Wednesday, January 30, 2013

From the Sharp Writ Book Awards Judges:

This Blog contains book reviews posted by the judges of Sharp Writ Book Awards and members of Smart Book Lovers. To Learn more about Sharp Writ Book Awards or to submit a book, please visit

 The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler - 2012 Sharp Writ Book Awards Winner: Non-fiction 
• This biography is a marvelously funny and touching romp through Eastern Europe and China in the years before WWI, with great detail and characters.
• This is a very good book - enthralling and gripping.
• WOW! Could not put this down. The voice is so authentic and the events are amazing. This is one memoir where both the events and the writing are equal--and equal to the task.
• Can I give this book a score higher than the highest? I couldn't put it down! Very well written - I could practically hear his voice in my head while I was reading.

 Review by Kate Brauning (review submitted by author)
      …I found myself so fascinated by The Accidental Anarchist that I thought about it at work, wondered what would happen during dinner, and picked it up each night before bed. Several nights I went to sleep much later than I had intended because I was simply unaware how much time was passing.
     … Marateck endures things most of us can only imagine, and many things we literally couldn’t imagine. His remarkable character enables him to survive while so many others around him don’t. Living in such a volatile time and place, Marateck endures and embraces extraordinary events with a desire for taking risks and living a life that matters. Many of his near-death experiences are due to the inhumane treatment of the Jews at the time, but many are also due to his inability to sit still and let life pass him by.
     One of the things that struck me most about the book was Kranzler’s ability to show the reader Marateck’s humanity. She writes his voice with such consistency that I was barely aware that it wasn’t Marateck himself writing the story. Kranzler pulls together the pieces of his life into a strong central narrative that keeps the reader engrossed. Her writing is infused with Marateck’s dry humor and understated compassion for others, while his character is clearly communicated not only through what he does but also through how he thinks.
     …Peppered throughout the pages is subtle and helpful historical information that enables the reader to understand a different culture and a different era. Kranzler clearly treated her writing as an art form and uses it to bring to life the story of her grandfather in a compelling and engrossing story.
     So much did I enjoy this book, so much did it prompt me to think, that it is now one of my favorites. I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Accidental Anarchist. The book is entertaining, thought-provoking, and unique. You’ll find it well worth reading.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Endpaper Review

Book Review: The Accidental Anarchist, by Bryna Kranzler

Cover of The Accidental Anarchist.
Cover of The Accidental Anarchist.
By Dick Loftin.
It is somewhat of a miracle that this book even exists. Written from the more than one hundred year old diaries of her grandfather, Bryna Kranzler has captured an amazing story of survival, certain but somehow avoidable death, dire conditions of climate, hunger on the verge of starvation, all taken with humor and conviction.
Jacob Marateck’s story is of a difficult history. A Jew conscripted into the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, he avoids death three times, nearly freezes, witnesses the most horrible consequences of war imaginable, and somehow survives. All before he reaches the age of 25.
Entering the war, he begins a life of traveling from barge to train, loaded into boxcars like cattle, crowded decks, constant hunger, promised pay and food but receives neither. The ill treatment of the men, the filth and squalor they were forced to live in, they were treated more like prisoners than soldiers [Marateck would probably say they were prisoners].
Traveling in a caravan of 96 train cars, each packed with its cargo of men, with an enemy described as being small, barely human, with hands that resembled “paws for swinging in trees,” they may not have been considered so menacing. But Marateck and his fellow travelers soon discover the Japanese were a treacherous sort—determined and capable of being vicious, willing to fight to the very end without a blemish of hesitancy. They were fierce, relentless killers. Well trained and well equipped, they killed sixty-thousand men in one battle alone. A train full of food—intended for Marateck’s men—was blown up. Marateck and his men knew nothing about the train and its food, but somehow the Japanese knew.
Knowing the determination and will of their enemy, Marateck and his men, on the other hand, were commanded by extraordinary incompetence. In one march, their commander was reduced to asking the inhabitants of an area where they were, showing them their maps, seeking help in finding their location and its proximity to their destination. They had misplaced their battlefield.
When Marateck’s men were engaged in battle, the outcome could be of unspeakable grief and failure. In the book, Marateck describes one scene:
“I prayed for daylight, although that offered no guarantee that the shelling would stop. Suddenly my lieutenant screamed, ‘Lord, have mercy!’ and fell on top of me…. Unable to support his weight, I grew dizzy and, within a moment, found myself lying pinned to the bottom of the trench.”
Marateck, covered in blood, was checked by a comrade. It was all the lieutenant’s blood …
“The wounded man whimpered, ‘Mother, Mother!’ … Crawling on our bellies, we dragged our lieutenant toward the rear.”
After about an hour they find their way to a trench for cover …
“I struck a match to see how the lieutenant was doing. He was without a head, and probably had been for some time. Two of the soldiers began to cry.”
It was this scene in the book where I had to stop. I had to stop and ponder what war is. What it can do. What it can make of the men made to fight it, and how many of us never know what it is, what it can be and will never find out.
The impact of this book is extraordinary. It reads like fiction, but all of it is true. It happened. From the diaries of a man who took the time to write an impossible history, all true, exciting and devastating.
“The Accidental Anarchist,” is the winner of the International Book Award.
Source Materials:
Wikipedia on the Russo-Japanese War, Here.
Bryna Kranzler’s website, Here.
Bryna Kranzler’s lecture on “The Art of Optimism,” presented in 2012, Here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

See Historical Re-enactment Videos of Russo-Japanese War on YouTube