The Holocaust is one of the darkest moments of human history, if not the darkest moment. The Seamstress by Sarah Tuvel Bernstein is poignant coming-of...moreThe Holocaust is one of the darkest moments of human history, if not the darkest moment. The Seamstress by Sarah Tuvel Bernstein is poignant coming-of-age memoir showcasing the indomitable human spirit. Sarah Tuvel Bernstein, herein referred to as Seren Tuvel, was a Romanian Jew. Much of Seren’s story is shaped around her large family; she was one of nine. Her father was a lumber mill manager and was what we could consider lower middle class today. Her formal education ended at elementary school, yet she continued to learn as she became an apprenticed seamstress. Tuvel’s memoir opens with the story of her birth and closes with an epilogue by her daughter, Marlene Bernstein about Tuvel’s life in America and her subsequent death. As with many Holocaust survivors, Seren Tuvel did not emerge from the Holocaust without emotional scars to bear. As Romania is an Eastern European country, and Seren’s family is Jewish, the Tuvel family has had to endure a long history of persecution, from pogroms to accusations of being “Christ-killers.” Seren, with blonde hair and blue eyes is able to achieve much success through her sewing because many perceived her to be Gentile. Without her Gentile features, she would have been barred entry from the homes of those who were among the upper echelon of society. In 1941 Seren and her father, Abram Tuvel were arrested by the Hungarian Government for being spies, their only true crime was being Jewish and living very near the Romanian-Hungarian border. In the early World War II years, the Romanian-Hungarian border was elastic, which presented a problem for the Tuvels. Seren was eventually released; her father never procured freedom and was ruthlessly shot for losing his mind during an air raid. Upon return, Seren and her remaining family are forced into ghettos. Seren sneaks out and continues to sew for Gentile households. She is then conscripted into a women’s labor army with friends and family. The army brings Seren to a labor camp Ravensbruick. In Ravensbruick, Seren, her best friends and niece survive by sheer cunning. When liberation forces come too close to Ravensbruick, Seren and her group are brought to Auschwitz. Eventually they were liberated from Auschwitz, Seren stayed in a hospital for a few months because of her poor health. She went to a refugee center, taught a sewing class, and met her husband. The Seamstress, gracefully showcases Seren Tuvel’s wide spectrum of emotions within its pages. Empathy for Tuvel naturally occurs while reading her story. Perhaps most surprising of all of Seren’s emotions was her bitterness towards the Polish-Jews within Auschwitz. She describes them as a ruthless, motley group with compassion only for their own. I had a hard time understanding why Seren felt such disdain for the Polish-Jews because with all the persecution and hate she suffered, why continue the cycle of hate. Perhaps the most recurrent emotion throughout The Seamstress was optimism. By retaining hope through the horrors heaped upon her, Seren emerged from the Holocaust physically and mentally intact. Many were not as lucky as Seren, as evidenced by the grief she describes from losing a vast amount of loved ones. By learning about the Holocaust one may feel pity for the victims, but perhaps not empathy. “A single death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic .” Reading a Holocaust memoir puts a human face on the catastrophe, allowing for someone with no personal connection to the event to feel compassion for those who survived as well as those who did not. As someone who has never experienced anything even close to what Seren endured, it is hard for me to understand the Holocaust. Through Tuvel’s words I learned of the plight of the Romanian Jew before and even directly after the Holocaust. My eyes were opened to the existence of camps beyond Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, and Chelmno, and that each of these camps destroyed the lives of millions real people with real lives and real families. It was and still is hard to comprehend the amount of destruction Hitler and the Nazis wrought upon the Jews and the other “undesirables”. Even more shocking to me was how the Jews were treated directly afterwards. I had always believed that following the Holocaust, the Germans treated the Jews with kindness because they felt guilty about what had happened, such was not the case. Tuvel writes about post-war Germans feeling that because the Fuhrer was so adamant in destroying the European Jewry, there must have been some sort of logical reasoning behind it. However, it seems that so many years of ingrained antisemitism, it was probably a hard thing for the Europeans to let go of. Seren wrote this memoir as a testament to the existence of her family as well as to tell her story in its entirety. The Seamstress is intended for young adults. There are graphic descriptions of the violence inflicted upon the Jews, including one section where Tuvel describes observing prominent Jewish men hung on meat hooks. Sexual violence is alluded to as well. The book is not suitable for a younger reader. The Seamstress isn’t Pulitzer Prize quality, but it is not a book to be easily dismissed. This is an eloquently written memoir, a fluid read. The grace, dignity, and perseverance shown by Seren Tuvel during the Holocaust moved me. The Seamstress is perhaps best suited for a rainy or snowy day free of distraction where one may be transported to Seren Tuvel’s world. (less)
