Category Archives: Book Reviews

Golden leaves peaked out from the top of the tree, reminding me that autumn was here at last, and  beginning to show off its October colors.  -Lorri M.

Autumn whispered to the wind, I fall, but always rise again.  -Angie Weiland-Crosby

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I finished reading Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey:  A Novel, by Kathleen Rooney.  It is a historical novel, based on Cher Ami, a homing pigeon (a factual pigeon who served in the U.S. army), and Charles Whittlesey, a commanding officer in the army (a factual person), during World War I.  Their perspectives alternate, and make for an excellent story.

The prose is well defined, depicting the horrors of war, with a tiny bit of humor, here and there.  It is beautifully written account of true events that occurred.

I am in the middle of reading Long Lost Brother, by Don Kafrissen.

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Copyright Lorri M.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Lorri's Blog, nature, Novels, Photography, Quotations, World History, World War I, World War II

Memory, Patriotism

1948, a Novel, by Yoram Kaniuk is an a masterful book, and in my opinion a testament to memory, and Kaniuk’s way of honoring memory, if that makes sense.

There is so much to ponder, within the pages of 1948. It is a coming of age story, as seen through the eyes of the older self, not necessarily meaning that one comes of age early in life.

Memory is an important facet in our lives, and Yoram Kaniuk’s descriptives are filled with strong clarity, at times shocking, and filled with the realities of war’s horrors.  War is not a game, not a road to identity, and definitely not the idealist perspective, or the romantic perceptions, of the actualities that occurred.

Without memory, the past would be erased, even if our memories are enhanced through time.  Yoram Kaniuk brings a haunting, emotional story line to 1948, seen through his eyes, and the eyes of those whose memories are incorporated into his life’s journey

I recommend this novel, for its defining depictions of war, and its affects, and effects on memory.

What Unites Us:  Reflections On Patriotism, by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner is an incredible book.  There are so many levels to it, that would make my review of it long winded, and possibly boring, so I will try to keep it as brief as possible.

One thing I have learned is that Rather is such a humble man, a sincere man.  His authentic self is revealed within the pages.  His childhood, and his upbringing played a crucial part in his development, and how he viewed/views the world.  His honesty is astounding, leaving no thought or emotion behind.  What I read, in my opinion, is the essence of him.

I have had a deep respect for him for many decades, and this beautifully written book emphasizes my reasons for feeling that way.

The book is amazing. There is talk about Civil Rights and the initial movements.  How the movement affected the nation, and its effects upon the nation is clearly stated, with both empathy and truth.  He speaks truth to power, regarding Black oppression, and how the suffering and demoralization determined his standing, his moral standing on Black lives.

Voter suppression is a defining issue, as is war, diversity, and also issues regarding U.S. presidents and how they have altered the journey of America.  He details his feelings and ideas on their responsibility to our nation.

Rather discusses his life after college, and his beginnings in journalism, and how he saw happenings through his young eyes, yet managed to stay true to himself and his ideals, due to his background, and his parents views on life.

There is so much to offer within the pages, such as thoughts on community and responsibility, protesting, humankind, religion, etc.  It is a masterful book, and one that made me feel comfortable with what he conveyed. He is most definitely not racist, antisemitic, or against any religion or ethnicity, and is all for humanity and individuals coming together as one community, one whole.  He is aware that is not necessarily feasible, especially in today’s environment, and relates it to his own journey in life, seeing, and learning, what he did, and how things haven’t actually changed in many respects.  That, in itself, the fact that certain elements  haven’t really changed regarding violence, discrimination, ethnic and racial hatred, etc., brought many thoughts and feelings to my mind.

Dan Rather’s love of country and the almost 300-year experiment of our democracy, and the humanity within those years, has formed him, immensely, into the patriot he is.  After reading the book, the definition of ‘patriot’ belongs to him, most definitely.

I highly recommend What Unites Us:  Reflections on Patriotism.  The words within the pages brought a certain degree of comfort and hope to me.  His humaneness is astounding.

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Book Review: Road to Valor

Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation, by Aili and Andres McConnon was a page-turner for me. Once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized and captivated by the compelling, intense, and true story of Gino Bartali, an Italian cyclist. But, he was much more than that, as it turned out, as I read with hardly a break between pages.

Born of poverty, in the small town of Ponte a Ema, in 1914, he would eventually become larger than life, a legend in his own time. Yet, little was known about his other passion, helping to save Jews during World War II. He was a silent hero.

