Category Archives: Book Reviews

Waiting For Robert Capa: A Novel

Waiting For Robert Capa: A novel, by Susana Fortes, is a book that held my interest from beginning until the end, not only because of the photojournalism aspect, but also due to the romantic interests, and the historical aspect. The novel is based on actual individuals who were war photojournalists.

Andre Friedmann, was a struggling photographer, living in Paris. He was a Jewish-Hungarian exile. He had an assignment to take pictures for publicity purposes for a life insurance company. Within that realm, he finds a woman named Ruth Cerf, and asks her to model for him.

Ruth was suspicious, and told him she was bringing a friend along. Her name was Gerta Pohorylle. From there, begins a story line that mingles fact with fiction, and encompasses a story of romance and photojournalism like you have never read before.

Andre and Gerta become known as a couple. They were two young and brilliant individuals trying to maintain a relationship and garner assignments in Spain in order to document the war. And, in order to do so, Gerta came up with the bright idea to change their names in order to gain recognition.

First she changes Andre’s name to Robert Capa, eliminating his Jewish surname. She becomes his self-appointed “agent”. Eventually she changes her name to Gerda Taro. She wanted to be independent, and be recognized for her own work, rather than her photographs be included in Robert’s work without a byline. She literally became the first female war photographer who involved herself in the midst of battle. He became infamous in the world of photography for his extremely hardline images, leaving nothing to chance or to the imagination. To say they found themselves in unbelievable circumstances, is an understatement.

They were right there, within the action, each one, documenting war through photography, putting their lives at risk in order to capture the ravages and horrors of war. Those efforts and circumstances changed the face of war photography forever. From that point forward, war was seen by millions of individuals in ways that they never imagined.

Capa’s photographs depict tumultuous moments. His photograph “Death of a Loyalist Militiaman“, became the poster child, so to speak, for the Spanish Civil War. It is an incredible image, and one that depicts the moment of one man’s death, literally. With one click of the camera, he captured death as it occurred. He never lived that image down, due to speculation that it was staged. He denied it, but there were the nonbelievers. It followed him for the rest of his life.

As a side note-I knew of Robert Capa’s war photography, especially his work regarding D-Day, and other images during that document World War II. I knew of Gerda Taro. But, I did not know about their relationship.

I won’t go any further with details, because the novel is too compelling and intense. Suffice it to say, the love story is depicted with realism and deep intimate moments. The war angle and photography moments are intensely written and portrayed. Susana Fortes is masterful at keeping the reader interested, and masterful in illuminating her word images.

