Monthly Archives: October 2014

Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, is an intense memoir, a powerful book, and a book that will give the reader much to ponder, on so many levels. I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read it.

Frankl’s memoir is much more than a personal accounting of his experience during the Holocaust, when he was a prisoner in four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The book is a tribute to the human mind, emotions and willpower to survive, and to find something positive in such a horrendous, horrific and adverse situation. Man’s Search for Meaning is an extremely inspirational book, blending Frankl’s own theory of logotheraphy with spirituality and illumination.

Frankl made a choice while imprisoned, and he chose to find a positive force that would keep him going through the darkness of the days. He found meaning, and therefore, the motivation to try to survive, even though he knew the odds were against him.

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” Viktor E. Frankl

He chose to find a tiny spark of positive memory, and continued to think of those memories, which gave him hope and meaning. His meaning in life was “love”. Frankl’s love for his pregnant wife was his meaning in life, through the years spent in the Nazi concentration camps. He didn’t know whether she was alive or dead, but thoughts of her gave him something to live for. As it turned out, when he was liberated, he found out that she was murdered by the Nazis, along with his parents and brother.

Frankl developed “logotherapy“, a new theory on life’s meaning and survival. He realized, that in the words of Frederick Nietzsche, “He who has a why for life can put up with any how.” That euphemism is echoed several times throughout Man’s Search for Meaning. His “why” was his love for his wife. And, he was able to put up with all the “hows“, the atrocities he witnessed, and all of the horrors that plagued his days, because of his love for her.

He gives a short synopsis of his logotherapy theory in “Man’s Search for Meaning“. Being true to his ideals and true to his belief in his theory, Frankl used logotherapy in his personal life. “Logotherapy focuses on the future.” According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:

* By creating a work or doing a deed
* By experiencing something or encountering someone
* By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering”

Viktor E. Frankl’s brilliance lies not only in his masterful and spiritual writing, but in his capacity to overcome the odds of despair and death, by surviving under circumstances that nobody can truly begin to understand. His words of wisdom and spirituality illuminate the pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“. The reader can’t help but be influenced and inspired by his memoir, his experiences and his inner strength. He brings to the forefront, the essence of spiritual survival, within the riveting pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“.

I will keep Man’s Search for Meaning, on my night table, where it will be available for me to easily find in order to browse through. I want it close by. I will keep the illuminating words within my heart and mind. I can’t stress enough, how powerful, intense and incredible the book is, not only as a memoir and personal accounting, but also as a journey towards life’s meaning. We must live up to what life asks us, and not what we ask of life.

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Review: A Perfect Peace

Amos Oz’s novel, A Perfect Peace, brings the reader a bit of an inside look into life within the kibbutz environment. Set in Israel, as most of his books are, it was quite the insightful story. The 1960s kibbutz setting emphasized the harshness and the difficulties the individuals had to go through in order to find a sense of place, sense of Self and sense of peace.

The characters were floundering for varied reasons, and their mindsets were brought to the forefront by Oz’s masterful writing. From first-generation disenchantment with kibbutz life in the stifling environment, where “privacy” is only a word, to the almost guinea pig atmosphere of life, Oz confronts the issues of daily life with strength and uncompromising honesty.

Through Oz’s honest appraisal, the reader is given privy to the corruption that runs rampant throughout the kibbutz and the state. It is not an idealistic story in that respect. Some of the less than ideal situations causes much disharmony within the kibbutz, where life is stifling to begin with. In the view of a few of the first generation to be born on an Israel kibbutz, kibbutz life defined as stifling would be an understatement.

We are given access to the mindsets of the characters, and their disillusions, anger and rage, questioning of ethics and questioning of participation in the humane along with the non-humane running of a tight ship, almost in a tyrannical fashion. Lack of motivation leads one man in particular, named Yoni, to want to leave the kibbutz in order to find what he believes he is missing. He feels there must be something better and more worthwhile outside of the confines of his daily life.

Yet, another individual tries to move in, and is in constant fear of being turned away, and of not being accepted and liked by others. His trials and tribulations take different paths than Yoni.

