Monday, June 1, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Having trouble saving pic? Go here.
NOTE: Changes from last year are in red.
What: Reading at least 4 books by Jewish Authors or about Judaism
When: December 21, 2008 (Beginning of Hanukkah) to April 27, 2009 (End of Passover)
Who: Anyone who wants to participate! Bloggers or Non-Bloggers alike
Where: Right here of course! You can also post your picks and reviews to your own blog if you have one of course.
How: Sign the comments on THIS post to join the challenge. Tell me if you want to be added to the blog. If so, include your email address. (put it like this to prevent spam: yourname AT yourdomain DOT com) Once I've added you, you can post your picks here and when the time comes, post your reviews here too.
NOTE: Also please post on your blog your intention to do this challenge. You can add a list of possible books now or at a later date. Put the url to your specific post about the challenge in the comments.
Are you wondering more about what books are okay?
Fiction, Non-fiction, memoirs, Adult books, Teen books, Children's books, books about the Holocaust, books about anti-semitism, books about Jewish Life, Jewish Culture, Jewish Customs. Books by Jewish Authors no matter what the subject.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Today is the last day of Callista's Jewish Literature Challenge, but I'm not quite done. I'm in the middle of Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, and I'm also listening to Night, by Elie Wiesel, on my iPod, but am not quite finished with it, either. So I'll continue to read and listen to these final choices even though the official challenge is over.
The books I have completed for this challenge are:
- Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
- Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer
- Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
- Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Suite française by Irène Némirovsky
Alternate selections (in case I can't finish the above books, or decide differently):
The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (BEGUN)
The Hidden Life of Otto Frank by Carol Ann Lee (Dad gave me his copy)
The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz
I finished three and began a fourth. I know I won't finish The Book Thief by tomorrow, but I am reading it. It is very good so far.
Thanks again for the opportunity to contribute, even in a small way, to this blog.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Here is the Innkeeper's Song upon which the story is based:
There came three ladies at sundown:
One was brown as bread is brown,
One was black, with a sailor's sway,
And one was pale as the moon by day.
The white one wore an emerald ring,
The brown led a fox on a silver string,
And the black one carried a rosewood cane
With a sword inside, for I saw it plain.
They took my own room, they barred the door,
They sang songs I never had heard before.
My cheese and mutton they did destroy,
And they called for wine, and the stable boy.
And once they quarried and twice they cried —
Their laughter blazed through the countryside,
The ceiling shook and the plaster flew,
And the fox ate my pigeons, all but two.
They rode away with the morning sun,
The white like a queen, the black like a nun,
And the brown one singing with scarlet joy,
And I'll have to get a new stable boy.
I didn't quite love this book but I didn't dislike it. There was a very alarming sexual scene in the middle that seemed out of place in the book to me...something important was discovered because of it but it just seemed a bit gratuitious and it caught me completely off guard. But it was just that one random scene and that was it. There was some nice romance too though.
You can post a wrap-up directly to this blog if you want. If you don't want to or aren't a member of the blog, and you post one at your own blog, leave the link in the comments.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Glatshteyn, Yankev. 2006. Emil and Karl. Square Fish. (Roaring Book Press) 194 pages.
There is an immediacy and urgency to Emil and Karl. Written in 1938--in Yiddish--it was only recently (2006) translated and published in English. Set in Austria, Vienna to be exact. The Third Reich is in power, yet the horror of World War II has not yet dawned. The full wrath unleashed during the Holocaust--the organized full-scale murdering of the Jewish people*--has yet to begin. Though the hate is strong and ever-present. Meet Emil and Karl. Best friends. One is Jewish. The other is not. But despite it being in Karl's "best interest" to forget about his Jewish friend, Emil, he can't brush him off.
The seriousness of the novel is apparent from the very beginning. When we first meet Karl, he is alone.
"Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn't get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then it fell down again. It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom--so quiet he was afraid to go in there. It wasn't that Karl minded being in the apartment by himself. He'd been left alone there more than once before; he could even go to bed by himself without being afraid. He wasn't scared of spooks or devils. Instead, he loved to stare, wide-eyed, into the darkness and make up stories." (1)
Why is he afraid? He witnessed what I imagine would have seemed the unthinkable. He watched them take his mother. He watched them hurt her. He heard their threats. He heard them threaten to come back...for him. In one night, everything in Karl's world is turned upside down.
When he does move, act, it is to go see his friend, Emil. He seeks the comfort of a true friend. What he learns is that Emil too has changed. Emil and Karl have an enemy in common now. Both have been orphaned. Both have only each other. Can these two children find a way to survive in this topsy-turvy ever-dangerous world where hate rules supreme?
What makes Emil and Karl unique--in my opinion--is its urgency. When it was written, this wasn't a distant event in the past. This wasn't historical fiction. This was current events. This was the threat and danger facing the world. And at the time it was written, it was a threat that had not been conquered. There's a suspenseful quality to it. A sense of the unknown. There was no happy ending light at the end of the tunnel to brighten it up. In fact, the worse was yet to come. It's an emotional novel; it's brilliantly and intelligently written to make you feel that you are there, that you are witness.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I read the fourth in this series last year for this same challenge.
