Tag Archives: Jewish fiction

Lorri M. Review: Great House

greathouse Healing and the need for validation are significant aspects within the pages of Great House, by Nicole Krauss.

The lives that unfold are not necessarily connected in the present, yet connected within the time continuum, within the folds of history dating back to the destruction of the Temple. One desk, with a locked drawer, sets off questioning within each person involved in the story. Insights begin to illuminate, fostered by an inanimate object, and the desk is often looked at as almost human-like. The desk is seen by some as a sense of security, yet it is really more displacing to the one who owns it. That is one of the sad issues in the story.

Krauss has created mindsets that encompass the various folds of the Jewish religion, and encompass the issues that Jews have faced throughout history.

The inanimate may harbor memories of the past, just through the process of ownership, but in the living are where memories are housed, within compartments of the mind. At times we choose to open a compartment and remember. At times we keep those memories locked in a compartment, never to be released. Yet those memories remain within us, running through our DNA, our veins from one generation to the next.

Krauss enhances the themes within the pages, and one in particular, transitions back to the destruction of the Temple. Great House is an analogy and metaphor for the Temple and what it stood for. It was THE GREAT HOUSE. We all hold the key to our unlocked stories, albeit, some might be to painful to release. As a whole unit of Jews, they hold a collective key to their past, a past blighted by the destruction of the Temple/Great House, the foundation of Jewish education and history that is carried through the generations, with cognizance or otherwise.

The Jewish people needed to heal through the centuries from all the losses, genocide, destruction, and statelessness. The sense of belonging that is the glue holding them together is a strong theme within the pages, although to some it may seem minor.

Memory and loss might lie dormant within the minds of some of the characters, much like the inanimate desk with its locked drawer. But, at the surface of the different individuals reigns the sameness of reclusive living and aloneness, and the sameness of memory’s repression of Self, and memory’s distortion of the past.

This was my second reading of this novel, and I am glad to have reread it, and did find it still, if not more, illuminating the second time around. Nicole Krauss is brilliant with word-imagery and in infusing the reader with questions to ponder regarding Judaism, its history and its legacy. Questioning and seeking answers is not unique in Judaism. I recommend Great House for those reasons.

© 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: The Innocents

the innocents The Innocents, by Francesca Segal, is a novel that explores relationships wrapped in subtleties that entice one to another. I have heard that the book is inspired by Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence”, and if true, did not find exacting similarities within the pages, other than the subtleties of temptation.

There are two main characters that are relevant to the story line: Adam Newman, Rachel Gibson. A third character, Ellie Schneider is intrusive, but a necessary part of the story line. Adam and Rachel live in Jewish London, engaged to be married, and will be married within a year. They are high school sweethearts. He adores her, loves her mannerisms, her face and the way he feels when he is around her. He would prefer getting married immediately. Rachel is a cute type, somewhat immature for a person in her twenties. She is the epitome of a pampered princess. She wrapped up in wedding plans, and the entire scenario of a social affair, complete with all the trimmings. She does not want that hindered in any aspect, and is obsessed with organizing it. .

Adam lives with a constant sense of grief within him, since his father died when he was a young boy. His soon-to-be father-in-law showers him with fatherly kindness, and found Adam a job in his company, but it isn’t enough. The sense of loss is a constant that follows him like a shadow.

Ellie Schneider arrives from New York, and the fireworks begin. Nuances arise, especially from Ellie. She is Jewish, also, Rachel’s cousin, yet the extreme opposite of Rachel. She is outgoing, aggressive, a porn film star (art house film according to the family) a drug user, and a blonde explosion of sexuality, even in synagogue, where one is expected to dress in a proper manner. Adam falls for her, and their supposedly subtle interactions foster his sense of yearning and desire for her. Temptation is strong, and Adam is torn between his commitment to Rachel, and his desire for Ellie.

Adam and Rachel have been protected throughout their lives by their families. They are both naive, and their naivety shows in their interactions, not only with each other, but others. They have been together for twelve years. Is their relationship founded more on habit than love? Do they really have the bond that their family members are so protective of? Is Adam and Rachel’s foundation built on substance and love? And, what of the family, do they see through the frailties and delicateness?

I found the story line to be enjoyable, and the writing to be vivid. Francesca Segal has written a first novel that is written with a sense of family dynamics that bind members together in a protective and loving fashion. The past is very much in the present within the family attitude, as stability, family priorities, and a sense of place is extremely important. Having come from a place of loss, older family members treasure the family fold and will do anything to protect its environment.

I recommend The Innocents, by Francesca Segal to those looking for insight on Jewish family life, family dynamics and the issues of requited love.

