Saturday, January 31, 2009

Maus I and Maus II

by Art Spiegelman
age: adult
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

Book Giveaway: People of the Book

If any of you are interested I am giving away 2 copies of People of the Book at my two blogs( Seaside Book Worm and Jewish Rantings). All you have to do is leave a comment on both blogs and you will be entered to win. This book will be perfect for the Jewish Challenge since it ends at Passover, and the main character of the book is the Haggadah.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kathrin's reading list

I'm so excited about this challenge! I've read a few books on judaism or by Jewish authors in the past, but I know there's so much more out there!

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


SARAH'S KEY by Tatiana deRosnay was read for the Jewish Literature Reading Challenge, the New Author Challenge, and the Every Month is a Holiday Reading Challenge (January 27 is Holocaust Memorial Day).

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


CROSSING DELANCEY by Susan Sandler was read for the Jewish Literature Reading Challenge, the Read Your Own Books Challenge and the New Author Challenge.

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

Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok

genre: fiction/Jewish Literature
rating: 5/5

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

As Good As Anybody

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.)

Definitely recommended.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Memories of Babi

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.