Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Review – Simon’s Family: A Novel of Mothers and Sons

Simon’s Family: A Novel of Mothers and Sons, by Marianne Fredriksson leaves us to wonder what is Family?

This was a well-written novel on the aspects of what it means to be a family…families come in many forms, such as, biological, extended family, imaginative families, and those we choose to be part of our family.

Simon Larsson and Isak Lentov are eleven years old friends. Isak is Jewish, and from a wealthy home, and when Simon visits Isak, he begins to see the differences in their life styles. When Isak visits Simon, he finds a family surrounded with love and caring. Each one comes to discover their differences, their similarities, and their uniqueness, within familial confines.

The great tree instantly fell silent, and the boy knew something important had happened. He swallowed the lump in his throat, disowning his own grief.”

The story begins during the pre-World War II period, and lasts throughout the war. This exceptionally insightful story deals with mothers and sons, three generations of women, and how they affect their sons, both emotionally and physically. The book also sends a strong message on how we assimilate into society, the way we choose to fit in. Issues of stability and fear are detailed, as if we are within the bodies of the characters and feeling their emotions.

The book grapples with how fear plays a major factor in some lives, and how it can imprison us, if we let it.

Familial roles are played out, by relatives, friends and others…with the children always at the end of the rope, as a tug-of-war progresses and continues. It is a metaphor for the relationships between mothers and sons, and is exquisitely written, with beautiful descriptions.

I would recommend Simon’s Family: A Novel of Mothers and Sons, by Marianne Fredriksson to everyone who is interested in societal structure and cultural boundaries, and those who are interested in the difference and sameness, within all of us.

It is a Jewel of a book!

I personally own, and have read this book, recently for a second time.

November 29, 2012 – 15 Kislev, 5773

All writings, photographs, etc., are my own copyright (unless stated otherwise), and may not be used without my permission.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Judaism, Novels

Wednesday Waterscape

Nature’s gifts to us take on the form of scenes of awe and wonder, scenes that strike an emotional chord within us, scenes that make us smile, through teary eyes. The scene above was captured by me about six years ago, while hiking part of the coastal stretch between Carmel and Monterey, CA. It is one of my own personal top ten favorite photographs.

I remember that day, as if it was yesterday. It was February 14th (Valentine’s Day), and cold. The air was filled with a crispness, and the scent of the sea was carried on the wings of a soft breeze. The resounding echoes of the sea were melodious.

The sea’s tone was pure blue and clear. The cliffs, boulders and rocks jutting out from the sea were jagged with a grandness and loveliness all their own.

As I walked the path, with the stunning setting to my left, I saw a patch of red on top of a group of boulders protruding from the sea. Not just small boulders, but nearly cliff-sized ones at their height. I looked through my camera lens to see what the redness was, and there they were, a man and woman, sitting atop the boulders, his arm through hers, staring ahead at the great expanse of sea. They were an older couple, not young adults, possibly in their fifties. They appeared to be at one with the sea, fascinated by its ebb and flow, and the song that resonated from it.

It was a moment in time that I will never forget, and one that sparked emotions within me. I was overwhelmed enough by the sea and boulders and cliffs on that pathway. But, the ultimate joy of it all was to see that the was couple entranced by what was before them. I was too, but they were looking from a different level, and it must have been extremely magnificent a view from their high perspective, as the sea splashed the boulders. It was magnificent from mine, on the ground.

I hiked along, inhaling the scents and the beauty of nature, touching earth and sea, feeling as if I was in a place of fantasy (I had been here several times before, and each time was like the first time). I turned around about 40 minutes later, and hiked back towards my starting point. When I came back to the spot where I saw the loving couple, I noticed that they were still there, arms around each other, in quietude, staring straight ahead. No sound but the lull of the ocean’s melody was noticeable.

What a gift, a gift from nature. Oh, the intimacy of the moment, the awe and wonder, the magic of it all.

Visit Nature Notes for more scenes from around the world.

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Book Review – The Marriage Artist

The Marriage Artist: A novel, by Andrew Winer, is an incredible literary feat, in my opinion.

