Category Archives: Biography

Review: Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary

Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, The First Complete Edition is extremely intense.  I read this book straight through in one sitting (for the third time), and can’t say enough about it.

From her diary that begins when she was thirteen years old…through just before her execution, to her poems and letters, the book is an extremely compelling read.  The book also contains tributes by parachutists and some memoirs written by Hannah’s mother, Catherine Senesh.  Catherine was in the same prison as Hannah, at one point in time, and they had fleeting conversations and glances at each other.  Hannah, according to her diary, was always aware of how her decisions would affect her mother, and she adored and loved her mother without a doubt, but her (Hannah’s) passion for what she desired and believed in stayed in the forefront.

We watch the years unfold through Hannah’s diary, and see how she has matured…from young teen, to a mature young women with definite ideals, opinions and pride in being a Jew.  Her writings show a young woman torn between choices, sometimes questioning her choice, but always coming to the conclusion that she had made the correct one, for herself. Although, in her diary, she often stated that she did not like the synagogue atmosphere, the required prayers, she did believe in God, and Jewish life was what encompassed her dreams and goals and was what kept her passionate throughout her short life.  She lived for Israel, for the Zionist movement. Israel and the Zionist goal was her ultimate dream, and she was determined to move there.

When Hannah made “Aliyah”, moved to Israel, she was young and hopeful, filled with strength, ideals and dreams, and when she died, she was still young and hopeful, full of strength, ideals and dreams, some realized, but most of them not realized. Hannah was strong willed, courageous and true to her emotional and mental fortitude until the end very end, until the last minute.  Even her captors could not believe the courage she exhibited throughout her capture and up until she perished.  She was executed without a blindfold, by choice so her executioners could see her eyes, and she looked up towards the skies, and died a hero.  Her life is immortalized within Israel.

Hannah joined the military, trained and took parachute lessons as part of her training.  She volunteered for a rescue mission to Europe during World War II in order to help rescue Jews, and was eventually captured, tortured and executed in Budapest by a firing squad.

Poignant, beautifully written, Hannah’s life is a testament to her faith, ideals, strength, fortitude and determination to live life as she wanted to.

It is difficult to articulate how Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary, the First Complete Edition affected me, as I am still filled with the emotions swirling within my mind and my heart from the powerful memoir.  That one so young, so well-defined with her journal and poetry, could live such a short life, yet impact so many throughout the years since, is a testament to her very essence.

Hannah Senesh’s life was not in vain, as she continues to teach others, each day, even in death.  Her spirit lives on to inspire many, Jews and non Jews, alike.

As an aside: The Jewish High Holy Days are near. Each year I read a few books, mainly biographies and non-fiction, relating to Judaism, Jewish individuals, the Holocaust, and/or Jewish Life. Some I read anew, and some I read again. It is my way of remembering Jewish history and all of the individuals who contributed to the welfare of the Jews.

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Books Re U.S. Presidents

Today is Presidents’ Day, in the U.S., which reminds me of books I have read, regarding our presidents.

The first one I read, as a young adult, was-Those Who Love: A Biographical Novel of Abigail and John Adams. I was enthralled by it, and couldn’t put it down. I loved the story of their lives together. I found it to be quite fascinating regarding our nation’s history, the revolution, and our Constitution. I read it when it was first published in 1965.

Since then, I have read more books regarding presidents, and below is a list of a few (there are more than I list):

Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow
FDR, by Jean Edward Smith
No Ordinary Time: The Homefront in WWII, by Doris Kearns
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham
John F. Kennedy: U.S. President, by Mart Randall
Abraham Lincoln” Great American President, by Brenda Haugen
JFK: A&E Biography, by Philip Lord
Jimmy Carter: President and Peacemaker
The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
My Life, by Bill Clinton

I could list more, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I have many more presidential biographies and autobiographies.

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Book Diva Review:

theodorherzl Georges Yitzhak certainly portrays Theodor Herzl in a new light, in his book, Theodor Herzl: A New Reading, infusing comprehensive research into the book.

