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#BabyBoomers

  • READING AND DISCUSSION GUIDE: The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

    Reading and Discussion Guide for
    THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
    By
    Chuck Cascio

    NOTE: If you would like  to discuss any of these items with me, please email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com.

     
    1) What is the tone established in the Prologue and Chapters 1-3? How does it contribute to the story arc and how does it tie to Volumes I&II?
     
    2) Throughout much of the book, Mike "talks" to Sally-Boy. Do his "conversations" and recollections seem to calm Mike or do they seem to cause an increased sense of despair and desperation?
     
    3) Chapters 8-11 are often referred to as indicative of a turning point in Mike's thinking. If you agree with that position, what are some of the specifics that occur in those chapters that imply a change and is that change a sign of maturation or further frustration or both?
     
    4) Chapters 12-19 immerse readers in several realities that Mike and others of his generation face. Consider Mike's initial reaction to Erica, how his feelings develop, and what elements of his nature seem to be emerging. At the same time, consider what his roommate, Fish, is like and how interactions with Darrell Bingham affect them both and, also, what Bingham seems to represent.
     
    5) Chapter 20 ties together several elements of life during the Vietnam Era upon which much of the book focuses. Of those elements, what emerges as having the greatest impact of that time and which, if any of those elements, still seem prevalent today?
     
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    6) As relationships emerge and develop between Mike and Erica and Fish and Katie, what aspects of their personalities seem to come through most prominently. Which, if any, of those aspects seem positive and which, if any, seem troubling to you?
     
    7) Chapters 31-33 move the reader from a party where the song "Satisfaction" has a real and symbolic role to deeper thinking on Mike's part about where he is headed. What are some of the key scenes (if any) that indicate to you a change in the depth of the characters and what are some of the implications of those changes?
     
    8) As the storyline develops, the role of Professor Staunton emerges as more prominent as does the impact of the Vietnam War. These elements combine to result in decisions that some people might consider heroic and others might consider objectionable. How do you feel about the decisions the characters make both in context of the story and in reality?
     
    9) Chapter 48 focuses on a ferry ride that Mike and Erica take. What do you think of the character development in that chapter? Do you see any foreshadowing of what is to come?
     
    10) Chapters 49-53 are filled with character elements that move the story to various points of dramatic conclusion. What is unexpected? What did you anticipate? How were you affected by the different events that impact the characters?
     
    11) In the Epilogue, do you feel that Mike has resolved his issues with Sally-Boy's disappearance? Do you think that Mike does justice to Sally, or is there more that he should do and, if so, what should it be?
     

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     
  • The Day of the MLK Assassination-April 4, 1968

    Prof. Staunton Speaks on the Day of the MLK Assassination-April 4, 1968:

    An Excerpt from my novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN 

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074V8CRGX

         “Langston Hughes asks us if dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun or if they stink like fetid meat and, of course, he must know the answer is yes to both—we know both are true because we see those truths in people every day, people who dry up with their dried up dreams, shrivel with their emaciated love affairs—and yet Hughes tries to convince us that it is wrong to give up on dreams because if we do, as he puts it in another poem, ‘Life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.’

         “So the same man who poses the question in one poem, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ warns us in another that without dreams our lives will not fly. If you are writers, you are dreamers by definition, so you must wrestle with Mr. Hughes’s thoughts—some of you will, some won’t, some will be haunted by dreams deferred, some will forget about dreams altogether, some will look around and dream of outrageously ostentatious houses—the measure of opulence today being size and amount whether in square footage of homes or horse power or number of cars—and exotic vacations and perhaps beachfront mansions and cabin cruisers.

    856872_v9_aa.png 

        “So many of you will be fickle to the dreams and words and passions that move you now, and by letting it all dry up or trading it all in, you will become vulnerable repeatedly to what we should have seen coming:

        “The squeezing of the trigger of the rifle whose scope was focused on Martin’s round black head, the assassin waiting, holding steady, calm, a horrifying distortion of Hemingway’s grace under pressure, slowly focusing on the hairs that covered the epithelial cells drawn tight across the cranium that stored one man’s extravagant and bold dreams—the perverted assassin turning his perverted dream into reality as he fired and felt the powerful kick of the rifle butt warm against his shoulder, and in the instant that he blinked from the explosion and smelled the acrid odor of gunpowder, he watched through his scope Martin’s exploding head, while inside that broken head confused and gasping dreams now spun madly in milliseconds into blackness and then hurtled out the exit wound or dripped out of the entry wound.

