Some mid-winter reading

My wife, Patricia, and I like to read aloud to each other late in the evening before turning out the lights for the night. Recently, we have included three books we think Rye City Review readers might consider: an autobiography, a history and a mystery.carey

The autobiography is “Snows of Yesteryear” by James S. Sutterlin, who, after U.S. Army service in World War II, joined the U.S. Foreign Service and later the UN Secretariat.

The history is “George Washington’s Secret Six,” about the Culper spy ring, which sneaked intelligence from inside British-occupied New York City out to the commander-in-chief at his headquarters.

The mystery is “The Tulip Eaters,” a double murder and kidnapping in 1980 Texas against the backdrop of 1944 Holland, where 20,000 starved to death after German occupiers cut off food supplies as well as gas and electricity in a bitterly cold winter.

At a time when Jim Sutterlin was one of the highest-ranking Americans in the UN Secretariat, a high-level Soviet colleague came to him privately and offered to defect to the United States. As dangerous as this was for the Soviet man, it was also uncomfortable for Jim. So he passed the situation on to the CIA, which made appropriate arrangements.

Washington’s spies in New York City were in grave danger at all times. The earliest of them was Nathan Hale, a young graduate of Yale College who famously declared from the British gallows that his only regret was having but one life to lose for his country. Another of Washington’s spies, the only woman, designated not by name but only by a number, was captured and disappeared, likely to perish in one of the notorious prison hulks the British anchored in the harbor, where captives typically starved or died of disease.

The author of “The Tulip Eaters,” Antoinette van Heugten, lives in Fredericksburg, Texas, home of our daughter, Jennifer, and her family. The author dedicates the book to her parents, “who fought in the Dutch resistance during World War II. In their early 20s, they risked their lives for what they believed in.” If ever there was a page-turner, it is this gripping novel. Publishers’ Weekly, referring to van Heugten’s earlier book, hailed her “debut murder thriller…[with] more than one harrowing twist toward the end.”

Another book I have been dipping into is “Those Angry Days,” by Lynne Olson. Anyone who was around in the 1930s will find this treatment of that decade a grim reminder of the apprehension or dread many of us felt as the Great Depression dragged on and the threats from Germany and Japan loomed ever larger.

At the start of the decade, Charles Lindbergh was basking in the glory of his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Later, his reputation lost some of its luster as he befriended German leaders and opposed aiding Britain after the 1940 fall of France. Lindbergh and President Roosevelt were on opposite sides on the issue of helping Britain oppose Hitler’s mounting menace. I remember hearing the German führer on the radio, screaming words of hate to a wildly cheering crowd.

Roosevelt hesitated to take a public pro-war position and had no basis to declare war on Germany until after Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 11, 1941, he signed such a declaration, made uncontroversial by Germany’s own declaration against us right after the Japanese attack.

Those to whom World War II is history rather than a shared experience can be helped by Olson’s book to better imagine what their feelings might have been had they been born in the 1920s. Her 42 pages of end notes and nine-page bibliography attest to the diligence of her research. I recommend “Those Angry Days” as a foundation for grasping the prelude to the Cold War’s later angry days, and months and years.