I recommend Waiting For Robert Capa: A Novel. The historical information, alone, makes it more than an excellent read. Combine that with the romantic story of two brilliant individuals whose work will live on, and keep their brilliance and efforts alive, and you have a book difficult to put down.

~~~

To view some of the incredible photographs that were taken by Robert Capa, visit Magnum Photos. I was absorbed in all of them, but the ones from Italy 1943-1944 spoke to me, as my father was involved in the liberation of Italy. I was also amazed at the D-Day photographs, and remember seeing many of them while growing up, in various literary magazines and in newspapers.

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

Jewish Book Carnival for February 2015

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Leora’s blog, Sketching Out, is hosting the February Jewish Book Carnival 2015. Please take the time to visit and browse the resources/links.

From a beautiful photograph, to a podcast, from book discussions and book reviews to poetry and the Sydney Taylor Award 2015 Blog Tour, there is something there for everyone!

Shavua Tov! Have a great week!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction, Novels

Review: A Perfect Peace

Amos Oz’s novel, A Perfect Peace, brings the reader a bit of an inside look into life within the kibbutz environment. Set in Israel, as most of his books are, it was quite the insightful story. The 1960s kibbutz setting emphasized the harshness and the difficulties the individuals had to go through in order to find a sense of place, sense of Self and sense of peace.

The characters were floundering for varied reasons, and their mindsets were brought to the forefront by Oz’s masterful writing. From first-generation disenchantment with kibbutz life in the stifling environment, where “privacy” is only a word, to the almost guinea pig atmosphere of life, Oz confronts the issues of daily life with strength and uncompromising honesty.

Through Oz’s honest appraisal, the reader is given privy to the corruption that runs rampant throughout the kibbutz and the state, within the pages. It is not an idealistic story in that respect. Some of the less than ideal situations causes much disharmony within the kibbutz, where life is stifling to begin with. In the view of a few of the first generation to be born on an Israel kibbutz, kibbutz life was stifling.

We are given access to the mindsets of the characters, and their disillusions, anger and rage, questioning of ethics and questioning of participation in the humane along with the non-humane running of a tight ship, almost in a tyrannical fashion. Lack of motivation leads one man in particular, named Yoni, to want to leave the kibbutz in order to find what he believes he is missing. He feels there must be something better and more worthwhile outside of the confines of his daily life.

Yet, another individual tries to move in, and is in constant fear of being turned away, and of not being accepted and liked by others. His trials and tribulations take different paths than Yoni’s.

Oz understood the social, political, emotional and environmental aspects. He lived on a kibbutz beginning in his early teens and continued to do so through 1986. I applaud him for his excellent and brilliant word-images he presents us, and for his mastery in not only conveying corruption, but also in conveying the kibbutz life in all of its essences.

I read the book to learn more about kibbutz life, and once I was finished, I realized that for some, kibbutz life affected the first-generation in ways that have not usually been written about. Life was not easy, was harsh, was not conceived as individualistic. Each individual was a part of the whole, part of the kibbutz community. Each child seemingly had more than one mother and father.

How this upbringing impacted the children gives one food for thought. Most of the adults were escaping a pogrom, escaping Holocaust-related events, tyranny, antisemitic abuse. The were also escaping in order to find a better life. The kibbutz was a form of communal effort and struggles, some of which did not afford the adults the dreams they had wished for.

Those dreams were quashed and their children were raised with firm hands and old ideas and ideals. In essence, their own dreams (children’s) were not given any credence, and they came to regard those dreams as being unfulfillable. The story line was quite illuminating in that respect.

I want to make something clear. My review is not meant to be in anyway reflective of a negative attitude on my part. I have relatives and friends who spent part of their teen years or young adult years on one, and had wonderful experiences. The novel details one kibbutz of many, and a few individuals living in that kibbutz, along with their own baggage.

I recommend A Perfect Peace to everyone.

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

Review: Fire in the Blood

Fire in the Blood, by Irene Nemirovsky, translated from the French by Sandra Smith, is an illuminating work in many aspects, in my opinion.

“It was an autumn evening, the whole sky red above the sodden fields of turned earth.” So begins the second sentence of the first page, setting the languid tone for the rest of the book. The novel doesn’t have a sense of extreme urgency, and I attribute this to the fact that Nemirovsky was mindful and extremely aware, in her writing about country life. The book vividly evokes the preoccupation that the narrator, Silvio, has with the memories of his past.

Silvio, in his middle age, likes nothing more than to sit at home in the evening by the fire, sipping wine and daydreaming of days gone by. He has a passion (his own unique “fire“) for writing in his journal about the past and the lives of others, a passion born through his youthful travels and romances. He seems content, until circumstances cause a spark, and his “fire” begins to flare up.

What is apparent to Silvio, is not necessarily apparent to those who reside in the seemingly idyllic countryside. The cold and often frigid personalities, are seemingly uncaring, wrapped up in their own lives, yet vividly aware of every happening within the confines of their world, each incident passed down through the generations. Silvio is almost like a bystander, as if he is watching the lives of three women from behind a curtain. Nemirovsky brings us a story line with three distinct women seeking peace, happiness and love. How their lives intertwine, and how their love and betrayals interweave is told brilliantly by Nemirovsky, through word imagery that heightens our senses, bringing us flashes of country scents, food for the soul, time and place, in the countryside of France.

The old cliche that “blood is thicker than water“, holds true regarding the adult children in this novel. They display the same “fire in the blood“, the same passion as their mother did. The “fire” has been passed down from one generation to the next, ignited and blazing full force, slowly turning into burning embers on a pyre, in the flicker of time, until the last remnants of ash turn to darkness.

One must read this in order to fully comprehend my review. I can not give away too many details, without divulging essential parts of the story.

Nemirovsky was extremely cognizant of the culture and mores of the era pre-World War I. Her novel is a brilliantly told story, and a sentient reflection on country life, the light and eventual darkness, the fire and the eventual defusing of the embers.

“Until recently only a partial text of Fire in the Blood was thought to exist, typed up by Irene Nemirovsky’s husband, Michel Epstein, to whom she often passed her manuscripts for this purpose. Two additional pages were found to have been in the suitcase that Nemirovsky’s daughter, Denise Epstein, carried with her.” More pages were later found, and you can read about that in the “Note on the Text“, in the front of the book. You will also want to read the “Preface to the French Addition” in the back of the book.

Irene Nemirovsky died at Auschwitz, and her death is listed as Typhus, but recent documents suggest otherwise.

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

Review: The Color of Courage: A Boy at War

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski, is an incredible book, presented from his diary, depicting life during wartime with astuteness and courage.

Will and courage surround Julian Kulski, when at the age of 12, he is recruited into the Underground Army. From that point, forward, his life will never be the same, and his strength and determination to survive is a testament to his courage.

Beginning with his involvement with the Boy Scouts, emerges an adolescent with the resolve of an adult, a young boy wise beyond his years. He trains in military style, learns the ins and outs of various weapons, and eventually is involved in a secret endeavor. The endeavor involves the Warsaw Ghetto, where he goes with his commander.

World War II and its staunch tactics employed by Hitler forced many to live lives of devoid of family, devoid of hope. But, Julian Kuslki remained hopeful through all of the atrocities he witnessed, and throughout the course of the war.

From his arrest when he was 14 to his being shipped to Auschwitz, and his final days in a POW camp, the story is compelling, forceful, educational and filled with events that are written so vividly, that the reader is amazed that the events actually occurred.

The story within the pages of Kulski’s diary reads like a novel of intrigue, and a spy novel. Let me be clear, it is not a novel, but the actual diary of Kulski, detailing his life from age 12-16 years of age. It is compelling and filled with minute details.

The photographs speak of what once was, lives lived before, during and after the war.

Julian Kulski’s story is finally told, and told with dignity, courage and inspiration. His diary depicts events as they happened, and not sugar-coated in any aspect. The Color of Courage is a book of extreme historical significance, in my opinion.

The diary is a testament to war, to the horrific turbulence, and to the desire to escape the forces surrounding him. I highly recommend The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski to everyone.

I received an Advanced Review Copy (ARC). Its expected release is on November 11, 2014.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs, World War II