Category Archives: Family Dynamics

Review: Dora Bruder

Dora Bruder, by Patrick Modiano (translated by Joanna Kilmartin), is a book that was an intriguing and compelling read for me.

From Modiano’s first spark of interest in Dora Bruder’s life, to his final analysis, the story line is structured much like a detective story, and an ongoing investigation that he becomes obsessed with. His interest in her life began when he read about her in an old newspaper from 1941.

Dora Bruder was Jewish, and she was 15-years old at the time, and had literally disappeared off the face of the streets of Paris. Her parents placed an in the newspaper “Paris Soir”, which ran in the personal column on New Years Eve, 1941. “Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1 m 55, oval-shaped face, gray-brown eyes, gray sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes.”

Once Modiano sees that notice, he begins to investigate every document, every crevice, every bit of information he can gather on her. His ten-year investigation leads him down streets he once lived on, down avenues he walked many times before, and into buildings and archives in order to garner as much information as possible. He speaks with people, from all walks of life. He is unable to let go of her, and his need to know sets him on a journey that also includes his own depictions of self-discovery.

Dora Bruder is short on pages, less than 140 pages, but it is filled with depth and intensity. Modiano’s quest for Dora Bruder, is also a quest for the answers to his own childhood, one that was filled with troublesome events, due to his Jewish father’s collaborations during the Holocaust. Within the realm of his difficult childhood, we see similarities between them, such as loss of a happy childhood, loss of a stable environment while growing up, and the loss associated with negative memories.

Modiano’s memories abound within the framework, as his research continually evokes thoughts of his own losses and life events. In essence, although the book is a novel, it is sustained by amazing facts and data. One might say it is a cross between fiction and memoir, due to the fact that Modiano’s life, itself, fills the pages through his reflecting upon his past.

For me, Dora Bruder, was masterfully written by Patrick Modiano. He had me deeply focused on the pains of loss, and how the past follows us throughout our life. His dedication to interviewing, dedication to research, documentation, and his physical involvement in walking the streets of Paris in order to gain more information is something to applaud him for.

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The Buried Giant

With his latest novel, The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro has written an intriguing and beguiling story line.

The framework begins with an aging couple, Axl and Beatrice. They have set out on a journey to find their son, who they haven’t seen in years. He lives in a village not too far from them. Within this composite, the elements of the story line are filled with myth, legend, fantasy, the firmness, or weakness, of memory, and the structure of community.

The name Axl means “father of peace”. A good point to remember in the story. Beatrice means “bringer of joy”, “guide”. Dante, himself infused a woman named Beatrice as a guide in his work, “Divine Comedy”. These definitions play an integral part in the story.

Memory is a predominant factor within the pages. We often choose to forget issues within our lives, issues too painful for us to cope with at a given moment. Eventually those issues can catch up to us, and our mind can slowly open up to reveal the past we tried hard to forget. Memory is also a part of the aging process, and often our ability to remember diminishes as we age. Fear of the loss of remembering can wreak havoc upon us.

Britons and Saxons are peacefully living side by side, due to the “fog of memory” thrust upon them. As time goes by, Axl and Beatrice begin to remember incidents and events from their past. Their memories are slowly awakened, as the memory fog subtly lifts. Is it due to their age, that their memories are unclear, or is it due to an unseen force put upon them?

Read the magical and mythical story yourself, in order to find the answer. Within the pages the reader is carried into a land of Arthurian composition. King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, an old knight is one of the characters who Axl and Beatrice meet, along with a warrior and a young boy. They encounter dragons, sprites, ogres along their journey. The characters, intermingled with each other, present the reader with a masterfully written story line, leaving the reader to question many important issues.

The story line, in my opinion, is an allegory for humanity, humanity as individuals, couples, community, and as a part of the whole within villages, towns and countries. The allegory encompasses the customs, spirituality and cultures within the human condition, including superstition and how it is a life force for many.

The Buried Giant
, in my opinion, is also metaphor for life’s memories and the fear and struggles endured through love and loss. Mass hysteria and/or a form of mass hypnosis or mass suggestion, superstition and spirituality, through fear, plays a major role within the pages. Pagan and Christian alike fear each other’s rituals, and that fear breeds irrational thoughts, and escalates hate.

I applaud Kazuo Ishiguro for his brilliance in structuring a storyline that is filled with minute details, details so vivid, the reader can see them before their eyes. I also praise him for giving the reader much food for thought regarding humanity and the human condition.

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All That Is Solid Melts into Air-A Novel

All That Is Solid Melts into Air-A Novel, by Darragh McKeon, captivated me from the first page until the last page.

Once I began the novel, I couldn’t put it down. It not only intrigued me, but also left me considering so many of the depictions and word-imagery within the pages. McKeon does not lack for masterful descriptions. There are so many minute details that another author might have left out, but not McKeon.

The story line basically describes the horrifying 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and how it affected the characters in the story, along with the population of the city in Ukraine, a city that was devastated in so many ways from the disaster. It describes how those who were initially close to the situation had no idea of the intensity of the issue. Authorities were hustling individuals away, and beating them senseless for wanting to know what was happening. Those in charge were not filled with compassion, but evoked hatred and atrocious acts upon the citizens, as if the citizens, themselves, were at fault for the disaster. The authorities were not compassionate or sympathetic, but were acting like hate mongers, individuals who were disassociating themselves from the horrors.

