Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Review: A Fifty-Year Silence

In the book, A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France, Miranda Richmond Mouillot weaves a family tapestry whose threads are interwoven, yet pull apart at the sound of a person’s name. Her grandparents, Armand and Anna, are estranged, and eventually divorce each other. Through the years that accumulate after the war, their relationship deteriorates dramatically, and Anna packs up and leaves Armand, taking their children with her.

When Miranda seeks answers to questions she asks her grandmother, the answers are evasive. Her grandmother does answer, but she prefers to answer in writing, than to verbalize her responses. Her written answers are short and sharp, and often verge on avoidance or incompleteness.

Her grandfather, on the other hand, clams up at the mention of Anna’s name. He distances himself, either through anger at Anna, or avoiding the questions entirely. He is indifferent, and has shut himself off from familial involvement regarding his past.

Part of his history was spent as an interpreter during the Nuremberg trials. He learned how to foster an attitude that displayed unimportance in relevance to his interpreting questions and the horrifying answers to them. He was a man trapped by his past, a man repressed and lacking sympathy or compassion, and a man unable to move forward.

Their relationship was founded on a few months of togetherness before the war separated them. After the war, they bought a stone house in France. They endured life together in the house for five years, before Anna left with the children.

This very house is where Miranda moved, never mind its crumbled state. There she found the solitude needed to pore through letters, documents and governmental archives, in order set a foundation for her grandparents’ lives and crumbled (much like the stone house) marriage .

Miranda’s journey to find the answers to her grandparents’ story, and to her own ancestral history, are muted by Armand and Anna. The story feels more like a search within the boundaries of traumas and remembrances, remembrances too harsh to bring to the surface.

Armand and Anna, and their fifty-year silence, is a mystifying story. When I finished reading A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France, I felt Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s determination and driven endeavor to unearth the past. It is a past that doesn’t really come to fruition in regards to the answers that Miranda Richmond Mouillot seeks, as to why her grandparents chose to exhibit their silence with one another.

But, within her journey, she did discover love, a love that led to marriage, and a new beginning in another house in France.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Review: The Gates of November

Chaim Potok’s The Gates of November is an extremely intense non-fiction book, written about a Jewish family. The book delves into the father/son relationship that Potok is well known for in his books.

Solomon Slepak is an old-school Russian Jew, a diehard Bolshevik. He became a Marxist when he emigrated to the America, and then returned to the Soviet Union. He was a stubborn and difficult man, and became a staunch and renowned Communist Party member, despite the fact that he was Jewish. Solomon Slepak resists the ideals of his son, Volodya, who is a “refusenik”, and basically disowns him.

Volodya sees what is occurring in the Soviet Union and wants no part of it. He wants to take his wife and two sons and emigrate to Israel. Thus he begins the process of paperwork and documentation. His bid to emigrate is refused, and he and his wife, Masha, become activists, working to try to help other Jews who are refused permission to emigrate, under Josef Stalin’s relentless rule.

Due to his activities, he is sent to a remote part of Siberia, where the conditions take their toll on his health. Masha asks for permission to be with him, and is granted such. He is exiled for over five years, under the harshest of conditions, not only weather, but food and daily sustenance and necessities (this articulation is putting it mildly).

Once he returns home, he tries to seek work, and finds menial jobs here and there, that don’t last for any length of time. He applies for permission to emigrate, once again. The process drags on for years, and we are given an overview of the social, political and diplomatic events and results during the years that go by, while he waits for a positive outcome.

I could articulate more on The Gates of November, but I suggest you read it yourself in order to grasp the depth of the story. The Gates of November is quite extreme in detail. Potok has shown us the degrees people will go to in order to manipulate others by leaving out none of the horrible events or descriptive word images.

Potok infuses the intensity of the time period under Josef Stalin’s rule. He details the depth of life under the most adverse and harshest of circumstances within the confines of the brutal Stalin reign. His book is based on personal accounts, taped and written interviews, videos, etc., in order to bring exactness to The Gates of November. It is not an easy book to read, due to the brutally detailed circumstances and events. But, it is a book most definitely worth reading, not only in comprehending the historical aspect regarding Jews under Soviet rule, but for the ongoing father/son relationship and family dynamics that Chaim Potok always manages to write so brilliantly about.

The Gates of November, by Chaim Potok,  is a masterful telling of Jewish familial life and dynamics under extreme social circumstances. It is both horrific and inspirational, and brings to the forefront the degrees of determination people have in order to obtain their goals. I highly recommend it to everyone.

All photography, writing, poetry, etc. is my copyright and may not be reproduced without my express written permission.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Immigrant Experience, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

Lorri M. Review: How the Other Half Lives

howotheotherhalflives3 How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob A. Riis, is an astoundingly negative testament to New York City and its history, and to all of the immigrants and individuals whose hopes were enveloped, and often dashed, within the suffocating environment of the tenements and slums.

From Europe to Asia and the Middle East, immigrants from all countries were shepherded into unbearable survival conditions. They came to America hoping to have a better life, and the life they led was often worse than the one they left behind. The slum environment encompassed the worst possible lifestyle one can imagine

The living conditions described within the pages are appalling, and even more so when it is noted that landlords often forced labor upon their tenants. In other words, I will only rent to you if you will work for me, behind closed doors. This was an accepted form of behavior, and left the tenants with less than dignified circumstances. The environment was difficult and demeaning enough, never mind the added indignity of having to work almost twelve hours a day for your landlord.

Not only were the rooms that they lived in infested with vermin of all shapes and sizes, but families, individuals and strangers were more or less forced together in extremely close quarters.