Oz understood the social, political, emotional and environmental aspects. I applaud him for his excellent and brilliant word-images he presents us, and for his mastery in not only conveying corruption, but also in conveying the kibbutz life in all of its essences. I recommend A Perfect Peace to everyone.

I read the book to learn more about kibbutz life, and once I was finished, I had my own thoughts, thoughts within my own mind regarding kibbutz life in respect from those who founded them, and those who became the first generation of the founders. Kibbutz life affected the first-generation in ways that have not usually been written about. Life was not easy, was harsh, was not conceived as individualistic. Each individual was a part of the whole, part of the kibbutz community. Each child seemingly had more than one mother and father.

How this upbringing impacted the children gives one food for thought. Most of the adults were escaping a pogrom, escaping Holocaust-related events, tyranny, antisemitic abuse, escaping in order to find a better life. The kibbutz was a form of communal effort and struggles, some of which did not afford the adults the dreams they had wished for.

Those dreams were quashed and their children were raised with firm hands and old ideas and ideals. In essence, their own dreams (children’s) were not given any credence, and they came to regard those dreams as being unfulfillable. The story line was quite illuminating in that respect.

I want to make something clear. My thoughts in reference to kibbutz life are not meant to be in anyway reflective of a negative attitude on my part. I have friends who spent part of their teen years or young adult years on one, and had wonderful experiences. The book details one kibbutz of many, and a few individuals living in that kibbutz, along with their own baggage.

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Review: The Color of Courage: A Boy at War

The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski, is an incredible book, presented from his diary, depicting life during wartime with astuteness and courage.

Will and courage surround Julian Kulski, when at the age of 12, he is recruited into the Underground Army. From that point, forward, his life will never be the same, and his strength and determination to survive is a testament to his courage.

Beginning with his involvement with the Boy Scouts, emerges an adolescent with the resolve of an adult, a young boy wise beyond his years. He trains in military style, learns the ins and outs of various weapons, and eventually is involved in a secret endeavor. The endeavor involves the Warsaw Ghetto, where he goes with his commander.

World War II and its staunch tactics employed by Hitler forced many to live lives of devoid of family, devoid of hope. But, Julian Kuslki remained hopeful through all of the atrocities he witnessed, and throughout the course of the war.

From his arrest when he was 14 to his being shipped to Auschwitz, and his final days in a POW camp, the story is compelling, forceful, educational and filled with events that are written so vividly, that the reader is amazed that the events actually occurred.

The story within the pages of Kulski’s diary reads like a novel of intrigue, and a spy novel. Let me be clear, it is not a novel, but the actual diary of Kulski, detailing his life from age 12-16 years of age. It is compelling and filled with minute details.

The photographs speak of what once was, lives lived before, during and after the war.

His story is finally told, and told with dignity, courage and inspiration. His diary depicts events as they happened, and not sugar-coated in any aspect. The Color of Courage is a book of extreme historical significance, in my opinion.

The diary is a testament to war, to the horrific turbulence, and to the desire to escape the forces surrounding him. I highly recommend The Color of Courage: A Boy at War: The World War II Diary of Julian Kulski to everyone.

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Review: Brick Lane

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali, is a story that depicts immigrant life in London’s East End, with flavor and flair. From the first page to the last, this reader inhaled her prose, and her defining of community assimilation so effectively.

Not only are the immigrants a part of the whole, in relation to community, but they are also a part of familial dreams, traditions and expectations. And, they are also individuals, who try to grasp the enormity of what it is to survive in another culture, and survive in their own cultural world, within the confines of the East End.

Two sisters, each married with different perspectives on life, love and domesticity. Nazneen’s marriage to Chanu is an arranged one, and she finds herself in the midst of life in London, a life with restrictions and cultural mores and traditions of the Bangladesh she left behind. Her sister, Hasina, remains in Bangladesh, and married for love. Through Nanzeen’s loneliness, her letters from her sister become a source of comfort, in a world where there is little to comfort her.

