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Lorri M. Review: The Book Thief

thebookThief1 The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is a well written book regarding life, death, and areas in between.

The Book Thief’s narrator is Death, itself. That, in my opinion, was very unique and illuminated the prose in ways that a human narrator could not. Zusak’s use of Death as the story teller is skillful.

The story line centers around Liesel Meminger. She has been displaced by her mother, and sent to live with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Huberman. Her foster mother and father could not be more different, yet within their differences, they are more alike in respect to the fact that they both love Liesel. Hans is more demonstrative and extremely patient with Liesel. He is the comfort zone in her life, like a warm quilt on a cold evening, whereas her foster mother is more boisterous and foul-mouthed, and impatient.

The family dynamics are an integral part of the story line. Liesel realizes what she can and can not get away with, and how to function under the circumstances of her new life. Her backbone is stronger than she realizes, and Hans plays a major role in that respect with his kindnesses and love.

Liesel makes friends with two boys, and they are her support system, outside of her family. Max, is the creative one, and Rudy is the neighborhood friend. Their friendships grow and are cemented within the environment of World War II Germany. Food is hard to come by, life is hard to come by, and their friendships take them to heights that they otherwise might not become involved in. Survival takes them to realms and possibilities that they might not ordinarily succumb to.

The title of the novel comes from the fact that Liesel is an avid reader, which began when her brother died and the gravedigger inadvertently left behind a book entitled The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book which in which Liesel eventually learns to read through lessons given her by her foster father. From there, sparks the taking of other books, books she reads over and over again.

As the story progresses, the foster parents are confronted with a situation in which they do not hesitate to involve themselves. Liesel is aware of the consequences, and does her part in being secretive. This is where her friendship with Max begins.

We see lives lived through Death’s eyes, and through Death’s necessity for patience regarding specific individuals and their spirits. At times he tries to take the spirit from a person, sooner than is planned, and his attempt is not meant to be. At other times we see the horrific results of war, the Holocaust, and Death is often overwhelmed with the victims he must move forward to other realms.

He does have his few soft spots, which I found interesting to read. He does have compassion, although it does not serve his needs. He is not there to be influenced by sympathy, because there is there to do a job.

The Book Thief is a story which tells of the human condition, with all of its suffering. Yet, within the pages, there are sparks of humor, more from Death than anyone else. Death analyzes situations, and tries to figure out humans and their behavioral aspects. He is mystified, and often confused. He does not comprehend the human mindset.

The novel details the horrors of war, and the situations of the Holocaust, and the daily lives lived on the German edge of life and threads of life. Markus Zusak is masterful with his word imagery and his prose, in an almost fanciful or elaborate manner. His sentences often verge on the surreal.

I won’t elaborate, so as not to spoil the story for those who want to read it, or for those who might want to see the film. I recommend The Book Thief, especially for young adults. It is a good read for adults, too, but better served, I believe for young adults. The surreal aspect of it will heighten the tragedies of war for young adult readers, and make them more cognizant of war, loss, survival, family dynamics and life…itself.

Ⓒ All rights reserved © Copyright 2007 – 2013 – All Rights Reserved – 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.


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

Review – The Liberated Bride

The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yeshoshua is a masterful study on the meaning of borders, boundaries, and crossings. It is also a story about relationships and interactions, from familial to friendship, student, professor to writer. Although it has comic moments and visuals of comic relief, it is not a comedy, but is a serious and insightful novel. Yet, it can be defined as somewhat of a farce (I know, I know, that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron), as the pace of the book is somewhat frantic and filled with anxious and tense moments, much like the actions of Yochanan Rivlin, the main character. Yehoshua deftly conveys a roller coaster of emotions in “The Liberated Bride“.

The novel winds from first person to second person, more than once, but always from Rivlin’s perspective. He has recently retired as a Near-Eastern Studies Department Chair. He is obsessed with the fact that he has no answers as to why his son (who lives in Paris) is divorced from his bride of one-year, and he intrudes in every aspect in order to find out the answer. He steps outside of acceptable privacy boundaries with his manipulative behavior, past the point of no return, and past the possibility of stepping back to assess and admit the truth of his actions to himself.

The book opens at a Palestinian wedding, where Samaher (the bride) has invited Jewish professors to attend. In fact, the wedding is being put on strictly for them, as she already has been legally married within her Arab environment. Samaher is a student, working on her degree, and she eventually suffers from depression (a form of dropping out on reality, which in some weird sense can be viewed as liberating). He hates attending weddings, as they remind him of his son Ofer”s marriage and divorce five years earlier.

