Tag Archives: Novels

A Late Divorce by A.B. Yehoshua

“A Late Divorce”, by A.B. Yehoshua, is a novel that was translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin.  The story line revolves around Yehuda and his wife Naomi.

Yehuda has traveled back to Israel from America, in order to obtain a divorce from his wife, Naomi.  Here is where the tour-de-force begins.  “A Late Divorce”, in my opinion, has a dual purpose, and is a true tour-de-force novel with its story lines regarding family dynamics, within the tapestry of the State of Israel, a country whose own threads encompass its own state of being, culturally, emotionally, physically and geographically.  Obtaining the divorce requires strength, and is no easy feat for Yehuda, and his determination has thrown his family members into a state of emotional turmoil.

The book takes place over a period of nine days that lead up to the Passover celebration. Each day (a chapter in the book) is devoted to one family member’s perspective, not only on the divorce, but family life in general, and how they remember Yehuda’s time spent with them.  Yehosua is masterful in his ability to get inside the human mind, and see life through nine family members, each bringing a different analysis to the current familial situation.

For some, the situation is unbearable, and for others, daily verbal assaults and torture is a way of life, thinly disguised as joking.  We have the character of Gaddi on Sunday, a seven-year old, and grandson of Yehuda.  We are privvy to his thoughts within his racing mind, and Yehoshua is ingenious in the way he presents Gaddi, unarticulated, fast talking, thoughts running from one subject to the next.  Yet, within his immaturity, we also see a Gaddi who seems persceptive, and a child who exhibits emotions turned inward.

Monday brings us Yisra’el Kedmi, Yehuda’s son-in-law, married to Ya’el.  He is called Kedmi, as he feels one Israel is enough.  Kedmi is more of an “out-law” than an in-law.  He is the “jokester”, the one who demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior through his obnoxious and snide remarks.  Yet, he might just be the sanest of the bunch.

Tuesday is Dina’s day.  She is Asi’s wife, and Asi is the son of Yehuda.  She is an only child of Hungarian parents, who are Hasidic Jews, who are constantly at her for not having children, yet.  Dina is an aspiring writer.  Her writing is her family, each page is like one of her children.

Wednesday is Asi’s voice, one that is told in an environment of sadness.  Asi has a passion for 19th century terrorists, and he lectures at the university.  He has a compulsion that is harmful to him, and it began when he was a child.  Asi acts superior to his wife, Dina, and treats her as if she is a child.  He has yet to fulfill his marriage bed.

Thursday we hear a one-sided conversation that Refa’el Calderon has with Tsvi.  Tsvi is Yehuda’s son, and Refa’el is Tsvi’s current lover.  Not only is the conversation one-sided, but so is the relationship, as Tsvi treats Refa’el with extreme disrespect.  Refa’el is of Sephardic Jewish heritage.

Friday is the day that Tsvi meets with is therapist, right before Shabbat evening prayer service begins.  He is an extremely manipulative person, and is always looking for an easy and quick way to make money, even if it is at another’s expense.   He lives in Tel Aviv.

Saturday is not only the Sabbath, but is a day that takes place three years into the future.  We are seeing the day through Ya’el’s mind and eyes, as she tries to focus on the past and remember what events occurred.  What tragic incident happened that has caused her to block her memory of the day.  Ya’el has been the quiet force in the family, always trying to please.  Also, in this chapter we are introduced to Connie, who was Yehuda’s bride-to-be, and their son.  In this chapter we realize what the ending to the story will be.

Sunday is the day of the Passover Seder, and we meet Naomi, Yehuda’s wife.  She has been confined to a mental hospital ever since she stabbed Yehuda.  She has been labeled as crazy, although I am not so sure that she is.  She has many coherent and cognizant moments, more than other family members.

Monday is Yehuda’s story, his memories and perspectives.  We begin to see the overall picture in this chapter more clearly.  And, we realize who is manipulative, and who is trying to drive the other to madness.  The greed and guilt combine, bringing out emotions that were harbored and festered to a crescendo of an ending.