The novel is a a brilliantly composed saga of two stories that alternate within the pages. It is a book with broad and deep expanses, beginning in current times, and sweeping back to Vienna, beginning in 1928.
The stories blend magically, with the magnificent word-imagery of Winer.

In the present, we have Daniel Lichtmann, a well-respected art critic. His positive, stunning and admiring critiques of the native American, Blackfoot sculptor, Benjamin Wind, has made him (Wind) famous.

The novel opens with the bodies of Wind and Lichtmann’s wife, Aleksandra, laying on the sidewalk in front of a New York City apartment building. By all accounts, it looks as if they plunged from the terrace. From there, the suspense begins, as the reader is taken on a trip through time, as Lichtmann tries to discover whether his wife was having an affair with Wind, whether they committed suicide together, or somehow fell off the terrace.

Daniel is committed to uncovering what actually led up to the tragic event. Through is efforts, he uncovers information regarding his wife, information he didn’t know. He also uncovers information regarding Wind, his background and his artwork, and how his own critique of Wind’s last exhibit may have been far-removed than the actual reasoning behind it.

The next chapter begins in 1928, a time of uproar and persecution towards the Jews, with ten-year old Josef Pick, as he visits his grandfather Pommeranz, in the less than desirable Jewish section of Vienna. The Pick family has converted to Catholicism in order to avoid the repercussions of being labeled Jewish. While there Josef becomes enthralled with his grandfather’s business of creating ketubot (prenuptial marriage contracts) for those who are looking to have a creative and ceremonial document of the groom’s rights and responsibilities concerning the bride.

Josef’s father is with him, and much to his dismay, watches as his son tries to create a ketubah of his own. The final result is one that brings awe to his grandfather Pommeranz, and causes him to use Josef’s talent to earn extra money for his own needs and debts. What transpires after that is nothing short of incredible, as the reader is taken on Josef’s journey of artistic development and creation with his amazing talent, one that brings him recognition in the world of art. Winer infuses the pages with the defining imagery, defining moments of the ravages of war. The journey continues through Josef’s adult life, through the days of the Holocaust and the antisemitism spewed at the Jews.

The story line had me thinking about the title, and alternate meanings. Aside from a ketubah, a marriage artist could be one who is creative in their own lives, one who tries to manipulate their marriage. A marriage artist can also be one whose exterior is superficial and contrary to their innermost feelings. After all, an artist is not just one who paints, draws, creates beautiful documents or etches on paper. An artist can be defined as so much more than that in the realm of daily life.

The Marriage Artist moves forward and moves backward in the time continuum, and in history’s darkest hours. I was engulfed in the book, and could not put it down. I read it straight through, except for small breaks to eat, etc. I was mesmerized and absorbed with Winer’s use of beautiful and sensitive language. It was so beautiful that I was in awe of his prose. There were moments that I was emotionally caught up in the folds of this page-turner of a story.

Andrew Winer is masterful at telling the tale of The Marriage Artist, and brilliant at blending families together. It is a lovely, sensitive and poignant story, one filled with the affects of assimilation, love and loss, and effects of lives caught in the maelstrom of evil, leading to an epiphany towards redemption.

The novel is one of educational and historical value. The drama and the intensity that is displayed is something that I feel should not be missed. It is a compelling read. I highly recommend The Marriage Artist to everyone.

November 26, 2012 – 12 Kislev, 5773

All writings, photographs, etc., are my own copyright (unless stated otherwise), and may not be used without my permission.

Forgive the update, I had to correct something that I missed.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Judaism, Novels

Sunday Scenes November 25, 2012

The past few days have been productive, as far as reading goes. I have finished reading Salman Rushdie’s auto-biography, Joseph Anton. I will be writing a review soon. I also finished reading The Promised Land, by Mary Antin.

Visit Shadow Shot Sunday for more shadowy views.

November 25, 2012 – 11 Kislev, 5773

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Book Review – Unorthodox

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, is an interesting study on the Satmar Hasidic community, and its all-encompassing grasp on those within its foundation.

Feldman writes from her heart, that is clear, but also writes from a childhood perspective, in my opinion. Much of the book is written about her childhood, and the reader doesn’t really see much insight from that point of view. What we do see is a child who rebels against her religion and its standards and adherences.

