Tag Archives: family interactions

Review: The Liberated Bride

The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yeshoshua is a study on the meaning of borders, boundaries, and crossings. It is also a story about relationships and interactions, from familial to friendship, student, professor to writer.

Although it has comic moments and visuals of comic relief, it is not a comedy, but is a serious and insightful novel. Yet, it can be defined as somewhat of a farce (I know, I know, that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron), as the pace of the book is somewhat frantic and filled with anxious and tense moments, much like the actions of Yochanan Rivlin, the main character. Yehoshua deftly conveys a roller coaster of emotions in The Liberated Bride.

The novel winds from first person to second person, more than once, but always from Rivlin’s perspective. He has recently retired as a Near-Eastern Studies Department Chair. He is obsessed with the fact that he has no answers as to why his son (who lives in Paris) is divorced from his bride of one-year, and he intrudes in every aspect in order to find out the answer. He steps outside of acceptable privacy boundaries with his manipulative behavior, past the point of no return, and past the possibility of stepping back to assess and admit the truth of his actions to himself.

The book opens at a Palestinian wedding, where Samaher (the bride) has invited Jewish professors to attend. In fact, the wedding is being put on strictly for them, as she already has been legally married within her Arab environment. Samaher is a student, working on her degree, and she eventually suffers from depression (a form of dropping out on reality, which in some weird sense can be viewed as liberating). He hates attending weddings, as they remind him of his son Ofer”s marriage and divorce five years earlier.

Rivlin wants to leave the wedding early, but his wife (a bride of sorts), Hagit, encourages him to stay. They have had a long and successful marriage, but his wife is constantly trying to discourage him from trying to find out why his son divorced, and is quite assertive through her attitude and verbalizing to Rivlin regarding his absurd escapades and fiascos (some of them she doesn’t find out until after the fact). That facet of his personality irritates her.

Hagit is a well-respected and successful district judge, independent woman. Her job requires her to make difficult decisions and rulings when people cross the boundaries of the law, much like a Biblical Deborah. She also understands the need for privacy, as she handles top-secret cases. She believes in structure in life, whereas Rivlin seems to dismiss them. He is in a constant state of obsession, always searching for the unknown answers, as the historian in him emerges at every turn, to the dismay of others.

Rivlin’s own family members travel worldwide, from city to country to continent, back and forth, crossing borders, internationally and culturally. They almost always attend a wedding in their travels. Rivlin himself travels the highways and roads of Israel, crossing borders, both physically and emotionally, as he manipulates everyone in his life, in his unyielding search for answers.

The book details much of daily life in the Middle East, and our senses are filled with activity, smells, tastes, sights and sounds, and also the conflicts within different cultures residing in the same country (the book was written before the current problems and situation). Each culture is dependent on each other, intradependent, and interdependent on each other within the cultural independence. Each person is dependent on their own culture, and also other cultures for survival. Each person is seeking truth. Yehoshua brings strong human elements to the characters. Parents from one culture do not necessarily fit the mold of the other culture.

Being a parent doesn’t give you exclusivity into the lives of your child, and your need-to-know diminishes when they become adults. Yehoshua is brilliant in his insight regarding familial bonds and the ties that bind family members, and also brilliant in his assessment of familial boundaries and privacy, and what constitutes invasion of that privacy.

The Liberated Bride left this reader to question the definition of “bride”. Also, it had me thinking issues of liberation, and what it means socially, politically and personally. There are other brides, other aspects of liberation within the almost 600-page book that I won’t delve into. You need to read the book for yourself to find out its connections and complexities.

Yehoshua leaves us to wonder who or what exactly “The Liberated Bride” is, as the word “bride” takes on many connotations, including “bridge”. Is the bride a human being/s, state of being or mindset, a country, or is it a combination of all those factors. That is the brilliance of Yehoshua, his ability to convey and bring substance to the characters and the country in The Liberated Bride.

A.B. Yehoshua was born in Jerusalem, and his own understanding of Israel is intense and runs deep. That is clearly evident in his excellent and masterful writing, with his gift for weaving diverse fabrics and threads into a tapestry of life.

Read this book yourself and make your own judgements as to who or what the bride is or represents.

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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: Chains Around the Grass

chains Chains Around the Grass, by Naomi Ragen, is a novel that is about family dynamics, expectations, resilience and so much more.

The book opens in Queens, New York, and it is 1955. From that point forward, the underlying context of the story line goes downhill. It is a depressing read, within the less than desirable confines of the low-income housing projects.

David Markowitz is a Jew who has done what so many other Jews have done in the past, given up his Jewish identity and assimilated into the folds of America. He changed his son’s surname to Marks. He has high hopes of making it big in a world filled with schemers and dreamers.

Capitalistic mores and values are strong within the pages. They overtake the social aspects of identity and culture, creating realities that family members don’t want to face. The “American Dream” turns into a constant nightmare for the Markowitz family.

David’s wife Ruth and their three children become the victims of poverty. In David’s mind the children become the scapegoats of dreams that have turned to nightmares. And his children are victimized as their innocence is broken at too young an age.