Can I just say that I love Ruby? Ruby is the best minister's wife protagonist I have read in a while. She is so honest about who she is, I hope that someday I can also be that self-aware.
I really enjoyed this novel. It's a great cozy mystery, without icky details (well, unless you count Rabbi Kevin, but I digress...), and a great mystery and some insight into synagogue life (which is not all that different from church life, really...and again, I digress...).
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I was supposed to participate but haven't read a single Jewish book yet so I'm obviously not going to be done in time. That's okay, I have some on my agenda to read this year and I'll keep running this challenge every year.
For those interested in children's Jewish books, I found this blog on Jewish Books for Children. I'll add that to the side.
Do your best to finish but don't worry if you don't make it. You can keep adding your reviews even past the finish date. Just have fun with it and enjoy new books.
If you do a wrap-up post, I'll put a finish post up soon that you can link to your wrap-up post or you can just post (or repost) it here, whichever. Let me know if you have any suggestions for next time.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
“Like all good stories in the Yiddish tradition, the pleasure of Geras’ collection comes as much from the telling as from what happens. These are stories within stories: the narrator remembers herself as a young child hearing them from her grandmother, as they cooked, hung up laundry, prepared for the Sabbath, or cleaned house for Passover. This framing of the stories emphasizes their continuing pleasure across generations; and customs, idioms, traditions, even recipes that the Jews brought with them from Eastern Europe are an unobtrusive part of the telling.”
Each story was inspired by Geras's grandmother, and each one teaches a lesson in the kind and endearing way a grandmother would teach her beloved grandchildren. This collection was illustrated by Anita Lobel, whose illustrations were as delightful as the stories.
I liked Aggie. She seemed like a good girl with a reasonably frustrating home life. She was tough and yet had enough indecision in her to make her be a real teenager. I loved the descriptions of Israel and the information about the Israeli Army was interesting. Also the romance was fantastic.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
by Anne Frank
First sentence: "On Friday, June 12th I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday."
Let me say that again.
If I had read this book when I was 12 or 13, I would have totally loved it. I would have completely identified with Anne, with her plight, with her suffering, with her angst, with her. I would have cried at the end. I would have swooned over her relationship with Peter, and the difficulties it presented.
I just felt like she's a whiny teenager who wasn't completely grateful that she didn't end up in a concentration camp for the whole war, and that she spent too much time whining about how horrible her parents (and the Van Daans) are. I felt like the book is only famous because she (in a cruel irony) died in a concentration camp three months before the Allieds liberated it. Yes, it was human, and real, and sometimes insightful. But I couldn't stand her. Or the book.
Which makes me feel guilty.
Oh, well. I missed the boat on this one.
Monday, April 6, 2009
The story is told backwards with Hanna's experiences interspersed with glimpses into the book's past, the most recent events explored first. The Haggadah survived some of the world's most tragic moments and been protected by some very brave individuals, several of them not Jewish. Hanna's family life has been less than ideal and as she studies the Haggadah she is forced to confront some of her most difficult relationships.
People of the Book was an intriguing and painful book to read. Some of the scenes I couldn't even get through because they were so disturbing. The interweaving of Hanna's life and the backwards progression of the book worked very well. I have enjoyed all of Geraldine Brooks' other books and this was no exception.
I will say though, if you want a much better review of this book, scroll down and see my sister Corinne's thoughts!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
To finish the challenge, you need to finish READING the books in time, but you don't have to have your reviews posted (if you're doing reviews) by that time.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Very cute chick lit story. I purchased it in the first place because it was based on Persuasion, but I ended up enjoying it for its own sake in the end.
summary from Amazon.com, Publishers Weekly:
Based loosely on Jane Austen's Persuasion, Horowitz's cheeky, uneven debut novel follows Jane Fortune, a Bostonian with a romantic crisis. The 38-year-old founder and editor of a prominent literary journal, Euphemia Review, Jane pines for true love while devouring novels and dealing with the financial woes of her once wealthy family, which force them out of their Beacon Hill home. When an enigmatic writer named Jack Reilly submits a brilliant story to a Euphemia contest, Jane is intrigued; when she learns that he lives off the grid, she becomes infatuated and tries to track him down. But Jane still carries a torch for her first love, Max Wellman, a successful novelist who got his start in Euphemia. Jane's narrative voice is natural and lively, but the plot unfolds in fits, careening between Jane's romantic adventures and the Fortune family foibles. Horowitz captures her "lifestyles of the rich and literary" milieu, but otherwise her Austen tribute is transparent and unnecessary; for all the highbrow window dressing, this is pure chick lit, featuring characters with the depth of a teacup and a "girl loses boy, girl finds boy" plot. Horowitz continues the tradition ably, promising plenty as soon as she ditches the lit-crit posturing and embraces her inner Lauren Weisberger.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
The last unicorn doesn't know she is the last until she hears a hunter speak the words. Her journey to find out the truth about unicorns in the world leads her on a journey into the depths of the human condition. She gathers with her those who can see her for what she truly is: the kind and bumbling Schmedrick, the Magician, and Molly Grue, the crabby scullery girl. With these two by her side she travels towards the realm of King Haggard and his terrifying Red Bull. What she learns along the way about herself and the ways of humans will change the land forever.
