Review: Visible City

visiblecity2 Visible City, by Tova Mirvis, is a predictable story in many aspects, but I still am glad that I read it. I found the almost “voyeur” aspect to be interesting, and the thoughts that are dreamed up while one person stares out of their window, with their own set of passions, desires and loyalties.

Nina is that person, and stare she does, at every given opportunity. If it is during the night, she turns off the lights so as not to attract attention. What she sees happening in an apartment across the way, enhances her imagination, and her perception of what the individuals are like. As the reader reads on, they realize that not everything is as it appears to be. In fact, the couple who live in the apartment are not so different from Nina and her family, in the sense that their married life seems to be complacent. Nina desires more in life, yet doesn’t have the ambition to seek it.

The novel gives a wonderful overview of New York City, its brilliant architecture, some modern, some old and abandoned. We are given snippets of the exteriors and interiors of the abandoned buildings, as some of the characters skulk through them out of a passionate desire to learn about them. We are also taken into the world of stained-glass art and all of its illuminations. Through this examination, we are seen how the passions, desires and loyalties flare up from the deep-set goals that some of the characters hold.

Six individuals meet in various places where they normally go to spend some time away from their homes. Some of them end up living on the edge, merging their connections into areas better left undone.

Passionate moments are strong within the pages, and by that I mean passionate in every sense, including one’s drives, dreams and life accomplishments. What one views as important and a driving force is not necessarily so for another person. In relationships each person should accept the other for their own interests and goals, whether the interests and goals are theirs, or not. They should offer encouragement, and not discouragement.

The urban aspect is strongly illuminated. Mirvis’ word-images are depicted quite vividly. This reader could envision everything she painted with her prose. All of my senses were filled as my own imagination took hold.

I enjoyed how each character was somewhat flawed, as we all are, in reality. I enjoyed the city tour through their eyes, and enjoyed the human perspectives, and how we see people. We are not the sum of what others see in us, or think about us. In fact, most of us are usually much different than how a stranger might view us. This was quite true in Visible City. What Nina saw, is not the actual person, but a person who she encapsulated from a distance, from a view out of a window.

The emotional aspect was a major underlying issue, as most of the characters found it difficult to relate to their family members on a deep level. They also portrayed superficiality when in the presence of others, outside of their familial and friendship realm. Even within those realms, feelings were not always touched upon.

I did not like all the characters, but that is okay. In reality, do we all like everyone we encounter? I did like how life, seen through various city windows, was depicted, and how the characters were eventually connected. Mirvis was masterful in her depictions and her prose. I felt as if I was given a personal tour of various aspects of New York City and its urban character, from architectural exteriors to individual’s projections of themselves. It almost felt as if I were looking out of a window into the lives of others. Maybe that was one of Tova Mirvis’ intentions.

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Erev Passover/Pesach

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I have posted these photographs taken at an orange grove, before. Yesterday I was at the orange grove, participating through the Jewish Federation with their involvement in the Food Forward Program.

It seems fitting, to me, to post about Food Forward, because it is a humanitarian program, a program that recognizes the human condition and need for the donation of, collection of, and distribution of, food for the needy.

If you celebrate Passover/Pesach, remember those who are in need of food, as you sit at your table (or relative’s table, or friend’s table) tonight, the eve (erev) of Passover/Pesach. Maybe your thoughts will inspire you to donate food to a local food bank or organization. Maybe you will be motivated to help with the collection or distribution of food to needy individuals. Just an hour of your time volunteering in any capacity can be so meaningful, in so many ways.

Chag Sameach!

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Review: The Book of Daniel

   If you are a fan of E.L. Doctorow’s work, The Book of Daniel, a novel, will not disappoint you, if you pay attention and grasp what you are reading, because it is a compelling and intense story line.  I read it straight through, and had difficulty putting it down to even eat.   was overtaken with emotions thruoght the book. The novel takes place beginning with the Cold War, with the secrets, the Leftists, and with the alarmist political tactics used in order to control the country.

The narrator, Daniel Lewin (nee Isaacson), is the son of parents who were convicted of conspiring to pass atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, parents who were executed in the electric chair.  The story begins with him as a graduate student, married and with a son.  He is seemingly in the university library preparing his dissertation.  His mind begins to wander and he begins to compose a book outlining the harrowing childhood that he and his sister faced as the children of convicted spies, and as children adopted by a loving couple.

He tries to analyze and make sense of his parents’ deaths, and of his life and his sister’s life up to that point in time.  While writing his thoughts and feelings, Daniel’s writing often seems to be frenzied, grammatically incorrect, jumping from first person to third person, jumping back and forth in time.  This is brilliant on Doctorow’s part, because in reality, if one were to be in this situation, and writing about their experiences, I would think it would be exactly how one would write.  As feelings begin to surface, one might talk about their father, as their father in one sentence, and then in order to block out some painful event, start talking about him as “Mr. Isaacson”.  One might call their adopted parents by their surname in one sentence, and in the next refer to them as mom and dad, father and mother.

The story is unique, written as events remembered from Daniel’s childhood, including visiting his parents in jail, the ominous Sing-Sing.  It is intense and insightful, and sheds light on how the acts of parents can affect the children into adulthood.  How children survive, and how their loyalties bounce back and forth from their birth parents to their adopted parents, how the children can’t fathom why their parents would be so stubborn as to not admit some guilt, in order to gain a lesser sentence, how the guilt of the parents is afflicted onto the children.  The story details how the emotional electricity runs through their bloodstreams.

