Tag Archives: family dynamics

Review: The Book of Daniel

   If you are a fan of E.L. Doctorow’s work, The Book of Daniel, a novel, will not disappoint you, if you pay attention and grasp what you are reading, because it is a compelling and intense story line.  I read it straight through, and had difficulty putting it down to even eat.   was overtaken with emotions thruoght the book. The novel takes place beginning with the Cold War, with the secrets, the Leftists, and with the alarmist political tactics used in order to control the country.

The narrator, Daniel Lewin (nee Isaacson), is the son of parents who were convicted of conspiring to pass atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, parents who were executed in the electric chair.  The story begins with him as a graduate student, married and with a son.  He is seemingly in the university library preparing his dissertation.  His mind begins to wander and he begins to compose a book outlining the harrowing childhood that he and his sister faced as the children of convicted spies, and as children adopted by a loving couple.

He tries to analyze and make sense of his parents’ deaths, and of his life and his sister’s life up to that point in time.  While writing his thoughts and feelings, Daniel’s writing often seems to be frenzied, grammatically incorrect, jumping from first person to third person, jumping back and forth in time.  This is brilliant on Doctorow’s part, because in reality, if one were to be in this situation, and writing about their experiences, I would think it would be exactly how one would write.  As feelings begin to surface, one might talk about their father, as their father in one sentence, and then in order to block out some painful event, start talking about him as “Mr. Isaacson”.  One might call their adopted parents by their surname in one sentence, and in the next refer to them as mom and dad, father and mother.

The story is unique, written as events remembered from Daniel’s childhood, including visiting his parents in jail, the ominous Sing-Sing.  It is intense and insightful, and sheds light on how the acts of parents can affect the children into adulthood.  How children survive, and how their loyalties bounce back and forth from their birth parents to their adopted parents, how the children can’t fathom why their parents would be so stubborn as to not admit some guilt, in order to gain a lesser sentence, how the guilt of the parents is afflicted onto the children.  The story details how the emotional electricity runs through their bloodstreams.

This book is modeled after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for treason on June 19, 1953. But, the book is not about the political times, although that is a major factor as to the events that eventually led to the execution of Daniel’s parents, but it is a book about humanity, children caught up in the trauma of the death of their parents, children who jump from family to family, never quite feeling at home, children who must learn to survive in a world of cruel insinuations and insults, children who have surpressed their emotions in order to survive, children searching for the truth of their lives, having no model in order to do so.

Doctorow’s brilliant writing has created a classic novel, and one that should be on the shelves of every household.  It is a sad story, and was emotional, and painful to watch Daniel grow, to watch his sister institutionalized, to watch Daniel try to understand his parents’ actions, and for him grow into a 60s radical, yet try not to be like them in his political zeal and zest, living in constant fear that he would turn out like them, behind bars with electric currents shooting through him.  With clarity and intensity, E. L. Doctorow brings the political past to the forefront, and we realize that things haven’t changed much with the political climate, in the fifty plus years, as we continue to live in the after-affects of September 11th, 2001.  The century is different, the decade and year is different, but the alarmist mindsets are still an ever present force.

This was my second reading of this novel, due to an upcoming book club. The story was just as engrossing as the first time.

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Lorri M. Review: And Sons

andsons David Gilbert’s book, And Sons, opens at the funeral of one Charles Henry Topping. Within the walls of the church, A.N. Dyer, Charles’ best friend from childhood, awaits the fact that he is going to deliver a eulogy. This contributes to his reflecting back on his own life, and to the fact that he has been neglectful in many areas, especially with his three sons.

The story line can feel disconnected and/or confusing at times due to the fact that the narrator is the son of Topping. Topping’s son is the one revealing Dyer’s life. This in itself makes for a unique situation.

Set in New York City, with the upper echelons at a point of disconnect, the story is a one week trip through time, through memories and through explosive moments, as told by Phillip Topping. His narration regarding Dyer and Dyer’s family highlights the fascination the Toppings have for Dyer. Dyer is an author of wide renown and popularity. His is considered an icon, a legend in his time.

The father-son relationship is explored and expanded upon through Gilbert, and through his unique style. The constraints of wealth’s privilege is exposed in a not so kindly fashion. Respect, reflection and redemption are strong issues within the pages.

And Sons is filled with familial forces that border on emotional disregard, through neglect and lack of fatherly demonstration of love. It is a book that is both humorous and sad, and one that can leave you laughing one minute, and angry the next.

If I had to rate this book, I would give it a 3.5 star rating, with 5 being the highest. David Gilbert is sharp and vivid with word imagery and with evoking the characters with their thoughts and feelings. The novel has almost 450 pages, and the best parts, for me, were the last 150 pages.

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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.

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Lorri M. Review: Norman Mailer: A Double Life

normanmailer J. Michael Lennon has captured Norman Mailer to the fullest extent possible, in the biography, Norman Mailer: A Double Life.