         “The assassin ended those dreams, betting that all of us will let them all dry up along with our own dreams, which we will trade in for comfort; in so doing, the assassin hopes to turn you all into assassins, murderers, killers, hypocrites. After all, he had the courage to act on his perverted dream and to gamble that we are not as courageous about pursuing dreams as he is. So what happens, I ask you, to a dream deferred and deferred and deferred and deferred…” 

         Staunton repeated the word, banging his fists on the podium while we sat in a silence only death itself could duplicate, until, finally, after screaming the word “deferred” one more time, his voice cracked into falsetto, and the blue veins in his neck bulged like tree roots, and his face shone like a beacon, and he looked up, panting, into the face of the tall woman with the long hair, who was noiselessly crying, and extended his arms to her. She embraced him, his white hair touching just below her mouth.

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved
  • The Movie "Just Mercy"--See. Think. Act

    The Movie Just Mercy

    See. Think. Act.

    by

    Chuck Cascio

         If you have not yet seen the movie Just Mercy, you should put it on your "must do" list, especially during Black History Month. It is a true story that provides viewers with reminders of past injustices, the realization that injustices still exist, and the sense of how much must be done to eliminate those injustices in the future. 

         Be prepared to feel uncomfortable but in a meaningful, important way when viewing Just Mercy. And the movie will also make you aware that there are people who truly commit their lives to eliminating injustice...and those people are the real, little-known heroes of history.

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         Just Mercy is the story of African American Bryan Stevenson (played powerfully by Michael A. Jordan), a young, Harvard-educated attorney, who in the late 1980s goes to Alabama to defend prisoners wrongly imprisoned and those not provided proper representation. The movie focuses on one case in particular--that of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx, in a moving performance), an African American in Alabama sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl despite abundant evidence proving his innocence. The movie captures the racism and the legal and political obstacles Stevenson encounters while fighting for McMillian's life and the lives of many other prisoners.  

       The film is produced by Participant, a media company committed to developing entertainment that inspires positive social change, and the story succeeds in encouraging viewers to recognize the inequalities that existed in the era of this movie and those that still exist today. For me, a Boomer who moved from Brooklyn to Northern Virginia as a kid in the 1950s, the movie brought back uncomfortable memories from my youth. And it reminded me that, 30 years later during the years in which Just Mercy takes place, those injustices were still evident...and that too many still exist today albeit in less immediately obvious ways. Some of the realities the film brought back to me from my childhood:

         >>> Seeing signs above restrooms and water fountains and elsewhere that said, "Coloreds" and others that said, "Whites."

         >>> The street signs on motels that specified, "Coloreds not allowed."

         >>> Raw anger rippling through some classmates as Northern Virginia started to integrate schools.

         >>> The time an African American musician friend of mine was given a different menu at a restaurant from the one I was given, the prices on his menu several times more expensive than the prices on mine. We walked out, and as we were leaving someone behind us said, "Well, you can't say that we refused to serve him."

         And, sadly, there are many more from my 1950s-60s childhood. Incidents that confused me, incidents that my parents made sure I recognized as wrong, incidents that still run through my head. They are especially vivid when I see a movie like Just Mercy, so much so that I believe the movie should be shown to high school students and discussed in depth with them. The story is ideal for a conversation around racial injustice, where it has been, where it exists today, and what needs to be done about it in the future.

         As Just Mercy reveals, Bryan Stevenson did more than commit himself to a couple of years worth of work for the unjustly incarcerated. He formed the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989, a nonprofit organization that, as stated on its website (www.eji.org),

    “…provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. We challenge the death penalty and excessive punishment and we provide re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.” 

         There is much work to be done. According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans represent only 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Hispanics make up 16% of the adult population and account for 23% of inmates. Whites comprise 64% of adults and 30% of prisoners.  

         In these swirling, fast-paced times it is important to remind ourselves of the realities of past injustices, to take time to look closely at the current lives of minorities, and to take steps for a more equitable future. So here are three things to consider doing, any one of which will stimulate thinking and expand the much-needed conversation:

    1) Just see the movie.

