Category Archives: Jewish Immigrant

Review: Daniel Deronda

This is my third reading of this amazing novel. I first read it several years ago, and wrote a review of it on a few book sites, years back. My review remains the same, after my third reading. The only exception would be the fact that I admire the strength, fortitude, and courage Daniel illuminated within the story line. His journey towards becoming an authentic human, a man of morals and religious devotion, is compelling on so many levels.

I finished my third reading two hours ago. Most of my day was spent in prayer, reading The Book of Lamentations, due to Tisha B’Av, meditating, having prayerful moments, and reading.

The societal dynamics, social disparities and comparisons, assimilation and acceptance, bonding within the Jewish community, and the separation of social communities due to religion, are relevant concepts and factors within the structure of English ‘standards’ of the time period. ‘The Jewish Factor’ of a Jew being considered equal to English elitism reigns supreme within the pages.

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Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot is a novel that takes place during the Victorian time period. 

The era is important due to the social mores and standards of the time period. I kept that in mind while reading the novel. The two main characters blend within their lifestyles, ever aware of their standings within the societal realm. Daniel Deronda, has been a ward, since early childhood, of the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger. Daniel, along with others in Mallinger’s social network, believes that he is Mallinger’s illegitimate son. Daniel is a sensitive man, and often ponders on his birth, and whether his true heritage lends him to actually being a true English gentleman. During his travels and his wanderings he finds himself in the company of Jews. Within his involvement with the Jewish community, he feels a strong bond, feels comfortable within their realm, and feels a sense of commonality. 

Gwendolen Harleth is the other main character, and she is a self-absorbed individual. She thrives on manipulating others to suit her gain. She is proud of being able to control men with her feminine charms. A blink of her eyes causes men to be enamored of her. This is how she has maintained her standing within her social life. All that comes to an end all too soon, for her, as she is faced with the fact that her family is going bankrupt. 

This causes her to take a stance in order to support herself and family. She eventually gives in and marries a man named Henleigh Grandcourt. She feels that she managed to control him to her beckoning, but little does she know that the reverse situation is, in actuality, the truth. He has manipulated her. She becomes aware of this, and in the end, finds herself feeling extreme guilt over circumstances surrounding her husband. She befriends Daniel, with full display of gaining his attention, in her manipulative manner. He thinks of her constantly, yet, his heart is with Mirah. He tries to ease out of contact with Gwendolen in a sensitive manner.

Daniel Deronda is a brilliant novel, and the characters are all depicted vividly, with all of their flaws and attributes. Even the more minor characters are not so minor, truth be told. For instance, Mirah Lapidoth, a young woman on the brink of suicide is saved by Daniel just as she is about to jump into the Thames River. From there begins a relationship based on mutual respect and admiration. Mirah is Jewish, and therein lies Daniel’s initiation and into the Jewish community, its strong traditions, and also its secular offshoots. 

Mirah has run away from her father, and has ended up in London searching for her long lost mother and brother. Daniel’s sympathies has him striving to help her find them, and help her begin a new life. Throughout all of this, he finds himself falling for her, romantically.

Daniel is consumed by Judaism and its ideals, and feels completely comfortable in Jewish surroundings. He can not stay away from the Jewish section, and has cemented himself within the Jewish Quarter with his contacts. His comfort level is fostered by a man named Mordechai, a man of great vision. He practices Kabbalah, and his dreams take him to places others have not traveled. He instills in Daniel the fact that Jews need to have their own homeland, their “Promised Land”. He tries to encourage Daniel to take over his (Mordechai’s) efforts once he has died. He is a sickly man, a man with little time left in life. Daniel is influenced by him.

I enjoyed watching Daniel’s journey and growth, spiritually and emotionally. What he desires most in the beginning of his journey (his proper gentlemanly status) is proven to be what matters less, as his journey takes on new dimensions. He comes into his own, and his identity is cemented with a strong foundation.

The Jewish factors are quite prevalent within the pages of Daniel’s story. His curiosity regarding Judaism is never lost on the reader, and is enhanced through Eliot’s masterful writing and rendering of Judaism. His (Daniel’s) ever need for knowledge regarding Jewish life and traditions is evident, and written with conciseness and accuracy. 

