Tag Archives: Authors

In the Image, by Dara Horn

“Accidents of fate are rarely fatal accidents, but once in a while they are.”

In The Image is one of those books that evolves through the characters’ coming of age, journeying towards peace and acceptance, and sojourning towards spiritual identity. One young girl (Leora)l learns to accept the death of her best friend, through the slide images of her best friend’s grandfather. Leora learns to overcome her fear of loss and allows herself to fall in love.

The grandfather (Bill Landsmann) learns to accept his own life, which is built frame by frame, upon his slides, through the images he has photographed during his travels. His life has been preserved on film slides. Landsmann has to learn to leave his past behind, including his childhood and his abusive father. He must learn to accept, and to let go, and not just assimilate within the fabrics of New York City. For him the images represent his life, concrete proof of his childhood in Europe, and proof he existed. Landsmann has to learn to move forward, in order to find the spiritual identity and peace he is searching for.

Leora and Landsmann lean on each other, each one helping the other to overcome their fears, each one helping to free the other from their self-imposed emotional isolation.

The symbolism and undertones in this novel are strong, and leave one in awe. The images are clearly defined through Dara Horn’s words. Age is a state of mind, a number we define ourselves with, but one can be 70 and still be coming of age. This book touches on coming of age, for all age groups.

~~Book Diva

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First Desire, by Nancy Reisman

the-first-desire1 In First Desire by Nancy Reisman, we are given a set of characters who appear to be constantly yearning for acceptance and love, within the confines of the familial structure.

The Cohen family is composed of a tyrannical widower, Abe Cohen, and his five adult children, who seem to be stuck in a time warp, lost within the familial folds. The family unit is composed of four daughters (Jo, Sadie, Celia and Goldie) and one son (Irving). They are seemingly lifeless and unmotivated individuals, overpowered by loss, and by a dictatorial father.

All of them are still in mourning for their mother, and they are lost in a cycle of escaping the painful aspects of life. Their father, seems to be uncaring, and is a demanding and authoritarian individual, especially with his daughters. He escapes into a relationship with a women named Lillian Schumacher. Goldie can’t cope with the demands of her father, and the loss of her mother, and escapes by fleeing the house, leaving those behind to wonder about her, for years (not knowing whether she is dead or alive). Sadie questions her own sanity and the relationship with her husband, who only seems to want her company during times of sexual relations, and watches him become almost as tyrannical as her father. Jo is lost within her protective, obnoxious attitude, which is her form of escape. Celia escapes within her mind, which is sometimes coherent, but more often, not. Irving escapes into alcohol and gambling.

First Desire is adeptly written, and Nancy Reisman’s characters give us insight into depression, patriarchal pressures, and family interactions and dynamics, during the turbulent years that range from the late 1920s to 1950. They are believable individuals, and the climate of the decades is believable.

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The Black Seasons, by Michal Glowinski

The Black Seasons by Michal Glowinski is a poignant rendering of portions of Glowinski’s childhood memories from the Warsaw Ghetto to his life while hiding from the Nazis, to being rescued by Catholic nuns and becoming a Holocaust Survivor.

The word drifted into my ears as people around me deliberated: will they lock us in the ghetto or not? I didn’t know what this word meant, yet I realized that it was connected with moving; I sensed that it was something adults were speaking of with fear, but to me it seemed that moving would be an interesting adventure.”

Glowinski writes with visual descriptives so vivid and clear that one can almost feel them and inhale the scents of ghetto life. The struggles of daily existence within the confines allocated to the Jewish people is written with deep clarity. The Black Seasons might seem disjointed at times, but that is due to the fact that events are remembered in that fashion. Can one fault Glowinski for writing in such a manner? No! One is transported by the word-paintings, and the canvas and back drop are not a pretty.

The Black Seasons is painterly, the horror well-articulated by Glowinski, and he documents his accounts of fear and anxiety in fragments, remembered through a young boy’s pieces of visual and emotional memory. Glowinski brings us insight into the human condition of the Jewish family unit during the Holocaust. Glowinski illuminates within us the fact that life is fragile. Combining the transition from childhood to adulthood, Michal Glowinski manages to transport us through history and time, effectively, brilliantly and with skillful writing. I highly recommend The Black Seasons. It belongs in every school library, college and university library, and on your own book shelf.

