Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Book Diva Review: Will in the World

willintheworld Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt, is a page turner of a biography, a biography that is beyond compare, and a biography that I have not read with such eagerness, before, and it is all due to the vibrancy and enthusiasm of the author, Stephen Greenblatt’s ability to blend elegant prose that makes us anxious for more, in order to fill our senses with the world of Shakespeare.

How did Shakespeare, from Stratford-Upon-Avon, a small town in the rural countryside, far removed from London, write with such perfection, beauty, emotion, sensuality and elegance, moving the country, the world with his plays, to become a playwright beyond compare and comprehension? Read Greenblatt’s book, and you will find some of the answers to that question, woven in a tapestry so fine, detailed and rich, that if you have never read any of Shakespeares brilliant plays or poetry…you will be tempted to run as fast as you can to your nearest bookstore in order to do so.

Having traveled to Stratford-Upon-Avon, myself, on three occasions, and having seen Shakespeare’s birthplace, and even the cradle he slept in, and having encompassed myself in the surrounding countryside, I am aware of some of the endless stimulations that possibly evoked thoughts and emotions in Shakespeare’s mind, his imagination, prompting him to write with such magnificence and passion, becoming the playwright of playwrights.

Varied documents, writings, testimonials, and other related data are only a portion of what is included within the pages of this wonderful book. Stephen Greenblatt encompases all knowledge of Shakespeare in Will in the World, and makes a statement that the Bard, himself, wrote all of the magnificent plays, poetry and writings on his own.

If Will in the World is sitting idly on a shelf in your house, please, take it out and read it, peruse each line, each page. You will not be disappointed, and you will be surprised, beyond imagination.

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July 2013 Book Diva Reviews

yellow sunset 2

I reviewed the following books during July 2013:

The First Lady of Fleet Street

The Lives They Left Behind

Maya

Identical Strangers

The Periodic Table

The Retrospective

Soul to Soul

A Mind of Winter

Chains Around the Grass

I have read more books than I reviewed. It is always the way with me. I average a minimum of two books a week, usually three. I don’t review each book I read, due to time constraints.

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Dawn, by Elie Wiesel

Dawn, by Elie Wiesel is an excellent book that examines many issues, especially on good and evil, forgiveness, spirituality and identity.

“There are not a thousand ways to be a killer; either a man is one or he isn’t. He who has killed one man alone, is a killer for life…the executioner’s mask will always follow him.” This was Elisha’s dawn, his dawning.
During the years after World War II, terrorists in Palestine try to drive the British out. This dark, intensely written novel, focuses on a young Holocaust Survivor, Elisha, who has joined a group of Jewish militants. He has been assigned to be the executioner of a British officer.

The book fluctuates between Elisha’s ghosts of the past, Holocaust ghosts, and his present situation, as Elisha continually questions whether what he is doing is right, is for the larger good . We enter his mindset, literally, and feel his struggles between what is the moral thing to do, and, what one does, in what they believe to be in the best interests of their nation, and their historical group of individuals. His dilemma “dawns” on him, as he becomes aware, and strongly perceives the struggle he has to face…within himself. Dawn, is a word that does not necessarily imply sunrise, and in this novel, although the execution is to take place at sunrise; the impact and emotions of the situation, are deeper, and more vivid, and illuminate, within, more than any morning sunrise ever could. Elisha has an awakening, and a new life begins, unfolds, for him…one he can never return from.

We see how the militant group dynamics can encourage and persuade a young person, in the wake of a horrific trauma of their own, to commit an act, that under different circumstances, they might not involve themselves in.

Weisel’s intensity in writing, and his analyzing the events for what they are…conflict…on both sides of the coin…leaves one to question what components make up the mind of a murderer, and whether there is justification for violence and murder, for a political cause, under certain climates.

Although the Dawn’s copyright is 1961, the mindset of the militant group could apply to the world events, today, with the current terrorist situations. In fact, if events of The Holocaust were not mentioned in the book, one could assume that it might have been written today, its relevance to current events is so strong.

~~Book Diva

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The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates

“You saw him at a distance: the gravedigger Schwart.

Like a troll he appeared. Somewhat hunched, head lowered.”

