Monthly Archives: May 2015

Aharon Appelfeld’s Books

I am an avid reader of Aharon Appelfeld’s books. I find them to be a fascinating look into the mindsets of those who seem to have a naive sense of things to come, and/or things that are occurring around them.

Some of Aharon Appelfeld’s books that I have read are:

Badenheim 1939

Suddenly, Love: A Novel

The Story of a Life: A Memoir

Blooms of Darkness: A Novel

The Iron Tracks: A Novel

Tzili: The Story of a Life

All Whom I Have Loved: A Novel

Until the Dawn’s Light: A Novel

Laish: A Novel

Aharon Appelfeld brings the reader illuminating gems within his novels. His stories are told with magnificent prose and word-imagery.  The impact is not normally light and airy, but one that is often disturbing, and on the fringes of horrific events to come.  He has a point to make within the pages of his novels, and the concepts and depictions resound and echo through the heart of pain and extreme adversity.  He beckons the reader to ponder humanity and the human condition.

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Gardening in Eden

Gardening in Eden, by Arthur Vanderbilt, is a book of joyous illuminations.

Arthur Vanderbilt manages to bring us a book that is filled with the glory of gardening. With delightful and descriptive word-paintings (that fill our senses with tapestries of color, textures, seasons, scents and sounds), we can visualize and feel the magical beauty of Vanderbilt’s garden, from first plantings to the last moments of breath and beauty.

He injects humor, with his witty prose, and also shows us his emotions during a doldrum winter’s day or two. But, he manages to perk himself up and find illumination and joy within those bleak and chilled days, taking steps to make the most of the moment. We come to understand that anxiety and impatience are a gardener’s trademarks…spring might be around the corner, but it can’t arrive soon enough.

Arthur Vanderbilt takes us on a magic tour of his garden, takes us on a delightful and glorious journey through seasons and weather elements. He defines, with perfect clarity, that in the end, our efforts to create natural beauty in our garden can be fruitful, with patience and love.

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Review: The Library at Night

Oh. My. What can I say about the non-fictional book by Alberto Manguel, entitled The Library at Night. For me it was an extremely mesmerizing and enthralling book.

I love books, I love books stores, I love libraries, and I love touring libraries. The Library at Night gives the reader full access, detailed tours, and illuminating depictions of libraries from the beginning of time.

From tablet writings, writings on skins, caves, etc., libraries have existed in one fashion or another. From palatial libraries, to libraries that have become non-existent through wars, Nazi burnings, and other forms of intentional damage, Manguel has woven a story that kept this reader at attention. I loved all of the word imagery, loved the photographs, and enjoyed reading about the various library forms. By forms I mean not only amazing architectural structure of libraries, but I also mean the semblance or organization of personal libraries, as well as libraries around the world.

Ancient Egypt held libraries that have diminished due to ravages, Alexandria’s great library no longer exists, and from France to Rome, China, Japan and countries worldwide, Manguel’s vision fills the pages with vivid prose.

Libraries exist in memories of one’s mind, handed down from generation to generation. Libraries are a part of the universal foundation of reading. Celebrity libraries, libraries of the authors and poets existed for literary reasons, and often had no sense of rhyme or reason. But, for the owner, their library was a personal matter.

Alberto Manguel has written a book of historical importance, as far as the interpretation of the library world is concerned. The Library at Night is a book of significance to those of us who cherish books, who have cultivated and amassed our own book collection, and formed some sense of a personal library. What is a library to one, may not be considered a library by another. Realistically, that is not necessarily true. We define our own library, from our own tastes and passions.

What started out as the author creating and planning his own library, turned into a book of wonder and awe, regarding libraries. What a concept! I love this book! It now resides on my primary, personal library shelf.

I highly recommend The Library at Night, by Alberto Manguel.

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Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West

Oh my! Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West, by Frances L. Wood, is an amazing book, filled with wonderful insights regarding birds.

From the first page until the last, I enjoyed every moment spent immersing myself within the world of birds and birding. Being an avid bird-lover and never having my fill of viewing them, Brushed by Feathers spoke to me on many levels.

Wherever I am, whether walking in the neighborhood, a park, or by a lake, pond, river or the sea, birding is one of my passions, and favorite pleasures. I often find myself so involved within the watching, that I do not take photographs.

Within this book’s contents, the reader feels the intensity which flows through Wood’s veins regarding birds. Her writings describe particular elements of certain species. Her knowledge of birds in relation to landscape is vividly depicted. Her travels in order to be able to view specific birds brings the reader a unique perspective on birding. The prose is abundant with beautiful word-imagery, and every minute detail breathes her love for, and joy of, our feathered-friends.

Aside from her writings, she has also included sketches within the pages, and the reader has more reasons to stop and reflect, through these images. Her humor also shines through, as she brought this reader little ditties that made me smile, and even laugh out loud.

I highly recommend Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West. It is so much more than a journal or diary. It is an excellent resource, and a book written with deep respect and love for birds and nature. Her prose is almost poetic, and she paints beautiful word-visuals that one can not help but be enthralled with.

I feel fortunate-I discovered this book at a local library book sale. As soon as I saw it, I grabbed it. I am grateful to have read it. I, myself, was brushed with the beauty, tones and contrasts involved in birdwatching, through Frances L. Wood’s illuminating book.

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Review: The Heavens Are Empty

Avrom Bendavid-Val has written a concise, compelling and historically relevant book, regarding the town of Trochenbrod, Ukraine, with his compelling book, The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod.

The town/village had one street about two miles long. It was an agricultural town, and, so, behind the houses and/or shop fronts, were acres of land, owned by Jews. Those Jews had managed to carve out a living for themselves, and live totally unburdened by “gentiles”. From leather goods and tanning, to produce and milk, the Jewish community fended for themselves, and managed to live decently.

