Tag Archives: Jewaicious book review

Book Review – The Promised Land

the promised land The Promised Land, by Mary Antin,, is an exceptional book in many respects.

Mary Antin was a distinguished writer in her time, and her account of the immigrant experience is unique on several levels.

The first half of the book deals with her childhood in Russia, before emigrating. The second half describes her experience assimilating into American life, and her struggles with religion and daily interactions.

It was obvious to me that Antin projected two faces. One face is the face of her cultural background resulting from her upbringing in Russia. The other face is her face that she projects within her new environment in America, as she tries to settle in and not be defined as a “greenhorn”.

Although Antin seems to be a bit self-centered at times, I still feel that the book is an excellent resource into the immigrant experience. She is cognitive of her appearance, her attitude and her ability to show two sides of herself. That does not diminish the fact that she continues to interact in that manner. It is her way of assimilating into her external surroundings, and her way of retaining some of her cultural heritage at home.

Antin’s descriptions are filled with clarity, and considering the era in which the book was written, I found it to be an excellent example of an immigrant trying to find her way in a new land, a new cultural environment and world.

She was a fast learner, and she endeavored to be seen as an American in every facet. She shed her Russian background as quickly as possible, shed her accent as best she could, and succeeded in displaying herself naturally fitting into her new environment.

Her public education was her starting point, and from there she became involved in social causes. She rallied for the allies, she rallied for immigration rights, other causes, and her voice was a beacon for the immigrant.

The Promised Land
was a successful book for its time, and Antin revealed how a young girl managed to survive and respond to the new life presented her, and to the cultural situations she faced.

Some may find the book uninteresting, and find it to be lacking. I read it with the knowledge it was written in 1912. I found it to be a book written by a woman who realizes she is self-centered, and admits it within the pages. Yet, that very trait helped her gain footing and helped her to fit into her new surroundings. Therein lies the uniqueness.

Mary Antin
was was lauded for her writing, in her own life time.

I recommend The Promised Land for its important historical and cultural content. I found it to be a fascinating look into the assimilation experience.

© Copyright 2007 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

December 10, 2012 – 26 Kislev, 5773

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Book Review – Change of Heart

A Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult is an excellent novel that examines several factors, from the death penalty to religion and politics, and to the dynamics of organ donation.

Shay Bourne is awaiting execution on death row in New Hampshire, for the murder of policeman Kurt Nealon and his stepdaughter, Elizabeth. Bourne wants to donate his heart to Claire, sister of murdered victim, Elizabeth. It will be the first execution in 69 years. Bourne feels it is the only way he can find redemption and salvation, within his personal spiritual belief. The problem is that in order to donate his heart to Claire, death must be by hanging in order for the heart to be able to be useful, and he has been sentenced to death by lethal injection.

It is not without reason that I find Picoult named the prisoner Shay Bourne. The given name Shay in Hebrew means supplanter and also gift, and the Irish meaning is hawk and also can mean admirable, while the Gaelic meaning is gift. The surname Bourne means spring or stream, or one who lives near a spring or stream, or even border/boundary. It can also mean birth, beginning, rebirth. The variable meanings of these names can apply to the personality, mindset, and the endeavor of Shay Bourne to donate his heart to Claire.

Change of Heart is like a woven tapestry, and alternates between Bourne, June Nealon..wife of Kurt, Michael…a priest who was on the jury that convicted Bourne… now Bourne’s spiritual advisor, Lucius…a prisoner, Maggie…Jewish and an ACLU representative, and finally, Claire…who is awaiting a heart transplant. We view the events unrolling through their individual perspectives.

Shay is viewed by some as the Messiah, due to certain incidents in prison where others feel he performed miracles, such as reviving a dead bird, bringing wine through the prison water system, etc. The Gnostic Gospels come into play, also, as Bourne seems to be able to quote from them, with sayings supposedly made by Jesus. Bourne becomes a martyr of sorts for the death penalty.

Jodi Picoult has written a compelling novel, on many levels, including mother-daughter relationships, prisoner rights in relation to religious beliefs and their choice of how to die, forgiveness and love, and church and state. Many questions arise. At what point is organized religion the answer to our faith? Can religious boundaries be crossed through over-zealousness? Is the death penalty the answer to murder? Should prisoners donate organs? There are many thoughts to ponder, and no clear or definitive answer to the questions that are conjured in our mind. Jodi Picoult brings those issues to the forefront in

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Review – In My Mother’s House

“In My Mother’s House”, by Margaret McMullan is a poignant book that leaves us to question the meaning of religion and identity, and question the strength of familial ties.

“Before you, before your father, I had another life. Sometimes I feel as though I were another person altogether. I know that what had to do with me, does have something to do with you.”

