Category Archives: Historical Fiction

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

Review: Safekeeping: A Novel

Safekeeping, by Jessamyn Hope, is a book that blends a Medieval sapphire brooch with the lives of those living on a kibbutz in Israel, and those who have come to volunteer there. I was engrossed from the first page to the last page.

The story line explores how the old timers, the founders of the kibbutz and their adult children, intermingle with those who are volunteers. The dynamics between the sides are depicted in depth.

The staunch socialistic attitude of Ziva, one of the original founders, is compared to her own son. Ziva believes everyone on the kibbutz is equal and everyone deserves the same status and pay scale, “all for one, and one for all”, so to speak. Possessions are a part of the whole, and no one person owns anything. All items are pooled for the communal good.

Whereas, her son who is a first-generation offspring, has a tendency to lean towards the more modern ideals, and towards privatizing the kibbutz. He believes that salaries should equate with education and experience, and should be offered as such to individuals who fit the criteria.

Therein lies a kibbutz conflict. The conflict is between hard-liners and the newer generations.

As far as the volunteers are concerned, there is Adam. He has traveled from New York in order to give the brooch to a woman named Dagmar. His grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor and who lived on the kibbutz for a while, wanted her to have it. The brooch has been in their family, passed down through generations. Adam is trying to redeem himself from alcohol and drugs, and of a crime of his choosing. He feels that if he is able to resolve this one issue regarding the brooch,, he will be free of the demons that have imprisoned him.

Claudette, a French Canadian, is another volunteer. She has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and has been imprisoned by it her entire life, through her repetitive actions. Her relationship with a teenaged boy named Ofir is central to her self-esteem and her ability to grow, emotionally and mentally.

Ulya, a Russian beauty, is in a relationship with Farid, a Palestinian farmhand. He is head-over-heels in love with her. She manipulates situations to suit her needs, including her secretive meetings with Farid.

The quick description of these individuals seems simplistic, but within the pages the author infuses a definitive personality of each person. She illuminates their strengths, weaknesses, fears and manipulations. Love and loss are themes, presented to the reader. The story line is filled with the humanness of people struggling to create a life for themselves. Their goals are examined, and their fortitude is put to the test.

The volunteers are there for different reasons, and their ambitions and backgrounds are different. Yet, within those differences there is a commonality of the humanistic side of their needs and hopes.

Then, there is that brooch, that brooch and how it affects specific individuals, who think their lives will change, be diminished or be enhanced by possessing it. The original creator of the brooch had no idea to what extremes the brooch would affect the lives of those who live centuries later. A thing of beauty becomes a catalyst.

To the kibbutz founders the brooch takes on a different meaning and depth than it does to the volunteers. That is one of the unique aspects of the story, and one I enjoyed reading about. The dimensions and layers within the pages are brilliant, like the brooch, itself.

I found the story to be a deep depiction of emotional and mental capacities within the framework of kibbutz life, and those who choose to remain in an environment of socialism and extremes, compared to those who choose to move forward and bring a new definition to the kibbutz and community within it. Whether it be fifty years or one hundred years or more, most of life is not continually static. Some people remain in a static state, yet life goes on around them, changes occur, and nothing remains the same within the entire scheme of things.

Safekeeping is an extremely compelling and intense read, leaving one to ponder questions of identity, change, old time attitudes, socialism, autonomy, and materialistic items within the realm of individual possession, or as part of the whole.

The story line is complex, and handled masterfully through Jessamyn Hope’s writing. I applaud her dedication to historical fact, and to the humanness of her characters.

I want to thank Fig Tree Books, and want to thank Erika Dreifus for the Advanced Review Copy. I feel privileged to have been given the book-which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Italian Immigrants

Having Italian ancestry in my family, books regarding New York City and Italian immigrants are quite popular in my reading genres. I enjoy both the historical fiction books and the nonfiction books.

I finished reading a novel called Elizabeth Street, by Laurie Fabiano. The story line takes place during the first decade of the 20th century. The book depicts based on the author’s own Italian immigrant family. The pages are filled with the essence of the hardships of daily living and survival during a harsh time period. Fortitude, desire, and the will to assimilate and conquer the living conditions, crime and social inequalities forced upon Italian immigrants seem to be the basis for the book, along with prejudice of the Italians. I am fascinated with what I have read, so far.

I have read other books regarding Italian immigration, and New York City immigrants, in general. Each book has given me new snippets to ponder.

How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis, is an extremely compelling book.

Vita: A Novel, by Melania G. Mazzucco, is another compelling read regarding the Italian immigrant experience.

Openwork: A Novel, by Adria Bernardi depicts three generations of Italian families, and their journey from Italy to New York City.

I also recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife, by Adriana Trigiani

I watched a show on PBS entitled The Italian Americans. It is a two-part four-hour series. It ended last night-February 24th. You can watch episodes online.

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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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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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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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