Monthly Archives: August 2014


I will be offline for a few days. I will be traveling, and don’t think I will be online, even when staying in hotels. I should be back with some more book reviews and book news by Wednesday or Thursday of next week (September 3rd or 4th).

In the meantime, have a nice upcoming weekend.

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Review: Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter

Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter, by Peter Manseau, is a novel that is quite an accomplishment in many aspects, but especially in Maseau’s ability to convey the adversities and horrors of the Russian pogroms at the turn of the twentieth century.

Itsik Malpesh was born in Kishinev during the the Russian pogroms, to a well off family. The events of his birth, as told to him by his mother, are what has shaped his life, and shaped his perception on love. This novel is Itsik’s story, although it reads like a memoir that could be based on an actual person. That is due to the fact that the format includes a novel-within-the-novel, which is part of Manseau’s writing brilliance and creative edge.

Itsik is a poet, and he has considered himself one since he was a young boy. In 1996, he gave his poems, written in Yiddish, to a translator, to be translated into English. The translator is not Jewish. He works at a warehouse that is storing Yiddish books, books of a dying language, a language that is becoming lost within the modern world of the mid 1990s. He reads and speaks Yiddish. He is not Jewish, but has been assumed to be so, and does not reveal the truth about himself in order to try to win the affections of a co-worker named Clara.

Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter has an unusual format, with chapters alternating between “Translator’s Notes”, and Malpesh’s notebooks, “The Memoirs of Itsik Malpesh”. Malpesh’s notebooks details his life story, his love for Sasha, and the people and events that played a major role in his life’s quest towards his bashert, his destiny. He believes that his poems are a masterpiece, and his arrogance shines through the pages. His determination to publish his works, and his steadfastness in keeping the memory of Sasha alive, is the only thing that motivates him. From shoveling goose feathers and excrement from the floor of the down factory, to his learning to read Russian through the tutoring of a fellow yeshiva student, the novel takes Malpesh to Odessa, takes him penniless to New York, and eventually to Baltimore, and with each step, Sasha is at his side, through his poetry.

Manseau has given the reader much to ponder as far as bashert/destiny is concerned. What about the ramifications of believing in bashert or destiny? It isn’t always the romantic vision that one replays in their mind. It can imprison individuals, can hold them back from moving forward with their lives, unmotivated and not choosing to exercise their free will. What about the events and tragedies that can lead up to that moment when a person meets their soul mate, their bashert or destiny? Does it then signify that it is fine for others to possibly die or be involved in horrific situations all in the name of bashert? I asked myself these questions while reading the book. I asked myself many other questions, such as what is the meaning and the depth of language as far as our identities are concerned?

The heightened images also include some humor, and the book isn’t entirely depressing or dark. The Eastern European Jewish immigrant and their experiences are portrayed with extreme illumination, and nothing is left to the imagination. We experience Malpesh’s frustrations, his heartbreaks, the tragedies, etc., through his eyes, and through the compelling and creative imagery of Manseau.

In my opinion, Peter Manseau has written a classic novel, and one that will be considered such for decades to come. He touches on the very core elements of life, such as ethics, responsibility, language, and our roots. Both happiness and sadness fill the pages. Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter is masterfully written, and the pages evoke an extremely strong sense of time and place, immigration and assimilation, love and longing, and language and identity. I highly recommend Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter to everyone.

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Review: The Pages In Between

Once again, I found myself reading a Holocaust memoir in which a surviving parent did not want to reveal too much information, if any, about their Holocaust experience to their child/children. The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home, by Erin Einhorn, is a novel written by a daughter whose mother, Irena, survived the Holocaust, a mother who seemed indifferent as to the events and actions that kept her alive. Einhorn, who was always curious, traveled to Poland in order to find out the truth of her mother’s history, and to see if the house was still standing.

Irena was born in 1942, in Bedzin, Poland, within the walls of the Jewish ghetto. Irena’s parents were deported a year later, and while on the train, her father managed to jump off the train. He managed to make his way back to the Bedzin, and made a arrangements with a Polish woman…he would give the woman authority over his property if she would hide his daughter. He promised to return for his daughter as soon as the war was over.

True to his word, he did return for Irena (her mother died in Auschwitz). She was a frightened child, and her father was a stranger to her. The only “parents” she had memory of were the Skowronskis, the family who Irena’s father left her with. He took her to Switzerland, and from there they eventually emigrated to America.

