Tag Archives: assimilation and identity

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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Filed under Judaism, Novels, Holocaust/Genocide, Book Reviews, Fiction, Lorri's Blog

Lorri M. Book Review: The Tin Horse

thetinhorse The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, Is a book that involves two sisters and their interactions, beginning with their childhood in the Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, CA, during the 1920s-1930s.

Elaine Greenstein relives that childhood, with its secrets, flaws and truths, after coming across a piece of paper in a box of her deceased mother’s belongings. The paper has only an address on it. Is it the last known address of her twin sister Barbara, who ran away from their home, sixty-years earlier?

The address not only sparks the need to search for the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister, but it also evokes memories of times past. Elaine begins tracing her immigrant family ancestry, and finds several surprises within her research.

The need for assimilation is often cause for ambition and for attributes that are forced upon us by societal mores and perspectives. Barbara, although Elaine’s twin, has different ideals and desires than Elaine. They are radically different goals. The Hollywood dream and all of its glamor and dazzle has gripped and enticed her.

Elaine, on the other hand, is more conservative, and doesn’t give in to the world of actors and actresses, and all that is involved within that realm. She is studious and has goals of going to college and becoming a lawyer. And, she did fulfill those goals.

The Tin Horse is filled with individuals who are genetically bound, yet often feel as if they are not a part of the whole. Assimilation takes its toll on the Greenstein family. Old customs don’t often blend with the new. Emotional baggage follows the family from their homeland to their new surroundings. Jewishness and its encompassing traditions are held together with barely any forcefulness, by the slight of few individuals. Family divisions end up in loss, yet also the yearning and love for answers is an ever present aspect of the story. Redemption can be had.

Assimilation is at the forefront of the novel. Along with that, Family dynamics family dynamics plays an important role, as the sisters’ lives are experienced differently within the Jewish family unit, and within the Boyle Heights environment. Along with familial interactions, the reader is taken to a time period that is somewhat tumultuous. The Jewish, Russian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants were competing with native-born citizens in every arena of life. Decent paying jobs are difficult to come by.

I applaud Steinberg for her dedication to researching the time period. Her results are vividly depicted within the pages. The reader has their senses filled with the aromas of the delis, the clothes of the time, the household interiors, the city life with cultural mores and cultural differences. Daily life interactions, both inside the house and the external activities are portrayed with vibrant word-images. The reader can replay, in their mind, the settings with full details due to Steinberg’s masterful writing. I thought the historical aspect of The Tin Horse was well depicted. The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, is almost like taking a trip back in time, a travelogue presented to us in full.

I highly recommend The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, to everyone.

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