Tag Archives: lorri m book review

Review: The Winter Vault

The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels is an intimate account of the lives of husband and wife Avery and Jean. It is a novel that blends historical fact, and one that combines two stories in one. The reader is a witness to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, connecting Montreal and Lake Ontario. We are also witness to the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt.

The reader almost feels as if they are present when the St. Lawrence Seaway is built and when it was completed in 1959.

We are privy to the most intimate of details during the tearing down and reconstruction efforts of the Nubian temple Abu Simbel in order to build the Aswan Dam. The threads of the word images are so strong that my senses were filled to capacity. Minute details are woven and take forms that evoke intense emotions and immense visuals. Historical fact and accuracy is apparent within the intense and compelling content of the pages.

Actions versus consequences are played out with quantitive measurements, causing the logarithms of energy and nature to illuminate and diminish. Both Avery and Jean feel the death toll, the demeaning of civilization, in order to pursue the inevitability of modern man and technology. That is a strong theme woven throughout The Winter Vault.

I remember traveling with my parents when I was an adolescent, to Montreal, and passing over the St. Lawrence River, and remember the awe I felt by the magnitude of the Seaway. We traveled over it at the end of July 1959, a month after the official opening of the Seaway on June 26,1959, from Long Island, New York to Montreal, in order to visit relatives. I distinctly remember my father (who was doing the driving) being completely impressed by the Seaway. But, I wonder now, after reading this book, if he was aware of the displacement of so many lives, communities, homes, businesses, natural environments and habitats, etc., that had to be sacrificed in order to create such a structure.

Avery and Jean’s story begins when they meet, and then in 1964 when, as newlyweds, they leave Toronto to live on a houseboat on the Nile.

Jean is a passionate botanist who was raised by her father due to the death of her mother. She is obsessed with botany and everything relating to growth. Her obsession and passion causes her to bring her mother’s garden wherever she goes. The growth of the plants symbolizes her mother’s nearness.

Avery is an engineer, and he is part of a team that is tearing down and then reconstruct a temple. The analogies between Avery’s love of engineering and his love of Jean coincide, both seemingly occupying the same space. Therein is the problem.

Jean and Avery experience an event that magnifies, amplifies and affects their lives in ways the reader doesn’t expect. This event causes them to separate and return to Canada, where Jean meets a Jewish-Polish artist who fills her soul with the horrific images of the Holocaust, one of mankind’s most destructive, physical events against humanity.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, and won’t divulge any more of the story line. As it is, I have been careful not to divulge too much. Suffice it to say that it is filled with depth, an energy level that is strong, emotional intensity and linguistics that define the historical in formats that are overwhelming.

Births and rebirths fill the lines. Love and grief combine, as does longing and loss. Michaels weaves an esoteric tapestry of time, filled with the essence of humanity and essence of destruction, both physical and architectural.

Her word imagery is strong, extremely magical and surreal, poetic and filled with a sense of time and place. She is masterful with her ability to infuse the pages with technical content, yet write with an almost reverent quality. She evokes an immediacy to return to the past in order to confront the present. She is an archivist and an architect, a poet and a historian. Anne Michaels is an amazing writer whose capacity to incorporate language and visuals is incredible, bringing the science of language and technology to a poetic form, a poetic balance in The Winter Vault.

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

Lorri M. Review: The Essays of George Eliot (Complete)

theessaysofgeorgeelito The Essays of George Eliot (Complete) is an amazing book that gives the reader insight into the mind and the brilliance of George Eliot’s writing. The essays within the pages touch on a multitude of subjects that Eliot was known to evoke controversy over due to her frankness and starkness of thought.

Eliot was critical of trivial plots by women writers who wrote romantic novels to appeal to the female masses. Within her own novels, where romance is involved, Eliot made sure there was a link between romance and self-centeredness and manipulation, and/or romance and the ever evolving woman, along with other standards and issues.

