Monthly Archives: January 2015

Book Diva Review: If You Awaken Love

If You Awaken Love, by Emuna Elon, is a wonderfully written novel, dealing with rejection and acceptance, love and loss, and other underlying, issues, within the pages.

The story line takes place during turbulent times, a thirty years span from the Six-Day War up until the day Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated. Although politics is not the primary theme in If You Awaken Love, it is there, underlying within the pages. We are given glimpses of life through those who lived in Israel before its statehood, glimpses of the Left and Right Wings, the Orthodox and the secular, the elderly and the young, the liberal and the staunch, and so on. The reader sees both sides of the issue within the vivid images that Elon depicts, from those Jews who are in favor of a dual land, and those who are more restrictive in their thinking.

The narrator is a woman named Shlomtzion Dror, who by all accounts seems to be supportive of the Israeli Left Wing. She lives in Tel Aviv and is a forty year old divorced woman. Shlomtzion is a woman who has been rejected by her childhood sweetheart, Yair Berman. Her unrequited love has transcended the decades. She has a daughter named Maya, who happens to be in love with Yair’s son, and they plan to marry. This comes as a shock to Shlomtzion. Shlomtzion is left wandering through the years of her past, journeying back in time to what once was, as she slowly makes her emotional, physical and political journey forward.

Shlomtzion is consumed by the past, unable to let the fires of history burn, allowing them to continually refuel. Which is much like the political and religious situation in Israel, with the embers continually flaring up into a constant and eternal flame. Elon writes with precision, is cognizant of the issues at hand, and her descriptions are beautiful works of prose.

Suffice it to say that the story is filled with a roller coaster of emotions, emotions that fluctuate from moment to moment, memory to memory. Within the emotional elevator ride, the reader is given impressions of daily life in Israel, impressions of religious life and the political balance of a nation, over a thirty year period. Is there forgiveness and/or redemption at the end? You will need to read it yourself in order to find out. But, when you do, don’t skip over sentences and word images, as each one is specific to the whole of the novel.

On the surface, If You Awaken Love might seem to be a drab or unsaturated story. But, its’ beauty is within the illuminations that Elon so aptly and masterfully brings the reader. Her words are dynamic, strong, yet filled with a sensitivity to both sides of the issue. Elon uses biblical passages to enhance the story line, which make the novel all the more profound. She doesn’t have answers, and doesn’t have a final judgment, and leaves it up to the reader as to whether a judgment is even necessary, or if sides need to be taken. I found If You Awaken Love to be a brilliantly written novel. I applaud Emuna Elon for her endeavors in documenting history, combined with a story of love and war, in her first novel.

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Filed under Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, Fiction, Historical Novels, Jewish History

Review: Rich Boy

Class and wealth dominate the pages of the novel Rich Boy, and the reader is cognizant that it is a primary concern for the protagonist, Robert Vishniak, as he aspires to gain favors that will allow him to move up in the societal stratum.

Vishniak is from a working class Jewish family who live in Philadelphia. He is self-indulgent, and with his handsomeness, charm, and superficial exterior. His mother, Stacia has continually hammered into him the fact that he needs to make money in order to become a respected person, and in order to move up in society’s ladder.

He is constantly embarrassed by his mother, and her old school ways and train of thought. Yet, those words do prove helpful to him in his quest for success and identity in a world where money and financial gain speak volumes. He works at odd jobs, and drives a cab to earn money in order to make his way through college. Nothing is too menial for him.

Vishniak manages to forge his way into the upper end of the social echelon. This occurs during his time at university where meets others who come from respectable upper class families, families whose wealth can buy them anything, and families whose American roots are firmly planted in the ancestral realm.

He is quick with the verbalizing, and fast with the conveyance of a charming attitude. One of his fall backs is the fact that he doesn’t exhibit the manners befitting those who belong to the upper class circle. His roommate at college teaches him the proper etiquette to be used in varied situations. From there he is presented with new opportunities.

He has several superficial relationships, some that end due to his immaturity. He is good at seduction, to his own undoing. He falls for a young woman with angelic charm, and a woman who he doesn’t truly know, emotionally. His feelings stem from the external appearance she presents to him. The fact that he can not see what is occurring before his eyes is what coats this relationship with doom (I won’t go into the circumstances, as it will spoil it for you). He does marry, eventually, to a woman of great wealth, and a woman whose father has dictated her every move, financially. He is hired to work for his father-in-law’s law firm, where he literally begins to work from the bottom up.

