Category Archives: Holocaust/Genocide

Review: Kalooki Nights

Kalooki Nights, by Howard Jacobson is an excellent book, exploring Judaism in all of its facets, giving the reader much to think about.

A Jewish cartoonist, named Max Glickman, is the narrator of this story. The story touches on many issues, including childhood, identity, pain, assimilation, memories, and friendship. It delivers considerations about what it means to be Jewish, and about growing up in a family whose father is an atheist.

Max Glickman’s childhood friend Manny Washinsky appears to be a religious fanatic (in Glickman’s eyes), along with Washinksy’s family (his brother Asher, and his mother and father). His parents rule the household with a strict hand, causing both of their sons to be in a state of constant emotional distress. Above all else, they stress the fact that their sons must marry a Jewish girl. There is no exception to the rule, no leverage or straying from that. Asher becomes emotionally involved with a girl who is a gentile, not Jewish, and he is unable to contain his emotions. Whereas Manny is brooding and silent, with nervous tics, always in prayer, always feeling as if he is the protector, always mindful, always in remembrance of the Holocaust.

It is Washinsky who brings understanding of the Holocaust to Glickman. He spurs Glickman to draw a comic work entitled “Five Thousand Years of Bitterness”, depicting in comic/caricature form the events of the Holocaust.

Glickman’s mother is Jewish and a card game addict, specifically a card game called Kalooki, and only stops to play it on the High Holy Days. His father, a born Jew, is an aethist, and is extremely intent on issues of assimilation and avoidance. He is more Jewish in his heart than he is aware of and/or wants to admit, and his life revolves around his Jewish roots and ancestry (he speaks Yiddish, for one thing). Glickman’s father would not allow Max to have a Bar Mitzvah, and wanted nothing more than for him to marry a gentile.

Jacobson weaves his story within the Jewish world, the Holocaust, and within the world of the gentiles. He leaves us to ponder what is Jewishness, Judaism, and what is the difference and the sameness between the fine line of those who consider themselves Jewish aethists, and the practicing Orthodox Jewish community. There is an intensity within the pages, that explores the Jewish community versus the gentiles, and the interactions of both, within the varied religious and cultural expectancies. He defines the characters with pain and humor, poignancy, flaws, and humanness. He is brilliant in illuminating the humanity that we all have within us, despite our backgrounds and religious beliefs.

I enjoyed reading this book, and went back and forth within the pages, digesting all that there was presented. Bravo to Howard Jacobson’s Kalooki Nights!

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Review: The Color of Courage: A Boy at War

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski, is an incredible book, presented from his diary, depicting life during wartime with astuteness and courage.

Will and courage surround Julian Kulski, when at the age of 12, he is recruited into the Underground Army. From that point, forward, his life will never be the same, and his strength and determination to survive is a testament to his courage.

Beginning with his involvement with the Boy Scouts, emerges an adolescent with the resolve of an adult, a young boy wise beyond his years. He trains in military style, learns the ins and outs of various weapons, and eventually is involved in a secret endeavor. The endeavor involves the Warsaw Ghetto, where he goes with his commander.

World War II and its staunch tactics employed by Hitler forced many to live lives of devoid of family, devoid of hope. But, Julian Kuslki remained hopeful through all of the atrocities he witnessed, and throughout the course of the war.

From his arrest when he was 14 to his being shipped to Auschwitz, and his final days in a POW camp, the story is compelling, forceful, educational and filled with events that are written so vividly, that the reader is amazed that the events actually occurred.

The story within the pages of Kulski’s diary reads like a novel of intrigue, and a spy novel. Let me be clear, it is not a novel, but the actual diary of Kulski, detailing his life from age 12-16 years of age. It is compelling and filled with minute details.

The photographs speak of what once was, lives lived before, during and after the war.

Julian Kulski’s story is finally told, and told with dignity, courage and inspiration. His diary depicts events as they happened, and not sugar-coated in any aspect. The Color of Courage is a book of extreme historical significance, in my opinion.

The diary is a testament to war, to the horrific turbulence, and to the desire to escape the forces surrounding him. I highly recommend The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski to everyone.

I received an Advanced Review Copy (ARC). Its expected release is on November 11, 2014.

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The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home

Once again, I found myself reading a Holocaust memoir in which a surviving parent did not want to reveal too much information, if any, about their Holocaust experience to their child/children. The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home, by Erin Einhorn, is a novel written by a daughter whose mother, Irena, survived the Holocaust, a mother who seemed indifferent as to the events and actions that kept her alive. Einhorn, who was always curious, traveled to Poland in order to find out the truth of her mother’s history, and to see if the house was still standing.