The years pass by and the story begins with Irena’s daughter, who is a reporter, living in Krakow, with her roommates Krys and Magda. The purpose of Einhorn being there is to try to find the family “that made my life possible“, and try to locate the house that had belonged to her grandfather. She knows where to begin, how to get to Bedzin, but is hesitant, afraid of failure. She is more or less on her own, as her mother, Irena, won’t reveal much to her, and is totally uninterested in finding out about the family that saved her life. Irena’s attitude is uncaring and unconcerned. Anxiety exudes from Einhorn’s pores.

The Pages In Between is a fascinating story, taking the reader on an ominous trip back through time, and forward again to the legalities of the present. One is left to ponder several issues, such as greed and entitlement. Is it greed to want monetary compensation for helping to save a life? Doesn’t there come a point when boundaries are crossed in the expectations of those who saved others? Is an individual financially responsible to those who saved the life of their child/loved one? Does one save a life without expecting compensation or reward because it is the correct thing to do? Where does greed begin and gratitude end? Where does gratitude begin and greed end? Are those who are the living indefinitely bound to support those who helped them survive? Who owns the property left under duress and horrific conditions? Who are the victims in the process…the child who was saved, those who helped save her, the succeeding generations, or are they all victims in a sense? There are these and more questions to think about.

I recommend The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families. It is an extremely compelling memoir, and one that evokes a unique perspective on the Holocaust. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual after-effects of the Holocaust, and how WWII and the Holocaust affected families, in the long-range. It is a book of historical depth and documentation, depicting the continual effects of the Holocaust. Erin Einhorn writes with stark frankness, and at the same time is sensitive to the issues she confronts on her journey of discovery. Her story is an incredible psychological study on the interplay between family dynamics and the Holocaust. For those interested in Holocaust History, this is an excellent resource and a must read.

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Filed under Blogrolls, Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, Holocaust History, Jewish History, Memoirs

Review: The Kiss: A Novel

The Kiss: A Novel, by Scott E. Blumental, is the author’s attempt at portraying the Holocaust through a musical overtone.

I have read quite a few Holocaust novels in which music was a foundation for the story. Blumenthal’s presentation was not a unique or new idea regarding depicting the Holocaust through music, or how music played a role in the Holocaust. There have been quite a few novels and nonfiction books where music is a predominant Holocaust theme.

Music was a source of comfort and a way of uniting the Jews during the Holocaust, and I am speaking about the Jews imprisoned in the camps. It was the one commonality they shared, which also was a form of documentation. Prisoners crafted instruments, sang, put on performances that the Nazi authorities at the camp asked of them, or hummed musical melodies within the confines of their imprisonment to bring them comfort.

Music was also used by the Nazis to diminish any happiness or joyful thoughts the Holocaust prisoners held. Often when hearing music, they would break down and cry, realizing what they are missing, reminding them of their former lives, evoking more misery in them, due to their circumstances.

I did not like all of the characters in The Kiss, but that is fine. The reader does not have to like all characters in a book. I wish that Blumenthal had expanded more on the music aspect, especially regarding the trios playing at events, and how people responded. I felt a flatness in the story line, due to the lack of more in depth depictions.

The Hassidic “magical, surreal or mystical” aspects in the story line detracted from it in my opinion. I think those portions of the book would have been better left unsaid. I didn’t find any purpose in them. In Judaism, Kabbalah is an intense form or train of thought relating to an endless universe, and if the author was trying to portray that through the characters, he fell a bit short, in my opinion.

Overall, the writing, itself, was filled with excellent word-imagery. In my opinion, Blumenthal tried to incorporate Hasidism, legend, mysticism and reality, together, in one story line, and for me it didn’t all tie together and work effectively. The basic story line was a good one, but for me it was not enough in its entirety.

The Kiss, is a good novel for high school students, and young adults. I give Scott E. Blumenthal applause for attempting to portray the Holocaust through music.

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Book Diva News: August 12, 2014

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James Parker, re The New York Times Sunday Book Review is asking us a question: “Which Book Is Begging to Be Made Into a Movie? Dana Stevens has also commented in the same article.

Soldier Girls, by Helen Thorpe, seems to be quite the compelling read, as women are deployed from the National Guard to Afghanistan and Iraq.

I Read Everywhere Campaign wants to know where you read.

Library Reads has posted their September 2014 library list. You can read it here.

Huffington Post loves libraries! Read why.

If you want a chance at winning a copy of The Book of Life, enter here

Here is an excellent article involving eight authors and “the first book they ever loved“.

The Music of the Galaxies
should be an intriguing read.

That is it for now. Enjoy your day.

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Book Diva Review: The Poe Shadow

The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl, is part mystery, part intrigue, part fact, part fiction, but always brilliant in the author’s desire to unearth the details surrounding the death of Edgar Allan Poe. If you like suspense mingled with twisting and turning plots, then this is the book for you!