This was a decent memoir about a man who wants to become a woman, and so explores the ideas of gender and sexuality and what it is like to be transsex...moreThis was a decent memoir about a man who wants to become a woman, and so explores the ideas of gender and sexuality and what it is like to be transsexual. It's interesting to read about certain issues people have and I can't imagine having to go through my life believing I had been born the wrong gender and to be stigmatized the way Boylan was. Boylan was lucky though, her family and friends supported her and it seemed she didn't have to deal with cruel insults like "he-she" and the like. Read the rest of my review here(less)
For such a small book, Steinbeck really packs an emotional punch. Of Mice and Men is the story of two men, George and Lenny. George is small, smart gu...moreFor such a small book, Steinbeck really packs an emotional punch. Of Mice and Men is the story of two men, George and Lenny. George is small, smart guy -- the one who wears the pants in the relationship. Lenny is a big dumb man who doesn't know his own strength. The two men have been travelling and working together for a very long time. Anyways, Lenny causes trouble in Weed, so they move to a ranch. Throughout the story themes of loyalty and home are echoed. Don't read this expecting to be uplifted, it's gritty, but damned if it'll make you feel something.(less)
Aside from today being the World Cup Final, it is also the 50th Anniversary of the publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If y'all haven't...moreAside from today being the World Cup Final, it is also the 50th Anniversary of the publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If y'all haven't read this book yet, you really need to. It's gorgeous. Saturday and today I took the time to re-read this classic. I know it's silly to re-read things when my TBR is a mile long, BUT some books merit this.
I first read To Kill A Mockingbird the summer before 11th grade. It was assigned summer reading for A.P. English. I remember pretty much rushing through it and not really taking the time to appreciate the language. I was more interested in the plot and what would happen. I think on being about 6 years older, I have slightly matured and am a bit more able to appreciate this gorgeous book.
I was struck by the moral code of Atticus. This is a man who does not waiver. He perfectly represents Maslow's top level, being someone who is self-actualized. In reading about Atticus, I wished that I could be more like him. His character caused me to examine my own character. Friends, it sorely lacks in comparison. He's just so fascinating. I mean, you could even read into this as a gender studies kind of book, as Atticus challenges societal notions of masculinity and what it means to be brave. Instead of being macho, he reads books in the evenings. He may be the deadest shot in the county, but he doesn't own a gun, nor does he advertise his skills. He's gentle. He's got honor. What I loved was how he is exactly the same in his public life as he is in his private life. I don't see how you can't admire Atticus.
What is perhaps the most wonderful thing about To Kill A Mockingbird is the writing style. It's smooth. It flows off the page. I actually laughed out loud while reading, which I would never have expected. Perhaps I was more taciturn in high school? Anyways, wow, this book is FUNNY. It's also heartbreaking. Harper Lee has excellent wordsmith skillz. Her prose is never flowery just to be flowery. Nor is it ever dumbed down for the audience.
I wonder, could this book be considered YA? When I did the top 100 YA vote, this book wound up in the top five. Now, personally, I would consider this YA. Perhaps it does not conform to today's flavor of YA, but it has the elements. I guess for me, YA really resonates with coming of age stories, features a young protagonist, and has wonderful pacing. This book fit all of those requirements. I think it has perfectly stood the test of time, and will last at least another 50 years.
I can happily say, To Kill A Mockingbird actually improves upon a second reading. When I already know the plot, I find I can focus on other details, such as turn of phrasing and characterization. I must say this excels in characters from Bob Ewell and his dependcy on the county to the Cunninghams and their not taking handouts from anyone to Mrs. Dubose who wants to die free of addiction, I just loved how well done these characters were.
Finally, dear friends, I would like to leave you with some quotes which struck me this time around:
"But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said." - pg 89
"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." - pg 105
"I wanted you to see something about her --- I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew." - pg. 112(less)