Tag Archives: Family Dynamics

Book Diva Review: The Orchardist

theorchardist The Orchardist: A Novel, by Amanda Coplin, is definitely a book that inhales and exhales nature and environment.

The historical information is compelling and well written. Washington State is described vividly, as far as apple orchards and farming is concerned. The production of apples, the selling of them, distributing them, etc., are presented in fine detail.

The environmental and geographical aspects are written with almost poetic visuals, and with environmental loveliness. But, poetic loveliness is not to be misconstrued in the aspect that the novel is a dark and disturbing one on many levels.

I found the writing style to be unique, and my eye caught the author’s lack of using quotation marks for dialogue. At times I had to reread sentences to make certain I was reading dialogue, and not another expansion of a sentence. With that said, I had no difficulty once I adjusted to the fact.

For a first novel, I was extremely impressed with the writing and illuminating word-imagery, especially concerning the orchard. The minute details did not detract from the story, in my opinion. I felt those details were a part of the whole spectrum of the issues that were dealt with. I thought Coplin’s use of planting, growing, tending, and nurturing crops as an analogy for the human spirit was brilliant. Yet, I also thought the novel could have been shortened by about 100 pages, as it stands, it is over 400 pages in length.

Nature versus nurture has always been a topic within some circles regarding bringing up children. The Orchardist gives the reader a clear example of that effort, on the part of Talmadge, the orchardist, and his attempt to raise two children, Jane and Della who have fled an abusive relationship, one lived in a brothel where their lives depended on giving sexual favors.

They appear in his orchard, two young girls, each one pregnant. Jane eventually gives birth to a daughter named Angeline, and Talmadge raises her like his own child. To say more regarding the girls would be to give away too much information. Fear, loss, love and separation, abuse and trauma, and so much more are encompassed within the pages of The Orchardist.

Their lives become entwined, and their orientation, or disorientation to the world is strongly pronounced within the pages. The book is quite existential, as far as individualization of the characters. The reader is taken through their lives and their personalities and their essences are vividly portrayed. Confusion, indifference, harboring emotions, etc., it is all apparent as Talmadge, Della and Angeline forge ahead with their lives, some times complacently, at other times on a destructive journey.

If you are looking for a fast-moving read, this book is not for you. The book is depressing in many areas, and not really one for those seeking a “happy and/or inspirational” reading experience. Amanda Coplin does an excellent job of emphasizing those subjects. For a first book, I thought it was brilliant in many areas. If I were to rate the book, I would give it a 3.5 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest.

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Book Diva Review: Until the Dawn’s Light

until the dawns light2 Until the Dawn’s Light, by Aharon Appelfeld is a book that takes place before World War II. As always, his books elicit emotions within me, due to his defining word-imagery.

Of course, I realize the Holocaust will occur, but within the pages of the book, the reader senses there is an underlying feeling, a foreshadowing, that something extremely horrendous is going to set itself against humanity, something brutal.

Speaking of brutal, this is the first book of Appelfeld’s I have read that encapsulates spousal abuse. And, he not only encapsulates it, but describes it with vivid and painful portraits.

The book begins on a train ride with Blanca taking flight with her four-year old son. Her fleeing holds more than just wanting to escape her husband, she is fleeing for her son’s safety, and hopes to make it to safety in a northern town which holds the morals, mores and convictions of her ancestral past. She is wanting to return to the foundations of Judaism that her parents avoided.

Blanca was brought up in a secular environment, and her parents were not practicing Jews. She is a young Jewish woman, and a convert to Christianity. She has converted in order to marry a man named Adolph, who, despite is initial appearance is antisemitic (after reading several pages, I didn’t find it coincidental that Appelfeld named him Adolph). Her family sees this as a positive step, and one that will yield acceptance within the Christian community. Things are not always what we expect, though, as the slim volume of this book presented to me.

Adolph despises the Jews, and never lets Blanca forget it. He blames everything on his life situation on the Jews, but worse than that, he constantly abuses her, physically, mentally and emotionally. The abuse is horrific.

