Category Archives: Literature/Fiction

Italian Immigrants

Having Italian ancestry in my family, books regarding New York City and Italian immigrants are quite popular in my reading genres. I enjoy both the historical fiction books and the nonfiction books.

I am currently reading a novel called Elizabeth Street, by Laurie Fabiano. The story line takes place during the first decade of the 20th century. The book depicts based on the author’s own Italian immigrant family. So far, the pages are filled with the essence of the hardships of daily living and survival during a harsh time period. Fortitude, desire, and the will to assimilate and conquer the living conditions, crime and social inequalities forced upon Italian immigrants seem to be the basis for the book. I am fascinated with what I have read, so far.

I have read other books regarding Italian immigration, and New York City immigrants, in general. Each book has given me new snippets to ponder.

How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis, is an extremely compelling book.

Vita: A Novel, by Melania G. Mazzucco, is another compelling read regarding the Italian immigrant experience.

Openwork: A Novel, by Adria Bernardi depicts three generations of Italian families, and their journey from Italy to New York City.

I also recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife, by Adriana Trigiani

This past Tuesday I watched a show on PBS entitled The Italian Americans. It is a two-part four-hour series. It ends on Tuesday February 24th. You can watch episodes online.

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One of My Favorite Authors

Oh my, have I ever been busy reading. I just finished reading James Michener’s amazing novel, The Source. There are reasons he is in the top ten of my favorite authors.

With over 1,000 pages, it kept me reading, and reading. Michener is brilliant with his word-imagery, down to the most minute detail. I felt my senses filled with sight, sound, touch, hearing and taste. I loved every page of this amazing historical novel.

I have been an avid James Michener fan for decades, yes, decades. Some of his other books I have read and totally enjoyed:

The Covenant

Centennial

Chesapeake

Sayonara

Hawaii

Alaska

Poland

The Drifters

There are other books of his that I have read, aside from the ones listed above. His works have always touched a core with me. There are a few I have not read, and I hope to get to them, eventually.

I will write a proper review of The Source at some point in the future. For now, I am still savoring the story line, reflecting on the thought-provoking story and magnificent novel that James Michener created.

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Review: Rich Boy

Class and wealth dominate the pages of the novel Rich Boy, and the reader is cognizant that it is a primary concern for the protagonist, Robert Vishniak, as he aspires to gain favors that will allow him to move up in the societal stratum.

Vishniak is from a working class Jewish family who live in Philadelphia. He is self-indulgent, and with his handsomeness, charm, and superficial exterior. His mother, Stacia has continually hammered into him the fact that he needs to make money in order to become a respected person, and in order to move up in society’s ladder.

He is constantly embarrassed by his mother, and her old school ways and train of thought. Yet, those words do prove helpful to him in his quest for success and identity in a world where money and financial gain speak volumes. He works at odd jobs, and drives a cab to earn money in order to make his way through college. Nothing is too menial for him.

Vishniak manages to forge his way into the upper end of the social echelon. This occurs during his time at university where meets others who come from respectable upper class families, families whose wealth can buy them anything, and families whose American roots are firmly planted in the ancestral realm.

He is quick with the verbalizing, and fast with the conveyance of a charming attitude. One of his fall backs is the fact that he doesn’t exhibit the manners befitting those who belong to the upper class circle. His roommate at college teaches him the proper etiquette to be used in varied situations. From there he is presented with new opportunities.

He has several superficial relationships, some that end due to his immaturity. He is good at seduction, to his own undoing. He falls for a young woman with angelic charm, and a woman who he doesn’t truly know, emotionally. His feelings stem from the external appearance she presents to him. The fact that he can not see what is occurring before his eyes is what coats this relationship with doom (I won’t go into the circumstances, as it will spoil it for you). He does marry, eventually, to a woman of great wealth, and a woman whose father has dictated her every move, financially. He is hired to work for his father-in-law’s law firm, where he literally begins to work from the bottom up.

Some of Vishniak’s success has depended on interactions with others, yet, most of it is due to his own resources, endeavors and capabilities. He is a quick learner, an avid and hard worker, and is striving to meet his goal of making a salary that will qualify to support his wife as an equal in contributing to the family finances. He is not secure in that fact, and often feels that his success lies on the actions and directions put forth by others. He has a definite ability in the legal maneuvers and management of real estate, and great potential in becoming future partner in his father-in-law’s law firm. This, is all on his own merit.

Pomerantz’s prose is spot on, direct and strong, and she adeptly manages to convey the working class Jewish American experience brilliantly. She masterfully portrays the characters, and this reader felt that they were realized in every aspect. The wealthy background of some of them, doesn’t help them succeed as far as their emotional intelligence is concerned. They appear as insecure as some of their less wealthy counterparts. Their mindsets, emotions, successes and failings are all depicted in vivid word imagery, and depicted with realistic personality traits, in all their variances.

