Review: The Winter Vault

The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels is an intimate account of the lives of husband and wife Avery and Jean. It is a novel that blends historical fact, and one that combines two stories in one. The reader is a witness to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, connecting Montreal and Lake Ontario. We are also witness to the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt.

The reader almost feels as if they are present when the St. Lawrence Seaway is built and when it was completed in 1959.

We are privy to the most intimate of details during the tearing down and reconstruction efforts of the Nubian temple Abu Simbel in order to build the Aswan Dam. The threads of the word images are so strong that my senses were filled to capacity. Minute details are woven and take forms that evoke intense emotions and immense visuals. Historical fact and accuracy is apparent within the intense and compelling content of the pages.

Actions versus consequences are played out with quantitive measurements, causing the logarithms of energy and nature to illuminate and diminish. Both Avery and Jean feel the death toll, the demeaning of civilization, in order to pursue the inevitability of modern man and technology. That is a strong theme woven throughout The Winter Vault.

I remember traveling with my parents when I was an adolescent, to Montreal, and passing over the St. Lawrence River, and remember the awe I felt by the magnitude of the Seaway. We traveled over it at the end of July 1959, a month after the official opening of the Seaway on June 26,1959, from Long Island, New York to Montreal, in order to visit relatives. I distinctly remember my father (who was doing the driving) being completely impressed by the Seaway. But, I wonder now, after reading this book, if he was aware of the displacement of so many lives, communities, homes, businesses, natural environments and habitats, etc., that had to be sacrificed in order to create such a structure.

Avery and Jean’s story begins when they meet, and then in 1964 when, as newlyweds, they leave Toronto to live on a houseboat on the Nile.

Jean is a passionate botanist who was raised by her father due to the death of her mother. She is obsessed with botany and everything relating to growth. Her obsession and passion causes her to bring her mother’s garden wherever she goes. The growth of the plants symbolizes her mother’s nearness.

Avery is an engineer, and he is part of a team that is tearing down and then reconstruct a temple. The analogies between Avery’s love of engineering and his love of Jean coincide, both seemingly occupying the same space. Therein is the problem.

Jean and Avery experience an event that magnifies, amplifies and affects their lives in ways the reader doesn’t expect. This event causes them to separate and return to Canada, where Jean meets a Jewish-Polish artist who fills her soul with the horrific images of the Holocaust, one of mankind’s most destructive, physical events against humanity.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, and won’t divulge any more of the story line. As it is, I have been careful not to divulge too much. Suffice it to say that it is filled with depth, an energy level that is strong, emotional intensity and linguistics that define the historical in formats that are overwhelming.

Births and rebirths fill the lines. Love and grief combine, as does longing and loss. Michaels weaves an esoteric tapestry of time, filled with the essence of humanity and essence of destruction, both physical and architectural.

Her word imagery is strong, extremely magical and surreal, poetic and filled with a sense of time and place. She is masterful with her ability to infuse the pages with technical content, yet write with an almost reverent quality. She evokes an immediacy to return to the past in order to confront the present. She is an archivist and an architect, a poet and a historian. Anne Michaels is an amazing writer whose capacity to incorporate language and visuals is incredible, bringing the science of language and technology to a poetic form, a poetic balance in The Winter Vault.

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Speaking of Huts…

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Wondering off the beaten path at the lake, I came across two distinct hut-like structures. I often wonder about those oddities that one finds in unexpected places.

Was it built to keep the heat of the sun off of the person who built it? Or, possibly it was built because rain was expected, and there was a homeless person/s living inside it, at one point. Maybe a family had a picnic and thought it would be fun to sit within a hut.

hut2

Speaking of huts, Sukkot, or the Feast of the Booths or Tabernacles, begins the evening of October 8th, and ends the evening of October 15th. It is one of Judaism’s Three Pilgrimage Festivals.

It is a season of harvest, and a season of remembrance. The Israelites dwelt in these types of temporary dwellings during their 40 years of journeying through the desert. Let us remember their hardships and obstacles that they forged through. Agricultural workers also dwelt in this type of temporary dwelling during harvest season.