Eliot certainly did her research, and considering the fact that Daniel Deronda was published in 1876, her research entailed a lot of physical work in gaining access to documents and records from libraries to public records, to consultations and so much more. The internet was not even a gleam in the eye of the writer of that era. Considering those factors, Daniel Deronda is a masterful historical novel, a novel that speaks of Judaism in every sense of it, from religious affiliations, to life styles, to food and culture, and so much more. The biblical symbolism is apparent, in my opinion. For instance, I could see an analogy between Daniel and Moses, as far as familial bonds within a family that is not blood-related. 

The majority of the novel seems to be mainly about Gwendolen, and about the upper crust of England. The reader is privy to her mind. Some readers could be put off by the title, but that should not deter them from reading the book. Gwendolen’s arrogance and self-absorption sets the stage for a more serious tone to come. The Jewish society is a separate one, although a social setting of its own, within the scheme of the whole of society and location. It is a totally different concept than the upper class of England. The two social aspects reinforce to the reader the disparity and separation of life style, and the superficial versus the genuine is illuminated. That, to me, was the beauty of the novel.

Once Daniel’s character takes root, it is clear that the story line of Gwendolen, has been written to lead up to the main point of the novel, the Jewish question, the Jewish factor, and the concept of Zionism. Yes, that is correct, Zionism

Imagine, Eliot, a woman of her time period, considering the varied Jewish theories, including the concept of Zionism, and not only that, writing it into the novel, Daniel Deronda. Imagine her debating, through her writing the Jewish question of identity and citizenship. She was a woman whose ideas and theories were spoken of within the pages of Daniel Deronda with precision and accuracy. She was a woman whose standards and ideals regarding the Jewish community were ahead of her time, so to speak, and it reflects in her writing. 

I was extremely absorbed within the almost 800 pages of Daniel Deronda. The length of the book had nothing to do with my desire to continue to read it through to the end. I found it fascinating, enthralling and compelling on so many levels. Eliot’s brilliance and perseverance in penning a novel filled with history, social opposites, ideals and mores, and with a few characters that matter to the reader, is astounding. Her respect for Judaism and its ideals and traditions is made quite clear. Her passion for truth and understanding is evident within the pages, especially within the last third of the novel. 

I applaud George Eliot for her strength and ability to portray individuals, not only at their worst, but at their best, and portray them with religious sensitivity.  Daniel Deronda, is an extremely ambitious novel, a brave one considering the era it was written, filled with historical brilliance through excellent writing. It is a moral story, filled with symbolism. It was controversial during its time period, and has been since then. There are several coincidences, and for me they were relevant, but some might see it differently. If the reader considers the era in which the novel was written, they can better begin to understand the societal context in relation to the time period.

I highly recommend George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Copyright Lorri M. No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission. 


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The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home

Once again, I found myself reading a Holocaust memoir in which a surviving parent did not want to reveal too much information, if any, about their Holocaust experience to their child/children. The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home, by Erin Einhorn, is a novel written by a daughter whose mother, Irena, survived the Holocaust, a mother who seemed indifferent as to the events and actions that kept her alive. Einhorn, who was always curious, traveled to Poland in order to find out the truth of her mother’s history, and to see if the house was still standing.

Irena was born in 1942, in Bedzin, Poland, within the walls of the Jewish ghetto. Irena’s parents were deported a year later, and while on the train, her father managed to jump off the train. He managed to make his way back to the Bedzin, and made a arrangements with a Polish woman…he would give the woman authority over his property if she would hide his daughter. He promised to return for his daughter as soon as the war was over.

True to his word, he did return for Irena (her mother died in Auschwitz). She was a frightened child, and her father was a stranger to her. The only “parents” she had memory of were the Skowronskis, the family who Irena’s father left her with. He took her to Switzerland, and from there they eventually emigrated to America.