Her essays bring a sense of realism to the reader, opening up to them Eliot’s thought processes and her thinking on issues of women and marriage, women and sense of self, women and fulfillment within marriage, women and independence and feminist ideals, women and manipulation, women and self-idealization, etc. They also depict her aversion to religious practices, especially the Christian dogma and doctrine. The reader of her essays (during the time period) could see her defined as an agnostic, and a woman who has broken her ties to Christianity.

Religion and her views on it played an important role in her essays. Her depiction of religious authoritarians is not very sugar-coated, but rather forthright and critical. From her perspective, she finds them self righteous in their advocacy of Christianity, yet unequivocally liberal in their own personal lives. Yet, they preached condemnation. She abhorred all that Christianity stood for, and it is quite evident in her essays. This did not necessarily bode well with her readers or those who chose to be critical of her writing and the given subjects.

I liked reading the varied aspects of the social stratum, the political environments and the religious aspects within the pages of George Eliot’s essays. They are vital in order to understand the mores and mindsets of the time period. History has been illuminated through her writings.

I enjoyed reading her thoughts on humor versus wit, and how her writings on both exhibit her own theories of situational events and mental growth. She seemed to enjoy comparing men to women in the intelligence aspect. She was a woman of humor, herself, and often depicted it in her novels, although at times quite subtly.

She definitely was opinionated, and did not falter in expressing her views on any subject, no matter the consequences of public condemnation or praise. Her gift with language and vocabulary is sharp and masterful. Her essays sparked debate within the educated class of the 19th century, whether through condemnation or applause.

Her writings reflect her multitude of thoughts and layers of opinions on everything from A to Z that are pertinent to society and social standards. They are intensely written, and filled with seriousness, yet at times a bit of folly is thrown in. George Eliot was a brilliant writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Essays of George Eliot (Complete).

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Lorri M. Review: The Rise of David Levinsky

theriseofdavidlev The rise of David Levinsky, by Abraham Cahan, is true-to-life in its depiction of the Jewish immigrant experience, leaving nothing to the imagination.

David Levinsky is a Hasidic Jew living a strict Torah-filled life in a Russian village. He comes from a family of poverty, and one that is stringent in Torah study. He is unhappy in his situation, and eventually sails to America, disembarking in New York City.

From the minute he finds himself standing on American soil, Levinsky’s journey begins, taking him into the heart of socialization and cultural displacement, a displacement he avidly tries to overcome. Assimilation and secularism are part of his learning experiences.

He is a fast learner, as far as trying to fit into society’s demands. He is insightful as far as his exterior environment, and realizes that in order to succeed he must learn to speak English, not act as if he is a greenhorn, dress as if he is successful, and coordinate his mannerisms to an ideal that will let him succeed. He has programmed himself to not only fit in, but also to a mode of obtaining financial stability. All this, he manages to eventually accomplish, within the realm of his goals of being a proper, shrewd and prosperous businessman.

The streets of New York City are depicted with amazing clarity. Cahan knows from where those streets lead, as he, himself was a Jewish immigrant, arriving in Philadelphia in 1882, and then quickly traveling to New York City. He eventually worked his way up, through his social learnings, and eventually founded the Jewish Daily Forward.

His story could almost be Levinsky’s story. The learnings and social stigmas that Levinsky had to overcome in order to succeed in business, are portrayed with brutal clarity within the novel. I am sure Cahan’s own immigrant and assimilation experiences fill many of the pages.

The latter part of the 19th century is detailed in every aspect. I was amazed at the incredible details that exhaled from the pages. From there, through the early 20th century, the reader is taken back in time to every conceivable issue, from religion to education, sex to romantic, social to assimilation, business to materialism, and so much more. Each facet of society and its doings are examined, especially those involving the lower east side of New York City.

Levinsky’s desire for success and desire to become rich are documented through all of his dealings. From business banking to storefronts, cloak making and competititors, and eventual warehouses, each facet of his business dealings incorporate his very desire to build an empire, and build it he does.

Within those structures, he also involves himself with women, and the women that he finds most attractive are ones that he can not have. His wealth and empire can not buy him love. His sense of home and family is lacking. Levinsky rose in stature and success, yet his reputation and the respect he gained did not foster a sense of family or belonging within his environment. He gained financial success beyond his wildest dreams, only to fail in the romance department.