Through his meticulous attention to detail, and his extensive research, he has brought the reader a stark, undoctored, realistic approach to the life that Mailer led, both privately and publicly. There are instances where I wish that Lennon was not so illuminating with is minute word-imagery, but I am aware that those segments are a part of the whole.

Lennon
has created a biography that depicts a man who, in my opinion, seems to be floundering. I could see him at odds with his sexual escapades, his divorces, his children and his own opinions of the world and of himself. At odds, meaning his actions and the consequences of them. At times, he appeared to be so full of himself. His activities and sexual prowess never ceased, at the expense of others. But, more importantly at the expense of himself.

He didn’t seem able to control his impulses, and he let them take over in social and private situations. Even if he could control the impulses, from the material garnered in the biography, I doubt he would have. Sex and women were major factors in his life. For him the events leading up to self-gratification were forms of power over others.

Mailer seems to have used some of his sexual experiences as material for his novels. He enjoyed the self-absorption and the impulses he acted upon, while they were occurring. Afterwards, he often felt that he spread himself too wide, but it did not stop him from continuing his more or less promiscuous behavior. From alcohol and drugs, to sexual exploits, his addictions were many.

He involved himself in politics, was often seen as radical, viewed other authors as not being the great 20th century writer, and often fluctuated from one subject to another as sources for writing. He procrastinated, and some of his books took years to be finalized and published. He was often perceived as cowing to the public, as far as story line, through his sometimes less than desirable book sales. He seems, in my opinion, to be a man who wanted to be labeled as THE greatest writer of the century, yet his output was often the reverse of his aspiration. Time will tell whether he was.

He married six times. Once he had a child/children from his wives, the luster seemed to wear off, and he sought other alternatives. His infidelities were baffling, and his sister was once known to have asked him why he sought this course of action. In his mind it was a safety net. Go figure.

Marriage and infidelity were one of his double lives. Becoming a great author and juggling fame and his personal life was another one of his double lives. Author and critic, power play and morals, hardworking and merriment, all of these and so much more are described in the several double lives that Mailer involved himself in.

J. Michale Lennon has brought every aspect of Norman Mailer’s life to the forefront. From the despicable and ugly acts to the kindnesses, we are witness to a man who led a life filled with prolific writings, nine children, six wives, varied emotions, and filled with self-realized consequences for the choices he made.

Norman Mailer: A Double Life might be a long book, yet within the pages, nothing is left for us to wonder regarding the context of his life. This is the way he wanted it, and this is what the author has given the reader.

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Lorri M. Book Review: The Jump Artist

thejumpartist The Jump Artist, by Austin Ratner, was a novel that was a study in a relationship between a father and son, and the psychological impacts of that relationship and how it directed the emotional course of the son.

Max, the father was a powerful force in his son, Philipp Halsman’s life, and often energetic, bordering on overpowering, in his quests and activities. He saw himself as able to perform any task, and no matter how strenuous, he never failed to exhibit his dominance and strength. And, exhibit he did, to a fault, proceeding to conquer even when his physical impairment should have quelled his goal.

Philipp, a 22-year old Latvian Jew, on the other hand, was diminished in his father’s presence. He had no ambition to compete on his father’s level, and no motivation to drive him forward. Throughout the pages, he evokes a sense of detachment from his father, and a bond that is less than strong or close.

One day while out hiking in Austria, Max fell off a cliff and died. Philipp looked away for one quick instance, and when he looked back, his father was gone. From there the story line becomes more morose. Philipp is accused of murdering his father and taken to jail. He is found guilty of murder, and the reader surmises (at least this reader did), that he did not kill his father, from the way the story line is written.

The prison scenes are extremely layered with graphic imagery. Nothing is left to the imagination. The inhumane treatment is apparent, and Philipp’s depressive state is fostered within the disgusting prison conditions.

While in jail Philipp becomes a tortured soul, unable to fathom why nobody believes him. He is unable to cope with his detention under the circumstances surrounding the fact that nobody believes him, and everyone is against him. His only saving soul is his lawyer, who defends him to the best of his ability, under the extreme and the microscopic efforts of the prosecution.

Within the pages the reader is given vivid portrayals of a man depressed, a man racked with guilt, not the guilt of a murderer, but the guilt of burdens he has bared, and the guilt of a man who is in a constant state of self-hate. His only allies are his attorney, his mother, Freud and Einstein. They rally behind him, and Freud and Einstein vouch for him and use their status to help him gain a pardon.

Once out of prison, he realizes he must move to another country in order to start life anew. Also, the fact that war is imminent plays a large factor in his decision to relocate to France, where he is welcomed, where he feels at home, and where he believes he will be harbored. Within his new environment his efforts at portrait photography are enhanced, and he becomes known for his work. Living in France does not last long, and Philipp eventually moves to America.

In America his photography flourishes, it becomes his life, his reason for living. He photographs famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. His signature becomes the fact that he photographs his subjects as they jump, therefore, he is known as a “Jump Artist”. His life takes on new meaning, yet his detachment to humanity is still obvious.

