Monthly Archives: January 2014

Book Diva Review: The King of Schnorrers

the king of schnorrers The King of Schnorrers, by Israel Zangwill, is quite comical. The bantering back and forth really cemented the Schnorrer aspect, and gave it an in depth perspective on those who were schnorrers and how they defended and justified themselves, verbally. It also portrayed the territorial aspect of the schnorrer, and how strongly they had to discuss issues in order to gain money.

Attitudes are definitely illuminated. How one perceives themselves in regards to others is depicted vividly. One with airs is really no better than any other schnorrer. A schnorrer is a schnorrer, no matter what, although some tend to eke a better living than others.

De Costa, a schnorrer, was extremely confident, clever, sly, sharp-tongued, quick with responses. Yankel, was the same way, but had to struggle against the verbal strength of De Costa. And, so it went, on and on, almost nonstop, and the witticisms were brilliant.

Schnorrers used guilt in order to gain favors from those whose doors they knocked on, or those who they met on the street and managed to stop and corner. The wealthy Jews were hounded, and the poor were hounded, also, to “donate”.

Donations ranged from the monetary to clothes to household items. Usually the schnorrer sold whatever was donated, as far as material/tangible items went. This upped his financial ante for his household. Whether a family man or a bachelor, money was the link to survival.

The book is written with a large portion of it in broken English, or English written phonetically with an immigrant’s accent, as spoken by a Jewish man. Such words as “with” are pronounced “Vid”, or the word “will” is pronounced “vill”, for example. I am always mindful of the time period and the individuals speaking, so for me it was not an issue. This book was published in 1894, and I kept that in mind while reading it.

Also, euphemisms that are not used often in today’s world, were used then. Yiddish fills the pages, but the reader is given an English translation. One must take the variables into consideration, when reading this masterful novel.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading this book. Yet, within the humor, there is a serious undertone regarding Jewish society and its financial diversities. Responsibility for others is a strong theme.

Another thought that came to mind was the fact that the schnorrers of long ago are not so different in interactions than those who we see begging, holding up signs, and/or entertaining on the street in order to gain a coin.

I enjoyed The King of Schnorrers immensely.

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Book Diva Review: Dreams of My Russian Summers

dreams of my russian Dreams of My Russian Summers: A Novel, by Andrei Makine is a masterpiece! Makine reveals worlds within worlds, seasons within seasons that captivate and intrigue the reader with his poetic-like prose and brilliant writing, evoking impressionistic word-paintings.

…and the shadow of a distant and dreamy sweetness veiled your gaze, refined your features, and caused the soft light of bygone days to hover over the snapshot.”

The narrator’s grandmother, Charlotte, has given him a taste of the world that he might not have otherwise known, during summers spent with her in the desolate, harsh and unrelenting steppes of Russia. Within the tapestry of war and history, love and loss, the fabric of Charlotte’s stories affect the young man’s childhood memories and future dreams as he grows into manhood. He views her native country (France) through her eyes and remembrances, through the surreal and magical words she uses to instill the beauty her country holds for her, the disappointments and reality colorized through time.

An unnamed city is depicted with creative flair and strong word-visuals, to the point this reader almost felt she was there. Family dynamics is written with two points of view that separate and conjoin, once again. The teenaged boy versus his grandmother and their hardships in a world fraught with strife is a compelling story. The struggle for identity and home is a strong issue, and Makine conveys it well.

A young man’s life and hopes are woven with the strong fibers of memory and longing. Charlotte brings him hope and joy, within the decades that are sewn with war-torn patches, like quilts, in the threads of time. Her stories, always told in French, that unfold the history of the decades bring them both the world in pastel tones, a world made bearable through Charlotte’s use of language. She brings him a sense of contentment and sense of serenity in a world ravaged by war, terror, rape, murder, politics, and life lived under harsh conditions.


Makine’s
extraordinary ability to capture historical events and combine them into a magical and beautiful story is a testament to his brilliance. He transcends images and memories of times past with illumination, intensifying our senses. Within the epic novel, he weaves dreams and realities often on the border of one crossing over into the other, always with insight and sensitivity, always with a sense of what was necessary in order to cope and survive.

I highly recommend Dreams of My Russian Summers: A Novel, by Andrei Makine!

