Category Archives: Inspiration

Jhumpa Lahiri Will be Awarded National Humanities Medal

Jhumpa Lahiri Will be Awarded National Humanities Medal.

The White House citation reads: “Jhumpa Lahiri, for enlarging the human story. In her works of fiction, Dr. Lahiri has illuminated the Indian-American experience in beautifully wrought narratives of estrangement and belonging.”

She received the Pulitzer Prize for “Interpreter of Maladies”. Her novels, “The Namesake” and “The Lowland” are two books I have personally read, and would highly recommend to everyone.

Congratulations, Jhumpa Lahiri! Well-deserved! Brava!

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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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Filed under Biography, Book Diva's Book Reviews, Holocaust History, Inspiration, Jewish History, Non-Fiction, World War II

Review: Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, by Marthe Cohn is a compelling memoir. I was on the edge of my seat, reading her book. Cohn’s book is not only intense, but is illuminating and inspiring, as we watch her grow to adulthood.

From Cohn’s childhood experiences fleeing and moving from one place to another in order to avoid the Nazis, to her getting a nursing degree and eventually to joining the French Army and becoming a spy, her life is a testament to her willpower, and also to her inner and physical strength. We feel all of her emotions: the fear, the heartbreak, the devastation of loss, the heart-wrenching familial deportations. Determined to get her family out of harms way was at the forefront of her mind, and every waking moment was spent working towards that endeavor.

From documents forged by a sympathetic Frenchman, to a farmer in the countryside who helped her family to cross the border (and her family in turn helped others to cross), to the fact she had blonde hair and could pass as Aryan, Cohn took advantage of every opportunity given to her in order to save her family. Her memoir reads like an intriguing novel, yet is is a factual life accounting, and I read it straight through.

Cohn was not tall, she was tiny and under five feet, yet her perseverance and persistence are the traits that helped her to try to make a change during the time of Nazi occupation in France. She defied all the odds, and she succeeded on several levels, impressing everyone around her. She and most of her immediate family were able to survive the German occupation of France, which is incredible.

“When, at the age of eighty, Cohn was awarded France’s highest military honor, the Médaille Militaire, not even her children knew to what extent this modest woman had faced death daily while helping defeat the Nazi empire. At its heart, this remarkable memoir is the tale of an ordinary human being who, under extraordinary circumstances, became the hero her country needed her to be.”

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany is an amazing memoir about an incredible individual and her family. It is a must read memoir, and that Marthe Cohn penned the book and had it published when she was 82-years old is a gift to all of us, Jewish or otherwise. The historical value of her work is beyond words, and her life’s accomplishments and deeds needed to be told, and need to be read. I am the wiser after having read her incredible story, and I am grateful to Marthe Cohn for the invaluable treasure and legacy she has given me and all of humankind.

I reread this book, recently, for a book club.

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Open Heart

Open Heart, by Elie Wiesel, Translated by Marion Wiesel, is a beautifully written book and intimate reflection of his life, reflected during a time when he faced the unknown outcome of open-heart surgery.

He began having difficulties, which led to testing ordered by his primary care doctor.  The tests did not reveal the truth that was to encompass the severity of his situation. After severe pain, he finally gave in to his family’s wishes.

At the age of 82-years of age, he was rushed to the hospital, and through tests it was discovered he had blocked arteries, arteries that needed to be repaired through open-heart surgery.  This was a definite turning point in his life, and when told of what needed to be done in order to save his life, he was both hesitant and anxious.  He went into the operating room, not knowing if he would wake up and see his wife-Marion, or see his son-Elisha, again.

Wake up he did, and the successive days, weeks and months gave him much to reflect upon.  Within those reflections he journeyed inward, and the results are written within the pages.  As a reader, we are given the privilege to read and to ponder the thoughts and feelings of Mr. Wiesel, through the vivid illuminations of his heart, his mind, his humility, and of his deep religious spirit.

His prose is filled with richness and brilliance, and filled with vibrant word-imagery.  Even though he has lived a long life, in years, he was not ready to leave this realm.  For him there is still more to accomplish, and time is of the essence.  He feels the need to continue to help humanity, to spread more messages of tolerance, to write another essay or book.

Mr. Wiesel wants to live long enough to see his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, and possibly even his granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah.  Family is of extreme importance to him, and the joy he receives from his grandchildren is endless, filled with unconditional love, as is his joy and love for his wife and son.

He eloquently describes his past, his present and his hopes for the future.  He defines himself through his Jewishness and his adherence to its religious traditions and practices.

Mr. Wiesel often wonders where G-d was during man’s worst moment in history.  He wonders how G-d could permit the murder of so many individuals.  As always, during reflections of this dimension, he has no answers to those questions, yet his faith remains strong.

He amplifies the need for tolerance within the community of diversity, diversity for all ethnic backgrounds and the diversity regarding religious beliefs.  His spiritual and humanistic lessons, within the slimness of the pages, are ones of immense insight.

Open Heart is filled with the thoughts and prose of an open mind. I recommend Open Heart to everyone.

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Four Books I Highly Recommend

I recently finished four books which I highly recommend.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – If you are interested in animal studies (a chimpanzee being raised as a girl’s sibling, how they both interact with each other and with other family members), and how this situation altered the young girl’s life, then this is a book for you. I totally enjoyed the novel, and appreciate the author’s untiring research in order to bring credence to the novel.

