Tag Archives: family relationships

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: 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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Book Diva Review: In Case We’re Separated: Connected Stories

incasewereseparated In Case We’re Separated: Connected Stories, by Alice Mattison, gives the reader thirteen stories that delve into family dynamics. From immediate family members to extended family members the book is relayed in stanzas.

Each person within the familial realm is depicted and connected through specifics. That these specifics are basically ordinary can be deceiving to the reader. From decade to decade they carry these with them. The fact the characters are all Jewish immigrants connects them, but that is the primary connection that the reader can readily identify. There is more to their bonding, their caring for each other, than the eye can see.

Bobbie Kaplowitz along with her parents, sisters, and other family members demonstrate the emotional roller coaster within the family unit. Logic does not necessarily work within the infrastructure, and her sisters, Sylvia and Fanny are prime examples of that, along with the other members of the clan. Time and place might lead them in different directions, but in the end, they depend on each other, no matter what dire situations arise.

One feature that had me a bit frustrated was the fact that the stories bounce back and forth, and are not in chronological order. That said, I feel it worked within the pages of In Case We’re Separated: Connected Stories. The movement back, and then forward, through the decades demonstrates family individuals and their floundering moments, and represents life itself. Problems exist, often without a solution. Family units are often in a state of disconnection, upheaval and dysfunction.

Familial dynamics are not set in concrete, and neither is life. Emotions and thoughts run the gamut from one day to the next. Events, communications and connections take us from one extreme to another, often spanning several years. Yet, within the framework of time and separation, self-identity and acceptance of each other creates bonds that can not be broken.

In my opinion, that is the point of the thirteen stories contained in Alice Mattison’s book, In Case We’re Separated: Connected Stories.

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A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi

A Tranquil Star – Unpublished Stories, by Primo Levi is quite the collection of seventeen short stories within a 164 page count. Levi is well-known for his Holocaust memoirs, but in this book of short stories, he goes beyond the Holocaust, into the world of the his deep imagination, bringing us parables of the metaphysical order.

Levi
has written in not so subtle words the reality of our world. We might initially not understand this collection of often horrid, bizarre and violent stories, but if we stop to think about what we are reading, it becomes clear that Levi is giving us issues to ponder. In the realm and reality of things, our world is filled with casual murders, robberies, bombings, people who look at death as entertainment, people with lack of esteem, individuals with huge egos unable to cope in a new land, and the acts and repercussions of war. Levi clearly, and with insight, has written about the humanity of our world, or, appropriately, the lack of humanity in some cases. The positives and negatives are entwined, in The Tranquil Star, to point of negativity often overcoming the positive.

If you take away nothing else from The Tranquil Star, you will see the inhumanity of individuals, the uncaring attitudes and unwillingness to bend towards being humane individuals. Levi’s insight is intense, his word images often much too descriptive (in the sense of his bringing horror to our minds), and his prose strong and vivid. Don’t get me wrong, there is lightness and humor in some of the stories, but the majority are a commentary on the universal flow.  He wraps up the world, within short stories (some only six pages long), in a concise and descriptive manner, filling our eyes and minds with overwhelming visuals. The stories are a strong assessment of the fragility of our lives and world.  Levi infuses the preciousness of humanity within the pages, even when the negative is strong. In my opinion that is Levi’s message…life is precious and fragile. Primo Levi was a masterful story teller, blending fantasy into the reality of our world, as we know it. The Tranquil Star is evidence of that.

~~BookDiva

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A Late Divorce by A.B. Yehoshua

“A Late Divorce”, by A.B. Yehoshua, is a novel that was translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin.  The story line revolves around Yehuda and his wife Naomi.

Yehuda has traveled back to Israel from America, in order to obtain a divorce from his wife, Naomi.  Here is where the tour-de-force begins.  “A Late Divorce”, in my opinion, has a dual purpose, and is a true tour-de-force novel with its story lines regarding family dynamics, within the tapestry of the State of Israel, a country whose own threads encompass its own state of being, culturally, emotionally, physically and geographically.  Obtaining the divorce requires strength, and is no easy feat for Yehuda, and his determination has thrown his family members into a state of emotional turmoil.

