Selections from Shurik’s Memoirs

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111. My Brother Oskar

When through Frits Peterson, a Valgma fraternity brother, I became involved in the preliminary stages of building the Valgma-Abja railway [in 1932 or 1933], I requested that my brother Oskar be hired for the project. It wasn’t just because he was my brother. I had previously recommended him for the Tartu-Petseri railway project where he obtained the experience needed for the job here. He also was capable, dependable, and easy to get along with. My wife Inna said that he had the best personality of us three siblings and didn’t have the annoying habit of instructing others like my sister Johanna Elvira and I did. Prior to her stroke, we had been talking about our relatives and old friends and Inna recalled him as calm, cheerful, and friendly. When I left for Siberia in the fall of 1917 to advance my education and find adventure, he was then 14 years old and accompanied me to Tallinn to see me off. He remained on the platform until the train was out of sight, looking worried and somber as if saying good-bye forever. As for adventure, I got more than I bargained for in Siberia and was incredibly lucky to have survived and made it back home.

Oskar volunteered for the War of Independence, graduated from Westholm gymnasium, and earned an engineering degree in 1933 from Tallinna Tehnikum where he had joined Rotalia fraternity. In the 1930s he started to work for the Agricultural Department and soon received promotions. He married Leida, a pharmacist, and they had a daughter. During WW II the family fled to Sweden where he worked in his field until he retired. When his daughter, a dentist, married an internationally renowned physician, he sent us photos of the impressive wedding, the men in tuxedos and women in gowns. The guests included film director Ingmar Bergman and his then wife [and Oskar’s relative] Käbi Laretei, a well-know pianist. I could tell from Oskar’s letters that he highly approved of his son-in-law and was glad he was an Estonian. Years later, he was a proud grandfather and wrote me about his three grandchildren. He died from stomach cancer two years after the death of my sister. Both deaths filled me with sadness and loss, and I wish that I had had one last visit with them.


Q: What are the criteria for Shuriks Picks?

A: Picks of the Month are books that we read during the previous month and found them enjoyable and/or they dealt with an important or neglected topic. With occasional exceptions, the books should be in print in English. We also review 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. Our interests include classics, true crime, mysteries, history, and the environment. No erotica, porn, or ultra-violence.

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

A: Yes, 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: January 2018



The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, Penguin Books, $13.00

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593-1656, was an Italian Baroque painter and daughter of artist Orazio. She became the first woman admitted as member into the prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence.

Vreeland’s novelization of Artemisia’s life tells of the torture she endures when she testifies against a family friend who raped her; her arranged marriage to another artist she grows to love and then discovers his infidelities; her itinerate life as an artist; and her relationship with her daughter whom she advises: “Do not believe an illusion.” Feeling betrayed by people close to her, she finds solace in her overwhelming passion for painting. When her husband becomes upset that she was admitted to the Accademia ahead of him, she tells him, “We both bow equally at God’s feet on our day of judgement, and if either of us hides our talents, we deny God the full expression of Himself.”

Parts of the novel are based on documented histories, such as the trial of her rapist and her association with Galileo, while several others are Vreeland’s inventions. All paintings referred to are her actual work.

Vreeland died on August 23, 2017 at age 71 after heart surgery. She is known for her art-related historical fiction. Her most popular novel is Girl in Hyacinth Blue.


Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America’s Destiny by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Sentinel, $28.00

The War of 1812 between the United States and United Kingdom lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815 and is now viewed as the second war for American independence. The Battle of New Orleans, January 6-18, 1815, was the last major battle of this war. The loss of New Orleans would have meant cutting America off from essential trade routes and threatening the previous decade’s Louisiana Purchase.