Questions regarding Jewishness and who is a Jew are strong within the pages, with varied references attributed not only to Herzl, but other perception of him. What defines a Jew? Does birth define one, or does level of practice? What about secularism? So many questions to ponder, and Herzl does, with added clarity through Weisz’ writing. Jewish identity is in the forefront, along with Zionism, within the pages. Questions upon questions are infused in the pages. For me, it made no difference. The man speaks for himself in his actions.

Questions regarding Zionism and his founding or theory of it are strong, also. Within that view, others seemed to have seen him as insane for even considering his Zionism attitude and perseverance. Others question his motives for wanting a “Jewish State”. Whatever the motive, he is the father of Zionism, and should be given due respect for that.

I found the book to be intellectually satisfying, and found the religious aspects regarding Herzl to be fascinating. On one hand he was devout, on another he was not. So what, what is the important factor was his steadfast dedication to Zionism. The reader is taken through his thought processes, which Weisz used from portions of Theodor Herzl’s diary.

I would recommend Theodor Herzl: A New Reading to anyone interested in Theodor Herzl’s life, interested in Zionism and its foundations, interested in Judaism and what defines a Jew, and in Jewish practice, and interest in “the Jewish Question”, and so much more.

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Book Diva Review: We Survived

we survived We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H. Boehm is a compelling, intense and frank read depicting the deplorable acts thrust upon the Jewish people during World War II.

All of the fourteen stories are overwhelming, and are a critical and insightful look into survival and what one will do in order to thwart all attempts to be imprisoned in concentration camps or killed at the hands of the Nazis. The book depicts the darkness of the days and the living conditions the Jews faced in order to survive. It portrays the lives of those who opposed the Nazis and how they faced their own dilemmas and demise within a country environment of horrific and atrocious proportions. The ugliness and images within the pages conveys the magnitude and reality of the events that occurred, written soon after liberation, when memory was fresh.

The stories evoke an extremely horrific look at the events the individuals found themselves up against. Yet, they are also a humane and poignant perspective of humanity. We Survived is a book that offers hope and inspiration during the most darkest of times.

In my opinion, We Survived: Fourteen Stories of the Hidden and the Hunted in Nazi Germany, by Eric H. Boehm is a book of historical importance that documents the evil forced upon, the persecution of, and the fear of those whose stories are told. I highly recommend We Survived to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: A Memoir of Jane Austen

A Memoir of Jane Austen: And Other Family Recollections, by James Edward Austen-Leigh, is a biography written by Jane Austen’s nephew. The book contains documentation and also contains his own thoughts on his Aunt, thoughts taken from when he was a child. The recollections are also given by other nieces, nephews and family members who were in contact with Jane.

The book is well-written, and I gleaned a few insights regarding Jane, her familial interactions, and interactions on the social scene. There are instances, events and visits described, that the reader might not otherwise know about. That, in itself, is a positive reason to read the book if you are a diehard Jane Austen fan.

Within the pages the reader gets glimpses of life during Jane’s time period. The word imagery is well done, and the reader can visualize images before their eyes. The social mores, and/or Jane’s acceptance of them, is clearly evident throughout the book. One can understand the forces behind her writing, the forces that drove her characters to do what they did, and the forces that depicted the individuals in her books the way she described them.

Jane’s family gathered papers and documents in order for Austen-Leigh to write the biography that the family members felt was necessary. Yet, not all information regarding her was published in the pages of the book. The mores of the time were strict regarding privacy, and much of the letters and documents were left out of the book.

If you like Jane Austen’s work, I recommend A Memoir of Jane Austen: And Other Family Recollections, by James Edward Austen-Leigh.

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Book Diva Review: Marie Curie and Her Daughters

mariecurieandherdaughters I am astounded, now that I have finished reading this amazing book! There is so much information within the pages, not only regarding Madame Curie’s incredible endeavors and work ethic, but also illuminations on her family life, from childhood through motherhood.

I was extremely touched by the poignancy in which she showered love, quite often through correspondence, on her daughters. Within those letters the love she had for her daughters shines through, yet the love of her work does also. It was a lot to ask of her children, that they should patiently await her appearance. Yet, somehow her love of them did illuminate their lives in her absence.

