Monthly Archives: January 2015

Review: The Liberated Bride

The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yeshoshua is a study on the meaning of borders, boundaries, and crossings. It is also a story about relationships and interactions, from familial to friendship, student, professor to writer.

Although it has comic moments and visuals of comic relief, it is not a comedy, but is a serious and insightful novel. Yet, it can be defined as somewhat of a farce (I know, I know, that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron), as the pace of the book is somewhat frantic and filled with anxious and tense moments, much like the actions of Yochanan Rivlin, the main character. Yehoshua deftly conveys a roller coaster of emotions in The Liberated Bride.

The novel winds from first person to second person, more than once, but always from Rivlin’s perspective. He has recently retired as a Near-Eastern Studies Department Chair. He is obsessed with the fact that he has no answers as to why his son (who lives in Paris) is divorced from his bride of one-year, and he intrudes in every aspect in order to find out the answer. He steps outside of acceptable privacy boundaries with his manipulative behavior, past the point of no return, and past the possibility of stepping back to assess and admit the truth of his actions to himself.

The book opens at a Palestinian wedding, where Samaher (the bride) has invited Jewish professors to attend. In fact, the wedding is being put on strictly for them, as she already has been legally married within her Arab environment. Samaher is a student, working on her degree, and she eventually suffers from depression (a form of dropping out on reality, which in some weird sense can be viewed as liberating). He hates attending weddings, as they remind him of his son Ofer”s marriage and divorce five years earlier.

Rivlin wants to leave the wedding early, but his wife (a bride of sorts), Hagit, encourages him to stay. They have had a long and successful marriage, but his wife is constantly trying to discourage him from trying to find out why his son divorced, and is quite assertive through her attitude and verbalizing to Rivlin regarding his absurd escapades and fiascos (some of them she doesn’t find out until after the fact). That facet of his personality irritates her.

Hagit is a well-respected and successful district judge, independent woman. Her job requires her to make difficult decisions and rulings when people cross the boundaries of the law, much like a Biblical Deborah. She also understands the need for privacy, as she handles top-secret cases. She believes in structure in life, whereas Rivlin seems to dismiss them. He is in a constant state of obsession, always searching for the unknown answers, as the historian in him emerges at every turn, to the dismay of others.

Rivlin’s own family members travel worldwide, from city to country to continent, back and forth, crossing borders, internationally and culturally. They almost always attend a wedding in their travels. Rivlin himself travels the highways and roads of Israel, crossing borders, both physically and emotionally, as he manipulates everyone in his life, in his unyielding search for answers.

The book details much of daily life in the Middle East, and our senses are filled with activity, smells, tastes, sights and sounds, and also the conflicts within different cultures residing in the same country (the book was written before the current problems and situation). Each culture is dependent on each other, intradependent, and interdependent on each other within the cultural independence. Each person is dependent on their own culture, and also other cultures for survival. Each person is seeking truth. Yehoshua brings strong human elements to the characters. Parents from one culture do not necessarily fit the mold of the other culture.

Being a parent doesn’t give you exclusivity into the lives of your child, and your need-to-know diminishes when they become adults. Yehoshua is brilliant in his insight regarding familial bonds and the ties that bind family members, and also brilliant in his assessment of familial boundaries and privacy, and what constitutes invasion of that privacy.

The Liberated Bride left this reader to question the definition of “bride”. Also, it had me thinking issues of liberation, and what it means socially, politically and personally. There are other brides, other aspects of liberation within the almost 600-page book that I won’t delve into. You need to read the book for yourself to find out its connections and complexities.

Yehoshua leaves us to wonder who or what exactly “The Liberated Bride” is, as the word “bride” takes on many connotations, including “bridge”. Is the bride a human being/s, state of being or mindset, a country, or is it a combination of all those factors. That is the brilliance of Yehoshua, his ability to convey and bring substance to the characters and the country in The Liberated Bride.

A.B. Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem, and his own understanding of Israel is intense and runs deep. That is clearly evident in his excellent and masterful writing, with his gift for weaving diverse fabrics and threads into a tapestry of life.

Read this book yourself and make your own judgements as to who or what the bride is or represents.


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Review: Problems With People

I am not normally one who reads books that contain short stories, but as it turns out, I have read one such book, lately entitled Problems With People: Stories, by David Guterson.

The book contains ten stories that are not connected by one or more characters repeating within the various stories. Krassavitseh is the one story I liked the most. It involved a father and son who tour Holocaust memorials in Germany, the country the father emigrated to America from. It was a poignant look at what once was (in the memories of father’s mind), and what appeared before him during his touring. Architecture, streets, pathways, houses, so much had changed, and the father’s emotions could not fathom all he actually saw before him. His mindset was in the past, what once was.

