Tag Archives: historical novels

Jewaicious Review – The Welsh Girl

the welsh girl The Welsh Girl, by Peter Ho Davies is an exceptional novel that takes place during World War II. It is both poignant and a love story, yet it has its mystery and intrigue, also.

The setting takes place in a village in the mountains of Wales, where Esther Evans and her farmer father live. The story explores the relationship between land and sheep, shepherd, farmer and sheep, and the intuitive and innate qualities of man and animal, not only to each other, but to the environment.

Esther falls in love with a young German Corporal by the name of Karsten Simmering. Think about the definition of the word “simmering“, because the meaning of his surname is a vital part of his character. I won’t say more, as I will end up divulging too much.

One thing I like about The Welsh Girl is Davies‘ use of analogy and symbolism. Starting with the word “Welsh”, which is in the title, it doesn’t only describe or suggest a location, language or the country of Wales. The word also means “to cheat someone or not pay a debt“, and it can mean “to renege or to break one’s word“. Language is an important aspect within the book.

The novel leads one to ponder many things. What is one’s word, promise or oath? During war people say and do things that they might not ordinarily do. War breeds love and loss, and breeds so many other things within its circumstances and environments. From sheep farming, Rudolph Hess, a German Jew, Welsh pubs, a German POW camp, a German Corporal, and so much more, The “Welsh Girl” pulls it all within its pages.

Davies handles all of this in a well-articulated novel of war and love, loss, redemption and identity. He brings factual elements of history into The Welsh Girl, and brings a sensitivity to the characters, whether they deserve it or not. His brilliance in sweeping out the good and evil within people is insightful.

Davies brings us a sweeping saga of love, loss and redemption under the harsh events of World War II. Bravo to Peter Ho Davies for an excellent story that is filled with detailed word imagery filling all of our senses!

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Jewaicious Review – City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan by Beverly Swerling, is a well-researched book that is filled with excellent historical value and factual information concerning New Amsterdam from the 1660s and five successive generations. Swerling recreates the time periods with fluid blends, giving our imaginations a peek at what life was like during the generations that span the novel, beginning with Amsterdam, when it was first settled.

Governor Peter Stuyvesant and his family are portrayed with masterful prose, especially depicting Stuyvesant as a brutal tyrant and controlling figure during the settlement of New Amsterdam. His household structure is helped along by Lucas and Sally Turner, who emigrated from England. Their determination through Lucas’ skill as a surgeon and through Sally’s skills as an apothecary help not only the Stuyvesant family, but also help them gain respect and reputations in their field.

This eventually leads to discord between the brother and sister, causing them to drift apart due to Lucas literally selling Sally’s hand in marriage to a physician named Jacob Van der Vries, The family links continue to be broken between Lucas and Sally and are never repaired. It affects the familial lines for generations.

The book becomes quite enhanced by characters of various religions, including Jewish families, Christians of several faiths, and those of other religious practices, who have one viewpoint within their environment, unable to see beyond their spiritual border. The novel swells with culture, daily lifestyle and living. We are shown the various dwellers that inhabit the Island, and how each one must try to come to terms with the ethnic environments that surround them. From the poor and poverty stricken to thugs, from landowners to slaves, patriotic individuals to anarchists, thieves and profiteers, shrewd businessmen and those trying to survive on the streets, and so on, Swerling paints a picture of New Amsterdam beginnings through the Revolutionary War. Her prose is compelling, intriguing and riveting. For me the novel was a page-turner.
Swerling is quite the prolific writer of extremely detailed prose, especially in her telling of early surgery and early medicine and cures. I was astounded and glued to the pages due to the abundance of obvious research involved in order for her to present such detailed accountings to the reader.

I love this book on so many levels, and being a native New Yorker (although, transplanted), the story spoke to me, and filled all of my senses. The word imagery is incredible. I was amazed at the minute details that embrace the story, from how the first settlers built the city from scratch, to the harshness of life in New Amsterdam, including the crime and moral standards. We see families trying to gain control of land and people, however they can, no detail is spared in conveying the situations. From brother and sister, who have close familial ties, to separations within families, each side feeling they are correct in their anger and beliefs, each side coming out somewhat the loser for their hatred.

Swerling leads us through the bitter streets of New Amsterdam. In the end, we find that times haven’t changed that much…the diversity of the population and the religious backgrounds, fed hatred and discrimination then, as the cultural and social interplays continue to do so in modern day. It was a sad state of affairs then, and it still is in many respects, now. Although Swerling masterfully writes regarding an earlier time period, excepting for the lifestyle and what was available during the time periods presented, most societal, economical and cultural issues have not changed, only the technology has.

In my opinion, that is the lesson that Beverly Swerling tries to instill in us, within the pages of City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan. I highly recommend this historical novel to everyone. It is an amazing accomplishment, and I feel the novel is a literary must-read.

As an aside: This novel is the first of several by Beverly Swerling. I own all of her books, and have read them all. I read her works eagerly.

May 24, 2012 – 3 Sivan, 5772

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Judaism, Novels

Jewaicious Review – The Town Beyond the Wall

   Once again, in The Town Beyond the Wall, Elie Wiesel has brought us a novel in which he infuses pieces of himself within the pages, through the narrator, named Michael.  Michael is a Jew, and he is a survivor of the Holocaust. He is haunted by the past, by memories that he tries to hold on to, holding on literally for survival.  He is in constant search for validation and the meaning of life. He ruminates, contemplates, and examines, but he does not always find answers.

Some circumstances hold no answers, and there are no clear cut reasons for the occurrences.  The novel questions whether you can return to where your life began, to where you spent the first youthful formative years of your life, to where your life as you knew it ended, and not feel some form of pain or suffering.  The clear message is that to do so would be to blot out those who came before you.

Wiesel implies that suffering is man’s worst nightmare, where cowardice and courage can’t blend together with a firm, peaceful or true resolution. It is either one or the other, but not both.  He is masterful in his writing, and leaves us to ponder much. I have never read a book by Elie Wiesel that I didn’t like, and The Town Beyond the Wall is no different.  In fact, it is intense, compelling, thought-provoking, and is a novel that caused this reader to weigh, with deep thought, the aspects of remembrance and its extreme importance in all facets of life.  I highly recommend it to everyone.

I personally own and have read this book.

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