Monthly Archives: December 2014

Review: By Blood: A Novel

By Blood, by Ellen Ullman is a novel that is filled with a unique perspective, as far as the narrator, who is one of the main characters, is concerned.

The narrator is a voyeur of sorts, not in the sense of being a visual “peeping Tom” type, but in the aspect of listening to a patient and her therapist from behind the wall of his office. The wall is on the other side of the shared wall in the therapist’s office. The narrator came upon the fact that he could hear their conversations when the therapist turned off the sound machine, because the patient was distracted by it.

He ends up becoming obsessed with the patient and her story. She is adopted and wants to learn about her birth parents. She feels disconnected from her adopted family, and disconnected from life, and she thinks this might help her to feel more grounded. Her desire to know the foundations of her birth is strong, and she hopes it will bring her some answers and also some resemblance to another person.

The story takes place during the 1970s, in San Francisco. It is a time of protests, government scorn, and lifestyle issues. The patient is going through an identity crisis, which is ancestral, genetically, and lifestyle based.

She is aware that she was born in Germany, and aware that the war and postwar had their affects on her being given up for adoption. She was finally able to find out where she was born and that she was given up through questioning her adoptive mother. She was brought to a Catholic organization in America, and from there given over to her grandfather, who adopted her. From there, she eventually was adopted by his own son, and we learn the reasons why.

The narrator, hearing her story becomes intensely fascinated with it, and becomes obsessed with the urge to find her birth mother. He has his own set of issues, emotional and mental ones, therefore the obsession. Some of his issues also deal with genetics.. He ends up finding out the information, piece by piece, and with each new fact, he assumes an alias and sends the information to the patient.

The story takes many twists and turns, and the mystery is solved. The patient eventually meets her birth mother and is told the facts of her birth. She also meets another family member and notices the resemblance between the two of them immediately. She feels a connection, one that she has never felt before.

The patient relays everything to the therapist through their sessions, and the narrator hears everything said in each session. Suffice it to say, that the sessions are therapeutic for the three of them: the narrator, the patient and the therapist.

I will not detail any more of the story line because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The premise is an interesting one, and the details within the pages are extremely vivid, with strong imagery. There is much to ponder, such as nature versus nurture. Where does our foundation actually come from? Does our DNA play a significant part in our personality? Does our family environment count for the person we become?

Ullman writes with a unique voice, and one that generates masterful prose, prose often sounding a bit out of sync with today’s expressions/euphemisms and writings. For me, that was due to the time period, and the fact that it was post World War II. I didn’t find it unusual to hear some antiquated sounding prose, or prose that sounded a bit too cultured at times.

I do recommend By Blood, written by Ellen Ullman, and feel the uniqueness of the story is important in the context of Jewish identity, World War II, familial connections, nature versus nurture, and self-identity.

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Sunday News 12/14/14

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has listed their choices for “The Best Book Covers for 2014”. Let’s face it, we often buy a book due to its cover, due to the fact it strikes some emotion in us, or we find it intriguing, or geometrically pleasing. To read their choices, along with the name of the designer, check out this link.

Check here, for their list of “The 10 Best Books of 2014“.

NPR: Book Reviews, reviews some excellent sounding reads.

I personally have read:


First Impressions

The Illusion of Separateness

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.

One True Thing

Delicious!


Still Life With Bread Crumbs

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Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, is a novel, that is often humorous, but one that touches on extremely serious issues.

To delve into the heart of the story would be to give it away. And, if by chance, you have not heard about the book and what it depicts, then I, for one, am not willing to give the entire story away.

Suffice it to say that it is a novel that portrays familial bonds, in more ways than one. From secrets to anger, jealousy to love, empathy to apathy, social harmony and disharmony, Fowler, in my opinion, writes with minute details, which enhance the word-imagery. The family consists of Rosemary, Fern, and their older brother-the brother who has run away. He is a significant force within the pages, especially the last part of the book. In the beginning the reader is not really certain why he left, but as the pages are woven, the answer is clear.

Rosemary has grown up under the shadow of Fern, more or less. And, at a young age is separated from her, not knowing the true reason why. As an adult, she is still trying to cope with the loss of Fern, and with her unique and very unconventional childhood. Her childhood imprints have taken hold in many forms and have given her the status of a social misfit of sorts. She has difficulty coping in what we conceive as normal environments.

Throughout the pages, the reader is faced with Rosemary’s journey towards separation from her sister, her journey towards SELF, and her journey to learn who she is in the scheme of family, society and social standards.

The book is not only an exploration of what it means to be a family unit, but also an exploration into humanity, humaneness, and perception of humans and their place within the entire spectrum.

Karen Joy Fowler has done her research, and has given us a glimpse of a situation that has long-lasting ramifications for the familial bonds developed from infancy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is humorous, yet intense, filled with moments that make the reader think about what they have read, and how it applies to them.

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Books by Israel Zangwill

There are some books, that although considered novels, speak the truth of the time period, including the social mores, the struggles for survival, the mental and emotional environment, and the prejudices captured in a world in which tradition, religion, and assimilation are combined. These issues are often at odds with each other, and one writer, Israel Zangwill, specifically captures those issues quite brilliantly.

Having lived through those very social structures and environs, he understood, firsthand, the pressures involved in assimilation of emigrants to England. He, as a child of immigrants, appreciated the situations his parents found themselves in, in a world where tradition and the Jewish community were often at odds with the native English men and women.

He himself, was born in London, yet, because he was Jewish, did not necessarily fit in, and those around him, did not necessarily consider him an English citizen. He was an advocate for women’s suffrage, for the underdog, the oppressed, Zionism, and so much more.

I have read a few of his novels, and have garnered much information of historical significance from them, regarding the London Jewish community. Below is a list of those books:

Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People

The King of Schnorrers

Ghetto Comedies

Ghetto Tragedies

The Grandchildren of the Ghetto

Dreamers of the Ghetto

Some of his novels contain quite a bit of humor, but within the humor are the serious undertones of survival within an environment of hatred, discord, and overall disdain. Zangwill knew, from his own life experiences, what he was writing about.

For those interested in late 19th century and early 20th century history, regarding the Jewish communities, his works are an important testament to Jewish life during those time periods.

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