Rivlin wants to leave the wedding early, but his wife (a bride of sorts), Hagit, encourages him to stay. They have had a long and successful marriage, but his wife is constantly trying to discourage him from trying to find out why his son divorced, and is quite assertive through her attitude and verbalizating to Rivlin regarding his absurd escapades and fiascoes (some of them she doesn’t find out until after the fact). That facet of his personality irritates her. She is a well-respected and successful district judge, independent woman. Her job requires her to make difficult decisions and rulings when people cross the boundaries of the law, much like a Biblical Deborah. She also understands the need for privacy, as she handles top-secret cases. She believes in structure in life, whereas Rivlin seems to dismiss them. He is in a constant state of obsession, always searching for the unknown answers, as the historian in him emerges at every turn, to the dismay of others.

Rivlin’s own family members travel worldwide, from city to country to continent, back and forth, crossing borders, internationally and culturally. They almost always attend a wedding in their travels. Rivlin himself travels the highways and roads of Israel, crossing borders, both physically and emotionally, as he manipulates everyone in his life, in his unyielding search for answers.

The book details much of daily life in the Middle East, and our senses are filled with activity, smells, tastes, sights and sounds, and also the conflicts within different cultures residing in the same country (the book was written before the current problems and situation). Each culture is dependent on each other, and interdependent on each other within the cultural independence. Each person is dependent on their own culture, and also other cultures for survival. Each person is seeking truth. Yehoshua brings strong human elements to the characters. Parents from one culture do not necessarily fit the mold of the other culture. Liberation is difficult to come by, no matter what example it encompasses.

Being a parent doesn’t give you exclusivity into the lives of your child, and your need-to-know diminishes when they become adults. Yehoshua is brilliant in his insight regarding familial bonds and the ties that bind family members, and also brilliant in his assessment of familial boundaries and privacy, and what constitutes invasion of that privacy.

Liberation often seems fleeting. Defining liberation takes on many formats, and within people, what is liberating to one, can be repressing to another. Innocence, romance, ideals, whether between individuals or within the formation of a county, begs one to live peacefully. Marriage of a country and its citizens includes many issues to consider and to undertake. There are other brides, other aspects of the almost 600-page book that I won’t delve into, that you should read yourself.

Yehoshua leaves us to wonder who or what exactly “The Liberated Bride” is, as the word “bride” takes on many connotations, including “bridge”. Is the bride a human being/s, state of being or mindset, a country, or is it a combination of all those factors. That is the brilliance of Yehoshua, his ability to convey and bring substance to the characters and the country in The Liberated Bride. A.B. Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem, and his own understanding of Israel is intense and runs deep. That is clearly evident in his excellent and masterful writing, with his gift for weaving diverse fabrics and threads into a tapestry of life.

I am an avid reader of A.B. Yehoshua’s books. In my opinion, no matter when first published, his works are timely even within the social, political and ethical considerations, today. Read The Liberated Bride yourself, and make your own judgements as to who or what the bride is or represents.


I personally own and have read this book.

October 22, 2012= 6 Cheshvan, 5773

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Jewaicious Review – Will in the World

Will in the World – How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare – is a page turner of a biography, a biography that is beyond compare, and a biography that I have not read with such eagerness, before, and it is all due to the vibrancy and enthusiasm of the author, Stephen Greenblatt’s masterful ability to blend elegant prose that makes us anxious for more, in order to fill our senses with the world of Shakespeare. The reader is infused with insight into Elizabethan England, and with vibrant word-paintings and narratives of Shakespeare’s life.

How did Shakespeare, from Stratford-Upon-Avon, a small town in the rural countryside, far removed from London, write with such perfection, beauty, emotion, sensuality and elegance, moving the country, the world with his plays, to become a playwright beyond compare and comprehension? Read Greenblatt’s book, and you will find some of the answers to that question, woven in a tapestry so fine, detailed and rich, that if you have never read any of Shakespeare’s brilliant plays or poetry, in my opinion, you will be tempted to run as fast as you can to your nearest bookstore in order to do so.

Having traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon, myself, on three occasions, and having seen Shakespeare’s birthplace, and even the cradle he slept in, and having encompassed myself in the surrounding countryside, I am aware of the stimulation of senses that possibly could have evoked thoughts and emotions in Shakespeare’s mind. I can understand how his environment played a major role within his imagination, prompting him to write with such magnificence and passion, becoming the playwright of playwrights.

