Tag Archives: Novels

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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In the Image, by Dara Horn

“Accidents of fate are rarely fatal accidents, but once in a while they are.”

In The Image is one of those books that evolves through the characters’ coming of age, journeying towards peace and acceptance, and sojourning towards spiritual identity. One young girl (Leora)l learns to accept the death of her best friend, through the slide images of her best friend’s grandfather. Leora learns to overcome her fear of loss and allows herself to fall in love.

The grandfather (Bill Landsmann) learns to accept his own life, which is built frame by frame, upon his slides, through the images he has photographed during his travels. His life has been preserved on film slides. Landsmann has to learn to leave his past behind, including his childhood and his abusive father. He must learn to accept, and to let go, and not just assimilate within the fabrics of New York City. For him the images represent his life, concrete proof of his childhood in Europe, and proof he existed. Landsmann has to learn to move forward, in order to find the spiritual identity and peace he is searching for.

Leora and Landsmann lean on each other, each one helping the other to overcome their fears, each one helping to free the other from their self-imposed emotional isolation.

The symbolism and undertones in this novel are strong, and leave one in awe. The images are clearly defined through Dara Horn’s words. Age is a state of mind, a number we define ourselves with, but one can be 70 and still be coming of age. This book touches on coming of age, for all age groups.

~~Book Diva

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First Desire, by Nancy Reisman

the-first-desire1 In First Desire by Nancy Reisman, we are given a set of characters who appear to be constantly yearning for acceptance and love, within the confines of the familial structure.

The Cohen family is composed of a tyrannical widower, Abe Cohen, and his five adult children, who seem to be stuck in a time warp, lost within the familial folds. The family unit is composed of four daughters (Jo, Sadie, Celia and Goldie) and one son (Irving). They are seemingly lifeless and unmotivated individuals, overpowered by loss, and by a dictatorial father.

All of them are still in mourning for their mother, and they are lost in a cycle of escaping the painful aspects of life. Their father, seems to be uncaring, and is a demanding and authoritarian individual, especially with his daughters. He escapes into a relationship with a women named Lillian Schumacher. Goldie can’t cope with the demands of her father, and the loss of her mother, and escapes by fleeing the house, leaving those behind to wonder about her, for years (not knowing whether she is dead or alive). Sadie questions her own sanity and the relationship with her husband, who only seems to want her company during times of sexual relations, and watches him become almost as tyrannical as her father. Jo is lost within her protective, obnoxious attitude, which is her form of escape. Celia escapes within her mind, which is sometimes coherent, but more often, not. Irving escapes into alcohol and gambling.

First Desire is adeptly written, and Nancy Reisman’s characters give us insight into depression, patriarchal pressures, and family interactions and dynamics, during the turbulent years that range from the late 1920s to 1950. They are believable individuals, and the climate of the decades is believable.

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Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Exit Ghost, by Philip Roth is seemingly the last novel in the Nathan Zuckerman series, but who knows for certain. What I do know is that Roth has woven a story-within-a-story with brilliance as only he can succeed in, capturing our emotions on many levels.

Roth brings us characters we relate to, beginning with Nathan Zuckerman, a physically impotent, incontinent, diaper-wearing man in his seventies, who has led a reclusive life for eleven years in the Berkshires, due to a series of threats he received on his life. He leaves his protective cocoon and is brought back into Manhattan in order to have surgery that might possibly help his incontinence. While there, his old existence stirs up memories, emotions and thoughts he had long put to rest.

Zuckerman’s thoughts begin to take hold regarding his mentor and author hero, E.I. Lonoff, and he encounters Amy Bellette who was Lonoff’s lover two characters from the book Ghost Writer . His thoughts wander back to his early twenties, when his life revolved around his ambitions, and his aggressive behavior in order to reach his goals. He remembers his fleeting interest in Bellette, and how she is presently suffering from brain surgery and a recurring brain tumor, but still astute enough to want to protect Lonoff’s literary image from a would-be biographer, who means to destroy Lonoff’s reputation. The city grips him, and he is caught up in rash judgements and events, making decisions based on emotion, not rational thought.

While in Manhattan he meets a married couple through a newspaper ad (Billy Davidoff and Jamie Logan Davidoff), who he impulsively agrees to swap houses with…he will remain in their small apartment in the city, they will live in his secluded house in the Berkshires, miles from the nearest town. She wants solitude due to her fears from September 11th. He begins to let his mind wander (his physical body may not be responsive, but he still has the capacity to think and fantasize about sex). Therein lies the basis for Zuckerman’s new novel…a “he said, she said, series of imagined conversations.

Roth also writes about the current administration, current technology, and current medical advances within the story line. We are given characters that are all seeking solitude and protection in one form or another, whether it be from emotional pain, physical pain, medical issues, aging, or otherwise. Roth has done it once more, and captivates his audience with excellent word imagery, insightful emotional content…often heart-wrenching, and with masterful writing. We will all come to the autumn season, eventually, and Roth demonstrates the ability of the mind and heart to blend together, in order to manage to live (as best we can with our limitations) through the fragile and delicate autumn of our lives.

