Category Archives: Inspiration

Review: Living Beyond Terrorism

The stories within the pages Of Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing, by Zieva Lynn Dauber Konvisser, are very inspiring, and filled with hope, despite the traumas and fears forced upon the individuals, through terrorist bombings in Israel.

Each person has learned to live through the terrorist act/s, and to cope with what life handed them. The majority of the individuals have gone on to help others, either through working for humanitarian organizations, forming an organization themselves, or through volunteering to help victims of terrorism.

The traumas experienced have formed their lives in ways that they never expected. Most have realized the important things in life, and that the trivial plays no part in daily living. They are terrorist survivors, and are grateful for having lived, despite physical and emotional limitations.

The individuals come from diverse backgrounds: Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli, American, and children of immigrant parents. They shared their poignant stories with Ms. Konvisser. For some it was a bit of a catharsis to do so, for others, it was a reminder of the past and how much they have managed to move forward towards the future.

The stories are good examples of current affairs between Israelis and Palestinians. Most of the incidents occurred during and after 2001. That peace has not been attained since then, is a testament to hatred, nonacceptance and lack of understanding.

The stories give one information to ponder, firsthand information from survivors of terrorist acts. I recommend Of Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing, by Zieva Lynn Dauber Konvisser, to everyone.

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Review: A Long Way Home

A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierley, is a book that is heartfelt in so many aspects, beginning with the author getting lost on a train at the age of five. From that moment, onward, Brierley’s journey, where it took him, and how he managed to find his way back home, begins.

He was with his brother. His brother had left him at a train station while he ran errands, before coming back for him. Brierley saw a train, went on it to rest until his brother came back. He fell asleep and woke up with train moving along, and there was no way for Brierley to get off of it. Throughout the trip, no conductor asked for a ticket, and nobody questioned him. The train finally ended up in Kolkata (Calcutta). The city was teaming with people, and he was more or less engulfed in the crowds, the streets and harsh realities of survival.

Some individuals who passed through his life were not so kind. But, survive he did, using his intuition, the bit of five-year old logic he had, and at times, the kindness of others. Finally, the kindness of one young man who gave him refuge for a few days led Brierley to a police station, where he was held in a cell, overnight (imagine the fright). From the police station he was taken to an orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta), by a woman named Mrs. Snood.

She was a kind woman, and very motherly in her ways. She treated him and the other children with caring and dignity. Brierley needed that after experiencing street life. Even though the orphanage was crowded, it felt comfortable to him. A couple of months passed by, and Brierley was told he was going to have new parents, because, with the little information he was able to give her, they could not locate his birth family.

From Kolkata, he journey to Tasmania, where he grew up with the Brierleys. They were a loving, kind and understanding couple. They treated him with the utmost of respect and compassion. Their house was decorated with Indian accessories. They had even provided a map of India on one wall of his bedroom, so he would feel at home.

He had a good life with his parents. He was never in need, and never lacking love. He went to university, worked with his father in his father’s business, had all of the comforts of home and life.

As he grew older, he wanted to learn more, and attempted to find the town he was from, through internet research. He thought that the little he remembered would help him. He failed, and let it go for a few years, when he began anew, through Google Earth. Google Earth became his life, in his off hours. He was addicted to his search.

He remembered the station he had left from, remembered everything about it. He remembered his village and his way around the streets. He remembered names, sights, landscape. He devoted every spare minute to roaming cities, villages, streets, through his ardent and ambitious research.

Then, one day, bingo! He was following train tracks, and found his home town! He was elated, to say the least. He knew he had to travel there to see if his family was still living in the same place, and/or to see if they were alive. Alive they were!

He met his mother, brother, and sister. He met in-laws and nephews. He had journeyed the face of the earth, through Google Earth, and had come home.

The memoir is poignant and had me turning one page after another. I became involved in Brierley’s life, his search for family, roots, and identity. What was illuminating, was not only his journey, but also the outcome regarding his family in India. They fully understood that he defined his parents as the Brierley’s. It went without his having to say so, as his birth mother verbalized that fact. She was just elated that he had found her. She never left the village, and moved around the corner from the house he initially lived in. She stayed in case he came searching. As it turned out, that was such a wise decision.

I enjoyed A Long Way Home so much. Foundation, family and identity are blended together in a beautiful story of strength and perseverance. Saroo Brierley has written an inspirational memoir. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Review: Falling Out of Time

fallingFalling Out of Time, by David Grossman, is a novel that had me engrossed from the first page to the last, and then back again, throughout some of the pages.