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I Am My Family, by Rafael Goldchain

I Am My Family: Photographic Memories and Fictions, by Rafael Goldchain is a very unique and interesting look at one man’s family through ancestral photographs.

The unique perspective regarding I Am My Family, is the fact that Goldchain has literally infused himself into the ancestral photographs.

Rafael Goldchain’s I Am My Family is a family album of traditional portrait photographs with an unconventional twist: the only subject is Goldchain himself. In an elaborate process involving genealogical research, the use of makeup, hair styling, costume, and props, Goldchain transforms himself into his ancestors and captures their personifications with the camera.”

I Am My Family: Photographic Memories and Fictions, looks to be an intriguing and fascinating look at Jewish culture, through Rafael Goldchain’s self-portraits. His tribute to his ancestral past is an excellent legacy for his family members of the present and the future.

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Everyman, by Philip Roth

Everyman, by Philip Roth is a book leaving the reader much to ponder. Though short in pages, this book is long on intensity, its pages resound with insight, intensity and emotion, as we view one man’s life and his body’s decline due to physical breakdown and aging.

Everyman begins with the funeral of the protagonist, and travels backwards, through his life. The human essence of the man through the aging process (heart problems, etc.), his fears, his loss of physical capability and sexual prowess, his obsessive behavior, his awareness of his rudeness and negative attitude (and his inability to knowingly redeem himself for his behaviors), are all encompassed in one exceptionally articulated novel. His mind never fails him, but his body is a constant reminder to him, that his wants and desires can not be fulfilled.

We do manage to feel empathy for him, even with all of the negativeness that make up the man, and his very essence. And, that is no small feat, given the circumstances we find him in. Therein lies the brilliance of Roth, that he could bring us full circle, through the gamut of emotions and ugly behavior, only to empathize, in the end.

Roth’s insight into the human perception of the body’s deterioration, not only, physically, but emotionally, gives us material to consider, such as who we are, what we are? What is the meaning of life? What does life mean not only to ourselves, but also to those in our lives? Is our life a sum of our sexuality, or does it hold more within its physical anatomy? What makes up a person’s soul, character, illumination? Everyman offers lessons to those dealing with those very issue.

Everyman is an amazing and excellent psychological and character study on inner struggles, aging, self-identity, and what it means to Be. Roth, masterfully cuts to the core in describing the aging process and the role it plays on our emotions. Philip Roth is vividly descriptive with his imagery. We are left to ponder age, and how it affects, not only our minds and emotions, but also our physical and sexual being. We might feel younger than our bodies tell us we are, and we might be extremely cognizant on day-to-day issues, but in the end, our bodies can deceive us. Our mind can wander and play tricks on us, leading us to believe we can accomplish more than we can. Philip Roth brilliantly emphasizes very concisely how growing older impacts our abilities to perform and live dignified, on a daily basis. Who said it would be easy?!

I personally own and have read this book.
© Copyright 2007 – All Rights Reserved – No permission is given or allowed to reuse my photography, book reviews, writings, or my poetry in any form/format without my express written consent/permission.

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Four Girls From Berlin

Four Girls From Berlin: A True Story of Friendship That Defied the Holocaust, by Marianne Meyerhoff, is a beautiful memoir of courage and friendship under horrendous circumstances. The story is about Lotte Meyerhoff who was a German Jew, and was the author’s mother. It is an affecting story of how she survived the Holocaust. She was the only member of her family to survive.

Lotte’s story begins when she boarded the S.S. St. Louis, bound for Cuba from Germany, in 1937. She left behind family members, and her three best friends, Ilonka, Erica and Ursula. She was sailing to be reunited with her husband, who had traveled there before her. There were 937 Jewish refugees aboard the ship, seeking freedom. The ship was forced to return to return to Europe, as Cuba refused entry of the ship, and other countries, including the United States, denied the ship entry.

Lotte was eventually smuggled out of a Dutch detention camp, and arrived in Cuba to reunite with her husband. From there she made her way to California, with her daughter, Marianne. While growing up, the subject of Lotte’s past is never discussed, and Meyerhoff’s curiosity never diminishes. She feels that she is without family, and doesn’t understand why. Lotte remains adamantly silent regarding her past, which only fuels Meyerhoff’s curiosity.