Major General Andrew Jackson led the U.S. forces against the much larger British military. Both sides greatly underestimated him, and he turned this into an advantage in defending New Orleans. He possessed a remarkable skill of bringing together diverse socio-economic, religious, ethnic, and racial groups that included frontier militia men, Creoles, free African-Americans, Cherokee and Choctaw Indians, and even Jean Laffite and his Baratarian pirates. The Ursuline nuns prayed for him all night, which lifted the morale of the troops. He had a keen sense of timing and employed tactics that proved crucial in the crushing defeat of the British. The battle made him a national hero and paved the way for him to become the 7th president.

This bestseller is an interesting, easy to read book for the general reader. It covers a part of American history that has received relatively little attention in spite of its significance. The authors note that the Battle of New Orleans is “a story of a highly factionalized society coming together at a time of crisis and uniting their skills, valor, and spirit for the sake of preserving this nation.”

Presently several elements in New Orleans are turning against the man who saved the city. Outgoing Mayor Mitch Landrieu already has removed at least four historic monuments, and efforts continue to get rid of the iconic statue of Andrew Jackson by Clark Mills, erected in 1856 in Jackson Square, in Orwellian attempts to erase history.


Redwoods by Jason Chin, Roaring Brook Press, $16.95, ages 4 to 8

While riding on the subway, a boy finds an abandoned book about the redwoods. As he reads it, he imagines himself among these majestic trees. The largest redwoods are called Titans, the record held by Hyperion at 379.1 feet and still growing. The book tells of the many plants and animals who live in the redwoods, why these trees are able to withstand fires, how they react to being injured, and much more. In the last section, Chin states that 95% of the original redwood forests have been destroyed and only 18% of the remaining ones are protected. Redwoods is an engaging and informative read with excellent illustrations. Highly recommended.


Specialty/Small Press

Flashlight Press was established in 2004 and publishes 2 to 4 picture books a year for ages 4 to 8 that explore touching and humorous moments in family situations and social interaction. Their books have won numerous awards. The titles include Dragon and Captain by P. R. Allaback, illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom, and Too Much Glue by Jason Lefebvre, illustrated by Zac Retz.


Author submissions: They accept queries for books for ages 4 to 8 that are under 1,000 words and deal with family and/or social situations. Submission guidelines are posted on

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Top 10 Most Memorable Quotes of 2017

  1. The quote reportedly most remembered by the public - Hillary Clinton: “What Happened?” The rest of the quotes follow in alphabetic order.

  2. Alliance of World Scientists, statement issued in November 2017: “By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere.”

  3. Steve Bannon, media executive: “We are a nation of citizens. We are not a nation of immigrants.”

  4. University of California, Berkeley students/protesters: “Speech is violence!”

  5. Ann Coulter, writer and commentator: “American’s aren’t being slaughtered by invading Soviet troops, ‘Red Dawn’-style, but by Islamic terrorists on tourist visas flying commercial airplanes into our skyscrapers, and by first and second-generation Muslim immigrants setting off bombs and shooting people at the Boston Marathon, American military bases, community centers, and gay nightclubs. Americans are raped, addicted, and murdered not by the Red Army, but by millions of illegal aliens waltzing across our wide-open border.”

  6. Ryszard Czarnecki, British-born Polish MEP: “When it comes to reducing the chances of Poland being hit by terror attacks, the only proven method is to not allow Muslim migrants.”

  7. Mayor Sadiq Khan of London: “Terror attacks are part of living in a big city.”

  8. Rose McGowen, actress and singer: “Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster [Harvey Weinstein], are wearing black @Golden Globes in a silent protest. YOUR SILENCE is the problem. You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no change. I despise your hypocrisy.”

  9. Matthew Melton of the band Dream Machine: “The whole basis of social media is conditioning people to receive their mental stimulation from an external device rather than from actual experience. And it only seems logical that this will gradually desensitize us as we grow increasingly dependent on it, all the while the truly meaningful moments of our lives fall by the wayside, increasingly interrupted by it.”