It is written in a unique format, part poetry, part theater play and part independent prose. This works, because the individual formats vividly illuminates the characters, their thoughts and their feelings regarding death. Oh, the sorrow, the sadness and excruciating pain of it all, so many individuals banding together to journey towards their children, children who have died. The anguish, the need to reunite, the after-effects and affects of death are portrayed with insight, empathy and the continual mourning process of not letting go.

The expressions of grief and mourning are compelling, profound and caused this reader to reread specific pages. The writing is incredibly overpowering and intense, yet filled with beautiful prose that connects each poetic articulation so brilliantly. I can not say enough.

The never-ending/eternal fragments left behind to those who remain are depicted with masterful word-imagery. The poetic prose is absolutely stunning, poignant, heart-wrenching. As a parent, I can not imagine one of my children leaving this earth before me. It is an unspeakable thought. And, that is what the title implies: The word “death” is too agonizing to utter, as if saying the word finalizes the death, making the reality a starkness. The main character, formerly known as “Man”, now, “Walking Man”, chooses to define death as a person who has “fallen out of time

He, known as “Man”, and his wife are trying to begin to communicate about their son’s death, five years after the fact. Their relationship since then has been one of non-communicative status. His death has determined how they have reacted, or not verbally reacted, over these past few years…years that seem like an eternity.

They try to bring him back to life through memories, and that proves to be more painful than if they remained silent. He becomes “Walking Man” and decides to leave the house and go “there”. He wants to see his son again. His wife reminds him that there is no “there”, but only a “here”. He does not agree. He walks, walks and walks some more, circling around the town, and along the way he gathers more people who have lost children, and they band together in commitment to find a way to go “there” to reunite with their lost loved ones.

From the “Town Crier”, the “Centaur”, the “Cobbler”, the “Midwife” and others, they are all on a mission, seeking their departed child. They all verbalize their loss, remembering moments past, remembering the good with the bad. Some regret their actions while their child was living, some linger in a block wall state, unable to move forward. And, they all are trying to find the wall in which they can somehow cross through to see their children. Their journey and struggle is heart-wrenching. Their sorrow reverberates throughout the pages, like an unending funeral march, an unending and silent howl streaming through the time continuum.

The majority of the lines of poetic prose gripped me, left me with lumps in my throat. Here is a sample of Grossman’s prose..a few (of so many) lines that moved me to tears.

In August he died, and when that month was over, I wondered 

How can I move 

to September 
While he remains 

in August?

I have not lost a child, but lost my father when I was a teenager, and the last five words (in the example below) resonate with me, the void of loss still here, over five decades later.

He is dead,
he is dead. But
his death,

his death
is not
dead.

Such boldness in those last five words, such stark reality. And, that is the foundation of the novel. The book is a metaphor for death, death in the sense of all of the lingering aspects of loss and accepting the loss and journeying forward.

I won’t go into more detail regarding the story. You must read it yourself in order to gain the full understanding of the masterful and brilliant undertaking that Grossman has taken in, Falling Out of Time.

I could expound on my review so much more, but I feel the novel needs to be read for the full impact of its brilliance.

I want to applaud David Grossman, but the word “applaud” is too simplistic, so I will congratulate him, and especially thank him, give him a virtual handshake and hug for creating such a masterpiece. I can imagine countless others reading this and gaining a sense of hope and inspiration regarding loss, love, and moving towards finality and acceptance, acceptance with unending and loving memories.

Update: I am sorry for the update. I forgot to mention that Falling out of Time was first published in Israel, five years after David Grossman’s son, Uri, was killed during the Second Israel-Lebanon War. Does that matter in the scheme of things? I don’t really know, other than the fact that the intense emotional content must stem from some place deep within that many individuals have never accessed.

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Book Diva Review: Enrique’s Journey

enrique NazaEnrique’s journey, by Sonia Nazario, is more than a journey, it is the compelling, unbelievable, and factual saga of Enrique, and his harrowing odyssey through lands unknown, in order to find his mother. He traverses from the Honduras to the United States, traveling twelve-thousand miles in order to come face-to-face with her.

Enrique’s mother left in order to find work in the United States. She sent most of her earnings back home to feed, clothe and house her children and other family members. They were able to survive, due to her efforts. But, her efforts cost her important things that money could not provide or buy. She lost years, and in her own words, “On the one hand it was worth it…at first. But on the other hand…no. I lost their childhood.”

This book is gripping, dramatic, filled with scenarios one might find in an adventure movie or a thriller movie. Enrique’s harrowing experiences leave one overwhelmed at the thought that a young boy could endure and overcome so many obstacles in order to reach his dream.

