Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: In the Image

In The Image, by Dara Horn is one of those books that evolves through the characters’ coming of age, journeying towards peace and acceptance, and sojourning towards spiritual identity. One young girl (Leora)l learns to accept the death of her best friend, through the slide images of her best friend’s grandfather. Leora learns to overcome her fear of loss and allows herself to fall in love.

“Accidents of fate are rarely fatal accidents, but once in a while they are.”

The grandfather (Bill Landsmann) learns to accept his own life, which is built frame by frame, upon his slides, through the images he has photographed during his travels. His life has been preserved on film slides. Landsmann has to learn to leave his past behind, including his childhood and his abusive father. He must learn to accept, and to let go, and not just assimilate within the fabrics of New York City. For him the images represent his life, concrete proof of his childhood in Europe, and proof he existed (We all want validation of our existence). Landsmann has to learn to move forward, in order to find the spiritual identity and peace he is searching for.

Bill’s frames are also subjects that entwine good and evil entwine within the pages, as Bill recalls incidents of his life through his slides.

Leora and Landsmann lean on each other, each one helping the other to overcome their fears, each one helping to free the other from their self-imposed emotional isolation.

I will not write any more on the story line, as you should read it for yourself.

The symbolism and undertones within In the Image are strong, and leave one amazed at the masterful writing and story line. The word visuals and images are clearly defined through Dara Horn’s words. The novel is brilliant and vibrant with imagery. Age is a state of mind, a number we define ourselves with, but one can be 70 and still be coming of age.

In the Image, by Dara Horn, touches on coming of age, for all age groups, as most of us are in a constant state of growth and coming of age, no matter what year or stage of life we are in.

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Review: The Post Office Girl

The Post Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig is a book that concerns a female postal clerk in a small town in Austria.

The pages depict the poverty in her small town in Austria, post World War I.  Zweig is extremely detailed in his word-imagery, and his descriptions exhale life lived on the edge of survival.  The country was in turmoil, and he shows how the main character, Christine Hoflehner, lives a rote life, burdened with monetary insufficiency, and an ill mother.  She feels life drags on from day to day.

It literally does, until a telegram arrives. She has been invited to take a trip to visit her aunt Clair and her uncle, who are vacationing in Switzerland. She packed a few meager belongings in a straw suitcase, and journeyed by train to see them, through a naive mindset.  That telegram changed the course of her life, and altered her personality. The reader sees her transformation, immediately.

Her aunt and uncle are vacationing in an ultra swanky hotel, one that caters to the elite. Christine was in awe, at first glance.  She feels inadequate, and feels as if she is being looked upon as one of the staff members.  Her aunt sees the perception, and gives her a few dresses, and some accessories to wear.  With her new apparel, she begins to gain a sense of worth.  She literally changes, dramatically, from introvert to quite the extrovert in her interactions and behavior.  She sees life through new eyes.

Unexpected events occur that lead her back home. Once there she feels cheated, defeated, and feels entitled to the life led while on vacation.  She feels out of place in a world healing from turmoil and political oppression.  She takes it upon herself to travel to Vienna for a weekend getaway, and visits her sister and brother-in-law, also living in poverty.

The story continues with her impressionable mindset, and her being persuaded to delve into areas she never would have thought of, on her own.  To tell you the occurrences would be to spoil the story.  I will just say that she is not the same Christine the reader views in the beginning.  The initial vacation caused her to perceive life and social mores differently. She becomes angry, and her anger sets her on a course of negative decisions.

Stefan Zweig is brilliant and masterful in his story telling, within the pages of The Post Office Girl.  He leaves no stone unturned in his assessment of human behavior and minute details.  The story is a stark study of human behavior and morals.  The book is a valuable work of literature, exploring social standards and their impact on individuals caught in the fray.

The Post Office Girl was published posthumously. The manuscript was found after Zweig’s death. It was not intentionally left for publication.

Much of the novel depicts the strife, poverty and burdens to survive in a bleak world.  The second half of it clearly demonstrates the debilitation of lifestyle that individuals went through.  Those on the fringe were left with less than the threads they originally had.

Stefan Zweig certainly was masterful in his depictions, emotional ones, as well as visual.  I tend to think that the story line is more relevant to his own life, which ended all too soon, by suicide.

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Review: Visible City

Visible City, by Tova Mirvis, is a predictable story in many aspects, but I still am glad that I read it. I found the almost “voyeur” aspect to be interesting, and the thoughts that are dreamed up while one person stares out of their window, with their own set of passions, desires and loyalties.

Nina is that person, and stare she does, at every given opportunity.  If it is during the night, she turns off the lights so as not to attract attention. What she sees happening in an apartment across the way, enhances her imagination, and her perception of what the individuals are like.  As the reader reads on, they realize that not everything is as it appears to be.  In fact, the couple who live in the apartment are not so different from Nina and her family, in the sense that their married life seems to be complacent. Nina desires more in life, yet doesn’t have the ambition to seek it.

The novel gives a wonderful overview of New York City, its brilliant architecture, some modern, some old and abandoned.  We are given snippets of the exteriors and interiors of the abandoned buildings, as some of the characters skulk through them out of a passionate desire to learn about them. We are also taken into the world of stained-glass art and all of its illuminations.  Through this examination, we are seen how the passions, desires and loyalties flare up from the deep-set goals that some of the characters hold.

Six individuals meet in various places where they normally go to spend some time away from their homes.  Some of them end up living on the edge, merging their connections into areas better left undone.

Passionate moments are strong within the pages, and by that I mean passionate in every sense, including one’s drives, dreams and life accomplishments.  What one views as important and a driving force is not necessarily so for another person.  In relationships each person should accept the other for their own interests and goals, whether the interests and goals are theirs, or not.  They should offer encouragement, and not discouragement.