Some of Vishniak’s success has depended on interactions with others, yet, most of it is due to his own resources, endeavors and capabilities. He is a quick learner, an avid and hard worker, and is striving to meet his goal of making a salary that will qualify to support his wife as an equal in contributing to the family finances. He is not secure in that fact, and often feels that his success lies on the actions and directions put forth by others. He has a definite ability in the legal maneuvers and management of real estate, and great potential in becoming future partner in his father-in-law’s law firm. This, is all on his own merit.

Pomerantz’s prose is spot on, direct and strong, and she adeptly manages to convey the working class Jewish American experience brilliantly. She masterfully portrays the characters, and this reader felt that they were realized in every aspect. The wealthy background of some of them, doesn’t help them succeed as far as their emotional intelligence is concerned. They appear as insecure as some of their less wealthy counterparts. Their mindsets, emotions, successes and failings are all depicted in vivid word imagery, and depicted with realistic personality traits, in all their variances.

Vishniak has the brains and the good looks, and can present an excellent appearance, but it takes him years to realize that he has actually made it as far as he has on is own, through his own expertise. It takes his having a child for him to understand and realize what is truly important in the scheme of life. Money does not necessarily buy contentment and happiness. It might be a means to an end, as the euphemism goes, but it can also turn out to be the end of meaningfulness.

Rich Boy is an excellent coming of age story, and a novel that emphasizes the journey of one Jewish American man to find identity and acceptance on his own, in a world of social status and extreme wealth. I applaud Sharon Pomerantz for this well-written, poignant and insightful story.

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Sunday News: January 25, 2015

The New York Times Sunday Book Review showcases some interesting looking books, along with reviews.

HuffPost Books, has interesting articles, reviews and reading suggestions.

Why not wander over to Dallas-Fort Worth Book Reviews to compare their reviews.

I am currently reading the classic, Evergreen, by Belva Plain. I am enjoying it, so far. I like books that depict New York City and the immigrants whose lives developed within it, and the surrounding boroughs.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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Review: The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan, is quite the historical endeavor. History is depicted in all of its modes throughout the pages.

Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian and Dalia Ashkenazi Landau, both occupied the same house, at different moments in time.  Despite its title, the book had very little to do with them, within the scheme of the author’s investigative journalism regarding the Middle East and its ongoing conflicts.

As a historical effort, it is well researched, documented and well written and extremely compelling.  As a story of two individuals and their families, it left me wanting more ((that story is why I initially wanted to read the book).  I was interested in an exploration of both sides of the issue, Jews and Muslims and their commonalities and their differing perspectives.  I wanted to know the history behind those particular individuals and their inhabiting the same house, although separate from one another.

I realize that in order to connect the stories, more in depth, the author had to depict some historical background, and that it was a necessity to do so.  But, in my opinion, a shorter summary of the events of the past almost one hundred-years, would have cemented the foundation, and let the familial stories unfold more vividly.  The addition of so much historical information into the story made the book more tedious for me to read than need be. This is not to say that the book should not be read-it should, especially for those who want to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and the history behind them.

The pages are filled with immense documentation, journalistic approaches and investigation, and the historical aspect is invaluable.  Future readers will gain a better understanding of events and issues, pertaining to both sides of the conflicts.  The cultural and social aspects are educational in all of the masterful depictions within the book.

I expected more than 10-15% of the book to be devoted to Bashir Al-Khayri and Dalia Ashkenazi Landau and their families through the decades.  In that respect, it was disappointing.  Blending the families into the pages of the conflicts was a good idea, on Tolan’s part, but it was too small a percentage for me to become illuminated regarding their lives.

For me, the story line would have been better served as two separate books-one strictly historical regarding the Middle East and its conflicts, and one specifically related to the two individuals and their families.

This is not to say that The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan, is not a worthwhile read, it is, historically speaking.  Middle East history is shown in all of its facets, from Israeli’s statehood beginnings to the social and cultural components, to the mindsets of all sides involved, and to constant warring.  Sandy Tolan has written a definitive account that encompasses all facets of the conflicts that are still ongoing, to this day.

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Review: Not Me: A Novel

Not Me, by Michael Lavigne, is a compelling novel on so many levels.  For me it was a metaphor for truth and self-identity.

Not Me is a study in the father-son relationship, and is a unique Holocaust story.  Within the pages, their relationship is redefined.  The father and son relationship is explored with intensity.