The entire town was made up of Jewish individuals, except for one or two adults. This was amazing, in and of itself. Those adults were the ones who lit the lights during Shabbat, took care of the ovens, did the things that the Jews, due to religious traditions and beliefs, were not permitted to do on Shabbat and on the Sabbath.

The street was constantly filled with “mud”, as the reader is informed throughout the pages of witness statements. It was almost comical how often “mud” is mentioned. It left a deep impression, decades later, on those who had lived there, in more ways than one. It also left an impression on me.

From documents and data, to witness statements, the foundation of Trochenbrod is detailed with information that needed to be told. It is a poignant story, often heart-wrenching, yet one that is an important story in the realm of history.

For those of you that wish to understand the history of what once was, and no longer is, The Heavens Are Empty is the perfect book to educate yourself regarding the events that unfolded. Not only were the events horrific and filled with contempt and the murderous rage of thousands of Jews, but they led to the obliteration of Trochenbrod off of the face of the planet, literally.

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Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven. by Emily St. John Mandel, is an interesting read on how the end of the world, our world, affects the few survivors that remain.

I say “few survivors”, because a flu pandemic, known as the Georgia flu, has literally killed off about 99 percent of the entire earth’s population. The flu was transported and transpired in a matter of days, and for some in a manner of hours. The effects of the pandemic created a wasteland of sorts. Cars left on the highways and freeways, and roads to the airport. Some left empty, some with the deceased. There was no electricity, no gas that was usable, little food, and no comforts of home, obviously.

Survivors ravaged empty homes of everything they could use, leaving the interiors a shell of a house. People slept wherever they could. There was a bit of lawlessness, but not so much of that as there was a lackluster mood, a mood of concentrating on coping, and of traveling back to the past. The past was a big part of the story line, as it kept jumping from then to the current situation.

The memories never leave the survivors, and it is almost as if they are reliving their lives in a time warp or continuum through the past. There isn’t much hope emanating.

Learning to survive with basically no comforts is a central issue, and one that is consumed by a traveling Shakespeare company, created by a former actor. His role seemed to be a bit of a farce, in my opinion. He wasn’t entirely present in a majority of the novel, yet his presence was certainly felt by the survivors, as they tried to travel to where he was located. He reminded me of a mythical character, who sight unseen, manages to rule society through his former actions of legendary proportions.

I didn’t find the reality of the fact that art, in all its forms, became a central theme of the novel. For me, there were more immediate concerns that needed caring for. The basics of life were of vital importance in my way of thinking. I did not find that surviving in order to watch a traveling Shakespeare company was primary over other survival skills and necessities.

Yes, the plays and music brought cheer, but they also brought a sense of melancholy to those who watched. The past was revisited in their present.

An airport also plays a major role, as all aircraft was literally stopped, from the moment of the pandemic’s beginning. In fact a plane was grounded and quarantined due to sick passengers. It sat far removed from the airport, throughout the entire novel. The reader is cognizant of the fact that the dead passengers’ bodies are on the plane. Many survivors have chosen to live in the airport, portioning off sections and making the section their home.

Chaos is depicted in many forms, and I must say that the author was brilliant with her word-imagery. Every aspect of the landscape is described so the reader does not have to really think too long on envisioning what is being portrayed.

I won’t go on any more with my thoughts. If I do, I will then be rambling in a negative manner. The book has gotten mainly excellent reviews and awards, and I don’t want to spoil anything for you, a possible reader.

I read Station Eleven for a book club. It is not my usual story line read. Did I like it, yes and no, more on the negative side than the positive side. The book was dark, and unbelievable in sections, as far as I am concerned. But, I did read it all the way through. It does have a moral of sorts, which is a plus.

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Review: Aquarium: A Novel

The novel, Aquarium, by David Vann is a novel that takes place in 1994, and is narrated by a twelve-year old girl named Caitlin Thompson.

Caitlin lives alone with her mother, Sheri, in a small apartment. There are just the two of them, and her mother is a hardworking single mother. When Sheri comes home from work she just wants to flop on the bed. And, at times, Caitlin flops down with her.

Sheri can’t afford child care, so Caitlin spends her after school hours at the Seattle Aquarium. It was less expensive to buy a season pass, than pay for child care for Caitlin who is not legally allowed to be home alone.

While at tne aquarium one afternoon, she meets an elderly man. He begins speaking to her regarding the fish they are looking at. This interaction continues each day after school, and a friendship begins to form between the two of them. She trusts him, completely, and is not afraid of him. Eventually, he tells Caitlin he would like a favor of her-he wants to meet her mother.

Once the meeting takes place, trouble begins. ‘Trouble’ is actually an understatement and putting it mildly. I must admit that I was shocked at Sheri’s behavior, after she sees the elderly man. I was horrified regarding her actions.

Enough, if I go on any longer, I will give the story line away.

I found Vann’s writing to be lovely when he was writing about the aquarium, and the fish and other sea life that live within the aquarium environment. His word-images were beautifully written. They were masterfully crafted images that illuminated aquarium life. I have been to aquariums several times recently, and I could visualize what his writing depicted.

I also was captivated by how Caitlin compared her daily life to an aquarium. Her apartment was her aquarium, her bedroom, her school, every facet of her life was an analogy to an aquarium. It was an interesting concept.

For me, the novel was a metaphor for survival, not only survival of sea life, but survival of individuals within an environment of hardship and adversity. Single mothers with little education have a difficult time tying all ends together in order to provide shelter, food and clothing for their child/ren. Within the pages, this becomes a primary issue.

As a whole, I was not overly happy with the story. Aquarium is a dark and haunting novel, and not one that I found to be a positive read (other than the word-images of aquarium life). Yes, it is true, Caitlin was a sweet girl, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy me.

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