Monthly Archives: February 2013

Book Diva Review: The Conversation

theconversation Joshua Golding’s novel, The Conversation, is a book I found enjoyable to read. From the first page to the last page, the Jewish philosophical aspects held my interest on many levels.

David Goldstein is the protagonist who is from a secular family. He is a college student, and during his freshman year studies philosophy. This subject is the match that lit the flame for David, and therein begins his delving into religion, particularly Judaism. He is more or less an agnostic, and is seeking concrete answers regarding G-d.

David finds himself constantly questioning the foundation of his Jewish roots. He has rebelled due to a painful childhood, and more or less lost his belief in Judaism’s doctrines and principles. That changed when he visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It had a deep and profound affect on him, evoking emotional responses to what he had seen. He begins conversing with the college Rabbi regarding his feelings and thoughts on what he has seen. The Rabbi offers suggestions, and is sensitive to David’s questions.

David speaks to his friends concerning his perceptions. His friends’ beliefs are varied. There is Simon who believes in pleasure-seeking, and during conversations with David, tries to direct him away from Judaism, or any spiritual higher power. David also has a friend named Ravi. Ravi believes in mystical forces, and is avid in his beliefs in the powers of meditation. George, on the other hand, believes that belief in Jesus, as the savior, is the answer to everything, and that David need look no further.

Aside from his male friends, he was in a relationship with a girl named Helen, and soon broke off with her. His fascination with Judaism, and its theories, dogma and doctrines overtook his attention to her and he neglected her. He was not vain, but became self-absorbed in his searching for answers. He eventually meets a student named Esther Applefield, who is from an extremely Orthodox family. He is attracted to her in ways that are not permissible within her religious beliefs. Yet, he continues to pay attention to her. She inspires him to educate himself more on Jewish life. He seeks to learn more through her, through others.

He is constantly conversing with Rabbis, Professors, friends, lecturers, etc., through face-to-face contact, emails, telephone calls, letters, in order to gain more insight and clarity regarding G-d’s existence, and regarding Judaism’s role in the religious spectrum.

In my opinion, Judaism itself, although not being a physical individual, could be defined as the protagonist, and David (and his friends) could be defined as the antagonists. But, I will leave it as David being the protagonist. David is not static throughout most of the book, and we see him mature from a freshman to a senior. He attains a state of individualization, as far as his thought processes, religious concepts and cognizance, and emotions. We see his emotional growth as well as his religious growth, and he does exhibit continual change. Yet, within all of his immediacy, his questioning, his seeking answers, his constant reflections and searching for concrete proof of the existence of G-d, we also see, towards the end of the book, a slightness of his being static, within his quests.

The Conversation is a novel that is filled with philosophical thought concerning religion. Questioning is predominant through conversation. Dialogues range from David-to student, David-to academic individuals, David-to Rabbis. The conversing covers mysticism, logic, faith-based belief and denial of one’s self within the religious realm.

I found The Conversation to be a metaphor for Judaism, for its philosophies, foundation, principles, and the all-encompassing educational and Jewish life aspects of Talmud and Torah. It is an intellectual book and a book dealing with Jewish philosophy. I was impressed with Joshua Golding’s writing, and thought he was brilliant in infusing the pages with back and forth dialogue and conversation. There is much to ponder in the novel. He has written a masterpiece, in my opinion.

I highly recommend The Conversation to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: Forty Years in a Day

forty years in aday
Forty Years in a Day
, by Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito, is a novel that begins in Italy, and concerns Victoria Montanaro and her family.

After years of hardship in Italy and after struggling with an alcoholic and abusive husband, Victoria and her children leave for America, unbeknownst to her husband and to her father.

What follows from there is the struggle for survival in America, a struggle that was unexpected due to the illusion that America was the land of opportunity and that the streets were lined with gold. Like many immigrants, their ideals of America being the land of wealth and accomplishment were soon diminished, and the reality of life set in quickly.

The story is told through the eyes of Vincenzo, who is Victoria’s oldest child. He is taken on a outing to Ellis Island by his daughter, for his birthday, and once there, memories of the past flood his mind.

The wave of nostalgia and sadness overcomes him, and he tells his life’s story to his daughter, as they overlook the surroundings of Ellis Island. In one day, he relates forty years of family history, beginning with the turn of the 20th century. He describes daily living and the struggles his mother endured in order to keep food on the table. He describes how is siblings sought to assimilate and build identities, some based on negativity. Vincenzo describes long held family secrets, secrets that give foundation to his daughter and give her knowledge of her ancestral background.

The reader follows the family through the harshness that they encountered through the decades and generations. The authors depict the daily existence within the confines of poverty and menial job opportunities quite well. The forty-year time period is depicted with excellent word-imagery, and with sensitivity to the family situations of assimilation and identity.

I enjoyed reading Forty Years in a Day.