The urban aspect is strongly illuminated. Mirvis’ word-images are depicted quite vividly. This reader could envision everything she painted with her prose.  All of my senses were filled as my own imagination took hold.

I enjoyed how each character was somewhat flawed, as we all are, in reality.  I enjoyed the city tour through their eyes, and enjoyed the human perspectives, and how we see people. We are not the sum of what others see in us, or think about us.  In fact, most of us are usually much different than how a stranger might view us.  This was quite true in Visible City.  What Nina saw, is not the actual person, but a person who she encapsulated from a distance, from a view out of a window.

The emotional aspect was a major underlying issue, as most of the characters found it difficult to relate to their family members on a deep level.  They also portrayed superficiality when in the presence of others, outside of their familial and friendship realm.  Even within those realms, feelings were not always touched upon.

I did not like all the characters, but that is okay. In reality, do we all like everyone we encounter?  I did like how life, seen through various city windows, was depicted, and how the characters were eventually connected.  Mirvis was masterful in her depictions and her prose.  I felt as if I was given a personal tour of various aspects of New York City and its urban character, from architectural exteriors to individual’s projections of themselves.  It almost felt as if I were looking out of a window into the lives of others. Maybe that was one of Tova Mirvis’ intentions.

This was my second reading of this novel.  I reread it for a book club.

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Review: A Changed Man

A Changed Man, by Francine Prose, is a well-written novel with seemingly opposing characters.

From a self-claimed Neo-Nazi to a Jewish Holocaust survivor, the male characters do not seem to dramatically change, in my opinion, although they do reach a form of acceptance with each other.

On one hand, we have Vincent Nolan (a Timothy McVeigh look-alike), who professes to be using the “World Brotherhood Watch” organization to help “save guys from becoming guys like me”.  He literally uses the premise of the organization to help him survive…they feed him, clothe him, etc.  He is in need of a place to live, has no funds to find a place, and decides on a plan, whereby he convinces Maslow that he is trying to do good.  He in turn gives Meyer Maslow (the founder and head of the organization, and a Holocaust survivor) the boost that is needed to help promote the organization, and to promote his latest book (which is not selling well).  Nolan becomes the poster boy for Maslow’s foundation.

Maslow convinces Maslow’s assistant, Bonnie, to take Nolan in and give him a roof over his head. Bonnie has two children, and her family is rather dysfunctional.  Maslow, himself, contorts the fact that he convinced Bonnie to take Nolan in, by stating to himself (over and over again), and to others, that Bonnie volunteered to take him in.

Maslow uses the organization to help those in need, but he also uses any opportunity to promote his own image…that of being a man of honor, trust and a man who is trying to save the world, a person at a time.  He even questions his own motives for doing what he does, wondering if it is for the right reason.  At one point he claims that material things do not matter to him, because he has experienced the worst of life without them, yet he is married, lives in a mansion, and dresses in Aramani suits (proudly).  Nothing but the best for him.  Often those who have done without, and have lived on the edge of death exhibit this form of behavior.

For me, A Changed Man could have exhibited characters with a bit more depth, but then again, emotional and traumatic pain is often camouflaged by what appears to be a cold and rigid exterior.  Survival of the fittest tactics are often subconsciously used, while inside the person is going through their own turmoil, their own emotional and hellacious Holocaust.  I think that is what Francine Prose was aiming for.  If so, she did an excellent job, and A Changed Man is a must read book, in my opinion.

This was my second reading of the book, reading it again for a book club.  I initially read it about six years ago.

 

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Review: The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman, is a historical novel, rooted in the social and cultural mores and importance of the time period.

Those standards begin with Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzaro, the mother of Camille Pissarro (Pissarro was one of the forefathers of French Impressionism). She was born in 1795, on the island of St. Thomas.

Rachel’s ancestors fled France due to antisemitism.  They eventually emigrated to St. Thomas.  Jews were permitted to practice their religion in St. Thomas, without fear of repercussions, and they could become citizens.

The reader is given much insight into the social standards through the voices within the novel, including Rachel’s, Camille’s, and Rachel’s second husband, to name three.

The characters are realized. They are varied, as far as religion, lifestyle, superstitions, and ancestral traditions. Yet, within that structure, every facet of life is determined by the laws of the land, so to speak. Certain societal rules can never be crossed or expanded. This is where the ‘opposite’ definition comes into play.

Jews could not mingle with maids, servants, slaves, or mingle with Blacks. Even when slavery was outlawed, the rule applied. There was a tier, a standard of living within each culture, and the boundary could not be crossed.

Those boundaries were crossed, a few times, by characters within the story. There were secrets kept by individuals who, in essence, turned their noses up on others wishing to lead a happy life. Their admonishment caused hardship and chaos within familial and romantic frameworks.

I enjoyed reading about the childhood of Camille Pissarro. His passion, from the moment of his birth, was an innateness within him. He could not function without his painting tools being carried with him wherever he went. His mind was always on nature, on his surroundings, and he saw life through color, meaning each object had its own aura surrounding it. The same went for individuals, in his mind’s view, each person had a color which was a part of their being.

Sketching was as much a part of his hourly and daily life as breathing was. Sometimes more so. He knew his “calling”, and even when family members tried to stifle his artistic passion, he persevered in fulfilling his potential.

His paintings speak to me on many levels.

In my opinion, the story line illuminated existentialism, in the sense that we are individuals responsible for our own development, and responsible for achieving our authenticity. We are all human, and within that concept, we are responsible for each other in the end, no matter a person’s background, religious, cultural, or otherwise.

Alice Hoffman’s prose was often poetic and breathtaking. I highly recommend The Marriage of Opposites, to everyone.

I apologize for the update-I had to correct a misspelling.

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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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