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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times: A Memoir of One Citizen Activist by Lois Nicolai is a call to action to everyone who cares about our planet and the damage we are doing, especially as it relates to nuclear power and nuclear weapon proliferation. Lois Nicolai was a wife and mother living in rural Indiana when tragedy struck her family. With the unexpected death of her husband when just in her mid-40s and with the last of her children about to head off to college, she was faced with the daunting prospect of what to do with herself. What this woman actually did should inspire all of us “ordinary people” that there is something we can do to make a change. After taking a couple of years to grieve and come to terms with her future, Lois Nicolai made the decision to move to Princeton and throw herself into the world of international peace promotion through activism. What would follow would be an exciting and at times dangerous journey through the peace movement that would take her all over the world but most specifically to the newly emerged former Soviet regions of Kazakhstan and other sites of nuclear radiation poisoning close to testing sites and nuclear facilities. As part of a worldwide peace and nuclear disarmament community, the author would become known as a powerful and resourceful speaker and defender of those without a voice in the face of the horrors of nuclear proliferation.
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times is a simple and straightforward read that outlines the courage and exceeding humility of Lois Nicolai. I loved the self-effacing way the author approached this story. She always seemed incredibly surprised at the impact one little woman from the farm was able to have on world leaders, movers, and shakers. It was this humility that made the story so compelling for me. This story gives each of us reason to stop and think about what, if any, contribution we personally are making to make a difference in the world and to protect it for our children, our grandchildren, and generations yet born. It is a “call to action” but not in the usual sense. What this story tells us is that you don’t have to be rich, powerful, incredibly smart, or well-connected to make a difference. Lois Nicolai makes us realize that she could be our mother, our grandmother, or even ourselves and that is the overwhelming sense of worth I got from this book. I truly appreciated the photos that were liberally scattered throughout and gave the reader a real sense of where the author was and what part she actually played in the momentous events being enacted in front of her. I also loved the contributions from others she had met along the journey. Perhaps the most telling story was the final one of the fine artist from Kazakhstan, born close to a nuclear test site, without any arms, who would go on to inspire the world with his beautiful paintings, using only his mouth to hold the paintbrush. This is the first of three planned books that will detail her journey through the peace movement. I cannot wait for the next volume of this amazing woman’s journey. I highly recommend this read.