From drug-infested streets, to railroad boxcars, to work camps and jails, and through so many other appalling scenes, I found my heart racing along with the emotional roller coaster ride this book took me on. It is difficult to let go, and I am not sure that I will let go of Nazario’s accounting of Enrique and his family. I am not sure that I want to let go.

Nazario reaches into the depths of the immigration experience, which she thoroughly researched and documented through witness accounts and photographs, interviews and film. Her efforts gained her a Pulitzer Prize, in 2002, when her series “Enrique’s Journey” appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

This book includes that series, and so much more. The information contained within the pages is a testament to Sonia Nazario’s dedication to the cause of humanity, and her striving to bring a face to the story of immigrants and the immigrant experience, immigrants who are human beings. We are all one minute speck, under the sun.

I highly recommend Enrique’s Journey to everyone.

I am sorry for the update, but I have received some news on Enrique’s Journey, directly from the author, Sonia Nazario, who responded to this post. There is a young adult version of the book, which came out August 27, 2013. Here is the link to it. Included in this book, according to Ms. Nazario, is the fact “It has an epilogue that updates people about Enrique and the immigration issue.”

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Book Diva Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

pursuit I saw the movie of the same name a few years back, and decided to read the book, because the movie inspired me. If you like to read inspiring non-fiction stories, memoirs, that evoke every emotion within you, and deal with overcoming adversity, then, this is the book for you.

The Pursuit of Happyness, by Chris Gardner, is the memoir of Chris Gardner, a man from Milwaukee. His mother was often away, his stepfather treated him brutally, and did not acknowledge him. He did not meet his birth father until he was 28-years old. He escaped the hardships and poverty of his childhood by joining the Navy. He eventually ended up in San Francisco, in a relationship with a woman who leaves him, and he is left to raise their young son.

Gardner is eventually faced with the most important decision of his life…to leave a job, with a small amount of security, in order to join the ranks of a major stock brokerage, under an internship program, where he can be educated to become a stock broker. This internship offers no salary, whatsoever, and only one person out of those chosen interns, will actually be offered a job, when the internship is completed. He showed up for the interview for the internship, in clothes not befitting a stock broker, and in paint-spattered shoes. Through his sincerity and wit, he was chosen to enter the program. He decided to take the chance, and enter the training program.

The book goes on to show the hardships he endured, not only financial, physical, and the fact he was an African-American raising a young son, alone, but also the fact that he was involved within a fast-paced business culture during the day, while living the life of a homeless person, at night. He studied at night, after making sure his son was asleep…and, that he was able to continue raising his son, working for no salary during the day, and studying, is beyond comprehension. He is a true example of a man who lived within the confines of poverty and the human condition, and overcame his obstacles, out of a deep desire to make something of his life, and to raise his son in a different environment, than he was raised in.

There are moments in the book that will make you feel as if you are on an emotional roller coaster ride, one minute laughing, the next minute brought to tears by Gardner’s circumstances.

The story has a wonderful ending, demonstrating how one person’s determination, steadfast goals, emotional strength, and his desire to improve the conditions for himself and his son, come to fruition, due to his fortitude and his never-ending hard work. Chris Gardner proves, that if one truly wants to overcome their human condition, they can, with step-by-step determination and willpower, and with integrity and sincerity. He overcame all the negative odds, and turned his life into a positive statement, and became a millionaire. I highly recommend The Pursuit of Happyness to everyone.

© Copyright – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/forma

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Book Diva Review: Soul to Soul

Soul to Soul: Writings From Dark Places, is, in my opinion, a compelling read regarding the journey one takes from learning about illness to acceptance of it and the repercussions it has on one’s self.

Deborah Masel does not mince words in describing her journey upon learning she has metastatic breast cancer. It took her almost three years to write her book, a book filled with so many emotions, within the backbone of logic that is often ignored or put aside. Her descriptions of her thoughts and feelings and roller coaster of emotions is vividly described within the pages. Acceptance is difficult, and unwanted. Religion is the glue that helped her stay focused.

Her struggles brought upon by her illness heightened her religious foundation through her readings of the Torah scholar Kalonymus Kalman Shapira. Although he was murdered during the Holaocaust, he became her mentor. She thrived on his words, words of strength, commitment and encouragement. His words brought her comfort during times of extreme distress, while trying to manage and deal with her illness.