The stories within the chapters of “A Late Divorce” are a metaphor for dysfunctional family relationships and interactions, and a metaphor for the daily lives and dynamics that make up the fabric of Israel’s very core.  We see the comparison through Yehoshua’s characters.   “A Late Divorce” is a story of sadness and humor, both, yet the sadness is dominant, as each family member tries to heal the family as a unit, as a whole, and put it back together, failing in their endeavors.  There is never peace, in any situation, and each family member is constantly on guard, often on guard for the unknown and unseen, as if awaiting disaster.  Each voice is a thread in the fabric of the whole, the complete tapestry is told with the incomparable voice and brilliance of A.B. Yehoshua.  He is masterful in his word visuals, and brings incredible insight into the human mind and emotions, blending both in a concise and astute vision of both family and the State of Israel.

I personally own and have read this book.

~~Book Diva

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The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Gravedigger’s Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates

“You saw him at a distance: the gravedigger Schwart.

Like a troll he appeared. Somewhat hunched, head lowered.”

In The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Jacob Schwart, a Jew, moves his family from Nazi Germany to rural upstate New York. They end up in a small town, where Schwart finds a job as a gravedigger and caretaker of a cemetery. He was a high school teacher in Germany, so the job of gravedigger is very demeaning to him, especially seeing how the residents of the community react to him and his family. He manages to eke out a living, barely making enough for him and his family to survive on, living in a small cottage in the cemetery, at the edge of town. The family lives on the fringes of town, not only in poverty, but the fringes of Jacob’s moods and alchoholism. Jacob becomes disillusioned with his situation and with life.

As time goes by, Schwart’s emotional capacity becomes overloaded, and abusive acts occur, and one final and unspeakable act leads to an incomprehensible tragedy. You will have to read it in order to understand, as I don’t want to give too much story line away.

This is the beginning of a new life for Schwart’s daughter, Rebecca. She eventually falls in love, marries and has a son. She ends up in an abusive situation, herself, and runs away with her son, in order to start a new life, under an assumed name. She literally leaves her past behind her. Her strength and stamina get her through some extreme situations.
<p>One line repeated throughout The Gravedigger’s Daughter is, “The weak are quickly disposed of. So you must hide your weakness, Rebecca.”Her father would say this to her in order to impress upon her that she needed to stay strong.</p>

Rebecca reinvents herself and her son, and they are constantly moving from place to place in order to avoid being found. Her son is a child prodigy, and she encourages him in playing piano, almost to an extreme. She lives through him. August takes his anger at her and his anger at his father out through his music, with its resounding and strong crescendos peaking strongly and wildly.

Oates brings us a strong Rebecca, a woman of determination and strength, a woman of independence and a fierce devotion to her son. She is a woman who has held her emotions in, in order to move forward. She has learned to manipulate the situations she finds herself in. This is both positive and negative.

The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a book about immigration, identity, assimlation, expectations, and family relationships. It is a multi-generational story, and is a long book, not a fast read, which has nothing to do with the 582 page length, but has everything to do the involved story line.

Social history is strong throughout the novel, and Oates deftly defines America during the after-effects of both pre and post World War II. With extreme clarity, she defines the assimilation and the European Jewish Survivor experience, along with their expectations. Oates writes with insight, sensitivity and prose that jumps out from the pages, revealing the dark side of post-World War II America. She is a masterful story teller, and is able to combine both the ugly with the beauty of life. I highly recommend The Gravedigger’s Daughter, not only for its story, its historical factors regarding upstate New York, but also for the perspective of the Jewish immigrant experience and its lasting effects on generations to come.

For me, The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a metaphor for the Jewish immigrant experience in all its fullness, from familial struggles and harshness, ugliness and loss, to strength, assimilation and identity.

As an aside: The Gravedigger’s Daughter is dedicated to Joyce Carol Oates’ grandmother, and much of the novel is based on her grandmother’s actual life.