From the Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare:

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a
Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions? fed with the same food,
hurt with the same weapons, subject to the
same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is?” Said to Salarino by Shylock

If Will in the World is sitting idly on a shelf in your house, please, take it out and read it, peruse each line, each page. You will not be disappointed, and you will be surprised, beyond imagination. His (Shakespeare’s) plays are always on the reader’s mind, as Greenblatt blends Shakespeare’s life with magnificent and brilliant details, some of it factual, some of it he has surmised through hard information. “To be” is definitely the answer, and Will in the World is a must read!

I personally own and have read this book.

August 20, 2012 – 2 Elul, 5772

Copyright 2007, L.M. No permission is given to reproduce, copy or use my writings or photographs in any manner.


Filed under Book Reviews, Judaism, Non-Fiction, Uncategorized

Book Review – Away

Away: A Novel, by Amy Bloom, is a novel that is panoramic in its landscape and a saga covering two years in the life of Lillian Leyb. Lillian is a Russian immigrant, who has fled the pogroms. Her parents and husband were murdered, and as far as she knows, her precious, toddler daughter, Sophie, has been murdered also. She has emigrated to New York City to start a new life, and is very determined to assimilate and reinvent herself.

We witness Lillian go through many changes in her desire to weave her way through the tapestries of life in 1920s New York City. Some of the scenarious are a bit farcical and outrageous, often hard to believe they would actually occur. Survival is at the foremost in her mind. When she thinks that she has found a niche, a place of comfort where she has the essentials such as food, shelter and clothing, her life takes a turn due to some news she has found out.

“It had taken eight hours for Lillian to get from Ellis Island to the Battery Park of Manhattan and another four to find Cousin Frieda’s apartment building. She had read Cousin Frieda’s letter and the directions to Great Jones Street while she stood on three different lines in the Registry Room, while the doctor watched them all climb the stairs, looking for signs of lameness or bad hearts or feeble-mindedness. ”You step lively,” a man had said to her on the crossing. “They don’t want no idiots in America. Also,” and he showed Lillian a card with writing on it, “if you see something that looks like this, scratch your right ear.” Lillian tried to memorize the shape of the letters. “What does it say?” “What do you think? It says, Scratch your right ear. You do that, they think you can read English. My brother sent me this,” the man said and he put the card back in his pocket, like a man with money.”

Lillian’s cousin emigrates and informs her that Lillian’s daughter, Sophie, is still alive. This sparks an intense desire and passion in Lillian to try to trek to Siberia, in order to find her daughter. Lillian goes to the extremes in order to do so, trekking through expanses of land that are uninhabited, in order to make her way to try to find her daughter. Along the way she meets people of varying statuses and mores.

This does not deter Lillian, for she is determined to find Sophie no matter what she has to do. It might sound insane, unattainable, and sound like a journey without a happy ending, but as far as Lillian is concerned, it is one she must make, no matter the incredible cast of characters she meets on her journey, and no matter what she has to do. Lillian is more than courageous, and is a heroine in this excellent novel.

I will not go into any specific details of Lillian’s journey, as it would give away too much of the novel. From the underbelly of the ship that took her to Ellis Island, to the things that she had to endure and go through in order to survive (some of it not so nice), to the harsh reality of life in the Yukon, we travel with Lillian through an arduous journey, and one of great bravery and will power. I do recommend you read it in order to gain a better understanding of life in America, from NYC to the Yukon, during the 1920s.

Away is a novel depicting the plight of the Russian immigrant. It is a sweeping saga, and it is a novel of identity, of love and longing, and of yearning for those left behind. Away is a gripping and forceful story of time and place. Bloom depicts the social mores, and the ways and means in which immigrants assimilate in order to become part of the society and country they so strongly want to live in. Away has the protagonist reinventing herself to fit her environment, only to return to her true identity, with her coat and baggage.

Bloom has given us a descriptive and clear painting of love and longing, passion and strength, assimilation and identity. Her characters are flawed, but that is to be expected, as in reality, none of us are perfect. And, for those who can’t understand Lillian’s fierce will and brave determination, they have missed a vital part of the novel, and missed the emotions between the lines, in this fantastic tour de farce. They should try to to think about the content with a different perspective, that of a mother’s frantic journey to find her daughter.

Most of us would go to the ends of the earth to find our child, if we found ourselves in the same situation that Lillian was in, no matter how absurd or extreme it might seem. Bloom understands this, and writes with eloquence, and gives us an emotionally breathtaking novel, filled with bits of humor and filled with heart-wrenching moments within the vast expanse and panorama of America. Away: A Novel is written with brilliance, and it is an Amy Bloom masterpiece.

I personally own and have read this novel, twice.
July 15, 2012 – 25 Tamuz, 5772

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Book Review – The Island Within

The Island Within, by Ludwig Lewisohn is a saga, a novel that depicts three generations of a Jewish family as their lives lead them from Vilna, Lithuania to America. The book deals with Jewish life, its traditions, religion, and with assimilation in Eastern Europe and in America.