What makes this book such a classic? Is it the complex characters? The unicorn is at once both naive and wise, teaching us what is human by putting words to what we have and what we lack. Is it the magic itself, fleeting and powerful - at the ready for some but tantalizingly fickle with others? Or perhaps it's because it is a tale of finding what is beautiful, old, and good and restoring it to its rightful place - but first having to learn what is worth living and dying for.
The writing is witty, lyrical and powerful. If you have seen the movie, you'll hear voices in your head as you read text that was lifted word for word and put into the movie. But even if you haven't - if you love tales of magic and love, unicorns and heroes - you should open the pages of this one and take the journey. You won't forget it.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Spiegelman, Art. 1986. Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History.
This is a true-must-read of a book, well, a graphic novel to be exact. But still, must-read at all accounts. I loved the format of this one. No, not just the graphicness of it. But the framework of the story. How this novel is just as much about a father-son relationship--in all its complications--as it is about Jewishness, about the Holocaust. I also love the exploration of the psychology of it. So often with "Holocaust" books the issue of long-term effects, of psychological and emotional trauma that persists through the decades following such a horrific event, doesn't come up. It's a non-issue. Often memoirs are about a specific period of time. Liberation comes from either the Americans and the Russians. And voila. Horror over. But life isn't that easy.
In this first volume, we meet Artie, an artist, and his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor who is grumbling his way through a second marriage to a fellow-survivor, Mala. (Artie's mother, Anja, committed suicide in the late 1960s.) Artie seeks out his father in this volume wanting to hear his story, his past. Seeking answers to questions not only about his father, but his mother as well. Questions about the Nazis, the war, the Holocaust, how these two survived despite the odds. We, as readers, follow two stories, the contemporary setting where a son is asking some hard questions of his father and getting inspired to write about them in graphic novel form, and the historical setting--1930s and 1940s--where we meet his parents and learn their stories and backgrounds.
His father isn't in the best of health, and their relationship is strained. The book addresses the question of if parents ever really understand their children and/or if children can ever truly understand their parents. Can stressful tensions--ongoing issues and conflicts--ever be resolved peacefully? The drama is just as much about healing as it is the Nazis. And I think that is one of the reasons it's so powerful, so resonating. These characters--represented as mice in the novel--feel authentic. They're flawed but lovable. Their stories matter. (By the way, the Nazis are cats. The Polish are pigs. The French are frogs.)
The story is continued in Maus II.
Spiegelman, Art. 1991. Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began.
If Maus I was great, Maus II is even greater. If you thought the first one was heart-felt and moving, wait until you get to this one. Everything is more intense. The sorrows and griefs are even deeper; the actions even more troubling. For here we get to the heart of the story. The darkest place of all. Artie's father and mother have been captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. (In this graphic novel, the name is "Mauschwitz" instead of Auschwitz.) In the contemporary story line, we see that Artie's father isn't doing well; in fact, it becomes obvious, that he's dying. This complicates things tenfold. More guilt. More anger. More frustration. Even in fine health, Artie had a difficult time getting along with his father. Now, when his father perhaps needs him more than ever, he's crankier and grouchier and meaner than ever. Life isn't easy. Never easy. This is a complex novel--graphic novel--with heart and soul. Highly recommended.
A centuries old manuscript is at the crux of this book - illustrated and written in Hebrew, it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Australian conservationist Hanna Heath. Her conservation efforts lead her to clues within the book that shed light on who might have handled the book, where it traveled from and who drew the amazing illuminations. The narrative does one of my favorite things: switches us from chapter to chapter between the present time period and different periods of the book's history: each clue Hanna finds is more background about the book and the hands that have held it.
For the most part, it is a gripping story. We travel through centuries of time and all over the world as we follow Hanna and her book. Some sections were more engaging than others (a few were a bit raunchy), but it always kept my attention and I was always pleased whether a chapter took me back to Hanna or to somewhere (and sometime) new. The clues themselves were interesting and parts of the book felt like an episode of CSI or some other forensics tv show, but since I like that, it added to the book for me.
Hanna is a challenging character, bordering on emotionally dysfunctional. Sometimes her personality grated on me - and other times I really could relate to her. I like how she made a point of explaining her "Aussi-ness" and differentiated, at times, between American/British/Australian ways of thinking and doing things. Her back-story and the things she learns about her past along the way flowed well enough with the book plot and I never wanted to put it down.
While the ending wasn't what I'd imagined it would be, it worked. I thought this was a good read.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Red Tent tells a fictionalized version of the story of Dinah, daughter of the Leah who is the sister of Rachel and the husband of Jacob from the Old Testament. Because it is based on the Biblical story, many of the characters and major events are familiar to those of us familiar with the Bible; what makes this story different is that it is told from Dinah's perspective, drawing readers into what the female half of the world may have been doing during Biblical times.
Dinah is a daughter between two worlds - the world of the Red Tent, where goddesses are worshiped and where the lives of women revolve around the cycles of the moon and the harvest. In this sanctuary, the female form and purpose is a sacred thing. Contrast this to the world outside the Red Tent, where women are bought and sold, beaten and worked into old age. As she grows and becomes aware of the nuances of family relationships, she begins to see divisions and unrest among her mothers, father and brothers. When tragedy forces Dinah to make a horrendous choice, her life and that of her family's will never be the same.