    2) Think about, document, and/or discuss your own experiences regarding racism.

    3) Go to the Equal Justice Initiative website (www.eji.org) and explore it, looking especially at the various materials developed for classroom use, which can also be used  in less-formal discussions with today's youths.

       Doing any of these will stimulate thoughts about where we were, where we are, and where we are headed. Sometimes mercy emerges from discomfort.

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

  • The Murder of RFK--An excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN

    REACTION TO THE MURDER OF BOBBY KENNEDY—
    An excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
          A small group of weeping campaign workers sat around Professor Staunton in a corner of the campaign office. As Erica and I approached, I could see he cradled something in his hands. His face was flushed and his words slurred; he had been drinking. When he saw us, he held up a Kennedy poster. Red paint had been dripped across Kennedy’s head. At the bottom of the poster, someone had painted the words,  “Compliments of the friends of Jimmy Hoffa.” 
         “There is no end to it,” Professor Staunton said. “There will never be an end to it. We suffer once and then again and again and again. Hatred is in the air we breathe; it is what keeps us alive; it is what kills us all; it is what we worship; it is what we pray to; it is what destroys our soul.” 
         Wakonda, who had been kneeling next to him, stood and held his head in her arms. She said to us, “This is another day of evil, but we must continue to find hope in our souls.” 
         “But please, Wakonda, please help me; tell me what to hope for,” Erica said. 
         Wakonda’s kind, dark eyes focused directly on Erica’s, and then Wakonda reached out, held Erica’s shoulders, and said with soft but fierce commitment, “You can hope for the vision to live even as others die, Erica. You can hope for courage…You can hope for the unborn and the newborn. You can hope for those you love and for those who you will love. And you can hope for yourself; we must all hope for ourselves….” 
         Erica looked at me, full of youth, beauty, and pain, her words measured as if she were trying to keep from unraveling as she said, “Then I will continue to hope...that whatever is happening will all mean something. I can—and will—continue to hope!” She was almost shouting. She used no strange dialect to cover her pain, and she shook hard; I tried to steady her, holding her close as we walked to the car. 
         For the entire drive to her house Erica held her hands over her beautiful face, crying in sporadic, heaving sobs, blurting out in whispers a mantra, a repeated prayer, a confused contrition of sorts: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for everything I have done…I must hope…I must do better…I must be better…I am sorry for it all…” And she huddled against the car door, her knees against the backs of the hands that covered the face I could no longer see. 
         I pulled up in front of her house. Erica’s face re¬mained buried in her hands. She continued to strug¬gle for self-control, but then she shook and made one final, high-pitched burst—a sound so deep and for¬eign that I can still hear it clearly, painfully, a sound like exploding glass that sent a shudder through me.
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.
     
  • This Is My Father...

    dad

          This is my father, Morris (Modesto) Cascio. He was born on August 19, 1919. He passed away far too young in 1994. I think about him every day, but recent events in our country have brought him more to mind than usual. Why? Well, I keep imagining how he would be reacting, what he would be saying, what his hopes and fears would be for the lovely great grandchildren that he never got to know.

         See, he was an Italian kid off the streets of New York whose name was changed from Modesto to Morris by the school system as a way of assimilating immigrants in those days. Along with his siblings, Dad stood in bread lines during the Great Depression to bring food back to the tenement in which his family lived. Once a week, the family shared a dessert--a tiny cake that my immigrant grandfather would cut into six equally small pieces so each member of the family could enjoy a bit of sweetness.

         World War II was swelling when Dad graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Brooklyn. There was no money for college, so he did some work as a photographer, and then just before entering the Army, he married my mom, a woman he had know for several years, the younger sister of two guys who were friends of his. The story goes that he charmed her by approaching her when she was sixteen and asking her suavely, "Feel like a soda?" That was a line she never forgot, and in later years she admitted that her instinct was to provide a smart-aleck response, but she was enamored at the time and said, "Sure." The rest, for our family, is history.

         Dad entered the army, was trained in communications in various locations around the country, my mother traveling with him--two kids off the Brooklyn streets finding themselves in places like Kansas, Texas, and California. But then my father was sent overseas to the "Burma, China, India Theater," stationed in a remote outpost in the Himalayan Mountains, channeling secret communications with a small group of other soldiers. He sometimes flew with the Flying Tigers, delivering important documents to various outposts.

