Selections from Shurik’s Memoirs

Blog Summary Widget

103. The Great Depression*

I lived through the Great Depression years and often think back to that time. It created devastating hardships especially in the U.S., albeit not as horrifying as the Russian Civil War and Bolshevik victory that I witnessed in Siberia and the reign of terror when the Red Army occupied Estonia in 1940 and I made their hit list. The financial crisis started with the fall of the stock market in the U.S. in October 1929. And the lives of millions of Americans were never the same again. Publications filled with statistics tell one side of the story while novels and the survivors tell the other side - the human suffering. Across the U.S., wages declined, unemployment grew, and bribes were paid for even part-time jobs. Over 2,000 banks declared bankruptcy, and people lost their life savings. Suicide rates rose. Beggars became a common sight, and the hobo culture flourished. The poor stood in long soup lines and huddled on street corners, trying to sell their few remaining possessions. Many fled the cities and ended up in tents or barracks somewhere in the country. During such harsh times when survival becomes a struggle, it is common to blame the government and push for change. This paved the way for FDR’s victory and his New Deal.

Consequences from the Great Depression extended to the international community. [As noted in a previous section], they reached Estonia in 1930 and grew worse by 1931. The economic crisis became a frequent topic of conversation at my farm as well as in the village, occasionally leading to heated debates. We followed the developments in the U.S. with concern, wondering how much worse our own situation would become. As the price of our farm products dropped, we experienced firsthand its “trickle down” effect. The banks turned cautious regarding new loans and used harsh measures to collect outstanding debts. Factories and stores suffered a decline in sales, and bankruptcies grew. I knew of several farmers forced into bankruptcy. The farmers’ problems were tied to a variety of factors, among them the low price of grains imported from Germany. Fortunately Mäe farm managed to survive. But it wasn’t easy. Those who have lived through a financial collapse might well fear that there will be another one and ponder how to prepare for it.

*This section is a brief summary of data compiled by Shurik and his interpretation regarding the economic crisis in U.S. and Estonia and how policies in Germany affected the farmers in Vatsla.         


Q: What are the criteria for Shuriks Picks?

A: The book should be an enjoyable read and/or deal with an important or neglected topic - a book we have read to the end and can recommend. With occasional exceptions, the book should be available in bookstores in English. We also review select e-books and ARCs (advanced reader editions) but not unpublished works. We moved in 2011 and again in 2012. If you do not have our new address and want to submit a review copy, send us first an email. Acceptance of a book will not guarantee that it will be reviewed or mentioned. We are especially interested in classics, true crime, and mysteries. No erotica, porn, or ultra-violence.

Q: Do books qualify that are controversial or present ideas with which you disagree?

A: We welcome controversial books if they are well-written and informative. They are good for the publishing industry.

Q: Will your opinion of an author or publisher influence which books are chosen?

A: Somewhat as to which books we will choose to read but not our evaluation. There are some authors we like as persons but not their books and others we don’t like but have picked their books. In the case of two publishers, we have looked at scores of their mysteries but have found every one boring, and thus tend to skip their novels.

Q: Can the same author be picked more than once? More than two months in a row?

A: Yes. Picks represents books we liked the best during the previous month.

Q: Would you include a book on the basis of having read only a review?

A: Not for Shuriks Picks or other reviews. However, we do mention books in the Commentary section based on reviews or announcements.

Q: How do you choose which books to read?

A: We have a list of books we would like to read that is compiled from book reviews, recommendations, review copies, gifts, and books we purchase.

Q: Will you publish negative reviews?

A: Unlikely. Our goal is to promote books and reading. We might make occasional negative comments. 

Q: Do you recommend publishers for authors wanting their book published?

A: No. Problems can develop with the most respected publishing houses. Before we would sign with any publisher we would have a reputable literary lawyer or agent review the book contract.

Q: What does it cost to have books chosen for Shuriks Picks or otherwise mentioned?

