Tag Archives: lorri m book review

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.


Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Holocaust/Genocide, Lorri's Blog

Lorri M. Review: The Essays of George Eliot (Complete)

theessaysofgeorgeelito The Essays of George Eliot (Complete) is an amazing book that gives the reader insight into the mind and the brilliance of George Eliot’s writing. The essays within the pages touch on a multitude of subjects that Eliot was known to evoke controversy over due to her frankness and starkness of thought.

Eliot was critical of trivial plots by women writers who wrote romantic novels to appeal to the female masses. Within her own novels, where romance is involved, Eliot made sure there was a link between romance and self-centeredness and manipulation, and/or romance and the ever evolving woman, along with other standards and issues.

Her essays bring a sense of realism to the reader, opening up to them Eliot’s thought processes and her thinking on issues of women and marriage, women and sense of self, women and fulfillment within marriage, women and independence and feminist ideals, women and manipulation, women and self-idealization, etc. They also depict her aversion to religious practices, especially the Christian dogma and doctrine. The reader of her essays (during the time period) could see her defined as an agnostic, and a woman who has broken her ties to Christianity.

Religion and her views on it played an important role in her essays. Her depiction of religious authoritarians is not very sugar-coated, but rather forthright and critical. From her perspective, she finds them self righteous in their advocacy of Christianity, yet unequivocally liberal in their own personal lives. Yet, they preached condemnation. She abhorred all that Christianity stood for, and it is quite evident in her essays. This did not necessarily bode well with her readers or those who chose to be critical of her writing and the given subjects.

I liked reading the varied aspects of the social stratum, the political environments and the religious aspects within the pages of George Eliot’s essays. They are vital in order to understand the mores and mindsets of the time period. History has been illuminated through her writings.

I enjoyed reading her thoughts on humor versus wit, and how her writings on both exhibit her own theories of situational events and mental growth. She seemed to enjoy comparing men to women in the intelligence aspect. She was a woman of humor, herself, and often depicted it in her novels, although at times quite subtly.

She definitely was opinionated, and did not falter in expressing her views on any subject, no matter the consequences of public condemnation or praise. Her gift with language and vocabulary is sharp and masterful. Her essays sparked debate within the educated class of the 19th century, whether through condemnation or applause.

Her writings reflect her multitude of thoughts and layers of opinions on everything from A to Z that are pertinent to society and social standards. They are intensely written, and filled with seriousness, yet at times a bit of folly is thrown in. George Eliot was a brilliant writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Essays of George Eliot (Complete).


Filed under Book Reviews, Lorri's Blog, Non-Fiction

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.


Filed under Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Lorri M. Review: Orphan Train

orphantrain Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline was quite the historical novel. I had never heard of the term “orphan train” (and I have a few decades behind me), and found out through reading the novel that it was a factual event in American history.

According to Wikipedia: “The Orphan Train Movement was a welfare program that transported children from crowded cities of the United States, such as New York City and Boston, to willing foster homes across the country. The orphan trains ran between 1853 and 1929, relocating an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. At the time the orphan train movement began, reformers estimated that 30,000 vagrant children were living on the streets of New York City.”

I was quite shocked to realize that not only was the novel based on actual incidents, but also shocked at the extent of the movement.

The novel has two main characters, 17-year old Molly Ayer and 91-year old Vivian Daly. Molly is in the foster care system, living with a family that is torn regarding her. Her foster father likes her, her foster mother can’t tolerate her, she is in it for the monthly income they get for caring for Molly. They come together under unusual circumstances. Molly is fulfilling community service to keep her out of juvenile hall by helping Vivian clean out her attic of decades of boxes and collected items.

When Molly first encounters Vivian, she is an obnoxious teenager, and has to hold her tongue in check in order to remain somewhat civil towards Vivian. Vivian feels a sense of an underlying anger within Molly’s soul. During Molly’s time helping Vivian, she begins to soften her attitude due to the stories that Vivian relays to her, regarding her life during her childhood. Molly has her own stories to tell, and tell them to Vivian, she does.

Through the two of them opening boxes, looking over mementos, clothes and other items, they become emotionally attached to each other. With each item that is uncovered there is one that Vivian reflects upon, and the story is relayed to Molly. It seems the two of them are more alike than either of the imagined.

Molly, begins to see the world differently, with a more realistic viewpoint, and with a deeper understanding of who she is in the scheme of things.

I felt the characters were extremely realized, and were believable. I was fascinated, and also saddened, by the events regarding the orphan train. Many of the children were farmed out, literally, to live on farms where they were mistreated and used for labor purposes. It was an eye-opener, and after I finished reading it, I began to wonder how I had never heard of it. The movement began in New York City, run by Catholic Charities. I don’t remember it being taught in school, and I was schooled on Long Island, New York.

The story is written with sensitivity, but also with truth, blended together in a brilliant story line. Youth and aging co-exist in a lovely story, and one that could have occurred, as far as Molly and Vivian’s relationship. The writing was vividly detailed, and scenes seemed so realistic, I could visualize them happening.

Christina Baker Kline certainly did her research, and her writing displays it. I highly recommend Orphan Train to everyone! It was a book that is historically important, even though it is a novel. It is a book that I couldn’t put down until I finished it.

Ⓒ 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, Novels

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


Filed under Book Reviews, Fiction, Judaism, Lorri's Blog, Novels

Lorri M. Review: Hanns and Rudolf

hannsandrudolf Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz, by Thomas Harding, is a brilliantly written and well-researched book.

This non-fiction account of two men whose lives converge, told through the eyes of the author, Thomas Harding, whose Great-Uncle was Lieutenant Hanns Alexander. Hanns was a Jewish German, and also the son of an immigrant family who fled Germany for England, turning over all of their holdings in order to gain exit visas.