         Many years later, when talking with me or my brother or sister or anyone else about his army experiences, he never bragged, he never complained about the emotional pain of being removed from his young wife, he never spoke of the hardships of being as removed from the busy streets of his youth as he could have ever imagined.

         No. Dad, like thousands of others, did what he had to do. He fought for democracy. He fought against hatred. He fought the dictators who were trying to mold the world in their image when, he knew from personal experience, that the world is made of many images, many colors, many beliefs. Dad believed instinctively that all that matters in the end, whether in a Brooklyn tenement or the Himalayan Mountains, is how you carry out your beliefs, how you treat others, to what degree you value fairness, equality, opportunity.

         After the war, my dad, one of my uncles, and two of their Brooklyn pals all took jobs with the government in DC, careers they valued, work they saw as important, roles they took pride in. Dad was no fool--he was not afraid to question those in power, but he also knew that in that post-War era, many of the people in power were inclined--for whatever reason--to listen. Dad, and others who experienced life events similar to those he experienced, had an instinct about what was essential to maintain the joys of life for all--joys such as the opera music that floated through our home every Sunday as Mom prepared an Italian dinner, or the dancing that he would do with Mom complete with moves that made others on the dance floor stop and applaud, or the powerful affection he was not afraid to display openly for his family, friends, and anyone he felt was helping to move the world in a more understanding and equitable direction. He did not judge by political affiliation, race, creed, or any societal designation. He valued actions.

         Once, when a friend of his criticized the fact that an African American family had moved into an all-white neighborhood of Vienna, VA, my father calmly looked at his friend and said, "That man is moving into a bigger house than you or I have and in a better neighborhood. Instead of asking if his neighbors will associate with him, you should be wondering if he would want to associate with us."

         So these days, as I read the childish tweets of a vindictive, small-minded president whose actions fuel the hatred that lingers in our population, a president who denigrates the very people who work diligently day and night in the interest of all people in this country (as my father, uncle, and their Brooklyn pals did), a president who does not have the courage to acknowledge that he was born with a sliver spoon in his mouth but not everyone was, I think increasingly of my father and the men and women of his generation, the ones who helped save the world from the very dictatorial actions and societal hatred that we are now seeing arise in our own country.

         Dad was not one to make big pronouncements, so he would probably not have said, "This is no time for silence," but he was a man of action and belief and he would have helped figure out a way to promote equity, empathy, sympathy, and understanding, even if it was just on an individual, personal level. Even if it just meant saying, as he sat with friends listening to opera or jazz, or as he rested from a dance with Mom, or as he toiled into the wee hours of the morning in his CIA office, something along the lines of what he said to his friend that day about the African American family. Dad would have helped spread the word of fairness through modest, meaningful actions, actions learned from a life whose roots he never forgot, always valued, and used as a way to direct his own life.  

         Sitting in his backyard just a year or two before he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dad was savoring the last bite of a steak he had expertly cooked on his grill. My mom, my wife, and I chuckled as he made a show of slowly savoring it, swallowing it, and sipping the last bit of his wine. When finished, he pushed gently away from the table, looked at his empty plate, and said, "That steak was so good, I hated to see it end." 

         I thought then, as I think now, "Yes, Dad, exactly...it was too good to end."

     Copyright Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • Trump and "The Deer Hunter"


    A LESSON ABOUT DONALD TRUMP FROM THE DEER HUNTER

    by

    Marc Cascio

    (Note: Marc Cascio is a high school English teacher, father of three, soccer coach, and my son. I am pleased that he is an occasional contributor to my blog.)

    More and more, I keep thinking of the scene from The Deer Hunter where Robert De Niro’s character Mike explains to his friend Stan (played by John Cazale) that reality is reality by angrily exclaiming, "This is this!" The lesson is clear: Some things are just not subject to being false simply because you want them to be false or because you say they are false without proof.

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    For example, climate change is real. It just is. You can yell and scream and rant and rave, you can surround yourself with other people who deny it, and you can find a screwball or two with some fancy degree who offers some quackish data that supports your claim, but that doesn't outweigh the throngs of experts and the mountains of data the prove the truth: Climate change IS real. This is this.

