Tag Archives: Jewish Society

Book Diva Review: The King of Schnorrers

the king of schnorrers The King of Schnorrers, by Israel Zangwill, is quite comical. The bantering back and forth really cemented the Schnorrer aspect, and gave it an in depth perspective on those who were schnorrers and how they defended and justified themselves, verbally. It also portrayed the territorial aspect of the schnorrer, and how strongly they had to discuss issues in order to gain money.

Attitudes are definitely illuminated. How one perceives themselves in regards to others is depicted vividly. One with airs is really no better than any other schnorrer. A schnorrer is a schnorrer, no matter what, although some tend to eke a better living than others.

De Costa, a schnorrer, was extremely confident, clever, sly, sharp-tongued, quick with responses. Yankel, was the same way, but had to struggle against the verbal strength of De Costa. And, so it went, on and on, almost nonstop, and the witticisms were brilliant.

Schnorrers used guilt in order to gain favors from those whose doors they knocked on, or those who they met on the street and managed to stop and corner. The wealthy Jews were hounded, and the poor were hounded, also, to “donate”.

Donations ranged from the monetary to clothes to household items. Usually the schnorrer sold whatever was donated, as far as material/tangible items went. This upped his financial ante for his household. Whether a family man or a bachelor, money was the link to survival.

The book is written with a large portion of it in broken English, or English written phonetically with an immigrant’s accent, as spoken by a Jewish man. Such words as “with” are pronounced “Vid”, or the word “will” is pronounced “vill”, for example. I am always mindful of the time period and the individuals speaking, so for me it was not an issue. This book was published in 1894, and I kept that in mind while reading it.

Also, euphemisms that are not used often in today’s world, were used then. Yiddish fills the pages, but the reader is given an English translation. One must take the variables into consideration, when reading this masterful novel.

I found myself laughing out loud while reading this book. Yet, within the humor, there is a serious undertone regarding Jewish society and its financial diversities. Responsibility for others is a strong theme.

Another thought that came to mind was the fact that the schnorrers of long ago are not so different in interactions than those who we see begging, holding up signs, and/or entertaining on the street in order to gain a coin.

I enjoyed The King of Schnorrers immensely.

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Filed under Blogrolls, Fiction, General, Historical Novels, Jewish History, Literature/Fiction

Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel

Five Chimneys, by Olga Lengyel is an incredible and intense personal eyewitness accounting and Holocaust memoir. Five Chimneys was published in 1947, in English, two years after liberation, when Olga Lengyel’s mind and memories were still, fresh regarding the events she witnessed while a prisoner in Auschwitz.

The title, Five Chimneys, stems from the five crematorium chimneys at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It isn’t enough that she witnessed the horrendous atrocities, but she also lost her family there. They all were exterminated in the gas chambers…her husband, two children and her parents. Her husband was under orders to be deported to Auschwitz. Olga Lengyel was determined, and went to the authorities insisting that she and her children be deported with him, as she assumed that he would be put to work in a hospital, as he was a medical doctor. She did not believe any of the stories she was told, about the actual situtation, and thought they were exaggerations. Her parents decided to go with her and the children, and the entire family went together. Little did she know it would result in the death of everyone, but her.

Her memoir is often harsh and brutal, but so were the conditions she had to live under. Her writing is well-articulated, filled with extremely clear descriptives that make our skin crawl. She doesn’t seek sympathy, but rather wanted the realities and truth to be told. Olga Lengyel writes as if she is a reporter, with an unbiased-like mindset. As a survivor and a witness, she reports what she, herself, experienced, and what she saw. The facts and truth of the events are what motivated her to stay alive, when everyone she loved had been murdered. What Olga Lengyel witnessed and went through in Auschwitz, nobody should ever have to be a witness to, or have to endure.

From watching the crematorium workers load several bodies into the large ovens at once, to having to pile dead bodies atop one another…herself, to standing naked for hours in the freezing cold while waiting for roll call, to the beatings, to lack of food, and having to eliminate in a bucket…the same one used to eat in, and to the unbelievably horrific events that pregnant women went through, etc., the book is intense testimony to the brutality and inhumanity of man. It is also a testament to Olga Lengyel’s strength and courage during the extreme circumstances she endured (that is putting it mildly). Her motivation for survival was the necessity to bear witness to the atrocious inhumanity of the Nazi Germans.

Albert Einstein, himself, read Five Chimneys, and actually wrote a letter to Olga Lengyl. Part of that letter is included in the book.

…Thank you for your very frank, very well written book. You have done a real service by letting the ones who are now silent and most forgotten speak…

With best regards and wishes,

A. Einstein

The infusion of such atrocities, in great numbers, into one memoir is beyond belief, as Olga Lengyel manages to describe with graphic clarity the most minute detail of daily existence (if you can call it that) in the Women’s camp at Auschwitz. She leaves nothing to the imagination, and each atrocious act is written boldly, powerfully, concise and to the point, no stone left unturned. Five Chimneys is heart wrenching, horrific, and overwhelming. It is not for the weak of heart or weak of stomach. Olga Lengyel’s Five Chimneys describes the essence of man’s inhumanity, and is a memoir that should be read with that in mind, as her overpowering documentation of the nighmares she experienced and witnessed is not coated over, in any fashion. The book is extremely haunting.