I liked it, as much this time as the first time I read it, years ago. I thought about it when I had to put it down and I wanted to know the end of Dinah's tale. I enjoy reading about familiar characters from fresh points of view and I think Diamant created a very realistic rendition of Canaanite society and of the world of Jacob, his wives and family. I loved that so much of the book had to do with birthing and midwifery and relationships between women and between mothers and children. Dinah's relationships were intricate and her friendships were a pleasure to read about.
I was sometimes frustrated that so many of her characters seemed hopelessly flawed, almost unrealistically so and the graphic nature of some scenes detracted from the story, for me. It's certainly an earthy story, set in a time when the old gods and goddesses are being replaced by the one God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, creating an interesting juxtaposition between "new" ways and the "old" ways. As much as the "earthy-ness" bothered me, I can't deny that Diamant has a way with words. One of my favorite paragraphs, written about the birth of a child:
There should be a song for women to sing at this moment, or a prayer to recite. But perhaps there is none because there are no words strong enough to name that moment. Like every mother since the first mother, I was overcome and bereft, exalted and ravaged.I recommend this with caution. There is much honeymooning and lovemaking and we don't have to imagine much. That being said, there much to appreciate in this story about the power and resilience of the female spirit.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I was 4 months behind on adding some of you to the participants list. The challenge is getting close to the end but I DID add you. If you are participating and don't see yourself on the list, comment here and I'll add you.
For those who requested an invite to this blog, I sent them, so again, if it doesn't come, comment here.
I hope everyone is enjoying their reading. Don't forget if you aren't a member of this blog, leave a link to your review so we can all enjoy them. I'll make a post soon with links to all the reviews people have added to the comments.
Also please label your posts if you are posting to the blog with your name and the type of book, subject as well as type of post (like wrap-up etc..)
Friday, March 20, 2009
I just completed the Jewish Literature Challenge for 2008-2009.
The five books read were:
SEINLANGUAGE by Jerry Seinfeld
DREK! by Yetta Emmes
CROSSING DELANCEY by Susan Sandler
CONVICTION by Leonard Levitt
SARAH'S KEY by Tatiana deRosnay
Thanks to Callista for hosting this challenge - I'll be looking forward to the 2009-2010 edition.
We've all seen the Seinfeld TV show. Remember in the earlier shows, at the beginning of the show, Jerry would be on stage, doing his act - his observations of life? That's what this book is - observations on various stages of life.
When Dom and I would watch the show, we could gauge how funny the show would be by the amount of hair on George's head -- much hair, not funny - little hair, funny. I think George had a full head of hair when this book was written.
There was one funny bit in this book on page 177. I'm going to post it now to save you the time and trouble of reading through this book to find something to bring a small chuckle.
To me, the thing about old people is that everything about them gets smaller. You know, their bodies get smaller, they move into smaller places, they sleep less time, they eat smaller meals ... except the car. The older they get, the bigger their car gets. They're all driving these Detroit behemoths. I've never understood that. And old people have a way of backing out of the driveway. They don't turn from side to side. Their attitude is "I'm old and I'm coming back." "I've been around a while, now. You watch out for be, buddy, I survived, let's see you do it."
And then once they get out there, they drive so slowly. I would think the less time you have left in life, the faster you would want to go. I think old people should be allowed to drive their age. If you're eighty, do eighty. If you're a hundred, go a hundred.
They can't see where they're going anyway, let them have a little fun out there.
Now, after reading that, you can feel you've read the entire book. You can thank me - I've saved you time and money!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
book 2 of 5 for the Jewish Literature Challenge
genre: historical fiction
Let me start off by saying I could not put this book down. I must also say, that this book ripped my heart into tiny pieces and I'm not sure I'll ever be the same. Really. Maybe it's because I'm a mom or maybe I'm just an incredibly sensitive person. But I now have images in my brain that will never leave.
Sarah's Key takes place in France - switching between the modern day and the early days of World War II. I really like books like this, and I think the author did a fine job of transitioning us back and forth and filling in the blank spots. Sarah is a 10 year old girl living in Paris when her life is shattered by the French Police, who come into her home to arrest her parents and deport them, along with thousands of other French Jews. Her haunting story is intertwined with that of Julia, a journalist who stumbles upon Sarah's story as well as learning about the involvement of the French Police in the deportations.
Julia's fascination with the story leads her on a journey of not only self-discovery, but also a discovery of a her family's past, a country's past, and the consequences of a terrible secret.
Friday, March 6, 2009
First sentence: "At precisely 11 a.m. every teacher in every classroom at McKinley Elementary School tells their students to stand."
Eliza Neumann is an average student. She has above-average parents: Saul, the synagogue's cantor leader and who spends his time studying Jewish mystics, and Miriam, who is a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side but is a brilliant lawyer. And her older brother, Aaron, is a star student, too. So, no one expects Eliza to begin spelling words perfectly, seemingly out of the blue. Her consecutive wins at the bees -- first school, then district, then state -- throw her family's already precarious balance completely off. Her parents' marriage, which was already a bit tense, goes into a headlong downward spiral. Her father decides to throw himself into helping Eliza study, mostly because he believes she can become the next Jewish mystic, in the process alienating his son. And Aaron, unable to cope with Eliza's genius, decides that what he really needs is to connect with God and so goes about checking out different churches, eventually settling on the Hari Krishnas.