Henna House – Henna is absorbing in more ways than one, along with tradition, culture, and Yemin Jews within the pages of this excellent novel.

Limbo: A Novel, holds a story line that is relevant in many aspects, especially regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those who have been wounded while in the military, fighting a war in a foreign land.

Raquela: A Woman of Israel is an story about an amazing woman, a woman with deep regard for humanity and human life, and a woman of devotion to her country and her job as nurse during a crucial time in Israel.

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Review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, is an intense memoir, a powerful book, and a book that will give the reader much to ponder, on so many levels. I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to actually sit down and read it.

Frankl’s memoir is much more than a personal accounting of his experience during the Holocaust, when he was a prisoner in four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The book is a tribute to the human mind, emotions and willpower to survive, and to find something positive in such a horrendous, horrific and adverse situation. Man’s Search for Meaning is an extremely inspirational book, blending Frankl’s own theory of logotheraphy with spirituality and illumination.

Frankl made a choice while imprisoned, and he chose to find a positive force that would keep him going through the darkness of the days. He found meaning, and therefore, the motivation to try to survive, even though he knew the odds were against him.

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.” Viktor E. Frankl

He chose to find a tiny spark of positive memory, and continued to think of those memories, which gave him hope and meaning. His meaning in life was “love”. Frankl’s love for his pregnant wife was his meaning in life, through the years spent in the Nazi concentration camps. He didn’t know whether she was alive or dead, but thoughts of her gave him something to live for. As it turned out, when he was liberated, he found out that she was murdered by the Nazis, along with his parents and brother.

Frankl developed “logotherapy“, a new theory on life’s meaning and survival. He realized, that in the words of Frederick Nietzsche, “He who has a why for life can put up with any how.” That euphemism is echoed several times throughout Man’s Search for Meaning. His “why” was his love for his wife. And, he was able to put up with all the “hows“, the atrocities he witnessed, and all of the horrors that plagued his days, because of his love for her.

He gives a short synopsis of his logotherapy theory in “Man’s Search for Meaning“. Being true to his ideals and true to his belief in his theory, Frankl used logotherapy in his personal life. “Logotherapy focuses on the future.” According to Logotherapy, meaning can be discovered in three ways:

* By creating a work or doing a deed
* By experiencing something or encountering someone
* By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering”

Viktor E. Frankl’s brilliance lies not only in his masterful and spiritual writing, but in his capacity to overcome the odds of despair and death, by surviving under circumstances that nobody can truly begin to understand. His words of wisdom and spirituality illuminate the pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“. The reader can’t help but be influenced and inspired by his memoir, his experiences and his inner strength. He brings to the forefront, the essence of spiritual survival, within the riveting pages of “Man’s Search for Meaning“.

I will keep Man’s Search for Meaning, on my night table, where it will be available for me to easily find in order to browse through. I want it close by. I will keep the illuminating words within my heart and mind. I can’t stress enough, how powerful, intense and incredible the book is, not only as a memoir and personal accounting, but also as a journey towards life’s meaning. We must live up to what life asks us, and not what we ask of life.

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Review: They Dared Return

If you want to read an intense and dramatic book regarding Jewish spies during the Holocaust, then, They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany, by Patrick K. O’Donnell is a book for you.

From the first page to the last, I was totally engrossed and mesmerized by the story line of the Jewish individuals who were chosen by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to penetrate and return to their homeland in Germany in order to help fight and destroy the Nazis. They were part of “Operation Greenup”, and their mission was not only covert, but extremely dangerous, not only for them, but their families, many who were in concentration camps.

They Dared Return is a unique World War II story, told from an unusual perspective. For starters, the Jews involved in “Operation Greenup”, were refugees who managed to escape Germany. That in itself is remarkable, combined with the fact that they involved themselves, voluntarily, to return and try to disintegrate Hitler and the Nazis in hopes of ending the war. The courage and determination that was exhibited by these extraordinary men is beyond comprehension and comparison to anything I have read before.

The story reads like a spy novel or film, when it is entirely factual. That these Jews were able to plan and infiltrate enemy lines and exercise their mission was an incredible feat. Parachuting behind enemy lines in order to gain information on the Nazi stronghold is the situation heroes are made of. The risks they took are almost unfathomable and overwhelming to the mind.

They Dared Return is a fast-paced and intriguing page turner. To state that it is an intense book would be an understatement. It is riveting, adventurous, dramatic, and a thriller filled with vivid imagery that filled all of my senses to overflowing. The courage and efforts that were planned and executed are hardcore examples of mental and physical strength endeavored under the most adverse of scenarios.

I am still trying to digest this outstanding book, and all the historical facts presented within the pages. It is a story that will stay with me, and linger within me well into the future.

The book is a unique exploration into the events encountered by these individuals. To say it is a compelling read is an understatement. It is a story that is rare, and one that needed to be told.

I applaud Patrick K. O’Donnell for his efforts in researching, documenting and bringing us this untold and remarkable Story. They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany is an invaluable addition to World War II and Holocaust history. In my opinion, t belongs in every home library, as well as libraries in schools, colleges and universities.

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