Category Archives: 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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Filed under Book Reviews, Immigrant Experience, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

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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Lorri M. Review: Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust

rutkasnotebook Rutka’s Notebook, A Voice From the Holocaust, by Rutka Laskier, is a personal accounting, taken from the diary of Rutka Laskier, a Polish teenager. She wrote her diary beginning at the age of 14, and it spans approximately three months of her life, beginning January 19, 1943.

Rutka describes, in depth, her fluctuating emotions during the time period, and her diary reflects the ups and downs, the roller coaster of emotions, that most teenagers feel. From typical feelings of love and jealousy, to familial discontent, to the German occupation, Rutka defines life during the Holocaust through her eyes and voice. Yet, those emotions and her thoughts are coupled with the fact that she is astutely aware of the what is occurring, of Holocaust and its ramifications to humanity. Rutka’s writing gives voice and witness to the realities of the Holocaust.

Rutka wrote her thoughts and emotions in her diary, and asked her non-Jewish friend, Stanislawa Sapinska, to save it, if and when, Rutka and her family were moved from their apartment in Bedzin to the Ghetto, or if they were deported. There was a predetermined hiding spot. After the war ended, Sapinska returned to the apartment, and located the diary. She held on to it for sixty years. Sapinska’s family convinced her to show its existence, reinforcing to her that it was a part of history, and told about a part of history, that should be shared with the world.

Rutka articulates her thoughts and emotions like that of a more mature person, and not that of a young teenager. She is aware of the consequences that could occur. She knows about the brutality of war, having witnessed some horrors within the confines of daily living.

I recommend this historical book to everyone, young or old, alike. Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust is an amazing accounting of daily life, of the struggles and fears lived every hour of each day, and of the knowledge that one may not live to see the end of war. It is a testament to Rutka Laskier’s strength and willpower, that she had the foresight to want her diary preserved for the world to see. She wanted the truth to be told (even if it was told decades after the fact).


Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice From the Holocaust
should be on a bookshelf in every school classroom, not only for its extreme historical value, but also so that Rutka Laskier’s life will not be forgotten in the time continuum.

The introduction was written by Rutka Laskier’s half-sister, Zahava (Laskier) Scherz. A family biography at the end of the diary, itself, was also written by Scherz.

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

Lorri M. Review: We Survived

we survived We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H.B oehm is a compelling and frank read depicting the deplorable acts thrust upon the Jewish people during World War II.

All of the fourteen stories are overwhelming, and are a critical and insightful look into survival and what one will do in order to thwart all attempts to be imprisoned in concentration camps or killed at the hands of the Nazis. The book depicts the darkness of the days and the living conditions the Jews faced in order to survive. It portrays the lives of those who opposed the Nazis and how they faced their own dilemmas and demise within a country environment of horrific and atrocious proportions. The ugliness and images within the pages conveys the magnitude and reality of the events that occurred, written soon after liberation, when memory was fresh.

The stories evoke an extremely horrific look at the events the individuals found themselves up against. Yet, they are also a humane and poignant perspective of humanity. We Survived is a book that offers hope and inspiration during the most darkest of times.

In my opinion, We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H. Boehm is a book of historical importance that documents the evil forced upon, the persecution of, and the fear of those whose stories are told. I highly recommend We Survived to everyone.

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