Category Archives: BookLIGHT

Randy’s Reviews: Gratitude, by Joseph Kertes

Randy’s Reviews: Gratitude, by Joseph Kertes (Randyjw; July 14, 2018)

 

GRATITUDE. Joseph Kertes. Copyright 2008 by Joseph Kertes. First published in Canada by the Penguin Group. First U.S. Edition: October 2009. Printed in the USA. Thomas Dunne Books; an imprint of St. Martin’s Press; 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.  10010.

 

I have always loved to read. But, I am the type of person who likes to buck a trend, simply for the fact that things can become boringly staid when “everyone else” is following the latest fad. What this information implies for this book review, and toward books in general, is that the craft of the trade, the functionality of its literary terminology and the process of the book trade itself, have all conspired to impart a procedurally-stultifying expectation of a letter-perfect manual as to how the job should be done, how a books’ characters should behave, how its ending should be contrived (neither too simplistic, nor too absurd), and how reasonably soon an author will fall into the trap of compliance to the formulaic equation of the genre he/she is attempting to portray.

 

What if a book were to ditch a reader’s expectations and, instead, wrote in a unique voice that didn’t conform to supposed norms for plot, character development, length, succinctly drawn protagonists/antagonists, minor players, etc.? Well, that would be a breath of fresh air, wouldn’t it? The end result wouldn’t deprive exclusive scholars from privileged membership to the written-word appreciation club, and yet entry would expand to the artistically-visual, the dexterously-nimble, the misfittedly simple and others who can appreciate a voice for the emotions it imparts, the mind-imagery it evokes, the information it reveals, and other unique facets it details.

 

Since I’m still having difficulty synthesizing the essence of my experience with Gratitude, I feel it falls into a hard-to-peg amalgam of the various writerly techniques masterfully used to explore different and difficult subjects, and which comes off amazingly well for the harshness of the subject matter with which it must deal.

 

Since a publishing house never wishes to promote cause for libel or slander, and to incur damaging lawsuits as a result, the first notification to this extent that you can see is explicitly written straight after the inside titling pages of the book, indicating that the work is completely fictionalized as a product of the author’s imagination. This disclaimer, as a disclosure, is disconcerting, in that the classification of fiction-writing, as a whole, is one of its own problems, and one of its specific gifts, since one can never know for certain the exact percentage which poetic license plays in the accounting of a historical event, or events, inclusive of its non-fictional characters.

 

In the matter of subjects pertaining to Judaism or Jewish history, or that of any other people or event, it can become problematic to blend mythological products of a writer’s imagination with the real-life horrors of a crime as large as genocide: the wiping out of an entire ethnic race or people, such as the Jews, in an aspect as so horrific as the Holocaust.

 

I had read a book many, many years ago about Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat around whose name brings controversy for unstated reasons with regard to the Jews during the time of the Holocaust. In popular lore, Raoul Wallenberg is attributed with saving many Jews during the Nazi German purge to make Europe a predominantly “Aryan” master race, which Adolf Hitler was carrying out through elimination of those people he classified as subhuman, such as homosexual people, Gypsy Roma, the handicapped, and the Jew. I don’t recall what the controversy about Wallenberg actually entailed, or whether I knew what it was to begin with. I believe it may have been something along the lines, as it may have also been the same in the case with Oskar Schindler, perhaps, that of the Jews who eventually survived the Holocaust and their questioning descendants might analyze in hindsight in another frame of mind — a singular aspect comes to mind, and it is this: Not all of the Jews could be saved; so by what method were they chosen? How could someone else actually do the choosing, by themselves making their own “selections”?

 

It would be a question which would haunt us Jews throughout the seven previous decades since the Holocaust occurred. And we still never have any good answers. We look at it from all moral angles, and ask: how can a Kapo, a leader chosen by the Germans from amongst the Jewish population to report as a representative liaison between the parties and to middle-manage the Nazi decisions as to who, which Jews, would be chosen for extermination in the next “selection,” actually carry out his decision?