The coverups were many, and the plight of those who suffered was enormous, affecting those from future generations. Instead of displaying truthfulness, the event was covered over, and facts were not presented factually. Those in command used the old stance of not depicting the horrors or the effects in a truthful manner.

The main characters are a surgeon, a nine-year old piano prodigy, and a boy who witnessed the changing mood and colors of the sky. Each of these individuals, plus a few others, are affected in various ways due to the Chernobyl disaster. From physical, psychological, and emotional, the lives are depicted with acuteness, conciseness and with little left to wonder about, in the scheme of the tragic event and it after-effects and affects on those in close proximity to the disaster.

I will not write about the story, as it is so compelling, and filled with historical accuracy, that one must read it, themselves in order to gain insight and factual relevance. Some of the details were shocking, startling and incomprehensible. Humans showing inhumane treatment of those in distress and those in extreme need.

I highly recommend All That Is Solid Melts into Air-A Novel. The historical aspect is important. The humanistic aspects are important, both the indifferent attitudes and the humanitarian attitudes.

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Review: Lambrusco: A Novel

Lambrusco, by Ellen Cooney, is an excellent and compelling study of life during the Nazi invasion of Italy, told by the protaganist, Lucia Fantini, widow of Aldo. It is a very descriptive novel, filled with fantastic characters, all varied in thought, physical appearance and personality.

At times, due to the content and amount of individuals, it is difficult to try to keep track of who is who in the scheme of the story, but Cooney makes that a little easier for us by listing the characters and their place in the story on a separate page, before the story begins.

Lucia is at the forefront of everyone, and her presence emanates strength and assertiveness. Lucia is caught up in trying to find her son Beppi, who blew up a German tank and immediately went into hiding. She is upset, not only because she doesn’t know where he is, but upset more due to the fact that he blew up the tank and didn’t tell her!

Thinking such as that is what fills this book with humor and poignancy combined. That is one of the strengths of the writing. The story shows us how laughter can seep through the darkness of war. Talk about unique perspectives and story lines, Lambrusco has them both.

Lucia is an opera singer in her seaside restaurant. She would sing in the restaurant, attracting villagers from miles around. Her music filled their souls, while the food and Lambrusco wine filled their stomachs.

She smuggled guns and other items for them, both into and out of the restaurant, hidden in her purse or her coat pocket, hidden by scarves, etc.  She would take them by train to the partisans. With the war as a backdrop for the book, we are given descriptive word images of how the Italians band together in order to fight off the “nazifascisti” and survive as they travel through farmlands, from city to village, back again.

Lucia reflects on her life, her deceased husband who she believes watches over her and speaks to her. Much of her narrative is seen through her reflections on the past, her thoughts for the future, and also through her fantasies and dreams. She dreams of singing and of imaginary operas, she dreams of Caruso, Fellini films, of great opera singers debating with each other over who sings better. Her world is filled with fantasy and humor, and these dreams are what keep her alive, as they constantly play and resound in her head.

Cooney infuses comic relief within the confines of war-torn Italy in a most effective manner, and she knows just where to insert it. She never undermines or sweetens the devastation of war. It is not only the German occupation they are surviving from, but also the American bombings in Italy, ruining everything from factories to churches and homes in the landscape.

Lucia is struggling, herself, and Lambrusco is her journey, not only of survival, but journey of finding ones’ Self. Much of Lucia’s attitude, and the attitudes of the Italian villagers, stems from suspicions and their beliefs in legends myths, superstitions, concoctions, and ghosts that appear to them.

Cooney is excellent in weaving the various family tapestries, friendships and stories together. Her writing is rich with characters, and with a landscape embellished with ravages of war. It is a beautifully written metaphor for love of family and friends, for humanity and responsibility, and concern for each member of the community, as each one is a piece of the whole.

Lambrusco is often filled with comical interactions, but beneath the comedy lies a poignant and serious account of Italy during World War II. Ellen Cooney writes with sensitivity to the ramifications of war, demonstrating not only cognizance, but also historical importance of events of the time period..

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Review: A Tale for the Time Being

If you want to read a unique novel, and one that infuses the past and the present within the pages, then you might enjoy A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki.

The past is a strong component of the story line, beginning with Ruth, who finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox with artifacts inside it. She contemplates on the contents, and the lunchbox, and feels it might be debris from the horrific March 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Moving backwards in time, the story incorporates Nao-a sixteen year old girl living in Tokyo. She has endured much at the hands of her classmates, and is in a constant state of being bullied. She is different, and wise to the ways of the west, as far as modern lifestyles go. She has lived in California, is comfortable in her skin, there, and misses the defining cultural differences. She feels out of place in Tokyo, like an outsider.

Nao has begun writing a diary in order to document her great grandmother’s more than one hundred-years of life. Her great grandmother is a Buddhist nun.