I read The Rise of David Levinsky always mindful of when it was written, always mindful of the language, grammar, and usage of slang, Yiddish and linguistics of the time period. I felt that to be extremely important in order to gain a sense of time and socialization.

Cahan has given this reader a sense of the late 19th century-early twentieth century New York City. My senses were filled with the streets of New York, the homes of New York, the business wheelings and dealings of New York. They were filled with the experience of immigrant life in all of its ugliness, hardships, demeaning attitudes, strivings to survive and so much more. I applaud Abraham Cahan for his accomplishment.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Lorri M. Review: Orphan Train

orphantrain Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline was quite the historical novel. I had never heard of the term “orphan train” (and I have a few decades behind me), and found out through reading the novel that it was a factual event in American history.

According to Wikipedia: “The Orphan Train Movement was a welfare program that transported children from crowded cities of the United States, such as New York City and Boston, to willing foster homes across the country. The orphan trains ran between 1853 and 1929, relocating an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. At the time the orphan train movement began, reformers estimated that 30,000 vagrant children were living on the streets of New York City.”

I was quite shocked to realize that not only was the novel based on actual incidents, but also shocked at the extent of the movement.

The novel has two main characters, 17-year old Molly Ayer and 91-year old Vivian Daly. Molly is in the foster care system, living with a family that is torn regarding her. Her foster father likes her, her foster mother can’t tolerate her, she is in it for the monthly income they get for caring for Molly. They come together under unusual circumstances. Molly is fulfilling community service to keep her out of juvenile hall by helping Vivian clean out her attic of decades of boxes and collected items.

When Molly first encounters Vivian, she is an obnoxious teenager, and has to hold her tongue in check in order to remain somewhat civil towards Vivian. Vivian feels a sense of an underlying anger within Molly’s soul. During Molly’s time helping Vivian, she begins to soften her attitude due to the stories that Vivian relays to her, regarding her life during her childhood. Molly has her own stories to tell, and tell them to Vivian, she does.

Through the two of them opening boxes, looking over mementos, clothes and other items, they become emotionally attached to each other. With each item that is uncovered there is one that Vivian reflects upon, and the story is relayed to Molly. It seems the two of them are more alike than either of the imagined.

Molly, begins to see the world differently, with a more realistic viewpoint, and with a deeper understanding of who she is in the scheme of things.

I felt the characters were extremely realized, and were believable. I was fascinated, and also saddened, by the events regarding the orphan train. Many of the children were farmed out, literally, to live on farms where they were mistreated and used for labor purposes. It was an eye-opener, and after I finished reading it, I began to wonder how I had never heard of it. The movement began in New York City, run by Catholic Charities. I don’t remember it being taught in school, and I was schooled on Long Island, New York.

The story is written with sensitivity, but also with truth, blended together in a brilliant story line. Youth and aging co-exist in a lovely story, and one that could have occurred, as far as Molly and Vivian’s relationship. The writing was vividly detailed, and scenes seemed so realistic, I could visualize them happening.

Christina Baker Kline certainly did her research, and her writing displays it. I highly recommend Orphan Train to everyone! It was a book that is historically important, even though it is a novel. It is a book that I couldn’t put down until I finished it.

Ⓒ All rights reserved © Copyright 2007 – 2013 – 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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Lorri M. Review: Great House

greathouse Healing and the need for validation are significant aspects within the pages of Great House, by Nicole Krauss.

The lives that unfold are not necessarily connected in the present, yet connected within the time continuum, within the folds of history dating back to the destruction of the Temple. One desk, with a locked drawer, sets off questioning within each person involved in the story. Insights begin to illuminate, fostered by an inanimate object, and the desk is often looked at as almost human-like. The desk is seen by some as a sense of security, yet it is really more displacing to the one who owns it. That is one of the sad issues in the story.

Krauss has created mindsets that encompass the various folds of the Jewish religion, and encompass the issues that Jews have faced throughout history.