The years pass by, and the story begins with Irena’s daughter, who is a reporter, living in Krakow, with her roommates Krys and Magda. The purpose of Einhorn being there is to try to find the family “that made my life possible“, and try to locate the house that had belonged to her grandfather. She knows where to begin, how to get to Bedzin, but is hesitant, afraid of failure. She is more or less on her own, as her mother, Irena, won’t reveal much to her, and is totally uninterested in finding out about the family that saved her life. Irena’s attitude is uncaring and unconcerned. Anxiety exudes from Einhorn’s pores.

The Pages In Between
is a fascinating story, taking the reader on an ominous trip back through time, and forward again to the legalities of the present. One is left to ponder several issues, such as greed and entitlement.

Is it greed to want monetary compensation for helping to save a life? Doesn’t there come a point when boundaries are crossed in the expectations of those who saved others? Is an individual financially responsible to those who saved the life of their child/loved one? Does one save a life without expecting compensation or reward because it is the correct thing to do? Where does greed begin and gratitude end? Where does gratitude begin and greed end? Are those who are the living indefinitely bound to support those who helped them survive? Who owns the property left under duress and horrific conditions? Who are the victims in the process…the child who was saved, those who helped save her, the succeeding generations, or are they all victims in a sense? There are these and more questions to think about.

I recommend The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home. It is an extremely compelling memoir, and one that evokes a unique perspective on the Holocaust. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual after-effects of the Holocaust, and how WWII and the Holocaust affected families, in the long-range. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual effects of the Holocaust. Erin Einhorn writes with stark frankness, and at the same time is sensitive to the issues she confronts on her journey of discovery. Her story is an incredible psychological study on the interplay between family dynamics and the Holocaust. For those interested in Holocaust History, this is an excellent resource and a must read.

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Review: Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel

Panic in a Suitcase: A Novel, by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, revolves around the Nasmertov family, who have emigrated from Odessa, a city by the sea, to Brighton Beach, another city by the sea. Brighton Beach was often called “Little Odessa”.

The comfort level of the area is one reason the family chose the location. An immigrant from Odessa could find anything that their homeland offered, in Brighton Beach. From food to furniture to household items to clothes and material goods, it could all be had.

This very fact is what held the elders of the family within its fold. It is what prompted them to convince their son, Pasha, to emigrate from Odessa. Pasha, on the other hand, procrastinated, and waited until the last minute.

His role in the book is one of a man who doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything in life, positive or otherwise. He lags behind in everything. He doesn’t quite get the situation or the city he has arrived in, and has no desire to find out the aspects of life within the realm of Brighton Beach.

The story deals with the way that life is perceived during a time of assimilation. It brings the reader snippets of the procedures to assimilate, and also yearnings for what once was in the homeland. The desire for change does not necessarily overrule the comfort of what the homeland held in a person’s daily life.

The reader is taken on a twenty-year journey through the Nasmertov family’s treks to fit in, to understand the cultural divide between homeland and their new land. The journey is humorous at times, but only to the extent of familial actions, and also how they are viewed by those around them. The humor is more of an enhancement of what it means to survive in a country so unlike the one you emigrated from.

Nostalgia is a strong undertone within the pages. Comfort levels of every aspect is depicted. Familial bonds do not necessarily provide the comfort one needs.

Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase, is filled with descriptions of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, that one can capture through their five senses. The novel is also an examination of the immigrant and their experiences and endeavors to fit in, despite strong memories of the past.

I enjoyed reading about the cultural issues, and enjoyed the word-imagery regarding the beach cities. I am extremely familiar with those cities and with the cultural aspects depicted in the story. I, myself, have fond memories of Brighton Beach in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The novel transported me back to times past.

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Review: The Gates of November

Chaim Potok’s The Gates of November is an extremely intense non-fiction book, written about a Jewish family. The book delves into the father/son relationship that Potok is well known for in his books.

Solomon Slepak is an old-school Russian Jew, a diehard Bolshevik. He became a Marxist when he emigrated to the America, and then returned to the Soviet Union. He was a stubborn and difficult man, and became a staunch and renowned Communist Party member, despite the fact that he was Jewish. Solomon Slepak resists the ideals of his son, Volodya, who is a “refusenik”, and basically disowns him.