Rudolph Hoss (not to be confused with Rudolf Hess) was a farmer, a man who enjoyed the earth and farming. Farming eventually became far removed from his life, and it eluded him once he joined the “Schutz-Staffel” (SS), under the suggestion of Heinrich Himmler.

Harding refers to the two men by their given name, and I shall do the same. Their personal lives are depicted throughout the pages, regarding their childhoods, their families, their adult lives and their aspirations.

One thing that struck me was the dedication to Judaism within the Alexander family. And, cemented within that, is the family Torah, the “Alexander Torah”, which survived the war. So did correspondence between Hanns and his family, and between Hanns and his girlfriend, Ann, who eventually became his wife.

Within rotating chapters detailing the lives of both Hanns and Rudolf, the reader gains an intense perspective of their backgrounds, their personal lives, their goals and their individual quests in the name of country and war.

Hanns’ life takes dramatic turns once he is in England. He wants nothing more than to be viewed as “English as possible” and wants to gain citizenship. He joins the British Army hoping. This enlistment leads to more than he could ever imagine. At the end of his enlistment, he is given full British citizenship.

The pages are infused with compelling documentation, letters, forms, photographs, testimonies, and portions of Rudolf’s own journal entries. From all of the intense documentations, one is given perspectives that are unimaginable, concerning Rudolf’s rise to Kommandant, not only Kommandant, but Kommandant of Auschwitz.

Rudolf writes forthrightly concerning the atrocities he is involved with, and this reader could see how his initial attitude of concern for Jews eventually turns into one of pure evilness and lack of caring and concern for humanity. How he went from a man who was repulsed by witnessing camp murders (yet, stood there watching as if it was a normal fact of life, to save his reputation), to a man whose attitude changed dramatically is beyond the pale. He became a man possessed with death and destruction, and a man who had no remorse or concern for his implementation of the gas chambers. Yet, he had a wife and children who he came home to, acting as if nothing horrific had occurred.

He had a hand in the design and was witness to the first group of Jews that were gassed. He programmed the entire operation, employing not only his power, but whatever was available in order to incorporate construction, destruction and horrific atrocities. He oversaw over one million individuals exterminated at the hands of the Nazis. He was the master planner, and created the extermination program that existed, including the procedures, schedules, structures, and instructions. He was fearless, merciless and steadfast in his pursuit to please his superiors.

Hanns moved up through the ranks, and his Lieutenant status saw him eventually given the status of respect he desired. He took part in the Normandy Landing. In 1945 he was afforded a role on the newly formed War crimes Investigation Team for England, based in a Brussels suburb. This position took him to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where he saw the remains of unspeakable acts of genocide, after liberation.

His reputation fostered, he was given the job as an interpreter, taking notes from interviews and witness statements in German and then transcribing them into English. he interviewed several high-ranking individuals affiliated with Auschwitz, and other individuals from the SS. He untiring efforts garnered information that proved that certain SS members knew that gassed exterminations occurred at Auschwitz.

The war crimes trial began with the trial of Josef Kramer and forty four other people. Hanns could tell, after a few days of trial testimony, and knew in his heart of hearts that there were others who were conspirators or who headed the exterminations of the Jews.

The War Crimes Group was created, and those involved, including Hanns, were trying to locate SS high ranking officials through their intelligence experise. In 1946, he looked over the list of war criminals, and Rudolf’s name was next. He began investigating and searching for Rudolf. He was relentless in his investigation and searching. He left no stone unturned, every possible person involved, including family members, were interviewed and interviewed again. On March 10 1946, Rudolf was taken to prison.

From there, the rest is history, and Harding illuminates it immensely. Rudolf confessed to murdering over two million individuals. He was hanged at Auschwitz, in the same spot where Jews were hung. His memoir (which some excerpts are quoted from in Hanns and Rudolf) details his life, including his involvement in the SS.

Hanns and Rudolf
is an incredibly compelling book, reading like a spy story of sorts. It is intense, written brilliantly and with extreme accuracy, through the dedication of exhaustive research in all of its formats. Harding has done both Hanns and humanity an amazing tribute, in vividly detailing the tirelessness of Hanns and his efforts to right the wrongs through justice being done.

Harding has also shown the world a side of Rudolf that is invaluable for historical purposes. The reader is taken on a journey of a man who controlled his emotions, controlled the deaths of Jews, and who controlled Auschwitz with a firm hand.

I knew the book would be intense and filled with horrific situations and events. Yet, I read it, and within the pages of depictions of Auschwitz and the lack of humanity within the electrified fences, I was chilled to the bone reading about some of the circumstances, and more chilled and horrified at how Rudolf seemed to slough off the atrocities as if they were nothing of importance, as if Jewish humanity was irrelevant in the scheme of life.

Harding’s efforts are to be applauded. Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz is a work of extreme brilliance and Thomas Harding is masterful in the telling. From the opening page, describing Hanns’ funeral, to the last page, I was involved in reading the relaying of history, and inhaling the familial dynamics, especially of the Alexander family. Hanns and Rudolf belongs on every book shelf, personal or otherwise. It is books such as this that will keep history alive, and will keep it so, not only for this generation, but the generations that came before us, and generations to come. It is an invaluable historical resource.

I want to thank Leah Johanson, Publicist, Simon and Schuster for the Galley of Hanns and Rudolf. I am grateful to have received it, and to have read it. Thank you!

July 15, 2013 – 8 Av, 5773


Filed under Book Reviews, Holocaust/Genocide, Jewish History, Jewish Immigrant, Lorri's Blog, Memoirs