gay Muslim and has had death threats for making the film. This has called for increased security wherever the film is shown. leading to increased security at the festival screenings.

What the film does is explore Sharma’s relationship with Islam as he goes on the hajj (the devotional pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which all Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetime). Sharma was born in India but is based in New York and he wants answers to his questions especially if it is possible for someone like him to be a good Muslim. He wants evidence so that he can survive this experience. He filmed the entire experience on his camera phone as well as on two smuggled and two hidden cameras. Photography is forbidden at sacred sites on the hajj, while homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

A SINNER 2

The film moves forward from Sharma’s personal essay on the inner struggles of a gay Muslim to an examination of contemporary Islam.

We see witness firsthand his intimate struggles of uncertainty and self-doubt against the backdrops of religious extremism, commercialization and sectarian battles – all of which still poison modern understanding of Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We also see a Saudi Arabia never seen before on film, one that its secretive monarchy doesn’t want the world to know about. The film explores what it means to believe while dealing with religious manipulation and government corruption. Granted being gay and Muslim can be dangerous but even more dangerous is question faith. He is also fall for the simplified narrative, especially one that forces you to look at a quarter of the world’s population through a singular lens. Even with extremism, we see that the humanity and dignity of Islam’s majority continue to be the only things that will help its believers push the religion forward. Sharma’s film is both a delicately personal story and an urgent call to action. He shows that reformation is not just phase on the path to modernity – it’s the only hope a faith has to save itself in an increasingly harsh world.

When he came back to the States, he says that he was haunted by dreams of what he saw and felt. It was a very harsh pilgrimage about faith and surrender. He tells us also that in order to film, he had to go back into the closet not just as a gay man but as a movie maker. We immediately realize what the Saudi government is doing systematically and deliberately and they are successful.

Sharma felt a strange and unique affinity with the Shia pilgrims that were on the journey with him and yet he was still afraid, so much so that he decided to come out as a Sunni. He knew that he was one with these outliers of Islam. This is not a film about homosexuality per se but it is about the change that needs to happen within Islam. It’s a direct challenge, a call to action to all Muslims to take back singular authority over their faith. It’s only the believers who have the power to transform the religion – and the transformation is urgent.

For a gay filmmaker, filming in Saudi Arabia presents two serious challenges: filming is forbidden in the country and homosexuality is punishable by death. For Parvez Sharma these were the risks he had to take. Set in the middle of Mecca is the ancient cube shaped structure called the Kaaba, the beating heart of Islam. The Kaaba also is at the heart of this film. This film shows some of the dangerous ideology that governs today’s ISIS and how much it has in common with Saudi Arabia’s sacred doctrine, Wahabi Islam. The time is perfect for this film. One-sixth of all humanity is Muslim and Islam remains the world’s most contested religion. Misguided caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad reliably ignite worldwide violence. Recent examples include the inexcusable carnage at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the murders in Copenhagen. The need to understand the world’s fastest growing religion has never been more urgent. Daily battles are being fought in the media over this oft-misunderstood faith. With this film, it is Islam’s ultimate insiders, its Hajji pilgrims, who get to tell the story of their faith.

a sinner in Mecca

We see a fascinating visit to the town where Sharma once lived and his husband joins him from New York to explore that country. Footage of their wedding day and of their life together contrasts the secret lives that many gay Muslims are forced to lead, if they’re lucky enough not to be imprisoned or, like the man whose death was witnessed by Sharma’s Saudi chat-room friend, beheaded.

Sharma’s husband is an atheist and this underscores the aloneness of not just his hajj but his ongoing quest to find his place in Islam.