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Book Diva Review: The Tin Horse

thetinhorse The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, Is a book that involves two sisters and their interactions, beginning with their childhood in the Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights, CA, during the 1920s-1930s.

Assimilation is at the forefront of the novel. Along with that, Family dynamics family dynamics plays an important role, as the sisters’ lives are experienced differently within the Jewish family unit, and within the Boyle Heights environment. Along with familial interactions, the reader is taken to a time period that is somewhat tumultuous. The Jewish, Russian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants were competing with native-born citizens in every arena of life.

Elaine Greenstein relives her childhood, with its secrets, flaws and truths, after coming across a piece of paper in a box of her deceased mother’s belongings. The paper has only an address on it. Is it the last known address of her twin sister Barbara, who ran away from their home, sixty-years earlier? The search begins. Will the mystery unfold and be solved?

The address not only sparks the need to search for the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister, but it also evokes memories of times past. Elaine begins tracing her immigrant family ancestry, and finds several surprises within her research.

The need for assimilation is often cause for ambition and for attributes that are forced upon us by societal mores and perspectives. Barbara, although Elaine’s twin, has different ideals and desires than Elaine. They are radically different goals. The Hollywood dream and all of its glamor and dazzle has gripped and enticed her.

Elaine, on the other hand, is more conservative, and doesn’t give in to the world of actors and actresses, and all that is involved within that realm. She is studious and has goals of going to college and becoming a lawyer. And, she did fulfill those goals.

The Tin Horse is filled with individuals who are genetically bound, yet often feel as if they are not a part of the whole. Assimilation and identity takes its toll on the Greenstein family. Old customs don’t often blend with the new. Jewishness and its encompassing traditions are held together with barely any forcefulness, by a slight few individuals. Family divisions end up in loss, yet also the yearning and love for answers is an ever present aspect of the story. Redemption can be had.

I applaud Steinberg for her dedication to researching this time period in Southern California. Her results are vividly depicted within the pages. The reader has their senses filled with the aromas of the delis, the clothes of the time, the household interiors, the city life with cultural mores and cultural differences. Daily life interactions, both inside the house and the external activities are portrayed with vibrant word-images. The reader can replay, in their mind, the settings with full details due to Steinberg’s masterful writing. The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, although a book, is almost like taking a trip back in time, a travelogue presented to us in full.

I highly recommend The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg, to everyone.

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Poetess Re The Ponds

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poetesses. Her words speak to me.

Here is one of her poems that I enjoy reading again and again. It is from one of her beautiful books of poetry entitled House of Light:

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

House of Light
is filled with nature’s essences that fill the reader’s senses. From minute life forces and other forms of life, she depicts nature with vivid word imagery, and shows dignity and loveliness to everything she writes about. Her works are thought-provoking as well as sensitive and thoughtful. Mary Oliver writes from the soul, and the reader can not help but notice that within her brilliant and masterful poems. They illuminate the pages and inspire the reader.

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Books I Want to Read

These are just a few of the latest releases and soon-to-be released books that are on my list to read:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking looks to be an intriguing read.

For Maeve Binchy fans, her latest book, A Week in Winter, was released last week.

Maurice Sendak’s last book, finished before he died, has been released…check out My Brother’s Book.

Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller will be released on February 26, 2013.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch, sounds like an interesting story line.


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Book Diva Review: A Changed Man

A Changed Mana changed man, by Francine Prose is a well-written novel with seemingly opposing characters.

From a self-claimed Neo-Nazi to a Jewish Holocaust survivor, the male characters do not seem to dramatically change, in my opinion, although they do reach a form of acceptance with each other.

On one hand, we have Vincent Nolan (a Timothy McVeigh look-alike), who professes to be using the “World Brotherhood Watch” organization to help “save guys from becoming guys like me”. He literally uses the premise of the organization to help him survive…they feed him, clothe him, etc. He is in need of a place to live, has no funds to find a place, and decides on a plan, whereby he convinces Maslow that he is trying to do good. He in turn gives Meyer Maslow (the founder and head of the organization, and a Holocaust survivor) the boost that is needed to help promote the organization, and to promote his latest book (which is not selling well). Nolan becomes the poster boy for Maslow’s foundation.

Maslow convinces Maslow’s assistant, Bonnie, to take Nolan in and give him a roof over his head. Bonnie has two children, and her family is rather dysfunctional. Maslow, himself, contorts the fact that he convinced Bonnie to take Nolan in, by stating to himself (over and over again), and to others, that Bonnie volunteered to take him in.

Maslow uses the organization to help those in need, but he also uses any opportunity to promote his own image…that of being a man of honor, trust and a man who is trying to save the world, a person at a time. He even questions his own motives for doing what he does, wondering if it is for the right reason. At one point he claims that material things do not matter to him, because he has experienced the worst of life without them, yet he is married, lives in a mansion, and dresses in Armani suits (proudly). Nothing but the best for him. Often those who have done without, and have lived on the edge of death exhibit this form of behavior.