Volodya sees what is occurring in the Soviet Union and wants no part of it. He wants to take his wife and two sons and emigrate to Israel. Thus he begins the process of paperwork and documentation. His bid to emigrate is refused, and he and his wife, Masha, become activists, working to try to help other Jews who are refused permission to emigrate, under Josef Stalin’s relentless rule.

Due to his activities, he is sent to a remote part of Siberia, where the conditions take their toll on his health. Masha asks for permission to be with him, and is granted such. He is exiled for over five years, under the harshest of conditions, not only weather, but food and daily sustenance and necessities (this articulation is putting it mildly).

Once he returns home, he tries to seek work, and finds menial jobs here and there, that don’t last for any length of time. He applies for permission to emigrate, once again. The process drags on for years, and we are given an overview of the social, political and diplomatic events and results during the years that go by, while he waits for a positive outcome.

I could articulate more on The Gates of November, but I suggest you read it yourself in order to grasp the depth of the story. The Gates of November is quite extreme in detail. Potok has shown us the degrees people will go to in order to manipulate others by leaving out none of the horrible events or descriptive word images.

Potok infuses the intensity of the time period under Josef Stalin’s rule. He details the depth of life under the most adverse and harshest of circumstances within the confines of the brutal Stalin reign. His book is based on personal accounts, taped and written interviews, videos, etc., in order to bring exactness to The Gates of November. It is not an easy book to read, due to the brutally detailed circumstances and events. But, it is a book most definitely worth reading, not only in comprehending the historical aspect regarding Jews under Soviet rule, but for the ongoing father/son relationship and family dynamics that Chaim Potok always manages to write so brilliantly about.

The Gates of November, by Chaim Potok,  is a masterful telling of Jewish familial life and dynamics under extreme social circumstances. It is both horrific and inspirational, and brings to the forefront the degrees of determination people have in order to obtain their goals. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Book Review: The Free World

thefreeworld

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a captivating novel that entails the emigration of Latvian and Soviet Jews, specifically during the late 1970s, when some were permitted to leave. In 1978 the Krasnansky family has decided to leave, and their journey takes them to Rome, where they must wait for visas to continue on to the United States, or possibly Canada.

The elder Samuil Krasnansky is a diehard communist, and decorated war hero for his service while in the Red Army. The Russian Revolution had a profound affect on him, and the effects of war continued to define his life until his death. Emma, his wife, is also there, as are their two sons, Alec and Karl. The two brothers, are as different as they can be in their political and social spheres.

Alec is a roamer, a womanizer, married to Polina. He seemingly cares little about the circumstances surrounding their journey. Karl, on the other hand is a staunch capitalist, ever involved within the circle of individuals he encounters in Rome. Life is not always as it seems for the two of them. Through some humorous twists of fate, Alec feels he is being pursued by female interests, when in fact it turns out to be otherwise.

There are other laugh-out-loud lines and scenarious within the pages, such as Samuil’s reaction to a rendering of Fiddler on the Roof. Yet, withing the comic relief, the story line is one wrought with varied ideals, and varied perspectives of freedom, and what it actually means. Bezmozgis is brilliant in depicting the mindsets of the characters.

I didn’t necessarily like the characters, and found them to be flawed in many aspects. But, I still enjoyed reading The Free World, for its historical factor, and for how the author depicted the lives of the individuals. We are all a part of the whole, no matter our choices, our mindsets and our differences. We are all flawed, and no one individual is perfect in the scheme of things.

Due to Samuil’s health, the family is forced to stay in Rome longer than expected. Their visas are on the line during this time period. Their freedom to journey forward, physically, is hindered by his health. Yes, they could have forged forward, and he could have emigrated at a later point in time, but the familial hold was a strong one, despite the disparities and lack of similarities within the family members. This aspect is strong throughout the pages.

The story line reflects back and forth, and there are back stories of each of the characters. The book spans decades of familial uprising and social standings. The decades infuse the dynamics of revolution and war quite vividly. This brings into focus why they act the way they do, and also gives the reader a sense of their lives before departing for Rome, and the choices they made beforehand.