The inanimate may harbor memories of the past, just through the process of ownership, but in the living are where memories are housed, within compartments of the mind. At times we choose to open a compartment and remember. At times we keep those memories locked in a compartment, never to be released. Yet those memories remain within us, running through our DNA, our veins from one generation to the next.

Krauss enhances the themes within the pages, and one in particular, transitions back to the destruction of the Temple. Great House is an analogy and metaphor for the Temple and what it stood for. It was THE GREAT HOUSE. We all hold the key to our unlocked stories, albeit, some might be to painful to release. As a whole unit of Jews, they hold a collective key to their past, a past blighted by the destruction of the Temple/Great House, the foundation of Jewish education and history that is carried through the generations, with cognizance or otherwise.

The Jewish people needed to heal through the centuries from all the losses, genocide, destruction, and statelessness. The sense of belonging that is the glue holding them together is a strong theme within the pages, although to some it may seem minor.

Memory and loss might lie dormant within the minds of some of the characters, much like the inanimate desk with its locked drawer. But, at the surface of the different individuals reigns the sameness of reclusive living and aloneness, and the sameness of memory’s repression of Self, and memory’s distortion of the past.

This was my second reading of this novel, and I am glad to have reread it, and did find it still, if not more, illuminating the second time around. Nicole Krauss is brilliant with word-imagery and in infusing the reader with questions to ponder regarding Judaism, its history and its legacy. Questioning and seeking answers is not unique in Judaism. I recommend Great House for those reasons.

© Copyright 2007 – 2013 – 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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Lorri M. Review: We Were Europeans

wewereeuropeans We Were Europeans: A Personal History of a Turbulent Century, by Werner M. Loval, is book that portrays an incredible, personal, family/ancestral journey, both before World War II, and post war.

Loval came from a respected, well off, German-Jewish family, and before the war they were treated with dignity within their community. That all ended beginning on January 30,1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. F rom that point forward, Loval’s story takes on dimensions that are precarious and horrendous, as he and his family fight to survive.

He and his sister eventually became part of the Kindertransport to England, while his parents eventually were able to escape to Ecuador, via Siberia and Japan, where the entire family was reunited. The family emigrated to America after the war. Loval eventually emigrated to Israel and played an intricate and highly professional role within the Diplomatic Service for the State of Israel. His religious foundations were strong, and he was involved in the Reform Jewish movement, and played a high profile role within it.

To say I am impressed with the format would be an understatement. I am in awe of We Were Europeans and the way Loval presents it to us. He infuses the pages with incredible documentation, amazing photographs, documents and maps, that enhance the pages of this compelling memoir, adding more drama to the presented depictions of the turbulence. From personal reflections and stories, the pages hold eye witness accounts to history as it happens, through Loval’s writing and presentation of supported evidence and documents.



Loval’s endeavors and arduous research has brought the reader into the depths of the Nazi turbulence, adversity and shocking horrors that overtook Europe during Hitler’s reign. First-hand accounts abound, and Loval leaves nothing to the imagination through his stark imagery. From correspondence to diaries during the haunting war years and afterwards, to diaries and letters during the Six Day War and so much more, the reader is painted vivid pictures of family inspiration during time of crisis. The post war events are just as compelling and intensely stated, as Loval involves himself in trying to get restitution for property owned by his family.

Loval and his family lived their lives to the fullest with a positive attitude, no matter the extreme harshness of their circumstances, no matter how far spread, at varied points in time, the family separation was across the global perspective. The illuminating photographs, documents and word-paintings are incredible testimonies to eras gone by, to familial bonds, to the determination and strength to persevere and survive, both during and after World War II.

We Were Europeans is a book of extreme importance and historical value for historians, for researchers, genealogists, for those who are interested in the Holocaust and World War II, and for those individuals, in general, who want to learn more about the turbulent times depicted within the pages. The intensity of the memoir is beyond imagination and comprehension. It is a powerful statement and testimony, not only to the decades, events and circumstances depicted, but to the Loval family unit. Their story is extremely inspiring, and I highly recommend We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval to everyone.

© Copyright 2007 – 2013 – 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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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, Non-Fiction