The intensity of those words echo within the lines and pages of this compelling and well written novel. Generations of women, mothers and daughters, are woven into a tapestry of time and place. Beginning in Austria, the story weaves through England, Mississipi, and Chicago, the threads of relationships often taut and unyielding, as mother and daughter struggle to find their identities.

Genevieve, the mother, and Jenny, the daughter, both lived in Austria before World War II, and both escaped from Austria. Wiith that escape, Genevieve leaves behind her sense of Self, her identity, in order for her and her daughter to reinvent themselves in a new country.

But, the past never leaves, and it remains as a constant, as the quilt of time appears, pieces sewn together, as stories are told from both perspective. McMullan infuses the historical aspect, with every life detail, in a brilliantly written novel. It is written so explicitly, that we visualize what life was like, as McMullan’s prose cuts through our senses, each one becoming alive with the scents, sounds, sights, tastes and touches of Austria, before its collapse.

Genevieve constantly struggles to shield her daughter from the past, but Jenny constantly strives to find out about the past, and comes closer with each step to her Jewish ancestry, even going so far as to convert to Judaism. Every fiber of her being searches for her identity, and every fiber of Genevieve’s being tries to surpress her past, in order to forget the familial horrors. Time sometimes changes things, but most often, it doesn’t, the past lingers on…in our minds and emotions.

They are mother and daughter, yet their lives are parallel, and McMullan’s use of alternating chapters reinforces and strengthens that theory. A mother tries to close the gap in time’s fabric by silence, a daughter tries to open the tight stitch work through constant questions and research.

This is a book about familial ties, feeling connected, and a book about self-identity, assimilation, and redemption. I recommend this well-written achievement to everyone who is trying to understand war, and its effects on family connections, before, during and after-the-fact. “In My Mother’s House” is compelling, and Margaret McMullan takes us back through time, into one of history’s darkest periods, with sensitivity, excellence, and with insight into the human condition under extreme adversity.

I personally own, and have read, this book.
© Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Jewaicious Book Review – The Way Into Judaism and the Environment

Nature can also be a state of mind, illuminating from your mental image, and your spiritual being. Torah and nature coexist quite comfortably, in my environment.

I found the book The Way Into Judaism and the Environment, by Jeremy Benstein, PhD, to be quite helpful in matters regarding encompassing Jewish practice and Jewish life. It’s an excellent book, informative on the issues relating to Jews and environmentalism, and their understanding of nature. The six chapters are formatted well, and here are the chapter titles:

1. Emet Ve’emunot: Environmentalism, Religion, and the Environmental Crisis in Context
2. Bereishit Bara’: Creator, Creating, Creation, Cretures and Us
3. Lishmor La’asot U’lekayem: Traditional Sources and Resources
4. Olam Umelo’o: Contemporary Topics and Issues
5. Chagim Uzmanin: Cycles in Time, Sacraments in Life
6. Ha’am Ve’Ha’aretz: The Land of Israel and a Jewish Sense of Place

As you can see from the chapter titles, the book doesn’t only deal with nature and the environment. Within the pages lie quotations, biblical references, time and place, Earth’s beginnings, etc., all incorporated within Judaism’s traditions. The Way Into Judaism and the Environment is an excellent resource expanding on the current, pertinent environmental and global issues. Benstein believes that “a sustainable society is one that integrates social, environmental, and economic concerns of health and justice, and can both sustain itself over time, living up to responsibilities to future generations…”

Benstein infuses Torah within the realms of today and tomorrow, and the human responsibility for the preservation of our planet for future use. His articulation is masterful, is message is strong in its expansion and enhancement of nature and Judaism. After finishing the book, the reader is left with much to ponder. Jeremy Benstein, PhD, shows us how we can root ourselves in Judaism and Torah, and how we can combine nature and our spirituality in our daily lives. It is a must read for anyone concerned with today’s “green planet” and environmental issues, and issues of society and humanity within the framework of the planet Earth.

For more Jewish-related environmental information, visit The Big Green Jewish Website.

August 23, 2012 – 5 Elul, 5772

Copyright 2007, L.M. No permission is given to reproduce, copy or use my writings or photographs in any manner.

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Jewaicious Review – The Jewish Husband

The Jewish Husband, by Lia Levi is a novel that encompasses the years of fascism in Italy. The book details the pitfalls of passion and repression, love and loss, assimilation, and infliction of pain and suffering.

The format of the book is unique in the aspect that it is written as a series of letters to an unnamed individual, living in Italy. Each letter reveals a little more about Dino’s life. The reader eventually finds out who the letters are written to in the last fifth of the novel. The letters are being written in 1967, by Dino Carpi, an aging Jewish man, who lives in Tel Aviv and teaches high school. The letters describe how Dino met Sonia Gentile (yes, the surname is correct), and how he feel in love with her, basically, at first sight.