The only real thing that I liked about the book was the spelling bees. I liked how Eliza approached them, and Goldberg's description of the intensity surrounding them. Unfortunately, that ended halfway through the book, and the rest of the book, though, I could have done without. The family was troubled, of course; what Jewish family isn't? (Argh.) Miriam was completely quacked (what's with mothers who can't manage to be decent people?), and Saul was no better, being concerned only with his children's success rather than what they want. His show-down with Aaron over the Krishnas was, at the very least, embarassing, but probably more along the lines of stupid parenting. It was very frustrating to see two smart people being completely incompetent. And the sex... well, let's just say that it was enough to make me uncomfortable. Which was probably the author's intention. But, still. I felt like it qualified as overshare.
And in the end, I wanted the time I read the book back. Please.
Monday, March 2, 2009
From the back of the book:
Who says Yiddish is a dying language? After hundreds of years, you should look so good! In fact, today Yiddish is spoken in almost all parts of the world. Whether you're a goy, a Jew, nebbish, schmuck, yenta, or klutz, you probably already know enough Yiddish to praise your best friend, insult your worst enemy, or at least order lunch. But what about the hundreds of other exclamations, expressions, profanities, colloquialisms, blessings, and curses your blushing bubbe never taught you? They're all here, in this comprehensive, uncensored, hilarious, not to mention delightfully illustrated book. DREK! is a walk on the wilder side of Delancey Street, where the mensch, the mamzer, and the meiser meet.
This little book (only 97 pages) hardly rates as Jewish Literature. It's basically a dictionary arranged by types of words with a few little stories thrown in for fun. It was interesting to learn the meaning of some of the words I've heard tossed around - and some I've used myself.
I'm sure we all know a little Yiddish. Remember the opening of Laverne and Shirley - "Shlemiel - Shlemazel - Hasenpfeffer Incorporated?" Yep, Yiddish. But now I know what they mean.
Here are a few Yiddish terms - how many do you know?
MishmashA fun little book!
Shlemiel - a foolish person, a simpleton, a dolt, a bungler
Shlemazel - a born loser, someone for whom nothing seems to go right or turn out well. When the shlemiel spills his soup, it always lands on the shlemazel. (page 15)
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Last year I read Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale as a holocaust story. I have just finished listening to another one of her books, The Devil's Arithmetic, a story of the holocaust for young adult readers. It, too, was beautifully written and a very powerful story, and the audiobook was beautifully read by Barbara Rosenblat.
Hannah is a young girl who is "tired of remembering." She doesn't understand or appreciate the family rituals of remembering family members and friends that were lost in the holocaust, and she doesn't want to hear those stories of the past again and again. But during the family's Seder, when she "opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she is transported to a polish village -- and the year is 1942." She become "Chaya" (which means "life") and she experiences the holocaust first-hand.
It's a powerful experience to read this book or listen to the audiobook version. There's not a word out of place. It was honest and riveting, (which is such a Jane Yolen thing) and it was heartbreaking. But it was also full of hope ... if we remember.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
From the back of the book:
On October 30, 1975, fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley's brutal murder made national headlines. But for years one one was arrested, despite troubling clues pointing to the Skakels, a rich and powerful family related to the Kennedys.
In the years that followed, investigative reporter Leonard Levitt uncovered groundbreaking information about how the police had bungled the investigation; he also discovered that Tommy and Michael Skakel had lied about their activities on the night of the murder. The case was reopened and investigator Frank Garr began to doggedly pursue unexplored leads. In 2002, more than twenty-five years after Moxley's death, a shocked world watched as Michael Skakel was convicted of the murder, thanks largely to the evidence Garr alone had marshaled against him.
Now, for the first time, Levitt tells the amazing true story of Garr's fight to solve the case and of how their friendship with each other, and with Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, sustained them over the years. A riveting, suspenseful drama that unfolds like a mystery novel, this incredible memoir also reveals how a police officer and a reporter refused to give up, and how they helped justice to prevail, against all odds.
I first learned of this case a few years ago after reading Mark Fuhrman's book MURDER IN GREENWICH. (That's the same Mark Fuhrman from the O.J. Simpson trial.) In that book, Mr. Fuhrman named Michael Skakel as the murderer.
This book by Mr. Levitt went into a greater amount of detail about the case. He wrote of the problems with the case from the beginning in 1975 when the police failed to investigate the Skakel boys, probably due to intimidation from the family. Much time was wasted by the police trying to build a case against the Skakel family's live-in tutor, Ken Littleton.
Mr. Levitt's determination in writing his story and uncovering evidence helped lead to the case being reopened in 1991. The story was profiled on Unsolved Mysteries in 1996, and tips were received leading the police to look closely at Michael Skakel. A grand jury was convened in 1998, and after an 18-month investigation, an arrest warrant was issued for Michael Skakel in January, 2000.
