Tag Archives: historical novel

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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Bought, Read

Irene Nemirovsky is one of my favorite authors. I like the way she manages to pin down the perceptions of specific individuals within the realm of certain time periods.

Her magnificent and masterful novel, Suite Francaise, is one such novel in which the ravages of war and the frantic desires to survive are illuminated, with every minute detail imagineable.

I have read all of her works that have been translated into English. I am the happy owner of The Fires of Autumn, the latest of her novels that have been translated!

I am sure this book will not disappoint me, as none of her others have.
~~~

I finished reading The Birds of Pandemonium, Oh my! So many birds, so little time. I absolutely loved this book, and will be reviewing it shortly.

I also finished The List: A Novel, by Martin Fletcher.

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Book Diva Review: The Life of an Unknown Man

the life of an unknown man Although the novel, The Life of an Unknown Man, by Andrei Makine, is 208 pages long, its short length does not lessen the compelling story line.

The novel brings the reader an extremely well written descriptive of Russia, seen through two main characters. The first one is a man named Ivan Shutov, a Russian who has been living in Paris for about twenty years. He is a writer, aspiring to write that epic novel, a novel similar in style to Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. He lives and breathes the classic Russian authors, and compares his current life experiences to their writings. He is wrapped in dreams and fantasies, and the essence of life revolves around Russian Literature. He values their ideals that he reads within the pages of their books.

Shutov is approximately fifty-years old, and old enough to be the father of his former lover, Lea. After many discussions and arguments (some over Chekhov) he is brutal in his verbal attacks on her opinions. After a while, she became disgusted and fed up with him and his lack of emotional commitment. She left him for a man her own age, and Shutov has great difficulty dealing with her departure. He can not stop thinking about her, and obsesses on her. He feels a void, and decides to take a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, to revisit his past, a past he has glorified in his memories, and one he has not viewed realistically.

When he arrives, he sees that things are not what they were in the past. Communism reared its ugly head with brutal force to the Russians. The country has gone through an upheaval, and it has collapsed. The citizens have become westernized in their thinking, and become materialistic in their approach to life. This attitude has a shattering affect on Shutov.

While there he meets up with a former lover named Yana. They had a fling while students, and she is not the same person he knew. How could she be after living through the changes and events her country has gone through. He encounters an elderly man named Georgy Lvovich Volsky, living in a room within Yana’s apartment complex. Yana and her son have told him that Volsky doesn’t speak, and is paralyzed. To make a long story short, Volsky does eventually speak to Shutov.

And, the tales he tells are incredible accounts of the love of his life, Mina, and of his experiences during Leningrad’s siege, and his military service to the country. The times were horrific, horrendous moments were prevalent, food was scarce, life was lived by barely hanging on. Volsky’s story is vividly depicted by Makine, and nothing is spared in his relaying it.

Throughout the pages, the reader can not help but grasp the devastation and the brutality of the times. One also gains a sense of the individual, as a separate being, one who has weathered all the forced events. The reader also gains insight into the philosophy of the individual as part of the whole in the connection of community, the military and the country. The title, The Life of an Unknown Man is very fitting, within these aspects. Makine is brilliant in displaying both modes within the pages.

He also makes the reader ponder the worth of a human. Volsky went through so much, yet he was not validated for his efforts. He went unrecognized in an environment that was not conducive to acknowledging accomplishments. The time periods that encapsulated his life achievements seemed almost for naught. Yet, Volsky did not view it that way. He saw beauty in nature, in music, in theater, and constantly saw the possible out of what others saw as impossible. Volsky saw his life in a positive manner, and saw his participation as his allegiance to Russia.

Makine’s message was clear, his prose depicted with visual clarity. The suffering and the lives lost were a minute part of the entirety. The sentimentality of the past can hinder people in ways they can not imagine. It was a harsh lesson for Shutov. The past caught up with him, and he was able to distinguish the reality of the Russia he had left behind, and the reality of the Russia it had evolved into.

I applaud Andrei Makine for his brilliance and for his magnificent writing. The novel was a fascinating look at the history of what was then known as Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and an intriguing read. He took me back to eras of harshness, and within the story line I found illuminations of hope resonating, strongly. I recommend The Life of an Unknown Man to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: The Luncheon of the Boating Party

luncheonofboatingparty The Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland…I give it Five Stars!

Vreeland’s exquisite and beautiful prose make this novel of historical fiction one to read. She details the events leading up to the finished painting, how Renoir chose his models, his relationship with each one, how they connected with each other individually within the painting, and how they interacted with Renoir and the other models, externally, separate from the painting. The reader learns that Renoir painted on Sundays, in 1880, after actually having lunch with the models on the terrace of the actual restaurant in the painting, with all the dishes, silverware, glasses, etc., left on the table.

Through the author’s distinct word visualizations I could feel his frustrations, his joy, his anxiety over each minute detail, each brush stroke. We imagine his presence, with his models in front, some more self-absorbed than others, some humble and understanding individuals. Some models don’t show up, and he has to rely on his canvas, during the week, to fill in faces, attire, etc. Renoir met his future wife while painting was in progress. We glimpse bits of life, within the realm of the painting, both figuratively and visually, as Renoir endeavors to paint “la vie moderne”, the modern life.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, took months for him to finish. It was at a time when he was struggling to make ends meet, and a time when he was trying to establish himself as part of the Impressionist movement. This painting was (in his mind) the one major work that would establish him in that genre.

If you want an understanding of the time period, the Impressionist movement, life in Paris, and how Renoir managed brush stroke by brush stroke to finish this masterpiece, then this is the novel for you, as much of it is based on historical fact. Vreeland’s prose is fluid, beautiful and is a masterpiece, in itself. Word-paintings and images abound. I could go into detail, make in-depth statements, but that would take the joy out of you reading the novel, so I leave you with the above prose.

I have actually seen the original painting, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, in the Phillips Collection, in Washington, DC. I was mesmerized by it, and it is one of my favorite Auguste Renoir paintings. The Phillips family has had it in their possession since 1923.
~~~or
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Book Diva Review: The Dovekeepers