She is the dutiful wife and mother, takes care of household issues, and takes care of her husband and fulfills his desires within the poverty-stricken environment they live in. Chanu, ever the dreamer, is a life-long student, always taking some type of course in which he hopes to improve their lifestyle. He feels the key to success is education. He doesn’t quite understand that is education will get him nowhere, due to the cultural divide.

His educational efforts do not come to fruition as far as a promotion on his job, and he eventually has to resort to driving cabs. He sees the light, and has to acknowledge to himself the failure of his situation. His learning has gotten him nowhere, nowhere except a demeaning job forced upon him in order to survive and feed his family.

Nanzeen and Chanu’s children are handfuls. They are arrogant and do not agree with the old customs and traditions. They show a facade, as far as their Islamic religion and culture, within the realm of their neighborhood.

Nanzeen, herself, demonstrates growth potential. She eventually gains a sense of independence, and sense of self. She begins to wander from her neighborhood, and begins to realize there are other aspects to life, aside from the strictness forced on her within her marriage and familial traditions.

Some of what she experiences are fostered in part by her correspondence with her sister, Hasina. Hasina speaks of marriage with love, marriage as an ideal. Yet, as time goes by, Nanzeen realizes the fallacy of her sister’s life.

Monica Ali has created a novel that speaks to the heart and soul, one that brings emotional levels that rise up and decline. Yet, through it all, Nanzeen matures in ways that are realistic, especially her growth being a slow process within the Bangladesh community of London’s East End. Step by step, she advances through the years, and becomes a more self-assured person within the world of intense tradition and expectations.

Ali’s writing is a bit drawn out, in my opinion. The book could have been shortened, but aside from that, her prose is intense, vivid and filled with excellent word-imagery. The imagery is so astute and sharp that this reader could almost see, taste, smell and inhale the London, East End, and all of its Bangladesh flavors and community aspects.

I could go on and on, but you must read this book yourself in order to grasp the seriousness of the socialization, deprivation, integration, and assimilation aspects of Brick Lane.

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Felicitations!

Congratulations to Patrick Modiano for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature!

You can read about his life and his work, here, on Wikipedia.

Felicitations!

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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 quantative 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.

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Review: They Dared Return

If you want to read an intense and dramatic book regarding Jewish spies during the Holocaust, then, They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany, by Patrick K. O’Donnell is a book for you.

From the first page to the last, I was totally engrossed and mesmerized by the story line of the Jewish individuals who were chosen by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to penetrate and return to their homeland in Germany in order to help fight and destroy the Nazis. They were part of “Operation Greenup”, and their mission was not only covert, but extremely dangerous, not only for them, but their families, many who were in concentration camps.

They Dared Return is a unique World War II story, told from an unusual perspective. For starters, the Jews involved in “Operation Greenup”, were refugees who managed to escape Germany. That in itself is remarkable, combined with the fact that they involved themselves, voluntarily, to return and try to disintegrate Hitler and the Nazis in hopes of ending the war. The courage and determination that was exhibited by these extraordinary men is beyond comprehension and comparison to anything I have read before.

The story reads like a spy novel or film, when it is entirely factual. That these Jews were able to plan and infiltrate enemy lines and exercise their mission was an incredible feat. Parachuting behind enemy lines in order to gain information on the Nazi stronghold is the situation heroes are made of. The risks they took are almost unfathomable and overwhelming to the mind.

They Dared Return is a fast-paced and intriguing page turner. To state that it is an intense book would be an understatement. It is riveting, adventurous, dramatic, and a thriller filled with vivid imagery that filled all of my senses to overflowing. The courage and efforts that were planned and executed are hardcore examples of mental and physical strength endeavored under the most adverse of scenarios.

I am still trying to digest this outstanding book, and all the historical facts presented within the pages. It is a story that will stay with me, and linger within me well into the future.

The book is a unique exploration into the events encountered by these individuals. To say it is a compelling read is an understatement. It is a story that is rare, and one that needed to be told.

I applaud Patrick K. O’Donnell for his efforts in researching, documenting and bringing us this untold and remarkable Story. They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany is an invaluable addition to World War II and Holocaust history. In my opinion, t belongs in every home library, as well as libraries in schools, colleges and universities.

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