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The Inbetween People

How does one cope when a mother picks up, without warning and abandons the family, setting off for another country to live with a man other than your father? How does a child of four handle the death of his mother, from childbirth, within the environment of conflicts in Israel?

The Inbetween People, by Emma McEvoy, is a novel that quite brilliantly depicts two individuals who become friends. Ari Goldberg is Jewish. Saleem is an Israeli Arab. The two meet and through the years we read about their struggles to maintain their lives within the constant struggles that are ongoing between the Jews and the Arabs.

Much of the book deals with the issues of the loss of their mothers. Ari’s mother and her abandonment of the family takes its toll in every facet of his life. He tries to extinguish his feelings and his thoughts on her, but they resurface to haunt him.

The same is true of Saleem, and how the loss of his mother affected him and the rest of his family. How the loss of his grandmother’s house affected how the family managed to survive the indecency of it.

I thought The Inbetween People had a lot to offer in regards to family dynamics, especially how loss defines a person. The characters tried to bury their losses, tried to hide their memories from themselves, to no avail.

Ari begins to write from a prison cell, and he writes of the loss of his mother. Saleem joins the Israeli army, as an Arab, hoping to help the conflicts occurring.

Can we bury the past? When familial, emotional trauma constantly fills us, mentally, physically and emotionally, we can become like people in limbo, in between the past and the present. The connections are intertwined. Through McEvoy’s beautiful prose, almost poetic prose and word imagery, we are given a lot to ponder in that respect.

The novel is a sad one, poignant, and a reminder of the human condition. The story is a metaphor for love, loss and redemption, within a framework of an ongoing social situation.

It did have a strong message, within the short framework. Emma McEvoy’s prose is filled with loveliness, and a feeling of melancholy illuminates the pages. I found The Inbetween People to be an excellent read regarding the emotional issues surrounding motherly loss and regarding the issues of conflict within a country’s changing attitudes and ideals. Emma McEvoy encompassed those issues well.

This was my second reading of this novel, as I read it recently for a book club.

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Book Diva Review: We Were Europeans

wewereeuropeans We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval, is book that portrays an incredible, personal, family/ancestral journey, both before World War II, and post war.

Loval came from a respected, well off, German-Jewish family, and before the war they were treated with dignity within their community. That all ended beginning on January 30,1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. From that point forward, Loval’s story takes on dimensions that are precarious and horrendous, as he and his family fight to survive.

He and his sister eventually became part of the Kindertransport to England, while his parents eventually were able to escape to Ecuador, via Siberia and Japan, where the entire family was reunited. The family emigrated to America after the war. Loval eventually emigrated to Israel and played an intricate and highly professional role within the Diplomatic Service for the State of Israel. His religious foundations were strong, and he was involved in the Reform Jewish movement, and played a high profile role within it.

To say I am impressed with the format would be an understatement. I am in awe of We Were Europeans and the way Loval presents it to us. He infuses the pages with incredible documentation, amazing photographs, documents and maps, that enhance the pages of this compelling memoir, adding more drama to the presented depictions of the turbulence. From personal reflections and stories, the pages hold eye witness accounts to history as it happens, through Loval’s writing and presentation of supported evidence and documents.

Loval’s
endeavors and arduous research has brought the reader into the depths of the Nazi turbulence, adversity and shocking horrors that overtook Europe during Hitler’s reign. First-hand accounts abound, and Loval leaves nothing to the imagination through his stark imagery. From correspondence to diaries during the haunting war years and afterwards, to diaries and letters during the Six Day War and so much more, the reader is painted vivid pictures of family inspiration during time of crisis. The post war events are just as compelling and intensely stated, as Loval involves himself in trying to get restitution for property owned by his family.

Loval and his family lived their lives to the fullest with a positive attitude, no matter the extreme harshness of their circumstances, no matter how far spread, at varied points in time, the family separation was across the global perspective. The illuminating photographs, documents and word-paintings are incredible testimonies to eras gone by, to familial bonds, to the determination and strength to persevere and survive, both during and after World War II.

We Were Europeans is a book of extreme importance and historical value for historians, for researchers, genealogists, for those who are interested in the Holocaust and World War II, and for those individuals, in general, who want to learn more about the turbulent times depicted within the pages. The intensity of the memoir is beyond imagination and comprehension. It is a powerful statement and testimony, not only to the decades, events and circumstances depicted, but to the Loval family unit. Their story is extremely inspiring, and I highly recommend We Were Europeans, by Werner M. Loval to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: Identical Strangers

identicalstrangers Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited, by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, is an amazing book in many ways. The memoir is the story of twins separated at birth, and of their reunion decades later. Twins are fascinating to most people, the concept of sameness is intriguing, and this memoir enhances that perspective, defining what it means to be a twin through a unique perspective.

Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein both knew that they had been adopted. Neither one knew they were twins. Elyse wanted to learn about her mother, while Paula had no desire to know her. The book details, in alternating voices, how both women have had to overcome their separation and try to accept their sameness and their differences, accept the fact they are twins, sisters, family members, reunited. Their awkward transition into sisterhood and extended family is written with clarity, and truthfulness. To be twins is one thing, and to be separated through adoption is another thing, to be both is to ponder the idea of identity and family.

It was appalling to read how Paula and Elyse were separated, and how the adoption agency, along with psychologists sided together to manipulate the system and their very lives. The insensitivity is incredulous.

We hear their differing, yet similar, voices evoke the emotional impact that their reunion has made upon their lives, as separate individuals, and as twins…duplicates of each other. We are witness to their doubts, fears, joys, and their capacity to try to adapt and join their lives together.

We are also given insight into how finding information out about their birth-mother has affected them. We see how they view the definition of “parent“, how they define a parent, and who they consider a parent to be. We question how nature and nurture affects us, and are we a product of one or the other, or both.

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited is relevant and compelling on so many levels. It leaves one to question parentage, bloodlines, familial bonds, adoption, what it means to be a twin, and the imprints left on our lives by birth, circumstance, environment, relationships and DNA. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein bring us a memoir that is poignant and thought-provoking in its honesty. It is a book not to be missed.

I read Identical Strangers in one sitting, while in a book store, unable to put it back on the bookshelf until I had finished it.

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Book Diva Review: The Chaperone

the chaperone The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty is a book whose main character, Cora Carlisle, is a chaperone to 15-year old Louise Brooks, a young woman who will be studying modern dance in 1920s New York City.

Louise is a handful, in more ways than one, and involves herself in confrontations and situations that keep Cora wrestling, not only with Louise, but with her own conscious, leaving her little time to breathe. She was hoping to be able to do some long-wanted research while in New York City.

Cora is married with grown children, and has taken the opportunity to chaperone Louise in order to answer some long-held questions of her past. This reader watched Cora grow throughout the novel, not only emotionally, but also grow and adjust to the ever-changing world of the time period. Her daily visions of poverty and the roles of women were penned with illuminating scenes. Yet, within Cora’s growth, time seemed to stand still at times, due to the often drawn out paragraphs.

I thought that Moriarty did an excellent job of writing the story line. Her reflections of history were spot on, and her word images were crisp and concise. Her interpretations of the mores, manners, and social ideals that were predominate in 1920s Kansas were accurate, as well as the accuracy of New York City’s ethnic diversity and social standards. Yet, I felt the predictability of the story, especially in the last half of The Chaperone. That predictability tended to bore me a bit, and I felt the author was trying to rush things in order to get to the end result.

Overall, The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty, is a novel that displays the time period well regarding the historical factors within the pages. The The life of Louise Brooks (who did go on to become a silent screen star), is actually second place to Cora’s story, in my opinion. That is not to say that it diminishes the story, after all, the title reflects the content. The story is more about Cora and her adjustment and visions of life, visions that had been locked up until she went to New York City, where her eyes were opened. On a scale of one to five, I would rate this a three. I liked it, but, overall, it was not the story I thought it would be.

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Book Diva Review: The Jump Artist

thejumpartist The Jump Artist, by Austin Ratner, is a novel that studies the relationship between a father and son, and the psychological impacts of that relationship and how it directed the emotional and life-altering course of the son.

Max, the father was a powerful force in his son, Philipp Halsman’s life, and often energetic, bordering on overpowering, in his quests and activities. He saw himself as able to perform any task, and no matter how strenuous, he never failed to exhibit his dominance and strength. And, exhibit he did, to a fault, proceeding to conquer even when his physical impairment should have quelled his goal.

Philipp, a 22-year old Latvian Jew, on the other hand, was diminished in his father’s presence (Philipp Halsman is not a fictional character, but is a factual person). He had no ambition to compete on his father’s level, and no motivation to drive him forward. Throughout the pages, he evokes a sense of detachment from his father, and a bond that is less than strong or close.

One day while out hiking in Austria, Max fell off a cliff and died. Philipp looked away for one quick instance, and when he looked back, his father was gone. From there the story line becomes more morose. Philipp is accused of murdering his father and taken to jail. He is found guilty of murder, and the reader surmises (at least this reader did), that he did not kill his father, from the way the story line is written.

The prison scenes are extremely layered with graphic imagery, and Ratner’s masterful writing is stark and straight forward. Nothing is left to the imagination. The inhumane treatment is apparent, and Philipp’s depressive state is fostered within the disgusting prison conditions.

While in jail Philipp becomes a tortured soul, unable to fathom why nobody believes him. He is unable to cope with his detention under the circumstances surrounding the fact that nobody believes him, and everyone is against him. His only saving soul is his lawyer, who defends him to the best of his ability, under the extreme and the microscopic efforts of the prosecution.

Within the pages the reader is given vivid portrayals of a man depressed, a man racked with guilt, not the guilt of a murderer, but the guilt of burdens he has bared, and the guilt of a man who is in a constant state of self-hate. His only allies are his attorney, his mother, Freud and Einstein. They rally behind him, and Freud and Einstein vouch for him and use their status to help him gain a pardon.