 

 

 

 

 

“52 TUESDAYS”— Billie and Mom/Dad

52 tuesdays

“52 Tuesdays”

Billie and Mom/Dad

Amos Lassen

Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) is sixteen-years-old and on the path to independence. Her mother surprises her with a major announcement—she is planning to transition from female to male and now they mother and daughter will only have Tuesday afternoons together. The film was actually shot over 52 Tuesday afternoons for year and we see a really authentic and emotion packed story about desire, transformation and responsibility. Director Sophie Hyde follows the mental and physical evolutions of both James (Del Herbert-Jane), a mother transitioning into a man, and his daughter, Billie, a precocious teen who’s coming to terms with her burgeoning sexuality. We see intimate moments from both of their lives but what I really wanted to see was the toll that Jamie’s transition takes in Billie. I feel that there was too much emphasis on James and his physical transformation and we really only get superficial information about the way Billie deals with it. How James’ transition affects his social life is also not dealt with enough. There does not seem to be much interest in the emotional inner life of Billie. We do, however, see James as Billie sees him. Both characters are preparing for lives of independence yet only one of them gets the full treatment.

52-1

Billie confesses her opinions about James’s transition and James is constantly being defined in relation to his daughter in Billie’s diary. However, something seems to be missing. This is the year that Billie loses both her virginity and her mother.  The former is impossible to retrieve, but as for the latter, its not that her mother has forsaken her, but more the fact that she has transitioned her gender. After Billie has come home from school and found her mother dressed up in men’s clothes for the first time, it is decided that during the adjustment period Billie should move out and go and live with her father and his new wife.

52-2

James begins testosterone and an affair with a co-worker, but only the latter works out. Billie meanwhile starts her own voyage of discovery and gets involved with a couple of her school-friends and together these youngsters become a menage a trois.  The film almost feels like a docu-drama at times as the plot flitters between an observation of the transitioning, to a lesson on being a parent after Billie gets into serious trouble at school. Director Sophie Hyde won a Best Directing Award at Sundance.

The Special Features on the DVD include a blooper Reel, Deleted Scenes, Extended Scenes, Making-Of Featurette and 5.1 Surround Sound.

“There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction” by Saul Bellow, edited by Benjamin Taylor— A Literary Time Capsule

Saul Bellow---simply too much

Bellow, Saul. “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction”, (edited by Benjamin Taylor), Viking, 2015.

A Literary Time Capsule

Amos Lassen

When we think of Saul Bellow, we generally think of his novels so now some of you may be surprised to learn that his nonfiction is as strong as his fiction. It shares the same responsiveness to characters, time and place.

The year 2015 marks ten years since Bellow died and one hundred years since he was born. It should come as no surprise that Bellow will once again be at the literary center of our lives and even dead he still has great influence.

Bellow was a Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and the only novelist to receive three National Book awards. He has been regarded and cherished as one of America’s most cherished authors. Benjamin Taylor, the editor of this new collection gives us a look at some of Bellow’s lesser-known aspects.

The book is arranged chronologically thus allowing us to see the gamut of Bellow’s nonfiction and that includes criticism, interviews, speeches, and other reflections. This allows us to look at his career from his initial success as a novelist until the end of his life. Included are six classic pieces of Bellow’s writing as well as many previously uncollected material. Taken as a whole, “There Is Simply Too Much to Think About” reminds us not only of Bellow’s genius but also of his place in the western canon. His legacy will live forever and every generation seems to discover him anew.

We do have many fiction writers whose nonfiction is as strong as his fiction. It has taken several years to collect all of Bellow’s nonfiction and bring all of the pieces together in a single volume. What we see with this collection is that Bellow was the same kind of master of nonfiction as he was of fiction. Personally, I was overwhelmed by the amount of writing in this book and I immediately notice that Bellow could not be touched when it came to writing with intelligence and empathy. He wrote about Chicago, his hometown, “and about topics like con men, terrorism, Paris and Vermont, writers like Ralph Ellison and J.D. Salinger and the idiocies of certain critics and scholars”.

We get a fine portrait of the artist who really had no limitations and could and did write about anything and anybody. The selections here trace both Bellow’s writing career and his opinions on politics, literature and intellectual life in America during the second half of the 20th century. Bellow was outspoken and said what he felt.