Memory is often the cement of our past, and when things seem out of context as to settings and scenes in the here and now, it can overwhelm a person. It can also cause one to have to reflect on history, bringing up the past in painful snippets.

Another story, entitled Tenant reflects on a landlord’s curiosity regarding a woman who is renting from him. He tries to gain her attention through emails. He finally meets her. Their conversation is awkward, somewhat stifled. This is due to the landlord’s lack of social skills, and his expectations of what their meeting would hold.

Most of the stories are ones of loss, awkwardness, loneliness, and humans at the very basics of the emotions and mentalities. The interactions, or lack of, are well defined through strong word imagery and prose. The cognizance of the characters is depicted fully. Even though they exhibited depression, anxiety and even mental incapacity, the stories hit at the core of life and lives lived in realistic fashion.

The characters are often emotionally inept in both social and family situations. Yet, they are presented to the reader with clarity that illuminates their lack of confidence in certain situations. Some of the stories end abruptly, but in real life, situations often end that way, and Guterson projects that quite brilliantly.

Problems With People: Stories, by David Guterson exhibits just that, people’s problems, but through a flair of masterful writing.

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Review: Maps and Shadows

Maps and Shadows, by Krysia Jopek is a novel, told from a unique perspective, that of Polish deportees deported to forced labor camps in Siberia.

The novel begins in 1939, and is told through four family members in alternating chapters. Andrzej is the father, Henryk is the older son, Josef is the youngest son, Zofia is the mother, and Helcia is the daughter. It details the family’s experiences through the four voices of all but the youngest child, Josef. The story line is based on both family history and historical fact regarding the Soviet deportation of over one million Polish individuals. The four family members lived a decent and good life, on land given to the father, Andrzej, for his status and service in the Polish army. That all came to an end in September 1939, when Russia invaded Poland from the east.

Their land was seized, as were their belongings, and they were forced at gunpoint onto trains heading to Siberia. It is there that father and son, Henryk, become part of a work crew, a crew that is cutting down trees in order to aid the Russians in the war. After eighteen months the family is “freed”, if you can call it that, in order for the Polish individuals to help Russia fight Germany.

Andrzej joins the Polish army, once again, leaving his family behind. A decision he will regret over and over again. The other family members manage to flee to Uzbekistan. It is there that Henryk joins the Young Soldier’s Battalion, in a move to find some independence for himself, and he eventually ends up in Palestine. The other three family members flee to Persia. Some family members end up in Italy and Africa at some point during their traumatic separation. Each family member does not know the whereabouts of the others, or if they are even alive.

Andrzej prays each day for the survival and well being of his family. He is wracked with guilt for having left them, but he felt he had no choice. They all are reunited, eventually, in England. From there the emigrate to America and settle in Connecticut. Their history and displacement constantly haunts them.

Maps and Shadows is a story of displacement, inhumanity, severe living conditions, loss and love, assimilation and starting life anew in a foreign country. It is harrowing in detail, vividly depicted, yet beautifully written. The poetry and poetic undertones are strong metaphors, and Jopek portrays the plights of the family, both as a unit, and as individuals, with brilliance, in a memoir type of format filled with haunting imagery. Her use of incorporating family members in an alternating chapter style gives authenticity and realization to the characters.

Maps and Shadows depicts the boundaries/borders of humanity that are crossed during World War II, and how the Polish civilians were forced into situations of extreme inhumanity all in the name of war. It is a story that brings to light the civilian Polish deportations by the Soviets, which are not normally explored in the context of World War II.

Krysia Jopek intertwines the tapestry of family history, weaving a novel that strongly imparts the horrors of the deportations. The story is compelling detailing the physical and emotional struggles of separation that the family is forced to endure in order to survive.


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Review: One More Year: Stories

The collection of short stories in One More Year: Stories, by Sana Krasikov, concerns the former Soviet Union and its grip on individuals.

The characters in the stories have an innateness about them that binds them to their country in one fashion or another.  From emigrants to America, and their expectations and manipulations, to those who are still living in the Soviet Union, to those who have chosen to return to their homeland, for varied reasons, the stories speak of women and their relationships with men.