On June 7, 2002, Michael Skakel was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life.
I enjoy reading true-crime stories, and I thought this book was very interesting. Mr. Levitt, having been involved with this story since 1982, had a wealth of information and gave a true picture of the frustrations of working on a 20+ year old case and the satisfaction of seeing the case finally solved and closed.
Monday, February 16, 2009
As I was preparing for Callista's 2009 Jewish Literature Challenge, I found this book sitting patiently on my TBR shelf. It has such a wonderful title, In the Name of Sorrow and Hope, and with all that has been going on in the Middle East in the last few weeks, I decided it was a book that might help me understand a little better what is happening there. It's a poignant little book, written by a young woman about the loss of her beloved grandfather.
Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof is the granddaughter of Yitzhak Rabin, who along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. Noa was very close to her grandparents, and especially to her grandfather.
From a very early age, because of difficult family circumstances resulting from a serious injury suffered by my father, Jonathan and I grew up at my grandparents' house in Ramat Aviv. A very special relationship was forged. My grandparents showed us so much love, understanding and patience that the generations seems to blur. Grandpa was both my father and my grandfather, and he became the main pillar of my existence, the reference point for my life. He belonged to me. I was his only granddaughter, and he was my guide, my mentor, my model.She was still a teenager when he was assassinated, and I think this book was part of her attempt to come to terms with her own terrible loss. It was also her attempt to understand the bigger picture of this loss. She was part of a political family, a witness to history, and I think she felt the need to explain, defend, preserve memories, and perhaps come to understand for herself the complexities of her grandfather's beliefs. He was her Hero. She is not a professional author, but she wrote with heart and honesty, and with hope.
Above all, I hope my memories of Grandpa will touch young people. I want young Israelis, young Arabs, in our neighboring countries, and other young people to know that behind the politician there was a man of honesty and principle, a man who never stopped believing that his dream of Middle East peace could become a reality.
My own sorrow is that we have lost so many of the great and strong peacemakers over the years! But I also have hope! As we begin another new year, we must once again dedicate ourselves to finding ways to resolve our conflicts without violence or war. My own beliefs about how peace happens were formed as a young exchange student immersed in another culture. So on this first morning of 2009, I share my hope with you for a more peaceful year. The motto of my exchange program, the American Field Service (now AFS Intercultural Programs), became my own deeply-held belief:
O ye peoples of the earth
For then and only then
Shall ye have peace.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Engle, Margarita. 2009. (March 31, 2009 Pub.) TROPICAL SECRETS: HOLOCAUST REFUGEES IN CUBA. Henry Holt. 198 pages.
Read. This. Book. True, it won't be released for a few more weeks. But make note of it now to get to this one when you get the chance. Written by Margarita Engle--an acclaimed verse novelist--the book is the story of Daniel, a Jewish refugee, and the friends he makes in Cuba--Paloma and David. Daniel had no intentions of going to Cuba. When his parents tearfully sent him away--hoping and praying that at least their son may survive--this was right after the Night of Crystal or Broken Glass; they all thought that his ship would reach American shores--having heard stories of Lady Liberty and America being the place where all were welcome and the land where dreams could come true. But Daniel's ship was turned away from both Canada and the United States. His one chance for survival now depends on Cuba's mercy. The year is 1939. Does Daniel have a prayer of a chance?
This verse novel is told primarily in three voices: Daniel, Paloma, and David. Paloma is the daughter of "El Gordo" a man who is hoping that these refugees will make his wallet fat--very fat. The bigger the bribe, the higher the cost for a visa to enter the country, the richer he becomes. And with the Nazis even sending men to spread propaganda about Jews, the public isn't necessarily on their side--open to the idea of Jews being allowed to enter and settle there. Still, Daniel's ship is allowed. But we're not talking about one ship or even a dozen ships. David is a Jew--a Russian Jew who fled Russia many years before. Paloma helps David--and others--help the refugees providing food and clothing and friendship and support--teaching them Spanish, for example. The book is a novel about meaning things: hope, life, survival, friendship, tolerance. But it doesn't hide the fact that this was a very ugly, very brutal, very cruel time in history.
I don't know about you, but I'd certainly never heard about Cuba in regards to the Holocaust. It's interesting to see how this one island, small in size especially when comparing it to Canada and the United States, was able to provide some shelter to Jews fleeing Hitler. In the author's note she shares, "Despite tragedies and scandals, Cuba accepted 65,000 Jewish refugees from 1938 to 1939, the same number that was taken in by the much larger United States during the same time period. Overall, Cuba accepted more Jewish refugees than any other Latin American nation."
This book is fascinating. It's absorbing. Read. This. Book.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
This is certainly lighter fare than many of the books on this blog; however, I enjoyed it! It is fun to read about someone whose obsessions are worse than my own.
If you are looking for something fun to read, by all means "Choos" this one ;) You'll be glad you did.
For herein Fortune shows herself to be more kind Than is her custom.
In case you're wondering.
If you were Delilah "Baby" Sampson, you'd already know that. Delilah got hooked on the Bard back in college. Then she briefly got hooked on Singapore Sling cocktails. And then she got tossed out of school. Yes, when Delilah discovers something she likes, she really sticks with it.