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Avner Gold New Release

If you are a fan of Avner Gold, then you will be delighted to learn that “the long awaited continuation” of his historical novel series “Rauch Ami”, “The Long Road to Freedom“, has been published. As in previous books of the series, “The Long Road to Freedom” is a novel whose journey brings into focus the plight of European Jews during 17th century.

You can read an excerpt of “The Long Road to Freedom“, here. It is the “immediate sequel to “The Marrano Prince“, which was the eighth book in the “Rauch Ami” series.

The table of contents to “The Long Road to Freedom“” can be seen here.

The new release has been a long time in coming, and is an exciting event.

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Infidelities, by Josip Novakovich

Infidelities, by Josip Novakovich, encompasses a collection of short stories, taking place within Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, etc., stories that make us question exactly what the word infidelity actually means. Josip’s stories also make us question the rewards and/or resulting repercussions of our choices.

Are we involved in infidelity if our thoughts are with another person, instead of on our spouse? Are we then demonstrating infidelity towards our personal faith, if we think of another religion which might bring us a sense of peace and solace, during a difficult situation, during war, during life events? What would you do in order to keep your child out of the army, during time of war? What is ethical and not ethical, in the medical field, when a man who is a draft dodger awaits a new heart, only to lose it to deceptive tactics, so a military general can receive it?

These, and many more questions arise when reading this compelling collection of life situations. The stories in Infidelities make us think of our own life situation/s, and how we might handle them, given the same set of circumstances. Would we do as the characters in Infidelities did?

Some characters choose to be humane, some choose to be lacking in goodness, others are fleeing genocide, and we see individuals of varying backgrounds and religious beliefs banding together in a state of togetherness. Most of the characters in the book are trying to escape emotional pain, trying to find some happiness within survival in landscapes of devastation and tragedy. Due to the fact that the book is a collection of stories, I can’t go into detail any further. You will just have to read the book yourself to understand the stories, characters, situations, etc., that are woven throughout Infidelities.

Josip Novakovich is brilliant in his insight and masterful in his story telling. He weaves through situations, events and family dynamics, often brutal in his clarity and assessment of humanity within adverse situations that humankind face. Each story is intense, thought-provoking, and a testament to a master author. Infidelities is no less than an exceptional and extraordinary masterpiece. Bravo to Josip Novakovich!

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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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Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels is more than a novel based on the Holocaust, it is a poetically-rendered geological metaphor for the power of loss and love, memory and place. Human history is woven within the bogs and peat of the past and present, as both are intertwined within the beautifully written stories.

Yes, stories. Fugitive Pieces has two narrators…one for the first two-thirds of the book, one for the last third. The transition from one narrator (Jakob) to the next (Ben) might seem awkward for some, but I found it to be a brilliant method of bringing two men from two different generations together within the whole of the novel. The layers of their lives read like an archaeological dig, through the muck and mire of the Holocaust.

Our first narrator, Jakob, witnessed the horror of war at a young age, listening from within a cupboard, as his parents were being murdered and his sister being taken away by the Nazis. “The burst door.  Wood ripped from hinges, cracking like ice under the shouts.  Noises never heard before, torn from my father’s mouth.  Then silence.“  In order to survive, he becomes a fugitive of sorts, and he hides himself in the bogs and peat of the forest, burying himself underground, burying pieces of his past with him. He is like an organism, living for a day here, a day there within the bog, surviving as an organism or parasite, living off of the peat. Along comes Athos, a Greek geologist, who finds Jakob barely able to breathe, and brings Jakob to live with him in Greece. Athos is like a father to Jakob, and raises him like he is his own son.

Yet, all the fatherly affection and love can’t bring Jakob peace from the emotional past he is fleeing. He is like a piece of wood loosened from a desk, separated from the entirety. He dreams of his sister, Bella, in order to survive. He must have some hope, and she is his inspiration. Jakob physically matures into a young man. He becomes a poet, a writer, a translator, trying to find his way in a world of loss and sadness. He is stuck in that layer of time that has yet to be dug out.