The book takes place over a period of nine days that lead up to the Passover celebration. Each day (a chapter in the book) is devoted to one family member’s perspective, not only on the divorce, but family life in general, and how they remember Yehuda’s time spent with them.  Yehosua is masterful in his ability to get inside the human mind, and see life through nine family members, each bringing a different analysis to the current familial situation.

For some, the situation is unbearable, and for others, daily verbal assaults and torture is a way of life, thinly disguised as joking.  We have the character of Gaddi on Sunday, a seven-year old, and grandson of Yehuda.  We are privvy to his thoughts within his racing mind, and Yehoshua is ingenious in the way he presents Gaddi, unarticulated, fast talking, thoughts running from one subject to the next.  Yet, within his immaturity, we also see a Gaddi who seems persceptive, and a child who exhibits emotions turned inward.

Monday brings us Yisra’el Kedmi, Yehuda’s son-in-law, married to Ya’el.  He is called Kedmi, as he feels one Israel is enough.  Kedmi is more of an “out-law” than an in-law.  He is the “jokester”, the one who demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior through his obnoxious and snide remarks.  Yet, he might just be the sanest of the bunch.

Tuesday is Dina’s day.  She is Asi’s wife, and Asi is the son of Yehuda.  She is an only child of Hungarian parents, who are Hasidic Jews, who are constantly at her for not having children, yet.  Dina is an aspiring writer.  Her writing is her family, each page is like one of her children.

Wednesday is Asi’s voice, one that is told in an environment of sadness.  Asi has a passion for 19th century terrorists, and he lectures at the university.  He has a compulsion that is harmful to him, and it began when he was a child.  Asi acts superior to his wife, Dina, and treats her as if she is a child.  He has yet to fulfill his marriage bed.

Thursday we hear a one-sided conversation that Refa’el Calderon has with Tsvi.  Tsvi is Yehuda’s son, and Refa’el is Tsvi’s current lover.  Not only is the conversation one-sided, but so is the relationship, as Tsvi treats Refa’el with extreme disrespect.  Refa’el is of Sephardic Jewish heritage.

Friday is the day that Tsvi meets with is therapist, right before Shabbat evening prayer service begins.  He is an extremely manipulative person, and is always looking for an easy and quick way to make money, even if it is at another’s expense.   He lives in Tel Aviv.

Saturday is not only the Sabbath, but is a day that takes place three years into the future.  We are seeing the day through Ya’el’s mind and eyes, as she tries to focus on the past and remember what events occurred.  What tragic incident happened that has caused her to block her memory of the day.  Ya’el has been the quiet force in the family, always trying to please.  Also, in this chapter we are introduced to Connie, who was Yehuda’s bride-to-be, and their son.  In this chapter we realize what the ending to the story will be.

Sunday is the day of the Passover Seder, and we meet Naomi, Yehuda’s wife.  She has been confined to a mental hospital ever since she stabbed Yehuda.  She has been labeled as crazy, although I am not so sure that she is.  She has many coherent and cognizant moments, more than other family members.

Monday is Yehuda’s story, his memories and perspectives.  We begin to see the overall picture in this chapter more clearly.  And, we realize who is manipulative, and who is trying to drive the other to madness.  The greed and guilt combine, bringing out emotions that were harbored and festered to a crescendo of an ending.

The stories within the chapters of “A Late Divorce” are a metaphor for dysfunctional family relationships and interactions, and a metaphor for the daily lives and dynamics that make up the fabric of Israel’s very core.  We see the comparison through Yehoshua’s characters.   “A Late Divorce” is a story of sadness and humor, both, yet the sadness is dominant, as each family member tries to heal the family as a unit, as a whole, and put it back together, failing in their endeavors.  There is never peace, in any situation, and each family member is constantly on guard, often on guard for the unknown and unseen, as if awaiting disaster.  Each voice is a thread in the fabric of the whole, the complete tapestry is told with the incomparable voice and brilliance of A.B. Yehoshua.  He is masterful in his word visuals, and brings incredible insight into the human mind and emotions, blending both in a concise and astute vision of both family and the State of Israel.

I personally own and have read this book.