Eve felt the absences the most, and was always in a state of yearning for her mother. Irene missed her, but was better able to cope with her long absences. The references throughout the book of her being an absent mother, begs one to wonder what kind of mother she really was. If you ask her daughters, she was a wonderful one, and one who fostered their passions.

Her daughters went on to be distinguished, respected and admired in their own chosen fields. Eve became a journalist, and Irene followed her mother’s science leanings. Eve became an American citizen, while Irene remained in France.

I was enthralled with the scientific details, and enthralled with the steadfastness and devotion that Madame Curie dedicated to her work. The fact that the results of her work, along with her husband’s was never patented, gave me new insight into the humanistic approach of her/their work. She believed the results belonged to humanity, not to her or her husband.

Marie Curie was a woman, who at the time, was in what was known as a “man’s world”. Her laboratory was like home to her. She felt totally comfortable in the laboratory surroundings. She outshone most men in her vision and determination regarding radioactivity. She worked with her husband, and won the Nobel Prize.

After her husband’s death she began an affair with a married man. This became a scandalous situation and their affair was fodder for many rumors, gossip and newspaper articles. Her once effective and illuminating reputation was left at odds. Those who once adored her, ignored her. It was a sad time for her, especially after all that she had accomplished up until then.

Her strength and dedication got her through the worst of times. Her gift to humanity is one that should never be forgotten.

The book has left me wanting to read it again, and I know that once I do, I will view it with more completeness. I applaud Shelley Emling for her research and dedication to this masterful and brilliant book.

I want to thank LibraryThing and Palgrave Macmillan for the complimentary copy. It has been a privilege to have read this stunning book.

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Book Diva Review: Norman Mailer: A Double Life

normanmailer J. Michael Lennon has captured Norman Mailer to the fullest extent possible, in the biography, Norman Mailer: A Double Life. Through his meticulous attention to detail, and his extensive research, he has brought the reader a stark, undoctored, realistic approach to the life that Mailer led, both privately and publicly. There were instances where I wish that Lennon was not so illuminating with is minute word-imagery, but I am aware that those segments are a part of the whole.

In reading the biography, I could see where Mailer was very possessive and protective of his books. If anyone dare to give a negative review of one of his works, he would respond back in a defensive manner, trying to justify why he wrote what he did. He didn’t feel that others necessarily understood the meaning behind the content. He wanted to be regarded as a great American writer. Many critics and readers saw him as such, yet many didn’t.

Mailer’s competitive edge was highlighted within the pages, and his views on other authors and their novels were not always positive. He felt that the great American novelist of the 20th century had yet to appear. He endeavored to be that author, and his ego convinced him that he was.

Lennon has created a biography that depicts a man who, in my opinion, seems to be floundering. I could see him at odds with his sexual escapades, his divorces, his children and his own opinions of the world and of himself. At odds, meaning his actions and the consequences of them. At times, he appeared to be so full of himself, and his activities and sexual prowess never ceased, at the expense of others. But, more importantly at the expense of himself.

Mailer didn’t seem able to control his impulses, and he let them take over in social and private situations. Even if he could control the impulses, from the material garnered in the biography, I doubt he would have. Sex and women were major factors in his life. For him the events leading to self-gratification were a form of power over another.

He seemed to use his sexual experiences as material for his novels. He enjoyed the self-absorption and the impulses he acted upon, while they were occurring. Afterwards, he often felt that he spread himself too wide, but it did not stop him from continuing his more or less promiscuous behavior. From alcohol and drugs, to sexual exploits, his addictions were many.

Marriage and infidelity were one of his double lives. Becoming a great author and juggling fame and his personal life was another one of his double lives. Author and critic, power play and morals, hardworking and merriment, all of these and so much more are described in the several double lives that Mailer involved himself in.

J. Michale Lennon has brought every aspect of Norman Mailer’s life to the forefront. From the despicable and ugly acts to the kindnesses, we are witness to a man who led a life filled with prolific writings, nine children, six wives, varied emotions, and filled with self-realized consequences for the choices he made.

Norman Mailer: A Double Life is a long book, yet within the pages, nothing is left for us to wonder regarding the context of his life.

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