 

How did Swedish diplomats Raoul Wallenberg, Per Anger, and others, including one of the people in author Kertes’ novel, decide who could be saved and who couldn’t? Such random, or preferential decisions could never be easy ones, and there would always be recriminating fingers pointing, regardless of who was saved. Such consequences for these decisions were also cast at the Jewish organizations who were also trying to help ferret out Jewish people to safety from a certain death; yet they were also spoken about, after-the-fact, with reproachful, hushed undertones of horror and manipulation, nepotism and cronyism. The subject matter of death and genocide almost demands that it be so.

 

In any case, Joseph Kertes’ book is written with a combination of factual detail reminiscent of actual events, and the prose of stream-of-consciousness writing that he utilizes as a family member in his own narrative to these characters in real-life actuality. I think this comes across very well throughout the book, and gives it an emotionality which would be all too lacking, otherwise. Other reviewers miss the mark with this aspect of his work; I think it makes the work what it is. It is emotional. At the end, you are left saying, Well… what does it all come down to? There are some instances where there are certain references which seem more of today’s times than to have ever occurred in conversation during those days; this happened about four times, and I found it annoying. But, overall, I think it is worth reading Gratitude.

 

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Randy’s Reviews: Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

 

Randy’s Reviews: Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (Randyjw; August 3, 2017

 

FIREFLY LANE. Copyright 2008 by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Griffin; St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, 10010.

 

Firefly Lane is a fictionalized account of female friendship, which could deftly stand-in for the bonds formed in our own lives. Kristin Hannah relates a sisterhood which would be familiar to many women, as they read along through the decades of Tully Hart’s and Kate Mularkey’s interactions and emotions.

 

The two girls meet at age fourteen in the decade of the nineteen-seventies, becoming fast friends despite drastically different expressive styles. Their upbringing is also at opposite poles, inspiring “grass-is-greener” envy by both girls for the other’s lifestyle.

 

They swear fealty forever in friendship, and form a pact to follow the same career together, but maturation and life events effect reconsideration and change in later plans. The inner roiling of the girls’ thoughts as they deal with these repercussions and their impact on their relationship elicits sympathies of the reader on many levels. It did the same for me, as well, as I thought back on the same kind of situations and, even, actual details, which reminded me of female friendships shared with my own best friends.

 

Given these coincidences, the book really resonates with me. Based on the fact that it made a bestseller’s list, it apparently held appeal for many others, too. I did think the material-culture references too overdrawn, but also often nodded in appreciation of their nostalgic mention.

 

I’m afraid to encounter the seemingly wistful conclusions alluded to in other reviews, as I’ve not yet reached the end. I’m rooting for these fast, forever-friends to pull through.

 

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Randy’s Reviews: Chandra, by Catherine Coulter

 

 

 

Randy’s Reviews: Chandra, by Catherine Coulter (Randyjw; July 9, 2017)

 

I still have two pages left to finish this book, which I hope to do later this evening — but, I thought I’d write and post this review beforehand, nevertheless. This is another of those well-timed messages that seem to pop-up out of nowhere, perfectly attuned to your own peculiar situation and personality, lending it great resonance to your life at the specific time. And so it was with me, with regards to this particular book.

 

Chandra, the main character about whom the novel revolves, is a teenaged girl growing up in a patrician world, where women are expected to willingly tend to all household duties in their arranged marriages to bridegrooms chosen by their fathers. But Chandra’s tomboy tendencies, indulged by her father, clearly clash with others’ expectations for her, especially of the man who wishes to wed her (who is, also, thank goodness, her father’s pre-arranged choice).

 

The novel is set in medieval England during a period of active monarchy and feudalism, with all its attendant treacheries amongst the knighthood — the backstabbing, the clannishness, the alliances of convenience, like marriage, as appropos as any war strategies to expand land holdings and power.