Here are just a few biographical facts about Bellow. He was born in Canada to Russian immigrants, grew up in Depression-era Chicago and early on he knew that he was going to be a writer. As a young man, he looked up to such critics as Edmund Wilson, who supported him for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was regarded as a critic by many. He really had something to say about novelists who were didactic and about those writers who were more interested in being intellectuals. He did not like being described as a Jewish writer. He felt that being described that way meant that he was taking sides. In this anthology we see Bellow’s sense of who he is in the changing world.

A great deal of Saul Bellow’s collected nonfiction is made up of book reviews and essays about literary theory. However what really describes Bellow’s literature is style.

“The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964” by Zachary Leader— Remembering Saul Bellow

the life of saul bellow

Leader, Zachary. “The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964”, Knopf, 2015.

Remembering Saul Bellow

Amos Lassen

Saul Bellow has been regarded as the most acclaimed novelist in America, an honor he lost when he died in 2006. He was the winner of many awards including the Nobel Prize in Literature, three National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. With 2016 being the centenary of Bellow, it is no surprise the definitive biography is being published. Author Leader had access to Bellow’s papers and this includes some that had been previously restricted. Leader also interviewed more than 150 of Bellow’s friends, relatives, colleagues and lovers and among them are some that had never spoken to researchers previously. We get here detailed explorations of Bellow’s writings as well as the private history that influenced their writing. Here is the story of the man who led a singular life in letters and we are allowed now to see nuanced and original accounts of Bellow’s development and rise to fame as a writer and we were are made aware of all identities of Bellow — writer, polemicist, husband, father, Chicagoan, Jew, American. This is volume one, “To Fame and Fortune: 1915–1964”. It traces Bellow’s Russian roots; his birth and early childhood in Quebec; his years in Chicago; his travels in Mexico, Europe, and Israel; the first three of his five marriages; and the novels from “Dangling Man” and “The Adventures of Augie March” to the best-selling “Herzog”. We as well learn something about Bellow’s writing contemporaries including Ralph Ellison, John Berryman, Lionel Trilling, and Philip Roth.

Bellow lived a life full of events and happenings. Leader gives is a Bellow who is a compelling character and powerful information about his writings, published and unpublished. Bellow emerges as critic James Wood says, “the greatest of American prose stylists in the twentieth century.”

Bellow tried to find order and peace so that he could produce his work but he was not so lucky. He lived through turbulent times in America. Leader has paid careful attention to detail and he shares those with us. We are taken into the life of a great literary man and while this is a scholarly study of Bellow, it is written so that every reader who wishes to do can enjoy the book.

As a youngster, Bellow was “clever, ambitious, philandering, mordant, magnificent, dominating and always furiously typing, typing, typing.” What I really found fascinating about this biography is that even though I read everything by Bellow that I could get my hands on, I never really knew much about him as a person—that changes with this book. The life of Saul Bellow is a history of twentieth century American letters.

Leader’s research is staggering. He has read everything and interviewed everyone and he gives us both the public and private life of Bellow. We see how a “determined young writer emerged as one of the twentieth-century’s most celebrated novelists.”

“Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking” by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer— One Man’s DOUBTFUL Story

faraway

Kline, R.K. and Daniel D. Maurer. “Faraway: A Suburban Boy’s Story as a Victim of Sex Trafficking”, Two Harbors Press, 20i5.

One Man’s DOUBTFUL Story

Amos Lassen

At age fourteen and living in St. Louis, Missouri, Kevin was just beginning to understand that he was gay. He met someone and he thought a friendship was developing but instead this new person forced him into child prostitution. He actually met two other teens who were trapped into this sex trafficking about which he knew nothing. While on one hand this is Kevin’s memoir, it is also a look at friendships and those that can shape another person’s fate.