Jews celebrate Sukkot by eating inside a sukkah (hut, tent) for eight days (seven in Israel). All meals are supposed to be taken inside of it. Read about its history, here.

The sukkah is built with four species of plants:

etrog (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron tree
lulav (לולב) – a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree
hadass (הדס) – boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree
aravah (ערבה) – branches with leaves from the willow tree

You can read more about the custom/s here.

wood-shelter

The House on the Roof: A Sukkot Story, by David Adler, is a great children’s book. The story is a wonderful example of Jewish tradition versus religious tolerance, and it is based on an actual happening.

Chag Sameach!

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Review: The Butterfly and the Violin

The Butterfly and the Violin, by Kristy Cambron is a story focusing on the Holocaust and a particular painting. The story bounces between events occurring pre-World War II, World War II, itself, and the current time period.

A painting of a woman, hair shorn, holding a violin, is the glue that bonds two specific individuals together, as they try to find out information regarding the painting, and locate the owner of it. During their research, they become deeply attached to each other. Each person has their own past, their own secrets they are withholding.

Unfortunately, the story did not speak to me. I felt the modern day characters were weak, not realized, and I thought they were lacking in substance and depth.

Their superficiality flowed throughout the pages, in my opinion. The relationships that develop, which include a young child, do not seem to be realistic, as to specifics within the relationships. I could not imagine that some of the modern day, familial depictions could actually happen. The ending was extremely disappointing, and left me devoid of a final conclusion.

Some Holocaust-related truths and facts were infused within the pages. Events and modes of operation were described, along with visuals that the reader could “see” before them. In that aspect, the word imagery was defining. Unfortunately, that information is colored by the novel’s multiple stories within the entirety.

What I thought was going to be a serious novel regarding the Holocaust was more of a novel with loose ends, a novel not for readers who want a compelling Holocaust story. The Butterfly and the Violin, by Kristy Cambron, in my opinion, would be better served as a book for teenagers and young adults (early 20s).

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Yom Kippur

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Marcel Marceau died on Yom Kippur 10 Tishrei, 5768 (September 22, 2007). He was famous and well-loved for his pantomime act. With each performance, he tried to spread the word of silence through his body language and expressiveness. Silence, he felt, was another form of language, a language that could vividly express what words could not.

He felt silence and the art of pantomime could blend together, creating scenes reflective of humor and of intensity, of good versus evil, of man’s place in the scheme of things.

You can read more about him, in a post of mine from from August 18, 2013, here.
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Jews_Praying_in_the_Synagogue_on_Yom_Kippur

The above painting, entitled “Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, was painted by Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878.

Came Yom Kippur

A Hank Greenberg Poem

Author: Edgar Guest ©. Published: 1934. Appeared In: Detroit Free Press

“Came Yom Kippur — holy fast day world wide over to the Jew,

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true

Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, ‘We shall lose the game today!

We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat

But he’s true to his religion — and I honor him for that!'”

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For my friends who observe Yom Kippur-G’mar Chatimah Tova.

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Faith, Bridges, Connections

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Bridges are connections, overpasses, passages over obstacles that take us from one side to another. They are also a spiritual symbol, leading us on a journey across a divide or an obstacle, that could connect us to faith and religion.

At times the bridge comes to an end, with no way to walk on any further, and one must turn around and retrace their steps, leading them ponder the paths they must bridge, or think about reconnecting with community, religion or family.

Faith builds a bridge from this world to the next. – Unknown Author

I like the poem below, by Emily Dickinson

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not –
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side –
It joins — behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

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Sunday Scenes: September 21, 2014

sundayscene

A man of wisdom delights in water. -Confucius

The marsh, to him who enters it in a receptive mood, holds, besides mosquitoes and stagnation, melody, the mystery of unknown waters, and the sweetness of Nature undisturbed by man. -Charles William Beebe (1906)

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