May 7, 2013 27 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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Book Review – The Dovekeepers

Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah are four women who share a common thread within The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.

Each woman’s story is told separately, but within the pages, each person is connected within the environment of Masada, the Jewish stronghold against the Romans. Masada was an ancient fortress with several palaces, sitting high atop a hill in the harsh desert where the palace and home of King Herod once stood. The four women depicted, live life in a challenging geographical environment, but more so, in a physically and emotionally challenging atmosphere. The four women more or less shared not only food and lodging, but also emotionally involved secrets, fears and losses, all beginning within their interactions within dovecote.

Masada’s cliffs and passages created a fortress for the Jews until the Romans took siege upon it in the last quarter of the first century. The Jews were known as “Zealots”. Each person was assigned a role, and the four women whose lives are intertwined worked in the dovecote. The dovecote was where the women worked to gather fertilizer for the gardens that supplied staples to the inhabitants.

Their lives bring history alive, and Hoffman wasted no detail in telling their stories, stories that show the deprivation, repression, and suffering thrust upon Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah. Yet throughout all of that, there were also sexual encounters, willing ones, at that. Hoffman’s prose is masterful, and her word imagery is vivid and filled with perspectives of history that are an extremely amazing accomplishment on her part.

Yael was cast aside by her Sicarri father at birth, and feels her life is worthless. Revka is a grandmother, whose two grandsons became mute after watching the murder of their mother, at the hand of the Romans. Shira is a mystical woman who was accused of witchcraft because of her medicine practices. Aziza, one of Shira’s daughters disguises herself as a man in order to fight like one. Each woman has an intriguing story to tell, and each one has faced the extremes of physical, mental and emotional boundaries.

Love, loss, submission, hardship, discrimination, religion, culture and customs, perseverance and strength reign supreme within the pages. The four women each have tales of their own to tell, involving how they came to the stronghold of Masada, how their lives were connected through the dovecote, but also connected in other areas. The book held my interest, although it was a slow read at times. I did want to know about the characters, wanted to know of their struggles against the harsh environment, but also against the superstitions, religious fanaticism, and the treatment of women in general during the time period portrayed.

The Romans lay siege upon Masada, and their abilities and strength to build not only a wall around the perimeter of Masada, but also a ramp in which to climb to the hilltop in order to release their scourge on the Jews is a part of Jewish history that has been told and handed down through the centuries, based on the writings of Josephus. The almost 1,000 Jews who survived until the scourge, lived their lives until, in an act so dramatic, they, en masse, made certain that they would not die or become enslaved at the hands of the Romans. They did die, but by their own decision to do so. All but seven individuals committed mass suicide, according to history. Two women and five children managed to survive.

Some of Josephus’ contemporay historical writings of the time were based on witness accounts of one or more of the women mentioned in The Dovekeepers. The novel is based on historical fact, and Hoffman writes of the historical data within the pages with the insight of extreme research and travels to Israel and to the site of Masada.

The Dovekeepers is a long read and not a particularly uplifting one, other than the fact that the Jews held up at Masada, fought to survive for their own beliefs. It is a story that is depressing, as a whole, especially if one knows the end, before beginning the book. I highly recommend The Dovekeepers for the historical aspect, and for the educational aspects of the novel. Alice Hoffman has surpassed herself, in my opinion, as far as her magnificent and detailed prose is concerned. Her devotion to accuracy, within a fictional framework is incredible and should be applauded, in my opinion.

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Review – The Baby Experiment

The Baby Experiment, by Anne Dublin, is an excellent book for teens and young adults who want to learn more about Jewish life in 18th century Hamburg, Germany, seen through the eyes of fourteen year old Johanna.

Johanna is filled with discontent, and is on the verge of adulthood. She decides to take a job outside the home, much to her mother’s dismay. She changes her surname in order to get the job, because Jews were not looked upon kindly. All she has known in her Jewish world, she must stifle in order to work and in order to survive in a world that despises Jews.

She is hired, and works as a child care worker in an orphanage. Quickly she observes the babies in the orphanage are listless and dying off. She feels it is due to the lack of attention given them because of an experiment being done on them. She decides to flee, with one child, a child not her own.

She encounters much adversity in her travels, and is confronted with the plague, anti-Semites, robbers and thugs. She perseveres, and is quite determined.

The fact that the book is written from the perspective of a teen-aged girl will appeal to many teenagers and young adults. The book is well written, and is a story that I think teens and young adults will be able to relate to as far as those who are entering adulthood, and leaving childhood behind. It is also a relevant book on many levels, including the historical factor of 18th Century Germany.

I recommend The Baby Experiment, by Anne Dublin, and feel it belongs in public, high school and college libraries.

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