Tag Archives: alice hoffman

Review: Blue Diary

Blue Diary, by Alice Hoffman, takes on several moral questions within the pages. Lies are the foundation of the story, and they set off a chain reaction of events.

Ethan and Jorie have been married for fifteen years. They have a son, named Collie. Their marriage appears to be stable, loving and filled with joy. Everyone in their small town feels the same way, whenever they see the two together.

Enter Kat, a young girl who happens to be watching a TV show that shows Ethan’s photograph, and depicts him as a murderer of a fifteen-year old girl. Her best friend, Collie, is the son of a supposed murderer. She is in shock.

That shock turns to a moral question, and one she fulfills by telephoning the police from a telephone booth, in order to have him investigated.

Ethan is arrested and brought to jail. Jorie is in total shock and denial, as is her son. She can’t imagine how the man she married could possibly be a murderer. Herein lies a question: Do we ever truly know the person we are married to? Know in the sense of their moralistic and ethical standards.

Ethan has depicted himself to be upstanding, a hero who has saved the lives of a few people, a volunteer in the fire department. He is a man who is esteemed by the majority of the citizens residing in the town. They have nothing but respect and admiration for Ethan, who in fact, is actually Byron Bell, a murderer.

Superficiality and deceit, denial and truth, are at the heart of this novel. Hoffman depicts the family’s reactions, as well as the town’s reactions quite vividly, leaving nothing to the imagination. We visualize everything, and we are privy to Jorie’s innermost thoughts, as well as Kat’s thoughts, and the thoughts of others of importance in the story.

I didn’t really like the characters in the book, not even Kat, who wrestles with seeing the outcome of her decision to turn Ethan in. I didn’t like the fact that the e-book I borrowed was poorly edited with many errors, quite liberally. I am glad I didn’t pay for the book.

The truth comes back in a haunting fashion, evoking moral questioning within the pages. Can one who has murdered an innocent teenager redeem himself over the course of fifteen years? Has he paid for his crime, by being an upstanding citizen? Do his decent deeds warrant forgiveness and a legal pardon, or were they part of his personal quest for respect in case his past was revealed? Does he truly love his wife, or is his selfishness still a vital part of his soul?

So many questions, but this reader answered them all, to herself.
Excuse the update, I forgot to link the book.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, Fiction

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extaordinary Things: A Novel, by Alice Hoffman, is filled with symbolism and analogies that she has filled the pages with.

For instance, the character Eddie steals a watch from the young son of a wealthy family who owns the factory he works in. The boys were both adolescents. He carries the watch everywhere, and perceives it almost as if it was a good luck charm. As the years move forward and he matures into a successful photographer, the watch proves to be a burden, an oppressor in his life.

Coralie is a young girl, the child of a self-proclaimed professor, who owns a museum, the Museum of Extraordinary Things. She was born with webbed-fingers, and her father never lets her forget she is less than worthy. She is more or less imprisoned in her house on Coney Island. She is eventually forced by her father to swim in the Hudson River at night, so others might perceive her to be a monster. He uses her to impersonate a mermaid, in order to entice customers.

Coralie does become more self-confident, and realizes her father for what he is. He is a rigid and commanding person, and his “museum” is of utmost importance to him, more so than her importance is in his life. She becomes aware of his mistreatment of the individuals in his employment.

Her father runs the gamut of searching for those who were born with severe birth defects. He is constantly looking in morgues, the Bowery, and anywhere that he feels “freaks of nature” (man, woman, child, animal), dead or alive can be found. He is a con artist, a scam maker, and uses others for his own purpose.

He views each individual he uses in his museum as being less human. Yet, within the realm of those individuals are those who are astute and extremely intelligent. They are more or less forced into working in a side show of sorts, due to their appearance. Nobody else would have them. Coney Island was a home for the unfortunate with birth defects, and people flocked there to see them.

Coney Island is described with minute detail. Hoffman is excellent in that respect, especially in showing daily life for those who struggle to survive. From the Jewish immigrants to the gangsters and mob bosses, the corrupt police and the fire department, the stories are all there, before the reader’s eyes. The history has been written about before, several times over, but she has weaved it into a tapestry of historical fiction that should appeal to many.

From the tragic Triangle Fire to the Dreamland Fire, and more, events are illuminated through individuals and their daily lives. How tragedy affects them is well-defined. Tragedy can encompass more than a horrific event, and can be imposed by crass, unforgiving and uncaring individuals. It was an explosive time, a “dog eat dog” world of survival. The monsters of evil in life are not necessarily the “freaks of nature” within the pages of the novel. The reader is cognizant that human beings who show no compassion or humanity are often the misfits of life, the monsters.

