Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Devil's Arithmetic

"We all have such stories. It is a brutal arithmetic. But I--I am alive. You are alive. As long as we breathe, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside of us."

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


CONVICTION by Leonard Levitt was read for the Jewish Literature Reading Challenge (book by Jewish author).

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

In the Name of Sorrow and Hope

(This post was originally posted on my own blog on January 1st.)

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:

Walk together, talk together
O ye peoples of the earth
For then and only then
Shall ye have peace.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tropical Secrets

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

Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes

The first Jewish Lit Challenge book I've finished is Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes. The latest chick lit offering from Lauren Baratz-Logsted is a fun romp into the world of blackjack and the pursuit of Jimmy Choos. I really enjoyed this book. I think I liked it better than I liked How Nancy Drew Saved My Life, which I read for last year's challenge (read my review here).

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.

That's Shakespeare.

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.