 

Chandra’s headstrong, feminist tendencies lead to many adventures, and some troubles, as she learns how to negotiate her way in a male-oriented world. I find her quandary as relevant today, as they were in the days, centuries ago, of the timeframe which this novel portrays. Some of the issues are very disturbing, and the content is aimed for a mature audience. Because of that, I almost did not do the review. The way the issues are presented is as if seen through the lens of the century in which it falls. For instance, child marriage is seen as a more commonplace occurence. Women treated as chattel like objects, through trafficking and slavery, placement in a harem, and subservient to men is also some treatment themes addressed throughout the book, as are stereotypical depictions of the Muslim rulers fought against during the Crusades, written about as through the English, Christian perspective taken here.

 

I found that the style of the written language lent itself to far greater civility than our present structural usage employs and was, indeed, quite lovely in its romantic interludes. There was a beautiful poem in this style, for which more I’d hoped to be scattered throughout the book. There were, additionally, some rather descriptive page lengths of love scenes written out that would have steamed up my glasses, had I been wearing them.

 

Author Catherine Coulter’s biographic pictorial photo and her character, Chandra, were well-relatable to me, and I appreciated her usage of the name, Chandra, for her heroine, as I feel it gives a tributary nod and thoughtful gesture — much needed — for a poor girl, Chandra Levy, murdered recently, as all murders are, under suspicious circumstances.

 

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Randy’s Reviews: Pilate’s Wife by Antoinette May

 

Randy’s Reviews: Pilate’s Wife by Antoinette May (Randyjw; June 13, 2017)

 

I believe in things like karma, synchronicity, and the other myriad, subtle influences that play a part in our lives, both physically and metaphysically. Little did I know that this fictional book, set just preceding and throughout the nadir of Pontius Pilate’s governorship in Judea during the reign of the Roman Empire, would touch me self-reflectively in the many references it makes to the journey I’ve felt myself to be on in recent months.

 

I’ve felt that the “universe” has been trying to tell me something very important that I have apparently been overlooking in my life. The same is being said to be the missing factor of the main character in this novel, Claudia Proculus, the eventual wife of Pontius Pilate. She is besotted with making this charming, handsome man her own, and goes to great lengths to see that this occurs, even seeking incantations from the mystagogue at her temple of Isis, to whom she swore devotional allegiance. Whether divinely inspired or chemically-induced, the attraction seems to work it’s magic spell and lures Pilate to her side, with equal ardor.

 

Claudia lives an idyllic childhood all too abruptly thrown into turmoil, as her life takes on tragic twists in the fate of her family members. She realizes that her inner happiness is in question, as well as her choices. Her child with Pilate brings her great joy, compounded by the realization that the man she really loves cannot be in her life. Their brief dalliances must last her a lifetime, and they do.

 

The book was researched by its author, Antoinette May, over a course of many years, taking about fourteen years’ time to complete. Several of these years were spent delving into the studies, documents, literature and resources of the Classics Department at Stanford University to research the era of this time, in order to make the real-life characters of the time come to life. I felt it was a very unique insight into the formation of monotheistic religion from its beginnings from its more nature-based, pagan panoply of deities. I loved the descriptions of the clothing, which were fashioned often after the celestial bodies of the stars, sun, and moon; the mentions of the various deities and their properties and how people came to worship them; etc.

 

While I appreciate that the Jewish slave, Rachel, was strictly written about in human terms and was never shown in any diminutive fashion, I felt that there was unnecessary antagonism toward the Jewish people portrayed by Ms. May in her wording and the feeling that I got based on her attitudes, which seemed particularly stereotypical and condescending toward the Jewish people as a religion and as a people. For this reason, I was really disappointed, although the book was otherwise an engaging and engrossing read. Taking this in mind, I do hope you have a chance to read and enjoy this book, as a love story and as a throwback to ancient times.