Quentin Clarke, an admirer of Poe, is immersed in finding out the truth of the circumstances behind Poe’s death, at the risk of his own career as a lawyer. The local police seem uninterested in finding out why Poe died, or how he died. His partner laughs at him, mocks him, yet Clarke is determined to find out the facts, and ends up living and breathing every one of his waking minutes trying to encapsulate the last days of Poe’s life, and what led to his demise.

Clarke’s obsessive behavior takes him to France, where he meets a mysterious female, and two men claiming to be the “true” person that one of Poe’s characters is fashioned after.

We are given a look at 19th Century Baltimore, from its back streets to its upper echelon of society, from its slave trade to libraries and reading rooms. Pearl takes us on an adventure, both domestic and internationally. No stone is left unturned in his quest to present us a novel filled with the essence of what Baltimore was like, during that time period, from street scenes and scents, attire, transportation, mindsets, social graces, and so much more, our senses are on a constant roller coaster ride. Pearl’s vivid descriptions and images are filled with clarity.

The author combines mystery with historical fiction, bringing vivid characters through his brilliant writing and research. Pearl, himself, was trying to solve the mystery of the death of Poe, and in the end, gives us much to ponder in this intriguing mystery. Poe would be proud of Matthew Pearl’s accomplishment.

-Edgar Allan Poe is buried in the Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery, in Baltimore, MD.

-I read this a couple of years ago, and reread it, recently, for a book club I am in.

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Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a book that is heartfelt in so many aspects, beginning with the author getting lost on a train at the age of five. From that moment, onward, Brierley’s journey, where it took him, and how he managed to find his way back home, begins.

He was with his brother. His brother had left him at a train station while he ran errands, before coming back for him. Brierley saw a train, went on it to rest until his brother came back. He fell asleep and woke up with train moving along, and there was no way for Brierley to get off of it. Throughout the trip, no conductor asked for a ticket, and nobody questioned him. The train finally ended up in Kolkata (Calcutta). The city was teaming with people, and he was more or less engulfed in the crowds, the streets and harsh realities of survival.

Some individuals who passed through his life were not so kind. But, survive he did, using his intuition, the bit of five-year old logic he had, and at times, the kindness of others. Finally, the kindness of one young man who gave him refuge for a few days led Brierley to a police station, where he was held in a cell, overnight (imagine the fright). From the police station he was taken to an orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta), by a woman named Mrs. Snood.

She was a kind woman, and very motherly in her ways. She treated him and the other children with caring and dignity. Brierley needed that after experiencing street life. Even though the orphanage was crowded, it felt comfortable to him. A couple of months passed by, and Brierley was told he was going to have new parents, because, with the little information he was able to give her, they could not locate his birth family.

From Kolkata, he journey to Tasmania, where he grew up with the Brierleys. They were a loving, kind and understanding couple. They treated him with the utmost of respect and compassion. Their house was decorated with Indian accessories. They had even provided a map of India on one wall of his bedroom, so he would feel at home.

He had a good life with his parents. He was never in need, and never lacking love. He went to university, worked with his father in his father’s business, had all of the comforts of home and life.

As he grew older, he wanted to learn more, and attempted to find the town he was from, through internet research. He thought that the little he remembered would help him. He failed, and let it go for a few years, when he began anew, through Google Earth. Google Earth became his life, in his off hours. He was addicted to his search.

He remembered the station he had left from, remembered everything about it. He remembered his village and his way around the streets. He remembered names, sights, landscape. He devoted every spare minute to roaming cities, villages, streets, through his ardent and ambitious research.

Then, one day, bingo! He was following train tracks, and found his home town! He was elated, to say the least. He knew he had to travel there to see if his family was still living in the same place, and/or to see if they were alive. Alive they were!

He met his mother, brother, and sister. He met in-laws and nephews. He had journeyed the face of the earth, through Google Earth, and had come home.

The memoir is poignant and had me turning one page after another. I became involved in Brierley’s life, his search for family, roots, and identity. What was illuminating, was not only his journey, but also the outcome regarding his family in India. They fully understood that he defined his parents as the Brierley’s. It went without his having to say so, as his birth mother verbalized that fact. She was just elated that he had found her. She never left the village, and moved around the corner from the house he initially lived in. She stayed in case he came searching. As it turned out, that was such a wise decision.

I enjoyed A Long Way Home so much. Foundation, family and identity are blended together in a beautiful story of strength and perseverance. Saroo Brierley has written an inspirational memoir. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Filed under Autobiography, Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, General, Inspiration, Memoirs