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Joseph Kennedy biography fascinating look into the lives of the famous family

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 12:01 am

Book time! Cold evenings are made for wrapping up in a snuggly throw and enjoying a good book. Of course, not all books are good, but one has to read them to find that out. Here's what's been occupying my reading time.

“The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy” is a biography written very carefully by David Nasaw. It is long and it is comprehensive, and I finished it feeling sorry for Mr. Kennedy but not liking him. True, he was devoted to his children. True, he was hugely successful in business, amassing a fortune so he could endow here and underwrite there and help sway elections by campaign contributions and ensure his children would have no monetary problems so could devote themselves to public service and philanthropy.

The author tells us rumors of Kennedy dealing with the underworld and bootlegging are untrue. His getting import rights to the good Scotch brands enhanced his fortune, but it was legitimate business.

It's when he became the ambassador to the Court of St. James that his stubbornness, his prejudices, his misreading of the intents of the German, Bolshevik, communist, Soviet Union – and other situations – began doing harm. He was tremendously opinionated; that never changed. He knew and courted persons of influence – and should have been recalled from his ambassadorship long before he finally was, though he was allowed to resign.

His ego, which was mighty, was bruised but he finally learned – somewhat – to refrain from spouting off when his opinions might be damaging to his children. But what a beating he took: He really was a loving father, and he lost his first-born, Joe Jr.; he lost Jack; one daughter had a butchered lobotomy; one daughter lost her husband during World War II; another was lost in a plane crash; and Bobby, too, was assassinated.

This is a long book, and occasionally my red pen wished it could make corrections. But I found it difficult to hurry through the book. It provides a fascinating picture of the times Kennedy lived through, including the people we know from either reading history or living through it. His sojourn in Hollywood and participation in picture-making was enlightening and intriguing, and to this day I cannot understand how Rose could have been blind to or uncaring about his numerous infidelities.

Well, in this book we get to know the Kennedy family. Try it; I think you'll learn a lot, as I did.

Completely different is “The Fault in our Stars.” I first heard about it from someone I interviewed for my Page Turner column. She said her 17-year-old daughter had insisted she read it, and she was now recommending it. The author is John Green, who can write.

It's the story of Hazel and Augustus, two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group for adolescents. Yes, they both are victims of the disease. Their falling in love, their outlooks, their humor, their shared adventure all make for a beautiful book. Of course, I cried, but I felt very good that I had met these two remarkable young people. The title, of course, is borrowed from Shakespeare. The story is all author Green's.

I read a review of “The Garden of Evening Mists,” which led me to reserve it at our library. It's the story of a war-scarred heroine, now a graduate from law school, who asks a famous Japanese gardener to teach her how to create a garden to memorialize her sister, who died in a concentration camp. The story takes place in Malaya, in the Cameron Highlands. The gardener finally, reluctantly takes her on as an apprentice. There she is, a survivor of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, working with a former enemy. And she must learn soon because she is suffering from aphasia, which will only worsen as time goes on. The novel has quite a list of interesting characters we meet as the story rolls along. It's worth reading.

Bill Mishler sent me a copy of “The Dovekeepers,” which takes place at the time of the Roman siege of Masada. It pictures the Jewish resistance through the eyes and experiences of women! I find the details of what life was like informative and enjoy the biblical references, but I'll reserve judgment because I put it down to read “The Patriarch,” a book that had to be returned after being renewed once.

I meant to write about “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle,” a delightful children's book, thoughtfully sent to me by Peggy Heinze, from our library, but I'm out of space. More about that anon. OK?

Betty E. Stein is a retired teacher.