Category Archives: Book Reviews

Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante is an Italian author of several books that have been translated into English. I have read most of them. I am a huge fan of her work. She is an author who has kept her true identity hidden, and retained her not only her identity, but also her sense of Self and her sense of freedom to write what she wants without her identity being thrown into the limelight.

I use the gender ‘she’ when defining her, but in actuality she could be a man. Who knows for sure, only her publisher.

Here is a list of some of her books that I have read:

My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those who Stay
The Days of Abandonment
The Lost Daughter
Troubling Love

I gravitate to her stories of life in Italy, specifically, life in Naples. I become mesmerized with her depictions of the harsh realities of the characters within the framework of poverty, hardship and striving to somehow move forward.

Men compete for attention within each other, the same with the women. But, the men and their insecurities seem to rule the moments, quite often, and their lack of esteem outweighs the women and their own longings and lack of confidence. Women grapple with child-rearing and domesticity, while the men strut and swagger as if they owned the women. Women reign in their own goals for careers, while men often flounder in theirs, yet interact as if they were superior. The Italian, male mindset is a force that is difficult to break down. Women are often left beholden to their mate, even if the relationship is lackluster.

The need to move forward is often stifled due to love interests and also due to emotional borders. Yet, within the stifled lives, there is a sense of motivation that crops up when least expected.

Ferrante’s writing is bold, illuminatingly harsh at times, and brilliant on so many levels. She leaves nothing left unsaid, nothing left to the imagination. She uses prose as if the words were an attack on life, with anger spewing forth, and also uses them with quietude and softness. The comparisons within situations is compelling and defining.

Her novels speak volumes (pun intended), as to the history of the social aspects in Naples, as well as the history of the city, itself. Social dysfunctiuns, familial dysfunctions, and familial dysfunctions are treated brashly, realistically, and with a compelling foundation.

Elena Ferrante’s books help me understand the barriers presented by familial bonds, friendship bonds, and the bonds of love and loss, within the social strata of the Italian environment. Her books speak to me, possibly due to my Italian heritage, but also due to the human condition exhibited within the pages. Humanity is explored in depth within the pages of her books.

Her novel, The Story of a Lost Child, will be published in September. I will definitely purchase it.

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

War and Art

I have read two books that involve the restoring/returning of stolen art, during wartime, to the rightful owner/s. One deals with art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The other book tells a story of a journey to find whether a work of art was stolen during World War I.

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O’Connor, is a true story, and it is the book that the recently released film, The Woman in Gold was based upon.

The book is a vivid depiction, not only regarding Adele Bloch-Bauer, the woman who posed for the artist, but also a compelling story of a work of art, and how one woman’s passion and perseverance led to the finding the provenance of the painting. The trials and tribulations in order to ascertain provenance, in order to prove that the work of art belonged in her family, and that it was stolen, outright, by the Nazis, lasted for a decade.

The Austrian government did not want to release the valuable painting, claiming legal ownership. Maria Altmann, the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, claimed otherwise, stating she was the legal heir to the painting.

The story is illuminating in many aspects. The reader is given snippets of life in Austria, life of the wealthy and how they lived, where they lived, and what the valued. It also is the story of the intricate and minute details involved in trying to gain proof of ownership or provenance. Word of mouth does not work. Documents do not often work, either.

I saw the film, and it was well-done. If I compare it to the book, I would have to say the book was more detailed, whereas the film encompassed dramatic visuals of the time period. I enjoyed both the book and the film, and give them equal share on my enjoyment scale.
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The second book, entitled, The Girl You Left Behind: A Novel, by Jojo Moyes, depicts one family’s struggle to survive during World War I, in a small town in the outskirts of Paris.

Sophie Lefevre’s husband Edouard is a painter. He painted a portrait of Sophie, which is stunning. He eventually must leave in order to fight the Germans. Those Germans eventually occupy the town, and take over the small bar/cafe enterprise that Sophie and her sister operate. The Kommandant and his soldiers are to have dinner prepared for them every night, no questions asked. It is a command that can not be refused.

Fast forward to the present, and Liv Halston, a widow of four years, has the painting hanging in her home. From there the story begins to move quicker.

She is quite insistent that the painting, bought by her husband, for her, is legally hers. She involves herself and others in a battle for ownership. From the living heirs to Liv, herself, the story line unfolds with intensity, and with incredible details of search methods and documentation.

The historical aspect is well-done, and well researched. I was surprised by some of the facts, and did not realize that during World War I, the Germans stole artwork, furniture, silver items from homes, anything and everything they felt useful, was taken. That was revealing for me.

How does the story end? You will have to read the book to find out.

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

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.

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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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