David’s wife passively allows him to be the decisive one in the family, making all of the decisions, even though she doesn’t always agree with them. As hard as he tries to move his family out of poverty and out of the less than desirable living conditions they find themselves in, he fails. He tries to sound optimistic and speaks in a positive tone, often too loudly, hoping against hope that they will be happy in their environment.

David feels that with each move they have managed to somehow move up in status, when in actuality they have been bumped down several notches. This reflects in the attitudes of his children, and how they adjust to, and accept, their new surroundings. They see the truth behind the superficial attempts David makes at overplaying the situations he has put them in. Eventually David begins to see the reality, but it comes at a time when it is too late.

The “chains” are metaphorical for not only the reality of their oppressive existence, but also for the emotional levels that keep each of them bound in a regressed state, unable to move forward.

One area of the novel that is filled with clarity is David’s daughter, Sara’s eagerness to accept and find fulfillment in education and Judaism. She finds a sense of comfort within the Jewish day school, whereas her brother, Jesse is the opposite. He forsakes education and religion, and in the end is filled with self-hate, which shows in his destructive behavior and interactions. Sara begins to value herself, and her self-esteem is slowly enhanced by her religious and educational pursuits.

Ragen is adept at reflecting the individual mindsets within the family interactions, the situations and the devastating events. What I found a bit lacking in Chains Around the Grass was the fact that the characters didn’t seem to have much substance to them. But, of course, that all ties in with the extreme euphoria that David often projected, and superficial aspect behind the enhanced exterior presented to others. It also makes sense in the scheme of things with Ruth and her passiveness, due to his overbearing behavior which masks his underlying insecurities.

Ragen writes with her usual flair, enhancing the theme of Jewish illuminations within an environment of despair. She tries to weave a sense of hope within the prose, and sometimes it works, and at other times it doesn’t within the chapters of Chains Around the Grass. It is not a happy read, but a sad one, and I feel that the inspiration that Ragen might have wanted the reader to come away with left this reader without hopeful glimmers during many of the passages within the pages. Of course, this could be intentional on her part, due to the themes of the demeaning and debilitating circumstances of lives that are filled with adversity and poverty, lives that often do not have hope. She more than likely wanted to underscore the severity of their lives.

Naomi Ragen is brilliant at writing and creating stories of despair. Within the slow-moving pages I began to recognize the slow-paced emotional and logical development of Sara, and even her mother, Ruth. Many may not like Chains Around the Grass, due to its slowness and/or often depressive content. If you stay with the book, there will be illumination, although it is often slight, nonetheless, it is illumination that radiates hope.

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Book Diva Review: The Button Collector

button_final_1 The Button Collector, by Elizabeth Jennings is a book that I enjoyed from the first page to the last. From buttons to memories, the stories that are woven are reflective of how an item can spark a memory.

The buttons that are contained within a jar, left to Caroline Tilgham, by her deceased mother are a metaphor for life lived and the choices one makes during their lifetime, choices that caused consequences a person might wish to forget. Memories often fade with time, and one incident can spark long-hidden truths and moments we choose not to remember.

As Caroline empties the jar of buttons, the splash of shapes and colors causes her to reflect upon her life, from childhood to adulthood. Each button she picks up brings her back in time to places of joy and to places of sadness, to places of jealousy and places of contentment. Each button has a story of its own, and as Caroline remembers the environment surrounding each button, she is confronted with her past, and the barriers she erected in order to suppress pain. She is faced with the necessities of material conservation and emotional conservation.

Times were not always easy, and her mother’s sewing, repairing, and recycling reinforced the hard moments of Caroline’s life. The sewing also cemented the necessity of thriftiness her mother displayed. Thriftiness often turned habitual, and even when it wasn’t necessary, it was a force of her mother’s that loomed strongly within Caroline’s life. It carried through to her adulthood, and until that day she unleashed the buttons, which in turn opened the memories she had locked inside her.

The individual stories are linked through familial gatherings, family dynamics, and family events that span decades. Each story is an important part of the entire circle, as slices of life are set before the reader. Jennings has masterfully combined story details through her vivid word-images, and incorporates the stories into a collective entirety that completes Caroline’s cycle of memories.

I enjoyed reading The Button Collector, and the way each one was preceded by a vivid word-painting of a button, which in turn had its own story behind it, bringing back a remembrance of a moment in time. The details are well portrayed and strong, and Jennings writing defines the visuals excellently. This reader could see the events clearly through the strength of the writing.

The stories were filled with life and were not lackluster. There is foundation that links them together. Sometimes a person needs to reconnect with their past in order to connect with the present, no matter how painful it might be.

I like to read books on memory, memory that evokes the ups and downs of life within a familial environment. I like stories that evoke feelings, stories that are sparked through an inanimate object, and stories that cause the primary character to reflect on the past. I recommend The Button Collector, by Elizabeth Jennings. There is a story within the pages, that I believe, every one can relate to.

I want to thank Elizabeth Jennings for my Advanced Review Copy (ARC).

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