A: Nothing. We neither charge nor pay for the blog content and have never been involved in financial dealings (other than accepting review copies). This applies also to products we mention. We like to support reading and literacy, authors (published & unpublished), bookstores, and libraries.

Q: What happened to November 2012 blog?

A: We have no clue, and Apple no longer provides tech support for iWeb. The November 2012 blog was up for at least eight months. Then it disappeared from our computer and from the Internet. Even listing it in the archives disappeared. We had a printout and added a shortened version to the October 2012 blog.


Pick of the Month, May 2017



Cover Me in Darkness: Old Wounds Run Deep by Eileen Rendahl, Midnight Ink, $15.99

Amanda Sinclair’s life unraveled at an early age, starting with her father divorcing her mother Linda for a younger woman, which left the family with scars that failed to heal. Devastated, Linda joined Children of the Greater God (COGG). There Amanda developed a crush on its leader Patrick Collier, but he didn’t reciprocate. Overall, the cult was not the worst. Collins, a memorable character, sought neither sex nor money but something “purer and harder to get”: commitment to COGG and to God. One day Linda had a psychotic breakdown and killed her son. The turmoil caused Amanda to hit rock bottom. Eventually she got her life back on track and graduated from college.

Now Amanda has a job she loves in quality control at Bellefountaine Cosmetics. She is happy with her salary, coworkers, and the CEO. Her secret past, however, continues to torment her, notably the death of Marcus, a boy she recruited into COGG. (Initially Marcus is described as Mexican but later as Anglo - a trivial discrepancy.) When her mother, who was sentenced to a mental ward, supposedly commits suicide, Amanda finds clues pointing to homicide. Attempts on her life follow. Could they be related to her job where she discovered evidence of tampering with the results of product testing? Or to COGG? Her guilt feelings over Marcus lead her to decisions that turn her life upside down.

The mystery novel is set in Chicago and skirts several themes: “throwaway children” and the attraction of cults; children’s need for a stable home; the danger of faking scientific results; and impact of false accusations. Rendahl effectively depicts a protagonist torn by diverse forces. An enjoyable read.


Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and Donald Trump’s Winning Strategy by Doug Wead, Center Street, $27.00

Hillary’s supporters believed she was a sure winner. She spent more money than Trump and had a superior ground game; TV networks concealed her weak spots; 240 newspapers endorsed her to Trump’s 19; big banks and corporations flocked to her; polls had her ahead; and numerous celebrities threatened to leave the country if she lost. She also had baggage such as accusations of corruption; the email scandal, with the FBI giving her a pass for acts for which others had gone to prison; her nasty treatment of 12-year-old rape victim Kathy Shelton; ties to Russia; refusal to name Boko Haram a terrorist group; Benghazi; and drawing relatively puny crowds to her rallies.

Trump had his own problems. His greatest weakness was lack of ground game. Also, he was an outsider, not a politician and didn’t always phrase his statements with caution, which helped the media to mischaracterize his words. The GOP was divided, many of them proclaiming that he was not a conservative and thus refused to support him, apparently preferring Hillary. His critics made accusations, albeit unsubstantiated, of racism and other isms. All along, voters were told that he would lose. Ann Coulter was the first one to predict he would win, and for this she was ridiculed.

Then Trump was hit by October Surprise, a tape of him using offensive sexist language 11 years earlier. Immediately there were calls for his resignation, the strongest criticism coming from within the GOP. Who can forget how shocked Rep. Paul Ryan was that anybody would utter such comments? Yet this tape didn’t influence the voters as much as the pundits predicted and led to comparison to the 1884 election in which Grover Cleveland defeated James G. Blaine.

Wead focuses on allegations of corruption against the Clintons and recaps the early ones with which younger people would not be familiar. He points out that corruption has a long history involving administrations of both parties. In the past, however, it wasn’t the president but others around him who profited, he being at most guilty of cover-up. The difference for the Clintons was that they themselves profited.

