Book Review: Cossack by Ronald McQueen

Cossack (Drava Book 1) by Ronald McQueen is an illuminating story that gives us a glimpse into the plight of the Cossack people around WWII. The story introduces us to a once-thriving staništa (Croatian for habitat or living space) that now just includes a handful of houses, farm buildings, a slow-moving river, and a rusted tractor. This is where the Cossacks lived and a few of them still live—people belonging to the Don and Dejnev families.

The people in the staništa have learnt to live with what is now their hard reality and know how to celebrate the little things in life. But, this doesn’t last for long, as what remains of these families is attacked and destroyed by Russian soldiers. One of the very few who escape from these soldiers is Katja Dejnev—a girl “just approaching the first bloom of young womanhood.” Where does Katja go from here? Whom does she turn to? This forms one of the largest chunks of this beautifully written story.

I have read my share of historical fiction, but this one is something that will stay on top of my mind for a long time to come. The author has taken great pains to spell out every little detail that would help us imagine the settings, the battles, and the characters. It is these details that ensured that I took my time reading the book. I found it to be an emotional roller coaster. It’s not easy to read about the hardships faced by the Cossacks as they get trapped between the Nazis and the Red Army. But, the strength and determination shown by each of the characters makes it a true story of inspiration.

This book is a must-read if you enjoy learning more about history that hasn’t been heavily documented previously; however, if you are new to historical fiction, you might want to pick another book before you dive into this one.

There are breaks of sorts in the story as you see it flow from the perspective of three main characters from different backgrounds— Katja (introduced earlier in the review), Andrei, the old but dependable veteran; and Mikhail, the young, brave soldier. This gives us pause and helps us assimilate the new events that happen in the lives of each of these characters as they move through Europe, fighting and fleeing from the enemy.

There is no doubt that the author has done his research abundantly well. Though there is a disclaimer before the book begins that the story weaves some fiction with real history, it’s hard to tell in places where fact ends and where fiction begins. The writing was so wonderful in most places that I found it easy to get emotionally connected to the main characters.

I selected this book to read as I was curious to know what the author’s perspective was on WWII; however, I never imagined it would teach me so much about Cossack history. I was impressed at the depth of narrative.

Nevertheless, there were times when there were jumps back in time that were introduced into the story without preamble. This was disconcerting. For instance,

Katja was thrilled.

Beside her on the front board of the wagon, Mikhail looked up and smiled at the girl. He had some idea of how impressive all this must be – a simple farm girl who had probably never seen anything much larger than a village-sized stanista. For someone like that Novocherkassk must seem like a dream.

And so, with Katja gaping, open-mouthed at her surroundings, they entered Novocherkassk, the modern capital of the Don, where the lives of everyone were about to change forever…

…Huge sobs wracked her body and she couldn’t breathe. She was lying half on the floor and half in someone’s arms, and someone was talking to her. After what seemed a long time her sobbing settled down and the words finally got through to her.

‘There, there little one, there’s nothing to be afraid of. They have gone.’”

I noticed a number of typos and punctuation errors in the book. It requires another round of efficient proofreading and that should do it. However, these errors did little to detract from the overall story.

This book is historical fiction at its emotional best—though I’ll have to nip off a point here for the unwarranted jumps back in time. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars for its thoroughly researched, realistic storyline, relatable characters, and matter-of-fact and vivid take on the plight of the Cossacks during Stalin’s rule. If you are a fan and regular reader of historical fiction, you will love this book—provided tragedy doesn’t affect you too much.


Wonderful Reads: My 7 Favorite Books of All Time


So – just like you – I love books and, yes, I do believe that books can transform people for the better. And that’s why I have created this snazzy little list of 7 books that I believe you need to read if you want to witness that change for yourselves. They include some wonderful memoirs and some interesting novels. So, read on and get inspired:

Pick No. 1: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

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Why was it picked: We cannot escape the states of aging and death. And what does medicine achieve? Mostly not we want to achieve for our health. Doctors who pledge to spend their lives extending other peoples’ lives perform scary medical procedures on patients that ultimately bring more suffering to the latter. Packed with insightful research and beautiful storytelling, Being Mortal states that medicine can bring in comfort to our existence, assuring us of not just a decent life but also a decent death.

Pick No. 2: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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Why was it picked: This insightful book teaches us why certain people and businesses find it very difficult to change, even though they have been trying for years, whereas some others appear to transform themselves overnight. It lends us a look within P&G, Target, Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the country’s biggest medical facilities and shows us the way in which adopting certain keystone habits can bring home billions and signify the difference between failure and success, life and death. Allow Charles Duhigg to demonstrate how making the most of this new science can change our companies, our societies, and ourselves.