Lotte divorces her husband, when he comes to California to inform her he loves another woman. 

One day the unbelievable happened. A large container arrives at their home in Hollywood, California. Lotte feared opening it after seeing where it was sent from.  She was in shock.   She eventually opened it, and to her surprise it contained family heirlooms such as candlesticks, family photographs, important documents and letters.

Her three closest German, Christian girlfriends, had risked their own lives to smuggle them out of her home. They kept the items hidden, and after the war ended located Lotte’s address, and sent her the precious items They were the only remnants left of her family and her life in Germany. The items open up sealed wounds and force her to somewhat confront her past. Through Meyerhoff’s persistent questioning, bits and pieces of Lotte’s life slip out. Meyerhoff is more or less able to piece together some of her mother’s past, and the price she paid for her freedom.

As the years go by, Meyerhoff, feels a deep sense of loss and incompleteness.  She decides to travel to Germany to meet her mother’s three friends. It is a sojourn for her into her mother’s past. She longs to find a sense of family and of self. Lotte would not go with her. We follow Meyerhoff finally meet two of the friends that so loyally helped hide her mother’s family possessions (one lives in another country and can’t travel to meet her). They are married with families of their own. They take Meyerhoff into their homes as if she is their own daughter. Trust and love develop between them, and new friendships begin, that last through the years.

Within the pages, we are not only shown how the four friends survived the war in their own way, but shown how the three friends held the legacy of Lotte’s life in their hands, minds and hearts. Four Girls From Berlin is filled with some the family photographs that were shipped to Lotte. It puts a face to the past, the past we should never forget.

I won’t delve into the story any further as it will ruin it for those of you interested in reading it. It is a story told through an unusual perspective, through not only Meyerhoff, but through her mother’s courageous and unfailing friends. Meyerhoff is given first hand accounts of Lotte’s childhood, of her marriage and eventual decision to board the S.S. St. Louis. There are those humane individuals who will stop at nothing in order to salvage precious pieces of life for their friends.

Four Girls From Berlin is excellent in showing how love and friendship knows no boundaries, even during war time. It is poignant, forthright.   Meyerhoff comes to understand her mother’s pain and why she couldn’t bring herself to speak of the past, why she closed the door to her past.  You can go home again, even when home is a place of shadows and tragedy.  Four Girls From Berlin is an inspiring book, one that illuminates through the darkness of Holocaust history with glimmers of courage and hope.  The book is a metaphor for friendship, love, loss and yearning.  Marianne Meyerhoff’s book transcends religion, bridging the humanity of friendships that last through the decades, and carry on into new generations.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, by Diane Ackerman is an amazing book on so many levels. From incredible word-images, to profound scenarios, Ackerman takes us on a journey through Warsaw, Poland, through the eyes of two zookeepers, Jan and Antonina Zabrinski. Jan was the director of the Warsaw Zoo, Antonina was his wife.

It is an incredible story of fortitude and strength, love of animals (large and tiny) and love of humanity. The Zabinskis felt that every organism, no matter how minute, was a part of the scheme of the earth and universe. This attitude prompted them to take the course of action that they did. The force involved in Jan and Antonina’s acts of human kindness are not only conceived out of circumstance, but out of their almost innate necessity to save Jewish individuals in WWII Warsaw. They were not Jewish, in fact Jan declared himself an atheist, and Antonina was a Catholic. They knew the risks they were taking, but chose to help others at the expense of not only their lives, but their young son’s life, and their newborn daughter’s life. Jan and Antonina had a deep respect and devotion to caring for life, in all of its forms, from the most minute insect, bit of algae or moss, to the largest of animals, including their favorite lynxes.

It was this devotion, their ideals and values for what constitutes life and its worth, and their moral code, which consumed their every thought and emotion during World War II. This innate passion for saving life, turned their villa and the zoo into a refuge, for animals that you wouldn’t expect to find in a zoo setting. This is true account is one of many unusual stories to come out of World War II.  Antonina played a large role while Jan was off at war, and when he was imprisoned, in continuing to keep the Jews and partisans hidden. Through journals, articles, and historical documentation, the author has written the Zabrinksi’s unique Holocaust story, from their extremely unusual perspective.

