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“The Diplomat’s Daughter”

 

He almost got your nose. Or your cheek. Awkward, for sure, but on the second try, it finally happened. Then again. And again, each one sweeter than the last. As long as you live, you’ll never forget your very first romantic kiss or the person who gave it to you – even if, as in the novel, “The Diplomat’s Daughter” by Karin Tanabe, there’s a war outside the window.

Emiko Kato had been around the world and had never really thought of settling in any one place – until she met Leo Hartmann.

They’d gone to a Viennese Catholic school together – she, the 18-year old child of a Japanese diplomat; he, the son of a wealthy Jewish chocolatier – and their singularity brought them together. Young and in love, they were making plans for a future together when the Nazis invaded Vienna.

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They’d promised to write one another daily, but who knew where life was taking them? Emi’s father was sent to America, for safety’s sake and then, after Dec. 7, 1941, to a series of guarded hotels. By the time she and her mother landed at an internment camp, it had been months since Emi’d heard from Leo. The loneliness she felt caused her to make what she was certain was a mistake: she fell in love with Christian Lange.

College, followed by a life in industry: that was the plan for 17-year old Christian, son of a German-born Milwaukee steel manufacturer. Raised in comfort and privilege, Christian was expected to take over his father’s business – until the Germans aligned themselves with the Japanese. Days after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Christian was separated from his parents, sent to an orphanage, then to an internment camp in Texas, where the next stop was to a country he’d barely ever visited.

Leo Hartmann’s parents owed their very lives to Emi Kato’s father. It was he who got them out of Vienna. It was he who got them to relative safety in Shanghai even though, as Jews, they were far from safe. Kato did it for his daughter, and Leo would never forget her – even after he knew he must.

When reading “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” there are four words to remember: Im. Possible. To. Stop.

So rich is the tale, so well-told the characters that this is one of those carry-it-around, don’t-need-a-bookmark kinds of novels that you’ll be itching to finish. World War II fanatics will be happy to see that authenticity oozes from each facet of the story – author Karin Tanabe really did her homework – and the tiny details she carefully included just shimmer in the midst of a horrifying tri-level story of war, loss, strength, and aloneness. It’s a tale that could have had any number of endings, each one better than the last, but it culminates in the one that’s righteously perfect.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: First, start “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” and clear your calendar. Start it, and forget about all your weekend plans. Start it, and your nose will be stuck in this unforgettable novel until the end.

“Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis”

 

Forty years ago, you were “All Shook Up.” The death of The King was unexpected and chances are, you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news that he was gone. It wasn’t “Alright, Mama;” it was devastating and you still miss Elvis Presley terribly. In “Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis” by Thom Gilbert, you’ll read about others who miss him, too.

Elvis Presley, says Gilbert in his introduction, “was nothing like what you heard about him.” Presley’s career, for example, almost didn’t happen: according to one story here, young Presley didn’t initially want his first guitar. He wanted a rifle but his mother talked him out of it.

Early in his career, Presley was publicly shy and self-conscious, sometimes questioning his purpose in life. Live mics made him tongue-tied and nervous. Still, he loved a good time, and he had more than his share of girlfriends – including one who wanted to marry him and one who definitely did not.

Unfailingly polite, Presley was respectful of his elders (even two-years-older-elders), and was complimentary to fellow musicians and kind to fans. He loved to read the Bible, and he carried the New Testament with him in a travelling box, which also held jewelry he impulsively bought as gifts.

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“Sweet,” in fact, is a word used often in this book. “Nice” is another one, and that didn’t change as Presley’s career grew. Never taking on airs, he was “plain as a shoe” but fame had its price, even so: friends had to disguise Presley so he could enjoy everyday pleasures like restaurants and nightclubs.

Yes, some things were off-limits (Elvis wanted to be on TV’s “Laugh-In,” but Colonel Parker wouldn’t allow it), yet when someone came up with an idea, Presley would “make it happen.”

“Once Elvis touched your life,” said one friend, “you were never the same.”

It’s maybe hard to tell by the photo you’re looking at here, but that’s fringe on the edge of “Blue Suede Shoes.” It’s gaudy, like an old Las Vegas showgirl costume, perhaps the kitschiest book you’d have on your shelf -- but if you loved Elvis Presley, it’d be the most popular one, too.

And what’s between those blue faux-suede-fabric covers? Interviews, of course: author Thom Gilbert spoke with musicians who worked with Presley, as well as co-stars, body guards, love interests and others. But that’s not all: readers will find pages absolutely packed with photos of things Elvis owned, gave away, lived in, wore, treasured, and used throughout his career.

Beware, though: despite the uniqueness and abundance of memories here, it cannot be said that this is a wide-arcing book. That’s okay; it has the feel of a lush secret that’s whispered from the dressing room of a smoky casino. Who could resist?

Fans can’t, that’s for sure. This book may be pricey, but you’ll know “Blue Suede Shoes” is worth it once you take a quick peek inside. If you’re a die-hard Elvis aficionado, you “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with this book.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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