Vishniak has the brains and the good looks, and can present an excellent appearance, but it takes him years to realize that he has actually made it as far as he has on is own, through his own expertise. It takes his having a child for him to understand and realize what is truly important in the scheme of life. Money does not necessarily buy contentment and happiness. It might be a means to an end, as the euphemism goes, but it can also turn out to be the end of meaningfulness.

Rich Boy is an excellent coming of age story, and a novel that emphasizes the journey of one Jewish American man to find identity and acceptance on his own, in a world of social status and extreme wealth. I applaud Sharon Pomerantz for this well-written, poignant and insightful story.

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The Flood

The Flood, by Emile Zola was a gripping story for me, and one I could not put down until I had read the last word.  The 72-page novella/short story had me in its clenches, and I found myself holding my breath, at times.

It concerns a man named Louis Roubien, the patriarch of a large family who all live together on his large farm.  They all live in peace, and lead an extremely happy life together, each one working towards the goal of production of the land for not only selling produce, etc., but also for their daily existence.  The farm is a fruitful one, and they live in wealth with nothing to lack for.

All of their needs are met, until the event of the disastrous flood, a flood beyond all floods, which Zola describes with extreme intensity and amazing word imagery.  Every minute detail that this reader could think of is depicted within the stages of the flood’s beginning until its ending.

I had flashbacks to Hurricane Katrina and the extreme flooding, and the images on the TV.  I flashed back to the horrendous earthquake on March 11, 2011, in Japan, with the accompanying tsunami and the floods that stormed the landscape, and how I remember not being able to fathom what I was seeing on the news reports.  And, I recently watched the TV describing the terrible floods in Thailand, consuming lives and land.

Zola’s brilliant in depicting moods, fear, torment, tragedy, individual reactions, and all-consuming moments of horror. The story line is not one that readers can easily erase from their mind.

I was in awe of Zola’s masterful writing. The Flood, by Emile Zola, although written in 1880, could be a story told regarding floods that have occurred within the past ten years, and written by modern journalists.

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Sunday News 12/14/14

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has listed their choices for “The Best Book Covers for 2014”. Let’s face it, we often buy a book due to its cover, due to the fact it strikes some emotion in us, or we find it intriguing, or geometrically pleasing. To read their choices, along with the name of the designer, check out this link.

Check here, for their list of “The 10 Best Books of 2014“.

NPR: Book Reviews, reviews some excellent sounding reads.

I personally have read:


First Impressions

The Illusion of Separateness

The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.

One True Thing

Delicious!


Still Life With Bread Crumbs

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Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, is a novel, that is often humorous, but one that touches on extremely serious issues.

To delve into the heart of the story would be to give it away. And, if by chance, you have not heard about the book and what it depicts, then I, for one, am not willing to give the entire story away.

Suffice it to say that it is a novel that portrays familial bonds, in more ways than one. From secrets to anger, jealousy to love, empathy to apathy, social harmony and disharmony, Fowler, in my opinion, writes with minute details, which enhance the word-imagery. The family consists of Rosemary, Fern, and their older brother-the brother who has run away. He is a significant force within the pages, especially the last part of the book. In the beginning the reader is not really certain why he left, but as the pages are woven, the answer is clear.

Rosemary has grown up under the shadow of Fern, more or less. And, at a young age is separated from her, not knowing the true reason why. As an adult, she is still trying to cope with the loss of Fern, and with her unique and very unconventional childhood. Her childhood imprints have taken hold in many forms and have given her the status of a social misfit of sorts. She has difficulty coping in what we conceive as normal environments.

Throughout the pages, the reader is faced with Rosemary’s journey towards separation from her sister, her journey towards SELF, and her journey to learn who she is in the scheme of family, society and social standards.

The book is not only an exploration of what it means to be a family unit, but also an exploration into humanity, humaneness, and perception of humans and their place within the entire spectrum.

Karen Joy Fowler has done her research, and has given us a glimpse of a situation that has long-lasting ramifications for the familial bonds developed from infancy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is humorous, yet intense, filled with moments that make the reader think about what they have read, and how it applies to them.

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Review: Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People

The Anglo-Jewish situation is depicted with extreme precision and accuracy in the novel, Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People, by Israel Zangwill. Being a second-generation Jew of Polish and Latvian heritage, he grew up the midst of the Anglo-Jewish economic and social scene in Victorian England. As both a child and an adult he lived in the Whitechapel Ghetto of London. Through life experiences, he was involved in the social situations portrayed in Children of the Ghetto, first published in 1892.