In The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Jacob Schwart, a Jew, moves his family from Nazi Germany to rural upstate New York. They end up in a small town, where Schwart finds a job as a gravedigger and caretaker of a cemetery. He was a high school teacher in Germany, so the job of gravedigger is very demeaning to him, especially seeing how the residents of the community react to him and his family. He manages to eke out a living, barely making enough for him and his family to survive on, living in a small cottage in the cemetery, at the edge of town. The family lives on the fringes of town, not only in poverty, but the fringes of Jacob’s moods and alchoholism. Jacob becomes disillusioned with his situation and with life.

As time goes by, Schwart’s emotional capacity becomes overloaded, and abusive acts occur, and one final and unspeakable act leads to an incomprehensible tragedy. You will have to read it in order to understand, as I don’t want to give too much story line away.

This is the beginning of a new life for Schwart’s daughter, Rebecca. She eventually falls in love, marries and has a son. She ends up in an abusive situation, herself, and runs away with her son, in order to start a new life, under an assumed name. She literally leaves her past behind her. Her strength and stamina get her through some extreme situations.
<p>One line repeated throughout The Gravedigger’s Daughter is, “The weak are quickly disposed of. So you must hide your weakness, Rebecca.”Her father would say this to her in order to impress upon her that she needed to stay strong.</p>

Rebecca reinvents herself and her son, and they are constantly moving from place to place in order to avoid being found. Her son is a child prodigy, and she encourages him in playing piano, almost to an extreme. She lives through him. August takes his anger at her and his anger at his father out through his music, with its resounding and strong crescendos peaking strongly and wildly.

Oates brings us a strong Rebecca, a woman of determination and strength, a woman of independence and a fierce devotion to her son. She is a woman who has held her emotions in, in order to move forward. She has learned to manipulate the situations she finds herself in. This is both positive and negative.

The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a book about immigration, identity, assimlation, expectations, and family relationships. It is a multi-generational story, and is a long book, not a fast read, which has nothing to do with the 582 page length, but has everything to do the involved story line.

Social history is strong throughout the novel, and Oates deftly defines America during the after-effects of both pre and post World War II. With extreme clarity, she defines the assimilation and the European Jewish Survivor experience, along with their expectations. Oates writes with insight, sensitivity and prose that jumps out from the pages, revealing the dark side of post-World War II America. She is a masterful story teller, and is able to combine both the ugly with the beauty of life. I highly recommend The Gravedigger’s Daughter, not only for its story, its historical factors regarding upstate New York, but also for the perspective of the Jewish immigrant experience and its lasting effects on generations to come.

For me, The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a metaphor for the Jewish immigrant experience in all its fullness, from familial struggles and harshness, ugliness and loss, to strength, assimilation and identity.

As an aside: The Gravedigger’s Daughter is dedicated to Joyce Carol Oates’ grandmother, and much of the novel is based on her grandmother’s actual life.

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Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels is more than a novel based on the Holocaust, it is a poetically-rendered geological metaphor for the power of loss and love, memory and place. Human history is woven within the bogs and peat of the past and present, as both are intertwined within the beautifully written stories.

Yes, stories. Fugitive Pieces has two narrators…one for the first two-thirds of the book, one for the last third. The transition from one narrator (Jakob) to the next (Ben) might seem awkward for some, but I found it to be a brilliant method of bringing two men from two different generations together within the whole of the novel. The layers of their lives read like an archaeological dig, through the muck and mire of the Holocaust.

Our first narrator, Jakob, witnessed the horror of war at a young age, listening from within a cupboard, as his parents were being murdered and his sister being taken away by the Nazis. “The burst door.  Wood ripped from hinges, cracking like ice under the shouts.  Noises never heard before, torn from my father’s mouth.  Then silence.“  In order to survive, he becomes a fugitive of sorts, and he hides himself in the bogs and peat of the forest, burying himself underground, burying pieces of his past with him. He is like an organism, living for a day here, a day there within the bog, surviving as an organism or parasite, living off of the peat. Along comes Athos, a Greek geologist, who finds Jakob barely able to breathe, and brings Jakob to live with him in Greece. Athos is like a father to Jakob, and raises him like he is his own son.

Yet, all the fatherly affection and love can’t bring Jakob peace from the emotional past he is fleeing. He is like a piece of wood loosened from a desk, separated from the entirety. He dreams of his sister, Bella, in order to survive. He must have some hope, and she is his inspiration. Jakob physically matures into a young man. He becomes a poet, a writer, a translator, trying to find his way in a world of loss and sadness. He is stuck in that layer of time that has yet to be dug out.