Manipulations overflow within both sides of the spectrum and with both men and women.
The stories are bleak, some filled with physical abuse, and unappreciative men.  The women use their wits in order to fulfill their own dreams, yet those very manipulations often backfire on them.  The stories seemed a bit rote to me, as the essence of each story was similar.  There was no connectedness between the characters within the varied stories.  Each story was a separate look at lives lived, how assimilation affected those lives, and how survival was the primary factor of life.

From one end of the world to the other, Russia to America, and back again, the stories have a sameness.  That was probably the author’s intention.  There was no uniqueness within the social scheme, within society’s mode, of the Soviet Union.  Many lives were lived under duress, and affected those individuals who lived those lives lived within the realm of non individuality.

I will say that the visuals were well done, with excellent word-imagery. The writing was strong as far as characterizations go.  I felt that the struggles were vividly told, and applaud Sana Krasikov for that.

Overall, I felt there was something lacking within the pages of One More Year, despite the strong word-paintings.  Deceit, abuse, lying, are all encompassing within the stories, and that did not have anything to do with my feelings.  I believe I just expected more from the book, which is not the author’s fault, but my own preconceived expectations.

One More Year: Stories was an interesting and in depth psychological and social look into the minds of those whose homeland lies in the Soviet Union.  Whose homeland lies within the hearts of those who emigrated.

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Review – In America: A Novel

With extremely vivid details, Susan Sontag has written a novel of the immigrant experience, in her novel, In America. Not only does Sontag establish European life during the latter part of the nineteenth century, but she also depicts theater life and all the aspects of theater production quite brilliantly.

The main focus of In America concerns a woman named Maryna Zalezowksa, a famed Polish actress. She is adored and respected in her world of theater. But, discontent rules her, and she longs for more out of life, and for a more natural and ideal existence than the one lived in her homeland of Poland.

I believe part of her dissatisfaction is due to the fact that she is aging, and possibly afraid that she will not be given preference with good roles in the future. She sees the writing on the wall, so to speak, and does not want to fade away, theatrically speaking, with minor acting roles. She wants to leave while she is still at the top of her form.

Sontag has infused the pages with Maryna’s desire to go to America. Within her goal, her circle of close friends find it difficult to refuse her, and her desires become their desires. Her friends are clingers, and followers, and like being in the same circle as Maryna, and they like what they see as the enhancements of being her friend (or her lover). She manages to exercise her influence on those individuals and convinces them to take the leap and leave Poland and emigrate to America.

Maryna hopes to eventually open a commune, a farm, where one can live off the land, and spend their years in a natural environment. Yet, while packing, she did bring along her stage costumes, also making me wonder if she thought she might fail in her goals. If she did, she would have her acting career to fall back on.

Maryna, her husband board a ship for America where life is supposedly golden. From there events unfold, some happy and some tragic. The journey and its consequences of assimilation, and renewal of identity and of life is brilliantly portrayed through Sontag’s amazing sensitivity to the immigrant experience and to the political scenes unfolding throughout the book.

Poland was in a state of upheaval, and the political climate was intense, and lives were at risk within the confines of the continual changes. Maryna’s dreams of life in a communal environment fall to the wayside, and she returns to what she does best…acting.

Throughout In America, I had the feeling that Maryna was quite self-absorbed at times. Sontag subtly manages to convey that message quite clearly, if the reader takes the time to actually be cognizant of the content and the underlying signs, symbols and metaphors. This self-absorption leads to her using her acting skills to her advantage whenever possible in her personal life.

Sontag writes with vivid word visuals, and I felt as if I was right there in the midst of life during the late nineteenth century. In America is a long book, and isn’t a fast read, but for me it was a satisfying novel. Sontag’s comprehension and mastery of details and history, even the most minute of them, is masterful. The historical content within the pages of In America is quite valuable. She not only gives the reader insight into the dynamics of political unrest in Poland, but also of American assimilation and identity. Sontag explores life in general during a time when great waves of diverse immigrants were vying for a foothold in order to begin life anew in America. T he immigrant had to be strong and determined, no matter the situation thrown at them. They had to have an eye for the moment and take advantage of situations dealt them. In other words, they had to be a good actor.

In America: A Novel is a brilliant metaphor for the political and social aspects that led not only to emigration to America, but also to the disillusionment and/or to the satisfaction of many goals and dreams after arriving there. Susan Sontag conveys a strong message, one that reverberates throughout the pages of In America.


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Review: A Mad Desire to Dance

I have been busy the past couple of days trying to catch up on some reading.  Today, I will review the book A Mad Desire to Dance, by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Catherine Termerson.  I read this a second time for a book club.