~~Book Diva

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The Counterlife, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth has long been one of my favorite male authors, and in his novel, The Counterlife, I am reminded of his ability to blend the bizarre twists and turns that life throws us into a work of art that resounds with his full range and depth of literary intensity.

Nathan and Henry Zuckerman are estranged brothers, so very different, yet unaware how much alike they actually are. Nathan is an author, Henry is a dentist. For one of them, the reason for living borders on being able to be sexually active. In this respect, he decides to undergo surgery in order to counteract that problem. Even though the surgery could kill him, he elects to take that chance, all in the name of sexual identity. It is his counter life, to fit a desired outcome, a longing for what many of us want, a home, a family, marriage, and the “idealized” life.

Nathan, has long been estranged from Henry, and as an author, seems to live through his brother, writing novels whose characters include Henry. He has a counterlife through his stories, his fantasies and fiction, and his identity is one that is alive due to Henry. Although he is a prolific author in his own right, his works are derived from Henry’s life.

Therein lies the clue in this well written novel. The issue of identity, and what it means to us, is at the core of the story line. What one will do, in order to preserve identity, to create the life we long for, and what we view as our Self, our essence, is the soul of the book. The characters each invent a counter life, a life invented, a life created, in order to transfer their current life, into one they believe is better. The reader is exposed to the characters fears and how they choose to rewrite their own histories.

From travels to Israel, and connecting with one’s Jewish spirituality, to funeral attendance, and delivering a eulogy, from the streets of the U.S, to France, and England, we are confronted with issues of identity, including spirtiual, emotional, sexual, and all the levels and tiers in between. We are confronted with our own questions of identity, who we are, what we believe, and, finally the question of whether the end result is our own creation of ourselves?

Roth writes with humor, with seriousness, and with a profound and intense insight into the humanity, the insecurities, the deep fears, and the identity crises that exists within all of us. Roth’s strong words and strong theme, shows us how a counter life is not always productive, but could produce undesirable effects, in the end. We might not always receive what we wish for, but then again, we might receive it, but it could turn out that our counter life is actually counter-productive. Philip Roth’s The Counterlife is excellent, and his writing is masterful and brilliant, encapsulating the full range of emotions, and writing down to the bare bones, as only he knows how.

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Two Lives, by Vikram Seth

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth…I give it Five Stars!!

This beautifully written memoir is one that you will remember, long after you have finished the last word, on the last page. It is one of those memoirs that stay in your heart, in your mind, for a long time.

“When I was seventeen I went to live with my great-uncle and great-aunt in England. He was an Indian by origin, she German. They were both sixty. I hardly knew them at the time.”

And, with these opening lines begins the journey through the lives of Shanti Behari Seth, Helga Gerda Karo, and, the author, Vikram Seth, which culminates in an emotional ending. Vikram Seth, chronicles the lives of his great-uncle and great-aunt, with exacting details, which some might find over-reacting, or over-zealous in his endeavors. But, we must remember, this is a memoir, a factual story of lives, and all the details need to be relayed and interwoven into the family fabric, the family quilt of their lifespans. This is not a novel, or fictionalized account, but, rather an actual documentation of their lives.
We watch the friendship and love grow between Shanti, who was born in India, and studied dentistry and medicine in Berlin; and Helga, a German Jew. Two very different cultures, and two lives, lives which receded and ebbed within The Holocaust, Auschwitz and Israel, in an ocean of torment, hate, persecution, and, love. From 1908 India, to 1908 Germany, and the years that follow, in a Germany ruled by Hitler, we follow the journey of Shanti and Helga, to England, and also the journey of the author, Vikram Seth, into the lives of this childless couple.

These two lives couldn’t have been more different, yet more alike, than either of them could have imagined…overcoming racial and ethnic hatred, and genocide, their lives become fulfilled and realized, with the inclusion of Vikram Seth into their family. This is a memoir weaved from cultural threads, threads of understanding and love, woven into a quilt of unconditional love, compassion and the overcoming of adversity.

It is a must read for everyone who is interested in World War II, The Holocaust, India, England, and a love that crosses all the cultural boundaries. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down.

~~Book Diva

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