The roller coaster ride the family finds themselves on only enhances their feelings of suffocation in a city that they were supposed to be temporarily involved in, waiting for the chance to leave. Freedom takes on new meanings, from emotional stifling to physical stand stills. Their wait for visa approval is filled with frustration and the unknown.

The book had me questioning the defining of freedom and the “the free world”. Is there such a place on the planet where a person can be truly free? Does “the free world” exist, or is it just a euphemism for the areas that were located outside of the realm of the communist states. One might live a life in a non-communist environment, but does that mean they are free? Freedom takes on many forms, not the least being emotional constraints.

Before reading this book, I had no idea that there was a “way station” so to speak, in Rome, where emigres had to wait for visas. The daily interactions and emotional aspects of the waiting period is highly illuminated within the pages. The emotional struggles are brought to the forefront.

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis, is a well-formed study and metaphor for freedom and autonomy, within familial dynamics. The visuals are strong, as are the insights into the emotions of the characters. The historical aspect is an important one, in my opinion.

I would rate The Free World a 4 with 5 being the highest.

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Lorri M. Review: The Rise of David Levinsky

theriseofdavidlev The rise of David Levinsky, by Abraham Cahan, is true-to-life in its depiction of the Jewish immigrant experience, leaving nothing to the imagination.

David Levinsky is a Hasidic Jew living a strict Torah-filled life in a Russian village. He comes from a family of poverty, and one that is stringent in Torah study. He is unhappy in his situation, and eventually sails to America, disembarking in New York City.

From the minute he finds himself standing on American soil, Levinsky’s journey begins, taking him into the heart of socialization and cultural displacement, a displacement he avidly tries to overcome. Assimilation and secularism are part of his learning experiences.

He is a fast learner, as far as trying to fit into society’s demands. He is insightful as far as his exterior environment, and realizes that in order to succeed he must learn to speak English, not act as if he is a greenhorn, dress as if he is successful, and coordinate his mannerisms to an ideal that will let him succeed. He has programmed himself to not only fit in, but also to a mode of obtaining financial stability. All this, he manages to eventually accomplish, within the realm of his goals of being a proper, shrewd and prosperous businessman.

The streets of New York City are depicted with amazing clarity. Cahan knows from where those streets lead, as he, himself was a Jewish immigrant, arriving in Philadelphia in 1882, and then quickly traveling to New York City. He eventually worked his way up, through his social learnings, and eventually founded the Jewish Daily Forward.

His story could almost be Levinsky’s story. The learnings and social stigmas that Levinsky had to overcome in order to succeed in business, are portrayed with brutal clarity within the novel. I am sure Cahan’s own immigrant and assimilation experiences fill many of the pages.

The latter part of the 19th century is detailed in every aspect. I was amazed at the incredible details that exhaled from the pages. From there, through the early 20th century, the reader is taken back in time to every conceivable issue, from religion to education, sex to romantic, social to assimilation, business to materialism, and so much more. Each facet of society and its doings are examined, especially those involving the lower east side of New York City.

Levinsky’s desire for success and desire to become rich are documented through all of his dealings. From business banking to storefronts, cloak making and competititors, and eventual warehouses, each facet of his business dealings incorporate his very desire to build an empire, and build it he does.

Within those structures, he also involves himself with women, and the women that he finds most attractive are ones that he can not have. His wealth and empire can not buy him love. His sense of home and family is lacking. Levinsky rose in stature and success, yet his reputation and the respect he gained did not foster a sense of family or belonging within his environment. He gained financial success beyond his wildest dreams, only to fail in the romance department.

I read The Rise of David Levinsky always mindful of when it was written, always mindful of the language, grammar, and usage of slang, Yiddish and linguistics of the time period. I felt that to be extremely important in order to gain a sense of time and socialization.

Cahan has given this reader a sense of the late 19th century-early twentieth century New York City. My senses were filled with the streets of New York, the homes of New York, the business wheelings and dealings of New York. They were filled with the experience of immigrant life in all of its ugliness, hardships, demeaning attitudes, strivings to survive and so much more. I applaud Abraham Cahan for his accomplishment.

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