Wiesel, with his masterful writing skills, has done it again, with a book that is extremely complex, dealing with the primary theme of “madness”, otherwise termed as insanity, depression, melancholia, mania, schizophrenia, and illness.  It is not an easy read, and often seems disjointed.  That is due to the fact that Doriel Waldman, the primary character, is suffering from what he defines as “madness”, and is jumping back and forth, from one scenario to another in almost manic fashion, while relaying his story to his psychoanalyst, Dr. Thérèse Goldschmidt.  As a side note, the given name Doriel is taken from the Hebrew Dor, which means “generation”.  Add that to the surname Waldman, and you have a name that seems to imply that Doriel is a walled-in man, locked in, or out of, childhood memories, and memories of past generations.

That said, since I’m eager to tell you everything, you should know that I’ll be telling you this story without any concern for chronology.  You’ll be made to discover many different periods of time and many different places in a haphazard fashion.  What can I say?  The madman’s time is not always the same as the so-called normal man’s“.

Waldman is a very scrutinizing and eccentric individual, and relies on philosophy and religion to speak to Goldschmidt. He has lost his parents and siblings, and has been raised in a Jewish Orthodox community, by his uncle.  He moves back and forth with his answering of questions, and often plays word games that turn into mind games.  He does this in order to get the better hand of the situation, as he perceives it.  He is reluctant to release his memories, and is stuck in time, searching evermore for a smile, or a kiss on his forehead.  He is very controlling, and must be one up on the psychoanalyst at all times, even though he is paying her to help him.

Goldschmidt is treating him using Freudian principles of analysis.  She is also not his first psychoanalyst, having received Waldman as a patient from a previous doctor who felt he couldn’t help him (Waldman).  She is Jewish, like Waldman, and the previous doctor feels that this might help Waldman to open up.

I won’t state anything more about the story line, itself, as it would be giving away too much. I will say that Wiesel is brilliant in his assessment of the human mind, and is masterful in his blending of psychology, philosophy, Biblical references, tales and parables, and the Holocaust, within the pages of A Mad Desire to Dance.  The story is a dark one, compelling, if the reader takes the time to absorb all the analogies and relative content, not only within the pages, but between the lines.  It is often a haunting story, filled with sadness, loss, love, and exaggeration of truth.

Wiesel has infused A Mad Desire to Dance with extraordinary content, with repressed desires and fanaticism, with love and loss, with locked memories that have had a dominant force on Waldman’s life, on his personality and ability to relate to others.  The tapestry is woven with brilliance and with a profound sense of history and how it affects not only our mind, but our faith.

Elie Wiesel has written a masterpiece, and one that encapsulates all of the facets of “madness”, from fanaticism in religion and spirituality, to harshness and brutality, to mania and obsessiveness, etc. It is as if the reader is inside the mind of a “madman”, what Doriel defines himself as being. But, is he really? You read this intense book about survival and trauma and decide.
I apologize for the update-there were some complications in my links.

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Friendship and Naples Defined

Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante, is astute and cognizant of society within the scheme of Naples and its surroundings.

I have read three books of hers, all three part of a series, and a fourth is expected to be published in the near future.

The three I read are:
My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Staya

My maternal ancestral roots lie within the Naples area. My grandparents emigrated from there-my grandmother as a child in 1890, and my grandfather as a 20-year old in 1900. These three books gave me insight into the social modes and traditions of Naples, and into the lives of those who lived within its borders.

The books are novels, written with an in depth reflection on friendship during times of hardship, during times when education was not necessarily valued, and during times of neighborhood interactions and how those interactions affected the individuals within the borders of it.

Individual feuds with friends are only one aspect of the people within the Naples neighborhood. Family feuds, family jealousies and family struggles are vividly depicted. Family infidelities seem to be a known, but not necessarily verbalized, slice of life. The motivations of the people are astutely defined, and although some may seem to be unmotivated, that very act, in itself, is often manipulative in order to gain what the person desires. Desiring to leave one’s surroundings is an important part of the stories. Some choose to leave only to find that life is still a constant battle. Some choose to stay within the daily battles for survival. Some leave, but in their hearts they remain cemented to Naples.

The educated versus the uneducated is embellished. Does education only refer to academics, or can it be defined in other aspects? Can being streetwise be an education, in itself. Can leaving school, yet constantly reading at home be viewed as education?

I read the series out of order, My Brilliant Friend, fist, then Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and lastly, The Story of a New Name. It doesn’t matter if you only read one book, you don’t need to read the entire series to garner the illuminating situations of life. Elena Ferrante’s writing is brilliant, in each book.

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