Irena was born in 1942, in Bedzin, Poland, within the walls of the Jewish ghetto. Irena’s parents were deported a year later, and while on the train, her father managed to jump off the train. He managed to make his way back to the Bedzin, and made a arrangements with a Polish woman…he would give the woman authority over his property if she would hide his daughter. He promised to return for his daughter as soon as the war was over.

True to his word, he did return for Irena (her mother died in Auschwitz). She was a frightened child, and her father was a stranger to her. The only “parents” she had memory of were the Skowronskis, the family who Irena’s father left her with. He took her to Switzerland, and from there they eventually emigrated to America.

The years pass by, and the story begins with Irena’s daughter, who is a reporter, living in Krakow, with her roommates Krys and Magda. The purpose of Einhorn being there is to try to find the family “that made my life possible“, and try to locate the house that had belonged to her grandfather. She knows where to begin, how to get to Bedzin, but is hesitant, afraid of failure. She is more or less on her own, as her mother, Irena, won’t reveal much to her, and is totally uninterested in finding out about the family that saved her life. Irena’s attitude is uncaring and unconcerned. Anxiety exudes from Einhorn’s pores.

The Pages In Between
is a fascinating story, taking the reader on an ominous trip back through time, and forward again to the legalities of the present. One is left to ponder several issues, such as greed and entitlement.

Is it greed to want monetary compensation for helping to save a life? Doesn’t there come a point when boundaries are crossed in the expectations of those who saved others? Is an individual financially responsible to those who saved the life of their child/loved one? Does one save a life without expecting compensation or reward because it is the correct thing to do? Where does greed begin and gratitude end? Where does gratitude begin and greed end? Are those who are the living indefinitely bound to support those who helped them survive? Who owns the property left under duress and horrific conditions? Who are the victims in the process…the child who was saved, those who helped save her, the succeeding generations, or are they all victims in a sense? There are these and more questions to think about.

I recommend The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home. It is an extremely compelling memoir, and one that evokes a unique perspective on the Holocaust. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual after-effects of the Holocaust, and how WWII and the Holocaust affected families, in the long-range. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual effects of the Holocaust. Erin Einhorn writes with stark frankness, and at the same time is sensitive to the issues she confronts on her journey of discovery. Her story is an incredible psychological study on the interplay between family dynamics and the Holocaust. For those interested in Holocaust History, this is an excellent resource and a must read.

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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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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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Review: The Train to Warsaw

The Train to Warsaw: A Novel, by Gwen Edelman, is an interesting work of historical fiction, based on two characters’ impressions of the city on a postwar return trip.

Jascha and Lilka have returned to Warsaw after having escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and the atrocities and horrors of World War II. They left individually but managed to reunite years later, after the war.

Jascha is a writer and has been invited to give a reading in Warsaw, forty years after escaping. He is reluctant to go, because deep in his heart he knows that the city is not the same, and that nothing could ever replace what once was.

Lilka, on the other hand, wants to return, wants to put to rest the memories of what occurred, and the positive memories she has of a city that once was. She feels that it will be a cathartic experience and encourages Jascha to attend. He finally gives in, and so their journey begins. In the dead of a cold and snowy winter they travel back to the country they left, and back to memories, both stifled and constant.

The dialogue in the book is written without quotation marks, which made it difficult to realize who was speaking, at times. I found myself having to go back and reread some of the dialogue to ascertain who was the one talking. This made it a more difficult read than necessary.

Their journey through Warsaw, through streets once walked, paths, sights and buildings once so familiar, AND through the area that was the Warsaw Ghetto, became very arduous for them due to the changes that have occurred. The changes of time have purposely been erased. Lilka has difficulty dealing with that, whereas Jascha knew, beforehand, what to more or less expect. He was cognizant of the reality.

Within that concept, the book depicts the individuals that Jascha and Lilka encounter with an indifference in regards to the past. Those individuals either do not want to remember the past, or still harbor antisemitism, or are too young too remember it, or were born a decade or two after the war and do not know the true history behind it. The city’s inhabitants are trying to move forward without bringing their history with them. They want to leave the emotional suitcases and other baggage behind.

The novel takes place on a train, in a hotel room and in the city, itself. With each passing moment, the discussions revolve around the past. Enfolded in those discussions are secrets from the past, that slowly come to be revealed, by both of them.

I felt the book was a bit drab and it dragged on. Of course, Jascha didn’t want to be there to begin with, and Lilka’s concepts keep referring to “what once was”, and she couldn’t let go of those perceptions. She was in shock seeing things for what they currently were, and her depressed state grew even deeper, explaining a lot of the attitude projected in The Train to Warsaw: A Novel.

I am sure that Edelman’s intent was to enhance how events of a former time affect individuals displaced from their homeland, leaving them feeling melancholy and miserable. The individuals can have a constant yearning for home, leaving a void within them. If that was her intention, she succeeded in that respect.

With all of that being said, in my opinion, the novel was okay.

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