The novel is cleverly written. I found the historical aspect fascinating, even though I knew much of it beforehand. Some historical events are filled in with creative license, yet the major facts were retained. I liked the comparison of the “freaks of nature” with those who were born without birth defects. The reader’s senses are filled to overflowing with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of Coney Island.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is metaphor for life and assimilation in Brooklyn, and for the magical perceptions of Coney Island and Dreamland. Alice Hoffman is excellent with her word-imagery and details, leaving nothing unturned. There is a lot of symbolism within the pages detailing birth, life, and rebirth, burdens, and dependence. The horrors are on display constantly, and the horrors are not always the “misfits of life”.

Coney Island, itself was the museum of the ordinary and extraordinary individuals who inhabited it in the early 20th century.

1 Comment

Filed under Blogrolls, Book Diva's Book Reviews, Family Dynamics, Historical Novels

Book Diva Review: The Dovekeepers

thedovekeepers Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah are four women who share a common thread within The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.

Each woman’s story is told separately, but within the pages, each person is connected within the environment of Masada, the Jewish stronghold against the Romans. Masada was an ancient fortress with several palaces, sitting high atop a hill in the harsh desert where the palace and home of King Herod once stood. The four women depicted, live life in a challenging geographical environment, but more so, in a physically and emotionally challenging atmosphere. The four women more or less shared not only food and lodging, but also emotionally involved secrets, fears and losses, all beginning within their interactions within dovecote.

Masada’s cliffs and passages created a fortress for the Jews until the Romans took siege upon it in the last quarter of the first century. The Jews were known as “Zealots”. Each person was assigned a role, and the four women whose lives are intertwined worked in the dovecote. The dovecote was where the women worked to gather fertilizer for the gardens that supplied staples to the inhabitants.

Their lives bring history alive, and Hoffman wasted no detail in telling their stories, stories that show the deprivation, repression, and suffering thrust upon Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah. Yet throughout all of that, there were also sexual encounters, willing ones, at that. Hoffman’s prose is masterful, and her word imagery is vivid and filled with perspectives of history that are an extremely amazing accomplishment on her part.

Yael was cast aside by her Sicarri father at birth, and feels her life is worthless. Revka is a grandmother, whose two grandsons became mute after watching the murder of their mother, at the hand of the Romans. Shira is a mystical woman who was accused of witchcraft because of her medicine practices. Aziza, one of Shira’s daughters disguises herself as a man in order to fight like one. Each woman has an intriguing story to tell, and each one has faced the extremes of physical, mental and emotional boundaries.

Love, loss, submission, hardship, discrimination, religion, culture and customs, perseverance and strength reign supreme within the pages. The four women each have tales of their own to tell, involving how they came to the stronghold of Masada, how their lives were connected through the dovecote, but also connected in other areas. The book held my interest, although it was a slow read at times. I did want to know about the characters, wanted to know of their struggles against the harsh environment, but also against the superstitions, religious fanaticism, and the treatment of women in general during the time period portrayed.

The Romans lay siege upon Masada, and their abilities and strength to build not only a wall around the perimeter of Masada, but also a ramp in which to climb to the hilltop in order to release their scourge on the Jews is a part of Jewish history that has been told and handed down through the centuries, based on the writings of Josephus. The almost 1,000 Jews who survived until the scourge, lived their lives until, in an act so dramatic, they, en masse, made certain that they would not die or become enslaved at the hands of the Romans. They did die, but by their own decision to do so. All but seven individuals committed mass suicide, according to history. Two women and five children managed to survive.

Some of Josephus’ contemporary historical writings of the time were based on witness accounts of one or more of the women mentioned in The Dovekeepers. The novel is based on historical fact, and Hoffman writes of the historical data within the pages with the insight of extreme research and travels to Israel and to the site of Masada.

The Dovekeepers is a long read and not a particularly uplifting one, other than the fact that the Jews held up at Masada, fought to survive for their own beliefs. It is a story that is depressing, as a whole, especially if one knows the end, before beginning the book. I highly recommend The Dovekeepers for the historical aspect, and for the educational aspects of the novel. Alice Hoffman has surpassed herself, in my opinion, as far as her magnificent and detailed prose is concerned. Her devotion to accuracy, within a fictional framework is incredible and should be applauded, in my opinion.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Fiction, Historical Novels, Jewish History, Literature/Fiction