Ratner
is brilliant in his writing, and in his portrayal of the human condition, both in prison and in society, as antisemitism rears its ugliness. If this were today, I doubt that Philipp would have been convicted, even through all the discrimination inflicted upon him. There was no conclusive evidence, and the few witnesses that were present used drama tactics to infuse the court’s decision. Antisemitism seemed to be a decisive force behind the verdict.

For those looking for an intense read, The Jump Artist is a book for you. It is not a quick read, not a light read, but a dark and compelling read. I applaud Austin Ratner for his brilliant writing.

May 28, 2013 – 19 Sivan, 5773

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Lorri M. Book Review: Bearing the Body

bearing the body Bearing the Body, by Ehud Havazelet, is an intense look at family dynamics and the after-effects of the Holocaust in relation to the silence of the survivors, survivors trying to quietly assimilate in a new environment. Often times the events of the past are so horrific and traumatic, that they are difficult for one to bear. Havazelet has an deep comprehension of this.

Dysfunction reigns, and rains, heavily, through the clouds of family dynamics. Silence resounds loudly, echoing fragments of the past, of the Holocaust. Assimilation and trying to forget one’s past affects the children of survivors, in more ways than one can imagine. This novel depicts that dilemma. It is a story of survivors passing their burdens to the next generation to bear, within their bodies, both emotionally and mentally, not to mention the physical consequences of that decision. Secrets are kept, yet those very secrets are what has caused family rift, family anger, family emotional separation and lack of unity.

Sol, the father, is a Holocaust survivor, and a man who is silently carrying the burdens of the past. Due to his silence he is subject to strange behavior. Daniel, the eldest son, has unexpectedly died. Nathan, the youngest son, is a boy in a man’s body. Nathan is stuck in time, and can’t seem to evolve from his childhood. He has hang-ups, including use of marijuana, alcohol, and has sexually obsessive issues. He is a womanizer, and his life revolves around his sexual urges and impulses, and his desire for immediate gratification, no matter the cost. One despicable act, in the first few pages of the book, cost him his relationship with his girlfriend. He doesn’t seem to get the reasoning, though, and keeps phoning her to try to win her back. He is in denial, and won’t face the truth of the situation, and the resulting consequences of his actions.

Sol writes to strangers, family members of those murdered in the Holocaust, in order to express to them some form of sympathy and condolence. Yet, he bore the burden of silence, choosing not to reveal to his sons the facts of his surviving the Holocaust. He keeps a constant foot in his old world, while simultaneously keeping his other foot rooted in Queens. He is a man constricted and restricted, emotionally and verbally. He is unable to tell his sons that he loves them, much to the chagrin of his wife. His silence has kept him from moving forward, causing disharmony within the family unit.

Sol and Nathan have traveled to San Francisco to find out what caused Daniel’s death. While there, Sol becomes hospitalized. Nathan resorts to alcohol, denying and pushing his father’s illness to the background of his mind. Sol eventually leaves the hospital, alone, due to Nathan’s drinking binge.

During one scene in the novel, Sol carries Daniel’s ashes up the steep and hilly streets of San Francisco. Bearing the body of his son, bearing the bodies of his family members who were Holocaust victims, bearing the bodies of so many souls, bearing his own body with its aging medical problems, bearing the burden of loss, bearing the lack of verbalizing his love for his sons. So much to bear in one human body.

There are no right answers to the questions that the Havazelet’s writing evokes. He writes with sensitivity, ever aware of the frailty of humans, ever conscious of the Holocaust and of the repercussions and consequences of the survivors’ choices. Havazelet has written a novel of family dynamics, a sobering and serious-toned novel, and one not to be taken lightly. Many readers might not like the tone, like the realistic portrayal of a family on the verge of disassociation, not only from each other, but from life in general. It is a difficult story to become involved in, and the content might be misconstrued by some readers. It is a dreary book, a book that is burdensome. In my opinion, that is what Havazelet is trying to convey…the burdens of the body, carried by not only Holocaust survivors, but the generations to follow. History has colored the lenses and emotions of the Nathan and his brother, filtered by the lack of communication from the parents. Havazelet dramatically makes the reader aware that the cycle continues, and will continue, unless it is somehow broken.

Havazelet is definite in the fact that one should not be silent. Yet he isn’t judging those who are. He is aware of man’s faults, and of man’s weaknesses, and it is apparent in his writing. He is emphasizing that one must bear witness, because it is extremely necessary for family members to realize their familial history. It is necessary for them to try to come to terms with the past, in order for them to move forward. Grandparents and parents must find a way to tell their grandchildren and children about the Holocaust. Their experiences must be carried down through the generations. Their stories shouldn’t be left in the caves within the mind and soul to fester, causing unhealthy and extreme emotional outlets. In my opinion, that is Ahud Havazelet’s message, and he delivers it through intense word images, and through masterful writing, in the pages of Bearing the Body.

May 2, 2013 – 22 Iyyar, 5773

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.

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