From the moment he saved up enough money to buy his first bicycle, along with a bit of family financial help, cycling became the love of his life. He would cycle the mountainsides, the hillsides, the winding roads, inhaling the countryside, becoming one with the landscape. He dreamed of cycling, and was determined to win the Tour de France. Not only did he accomplish that goal, he did it twice, ten years apart, first in 1938 and again in 1948!

The lapse in winning was due to World War II, when cycling took a back stage to the events of war, and due to the fascist situation in Italy. When he did cycle, it became political motivation, which was not his intention. He did not side with fascism or with the Nazis. In fact, as the story unfolds we read otherwise.

Bartali risked his life during the war to shelter Jews and to save them by helping pass false identity cards that he hid in his bicycle. He not only incurred risk for his own life and their lives, but also for his family. He would meet various individuals in secret locations and pass the identity cards to them. Often times, he would not see their faces, which was intentional, so nobody could be identified if ever questioned by the authorities.

Within the pages, the reader also gets glimpses of how cycling overtook Italy as a form of transportation, due to the economic situation and political pressures. The reader is given insight into Italian World War II history, including fascism, Mussolini, the horrific hardships that the nation, as a whole, faced during this tumultuous time period. It depicts the horrendous treatment of the Jews of Italy by the ruling factions. It also evokes the integrity and humanity of every day individuals under extreme duress.

The war cost him chances to engage in varied cycling events, but he never gave up hope of winning the Tour de France a second time. He persevered, and in it he did, with ferocious strength, which at the time was thought impossible due to his age. In his eyes, though, that win was the lesser of his accomplishments.

He would eventually tell his son, “If you’re good at a sport, they attach medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.

Those words encompass Bartali’s train of thought, and the reader feels it reign supreme throughout the story. His cycling journey took him to journeys of the soul, of the spirit of mankind. His life was one of humaneness and goodness, within his often boisterous presentation to those in the cycling world. Little did they know of his kindness and risk taking in order to rescue Jews.

I have been enriched, emotionally and historically speaking through reading Road to Valor, by Aili and Andres McConnon. Their contribution to Italian history during prewar and the war itself, is immeasurable. Their research was more than thorough, and their interviews and other factors of information gathering was an endeavor of high accomplishment.

I highly recommend Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy,the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation.

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Sunday Jews, by Hortense Calisher is quite the story.  It is somewhat disjointed and can be confusing, but if you do persevere, it might be rewarding in some facet.

I normally put a book down if I somewhat feel like giving up on it. But, something told me that this book would turn out to be one I would gain something from. And, I did.

I suppose the emotional ups and downs and disjointedness, and the ride the reader is taken on, is in part due to the fact that Calisher tries to intentionally evoke emotions within the reader. I think she deliberately chose this format to bring insight into the actual familial dynamics of every day individuals within a family unit.  There is no strict mode of daily interactions within any relationship, and this presentation is strong in depicting that.  Every family has their moments, their tragedies and happy events, their flaws and their strengths. This family is no different.

There was a lot to like about this book, and by the same token, there was a lot to dislike.  The familial relationships, the interactions, or lack of interactions, the dynamics of the characters, and the aspects of manipulation and religious identity evoke the roller coaster ride of reader’s emotions.  This is much like the constant feelings that actual family members have, one minute you love a family member, the next you might possibly dislike them, yet still love them, and there are those who are in a continuing love-hate relationship with a family member.

I won’t go into specific detail, as the book is almost 700 pages long, and I would fill the lines of this post with a huge amount of content.  Suffice it to say that, aside from Zipporah and Peter, the novel includes their son, Charles, striving to become a supreme court judge.  There is also Nell, whose children have been fathered by different men, an artist named Zack, and Erika who is an art expert. There is also an almost-agnostic, rabbi grandson, who eventually ends up searching for a missing individual.  From these characters, Sunday Jews is born.

Zipporah is the Jewish mother of this clan of individuals so seemingly opposite, that in the end, they are more alike than they think.  She was born from wealth, in Boston, Massachusetts.  She is a social anthropologist. Her husband, Peter Duffy teaches philosophy in New York.  She is Jewish, he is Catholic.  Peter eventually dies, and Zipporah becomes a widow, who eventually takes a lover.  Zipporah was fairly predictable until certain events began to unfold in the story line.

She has always been a keeper and sender of cards. Cards tell the story of her life, and the lives of those in her family, and her circle of friends.