These days, her addictions include sudoku, lime diet cola and now…Jimmy Choos. Oh, Baby's gotta have those shoes!
But on her window-washer salary, $700 for one pair is a stretch. Which leads us to her latest obsession…gambling.
With an impromptu posse, including an elderly movie star, two Brazilian lesbians and Hillary Clinton (no, not that one!), Delilah hits the casinos and discovers that she's a natural-born high-roller. Every win puts her closer to those beloved Choos. And as the "21s" keep dropping, so do the men…right at her feet. But for a girl who never knows when to fold 'em, gambling and casino guys are not healthy habits. She could end up losing her shirt, her head…and a whole lot more.
Click on the book graphic to order.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
First sentence, Maus I: "I went to see my father in Rego Park."
First sentence, Maus II: "Summer vacation."
These are two books, but like Persepolis, they're essentially one story, so they get lumped into one review.
One review in which I'm not sure what the heck to say about the book. I'm always at a loss for words when it comes to the Holocaust; it's so depressing -- humanity at its worst -- that I almost would rather not go there. However, these graphic novels -- stark and depressing, yet somehow ultimately hopeful -- are worth reading.
I'm not sure if this is a story that couldn't have been told in a different form, but for what it's worth, it works as a graphic novel. It's spare, but then, I'm not sure the story of a survivor of Auschwitz could (or should) be anything but spare. Even though Spiegleman didn't go into detail about the situation, or the harshness, it was all there in its stark, depressing reality.
I was fascinated by the relationship between Spiegelman and his father -- how did the Holocaust fit into it? Did the Holocaust make his dad into the grumpy, miserly, bitter, racist person? He fits squarely into the Jewish stereotype, and yet I could sense that Spiegelman was trying to understand his father, understand why their relationship was so strained. I'm not sure any of us got any answers -- Spiegelman or the rreader -- but I appreciated not having it spelled out or sugarcoated in any way. Something like this shouldn't be.
I'm sorry I don't have more coherent thoughts about this one. I think it's an experience -- kind of like the Holocaust Museum is an experience -- that's beyond words. There are horrors out there, and sometimes it's good to face them. Even if its in a book.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I created a tentative list, but I do not promise to stick to it:
1) Chaim Potok: The Chosen
2) Rochelle Krich: Blues In The Night
3) Kizzur Shulchan Aruch
4) Harry Kemelman: Sunday The Rabbi Stayed Home
Sunday, January 11, 2009
From the back of the book:
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Sixty years later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.
In 1942, around 14,000 Jews were taken from their homes in Paris by the French Police. They were sent first to the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Vel' d'Hiv'), an enclosed bicycle track in the center of Paris. From there, the men were sent to Drancy, a transit camp, from which they were then sent to Auschwitz. The women and children were sent to Beaune-la-Rolande; the women were then separated from the children and also sent to Auschwitz. After being left alone at the camp for some time, the children were also then sent to Auschwitz. The French authorities never accepted responsibility for their actions until 50+ years later when French President Jacques Chirac made a public apology.
I had never heard of this roundup before. I'm sure there are many things about the Holocaust that have never been made public. I cannot fathom how or why these atrocities happened.
This book broke my heart. I had to keep reminding myself the story of Sarah and her brother was fiction, although the facts about the roundup were all too true. There were a few little "side" stories that were fillers and not directly related to the Sarah storyline, but these did not detract from the book and the writing.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I picked this book because I absolutely loved the movie Crossing Delancey with Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. When I bought this on Amazon, I didn't realize it was a play, not a novel. But I thought I'd give it a try anyway.
How do I write about a play? It was short and didn't give too much insight into the characters. It was hard to make a connection with them in that short period of time.
So I pulled out my copy of the movie and watched that again. I wanted to see how the two compared, as Susan Sandler also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
About the movie:
Single, attractive, 30-something Isabelle ("Izzy") Grossman has a rent-controlled apartment in uptown Manhattan and a burgeoning career in publishing. "I'm happy," she says. "She lives alone in a room, like a dog," counters Bubbie, her tradition-minded grandmother. So Bubbie hires a matchmaker who finds Izzy a marriage prospect: a man who runs a street-side pickle stand.
Izzy is appalled. Is the man who offers "a joke and a pickle for only a nickle" her Mr. Right? And will she somehow, someway end up Crossing Delancey - the street that divides her world from his - and find love?
As a rule, I don't like movies that are made from books. I like to read the books and form the pictures in my mind. I like to see the characters as I envision them. But in this case, I felt the movie was better, much better.
By seeing Izzy and Bubbie and Sam and seeing their expressions, I learned so much more about them. There was a character in the play, Tyler Moss, an author. In the movie, his part was fleshed out (his name was changed to Anton Moss) and the interaction between him and Izzy made so much more sense.
Would I recommend reading this play? No, unless you're really "into" reading plays. But would I recommend watching this movie? Oh YES. I reaffirmed today why this is one of my all time favorites.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
When we meet Ilana Davita she is around 8 years old, in the late 1930s. She lives in New York City with her writer-activist parents in a non-religious household. The subject for which her parents have nearly radical zeal is, we learn through Davita's listening in to conversations and nightly meetings, communism. Her parent's decisions and activism, their friends and political struggles lie at the heart of Davita's young life - they move frequently and her nights are spent in a strange dream of "Spain" and "Fascism."