Meanwhile, Ben looks to Jakob as a mentor. He too is a survivor. A survivor of his parents (Holocaust Survivors) and their daily nightmares, fears and eccentricities.

Michaels writes with flair and frankness, beauty and poignancy, and weaves the novel with brilliance.  Her naming each chapter is a definite foreshadowing of events and illuminations to follow.  I find her title to the book to be very revealing, if taken literally.  The transitory factor is ephemral, as parts of the whole are often short-lived, and characters, like Bella,  Jakob and Ben are fugacious and unable to blossom to their full potential. Jakob is much like an organism in the geological scheme of things, in the sense he can’t let go of the past. Ben is in the same emotional situation within his family unit. Both of them have trouble with relationships, each relationship a small piece of the stepping stone to fulfillment and contentment.
Fugitive Pieces is an important story, not for historical fact, not for Holocaust history, but for its layers of humanity, humaneness, and the bogs of emotional pain and dust that are eventually swept away through time and love.

~~Book Diva

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American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is a novel that is filled with so much insight, description, vivid details, emotion, and intensity, that I read it straight through. It is a novel I have wanted to read for quite some time, and I am definitely glad I finally did. I am an avid Roth fan, and have read most of his books, and am always intrigued by his brilliance in writing on the emotional aspects of the human story, why we become who we are within our environment, and how we not only perceive ourselves but how others perceive us, and how we view others within the scheme of our lives.

The main character is a man named Swede Levov, a Jew, who feels he is living the so-called “American Dream” the life pastoral. His light hair, fair complexion and skill in sports earned him the nickname of Swede. This name carried with him throughout his life, evoking adoration from others, evoking a false sense of security within himself, evoking promises of the good life, for those who shoulder the burdens of life, for those who internalize their feelings.

Swede is the good son, the son that his parents adore for the attention and admiration he brings to them, in a world where Jews are not normally paid attention to. He brings them luck, and brings himself luck. He is the high school hero, the one the boys and girls look up to, the one that all girls dream of marrying. He marries a former Miss New Jersey, and they build a life together. Swede inherits his father’s glove factory. He and his wife, Dawn, find a stone house that he loves, and they buy it. They seem to be living the idyllic life in the New Jersey suburbs, in the village of Old Rimrock. They have a daughter named Merry, who turns out to be the thorn in their side.

Merry commits a crime of passion and terrorism, which causes Swede, his wife, and other family members to turn inward, causing their lives to become overturned, emotionally and physically. Life is never the same for this “American Pastoral” family, and Merry’s act of crime and violence bring Swede to his knees with sorrow, anger, leaving him to question his own life. The once calm Swede, turns violent within his internal Being, screaming inside himself, unable to emit and belch out his true feelings, in order not to upset his wife and the rest of his family. He shoulders all the emotional burdens, because that is what is expected of him.

This is all he knows, his life burdens kept in quietude, on the back burner, in order to keep up the illusion of the hero, the man with everything, the man everyone admires and looks up to, the man everyone wants to become. When Swede’s daughter commits the unthinkable act, his very essence is questioned, and the deplorable aspects of who he is and what he has become are shown with a clarity he never knew existed.

His pastoral life is suddenly a life of acute disgust. He goes beserk, talks to himself, is in a state of panic, constantly questioning his entire existence, and wondering how things could go so wrong. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer, other than the pastoral life has become one of inner and outer turmoil, condemnation and disgust.

How Swede handles the repercussions of Merry’s devious deed is brought to the forefront through Philip Roth’s brilliant writing, his insight into the human mind and emotions, and through his emotional intelligence. His word imagery is filled with clarity, and vibrancy. American Pastoral is definitely a masterpiece, in my opinion, written by a master. I highly recommend American Pastoral to everyone.

~~Book Diva

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