I read this book because my dear friend and fellow librarian Karen asked m to. She wanted to get my Jewish take on it (as well as the reader take, obvI read this book because my dear friend and fellow librarian Karen asked m to. She wanted to get my Jewish take on it (as well as the reader take, obviously). So, here goes, Karen:
Overall I enjoyed the book despite the fact that it could never have happened as written because:
1) The obvious problem is that NO Jewish mother I know would have left the country 3 weeks before her son's bar mitzvah, not even for a free trip to Italy with her husband. He's a doctor, they're loaded, and she collects antique snuff bottles. This is a person who can go to Italy another time, when her son is not about to be bar mitzvah. I was hysterically going over table arrangements, making sure party favors arrived, consulting with florists and caterers, checking music play lists, making sure dress alterations had been done properly. Maybe, just MAYBE I would have gone away if someone was desperately ill. But only maybe. Also, she knows her older son is a maniac. It's not realistic that she would leave the other children with him, especially right before the bar mitzvah.
2) I also don't know a Jewish mother who wouldn't have heard her son practice his haftorah portion at that point. At that point I was having multiple weekly conversations with the bat mitzvah tutor. And since the story begins with a friend of the family puking, crapping his pants and passing out at the altar when having his bar mitzvah, the parents' anxiety would have been exponentially ratcheted up as well as that of the next victim--I mean, the soon-to-be bar mitzvah boy. It is also not possible to get even a haftorah ready in 3 weeks, not even a crummy job. In my estimation, it would take at least 3 months. At LEAST!
But, whatever, let us suspend disbelief for the sake of storytelling. Here we are with the smart, geeky bar mitzvah boy being totally unprepared being left with his crazy violent brother Joshua who is really into being Jewish. So, Josh basically puts him through Manhood 101, like some sort of Outward Bound thing or Iron John where the men were supposed to get together in sweat lodges and hug and fart and cry (not necessarily in that order). While simultaneously studying his haftorah. And it was kind of awesome to see whiny baby geek get his man on. I thought josh the Super Jew was a realistic character. I've seen Jewish guys who were so angry about the ghetto Jews who went meekly to the gas chambers that they overreacted like that. Usually they join the Israeli Army, which is where I thought the plot was going. I thought the narrator (soon to be bar mitzvah) was a good character too because he was funny and smart and wry. I also enjoyed his revelations where he suddenly believes everything will be totally different--like when he realizes he has been a terrible friend to the guy who disgraced himself at the altar of his bar mitzvah--but then reverts immediately back to being ashamed of the guy and a terrible friend as soon as they see some popular girls. That's so what it was like to be a teen, in my experience. He does change and grow and become less whiny and weak at the end, but not in those flashing moments. Which is what keeps the novel from being an afterschool special.
The only thing I would have liked is for the heroine--Josh's friend whom the narrator gets a crush on--to be Jewish too. There were no hot Jewish women in the book, only whiny/needy ones. (unfair to Local # Jewish Wimmin!) but I guess you can't have everything. ...more
Finally done. I learned so much and so painlessly, thanks to Schama's erudition combined with a witty, irreverent, lively, sometimes poignant style. LFinally done. I learned so much and so painlessly, thanks to Schama's erudition combined with a witty, irreverent, lively, sometimes poignant style. Longer review to follow. ...more
The Seven Blessings are said on the occasion of a Jewish marriage and that should tip you off that this is a classic marriage novel...but Jewish. So iThe Seven Blessings are said on the occasion of a Jewish marriage and that should tip you off that this is a classic marriage novel...but Jewish. So instead of an English country village, we find ourselves among the observant American immigrants of Jerusalem who are looking for love, looking for God, and looking for their place in the world. There are echoes of Isaac Bashevits Singer and Doestoevsky (one character has Tourette's) as well as Jane Austen and George Eliot, and that is high praise. But basically no one seems to do anything besides study Talmud, go to parties, plot to marry each other off, buy food and cook. And then there are the women. Wonderfully well written and enjoyably escapist in that it is so different from my world. ...more
A beautifully written, painstakingly observed remembrance of the tiny village of Vitebsk by Bella Chagall, the artist's first wife, with line drawingsA beautifully written, painstakingly observed remembrance of the tiny village of Vitebsk by Bella Chagall, the artist's first wife, with line drawings by Chagall. Centers around Jewish holidays. ...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. I love Ruchama's writing style, how she conjures up a world of spiritual and romantic yearnings and sets it inI have mixed feelings about this book. I love Ruchama's writing style, how she conjures up a world of spiritual and romantic yearnings and sets it in Jerusalem. There are veils of meaning in her writing and they get peeled off one by one in a most subtle and elegant way. But it's balanced by some troubling things. Her desire to portray a friendship between Arab And Israeli is commendable, but the Arab she picks is so remedial, so damaged on every level--a janitor with a deformed neck--and he's the only Arab we get to see. He's so longing for acceptance from the Jews, he's like an Arab Uncle Tom! Also of course the Jewish hero and heroine are way, way kinder to him than his own people are. This may be true to life but it sticks in my craw. Then there is the problem of the lovely young born-again heroine (of course red headed!) who falls in love with the schnooky older religious guy. It's like something out of a Woody Allen movie, and i don't mean that in a good way. But I look forward to Ruchama's next book. I will read anything by her now....more