Before I read this book I had no sense that the second World War played such a vital role within the context of the story, and the communist movement within America at the start of the war is a perspective I have never read about before. Davita's entire life is shaped by involvement of people she loves within the War - either first-hand or through political leanings that taint the reputation and limits one's freedom.
What I particularly loved about this book is Potok's firm grasp of a young child's voice - their understandings and misunderstandings. The entire tale is told from Davita's point of view and we often share her frustration as she understands that very important things are happening and all she can do is wait to be told or try to figure it out for herself.
The characters in this story are deep and vivid. I loved Davita's depth-less thirst for knowledge - about the meanings of words, about the war, and, eventually of Judaism and the Torah. Her decision to become religious on her own, despite her mother's disapproval, felt very real and was a thread throughout the book that I found particularly engaging. The other characters - her parents, the friends of her parents - and even Davita's own friends, never felt false or caricatured. Each person was flawed and yet full of different strengths that Davita used to help find her own way through the trauma of war and of growing up in a tumultuous time.
Davita's Harp is amazing, it has an almost mystical quality about it. The harp itself, which hangs on a door and is an omen of both good and bad - but mostly is a tinkling constant throughout her childhood, becomes a haven within the story-world that Davita retreats to when life becomes more than her imagination can handle. Because her world is sometimes incredibly harsh and confusing, her search for truth and good occasionally becomes a struggle against those she loves and respects the most.
This is a story of the uselessness of war, the truth that can be found between the lines of stories and the pages of books, the beauty and reality of Judaism and the reconciliation of a girl with the world that she was born into. A triumph.
Levine, Anna. 2008. Freefall.
I am about to jump. I am about to jump wearing a full load on my back. Feet, knees, hip, back, roll. Crammed tightly, the pack is stuffed with my anxieties, fears--and army-issued parachute. It is secured to my chest with strings and clasps. It hold my heart in place, should it try to break free. When the time is right, I will yank the cord. At that moment, the pack will open. My fears will rise to the dome of my chute, where they will hover. And for a moment I will be free of them. Feet, knees, hip, back, roll.
I loved the opening of Freefall. It was a nice introduction to our heroine, Aggie, and her situation--she's an Israeli woman embarking on a new phase in her life: serving her country as a paratrooper. The book is set in Israel. And it features Aggie and her friends and family. Every person--man or woman--is required to serve their country for several years. It doesn't mean that all people see active combat duty, but for some it does. Aggie's family wants her to be assigned a desk job; a job where she'll be as safe as anyone can be in these dangerous days where terrorists can wreak havoc on ordinary citizens in their homes, schools, and workplaces. But Aggie...Aggie is considering joining an elite paratrooper troop (or are they called squads?). Regardless of the term, Aggie is considering active duty, something that will challenge her physically, mentally, and emotionally. The book is about more than army training--far from it--it's about life: friendship, family, and love. Aggie is falling for the brother of one of her best friends. And he just happens to be a solider.
What I enjoyed about Freefall is that it gives a new perspective. I don't know about you, but I don't come across many books set in Israel narrated by female soldiers, books that provide a unique take on what it is like to live in a country where the threat of terrorists or war (some threat or another) is always lurking. While there are elements that will more exotic to readers, there are many elements that will feel familiar--her thoughts, feelings, and concerns about friendship and love and life.
I liked Aggie, and you may like her too.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Michelson, Richard. 2008. As Good As Anybody. Illustrated by Raul Colón. Knopf.
I received this one just yesterday, but as soon as I saw who illustrated it, it jumped to the top of my priority list. Raul Colón has received both Gold and Silver Medals from the Society of Illustrators. And his work is incredible. Incredible. Just beautiful, wonderful, oh-so-amazing work. The kind of illustrations that you are just in awe of really. As Good As Anybody is the story of two men: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Two men. Two stories. Both powerful. The first person the reader is introduced to is Martin Luther King, Jr. And chances are that this won't be anyone's first introduction to the legendary man. The second person readers meet is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish man that became active in the Civil Rights movement. Chances are good that this will be the first introduction to this man. It's also the story of how two men from two different backgrounds came together in the mid-sixties for a worthy cause. The text by Richard Michelson is simple and straight forward. It tends to be more concise than verbose. (Which isn't a bad thing for a text to be at all. In fact, you could say it was a very good thing.)
Monday, January 5, 2009
Siegal, Aranka. 2008. Memories of Babi.
A collection of nine short stories--loosely connected much in the same way as A Long Way From Chicago works--about a young girl spending time with her grandmother. Set in pre-World War II Ukraine (near the Ukraine/Hungary border really), the stories feature a Jewish family living side by side with their gentile neighbors in this small mountain community. The stories are fictional but based on the author's childhood memories of her time with her grandmother. The stories have little life lessons packed into them, but not in a preachy way.
I read this book about a month ago. So the details are sketchy when it comes to individual stories. But I do remember liking the book in a general way.
The author is Aranka Siegal who won a Newbery Honor for her autobiography Upon the Head of The Goat in 1982.