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Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, is a novel, that is often humorous, but one that touches on extremely serious issues.

To delve into the heart of the story would be to give it away. And, if by chance, you have not heard about the book and what it depicts, then I, for one, am not willing to give the entire story away.

Suffice it to say that it is a novel that portrays familial bonds, in more ways than one. From secrets to anger, jealousy to love, empathy to apathy, social harmony and disharmony, Fowler, in my opinion, writes with minute details, which enhance the word-imagery. The family consists of Rosemary, Fern, and their older brother-the brother who has run away. He is a significant force within the pages, especially the last part of the book. In the beginning the reader is not really certain why he left, but as the pages are woven, the answer is clear.

Rosemary has grown up under the shadow of Fern, more or less. And, at a young age is separated from her, not knowing the true reason why. As an adult, she is still trying to cope with the loss of Fern, and with her unique and very unconventional childhood. Her childhood imprints have taken hold in many forms and have given her the status of a social misfit of sorts. She has difficulty coping in what we conceive as normal environments.

Throughout the pages, the reader is faced with Rosemary’s journey towards separation from her sister, her journey towards SELF, and her journey to learn who she is in the scheme of family, society and social standards.

The book is not only an exploration of what it means to be a family unit, but also an exploration into humanity, humaneness, and perception of humans and their place within the entire spectrum.

Karen Joy Fowler has done her research, and has given us a glimpse of a situation that has long-lasting ramifications for the familial bonds developed from infancy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is humorous, yet intense, filled with moments that make the reader think about what they have read, and how it applies to them.

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Book Diva Review: Never Let Me Go

neverletmego Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a novel with a unique subject matter…which took me about fifty pages to understand. The book is a story line with disturbing ramifications imposed upon individuals.

The main character and narrator is a person named Kathleen, and the reader is given insight into her background, little by little. She grew up in a school, known as Hailsham, in the English countryside, along with her two close friends Tom and Ruth. Kathleen, who is a “carer”, is a quiet, observant and listens to, and watches, the subtleties that are told to them by their school guardians.

The guardians have a strict command over the children, and often treat them as if they were less than human. Once I understood the concept of the book, that issue infuriated me. We all have heard of orphanages and boarding schools that treat their students as if they were nonexistent, or treat them in an emotionally devoid manner. And, the resultant behavior of the adults forces a lifetime of emotional consequences on the children involved. Hailsham is just such a place. Its disciplinary and educational methods verge on the unethical.

That is the overtone of Never Let Me Go, the fact that humans are extremely inhumane to others. The human condition is examined in depth, without Ishiguro actually mentioning it outright. The children are treated as less than human, less than animals. The signs are there, everywhere the children are, and each time they attempt to learn about their backgrounds. Ethics, science, humanity and conditioning are explored in depth through Kathleen’s observance and quietude.

I am not divulging any of the story line, because to do so would definitely spoil it for the you, the reader/s of this review. You would know immediately what the story involves, and it is best that you don’t know. I will say that it is a disturbing book on so many levels, mainly beginning with humanity and the human condition. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, had me questioning many things, and the whys and wherefores always came back to ethics. Science and ethics do not blend well within the pages, and I believe that is what Kazuo Ishiguro intended, as a whole, within the story. He wants the reader to ponder and question, to think about scientific advances and their merits and their flaws. Are they really advances, in the true sense. Are they really ethical? Do they really enhance life, or do they foster an attitude of disinterest in the outcomes in order to gain information?

So many disturbing scenes were depicted, and lack of emotion for the children was illuminated within the pages. It was not a happy read, not a positive read, but one that was not only sad, but extremely tragic.

Read Never Let Me Go, and let me know your thoughts.

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Book Diva Review: The Jump Artist

thejumpartist The Jump Artist, by Austin Ratner, is a novel that studies the relationship between a father and son, and the psychological impacts of that relationship and how it directed the emotional and life-altering course of the son.

Max, the father was a powerful force in his son, Philipp Halsman’s life, and often energetic, bordering on overpowering, in his quests and activities. He saw himself as able to perform any task, and no matter how strenuous, he never failed to exhibit his dominance and strength. And, exhibit he did, to a fault, proceeding to conquer even when his physical impairment should have quelled his goal.

Philipp, a 22-year old Latvian Jew, on the other hand, was diminished in his father’s presence (Philipp Halsman is not a fictional character, but is a factual person). He had no ambition to compete on his father’s level, and no motivation to drive him forward. Throughout the pages, he evokes a sense of detachment from his father, and a bond that is less than strong or close.

One day while out hiking in Austria, Max fell off a cliff and died. Philipp looked away for one quick instance, and when he looked back, his father was gone. From there the story line becomes more morose. Philipp is accused of murdering his father and taken to jail. He is found guilty of murder, and the reader surmises (at least this reader did), that he did not kill his father, from the way the story line is written.

The prison scenes are extremely layered with graphic imagery, and Ratner’s masterful writing is stark and straight forward. Nothing is left to the imagination. The inhumane treatment is apparent, and Philipp’s depressive state is fostered within the disgusting prison conditions.

While in jail Philipp becomes a tortured soul, unable to fathom why nobody believes him. He is unable to cope with his detention under the circumstances surrounding the fact that nobody believes him, and everyone is against him. His only saving soul is his lawyer, who defends him to the best of his ability, under the extreme and the microscopic efforts of the prosecution.

Within the pages the reader is given vivid portrayals of a man depressed, a man racked with guilt, not the guilt of a murderer, but the guilt of burdens he has bared, and the guilt of a man who is in a constant state of self-hate. His only allies are his attorney, his mother, Freud and Einstein. They rally behind him, and Freud and Einstein vouch for him and use their status to help him gain a pardon.

Once out of prison, he realizes he must move to another country in order to start life anew. Also, the fact that war is imminent plays a large factor in his decision to relocate to France, where he is welcomed, where he feels at home, and where he believes he will be harbored. Within his new environment his efforts at portrait photography are enhanced, and he becomes known for his work. Living in France does not last long, and Philipp eventually moves to America.

In America his photography flourishes, it becomes his life, his reason for living. He photographs famous celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. His signature becomes the fact that he photographs his subjects as they jump, therefore, he is known as a “Jump Artist”. His life takes on new meaning, yet his detachment to humanity is still obvious.

Ratner is brilliant in his writing, and in his portrayal of the human condition, both in prison and in society, as antisemitism rears its ugliness. If this were today, I doubt that Philipp would have been convicted, even through all the discrimination inflicted upon him. There was no conclusive evidence, and the few witnesses that were present used drama tactics to infuse the court’s decision.

For those looking for an intense read, this book is for you. It is not a quick read, not a light read, but a dark and compelling read. Phillip Halsman’s life is the basis for the novel, and Ratman used his life history loosely in portraying the man and his thoughts and feeligns. I applaud Austin Ratner for his brilliant writing, and for bringing to light the circumstances surrounding a man who was wrought with burdens, and a man who overcame some of them, and went on to become a well-known photographer.

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