Blanca is meek, and gives in to every brutal beating. She is essentially a slave to his every whim, every abusive word and every abusive act forced upon her, until the day she leaves with her son.

On the train ride she thinks back to the past, the days of happiness, the days of horror, and writes of issues that have caused her to run. She verbalizes to her son the fact that she wants him to save the pages, save them and read them at a later time, when he is old enough to read and understand. That is another foreshadowing of events and the ending, which this reader grasped upon immediately beginning the book.

Until the Dawn’s Light is not a happy read, but one that is depressing due to the content. There is much to ponder within the compelling pages, such as the primary issue of spousal abuse and how it causes fear in the abused, fear so strong they don’t fight back or cry out for help. Fear that keeps the victim oppressed and in prisons that are difficult to fathom.

Other relevant issues such as conversion and acceptance are a constant within the pages. The community of Christians was not the safe hold Blanca thought it would be, and the hatred and resentment of the Jews was quite clearly stated.

Blanca had so much going for her, she was extremely intelligent and headed for university. She was a math wizard and had hopes of becoming a mathematician. The day she meets Adolph and begins tutoring him, was the beginning of the end for her. She fell for him, which is no surprise due to his superficial presentation of himself to her in order to gain favor.

Aharon Appelfeld’s Until the Dawn’s Light, is aptly titled. His writing is brilliant within the darkness of the story line. He illuminates the past and how it can lead to the decisions of the present. He vividly relays how dismissal of the Jewish identity, and the resulting experiences of assimilation can lead one back to the religion they left behind. I recommend Until the Dawn’s Light to everyone. It is thought=provoking and compelling, and offers a lot to ponder.

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Book Diva Review: The Book Thief

book The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is a well written book regarding life, death, and areas in between.

The Book Thief’s narrator is Death, itself. That, in my opinion, was very unique and illuminated the prose in ways that a human narrator could not.

The story line centers around Liesel Meminger. She has been displaced by her mother, and sent to live with a foster family, Hans and Rosa Huberman. Her foster mother and father could not be more different, yet within their differences, they are more alike in respect to the fact that they both love Liesel. Hans is more demonstrative and extremely patient with Liesel. He is the comfort zone in her life, like a warm quilt on a cold evening, whereas her foster mother is more boisterous and foul-mouthed, and impatient.

The family dynamics are an integral part of the story line. Liesel realizes what she can and can not get away with, and how to function under the circumstances of her new life. Her backbone is stronger than she realizes, and Hans plays a major role in that respect with his kindnesses and love.

Liesel makes friends with two boys, and they are her support system, outside of her family. Max, is the creative one, and Rudy is the neighborhood friend. Their friendships grow and are cemented within the environment of World War II Germany. Food is hard to come by, life is hard to come by, and their friendships take them to heights that they otherwise might not become involved in. Survival takes them to realms and possibilities that they might not ordinarily succumb to.

The title of the novel comes from the fact that Liesel is an avid reader, which began when her brother died and the gravedigger inadvertently left behind a book entitled The Gravedigger’s Handbook. A book which in which Liesel eventually learns to read through lessons given her by her foster father. From there, sparks the taking of other books, books she reads over and over again.

As the story progresses, the foster parents are confronted with a situation in which they do not hesitate to involve themselves. Liesel is aware of the consequences, and does her part in being secretive. This is where her friendship with Max begins.

We see lives lived through Death’s eyes, and through Death’s necessity for patience regarding specific individuals and their spirits. At times he tries to take the spirit from a person, sooner than is planned, and his attempt is not meant to be. At other times we see the horrific results of war, the Holocaust, and Death is often overwhelmed with the victims he must move forward to other realms.

He does have his few soft spots, which I found interesting to read. He does have compassion, although it does not serve his needs. He is not there to be influenced by sympathy, because there is there to do a job.

The book is one which tells of the human condition, with all of its suffering. Yet, within the pages, there are sparks of humor, more from Death than anyone else. Death analyzes situations, and tries to figure out humans and their behavioral aspects. He is mystified, and often confused. He does not comprehend the human mindset.