Petticoat Lane and surrounding streets in the area known as the Whitechapel Ghetto are given illumination that fills the reader’s senses. From the food stalls and carts, to the shops, clothes, and daily goings-on, Jewish life and its hardships take on new meaning through Zangwill’s exacting descriptions and vivid word-paintings. He leaves nothing unturned, and his descriptions resound with vivid clarity.

Food takes on new meaning, as the majority of the immigrant Jews live day to day in a hand to mouth situation. They have “fast days”, not associated with Jewish holidays. These are the days that they don’t have food to eat. They get free food three times a week, and try to make it through to the next handout by fasting. Life is harsh and difficult, and within the social stratum of it, the Jewish factors illuminate.

Esther Ansell is a young girl whose mother died. She is left to be a surrogate mother to her siblings, and is still a child, herself. She is confronted with all of the challenges of raising children, including feeding them and clothing them. She is an avid reader, loves books, and has goals of becoming a writer. Her father is constantly studying Torah, and when he isn’t doing that he is praying. He does try to earn an income, but never seems to entirely succeed. This reinforces the family’s strife and keeps them in a constant state of poverty.

Raphael Leon is a man torn between two worlds, the ever-changing societal politics and economics, and the traditions of old. Character after character take on the burdens of the past in their attempt to move forward. Some characters manage to unload the baggage, others are caught in the folds of tradition, and can not let go. Retaining strong traditions within a modern environment is difficult for some, less difficult for others. Within the movement of secularism, many Jews practiced their traditions behind closed doors, illuminating a sign of the times externally.

The younger generation, born inside the Ghetto, find themselves in a disparate situation. They go to school, the Jews Free School, established for children of penniless Jewish immigrants. Their primary language is English, and they have adapted to secular standards. This generation of Jews is in transition between the traditions and mores of their Ashkenazi and Sephardi parents and grandparents, and between the modern society of their time period. They are in a quandary of sorts.

The forces of the old homeland and its traditions versus the modern day society are sharp and concise, and the reader is taken back to an era in transition. It is a time when the Orthodox Jews of the “old country” find it difficult to assimilate into modern English society. Yiddish is the language they speak, and their children speak English outside the house, but speak Yiddish inside. Even at that, some of the children are reluctant to continue speaking it, even inside the house. They are Anglo-Jews, and they are the individuals who will mold future generations of English Jews.

Many of the characters portrayed are in double-bind between the past and here and now. Hannah Jacobs, for instance, has a chance at love and marriage. Due to a legality that dates back to the existence of the Jerusalem Temple, she is not able to marry the man of her choice, David Brandon. Her father, Rabbi Shemuel, is insistent on that factor. Hannah and David dismiss that theory and plan to meet, run off, elope and marry in a civil ceremony.

Sam Levine believes in “muscular Judaism,” a movement that encourages both mental and physical strength in order to foster efforts to achieve a Zionist national state. Within his beliefs lies his parental roots, that never let him forget where he came from. Jewish transition and the Jewish homeland, although his goal, is restricted at times due to his ancestry.

Within the streets live a varied blend of Jews, and some with differing traditions and life styles. Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and their customs and religious practices differed. Along with that, their common denominator, Judaism, did not necessarily bring them together in a harmonious way. The Orthodoxy and the Heterodoxy are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Some Jews felt superior to others, and some exhibited charitable tendencies to the less fortunate Jews in order to gain status within the Jewish community and within English society.

Zangwill’s historical novel is an intense read, yet one that also exhibits humor within the pages. Jewish humor is like no other, and through euphemisms filled with humor, and through humorous moments during gatherings, the Jews often get through their days, days of a life of hardship. Zangwill is forthright in his descriptions, describing every minute particle of Jewish life. His portrayal of the Ghetto streets, Ghetto homes, Ghetto life, Ghetto amusements, Ghetto Jews, and Jewish traditions is masterful. His own upbringing gave him the foundation to write the novel, and he filled the pages with brilliant scenarios, taken straight from his own background.

Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People is an incredible read. I felt the characters were realized, and found them to be credible. The novel is filled with societal, economic and political mutation. The comparison of “then and now” is astounding. The reader is taken to the heights of a changing Jewish England, a changing London, and a society fluctuating in constant transformation and metamorphosis. I gained so much from this historical novel, from the social journeys and searches, to the scenarios of the time period, it was as if I was physically there. I was infused with Victorian London in every aspect, due to Israel Zangwill’s mastery with his stunning prose.

-The Grandchildren of the Ghetto, is a sequel, Israel Zangwill’s second book, which was published separately (although some editions have condensed it with The Children of the Ghetto).

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