Once out of prison, he realizes he must move to another country in order to start life anew. Also, the fact that war is imminent plays a large factor in his decision to relocate to France, where he is welcomed, where he feels at home, and where he believes he will be harbored. Within his new environment his efforts at portrait photography are enhanced, and he becomes known for his work. Living in France does not last long, and Philipp eventually moves to America.

In America his photography flourishes, it becomes his life, his reason for living. He photographs famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. His signature becomes the fact that he photographs his subjects as they jump, therefore, he is known as a “Jump Artist”. His life takes on new meaning, yet his detachment to humanity is still obvious.

Ratner is brilliant in his writing, and in his portrayal of the human condition, both in prison and in society, as antisemitism rears its ugliness. If this were today, I doubt that Philipp would have been convicted, even through all the discrimination inflicted upon him. There was no conclusive evidence, and the few witnesses that were present used drama tactics to infuse the court’s decision.

For those looking for an intense read, this book is for you. It is not a quick read, not a light read, but a dark and compelling read. Phillip Halsman’s life is the basis for the novel, and Ratman used his life history loosely in portraying the man and his thoughts and feeligns. I applaud Austin Ratner for his brilliant writing, and for bringing to light the circumstances surrounding a man who was wrought with burdens, and a man who overcame some of them, and went on to become a well-known photographer.

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Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini’s upcoming book, And The Mountains Echoed, is due to be released on May 21st. I can’t wait until it is released.

I read his first novel, The Kite Runner, and had bought it the day it came out. I also read A Thousand Splendid Suns, and reviewed it on my blog. Below is a brief review of The Kite Runner.

You will fly to new heights of emotion while reading Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, about one man’s journey to find himself, to redeem and transform himself, to forgive himself, and to forgive his familial past, forgive his own betrayals and failings, in order to go forward with his future.

Amir returns to his homeland after the ravages of war, after the Taliban has gained control, after the country has struggled to survive over adversity. The memories of his childhood choices that have haunted him, and that have imprisoned him within his Self, come to surface in overwhelming ways, as he remembers his friendship with Hassan, their boyhood adventures, and his betrayal to the Hassan, who would in the end, allow him (Amir) to forgive himself and redeem himself. We are given intimate perspectives of life and emotions, thoughts and feelings.

As Amir walks the paths of his past, remorse and guilt flood his very being. He is overwhelmed by the past meeting him in the present.

The Kite Runner is also an excellent character study on family, friendship and relationships intertwining within the familial structure. An overbearing father, a motherless son, a friend who is basically his unequal, in societal eyes, all come together in a blend of excellence through Hosseini’s gifted writing skills.

Khaled Hosseini gives us glimpses into the Middle East and the cultural mores and expectancies, that we might not have imagined could exist. Applause, applause, for this insightful and intimate view of childhood, adulthood, and the lives we weave for ourselves. I highly recommend The Kite Runner!
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Book Diva Review: Where She Came From

whereshecamefrom Where She Came From: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother’s History, by Helen Epstein is an extremely compelling memoir. We journey with Helen Epstein as she searches for her familial past, and searches for answers regarding her family members who were murdered during the Holocaust.

The book was difficult to put down, once I started to read it. I was engrossed in this book from the first page…although it was a slow read for me, because I wanted to grasp the intensity of the generational saga, and grasp the historical facts, correctly.

Epstein has more than proved herself as a writer in this dramatic memoir of family generations, identity, and history. We journey with her through time, through the positive and negative aspects, through the good and not so good, through the hardships and adversity. The reader is given remnants of life in a familial tapestry, through history, through the horrors of war, and how it affects all the generations, from past to present, and also how it can and will affect future generations.

From assimilating into society and racial and religious identity, to how one views themselves and what they identify with, Where She Came From is written with insight, often brutal in Epstein’s vivid descriptions. She writes with love, with yearning and the emotions of loss, she writes with clarity. Where She Came From is an extremely inspiring book.

How does one start over after enduring such atrocities and horrors? Is there laughter in your life, once again? How does the past affect the present? Does God exist? These are just a few of the questions Where She Came From leaves the reader to ponder, and Epstein pondered those issues and questions, and many more. She manages to weave a tapestry of her family, each moment in time adds to the fabric of her own identity, as she comes closer to some of her ancestral answers. We laugh with her, and cry with her, and we are inspired by Where She Came From.

Successive generations live with the past every day of their lives…it seems inevitable, and Epstein reinforces that theory through her writing. Epstein’s writing draws us in, and her memoir is intriguing, insightful and concise, but mainly it is extremely inspiring. In my opinion it is a must read for everyone, as its educational value is priceless.

Where She Came From is both compelling as a memoir and as a historical book. It is an incredible resource for schools, colleges, universities, and anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of life before, during and after the Holocaust.

I applaud Helen Epstein for such an exceptional read!

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