This book is modeled after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for treason on June 19, 1953. But, the book is not about the political times, although that is a major factor as to the events that eventually led to the execution of Daniel’s parents, but it is a book about humanity, children caught up in the trauma of the death of their parents, children who jump from family to family, never quite feeling at home, children who must learn to survive in a world of cruel insinuations and insults, children who have surpressed their emotions in order to survive, children searching for the truth of their lives, having no model in order to do so.

Doctorow’s brilliant writing has created a classic novel, and one that should be on the shelves of every household.  It is a sad story, and was emotional, and painful to watch Daniel grow, to watch his sister institutionalized, to watch Daniel try to understand his parents’ actions, and for him grow into a 60s radical, yet try not to be like them in his political zeal and zest, living in constant fear that he would turn out like them, behind bars with electric currents shooting through him.  With clarity and intensity, E. L. Doctorow brings the political past to the forefront, and we realize that things haven’t changed much with the political climate, in the fifty plus years, as we continue to live in the after-affects of September 11th, 2001.  The century is different, the decade and year is different, but the alarmist mindsets are still an ever present force.

This was my second reading of this novel, due to an upcoming book club. The story was just as engrossing as the first time.

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Pinkness, Lake, Ancient Japanese Poems

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Everyone feels grief
when cherry blossoms scatter.
Might they then be tears –
those drops of moisture falling
in the gentle rains of spring?

Otomo no Juronushi (late 9th century)

two benches

The pathway I marked
when last year I made my way
into Yoshino –
I abandon now to visit
blossoms I have not yet seen.

Monk Saigyo (1118-1190)

tree shadows

Shabbat Shalom!

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Sunday Scenes on Tuesday

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I walked along the lake, Sunday, and I took some photos of the cherry trees.

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A few of the trees are in full bloom, as the capture above shows two that are.

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Some of the trees are still trying to illuminate the scene with about 25-35%, or more, of their blossoms still closed.

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It was a beautiful day for walking within nature, soaking in the sun’s rays, and looking at the beautiful pinkness of the blossoms and the blueness of the lake.

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Book Review: The Free World

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The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a captivating novel that entails the emigration of Latvian and Soviet Jews, specifically during the late 1970s, when some were permitted to leave. In 1978 the Krasnansky family has decided to leave, and their journey takes them to Rome, where they must wait for visas to continue on to the United States, or possibly Canada.

The elder Samuil Krasnansky is a diehard communist, and decorated war hero for his service while in the Red Army. The Russian Revolution had a profound affect on him, and the effects of war continued to define his life until his death. Emma, his wife, is also there, as are their two sons, Alec and Karl. The two brothers, are as different as they can be in their political and social spheres.

Alec is a roamer, a womanizer, married to Polina. He seemingly cares little about the circumstances surrounding their journey. Karl, on the other hand is a staunch capitalist, ever involved within the circle of individuals he encounters in Rome. Life is not always as it seems for the two of them. Through some humorous twists of fate, Alec feels he is being pursued by female interests, when in fact it turns out to be otherwise.

There are other laugh-out-loud lines and scenarious within the pages, such as Samuil’s reaction to a rendering of Fiddler on the Roof. Yet, withing the comic relief, the story line is one wrought with varied ideals, and varied perspectives of freedom, and what it actually means. Bezmozgis is brilliant in depicting the mindsets of the characters.

I didn’t necessarily like the characters, and found them to be flawed in many aspects. But, I still enjoyed reading The Free World, for its historical factor, and for how the author depicted the lives of the individuals. We are all a part of the whole, no matter our choices, our mindsets and our differences. We are all flawed, and no one individual is perfect in the scheme of things.

Due to Samuil’s health, the family is forced to stay in Rome longer than expected. Their visas are on the line during this time period. Their freedom to journey forward, physically, is hindered by his health. Yes, they could have forged forward, and he could have emigrated at a later point in time, but the familial hold was a strong one, despite the disparities and lack of similarities within the family members. This aspect is strong throughout the pages.

The story line reflects back and forth, and there are back stories of each of the characters. The book spans decades of familial uprising and social standings. The decades infuse the dynamics of revolution and war quite vividly. This brings into focus why they act the way they do, and also gives the reader a sense of their lives before departing for Rome, and the choices they made beforehand.

The roller coaster ride the family finds themselves on only enhances their feelings of suffocation in a city that they were supposed to be temporarily involved in, waiting for the chance to leave. Freedom takes on new meanings, from emotional stifling to physical stand stills. Their wait for visa approval is filled with frustration and the unknown.

The book had me questioning the defining of freedom and the “the free world”. Is there such a place on the planet where a person can be truly free? Does “the free world” exist, or is it just a euphemism for the areas that were located outside of the realm of the communist states. One might live a life in a non-communist environment, but does that mean they are free? Freedom takes on many forms, not the least being emotional constraints.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that there was a “way station” so to speak, in Rome, where emigres had to wait for visas. The daily interactions and emotional aspects of the waiting period is highly illuminated within the pages. The emotional struggles are brought to the forefront.

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a well-formed study and metaphor for freedom and autonomy, within familial dynamics. The visuals are strong, as are the insights into the emotions of the characters. The historical aspect is an important one, in my opinion.

I would rate The Free World a 4 with 5 being the highest.

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