  10. President Donald Trump: “In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God.”

Winners and Losers


  1. Amy Wright, founder and owner of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, North Carolina. Wright was chosen the 2017 CNN Hero on December 17 for her work advocating for employment opportunities for people with disabilities. She is presently employing 40 of them at her coffee shop. She became interested in this problem when she learned that 70% of the disabled were unemployed.

  2. Author Agatha Christie, 1890-1976, England. Her popularity has recently received a significant boost. Two new movies based on her mysteries were released, seven TV adaptations are set to stream on Amazon this year, and a couple of her novels are currently on best-seller lists. Her novels have been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

  3. Doug Jones, 63, Alabama. In an upset victory, the liberal Democrat with a strong pro-choice stand won the U.S. Senate seat in a red state. Surprisingly, Alabama’s other senator, Republican Richard Shelby, all but endorsed him.


  1. FBI. The FBI’s reputation suffered from ten major scandals under Comey’s watch. In recent weeks it has taken further hits as allegations have surfaced of corruption and conflict of interest at the highest level. One needs a diagram to follow the intertwined characters: FBI agent Peter Strzok and his mistress, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and their “insurance policy”; Strzok’s supervisor Bill Priestap; Robert Mueller’s tie to the Uranium One deal and his hiring of Jeannie Rhee; the controversial Andrew Weissmann; Andrew McCabe’s money trail to DNC; Bruce and Nellie Ohr and Fusion GPS; Christopher Steele’s dossier; FISA court judge; etc. There are even claims that the FBI interfered with the 2016 election.

  2. Nicole Finn, 43, mother of five, Iowa. She tortured and starved to death her 16-year-old adopted daughter Natalie Finn, who died in October 2016. This mother from hell also abused other adopted children. The details are horrific. In December 2017, the jury found her guilty of first degree murder and three counts of kidnapping.

  3. Former TV hosts Matt Lauer, 59, of NBC and Charlie Rose, 75, of CBS and world renowned symphony conductor Charles Dutoit, 81. Their Fall from Grace was sudden as accusations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced. They join the list of men accused of sexual misconduct that includes Sen. Al Franken (caught on photo), Rep. John Conyers (resigned after scandals broke), actor Mark Selling (convicted of possession of enormous amounts of child porn), and TV host Chris Matthews (MSNBC reportedly paid hush money to his accuser).


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

Portrait of a lady by Artemisia Gentileschi

Käbi Laretei, international concert pianist and author, performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House. Born in Tartu, Estonia in 1922, she fled during WW II with her family to Sweden. She spoke six languages fluently and published eight books in Swedish and ten in Estonian. At the time of her death in 2014, she was writing another memoir. She is survived by daughter Linda from her first marriage to conductor Gunnar Searn and son Daniel from her second marriage to Ingmar Bergman. Her obituary in The Telegraph stated that “she was the only woman in [Bergman’s] life to be his intellectual and artistic equal.”

Shurik’s brother Oskar.

President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and his beloved wife Rachel Donelson Jackson’s portrait by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl. She joined him in New Orleans after the historic battle. When he ran for president, supporters of his opponent, John Quincy Adams, viciously slandered her, and he blamed them for her early death.

Sculptor Clark Mills’s first statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback was erected in 1853 in front of the White House. It is the first bronze statue cast in the U.S. and the first equestrian statue in the world to be balanced solely on the horse’s hind legs. Photo:

RIP Mystery writer Sue Grafton, 77, died on December 28, 2017 in Santa Barbara after a two year battle with cancer of the appendix. She is survived by husband Steven F. Humphrey and three children.

RIP Fire apparatus engineer Cory Iverson, 32, of San Diego, was killed on December 14, 2017 while fighting the Thomas Fire. He is survived by his wife Ashley, who is expecting their second child, and 2-year-old daughter Evie. Thomas Fire erupted on December 4 and grew into the largest wild fire in modern California history.

Jason Chin was inspired to write about the redwoods by his visit to a redwood forest that left him “with an affinity for redwoods that I hadn’t thought possible to have for a tree.”