It is a novel that is a study on family dynamics, interactions both positive and negative, and some in between.  The characters are fairly believable, and not over-hyped.  Their inadequacies are bared in a forthright manner, not coated over or syrupy, with all of the trials and tribulations an ordinary family endures.  Some I liked, some I didn’t.  They could be your neighbors, or your own family members.

Sunday Jews is a true family saga, with a Catholic patriarch and a Jewish matriarch ruling over a family that is seemingly discontented.  From early on in her marriage, through death and familial discontentment, and through Zipporah’s senior years, the story unfolds.  The reader is given vivid word paintings of each of the family member’s lives, and how they choose to live their individual lives, guided by Zipporah and Peter.  The writing is often wordy, and doesn’t always flow smoothly.  But, isn’t that much the way life actually is?

Would I recommend Sunday Jews, by Hortense Calisher?  Yes, for the psychological study on the family unit.  There are a lot of comparisons and contrasts, a lot of what seems to be many an oxymoron, but, the study on the familial dynamics is the glue that held me throughout the pages.

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Copyright Lorri M.

 

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I am currently reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel.  It is based on a true WWII story.  I will write a review when I have finished it.

Open Heart, by Elie Wiesel, is a book I have finished reading for the second time.  I cannot say enough about it, and once again, found it extremely inspiring.

Here is a poem that I have posted in the past, and am posting again, as it speaks to me, in meaningful ways.

Shabbat Day

Skies of other worlds
In the blue-bright air,
Sides of houses
Edge eternity.
Clay-red roofs
Where pigeons – mincing – walk,
Fly the doves – the whir and flutter
Of their soaring wings.
Soundless the yellow butterfly
At its play.
Winds lift white clouds
And sift the sand
From earth-bound stones –
Exalted the light
Of this dazzling Day,
Yet strangely close to home.
-Dobra Levitt

Shabbat Shalom!

Copyright Lorri M.

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Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom

witness lessons from elie wiesels classroom

Witness:  Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom, by Ariel Burger, is a beautifully written tribute to Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel was more than the man most individuals recognize as a Holocaust Survivor, more than the man who wrote about his life, defining it with his memories, and his witnessing horrific, appalling situations.

Burger brings the reader directly into the man who was a professor, a classroom teacher, and mentor to many, including Burger.

With private talks with Wiesel, Burger has brought new definition to his legacy.  His intensity and educational pursuits in teaching are not necessarily known to the world outside of the university campus.  He was a great man, a man of immense knowledge, but also a man of compassion for humanity, humanity as a whole, humanity as one, under the sun.

His faith constantly had him questioning, searching for answers, yet he evoked masterful responses to questions other asked of him, in his classroom setting.  He was a man of structure, of cementing the essences of communication, and fostering the idea that memory bestowed to others, even one person, is the greatest form of witnessing we give.  He felt that once you heard of atrocities, events, instances, from another individual, you then became a witness to that event, that moment, those moments, in time.  For Wiesel, memory was of the utmost importance, capturing the memory and retelling it, was a force for witnessing events of the past, and educating others to carry it forward.

Wiesel was a man of many facets, from his sense of humor, his steadfast determination to be a comforter for others, to his thoughts and perceptions on religion.  I loved the portions regarding Hasidism, and the lore, the Hasidic Tales.  I liked his views on activism, art, humanity, as told through Burger’s prose.

The memoir brings Elie Wiesel’s classroom setting to the reader.  Student exchanges, questions, debates, bring out the masterfulness of the man, and his greatness to humankind.  The reader is exposed to his mode of teaching, his patience, his generosity, his desire to educate others in order for memories to be formed.  I cannot say enough about Witness:  Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.

The reader also learns about Burger, and the influence that Wiesel had on him, instilling religious thought, theory, questions, conversations, outlook, and the importance of memory, within Burger’s mind.  He is a witness to Wiesel’s memories.

Ariel Burger has given the reader much to ponder about the brilliance, compassion, the greatness, and human side of Wiesel.  His life is defined, in many aspects, through the teachings of Elie Wiesel.  His train of thought, mode of perspective, his religious beliefs, questions, and searching, continue on, through Elie Wiesel’s teachings.

I wish I had been a pupil in his classroom, to physically be within close proximity to Elie Wiesel.  I have admired him for almost sixty years.  I have read his articles, his stories, his books.  His books, and his other works, that I have read, have taught me more than I could ever articulate, but to be sitting in his classroom…

Copyright Lorri M.

 

 

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