thedovekeepers Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah are four women who share a common thread within The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.

Each woman’s story is told separately, but within the pages, each person is connected within the environment of Masada, the Jewish stronghold against the Romans. Masada was an ancient fortress with several palaces, sitting high atop a hill in the harsh desert where the palace and home of King Herod once stood. The four women depicted, live life in a challenging geographical environment, but more so, in a physically and emotionally challenging atmosphere. The four women more or less shared not only food and lodging, but also emotionally involved secrets, fears and losses, all beginning within their interactions within dovecote.

Masada’s cliffs and passages created a fortress for the Jews until the Romans took siege upon it in the last quarter of the first century. The Jews were known as “Zealots”. Each person was assigned a role, and the four women whose lives are intertwined worked in the dovecote. The dovecote was where the women worked to gather fertilizer for the gardens that supplied staples to the inhabitants.

Their lives bring history alive, and Hoffman wasted no detail in telling their stories, stories that show the deprivation, repression, and suffering thrust upon Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah. Yet throughout all of that, there were also sexual encounters, willing ones, at that. Hoffman’s prose is masterful, and her word imagery is vivid and filled with perspectives of history that are an extremely amazing accomplishment on her part.

Yael was cast aside by her Sicarri father at birth, and feels her life is worthless. Revka is a grandmother, whose two grandsons became mute after watching the murder of their mother, at the hand of the Romans. Shira is a mystical woman who was accused of witchcraft because of her medicine practices. Aziza, one of Shira’s daughters disguises herself as a man in order to fight like one. Each woman has an intriguing story to tell, and each one has faced the extremes of physical, mental and emotional boundaries.

Love, loss, submission, hardship, discrimination, religion, culture and customs, perseverance and strength reign supreme within the pages. The four women each have tales of their own to tell, involving how they came to the stronghold of Masada, how their lives were connected through the dovecote, but also connected in other areas. The book held my interest, although it was a slow read at times. I did want to know about the characters, wanted to know of their struggles against the harsh environment, but also against the superstitions, religious fanaticism, and the treatment of women in general during the time period portrayed.

The Romans lay siege upon Masada, and their abilities and strength to build not only a wall around the perimeter of Masada, but also a ramp in which to climb to the hilltop in order to release their scourge on the Jews is a part of Jewish history that has been told and handed down through the centuries, based on the writings of Josephus. The almost 1,000 Jews who survived until the scourge, lived their lives until, in an act so dramatic, they, en masse, made certain that they would not die or become enslaved at the hands of the Romans. They did die, but by their own decision to do so. All but seven individuals committed mass suicide, according to history. Two women and five children managed to survive.

Some of Josephus’ contemporary historical writings of the time were based on witness accounts of one or more of the women mentioned in The Dovekeepers. The novel is based on historical fact, and Hoffman writes of the historical data within the pages with the insight of extreme research and travels to Israel and to the site of Masada.

The Dovekeepers is a long read and not a particularly uplifting one, other than the fact that the Jews held up at Masada, fought to survive for their own beliefs. It is a story that is depressing, as a whole, especially if one knows the end, before beginning the book. I highly recommend The Dovekeepers for the historical aspect, and for the educational aspects of the novel. Alice Hoffman has surpassed herself, in my opinion, as far as her magnificent and detailed prose is concerned. Her devotion to accuracy, within a fictional framework is incredible and should be applauded, in my opinion.

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