While focusing on life’s beauty, focusing on the Rebbe’s words, and accepting positive and heartfelt compassion and love from friends, she was able to accept her cancer, and accept the fact that her life would come to an end, sooner than she expected it to. For me, that is the message within the pages of Soul to Soul: acceptance of life, terminal cancer and of eventual death

I read Soul to Soul in one sitting. I could not put the book down. Aside from the haunting images of how her cancer affected her, I found the book to be an intriguing and fascinating read regarding her combining cancer with her Jewish ideals. Masel’s words touched me in many aspects, in part due to the fact that my mother had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer, so I could empathize to Masel’s story, as a family member of one who had the same illness.

I highly recommend this book for many reasons, including its inspirational content. Masel’s writing is forthright and filled with the struggles one endures while trying to accept a disease that has taken over her body. Soul to Soul: Writings From Dark Places is a legacy to those who are suffering illnesses that may or may not be terminal. It is a gift to the families and friends of those who are suffering or have suffered. It is Deborah Masel’s legacy to her Jewish identity and to her mentor, who was instrumental in guiding her spiritually through the most difficult and toughest of times.

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Book Diva Review: Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel

rashidaughters

Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel, by Maggie Anton, is a well-written and well-researched historical novel, filled with beautiful imagery, and imagery that is often brutal. The novel is filled with intrigue and historical data from the Medieval period, but also contains much information about the Jewish Talmudic scholar Salomon ben Isaac, otherwise known as Rashi.

From the moment I began the first page, I was enthralled, and continued reading until I was finished. It was difficult to put down, on the few occasions that I had to. Within the pages emerges a family tapestry of Rachel and her place within the familial unit. She was the youngest of three daughters…and according to much scholarly information, including the content in Rashi’s Daughters, Book III, she was not only the youngest, but Rashi’s favorite daughter. She had a way of winning his heart, and the heart of her beloved, Eliezer.

She and Eliezer marry, and settle in Troyes, France, near her father. Much to her dismay, Eliezer is constantly away for months on end with business dealings and ventures. It seems whenever he is away, something dreadful occurs, whether it be to her or her family, or to Eliezer. Rachel is a woman at odds with her husband’s departures, and although she is strong, it wears on her.

One of Rachel’s greatest traits is her strength, strength under adverse conditions, and strength under extreme pressure. Her courage and powerful mindset during the time when the First Crusade of the Middle Ages basically annihilated all the Jews in Germany, is unsurpassed, and vividly portrayed. She is forthright, passionate, and a woman of clarity and responsibility. She was a businesswoman, constantly seeking new ways of earning money in order for her husband to fulfill his business endeavors close by, and not have him traveling far from home.

One such goal is to open a woolen business, and her thinking is she will earn enough to keep her husband working nearby, and not traveling so often, if at all. Anton fills the pages regarding Rachel’s interactions with those who can instruct her. She is an eager and avid learner (a trait that Rashi instilled in her)and she is constantly trying to find those who can teach her, and work for her. The book is filled with amazing word paintings. The images are incredible, and it is as if we are there witnessing the event/s. I was fascinated by the entire procedure, from mating of the sheep so the wool will be the finest, to the shearing of the sheep, to the finish of the final product…everything is detailed down to the minutest job and endeavor.

During the First Crusade, when the Jewish population was massacred and destroyed, Rashi and his family never thought it would come to the point that the Crusades would reach them in Troyes. Her heroic actions trying to keep the family safe fill the pages, and her willingness to do what is ethical and moral is never questioned. She is there every step of the way. Anton delivers the punches and the forcefulness of the time period vividly, and the book is historically compelling, and a masterpiece.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel, is an amazing accomplishment. Anton is overwhelming in her competence to write historical content, and in her ability to keep the reader’s interest. There are so many awe-inspiring moments, moments that shock the reader. The book flows, from one scene to the next with superb illuminations and brilliant descriptions. She is a master at portraying, not only the Medieval/Middle Ages time period, but in depicting daily life under the harsh conditions of the 11th Century. It was a struggle no matter how you perceive it, but add the Crusades to the structure, and life and what those around Rachel considered to be “normal”, quickly debilitates and diminishes.

Like father, like daughter, Rachel learned from a master, and she was no less a master, herself. During a time when women were kept on the sideline, she made sure she was in the forefront of current events. She watched them unfold before her eyes, and Rashi, her sisters and the other family members, were concerned for humanity, for the injustice that surrounded their environment. The pages flow with that very ideal.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France is the third, and the last sequel in a trilogy by Maggie Anton. It is a beautiful testimony to Rashi and his teachings, his care for all individuals. But, more than that, it a magnificent testament to Rachel and her endurance, fortitude, caring, and concern for humankind, during a crucial and horrific period in history. I highly recommend this well-written historical novel to everyone. It is writing at its excellence, and a brilliant novel, in my opinion. Bravo!

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