Heshel Rosenheim, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is Michael’s father.  While Michael is caring for his father, he is handed some old journals/diaries written by his father that will alter the course of his (Michael’s) life.  It will not only alter his life, but life and family history as he knew it.

Heshel has been living as a Holocaust survivor since the end of World War II.  His journals tell otherwise.  And, this, is the root of the reality, upon which Michael has been handed.  The foundation of his life has been shattered.

Heshel, a man whose cowardly acts could not be suppressed by running from the truth of his actions, is seeking consolation of some sort from his son.  He wants Michael to learn the facts, after all of these years of hiding them from him.  The quandary resulting from Michael’s reading the journals is cemented.

Heshel learned that fleeing only negates the truth, which followed him everywhere he went.  Within the context of the self identity are the themes of love, loss, forgiveness and redemption.  The blur between forgiveness and redemption is obvious in the way Lavigne writes.  The story exposes sin and change, and the superficial roles that one plays in order to move on with their life and flee from the consequences of their actions.

Michael is rent between his new found knowledge and his love for his father.  He is a man who is floundering.  He is divided between the truth and the superficiality of his childhood.  He is torn between who he truly is and what he is.  Does the truth negate who we actually are, or thought we were?   This is a question the reader is exposed to.

Not Me is a book that is fascinating, compelling, insightful, poignant and comical. Michael Lavigne has written an illuminating and thought-provoking story, and one that I highly recommend.

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The Flood

The Flood, by Emile Zola was a gripping story for me, and one I could not put down until I had read the last word.  The 72-page novella/short story had me in its clenches, and I found myself holding my breath, at times.

It concerns a man named Louis Roubien, the patriarch of a large family who all live together on his large farm.  They all live in peace, and lead an extremely happy life together, each one working towards the goal of production of the land for not only selling produce, etc., but also for their daily existence.  The farm is a fruitful one, and they live in wealth with nothing to lack for.

All of their needs are met, until the event of the disastrous flood, a flood beyond all floods, which Zola describes with extreme intensity and amazing word imagery.  Every minute detail that this reader could think of is depicted within the stages of the flood’s beginning until its ending.

I had flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina and the extreme flooding, and the images on the TV.  I flashed back to the horrendous earthquake on March 11, 2011, in Japan, with the accompanying tsunami and the floods that stormed the landscape, and how I remember not being able to fathom what I was seeing on the news reports.  And, I recently watched the TV describing the terrible floods in Thailand, consuming lives and land.

Zola’s brilliant in depicting moods, fear, torment, tragedy, individual reactions, and all-consuming moments of horror. The story line is not one that readers can easily erase from their mind.

I was in awe of Zola’s masterful writing. The Flood, by Emile Zola, although written in 1880, could be a story told regarding floods that have occurred within the past ten years, and written by modern journalists.

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Review: The Diary of Petr Ginz: 1941-1942

The Diary of Petr Ginz 1941-1942, written by Peter Ginz, Edited by his sister, Chava Pressburger, translation by Elena Lappin is extremely poignant, compelling, insightful, astounding and inspiring!

Petr lived a short sixteen years, but his life was filled with artistic flair, to the very end.  From writing to drawing, painting and editing a newsletter, he filled the last years of his life with identity, courage and creativity.  That we are able to read these diary entries is amazing in itself, as they were only discovered in February of 2003.

It is difficult to review this book, because of the circumstances surrounding the diary.

Petr’s outlook on life, the Holocaust, the Jewish condition, his family and friends is all documented within the diary’s pages.  The documentation lasts up to the time he was transported to Theresienstadt.  We are given snippets of history, ghetto conditions, devastation, humor, joy, his childish pranks, sadness and poignancy, all within the framework of a teenager’s voice.  Near the end of his life, his thoughts and emotions show a strength and maturity beyond his years.  Petr was part of the Jewish condition that he so sincerely and faithfully wrote about.

His intense diary entry regarding the time when he receives notification of his impending transport to the Theresienstadt concentration camp is overwhelming to read (and, it was written while in Theresienstadt). While there for two years, he continued to write, which is, in itself, a testament to the endurance of the young teenager’s brilliance of mind, and of his almost innate and continuing need to put words to paper. How one so young could have written what he did under such duress is incomprehensible.

The Diary of Petr Ginz: 1941-1942 will long be remembered by me, his words ever beautiful and filled with symbolic references have touched me extremely deeply.  This is a must read for every age group. I highly recommend this important and historical book to everyone.

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