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Review: Rich Boy

Class and wealth dominate the pages of the novel Rich Boy, and the reader is cognizant that it is a primary concern for the protagonist, Robert Vishniak, as he aspires to gain favors that will allow him to move up in the societal stratum.

Vishniak is from a working class Jewish family who live in Philadelphia. He is self-indulgent, and with his handsomeness, charm, and superficial exterior. His mother, Stacia has continually hammered into him the fact that he needs to make money in order to become a respected person, and in order to move up in society’s ladder.

He is constantly embarrassed by his mother, and her old school ways and train of thought. Yet, those words do prove helpful to him in his quest for success and identity in a world where money and financial gain speak volumes. He works at odd jobs, and drives a cab to earn money in order to make his way through college. Nothing is too menial for him.

Vishniak manages to forge his way into the upper end of the social echelon. This occurs during his time at university where meets others who come from respectable upper class families, families whose wealth can buy them anything, and families whose American roots are firmly planted in the ancestral realm.

He is quick with the verbalizing, and fast with the conveyance of a charming attitude. One of his fall backs is the fact that he doesn’t exhibit the manners befitting those who belong to the upper class circle. His roommate at college teaches him the proper etiquette to be used in varied situations. From there he is presented with new opportunities.

He has several superficial relationships, some that end due to his immaturity. He is good at seduction, to his own undoing. He falls for a young woman with angelic charm, and a woman who he doesn’t truly know, emotionally. His feelings stem from the external appearance she presents to him. The fact that he can not see what is occurring before his eyes is what coats this relationship with doom (I won’t go into the circumstances, as it will spoil it for you). He does marry, eventually, to a woman of great wealth, and a woman whose father has dictated her every move, financially. He is hired to work for his father-in-law’s law firm, where he literally begins to work from the bottom up.

Some of Vishniak’s success has depended on interactions with others, yet, most of it is due to his own resources, endeavors and capabilities. He is a quick learner, an avid and hard worker, and is striving to meet his goal of making a salary that will qualify to support his wife as an equal in contributing to the family finances. He is not secure in that fact, and often feels that his success lies on the actions and directions put forth by others. He has a definite ability in the legal maneuvers and management of real estate, and great potential in becoming future partner in his father-in-law’s law firm. This, is all on his own merit.

Pomerantz’s prose is spot on, direct and strong, and she adeptly manages to convey the working class Jewish American experience brilliantly. She masterfully portrays the characters, and this reader felt that they were realized in every aspect. The wealthy background of some of them, doesn’t help them succeed as far as their emotional intelligence is concerned. They appear as insecure as some of their less wealthy counterparts. Their mindsets, emotions, successes and failings are all depicted in vivid word imagery, and depicted with realistic personality traits, in all their variances.

Vishniak has the brains and the good looks, and can present an excellent appearance, but it takes him years to realize that he has actually made it as far as he has on is own, through his own expertise. It takes his having a child for him to understand and realize what is truly important in the scheme of life. Money does not necessarily buy contentment and happiness. It might be a means to an end, as the euphemism goes, but it can also turn out to be the end of meaningfulness.

Rich Boy is an excellent coming of age story, and a novel that emphasizes the journey of one Jewish American man to find identity and acceptance on his own, in a world of social status and extreme wealth. I applaud Sharon Pomerantz for this well-written, poignant and insightful story.

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Book Diva Review: Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel

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Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel, by Maggie Anton, is a well-written and well-researched historical novel, filled with beautiful imagery, and imagery that is often brutal. The novel is filled with intrigue and historical data from the Medieval period, but also contains much information about the Jewish Talmudic scholar Salomon ben Isaac, otherwise known as Rashi.

From the moment I began the first page, I was enthralled, and continued reading until I was finished. It was difficult to put down, on the few occasions that I had to. Within the pages emerges a family tapestry of Rachel and her place within the familial unit. She was the youngest of three daughters…and according to much scholarly information, including the content in Rashi’s Daughters, Book III, she was not only the youngest, but Rashi’s favorite daughter. She had a way of winning his heart, and the heart of her beloved, Eliezer.

She and Eliezer marry, and settle in Troyes, France, near her father. Much to her dismay, Eliezer is constantly away for months on end with business dealings and ventures. It seems whenever he is away, something dreadful occurs, whether it be to her or her family, or to Eliezer. Rachel is a woman at odds with her husband’s departures, and although she is strong, it wears on her.

One of Rachel’s greatest traits is her strength, strength under adverse conditions, and strength under extreme pressure. Her courage and powerful mindset during the time when the First Crusade of the Middle Ages basically annihilated all the Jews in Germany, is unsurpassed, and vividly portrayed. She is forthright, passionate, and a woman of clarity and responsibility. She was a businesswoman, constantly seeking new ways of earning money in order for her husband to fulfill his business endeavors close by, and not have him traveling far from home.

One such goal is to open a woolen business, and her thinking is she will earn enough to keep her husband working nearby, and not traveling so often, if at all. Anton fills the pages regarding Rachel’s interactions with those who can instruct her. She is an eager and avid learner (a trait that Rashi instilled in her)and she is constantly trying to find those who can teach her, and work for her. The book is filled with amazing word paintings. The images are incredible, and it is as if we are there witnessing the event/s. I was fascinated by the entire procedure, from mating of the sheep so the wool will be the finest, to the shearing of the sheep, to the finish of the final product…everything is detailed down to the minutest job and endeavor.

During the First Crusade, when the Jewish population was massacred and destroyed, Rashi and his family never thought it would come to the point that the Crusades would reach them in Troyes. Her heroic actions trying to keep the family safe fill the pages, and her willingness to do what is ethical and moral is never questioned. She is there every step of the way. Anton delivers the punches and the forcefulness of the time period vividly, and the book is historically compelling, and a masterpiece.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel, is an amazing accomplishment. Anton is overwhelming in her competence to write historical content, and in her ability to keep the reader’s interest. There are so many awe-inspiring moments, moments that shock the reader. The book flows, from one scene to the next with superb illuminations and brilliant descriptions. She is a master at portraying, not only the Medieval/Middle Ages time period, but in depicting daily life under the harsh conditions of the 11th Century. It was a struggle no matter how you perceive it, but add the Crusades to the structure, and life and what those around Rachel considered to be “normal”, quickly debilitates and diminishes.

Like father, like daughter, Rachel learned from a master, and she was no less a master, herself. During a time when women were kept on the sideline, she made sure she was in the forefront of current events. She watched them unfold before her eyes, and Rashi, her sisters and the other family members, were concerned for humanity, for the injustice that surrounded their environment. The pages flow with that very ideal.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France is the third, and the last sequel in a trilogy by Maggie Anton. It is a beautiful testimony to Rashi and his teachings, his care for all individuals. But, more than that, it a magnificent testament to Rachel and her endurance, fortitude, caring, and concern for humankind, during a crucial and horrific period in history. I highly recommend this well-written historical novel to everyone. It is writing at its excellence, and a brilliant novel, in my opinion. Bravo!

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