Within alternating chapters, Ruth tries to understand what is written within the diaries pages. She gets help from people she knows. And, within that train of thought, she is taken back in time to eras of the past.

The past is filled with myths and legends, yet some of those myths and legends speak wisely of the human condition. Those very myths and legends are also components of cultural understanding and ideals relating to current times.

Due to the fact that Nao is sixteen, her writings tend to ramble. She is a teenager after all, and her mindset often jumps from one extreme to another. It is what it is.

I found the story to be enjoyable, although some of scenarios had me laughing at the believability. Nao’s great grandmother’s actions were not always credible or believable to me, considering her age, the time period, and other factors. I also feel that the great grandmother’s story could have been shortened. Her tale, in my opinion, would have been concise, and more complete with a stronger and more efficient foundation.

There were humorous parts within the pages, and also dismal and hard-toned aspects to contend with. Through use of past and present, myth and legend, Ozeki manages to weave a tale that is filled with humanness, humanness in all of its glories and flaws.

I read this book for a book club. I probably would not have chosen it to read, on my own. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book, overall.

A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, is a book that explores the meaning of eternity, the meaning of life, and the connections we all share in the scheme of things. If that is what you are looking for in a read, then this would be a book for you!

Sorry for the update. I had to make a correction.

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Review: Away: A Novel

Away is a novel of epic proportions, panoramic in its landscape and a saga covering two years in the life of Lillian Leyb. Leyb is a Russian immigrant, who has fled the pograms. Her parents and husband were murdered, and as far as she knows, her precious, toddler daughter, Sophie, has been murdered also. She has emigrated to New York City to start a new life, and is very determined to assimilate and reinvent herself.

We witness her go through many changes in her desire to weave her way through the tapestries of 1920s New York City.

Survival is at the foremost in her mind. When she thinks that she has found a niche, a place of comfort where she has the essentials such as food, shelter and clothing, her life takes a turn due to some news she has found out.

Lillian’s cousin emigrates and informs her that Lillian’s daughter, Sophie, is still alive. This sparks an intense desire and passion in Lillian to try to trek to Siberia, in order to find her daughter. Lillian goes to the extremes in order to do so, trekking through expanses of land that are not inhabited, in order to make her way to try to find her daughter. Along the way she meets people of varying status and mores.

This does not deter Lillian, for she is determined to find Sophie no matter what she has to do. It might sound insane, unattainable, and sound like a journey without a happy ending, but as far as Lillian is concerned, it is one she must make.

Away, by Amy Bloom, is a novel depicting the plight of the Russian immigrant. Bloom depicts the social mores, and the ways that immigrants assimilate in order to become part of the society and country they so strongly want to live in. Away has the protaganist reinventing herself to fit her environment, only to return to her true identity.

Bloom has given us a descriptive and clear painting of love and longing, passion and strength, assimilation and identity. Her characters are flawed, but that is to be expected, as in reality, none of us are perfect. And, for those who can’t understand Lillian’s fierce will and determination, they have missed a vital part of the novel. Most of us would go to the ends of the earth to find our child, if we were in the same situation that Lillian was in, no matter how absurd it might seem. Bloom understands this, and writes with eloquence, and gives us an emotionally breathtaking novel, filled with bits of humor and filled with heart-wrenching moments within the vast expanse and panorama of America.

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I have read a more recent book of Amy Bloom’s, entitled Lucky Us, and you can read my review of it, here.

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Books by Edna Ferber

I have read several books by Edna Ferber, recently. I have a couple more books of hers to read.

Her writing speaks to me on many levels, aside from the fact that she began writing in 1911-her first novel, Dawn O’Hara, the Girl Who Laughed.

It amazes me that a woman from that era could write in such a manner that her works are fitting for today’s readers. Her writings emphasize the plight of women in the world, women who initially might appear to be weak, but in actuality are extremely strong. It took a lot of courage for Ferber to deliver the impact of a woman’s place in the social spectrum, and a woman’s determination to succeed in a man’s world.

In the books I have read, I have seen great transformation of a strong woman, a woman of depth and determination to overcome all odds. Her main female characters are ever evolving, ever growing in self-esteem, and ever confident in her goals.

Often those goals override her inner creativity, surpassing the ideals of creative passion for the quest for monetary gain. Yet, that quest is often diminished upon the realization that life is for the living, and for the passions of the heart as far as creativity and enjoyment of one’s work endeavors.

Her women work hard, work for their family in order to survive, and put themselves selflessly on the back burner, so to speak. Events occur in which they eventually fulfill their inner dreams, often in a world where men rule supreme in business, etc. Social stigmas ran rampant. It isn’t much different today, in many respects. Women aren’t often afforded the same privileges as men in the working world.

So far I have read:

So Big (Edna Ferber won a Pulitzer Prize for it)
Fanny Herself
Buttered Side Down
Showboat (yes-the musical was based on this book)
Roast Beef Medium (I have about 30 more pages to go)

Edna Ferber’s books speak of time eras with illuminating depictions through word-imagery. From city life to country life, she leaves nothing untouched, nothing to the imagination. We see towns and cities through her knowing eyes.

I am looking forward to reading the other books I have downloaded.

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