An unusual, extraordinary book. I avoided reading it for years because I was so troubled by the description of the death of the dog in the title. On tAn unusual, extraordinary book. I avoided reading it for years because I was so troubled by the description of the death of the dog in the title. On the recommendation of my kids, I took it up again this weekend. Totally original, gripping, and engaging....more
Oh my God. This is so very good. A primer on how to write linked stories.
For years, I've been put off by the title, and the book description. But therOh my God. This is so very good. A primer on how to write linked stories.
For years, I've been put off by the title, and the book description. But there it was, staring me down from the pile of books that I bought at the library sale, and nothing else was grabbing my attention on Friday night, so I peeled open the cover and began reading. I was transfixed by the first story, and went on being transfixed by each story that followed. Such a wise, bittersweet book, incomprehensibly sharp, knowledgeable, and wide-ranging, in terms of lives, culture, character, and the inescapable changes that time wreaks on us. I'm so glad I read it....more
Hm. Apparently, I do not have a shelf for this book. What sort of shelf would that be? Baseball fiction? Books That Use Baseball as an Interminable MeHm. Apparently, I do not have a shelf for this book. What sort of shelf would that be? Baseball fiction? Books That Use Baseball as an Interminable Metaphor? Books that Express Disillusionment with the American Dream? Because it definitely belongs on those shelves. But I think the shelf this book fits best on is "I Liked the Movie Better."
This book made me ridiculously hungry. Oh, what Michael Solomonov can do with shish kebobs and salads. Road trip to Philadelphia, anyone?
The recipes aThis book made me ridiculously hungry. Oh, what Michael Solomonov can do with shish kebobs and salads. Road trip to Philadelphia, anyone?
The recipes are awesome. The photography is drool-inducing. And as if that weren't enough, as an added bonus, the story of how Solomonov evolved from being an unhappy, angry teenage boy to a restaurant superstar is incredibly, indelibly moving.
There’s a reason I never heard of this book before my Goodreads friend, Sabah, reviewed it. I was in Israel the year it was published, living on a kibThere’s a reason I never heard of this book before my Goodreads friend, Sabah, reviewed it. I was in Israel the year it was published, living on a kibbutz, collecting eggs in a henhouse, with no English newspaper, and one solitary payphone to service thirty people.
I am in awe of Mark Helprin’s power with words. Oh, can he write. He makes sentences dance the way chimes move in an evening breeze, with music, in an order unexpected and always new. This is the best depiction of living in the state of Israel that I have ever read, and, I suspect, the best ever written in the English language.
The book opens with two heart-stopping passages. The first is a lyrical and gripping account of a badly-wounded soldier at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. For a few days, it was uncertain whether Israel would still exist at the end of it. After the Six Day War, the government and army grew overconfident, and was consequently unprepared for the attack. I was just a little girl, but I remember rumors of graves being dug in public parks to bury all the dead.
The second passage was in equal parts gorgeous and exhilarating. Holocaust survivors of all stripes are being piloted on a crappy old boat from Europe to the British-ruled land of Israel. Over the course of their journey, the living remnants of entire families, entire villages, beaten down by unprecedented savagery, are slowly transformed into wily fighters. During the ensuing battle with a British ship determined to stop them, a child is born, and immediately orphaned.
The central section of the book is a series of wild adventure tales that this child, Marshall Pearl, goes on to experience. It might interest readers to know that the adventures are largely autobiographical, for Mark Helprin has lived one hell of an interesting life. Still, many of them could be lifted from this very long book, interchanged, rearranged, or cut out entirely, and it would make no difference to the plot. They’re exciting, and there are beautiful touches of of magical realism, but truthfully, many of these episodes don’t drive the story forward, they are merely fun to read.
But it is the last section of the book that left me gasping. Marshall enlists in the Israeli army, in the year before the Yom Kippur War, and it is so blindingly clear that Helprin actually did this that it brought tears to my eyes. Here is the Israel I know, the land that took in Germans and French and Czechoslovakians and Hungarians and Romanians and Poles and Russians and Azerbaijanians and Yemenites and Moroccans and Egyptians and Tunisians and Algerians and Indians and Ethiopians and bound them into one people.
With fondness, humor and precision, Helprin describes his unit in the army, made up of criminals and the insane, the strenuous and endless kitchen duty they were assigned, the casual way officers and enlisted men interact with one another, the exhausting and mind-numbing hikes. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe, remembering my year on kibbutz, where I, too, could curse like a sailor at my boss, and he would look at me in a puzzled way and ask me to repeat it in Hebrew; I, too, only understood names, pronouns and numbers in the course of long, rambling speeches given in Ivrit. Helprin describes the streets and the desert and the air and the wadis and the hills and the houses and the foods and the cafes and the smells and the marketplaces. He describes what it feels like to be a Jew living in a small sliver of land surrounded on all sides by enemies. He describes what it feels like to be a soldier charged with defending that land. He describes the gorgeous multicolored and multicultural quilt that is the people and the culture. And the land itself...what it does to people...well, he knows. For better or for worse, there’s a different gravitational pull there; it draws out people’s passions and faith and zeal.
It took me five or six weekends to get through this long, dense book packed with vivid, glorious language, but I flew through the last section, the one titled “Refiner’s Fire.” It ends with a heart-pounding tank battle that defined Israel’s narrow, knife-edge victory, paying tribute to the astounding, selfless courage of people fighting for their homeland, and it feels like it was written by someone who was there, someone who is a warrior-poet.
I will close with this. Exactly two weeks ago, I flew to Israel to bury my father. I was there for twelve hours. In shock and grief, I stood on a sandy hill in the cemetery in Beit Shemesh, forty-five minutes from Jerusalem, as cypress trees wilted in the hot wind and the ancient words were recited.
I can’t explain it, but living and breathing Helprin’s soaring prose brought me comfort--a sense that I had left Dad in a place of welcoming spirits, a sense that he was not alone. ...more