Pick No. 3: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

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Why was it picked: This book takes us along on the weirdest adventure of the protagonist (Helen)’s “good girl” life: Almost a month in the extreme wild of the mountains in Wyoming, she emerges a winner through mosquito infestations, an unexpected summer blizzard, and a bunch of sorority girls. Thanks to all her experiences, Helen learns how to make her voice heard loud and clear. Most importantly, she learns that there are times when being lost is quite important to being found.

Pick No. 4: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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Why was it picked: This book was published in 1947. Right since then, it has been a favorite of many readers who see the work as an ode to the unbreakable stuff that the human spirit is made of. The book has been read by millions and already translated into over 55 languages. Anne Frank was just a teenager when her family had to remain contained within the “Secret Annex.” It is during this phase of her life that we see her grow up to be a young woman and become a wonderful connoiseur of human nature.

Pick No. 5: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

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Why was it picked: Think about your death and reflect upon what matters the most to you: This is what a lot of professors are asked to do. The same was expected of Randy Pausch –  a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon. Upon being asked to deliver his “Last Lecture,” Pausch didn’t have to use his imagination much, as – unfortunately – he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the actual talk he delivered conveyed a summary of all things that Pausch had come to believe in about life – not about death. This book is here to stay. This book will be loved and shared by every generation.

Pick No. 6: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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Why was it picked: Terrible ideas? Yes, this book is full of those! In this book, Lawson says: “Don’t sabotage yourself. There are plenty of other people willing to do that for free.” And there’s more of these adorable gems in there. I love every single line in this book!

Lawson is massively adored around the globe for her undeniable humor and sincerity. With Furiously Happy, she has delivered her funniest best. And this book makes perfect sense, ‘cuz hey, at times crazy is the only way to be.

Pick No. 7: It’s OK to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort

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Why was it picked: Purmort gets engaged to Aaron – a charismatic comic-book enthusiast. Where does the engagement take place? In Aaron’s hospital bed when he gets diagnosed with brain cancer. They also have a baby while Aaron is on chemo. They publish an obituary on Aaron during the period of his hospice care, which announces his real identity: he is Spider-Man. Truly touching.

The book reaches out a hand to life and accepts it with all the tears, pains, and joy. The book reads like someone is conversing with a BFF, and sends some magic pixie dust our way. All you people in this world who have had their life do a 180 out of the blue and have learnt to live with it? This book is for you.

Well, that’s just my short list. If you have more books to recommend to me, please drop a line below and let me know.

Happy reading, beautiful world!


Thank you, Comics

We are humans. Mere mortals. Not all of us are born craving for hard-to-comprehend literature. When I was a kid, I used to crave for reading material that made complete sense to me – comics. What did I like about them then? The color and images. Isn’t it surprising that we never found it hard to focus on comics? I admit, I used to enjoy reading my textbooks…but put comics beside them and I would never look at the school stuff a second time. I thank my mom for introducing me to comics and showing me that there is more to books than just “yawn.”

Reading doesn’t always have to be something “that is approved by literature critics.” Read what gives you joy. Pick up anything that is written. Author, no bar. If you are a parent and your aim is to get your kid reading, comics are THE answer. As kids, our mind cries out for a medley of things that keep us happy and…not bored. And let’s face it, comics DID give us the potpourri that we looked for.

If someone argued that comics are impractical and are aimed to entertain just kids, I would throw them off the cliff. OK, I many not be THAT violent in real life, but I may have a mental picture of me doing so. Why, you ask, am I so passionate  about comics? Well, of the many reasons I can state, the top-most in my mind is how appropriate it is to use comics for communication. As someone who handles communication for her firm, I know the importance of communication that is taken seriously by everyone.

If you are still not convinced, allow me to draw up a few more advantages I can think of. Here goes. The complicated technology (which, I admit, is relatively simplified now) that you need to develop videos is not something you require to give birth to engaging comics. Illustrations have a humanness of their own, don’t you think? A characteristic that is profusely attractive compared to camera shots. What’s more, with comics, even if you forget to leave a bookmark where you left off, you could always easily come back to the page and take off on a wondrous journey of fun. The combo of depiction and ideas has claim to more than your attention. It is powerful enough to take charge of your imagination.

Human clans have always had a weakness for stories, haven’t they? Add a pinch of comicalness to those stories, and voila! It’s the perfect dish to cure you of boredom! Yeah, you can thank me later for sharing the recipe.