This bestseller touches upon a variety of topics such as China’s role in influencing our elections; the billions of dollars drained from the middle-class to the big banks and corporations under Bush and Obama; and the Clinton campaign of 2008 starting the “birther movement.” It includes a section about Trump’s career and concludes that he would not have won without the efforts by Reince Priebus and that “for most voters the election was not about black & white or how to treat women but survival.”

Doug Wead, a friend of the Bush family, has written about all U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama and is an expert on presidential families. He presents one of several interpretation of the 2016 presidential election, a topic that continues to hold widespread interest.

Children’s/YA Books

Eyewitness: Cat by Juliet Clutton-Brock, DK, $7.99, ages 8 to 12

This easy to read, beautifully illustrated book provides an introduction to cats. It discusses the first cats, cat clans, myths and legends, forest felines, identifying breeds, and other topics. Interesting facts include: cats have the “taste-smell” sense, which humans lack; they hunt alone except for the lions; and the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world.


Specialty/Small Press

Cormorant Books, founded in 1986, publishes literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translations of Québécois authors, and fiction for young readers. Their titles include Read This Before You Diet: The Science of Weight Loss Explained by Kirsten Bédard.


Author submissions: They accept literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry only from Canadian authors. For guidelines see

Site content © 2017


The Burning of Cedar Bridge

Early Saturday morning, April 15, 2017, flames engulfed the iconic Cedar Bridge in Madison County, Iowa. The covered bridge became famous when Robert Waller featured it in his 1992 romance novel The Bridges of Madison County, which Clint Eastwood turned into a movie. The Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s investigators moved with impressive speed to solve the arson, piecing together clues provided by a gas can discarded near the crime scene, security cameras, social media, and tips. On Monday evening, April 17, they arrested Alexander Michael “Alex” Hoff, 17, of West Des Moines and on Wednesday his friend Joel Nathan Davis, 18, of Norwalk. Both men confessed and were charged with first-degree arson, which carried a prison term up to 25 years. They had joined the U.S. Marine Corps’ Delayed Early Entry Program but were dismissed from it because of the charges. No motive has been revealed at this time. Several weeks earlier Hoff mentioned wanting to burn Cedar Bridge and posted on his Instagram account a photo of him inside a covered bridge and the caption: “The hardest part of life is knowing which bridges to burn, and which to cross.”

The people of Madison County overwhelming want to restore the bridge. Originally built in 1883, the bridge used to be open for vehicular traffic and was a favorite rental for weddings and parties. The Madison County Covered Bridge Preservation Association, a nonprofit organization, is accepting donations. Checks can be made out to “Rebuild Cedar Bridge” and mailed or delivered to three local banks: Farmers and Merchants Bank, 101 W. Jefferson St.; Union State Bank, 201 W. Court Ave.; or American State Bank, 809 John Wayne Dr., all in Winterset, IA 50273. Other fundraisers might be added later. Winterset, the hometown of John Wayne, holds an annual covered bridges festival in October.

This destruction of Cedar Bridge marked the second time it was targeted by arsonists. The first time was in September 2002. Rebuilding cost $576,000 and took two years.  Waller offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrest. In September 2003, just a year later, an arsonist set on fire Madison County’s Hogback Bridge. This time, however, only minor damage resulted. The 2002 and 2003 cases remain unsolved. Prior to these fires, the last covered bridge burning in the county occurred in 1983 when a local man destroyed McBride Bridge. Reportedly his girlfriend broke up with him and returned to her husband, and he burned the bridge to remove his initials. McBride Bridge was never rebuilt.


Author, musician, photographer, and college professor Robert James Waller, 77, died in Texas on March 10, 2017 from multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. He is best known for his novel The Bridges of Madison County, which has sold around 60 million copies. His other achievements include serving as the first Dean of the College of Business at University of Northern Iowa.


Founder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Paul O’Neill, 61, died in Florida on April 5, 2017 from an unspecified chronic ailment. He was also an accomplished composer, songwriter, and producer. His band, founded in 1996, became internationally popular for its metal-infused take on classic Christmas songs such as “Carol of the Bells.”

