Tag Archives: jewish novel

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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Review: A Mad Desire to Dance

I have been busy the past couple of days trying to catch up on some reading.  Today, I will review the book A Mad Desire to Dance, by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Catherine Termerson.  I read this a second time for a book club.

Wiesel, with his masterful writing skills, has done it again, with a book that is extremely complex, dealing with the primary theme of “madness”, otherwise termed as insanity, depression, melancholia, mania, schizophrenia, and illness.  It is not an easy read, and often seems disjointed.  That is due to the fact that Doriel Waldman, the primary character, is suffering from what he defines as “madness”, and is jumping back and forth, from one scenario to another in almost manic fashion, while relaying his story to his psychoanalyst, Dr. Thérèse Goldschmidt.  As a side note, the given name Doriel is taken from the Hebrew Dor, which means “generation”.  Add that to the surname Waldman, and you have a name that seems to imply that Doriel is a walled-in man, locked in, or out of, childhood memories, and memories of past generations.

That said, since I’m eager to tell you everything, you should know that I’ll be telling you this story without any concern for chronology.  You’ll be made to discover many different periods of time and many different places in a haphazard fashion.  What can I say?  The madman’s time is not always the same as the so-called normal man’s“.

Waldman is a very scrutinizing and eccentric individual, and relies on philosophy and religion to speak to Goldschmidt. He has lost his parents and siblings, and has been raised in a Jewish Orthodox community, by his uncle.  He moves back and forth with his answering of questions, and often plays word games that turn into mind games.  He does this in order to get the better hand of the situation, as he perceives it.  He is reluctant to release his memories, and is stuck in time, searching evermore for a smile, or a kiss on his forehead.  He is very controlling, and must be one up on the psychoanalyst at all times, even though he is paying her to help him.

Goldschmidt is treating him using Freudian principles of analysis.  She is also not his first psychoanalyst, having received Waldman as a patient from a previous doctor who felt he couldn’t help him (Waldman).  She is Jewish, like Waldman, and the previous doctor feels that this might help Waldman to open up.

I won’t state anything more about the story line, itself, as it would be giving away too much. I will say that Wiesel is brilliant in his assessment of the human mind, and is masterful in his blending of psychology, philosophy, Biblical references, tales and parables, and the Holocaust, within the pages of A Mad Desire to Dance.  The story is a dark one, compelling, if the reader takes the time to absorb all the analogies and relative content, not only within the pages, but between the lines.  It is often a haunting story, filled with sadness, loss, love, and exaggeration of truth.

Wiesel has infused A Mad Desire to Dance with extraordinary content, with repressed desires and fanaticism, with love and loss, with locked memories that have had a dominant force on Waldman’s life, on his personality and ability to relate to others.  The tapestry is woven with brilliance and with a profound sense of history and how it affects not only our mind, but our faith.

Elie Wiesel has written a masterpiece, and one that encapsulates all of the facets of “madness”, from fanaticism in religion and spirituality, to harshness and brutality, to mania and obsessiveness, etc. It is as if the reader is inside the mind of a “madman”, what Doriel defines himself as being. But, is he really? You read this intense book about survival and trauma and decide.
I apologize for the update-there were some complications in my links.

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Book Diva Review: Great House

greathouse Healing and the need for validation are significant aspects within the pages of Great House, by Nicole Krauss.

The lives that unfold are unconnected in the present, yet connected within the time continuum, within the folds of history dating back to the destruction of the Temple. One desk, with a locked drawer, sets off questioning within each person involved in the story. Insights begin to illuminate, fostered by an inanimate object, and the desk is often looked at as almost human-like. The desk is seen by some as a sense of security, yet it is really more displacing to the one who owns it. That is one of the sad issues in the story.

Krauss has created mindsets that encompass the various folds of the Jewish religion, and encompass the issues that Jews have faced throughout history.

The inanimate may harbor memories of the past, just through the process of ownership, but in the living are where memories are housed, within compartments of the mind. At times we choose to open a compartment and remember. At times we keep those memories locked in a compartment, never to be released.

Krauss enhances the themes within the pages, and one in particular, transitions back to the destruction of the Temple. Great House is an analogy and metaphor for the Temple and what it stood for. It was THE GREAT HOUSE. We all hold the key to our unlocked stories, albeit, some might be to painful to release. As a whole unit of Jews, they hold a collective key to their past, a past blighted by the destruction of the Temple/Great House, the foundation of Jewish education and history that is carried through the generations, with cognizance or otherwise.

The Jewish people needed to heal through the centuries from all the losses, genocide, destruction, and statelessness. The sense of belonging that is the glue holding them together is a strong theme within the pages, although to some it may seem minor.

Memory and loss might lie dormant within the minds of some of the characters, much like the inanimate desk with its locked drawer. But, at the surface of the different individuals reigns the sameness of reclusive living and aloneness, and the sameness of memory’s repression of Self, and memory’s distortion of the past.

Nicole Krauss
is brilliant with word-imagery and in infusing the reader with questions to ponder regarding Judaism and its legacy. I recommend Great House for those reasons.

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