She constantly equates varied commands and foundations with religious hypocrisy, and is constantly questioning the edicts forced on the followers within the Satmar world. What we see is a restrictive environment, one filled with darkness, whereas other Hasidic sects are more apt to be filled with a richer and more happy foundation.

The reader also sees a child who disagrees with much of the repressive demands of the Satmar community. When she marries at the age of 17, she brings much of her innocence and childhood thoughts and feelings with her, which encompass the pages. We read of her disillusionment and her unsatisfying life with the Satmar environment. We are told of her feelings of repression and dissatisfaction. Marriage was an end result for the women, and a means to an end, so to speak.

Marriage did not offer her any freedom, according to her, and it only fostered her feelings of forced subjection. She felt confined, unable to make her own choices and decisions. The males of her world were the ones in control, the ones who were the dominant force. The ultra strict laws and restrictions were enforced by them.

There are some disturbing aspects within the pages, including the murder of a son by his father. Accordingly, it appears from Feldman’s writing, that it was kept secret and the father did not get arrested for his actions. Whether this is true, or an exaggerated incident, or whether it is not entirely clear from the eyes of a child, the reader is not sure.

There is little content written from a mature perspective. How could there be, as Feldman was a child trapped in a woman’s body as she went through her teenage years. She had no knowledge of what expected of her, or what was outside her confined and restrained world until she gained employment teaching. This is what caused her to see outside the boundaries of her Satmar life.

There is little written which describes how Feldman actually left her husband, and how she seemingly gained custody of her young son (the reader doesn’t know for sure that she has legal custody). The “scandalous” factor, in the title, leaves me unfulfilled. The reader, in my opinion, does not read of scandal, of how her actions affected those around her, or of how the Satmar community reacted to her leaving. We are more or less told it was scandalous, but there are no details to support that in the memoir. There is nothing written in depth about her moving away, nothing supportive with concrete facts. We are given a brief glimpse of her leaving, a few pages detailing her move from the communal hold. It is almost as if Feldman was coming to the end of her story, and didn’t know how to finish it, so she filled in a few pages to complete the memoir.

Feldman depicts a world of repressed women, a world where the outside society clashes with the Satmar community in every aspect. She demonstrates, from her young perspective, the harshness and strictness of daily life. It is an eye-opener in that respect. The cultural implications are strong. Readers of every religion can gain some insight into the cultural dimensions of the Satmar community. In fact, readers of any religion, or nonreligious individuals will learn of the practices and ideals of the Satmar world. And, they might even compare it to their own world, and not only see the differences, but also a similarity or two.

Overall, I think Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman will appeal to young Hasidic women, and feel that they might be able to relate to, and identify with, some of Deborah Feldman’s issues and life experiences in today’s modern world.

November 23, 2012 – 9 Kislev, 5773

All writings, photographs, etc., are my own copyright (unless stated otherwise), and may not be used without my permission.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Judaism, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Wednesday Words November 21, 2012

I was in the library on Monday with my grandie girlie-girl. On the way out there was a cart that had “free books” on it. I browsed, thinking there might be one for the grandies, and discovered one for myself. I was actually surprised to see this book on the cart.

There it was staring me in the face: The Promised Land, by Mary Antin, in hard copy format. It is a reprint edition, reprinted in 1989, and, it has the library markings on it, but who cares.

What is interesting, is that one hundred years after the first publication of The Promised Land in 1912, it will be for sale in paperback format on December 19, 2012.

Mary Antin was a woman ahead of her time in the aspect of memoir writing from an immigrant experience through her experience in assimilation into a country that was extremely unlike the one she left behind, in Polotsk in the Russian Pale of Settlement.

I have begun reading The Promised Land and find it enthralling.
~~~
I was reading a copy of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, and was captivated by an article about President Abraham Lincoln, written by Tom Teicholz. It appealed to my historical interests in many facets, but the most fascinating factor (to me) regarding the article was how the author suggest the idea that President Lincoln could have been Jewish!

The article is well written, and I am sure it will appeal to all readers.
~~~
November 21, 2012 – 7 Kislev, 5773

All writings, photographs, etc., are my own copyright (unless stated otherwise), and may not be used without my permission.

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Filed under Judaism, Memoirs, Photography