Winners and Losers


  1. Environmentalist Roy Beck, 68, CEO of NumbersUSA, Virginia. Under his leadership, Numbers USA Action has grown to 8 million participants spread among all 435 congressional districts, and his “Gumballs Video” on immigration and world poverty remains popular. He contends that population growth, including immigration, are to blame for “the vast majority of the loss of natural habitat in America” and accuses several environmental groups of no longer considering protection of the environment as their top priority.

  2. Presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, France. In a field of 11, these two outsiders advanced to the final round. For the first time in French history, no mainstream candidate will be on the ballot. Anarchists and “anti-fascists” broke into violent rioting because they didn’t like that Len Pen qualified.

  3. Poet and editor Lee Sharkey, 72, Maine. Her poem “Letter to Al” (about the effect of dementia on her marriage) won the €10.000 Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize.

  4. Addysson Soltau, aka Alpha Addy, 8, Austin, Texas. Her talent as a junior competitive shooter drew international attention. She is also a cheerleader and 1st degree purple belt in karate. 


  1. Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, board certified to practice emergency medicine, originally from India and now residing in Michigan. She was charged with performing genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls, who testified they had suffered terrific pain, and is suspected of having performed similar operations on other children.

  2. The jury in the video voyeurism case against Dr. Alireza “Ali” Sadeghi, Louisiana. Plastic surgeon Sadeghi, 41, used his cellphone to take full front nude pictures and video of patients without their permission while they were under anesthesia and then sent them to his mistress. The video showed the nurses dancing to the song “Fun” during an operation and making obscene gestures to the nude patient. In spite of overwhelming evidence and the testimony by his estranged wife that he raped her (that trial is set for June 5), the jury found him not guilty of lewd or lascivious acts. This is yet another Casey Anthony/O.J. Simpson jury - the members should never be allowed to serve on any jury.

  3. Kelly Schmahl, 20, student at Northern Kentucky University. From June 2016 to March 2017, she fooled her family, friends, and Delta Zeta sorority sisters with claims she suffered from Stage 3 stomach cancer. She shaved her head and used a wheelchair in conning $7,500 from donors. The case is under investigation. If convicted, she could face 1 to 10 years in prison.

  4. Judge Thomas Low, Utah. The judge agonized about sentencing Keith Vallejo, who was convicted of ten counts of forcible rape. In the presence of the victim, he described Vallejo as “an extraordinarily good man” and a “great man.”


  link to first blogEntries/2008/11/4_Selections_from_Shuriks_Memoirs.html

Louisa Catherine Adams and Melania Trump.

Melania wears in her first official portrait a Dolce & Gabbana blazer. Originally from Slovenia, she is the second First Lady born outside of the U.S. The first one was Louisa,  the wife of the 6th POTUS John Quincy Adams. She was born in London in 1775. Portrait by Charles Robert Leslie, 1816.

Unemployed men outside a storefront soup kitchen opened by Al Capone in Depression-era Chicago, 1931

Miss Estonia 1931, Lilly Silberg, was born in 1906; worked in a chocolate factory; excelled at skiing, skating, and dancing; and had a sister who was a model in Paris. This pageant drew widespread interest and also criticism from feminists who felt it demeaned women. Lilly went on to win 1st runner-up spot in the Miss Europe contest held in Paris. Afterward she joined her sister and likewise became a model. Later she married a wealthy Frenchman who would receive injuries during WW II that left him in a wheelchair until his death in 1963. She died in 1969 from breast cancer. For some reason no Miss Estonia contests were held from 1933 through 1987. Photographer: Erakogu

Top: Cedar Bridge, January 3, 2017. Photo © TS

Center: The two thugs, Alex Hoff and Joel Davis, who destroyed the bridge. So far they have been unable to make bond and remain in jail. Photos: The Madison County Sheriff’s Department

Bottom: The scorched ruins of Cedar Bridge, April 5, 2017. Photo © TS

Hogback Bridge, Madison County, Iowa, April 5, 2017. It survived an attempted arson in 2003. Photo © TS