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Book Diva Review: Manuscript in Accra

manuscript found in accra I am a fan of Paulo Coelho’s books, and was looking forward to reading Manuscript Found in Accra.

I hate to admit it, but the book disappointed me. The writing was amazing, beautiful and filled with an almost poetic quality. The writing style reminded me a bit of Kahlil Gibran (I so love his works).

Yet, within the illuminations and loveliness, within the thought-provoking quotations and thoughtful analogies, I found the book to be lacking in a definitive story line.

The book revolves around a man known as the Copt, who is a sage of sorts, and an inspirational spiritual master. He is inside the walls of Jerusalem in the year 1099. Before him are men and women (Jews, Muslims and Christians) who are seeking answers to various questions, questions that will enhance and ease their final moments before Jerusalem is invaded by the Crusaders. Certain individuals are chosen by the Copt to ask a question which he will answer.

That is the foundation within the pages of Manuscript Found in Accra. The book is definitely filled with insight on the human condition, and with insight on life’s meaning, values and mores. The philosophical aspect and the spiritual messages did appeal to me, but I was expecting more story and less prose in “question and answer format”.

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Book Diva News: January 6, 2014

Bridging the World a book at a Time

Bridging the World a book at a Time

Here is a link to some of the books I have read in 2013.

I hope to achieve more reading in 2014. The problem is, I often find myself reading books with a large amount of pages…over 500 pages, up to 900 pages. What might look as if I do not read much is not accurate if I looked at from that perspective.

I have The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt on my stack of books to read. The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan is next after that.

Here is a link to NPR’s Hardcover Fiction List for the Week of Jan. 2, 2014.

This is a link to their Hardcover Non-Fiction List.

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Book Diva Review: What Maisie Knew

whatmaisieknew What Maisie Knew, by Henry James is a very disturbing novel on several levels. The manipulative effects and affects forced upon her by her parents are ones no child should endure.

This book was written during a time period when divorce was not common. Maisie’s parents are going through a divorce and bitter custody battle. Throughout the situation, Maisie is used as a tool in order for her parents to get what they want, as they bicker back and forth over their marriage. Maisie is left to discern what is occurring, on her own, without much explanation from the adults in her life. That was the manner in which situations like this were handled, back then.

Maisie is thrown into circumstances beyond her control, and yet, she does seem to have some perception of the moods, mores/standards, and social interactions with betwewn various adults in her life. She is confused as to appropriateness, and social appearances. Within the confusion of knowing what is appropriate, she seems to have an inner sense of the actions of the adults in her life, and what they are actually doing, yet trying to conceal from her. She is a reader of body language, not only gestures, but also facial expressions. She learns a lot from them, and tries to piece together a semblance of emotional security. There is much that she should not know due to her age, yet her innate ability to fathom certain circumstances, is both a positive attribute and a negative one. She is often confused. She ends up agreeing with, and plays for attention with, the adults she is involved with at the moment.

Her parents infuse her with vivid statements of hatred for each other, and through this their words also contain a hatred for Maisie. The adults use her, and manipulate her for their own purposes, in order to gain favors, monetary and otherwise. She is moved back and forth from household to household, always trying to find love within the walls. Maisie is not able to unveil the secrecy within the households she finds herself. And, secrets there are. James is brilliant in not only revealing them, but also in concealing some of them, in order for the reader to decide for themselves what is occurring.

She is a child who is not wanted, and is used for the money that is in trust for her. This causes those around her to lie and to endeavor to win her favors. Maisie is not taught moral standards, and has to learn what is right and what is wrong, more or less on her own.

That a child should be treated in such a manner is despicable. An innocent child is verbally and emotionally abused, and the self-centered adults in her life could care less about her welfare. It is a sad statement of affairs, and James writes with extreme flourish on Maisie’s situation. He is masterful with his word-imagery, and also masterful with depicting divorce and its cruelties forced upon children.

What Maisie Knew
is a dark and intense look at what parents will do in order to gain what they want in a divorce. It is a dark look at what parents so relentlessly put their child through, caring only for their own outcomes, and not the child’s welfare.

That Henry James was able to write about this with such depth is a testament to his knowledge of the human condition and a testament to his skills.

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