Bookworm: ‘Paper Bullets’ a unique history book

‘Cheeky’ might raise eyebrows for the unprepared

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis”

  • By Jeffrey H. Jackson
  • c. 2020, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • $27.95, $37.95; 336 pages

Pick, pick, pick. If you're patient, that's how you break big things into very little ones. One pebble taken from here, another small stone removed from there and over time, you undermine the structure. It's the same for dams, walls, foundations, people and, in the new book "Paper Bullets" by Jeffrey H. Jackson, it's the same for wartime operations.

“Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis” by Jeffrey H. Jackson.

Twenty-six-year-old Lucy Schwob and her lover, twenty-eight-year-old Suzanne Malherbe, had never lived apart from their families in Nantes, France, but one day in 1920, they were on their way to their new lives together in Paris. It hadn't been long since the end of World War I, and life seemed exciting and fresh.

They'd known one another since they were children; both hailing from well-to-do households that supported this new endeavor. In Paris, Lucy and Suzanne enjoyed cafe society and lives of social leisure, meeting famous writers and artists, and ultimately becoming celebrated as artists themselves. Lucy also began a lifetime of political activism, one that Suzanne didn't necessarily share.

By 1935, however, politics were inescapable, and Lucy started thinking about a quieter life, partly because Paris was becoming intolerant of people like her and Suzanne. For her part, Suzanne wasn't interested in leaving the city but by 1937, she gave in and they moved to an estate on Jersey, an island in the English Channel.

Not long after their arrival, World War II broke out and Jersey was all but abandoned by the British. Telephones lines were cut, soldiers were withdrawn, and the Nazis soon noticed; by 1940, German soldiers arrived, and Lucy wasn't taking that lying down. She convinced Suzanne to join her in quiet resistance, and they spent many long hours crafting demoralizing messages, furtively leaving them where German soldiers were sure to find them, in uniform pockets, on car seats, on doorsteps, inside books and magazines.

And then one night during dinner, someone pounded on the door. "It was," says Jackson, "the moment Lucy and Suzanne had been expecting every day for nearly four years."

As history books go, "Paper Bullets" is unique.

A small part of this book is biography, though author Jeffrey H. Jackson seems a bit sedate about his subjects. His portrayal of Lucy Schwob is rather stonily detached, as if all we need are the barest facts and they're not particularly complimentary; Suzanne Malherbe is treated better, but still somewhat impassively. Neither subject seems fleshed-out enough.

Happily, the other, more prominent part of this book is more comfortable, and exciting to read. That's where the heart of the tale lies, in which these two astoundingly courageous women fool the Nazis through literally homegrown resistance and then, once the jig is up, further befuddle Hitler's men with the ultimate heel-digging. The last third of the book almost reads like a months-long Hogan's Heroes episode, only this is no sitcom.

In the end, if you're in search of something biographical, it's here, sort of. If history is what you want, though, and biography is incidental, then "Paper Bullets" is a good pick.

“Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir”

  • By Ariella Elovic
  • c. 2020, Bloomsbury
  • $26, $34.99 Canada; 256 pages

You hate your eyebrows. Or maybe that should be "eyebrow," singular. It's like a six-inch caterpillar crawling above your nose, just one long unibrow and you hate it. You're not in love with your hair on your head, nor on your legs or underarms. You could stand to lose a few pounds, buy new clothes, or find a new deodorant or, as in the new book "Cheeky" by Ariella Elovic, you could learn to love your body.

“Cheeky: A Head-to-Toe Memoir” by Ariella Elovic.

When she was six years old, Ariella Elovic was perfectly comfortable in her skin. She danced and played and ran without considering how she looked; wore swimsuits and comfortable, loose-fitting, unfashionable clothing without worry; and she barely even noticed her unibrow. But though her family never gave her reason to be ashamed, at some point during her preteen years, Elovic learned to hate her body.

Her mission two years ago: "to reclaim at least some of [the] confidence, feistiness, and joy" she felt as a child.

Mirrors were once a place to make funny faces until they "became the meeting place for myself and my inner critic," says Elovic. She has a "round face" that she was self-conscious about, and she wasn't happy with her smile. The evening she forgot to wax her brows before a date gave her a smidge of courage.

On a hot, humid New York City night, her "Yentas" (best friends) helped her realize that her hair was beautiful. She started developing in fourth grade and still can't quite get over the fact of wearing bras every day for life; she was inspired by a Yenta to stop shaving her armpit and leg hair; and she has made her peace with food. There's no shame in passing gas or using the bathroom, she reminds readers, and no need to be a "contortionist" anymore.

"Your body is yours to feel at home in," she says and to, "enjoy, take care of, and love."

While "Cheeky" is a fun book to read, and it's message should resonate with any woman who hates shaving, wearing heels, hates tight clothing, tweezing and waxing, it's not a book for just anyone.

It's true that anyone can read what's inside here (and many will benefit from doing so), the sweet spot, it seems, is an audience of women who are between the ages of roughly sixteen and thirty. Author Ariella Elovic speaks to that group with a sort of serious-fun manifesto for self-love, self-acceptance, and an end to senseless embarrassment that doesn't dissolve into cutesy little-girl language or things we can't talk about. Openness, honesty, and a no-secrets tone, in fact, are the main thing, making this book feel as if you're reading a long, illustrated letter from a BFF or wise big sister you haven't seen for a while.

Be aware that that takes readers into dressing rooms and bathrooms and it doesn't hold back, neither in word nor illustration. This book lives up to its name for the right reader – but for one who's unprepared, "Cheeky" might raise eyebrows.

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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.