Kevin was haunted by his past yet he still is able to tell his story and he is just really a representative of so much others who have become caught up in sex trafficking. It may seem strange to many but we live in a world where people can be bought and sold

This is the story of how a young man is groomed for sex trafficking in the heartland of American and is far from being a typical story. The story is one of grief and suffering yet it is also a celebration of friendship and salvation. The authors want us to believe that reconciliation and salvation show God at work in the world and I have to disagree a bit with that. Having gone through what he did, Kevin needed a great deal more than God, he needed to believe in and accept himself.

As a memoir, this is quite graphic and nothing is held back. What happened to him in the mid 70s we are told provoked christians to action. (Does that mean other religions did not care or simply could not be bothered with a wayward teen?). I am shocked that the church would use a story like this to gain attention and because of the way it is written—giving all credit to the church—I can only surmise that this is more christian propaganda that is trying to sell us the idea of salvation—that which can only be obtained by taking Jesus as savior. Perhaps they are using this book for more propaganda purposes and to show us that the church cares for its LGBT people. That is a crock and I am pretty sure that so it this book. It is hard to believe that the church as had to sink so low. Not only is this poorly written, I doubt if there is a word of truth in it. We are living in the 21st century and St. Louis is a modern city with an educated police force. Are we really to believe that this went on there? Give me a break!!!!!!!! This is nothing that upsets me more than christian propaganda and there is nothing christian about it. (Small “c” on christian is deliberate—-these are not people of god and even if they were, their god is not the kind of god that I would want.

“Flesh and Bone” by William Alton— Turning to the Wrong Influences

flesh and bone

Alton, William. “Flesh and Bone”, Luminus Books, 2015.

Turning to the Wrong Influences

Amos Lassen

It is so good to see the number of young adult books with gay themes that are available today. It is even better when some of those books are literarily written like William Alton’s “Flesh and Bone”. Bill is feeling despair and is uncertain about his sexuality and he turns to drugs, alcohol and some questionable friends that he thinks offer his solace. His story is related to us through fragments and images and when taken all together, we get a look at a teen that is hungry for love but does not really know where to find it. His father walks out on him and his mother so they move far away back to his mother’s parents and it is then that Bill feels his world falling apart. His grandparents are distant seem cold by nature and even his mom who is dealing with her own problems has distanced herself from her son.

Bill begins experimenting with sex as he searches for someone to care about him and the loneliness he feels causes him, so he thinks, to begin drinking and using drugs. He thinks that this might be the way to dull the pain of being alone.

I cannot emphasize how powerful this book is. It looks at some aspects of a teen’s live that we rarely get a chance to read about. It is also one of those books that ropes the reader in immediately and it is quite difficult to stop reading. It is also a book that can be read many times and each time feels like a new experience. We tend to forget sometimes that teens have real problems and that adolescence is difficult to get through. There are those young people who are lonely and who have no idea how to find what they really need and want. This is where this book shines. Author William Alton looks deeply at Bill’s loneliness that is part of his dark existence and it is only because that is how Bill sees it. We clearly see that to be an outsider is to live a life devoid of meaning and happiness. But this is not Bill’s only problem—we see him as shallow and extremely unhappy and lost and there are undoubtedly so that some who read this book will remember their feelings that were very much like Bill’s. I so want to believe that Bill will be fine when he finally is able to accept himself for who he is and I think that is something that many of us as gay people have had to deal with.

I believe that it was when his father walked out that Bill’s life is turned upside-down. Then moving with his mother to Oregon did not help anything. It is never easy being the new kid and even more difficult as a marginalized teen. He narrates his story through the little vignettes I mentioned earlier and we see that his early sexual experiences give him both consolation and despair and sometimes at the same time.

Aside from this being an important story, the prose here is lush and gorgeous as it is lyrical and really quite stark. It is rare to have a book of such power but then it has something important to say. I can only hope that those who need to read it will do so.