The author had access to Antonina’s diary, and has infused the pages with direct quotes from it. It was a barbarous time period, and the brutality and harshness is reflected quite well within the book. The word imagery is strong, and it is sometimes difficult to discern where Antonina began, and where Ackerman evokes her own telling. Nonetheless, the book is factual, within its poetic aspects. Some details are sweetened, mainly pertaining to the people, animals and their lives within the confines of the villa. The author infuses some of her own thoughts, blending them with Antonina’s (she, herself states this) The Holocaust itself, and atrocious events and occurrences are not sugared in any aspect. The entire family is portrayed in the book.

The zoo and the villa become a human menagerie, no let me say they become a menagerie for both humans and other life forms, tiny to huge. It was like a Noah’s Ark. Each with their own respective and unique personality, each with their own needs and strengths, adapting within unique surroundings and under difficult circumstances. All life forms in the villa live together in a carnival and tour de farce environment, yet live in harmony. The Zookeeper’s Wife chronicles human and animals, and their lives within the confines of the Holocaust and war-torn Poland like it has never been documented before.

The heroine’s actions are vividly demonstrated throughout the book, Antonina’s almost innate sense of not only caring for the animals in the zoo, but getting into their minds, and reading their thoughts, sparked her passion for the value of life, the worth of all animals, small to great, that encouraged her in her endeavors to shelter almost 300 Jews in the zoo, within the confines of barred cages, underground passages, huts, secret hiding places in her villa, etc. Any place she could conceive of as a dwelling for hiding Jews, became one. Any disguise thought of was utilized for the Jews, whether it be aunt, uncle, or other visiting relatives and friends, ruses were created.

Antonina’s story, taken from her journal is captivating, poignant, intriguing, humorous, tear-jerker material, and compelling as no other story you have read. Ackerman’s story, which surrounds Antonina’s, is poetic prose, a weaving of lives. She is often seems long-winded in her descriptions and word images, but once you get past them, you realize there is a purpose behind the prose. Ackerman wrote this way for a reason, and it isn’t necessarily apparent in the beginning.

The Zookeeper’s Wife often reads like a beautiful prose-poem, of breathtaking writing and astounding imagery seeping through the pages. Ackerman is brilliant in not only her prose, but also in the scientific aspect of the animal kingdom. She sometimes rambles on regarding various species (much like I have rambled in this review), but in the end, it is for a reason, and coincides with the humans and their own stories of survival. She compares and contrasts humans and their evolution with animals.

He was intrigued with being able to control the fate of producing animals with excellent traits, and animals of purity, through mating, reproducing, etc., until he produced the perfect example. He used eugenics in his experiments (breeding animals with specific traits). The love of magical and mythical animals enthralled the Nazis. Those animals were elevated in status.

Animals are almost humanized in the Nazi world, and of course the humans, the Jews, are thought of and treated as less than impure animals by the Nazis. Experiments performed on Jews were abundant. From brain surgery to agonizing and tortuous experiments, the Jews were tools utilized. One has to read carefully in order to perceive what Ackerman is trying to accomplish.

Jews, the Polish resistance, the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, and then the Warsaw uprising of 1944, we are given a look at Warsaw daily life during the Nazi occupation, both the willing “prisoner’s and caged humans, and the unwilling Jews in prison camps. Life in the ghetto is depicted frankly and truthfully. The horrid and unsanitary conditions are explored and painted.

The perspective is almost incomparable, and the historical facts and documentations are gleaned from newspapers, witness accounts, Survivor stories, scientific research, and from Antonina’s diary, her incredible diary.  Within the pages humor is reflected within living arrangements and lives inhabited within the confines. Man and animal live together, eat together, sleep together. Lives are saved by courageous and empathetic individuals.  At times the book can be difficult to follow, and I found myself rereading excerpts due to the fluidity.  Overall, Diane Ackerman weaves the tapestries together with excellence. Both the scientific and historic aspects work well together, and The Zookeeper’s Wife is brilliant in its illumination of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, their moral code, and their courage to save lives despite risking their own lives. The story binds the threads of an unusual perspective in this amazing Holocaust telling. What an accomplishment! Bravo!

Jan and Antonina Zabinski are honored by Yad Vashem’s The Righteous Among the Nations.

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