    The dangers of Covid are also real. Just because you might happen to be living in an area where emergency rooms aren't packed with the sick and dying doesn't mean that the dangers aren't real. No one person is the center of the universe, and no one person's subjective experience dictates objective reality, so to run around foolishly without precautions puts everyone at risk. This is this.

    And the president of the United States incited a riot-- 

    >>>He fomented an insurrection. 

    >>>He got a police officer killed. 

    >>>He lied about a stolen election. 

    >>>He badmouthed governors and his own vice president. 

    >>>He vilified the Supreme Court because the justices upheld the law rather than saw it as their obligation to side with him because he appointed some of the justices. 

    >>>He is guilty of treason. 

    Maybe (?) there were a few antifa people milling around who jumped in, but those people rioting in the Capitol were radical Trump supporters doing Trump's bidding.

    That is that and this is this!

    (Copyright Marc Cascio; all rights reserved.)

  • UNITED BY THE WALL: A Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes

    UNITED BY THE WALL: A Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes

    In 1992, for the twentieth anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, I had the privilege of working with my friend Jonathan Edwards, the incredibly talented singer/songwriter, on a musical tribute to the Wall and to the soldiers who gave their lives in that war.

    To watch and listen to "United By the Wall"--and to reflect for a couple of minutes on all the true heroes who have given their lives so we may live ours--please click on the following or cut and paste it into your browser:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzQtJr3yrK4   

    To all our veterans: Thank you for your service!

    Copyright Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

  • Voices of Concern for Our Imperiled Democracy

    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    An Introduction by Gerald A. DiGrezio, Colonel, USA, retired

    Below is a letter I signed along with 16 other members of my 1968 Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft Benning, GA.  While we certainly do not claim that we represent the views of the entire class during this period of extreme political diversity, we are a group of mostly Vietnam Veterans with a very singular concern. The signers come from all political persuasions and areas of this country but are united in our concern for what has transpired during the past four years of this presidency.

    We are in an era of time when each week a discovered situation would bring the demise of an administration, but we have become so shell shocked that it barely causes a ripple in the news cycle.  We are led by a president who is only concerned with his own image and is bereft of any concern for the Constitution and the rule of law.  Just two instances in a very long list are his multiple firings of Inspectors General and the U. S. Attorney in Manhattan.

    The duplicity by the Republicans in Congress and the United States Senate has been palpable.  To watch the demise of a political party that prided itself on  patriotism and support of the Constitution has been mystifying at best and duplicitous at worst.

    While we know that this letter will only be a raindrop in a deluge of national concern, the signers felt compelled to issue it.  After all, we took and oath to defend this country against all enemies “foreign and domestic.”  And while I never expected to say it, the greatest threat to the United States of America is resoundingly domestic.

    ###########

    download.jpg

    VOICES OF CONCERN FOR OUR IMPERILED DEMOCRACY

    We the undersigned are former or retired army officers now in our seventies.  We share a common bond, having graduated from the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia in 1968.  From there, we served in the military in a variety of capacities, wherever we were needed.  As young men, we were committed to defending America’s values, our freedoms, our democracy, and our Constitution.  Some of us made a career in the military, but most of us went on to have productive careers back home in the civilian world.  As a group, we have diverse political views: Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives.  But we are all concerned Americans.

    In the past few months, our system of government has been increasingly under siege.  Our nation has reached this critical point under the current administration of Donald J. Trump.  Important voices have begun to speak out, led by respected members of the highest military rank.  We would like to join this chorus of alarm.

    Our government structure, with its co-equal branches, is in jeopardy.  Our judicial system is reeling.  The FBI, the CIA and the NSA are being mocked and belittled.  Our Attorney General’s office is overtly politicized.  Our State Department is being decimated. Where are the voices of outrage in Congress? The Senate is virtually mute.

    We are concerned that our country is rapidly spinning toward a Presidency staffed by family members and cronies in which the only prerequisite is blind loyalty.  The United States is withdrawing from the world, enjoying little respect internationally.  This cannot continue.  

    Quoting James Mattis, a Marine Four Star General and former Secretary of Defense:

                     “We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority…We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

    We honor the General’s courage, and emphatically call on both chambers of Congress to follow his lead in defending our democracy and our Constitution.  We urge all Americans to consider these ideals as you vote this Fall.