Meanwhile, Ben looks to Jakob as a mentor. He too is a survivor. A survivor of his parents (Holocaust Survivors) and their daily nightmares, fears and eccentricities.

Michaels writes with flair and frankness, beauty and poignancy, and weaves the novel with brilliance.  Her naming each chapter is a definite foreshadowing of events and illuminations to follow.  I find her title to the book to be very revealing, if taken literally.  The transitory factor is ephemral, as parts of the whole are often short-lived, and characters, like Bella,  Jakob and Ben are fugacious and unable to blossom to their full potential. Jakob is much like an organism in the geological scheme of things, in the sense he can’t let go of the past. Ben is in the same emotional situation within his family unit. Both of them have trouble with relationships, each relationship a small piece of the stepping stone to fulfillment and contentment.
Fugitive Pieces is an important story, not for historical fact, not for Holocaust history, but for its layers of humanity, humaneness, and the bogs of emotional pain and dust that are eventually swept away through time and love.

~~Book Diva

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American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is a novel that is filled with so much insight, description, vivid details, emotion, and intensity, that I read it straight through. It is a novel I have wanted to read for quite some time, and I am definitely glad I finally did. I am an avid Roth fan, and have read most of his books, and am always intrigued by his brilliance in writing on the emotional aspects of the human story, why we become who we are within our environment, and how we not only perceive ourselves but how others perceive us, and how we view others within the scheme of our lives.

The main character is a man named Swede Levov, a Jew, who feels he is living the so-called “American Dream” the life pastoral. His light hair, fair complexion and skill in sports earned him the nickname of Swede. This name carried with him throughout his life, evoking adoration from others, evoking a false sense of security within himself, evoking promises of the good life, for those who shoulder the burdens of life, for those who internalize their feelings.

Swede is the good son, the son that his parents adore for the attention and admiration he brings to them, in a world where Jews are not normally paid attention to. He brings them luck, and brings himself luck. He is the high school hero, the one the boys and girls look up to, the one that all girls dream of marrying. He marries a former Miss New Jersey, and they build a life together. Swede inherits his father’s glove factory. He and his wife, Dawn, find a stone house that he loves, and they buy it. They seem to be living the idyllic life in the New Jersey suburbs, in the village of Old Rimrock. They have a daughter named Merry, who turns out to be the thorn in their side.

Merry commits a crime of passion and terrorism, which causes Swede, his wife, and other family members to turn inward, causing their lives to become overturned, emotionally and physically. Life is never the same for this “American Pastoral” family, and Merry’s act of crime and violence bring Swede to his knees with sorrow, anger, leaving him to question his own life. The once calm Swede, turns violent within his internal Being, screaming inside himself, unable to emit and belch out his true feelings, in order not to upset his wife and the rest of his family. He shoulders all the emotional burdens, because that is what is expected of him.

This is all he knows, his life burdens kept in quietude, on the back burner, in order to keep up the illusion of the hero, the man with everything, the man everyone admires and looks up to, the man everyone wants to become. When Swede’s daughter commits the unthinkable act, his very essence is questioned, and the deplorable aspects of who he is and what he has become are shown with a clarity he never knew existed.

His pastoral life is suddenly a life of acute disgust. He goes beserk, talks to himself, is in a state of panic, constantly questioning his entire existence, and wondering how things could go so wrong. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer, other than the pastoral life has become one of inner and outer turmoil, condemnation and disgust.

How Swede handles the repercussions of Merry’s devious deed is brought to the forefront through Philip Roth’s brilliant writing, his insight into the human mind and emotions, and through his emotional intelligence. His word imagery is filled with clarity, and vibrancy. American Pastoral is definitely a masterpiece, in my opinion, written by a master. I highly recommend American Pastoral to everyone.

~~Book Diva

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The Ha-Ha, by Dave King

The Ha-Ha, by Dave King…I give it 5 Stars!

Howard Kapostash is a war veteran who has not spoken in thirty years. He has the same heart and mind, and is the same person, that he was before. He lives in a proverbial shell, an existence sustained with gestures and facial language.

His life begins to slowly change when the son of his old girlfriend moves into his house. He begins to open up, and experiences emotions, both positive and heartbreaking, which adds to his powerful sense of Being, and his intense inner essence illuminates even more, than it already did, before the boy entered his life.

I recommend this insightful book to everyone.

~~Book Diva

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