For me, A Changed Man could have exhibited characters with a bit more depth, but then again, emotional and traumatic pain is often camouflaged by what appears to be a cold and rigid exterior. Survival of the fittest tactics are often subconsciously used, while inside the person is going through their own turmoil, their own emotional horrors. I think that is what Francine Prose was aiming for. If so, she did an excellent job, and A Changed Man is a must read book.

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Book Diva Review: Bread Givers

bread givers Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska is a compelling book, not only in its vivid descriptions of life in Manhattan during the 1910s-1920s, but also its look into an Orthodox Jewish family, and its standards. It is a coming of age story, of the youngest of three children.

The familial patriarch is Rabbi Smolinksy, and his wife is Shenah, who is in awe of him, despite her nagging manner. His interactions, decisions and doctrine influence his daughters, Fania, Bessie, Mashah, and Sara in ways that mold their lives, in a negative manner. The three older daughters go along with his dogmatic and fanatical whims and attitude. His manipulations, rants and raves eventually cause them to give in to his dictates. The youngest daughter, Sara, learns at the age of ten, about the family dynamics, and how each daughter was expected to turn over their entire income to support the family. She learns what she wants early in life, due to her father’s looming presence and demands. She is very strong-willed. Family life is seen through her eyes, and they are the eyes of a three-dimensional person, a person of substance and depth.

She begins to sell herring at the age of ten in order to help support the family. In the back of her mind she is determined to be independent, and not to be lead through life by her father’s decisions. His decisions are often determined due to the fact that he is ignorant in the ways of American life. Rabbi Smolinsky is ignorant in the area of business dealings, and the dealings of life in general. He is bound by Eastern European tradition, and religious tradition, which he enforces with his harsh vocalizations. No man is good enough for his older daughters, despite the fact that they want to marry particular individuals. He finds fault with all of them, and he ends up choosing who they marry, and they do not live happily ever after. His determinations and final edicts are not necessarily positive ones for his daughters, but somehow decisions that gain him some monetary dowry or enhancement.

Rabbi Smolinsky lives by the text of the Talmud, in every aspect. In fact the Talmud is quoted through much of the book to justify why he acts the way he does. He uses religion to enhance his decisions, and is fanatical about vocalizing the teachings, to the extent that hourly and daily life is disrupted. He is a tyrant, a bully, a man of many words, words that are emotionally disgruntling. He hangs on tightly to every thread of his Eastern Europe culture and life style, unable to adjust to change, unable to assimilate into the modern world. While his wife and four daughters struggle to earn money to survive with the basics, he deals with his studies, unaware of the reality of life. They beg him to work, even part time, he refuses, and goes back to his studies, even if it means they go hungry. He is a pampered individual, and his every desire is what rules the family. He is not a responsible person, and his family suffers greatly. I found him to be pathetic, in the way he used and manipulated his daughters for his own benefit.

Sara, meanwhile, has decided she will not succumb to her father’s domination, and his demands. She will not let him marry her off to someone she doesn’t love. She leaves home at the age of 17, finds a dark room to rent, works, saves money, and puts herself through college. She is a woman of strength and determination, which is what allows her to reach her goals. She has an identity, at a young age, and is discontent with the way the females of the family are treated. Yet, with her independence, she is often bound to her familial ties. Love hate relationships were strong within the pages.

is brilliant in her writing, strong in her ability to depict tradition and assimilation into the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tradition and modern America do not blend together in a positive fashion, in this novel. Sara is not the ideal of the Rabbi’s daughter.

Yezierska weaves a story that incorporates struggles, both emotional and mental, within the pages. Women are considered to be less than life, to be used, manipulated and abused for the gain of the family patriarch. Female identity and immigrant assimilation are major forces that Yezierska evokes within the pages. The conflicts are vividly written, and the reader feels the emotions behind the words. It is a look into the early twentieth century, and Jewish life within the confines of immigration and steadfast ideals.

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers is a masterpiece, and an inspiring one at that. Linguistics is a force within the pages, and Sara literally works her way through high school, and learns to speak correct English. Yezierska brings honor, determination and strength to Sara, and shows how through all of Sara’s sacrifices, she was able to reach her dream. She rose from poverty to a position of respect, and did it on her own. She was able to conquer her fears and accomplish her goals. The masterful writing of Anzia Yezierska has given us an inspiring character to admire. The book has much historical value, giving the reader a perspective on the Jewish immigrant experience, and bringing the reader insight into the life of Jews trying to assimilate. The past is ever present, no matter how hard we try to leave it behind. One world was trying to compete with another, and not always successfully, as culture clashes were abundant.

I highly recommend Bread Givers. It is an extremely illuminating novel, on many levels.

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