 

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Exodus

 

guarding-the-gan

Photo: “Guarding the Gan” (Randyjw; 2017)

 

 

Exodus (Randyjw; February 23, 2017)

 

Kitty is my feral friend and sometime snugglepuss. I like the name Kitty, because it reminds me of the nurse of the same name in the movie, Exodus, and because she’ll think everybody is friendly, since they seem to already call her by name. She’s got alot of spirit, and is very sensitive and really sweet. She still lives a feral life, but has become more of an outdoor cat of the neighborhood, settling inside with me during inclement weather, for the most part.

 

In the movie, Exodus, the part of Kitty Fremont, the American nurse who falls in love with a Jewish man during the struggle of Jews to reach Israel (called “Palestine”, at that time) during the British Mandatory assignment period, is played by Eva Marie Saint.

 

The 1960 movie is based on the 1958 book by Leon Uris of the same name and is a fictional account based loosely on events during the period it portrays. I’ve watched the movie several times on television, as well as having enjoyed listening to the famous theme title to the movie.

 

Leon Uris was a war correspondent during those years, and writes extensively on Jewish subject matter. His books in that genre include: Exodus; Mitla Pass; Mila 18; The Haj; and QB VII. His style is in the manner of a historical fiction writer, others of which would include Trinity and Redemption. I really enjoy his books.

 

Wikipedia.org; “Exodus (1960 film)”:

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exodus_(1960_film))

 

Wikipedia.org; “Leon Uris”:

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Uris)

 

 

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5 Recommended Authors and Their Books

 

5 Recommended Authors and Their Books (Randyjw; February 20, 2017)

 

Here are some of my recommendations from (mostly) popular authors and several of their books. I’ve listed them in my preferred reading order, not by when they were written. Most are very emotionally written, with gorgeous verse, and that is what makes these appealing to me. James Michener’s works converted me from hater, to lover, of history.

 

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1) Malika Oufkir —

 

Freedom: The Story of My Second Life

 

Stolen Lives

 

 

2) Amy Tan —

 

The Joy Luck Club

 

The Hundred Secret Senses

 

The Kitchen God’s Wife

 

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

 

 

3) James Michener —

 

The Covenant

 

Hawai’i

 

 

4) Khaled Hosseini —

 

The Kite Runner

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns

 

 

5) Saira Shah —

 

The Storyteller’s Daughter

 

 

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Freedom: The Story of My Second Life – by Malika Oufkir

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Copyright 2006 by Malika Oufkir. Jacket designed by Beth Middleworth. Author photo by Melanie Dunea. Hyperion, 77 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023-6298. Printed in USA ©2006 Miramax Books.

 

This book is one of the cherished volumes of my personal collection that just can’t seem to make it into a “give-away” pile to allow room for new reads on the shelf. Each time I say that I’ve read enough that I ought to be able to detach it from my core staples, it keeps coming back and taking its place among the rightly-deserved designated “keepers”.

 

Why this should be so is due to Ms. Oufkir’s beautiful Middle-Eastern phrasing and mindset. No-one can write with the allegory and turn-of-speech better than a son or daughter of the Levant (including the northern reaches of Africa). Think number one books, such as the Bible, or number one authors or poets, such as Khaled Hosseini or Khalil Gibran, respectively, which bring to mind examples for the simplicity of sentence regaling the beauty of a song.

 

Malika’s prose and outlook are remarkable, given the harsh treatment received throughout much of her life. She was the favored playmate in childhood of the King’s daughter. Later on, her father would be executed and she and her siblings and mother imprisoned for twenty years as collective punishment for the assassination attempt on the King in a coup d’etat allegedly involving Malika’s father. Their subsequent escape, recapture and final harrowing push to freedom are relayed in a compelling saga woven as beautifully as an embroidered wedding dress.

 

Her first book, Stolen Lives, was an international best-seller and relates her years during captivity. It doesn’t matter which book is read first; I almost prefer having read the sequel with which to gird oneself for the harshness of the first.

 

This post is dedicated to freedom and to the brave souls who fight to find it.

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