Dino was born in his parent’s hotel, the Albergo della Magnolia, and raised there in a private apartment on the top floor of the hotel. It was his home and his parent’s home, even though it was a hotel. His paternal grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew, and was able to assimilate in Italy without difficulty, according to Dino. The family name was changed from Katz to Carpi in order to sound more Italian. His mother was a “Roman Jewess”, descended from a long line of Italian shopkeepers.

Fast forward to New Year’s eve 1930, when Dino met Sonia in his parent’s hotel ballroom, as she lay on the floor, writhing in pain, after falling. “She was beautiful. In her luminescent grey and silver evening gown she looked like a mermaid caught in a net, struggling for survival.” From there Dino and Sonia’s romance begins.

Dino and Sonia begin courting, and he doesn’t initially tell her he is Jewish, as he doesn’t find it relevant. He considers himself and his family “Yom Kippur Jews”. When they speak of marriage, and she finds out he is Jewish, she is extremely upset, and states that her father won’t accept her marrying a Jew. Her family are devout Catholics.

Sonia’s father, Giuseppe Gentile, is a passionate fascist, and he is a highly respected and affluent banker. Appearances and social status are extremely important to most of the Gentile family. Dino had to make concessions and agree to certain conditions in order to marry Sonia. He basically had to give up his identity, deny his Jewishness, in order to conform to the Gentile family standards. They eventually marry in a Catholic church ceremony.

The years go by, and the restrictions on the Jews in Italy become tighter, oppressing them in business, and all daily life events and interactions, etc., during the age of 1938 fascist Italy’s race laws. Giuseppe Gentile’s ardent passion in fascism becomes a major issue in Dino and Sonia’s marriage.

I will leave the story line at that. If I go into much more, the plot will be spoiled.

In a time when Jewish Italians are not deemed to be of Italian descent or acknowledged to even be Italian citizens in any respect, Dino’s choices to blend in are what cause him despair. He makes decisions that will ultimately have dire consequences for him and for his family. Assimilation and fitting in to one’s surroundings is a primary theme in The Jewish Husband. The novel is an interesting perspective and study on assimilation, from the viewpoint of the Italian Jews, trying to assimilate within what they see is their own country, their homeland.

The novel moves slowly at times, but the prose is intense within many of the pages, more so during the last half of the book. Do not let any slowness deter you from reading this novel. There are some predictable moments, yet, for some readers, there might be one or two surprises within the story line. Levi writes with forthrightness and vivid imagery, as she tries to inflect how daily life played out during a tumultuous time period. She is sensitive to the issues of romance under adverse conditions, playing the fascist mindset against the Jews, and interjecting the conflicts of a Jewish-Catholic marriage under those circumstances.

There isn’t much written about fascism in Italy, and Lia Levi puts a distinct face on the subject. She gives the reader much to ponder regarding the oppression of the Jews, within the confines of the Italian ghettos and within Italian society as a whole. She writes with clarity and cognizance regarding the daily restrictions placed upon the Jews in Italy during the fascist regime. I am glad to have read the novel, not only for its historical and educational aspect, but also for the story line that blends religion and religious intermarriage. I found the boundaries that religion often forces on couples to be interesting to read and also compelling as far as insight goes. The Jewish Husband is educational in that respect, and also its historical aspect is well researched.

Lia Levi documents the era in time with factual prose, and with prose that will lead the reader to a deeper understanding of blending two religions and marriage.

I recommend The Jewish Husband to every one.

August 9, 2012 –

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Jewaicious Review – The Devil and Miss Prym

Paulo Coelho’s novel, The Devil and Miss Prym, touches on good and evil, and what the difference is between the two, and/or even the similarities. It might read like an adult fairy tale, but that does not lessen the intensity, or diminish the ability to provoke thought about the subject matter, about people, and how far their greed will take them. It also leaves us to wonder about purity of heart.

Miss Prym, is at the forefront of the novel, along with her interactions with a stranger who comes to town. She is given a chance to change the town for decades to come, but will she? And, the residents, once they learn the secret, how will they react? Will greed or fear motivate them? Or, will it be a combination of both? I won’t elaborate on the plot, as you must read this book yourself, and inhale the contents, and take in all of the word-visuals brilliantly written.

Prym could be interpreted as “Prim”, and with Miss Prym’s innocent and pure appearance, her visual essence and illumination might not actually be the way it appears, and her inner core and soul might reflect/hide another radiance.

There is no such thing as good, virtue is just one of the many faces of terror, the voice said.”

What is the difference between good and evil, and do we, as individuals incorporate some of each, in ourselves. Can one flourish without the other. And, is evil produced from fear of the consequences we will receive, or motivated by other forces, external or internal? What about goodness? Is the state of goodness motivated by fear or guilt? These are just some of the questions Paulo Coelho leaves us to ponder in his masterful novel, The Devil and Miss Prym.

I recommend the novel to everyone.

August 6, 2012 – 18 Av, 5772

© Copyright – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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