The novel details the horrors of war, and the situations of the Holocaust, and the daily lives lived on the German edge of life and threads of life. Markus Zusak is masterful with his word imagery and his prose, in an almost fanciful or elaborate manner. His sentences often verge on the surreal.

I won’t elaborate, so as not to spoil the story for those who want to read it, or for those who might want to see the film. I recommend The Book Thief, especially for young adults. It is a good read for adults, too, but better served, I believe for young adults. The surreal aspect of it will heighten the tragedies of war for young adult readers, and make them more cognizant of war, loss, survival, family dynamics and life…itself.

I am sorry for the update. I had to restructure something.


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Book Diva Review: Wandering Star


I have just finished reading J.M.G. Le Clezio’s historical novel, Wandering Star, which I found to be a compelling, mesmerizing, masterful and brilliant novel.

The two main characters are Esther, also known as Helene, and Nejma. Their stories are told separately, yet blend as one.

Esther is a Jewish girl who is coming of age during the Nazi invasion of France, when her family is forced to flee to the countryside. The village they seek refuge in is under the protection of the Italian military. Within the confines of village life Esther begins to view the lives around her, and we watch her slowly turn from naive girl to a young and aware girl on the border of womanhood.

Her maturity eventually causes her to almost become mother-like and nurturing to her own mother, as they must eventually leave the countryside in order to board a ship so they can make their way to Israel. They are making the journey minus Esther’s father, as he is involved as a Jewish partisan. The trek from the village to the coast where they await the ship is arduous and plays not only on the mother and daughter’s physical strength, but their emotional strength, as well. Esther constantly thinks about her father, and loving moments that she had with him.

She dreams of a reunion with him, of eventually having her family unit together and whole, again. Some of her thoughts and dreams take on almost mystical proportions, and Le Clezio’s ability to write with vivid imagery often overwhelms the senses with poetic beauty. His prose turns from delightful imagery to harsh reality, and back again, leaving the reader wrapped within the pages, unable to stop reading.

Esther and her mother eventually reach Israel. Their ideal “promised land” doesn’t seem to be so promising, initially. Israel is in a state of flux. It is in the midst of its War of Independence, and devastation, destruction and fear surrounds them at every turn. They have left one life of turmoil and surpression for another life under almost similar conditions. Mother and daughter eventually become involved in kibbutz life, each with their own contributions to the whole.

Within the daily life, there is an underlying horror occurring, the atrocities of the Palestinian refugees being herded into camps like cattle. Esther is witness to this, and her path crosses that of a young Palestinian girl named Nejma. Each girl looks the other in the eye, and can almost read the other’s mind. They exchange names on pages of a notebook. They are never to meet again, but each one remembers the other, thinking of them throughout the years.

Nejma’s story is told in the last third of the book. It is relayed to us through her diary, which is an account, not only of her daily life, but the daily struggles involved as a Palestinian refugee repressed within the confines of camp life. From growing up by the sea, to surviving under the adverse conditions of desert terrain, we are a witness to the horrors and genocide of war from a differing perspective and environment, other than that of the Holocaust. We are witnesses to the cultural mores of time and place, and of repression of women.

The air is often stifling, difficult to breathe in, yet Esther and Nejma inhale and exhale as best as they can given their circumstances. They are both survivors, strong, and remain hopeful within the brutalities of life and war. Wandering Star is a metaphor, in my opinion, for displacement and survival under the harshest of circumstances, circumstances that include glimmers of hope for a new beginning and better life.

This message is the brilliance of Le Clezio’s writing. He has an almost innate ability to understand culture clashes, diversity and tradition, and how the differences affect the modern climate. Le Clezio melds the lives of the two girls into one absorbing novel that depicts the similarities that each of them have journeyed through. The scenes and landscape in Wandering Star are bold, beautiful, brilliant, and often surface with mystical and other-worldly illuminations. J.M.G. Le Clezio is extraordinary in his ability to blend two young women and their lives into one story with sensitivity and poetic loveliness is incredible. Their two individual stars illuminate the pages. I highly recommend Wandering Star to everyone.