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The English Disease, by Joseph Skibell

The English Disease, by Joseph Skibell, is a story revolving around Charles Belski, a learned man who is a musicologist (one who studies the history and science of music). He has what is known as English Disease, which in today’s environment is known as depression or melancholia. The dilemmas in his life seem to stem inwardly from within himself, and are often self-imposed. He is a difficult, obnoxious, middle-aged man, with depression, and is extremely manipulative when interacting with those around him. He is a protagonist unlike any I have read, filled with a cynical perspective, yet wickedly funny. He is a depressed, non-practicing Jew, and is filled with guilt over the fact that he married a Catholic, a Gentile.

The differences between Belski and his wife, interplay throughout the novel. There is disagreement on how to raise their daughter, Franny. His wife and daughter try to open his eyes to the joy around him. He is a man in crisis, lost in faith, relying on medication to get him through the hours and days. Belski’s life appears to be a series of reluctant events, which do not include one small spark of happiness. Belski is schlepping through life struggling with his emotional being and his academic side. He is fixated with the past, yet at the same time it eventually evolves into a healing element for him.

“English melancholiacs used to tour the ruins of Antiquity as a cure for their depression, which was, in fact, at the time called the English Disease. It was thought that somehow the contemplation of actual ruins would make one’s own ruined life seem less hateful, and that these dilapidated but still beautiful structures might suggest to the sensitive melancholic the possibility of finding beauty in his own misery, indeed as essential to it.”

He travels to Poland on a conference with a colleague named Liebowitz, a person, who is almost like a sidekick of Belski’s. They visit Auschwitz. Belski’s constant reflections on the Holocaust, anti-semitism, the current social climate in Poland, and on his life overtake his thoughts. They feed his melancholic state.

It gives him power over others, the only form of power he has. Seemingly that depressive state is something that he enjoys being in, although he will tell you otherwise.

Skibell is brilliant in his writing and assessment of Jews, assimilated Jews, Jews marrying Gentiles, the Holocaust, Poland, and depression and melancholia. Skibell’s amazing descriptive observations make it seem as if he is inside the heads of others. He does it all with a dry wit, and you find yourself laughing out loud while reading the book. Who could perceive that writing a novel about a depressed person could be so humorous, and so poignant at the same time. Who knew?

He writes comically, on the neurotic struggle for assimilation, which really isn’t a struggle unique to Jews, but a struggle for all immigrants and first-generation Americans. Skibell incorporates those struggles and burdens within Belski’s journey to self-discovery. Skibell’s book is an excellent psychological character study. The English Disease is bizarrely funny with quirky characters, yet has strong serious undertones, and at times is heart-breaking. It is a metaphor for redemption, and for spiritual and marital contentment in an ever changing world.

The end is a surprise, and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have missed reading The English Disease for anything, as it is that good! Bravo to Joseph Skibell.

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2008 National Book Award Fiction Finalists

The National Book Foundation has announced the finalists for the National Book Award. The authors in the fiction category are:

Aleksandar Hemon for his book, The Lazarus Project. It is a book I have on my stack of “to-read” books.

Rachel Kushner has been nominated for her book, Telex From Cuba.

Peter Matthiessen for his book, Shadow Country.

Marilynne Robinson for her book, Home.

Salvatore Scibona
for his book, The End.

If you want to see a listing of all of the nominees, in the four categories of fiction non-fiction, poetry and Young People’s Literature, visit the National Book Foundation’s website.

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Dawn, by Elie Wiesel

Dawn, by Elie Wiesel is an excellent book that examines many issues, especially on good and evil, forgiveness, spirituality and identity.

“There are not a thousand ways to be a killer; either a man is one or he isn’t. He who has killed one man alone, is a killer for life…the executioner’s mask will always follow him.” This was Elisha’s dawn, his dawning.
During the years after World War II, terrorists in Palestine try to drive the British out. This dark, intensely written novel, focuses on a young Holocaust Survivor, Elisha, who has joined a group of Jewish militants. He has been assigned to be the executioner of a British officer.

The book fluctuates between Elisha’s ghosts of the past, Holocaust ghosts, and his present situation, as Elisha continually questions whether what he is doing is right, is for the larger good . We enter his mindset, literally, and feel his struggles between what is the moral thing to do, and, what one does, in what they believe to be in the best interests of their nation, and their historical group of individuals. His dilemma “dawns” on him, as he becomes aware, and strongly perceives the struggle he has to face…within himself. Dawn, is a word that does not necessarily imply sunrise, and in this novel, although the execution is to take place at sunrise; the impact and emotions of the situation, are deeper, and more vivid, and illuminate, within, more than any morning sunrise ever could. Elisha has an awakening, and a new life begins, unfolds, for him…one he can never return from.

We see how the militant group dynamics can encourage and persuade a young person, in the wake of a horrific trauma of their own, to commit an act, that under different circumstances, they might not involve themselves in.

Weisel’s intensity in writing, and his analyzing the events for what they are…conflict…on both sides of the coin…leaves one to question what components make up the mind of a murderer, and whether there is justification for violence and murder, for a political cause, under certain climates.

Although the Dawn’s copyright is 1961, the mindset of the militant group could apply to the world events, today, with the current terrorist situations. In fact, if events of The Holocaust were not mentioned in the book, one could assume that it might have been written today, its relevance to current events is so strong.

~~Book Diva

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