The magnitude of the deplorable housing and working conditions is mind-boggling to this reader. I knew that life was harsh and difficult, but Riis brings the reader an in depth look into the horrific conditions forced upon the immigrants. His studies and photojournalism speak volumes to the squalor thrust upon the lower economic people. There weren’t too many choices for those seeking employment and housing.

Yes, there were choices, but not many, and finding the decent surroundings was extremely difficult for most, if not impossible. How the Other Half Lives opened my eyes to the worst of humanity, humanity and humiliation right under our noses, in the heart of New York City during the late 1800s.

How the Other Half Lives is intellectual, intense and compelling. It is written with honest assessments, forthrightness and shocking depictions. Riss’ documentations were his effort to bring forth the deplorable conditions of the slums and tenements. It is not a read for those with sensitive stomachs.

The enormity of information which Jacob A. Riis compiled through documents, his own documentation (both written and photographically), interviews and questionnaires, is astonishing. The magnitude of his project is all-encompassing, and that he was able to accomplish what he did, in the late 1800s, is masterful in every aspect.

As an aside: Some readers might find this book boring, and find the grammar, in some cases, to be difficult to digest. When reading it, one must try to remember the time frame that the book was written in, and the varied dialects of the immigrants. Not everyone spoke English, and those who did, were often speaking with heavy accents, broken English, and not necessarily schooled in the English language.

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Review: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past

zagare As the great-granddaughter of Lithuanian grandparents, both on my maternal and paternal side, Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past, by Sara Manobla, is a book that I had wanted to read when I first found out about its publication.

I felt it would offer me historical information regarding the Jews of Zagare, and therefore, the Jewish communities throughout Lithuania, during World War II. I was not disappointed. I can not say that I enjoyed the book, because the subject matter is a sober one, a somber one, with facts that surfaced pointing to the horrors of the Holocaust. I am most definitely appreciative that I read the book and the historical information.

The shtetl was small, yet antisemitism was great. Non-Jews spewed their hatred in ways that defied sensibility. In 1941 local Lithuanians, along with the Nazis, murdered Jews in Zagare. Resentment over the horrendous acts were prevalent throughout the successive decades.

One man remained, Isaac Mendelssohn, the last of the Jews of Zagare. And, after meeting that man, Sara Manobla’s life took a sharp turn in her journey of discovery and illumination. She encountered people and heard testimony regarding events that she was not expecting. Her journey became a different one than when it had begun.

And, still, today, resentment continues on both sides of the issue. There is a small quota of those who try to acknowledge the detrimental actions of the past. Through those individuals a sense of acceptance has emerged.


Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past
is a book of hope, a book that was inspiring, in my opinion. I applaud Sara Manobla for her frankness, and her ability to let the past be the past, yet let it be remembered without bitterness and anger. That she was able to move forward into acceptance and combine that acceptance with reconciliation of the facts in a positive manner is a tribute to her strength and determination to unfold the truth of her ancestry within the truth of the past.

Brava!

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Filed under Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, World War II

Review: Hold on to the Sun

hold on to the sun2 Hold on to the Sun, by Michal Govrin is a compelling book of stories and essays, stories and essays bound together by themes of despair and hope, love and loss.

The author’s life as a young woman is depicted through some stories that are magical or fantasy-based. Other stories are compelling through their Holocaust-themed prose. All of the stories come full circle with Holocaust connections, and how that horrendous event formed the foundation of her life. Govrin is a first-generation, Holocaust survivor, family member. She is a woman searching for depth and meaning in life after the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a secret within her familial life, as far as her mother is concerned. Yet, within those unspoken words, there was always a sense of something hidden. Children feel these things, instinctively, although they might not be able to put a name to it. Much of Govrin’s early life was formed through the unspoken, which in itself spoke resoundingly.

Her essays are strong, and deal with her travels to Poland. She traveled there to see the death camp her mother was imprisoned in, and where her mother’s first husband and their son perished. She did not know for many years that her mother had been married before, and did not know about her half-brother. Her journey there was a form of witnessing the site where they perished, and a form of remembering them. Her essays honor them.


Hold on to the Sun, by Michal Govrin is not an uplifting book, but a book that imparts the importance of remembrance. It also is a book that enhances the importance of hope in a world that does not seem to offer much in the way of illumination.
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Lorri M. Review: Mourning & Mitzvah

mourningandmitzvah Mourning &Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing, by Anne Brener is educational, insightful in its representation of the Jewish mourning process, and an excellent learning tool.

It directs the mourner through the grieving process by instructing and guiding them how to keep a diary or journal. By answering questions within the diary or journal, performing meaningful rituals, meditation, etc., the person is thereby enabled to begin working through their grief, a step at a time. The one who is mourning the loss of a loved one can begin to work through their pain and loss, and learn to try to cope with the struggles of daily life, while beginning to confront their pain.

There is no time limit on grief and mourning, as it is a personal process and an emotional process. But, Mourning & Mitzvah is an extremely helpful book in its aspects to bring understanding to those who grieve. It is also helpful for friends and family members to read, in order for them to begin to understand what their loved one is going through, during the traumatic period of a death in their life. They, too, are grieving, and so the input within the pages could be helpful for them.

Whether you are Jewish or not, religious or not, have a spiritual belief or not, the life lessons and the steps that Brener shows us towards coping with the loss of a loved one, is a journey we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of.

Death isn’t just a situation for the deceased or dying, but it is a family issue, for all family members. From mourning, understanding and grieving, Mourning and Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing, by Anne Brener, is a book that belongs on every book shelf, as it is thoroughly educational, gently written, insightful, and is inspirational for all readers.

I find myself referring back to this sensitively written book throughout the year.

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