             Signed:                                                                   

    John F. Baxter III (1LT, USA)
    Mark T. Creaven (1LT, USA)
    Larry W. Clark (1LT, USA)
    Colonel Gerald A. DiGrezio, USA, Retired
    Joseph F. Frisz (1LT, USA)
    John A. Guy (1LT, USA)
    Gary J. Goodman (1LT, USA)
    Captain Robert R. Hammeras, USA, Retired
    Daniel R. Mabesoone (1LT, USA)
    A.C. (Budd) Mazurek (1LT, USA)
    John F. McMackin Jr. (1LT, USA)
    Carl A. Ohlson (1LT, USA)
    Charles A. Powell (1LT, USA)
    John B. Slidell (1LT, USA)
    Lt. Colonel Charles R. Stone, USA, Retired
    Lt. Colonel Ralph S. Swingler, USA, Retired
    Wayne P. Yetter (1LT, USA)
     

    Copyright: Gerald A. DiGrezio, all rights reserved.

     
  • WAR IN THE RING--A unique book about boxing, Hitler, and WWII

    WAR IN THE RING:
    Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler—
    by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
    A BOOK WRITTEN FOR KIDS, BUT STIMULATING FOR EVERYONE
    by Chuck Cascio
         Those of us of (ahem!) a certain age have heard numerous stories about World War II. Perhaps our parents or grandparents served in the military during those years, or perhaps our families were dramatically impacted by the hatred that spread around the world, or perhaps we have a specific, lingering image someone described to us about the world at that time. 
         I am sure many of today’s youth know the realities of that era--the living conditions in the United States, the surge of Nazism, and the attempts people made to "normalize" their lives—and I am sure many others do not. I am also certain that all could benefit from knowing more, especially if the history of that time is presented in a way that ties together the social, political, and sports worlds in a unique manner. Which brings me to the incredibly insightful, highly readable book, War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler, by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro.

    war in the ring

         The authors combine the realities of racism, Nazi power, war, sports, and humanity in compelling non-fiction that stimulates thinking and curiosity about the era. The book is intended for middle-school students, but the writing does not talk down to anyone. As a former high school teacher, I can easily how the book could be used to engage teens in unique discussions of that time. By weaving the lives and profiles of the boxers—African American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling—against the rise of Hitler and WWII, War in the Ringprovides an intriguing look at history for readers of all ages.
         Louis and Schmeling fought twice—once in 1936 and again in 1938. With the turmoil rising in the world during those years, each man came to represent his respective country and each became a national symbol. The authors describe how Louis also carried the burden of being a black man in Jim Crow America. And when Louis, who was born amid the cotton fields of Alabama and raised in Detroit, lost the first match badly, it registered as a defeat for America. At the same time, Schmeling's win brought him lavish praise from Hitler himself and other Nazi leaders who saw it as a national victory. 
        Things changed dramatically two years later. Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round and emerged as one of the nation's first African American heroes, a symbol of hope in the United States. In Germany, Schmeling was ignored by nationalists and ostracized by Hitler himself.
         While many books do a fine job of capturing the World War II era, War in the Ring stands out because it is written in a novel-like manner and ties historical fact with societal and personal realities. By describing two men who grew up in poverty and used boxing as an attempt to improve their lives as the backdrop for the realities of war and all its suffering, authors Florio and Shapiro succeed in creating a grim metaphor for various aspects of life in that era. Here’s an example from the Prologue of the kind of thought-provoking imagery found throughout the book:

         “As the two fighters climb through the ropes, the overhead lights beaming down on them, men and women across the United States lean in to their radios, hanging on the outcome.

         “In Germany, it’s the middle of the night, but millions of residents have their lights on and their radios tuned to the broadcast coming over the phone lines.

          “The bell rings.”
     
          On a factual level, those words provide a picture not generally associated with war, but on a metaphorical level, the words capture the world at the time…a world in which the United States was about to step “through the ropes” and the bell was, in fact, about to ring.
         Read War in the Ring for yourself, read it with your kids or grandkids or students you teach but, most important, take some time to discuss what it is saying beyond the world of sports and the world of politics. Take time to appreciate what it illuminates about striving to normalize daily life amid the turmoil of conflict.
    THE END
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.