Jan. 15th, 2014

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Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind, Margalit Fox. There is a Bedouin village in Israel where, because of intermarriage, so many people are Deaf that everyone uses Sign. Because the village is isolated, the village’s language arose there, independent of other languages and other versions of Sign, so it’s being studied by linguists seeking to understand how human language instinct works. The book’s chapters alternate between discussion of linguistics and narrative about the linguists’ work in the town. I know some about Deaf culture and the history of Sign from other books, but the linguistic stuff is really great. Ms Fox is a senior writer for the New York Times who writes the best obituaries and I wish we were related.

Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis, Tomi Ungerer
I first encountered Tomi Ungerer when I saw his very dirty cartoons in Evergreen Review in the late 60s so it came as quite a surprise to me to find out years later that he's a respected children's book illustrator. Anyway, this book is a memoir of his childhood in Alsace during the German occupation. Appropriately, it's also a scrapbook of his drawings and of photos and ephemera of that era. His father died when he was around four years old and he drew from an early age. An early drawing is of Mickey Mouse (later condemned as degenerate art by the Nazis) and later ones show caricatures of friends, school days, German occupiers and depictions of battles as the war got closer to home. The occupation began when he was nine. Everyone had to start speaking German and even had to change their names from French forms to German ones. He includes pages from his copybook where the kids had to write out quotations from the Fuher and do drawings of swastika flags and other symbols. Another poster (not by him) shows the German broom sweeping away "Gallic trash" like Jeanne d'Arc and the rooster symbol of France, showing how Alsace is returning to its Germanic roots at last. Of course the Alsatians identified themselves with Alsace, neither France nor Germany.

Ungerer has some good stories about how his pretty, clever mother outwitted the Nazis and collaborators - accused (accurately) of speaking French at home, she went to the general's office and said something like "Yes, yes we are speaking French in our home - because when the glorious Fatherland finishes conquering France, who will be able to educate the French about the beauty and splendor of the Third Reich??" (etc., etc.) which of course charmed the general so much he gave the family carte blanch to speak French. The book ends with the Americans defeating the Nazis and treating prisoners as badly as the Germans had treated French prisoners, which Ungerer observes with sadness. Now I'd like him to write a book about how he came to America with a suitcase and $40.

Elizabeth Jane Howard died; I read her Cazalet Chronicles a few years ago and loved them, and didn't realize till I read the obits that there is a new book in the series. Since I don't have that yet, I've just started her first book, The Beautiful Visit.

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