Olag Lengyel died at the age of 90, in 2001. Olga Lengyel’s spirit and strength will survive through time, within the pages of her extraordinary memoir, Five Chimneys.

We must never forget the events of the Holocaust…

I personally own and have read this book.

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The Dream, by Harry Bernstein

“The Dream“: A Memoir, by Harry Bernstein, is Bernstein’s follow-up memoir to his critically acclaimed “The Invisible Wall“, which I read and reviewed, when it was first published.

When I saw “The Dream” on the shelf of newly released books, in the book store, I grabbed it immediately, because I was enthralled with “The Invisible Wall” immensely. I am not sorry I did, as reading the book paints a picture of America both before and post-depression era. In particular, “The Dream” focuses on the hardship Bernstein’s family went through, both physically, socially, emotionally and mentally.

The family members that made up Bernstein’s family are as different as they are alike. Each member relates to the whole, each member’s personality a reflection of their harsh and abusive environment. The dominant force within the family was Bernstein’s mother, the ever protective mother, the one who held the family together during times of crisis, and held the family together from her emotionally abusive husband.

Bernstein’s father was an alcoholic, a verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive man, who kept the family hanging by monetary threads, as he doled out as little as possible in order for them to survive, and meet the essentials of food, clothing and shelter. He spent most of his earnings in pubs. His own father earned a living as a beggar in New York. This didn’t stop Bernstein’s mother from her goals and dreams.

DREAMS PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN OUR LIVES IN THOSE EARLY days in England. Our mother invented them for us to make up for all the things we lacked and to give us some hope for the future. Perhaps, also, it was for herself, to escape the miseries she had to endure, which were caused chiefly by my father, who cared little about his family.”

Bernstein’s mother had a dream, a dream to move to America and make a better life for herself and her children. When they were sent tickets (anonymously) to emigrate, she didn’t hesitate to leave. She envisioned a new beginning, a life of opportunity.

Without those tickets, and subsequent events, Bernstein would never have met his beloved wife, Ruby. They were married for 67-years, before her death in 2002. Their courtship and romance is deeply touching.

Although 98-years in age, Bernstein’s mind is as cognizant as that of a much younger person. His wit, poignancy and incredible word paintings fill the pages of “The Dream“, flowing from one scenario to the next. Bernstein’s zest for life is apparent throughout the book. He brings us not only a compelling memoir, but an accounting of a dysfunctional family, within the confines of Chicago and New York during the 1920s and 1930s. “The Dream” is an inspiration to all of us, each sentence written with emotion, strength, eloquence and brilliance. Harry Bernstein, himself, is an inspiration to all of us.

If you read “The Invisible Wall“, you must read “The Dream“. It will not disappoint you. If you didn’t read “The Invisible Wall“, I suggest you do so, but in any event, definitely read “The Dream“.

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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Legends of Our Time, by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel is the narrator in “Legends of Our Time” an amazing book of stories and essays, written through doubt, through clarity, through knowledge, through self-analyzing, through questioning God, and through events before, during and after the Holocaust. His experiences are compelling in their insights, and his assessments are filled with overwhelming acuteness.

Nothing had changed. The house was the same, the street was the same, the world was the same, God was the same. Only the jews had disappeared.”

These were the poignant and haunting thoughts that Wiesel had, upon returning to Sighet, Romania, as he walked through the streets of his hometown. What he saw was almost unbearable to witness, as Wiesel remembers what once was.

Wiesel’s characters are given life eternal through his vivid and poignant writing. Each story is filled with spiritual illumination and learnings. Each situation brings Wiesel insight, revealed through each person,and/or vision. Heroes are acknowledged and become eternal impressions in the continuum of time, and in Wiesel’s mind and spirit.

Legends of Our Time” expands our minds, as to the acts performed by individuals before, during and after World War II. “Legends of Our Time” is a testament to those who interacted or had contact (whether knowingly or unknowingly) with Wiesel during his life, sometimes selflessly, sometimes not so selflessly. Each person made their impression on his emotions and on his life, whether positively or negatively, and at times his perceptions on the person changed slightly. He was often in disagreement with the individual, but at times came away from his experience understanding how they came to their own decisions.

Wiesel is brilliant in his writing, his thought processes are vivid, his word images are filled with clarity. The overwhelming burden of suffering before and after the Holocaust is apparent in every story and essay within the pages of Legends of Our Time. Wiesel’s book is testimony to the suffering, and the will and strength of mankind, and an eternal testament to humanity, in all its degrees. Wiesel’s “Legends of Our Time” is a testament to Elie Wiesel, himself, and his continuing quest/search for answers.

I personally own and have read this book.

~~~Book Diva

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