The story line evolves through decades of the family generations, through political turmoil, and shows how each generation leaves religion and family traditions behind in order to fit into new cultural structures, and how they try assimilate.

Deep within their assimilation questions of religion and Judaism lie lurking. Each generation’s feeling of contentment, and discontentment flows through the veins of familial lines. Each family member feels the pull of Jewishness within them, and some deny their Jewishness, while others are demonstrative in their Jewishness.

One family member, the young Arthur Levey, a psychoanalyst, begins to feel the ebb and flow of his life begin to spiritually decline, to falter, more so when his son his born. He questions his existence and lack of spiritual strength, and begins a journey to find the meaning of religion and the role it should play in his life.

The ending is poignant and lovely. We are left to ponder the issues of inter-marriage, issues of assimilation, political issues, the role of religion in modern society and the ancestral ties that bind us to our religious traditions and religious culture.

Ludwig Lewisohn writes eloquently, and with precise details, in an almost poetic fashion at times, bringing us a family saga, and excellent novel, which has something in it for everyone, Jewish or otherwise. I highly recommend The Island Within.

July 2, 2012 – 12 Tamuz, 5772

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Filed under Book Reviews, Judaism, Novels

Jewaicious Review – City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan by Beverly Swerling, is a well-researched book that is filled with excellent historical value and factual information concerning New Amsterdam from the 1660s and five successive generations. Swerling recreates the time periods with fluid blends, giving our imaginations a peek at what life was like during the generations that span the novel, beginning with Amsterdam, when it was first settled.

Governor Peter Stuyvesant and his family are portrayed with masterful prose, especially depicting Stuyvesant as a brutal tyrant and controlling figure during the settlement of New Amsterdam. His household structure is helped along by Lucas and Sally Turner, who emigrated from England. Their determination through Lucas’ skill as a surgeon and through Sally’s skills as an apothecary help not only the Stuyvesant family, but also help them gain respect and reputations in their field.

This eventually leads to discord between the brother and sister, causing them to drift apart due to Lucas literally selling Sally’s hand in marriage to a physician named Jacob Van der Vries, The family links continue to be broken between Lucas and Sally and are never repaired. It affects the familial lines for generations.

The book becomes quite enhanced by characters of various religions, including Jewish families, Christians of several faiths, and those of other religious practices, who have one viewpoint within their environment, unable to see beyond their spiritual border. The novel swells with culture, daily lifestyle and living. We are shown the various dwellers that inhabit the Island, and how each one must try to come to terms with the ethnic environments that surround them. From the poor and poverty stricken to thugs, from landowners to slaves, patriotic individuals to anarchists, thieves and profiteers, shrewd businessmen and those trying to survive on the streets, and so on, Swerling paints a picture of New Amsterdam beginnings through the Revolutionary War. Her prose is compelling, intriguing and riveting. For me the novel was a page-turner.
Swerling is quite the prolific writer of extremely detailed prose, especially in her telling of early surgery and early medicine and cures. I was astounded and glued to the pages due to the abundance of obvious research involved in order for her to present such detailed accountings to the reader.

I love this book on so many levels, and being a native New Yorker (although, transplanted), the story spoke to me, and filled all of my senses. The word imagery is incredible. I was amazed at the minute details that embrace the story, from how the first settlers built the city from scratch, to the harshness of life in New Amsterdam, including the crime and moral standards. We see families trying to gain control of land and people, however they can, no detail is spared in conveying the situations. From brother and sister, who have close familial ties, to separations within families, each side feeling they are correct in their anger and beliefs, each side coming out somewhat the loser for their hatred.

Swerling leads us through the bitter streets of New Amsterdam. In the end, we find that times haven’t changed that much…the diversity of the population and the religious backgrounds, fed hatred and discrimination then, as the cultural and social interplays continue to do so in modern day. It was a sad state of affairs then, and it still is in many respects, now. Although Swerling masterfully writes regarding an earlier time period, excepting for the lifestyle and what was available during the time periods presented, most societal, economical and cultural issues have not changed, only the technology has.

In my opinion, that is the lesson that Beverly Swerling tries to instill in us, within the pages of City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan. I highly recommend this historical novel to everyone. It is an amazing accomplishment, and I feel the novel is a literary must-read.

As an aside: This novel is the first of several by Beverly Swerling. I own all of her books, and have read them all. I read her works eagerly.

May 24, 2012 – 3 Sivan, 5772

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Judaism, Novels