True Stories of Justice

Sometimes attaining justice in real life is elusive, however, in the following recent nonfiction books which read like fiction, there’s a wonderful satisfaction in seeing people reach their goals. It’s also extremely disappointing to see others only receive minimal or no justice.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor. An American woman in New York, Maria Altmann, attempts to recover her Jewish family’s artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, especially a portrait the family commissioned of Gustav Klimt to paint of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer in 1910, a now famous painting called The Woman in Gold. The Austrian government refuses to return it and finally after a long court battle she triumphs. This book was made into an excellent movie starring Helen Mirren titled Woman in Gold, which is also available at some branches of the OC Public Libraries.

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight For Justice by Bill Browder, is similarly about ultimately achieving justice. Bill Browder, one of the first and largest foreign investors in Russia after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union and the country opened up its market to capitalism, exposes the financial shenanigans and corruption of the government and the oligarchs when they steal many of the shares in the companies his clients had invested in by splitting them and then making them unavailable for foreign investors to buy. They also accuse him of $230 million in tax evasion and his attorney determines that many civil servants and government officials siphoned the money. His attorney is imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately beaten to death. Browder is determined to get justice for him and gets a bill passed in the U.S. that further prevents the named people from using their ill-gotten billions to invest in U.S. markets and real estate. The justice, however, is bittersweet since in retaliation Putin restricted adoptions of Russian orphans to Americans.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. Bryan Stephenson is a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama who fights for mostly poor, disabled African-American adults and children and the wrongly accused on death row. These cases will amaze you and make you question the American justice system.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. This is a book in which justice is a slippery slope. Imagine you are in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina and the doctors feel that it is more humane to euthanize you than be rescued by helicopter because they think you won’t get out of the hospital on time and will suffer in the process. Patients endured many hours in poor conditions without electricity and functional medical equipment before they were finally rescued. The second half of the book covers the trial in which the staff members responsible for the patients must defend their actions.

The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II by Jan Jarboe Russell. Many of us are familiar with the unjust treatment of the Japanese in America, most of them citizens, who were rounded up in internment camps for the rest of WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is certainly unjust enough since many lost businesses, land, and homes while they were away. However, many people would be surprised to discover that the U.S. also put many German Americans in internment camps and even gathered Japanese and Germans from other countries in North, Central and South America to stay at the Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas and then sent them back to nuclear bomb ravaged Japan and war-torn Germany during WWII in exchange for American POWs.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a story of medical ethics gone wrong and injustice that was never addressed. Henrietta Lacks, a poor sick woman and a Southern tobacco farmer who provided the HeLa cells for cancer research in the 1950s, never even knew that her cells were taken and used. Although her own children couldn’t even afford medical insurance, neither she nor her family ever received compensation for it. 

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