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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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Book Diva Review: The Scientists: A Family Romance

the scientists The Scientists: A Family Romance, by Marco Roth is an unusual memoir, and one, in my opinion that is written more to find psychological and familial truth through the act of writing, than to portray one’s life.

During the 1980s through 1990s fear of AIDS was rampant throughout the country. This fear and is the foundation upon which his teenage years was built. Roth learns at the age of fourteen that his father, Eugene, has AIDS, and is told he acquired it from a needle that slipped out of a patient’s arm. Roth was told never to tell anyone of his father’s condition. Secrecy was the basics of his upbringing. He carried that burden for years to come.

The Scientists is a metaphor for the life of denial that Roth’s parents lived, harboring the secrets that caused Eugene’s (his father’s) AIDS, and eventual death, and harboring other secrets. This superficial exterior was fostered even after the death of Roth’s father.

Roth began to question the stories he had heard over the years, and when his aunt, Anne Rolphe’s memoir was published, he began a journey of searching for answers. His search took him through memory’s closets, and through moments too painful for his parents to acknowledge or want to remember. The time period cast a deep stain on AIDS, which caused the individuals concerned to be frowned upon. They often became societal outcasts, even within their own family members.

That, in itself, is a sad state of affairs on the human condition, and on humanity’s lack of understanding, over AIDS, homosexuality and the discrimination that lies behind ignorance and the lack of acceptance of others.

Roth’s parents were affluent, and believed that education was the answer to the future. This played heavily in his life, as he became a precocious child, playing the violin, reading Shakespeare, etc. These educational and cultural efforts were part and parcel of the Roth lifestyle.

Through his memoir he was able to move forward, and come to terms with the secrets and familial dynamics that encompassed his life. He was able to understand the social stigmas forced on those who had AIDS, the discrimination spewed out to homosexuals, and the entire spectrum surrounding those issues that led to generations of secrets. What he was not totally able to come to terms with was the total effect of how he was affected by his father’s insistence, and how the ghost of his father still lingers.

Emotions range the gamut within the pages, with Roth often wandering in limbo, trying to find the answers, answers of identity and truth. He questions himself, who he is, and whether he carries the genes of his father’s philandering.

I can not say that I enjoyed reading The Scientists: A Family Romance, it isn’t that type of memoir. I did not see the romance between the lines, other than his father’s wanderings with others. It wasn’t a book of inspiration. But, I will say that the writing is definitely illuminated with vivid imagery. Marco Roth writes with honesty and conciseness in exhibiting his emotions and thoughts, his search for truth and identity. He does not hide what was unspoken, or carry the secrets forward. That is the strength the reader finds within the pages of The Scientists: A Family Romance.

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Book Diva Review: What My Mother Gave Me


What My Mother Gave Me, by Elizabeth Benedict, is a book of collected stories from thirty-one women. Each story is inspiring in its own way, and holds a wealth of insight into what we hold dear and precious, and what we consider as a gift given to us by our mother.

Gifts do not have to be tangible or physical items, they can be gifts of acceptance or recognition, gifts that touch us in ways that only the intangible can. From verbal gifts, a gift of sobriety from a mother, a boat ride, the warmth of a quilt, the power of independence, and so much more, the stories are examples of mother and daughter relationships.

We often define ourselves through our interactions with our mother. Whether we agree, disagree, have rough moments or joyous ones, at times there are those moments of recognition that enable us to move forward knowing there is a gift we can hold dear in our hearts. Whether it be a physical gift a memory or words of encouragement, that gift is valuable and precious to us, and helps cement our mother-daughter relationship.

Some gifts transcend time, some teach us about the world, and other gifts last a short amount of time, but the memories linger on. They help us to find a sense of self within the ongoing societal demands. They bring direction to our lives.

The women whose stories appear in What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most, deliver a deep-range of emotion and thoughtfulness in their writing. The stories illuminate their relationships, and foster what matters most to them within the confines of their interactions with their mothers.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, it is not only inspiring, but also a lovely study on the mother-daughter relationship. It is a book filled with humor, poignancy and love. There is a story within the pages for every daughter and every mother.


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