I was tricked by the endorsement on the cover by Anita Shreve, a writer I respect, who called it "an amazingly clever novel with depth, drama and warmI was tricked by the endorsement on the cover by Anita Shreve, a writer I respect, who called it "an amazingly clever novel with depth, drama and warmth." Anita, I hardly knew ye!
I forced myself to get to nearly page 100 before giving up. These characters demonstrate almost no cleverness, little warmth and even less drama. The author has done a lousy job in making any of them stand out for any reason, doesn't show (or even tell) why the writers who are in this supposedly prestigious (aka snooty) writers' group have done so well in their careers, nor what in the world they have to offer one another.
I have tried to read several books that are based on little clubs of people and it's a big job for the author to make each member compelling enough so that we care enough to file away their individual profiles as the author weaves their stories together. I have yet to find many that work.
This book was guilty of a cardinal sin: it bored me. And as for Anita Shreve's puffery, I suppose the two of them are friends. . . but what about Shreve's reputation as a book endorser? ...more
Having loved both Gilead and Home, I expected to also be smitten by Lila, the third of this series placed in mid-20th century Iowa and focused on twoHaving loved both Gilead and Home, I expected to also be smitten by Lila, the third of this series placed in mid-20th century Iowa and focused on two pastors' families. Lila, whom readers have met in the other books, now surfaces with her full and sad life story before her life as the second Mrs. John Ames, the reverend who is the protagonist of Gilead.
Here we discover Lila's roots as a vagabond, who as a child was literally snatched from a "family" whose behavior to her was almost incomprehensibly inhumane. Doll, another vagabond but with a heart, takes Lila and raises her amid a makeshift family that drifts in search of day labor work.
However, I couldn't appreciate this book nearly as much as I did the others in the series. I couldn't relate -- at all -- to Lila as a character, could not see her growth as a character until well into the book's narrative. Growing up dirt poor, with no education and only the love of her caretaker, Doll, Lila is a rough character, mistrustful of the world for obvious reasons, whose heart we cannot read. I was, frankly, also bored by so much of the narrative that revisited her years with her makeshift family, and found it annoying that it was never made clear how she met up with them, or why they disappeared from her life. There are many anecdotes about her life with them, but no ongoing drama that builds to anything.
After losing Doll, Lila travels to the town of Gilead and enters Reverend Ames' church, where the Reverand suddenly has one of those epiphanies like in the movies that this woman is somehow meant for him, feeling a connection to someone who is basically a vagrant. Lila begins to ask him questions about life, and the unlikeliest of romances develops. Despite having just about nothing in common, they marry.
Marilyn Robinson's narrative weaves consistently from Lila's first-person recollections to third-person, creating some confusion. She also refers to Reverend Ames as "elderly" throughout the book, but we know from Gilead that he was only around 60 at the time he married Lila, based on the age he discloses in that book as he writes a letter to his 7-year-old son, a sort of ethical will, because he is sure he won't live to see his son grow to adulthood.
John Ames is an educated, articulate man, and it is never believable to me that he can feel such a connection to a woman who has no education, no trust ("You don't know nothing about me," she tells him repeatedly), and a sordid past. When he reads some of his sermons to her at the kitchen table, it is almost absurd that he could expect her to understand the vocabulary, let alone concepts, he is using.
The book's larger themes revolve around faith and redemption, as well as the longing for a strong parent-child connection. Ames lost his first wife and child decades earlier; Lila was treated no better than a stray cat by her family of origin and has longed for a child of her own.
One has to totally suspend belief that two such opposite universes, could form such a bond. ...more
I am used to reading commentary on the Book of Esther from a religious Jewish perspective, and while Yoram Hazony certainly includes dozens of religioI am used to reading commentary on the Book of Esther from a religious Jewish perspective, and while Yoram Hazony certainly includes dozens of religious sources for his commentary, his take focuses on the political aspects of Esther and Mordechai, and I was fascinated by these new and provocative views. He also links political motivations and perspectives to major Jewish figures that pre-date Esther and Mordechai, pointing out the common thread of suspicion against government authority giving examples from the time of Jacob and the Ten Tribes, as well as the push-back against authority of Moses and the midwives, who refuse to follow Pharoah's decree to kill newborn Jewish baby boys.
I was fascinated by Hazony's many new insights about Esther and Mordechai, including how he provided the angle that so much of their actions were motivated by political self-interest. I believe he didn't give as much credit as he should have to the faith I believe they both had that God would deliver the Jews from Haman's genocidal decree, but I loved his take that when Esther doesn't ask for anything special to beautify herself before being taken to the king other than what the women's chamberlain recommends, it isn't passivity but a strategic statement: "I know that you understand the king's likes and dislikes better than anyone. I defer to your better judgment on this to get the job done."
The writing is superb; intellectual without being dense. This book added to my depth of appreciation and understanding of the always fascinating Book of Esther. ...more
This has been my least favorite Pym novel, and I feel a bit guilty over the 3-star rating, as Quartet in Autumn, written late in her career, was haileThis has been my least favorite Pym novel, and I feel a bit guilty over the 3-star rating, as Quartet in Autumn, written late in her career, was hailed as one of her best, and nominated for The Booker Prize. However, even for a Pym story I felt it very slow going for the first half, the four main characters either unlikable or just dull.
The main characters, Norman, Letty, Marcia and Edwin, are all 60-somethings sharing a dull office (the exact nature of the work is never described, underscoring the drabness of their lives) and anticipating retirement. Norman is angry and bitter by nature; Letty kind and refined; Marcia bizarre, unfiltered and in questionable physical and mental health; and Edwin rather meekly looking for the next best church service. The quartet seems to have almost nothing in common yet Pym must weave a storyline that connects them and shows how they feel connected to one another, but I felt it was strained until close to the end, when one of them dies and the others gather together in friendship and to be of assistance. Finding commonality among them felt like a stretch to me, but perhaps part of Pym's point was how often people who are alone at that stage of life have so few options for companionship. That struck home with Letty, who had been promised to share a home in the countryside with a widowed friend of hers, until that friend suddenly became engaged, and Letty was left hanging. That sub-storyline held more interest and had more substance.
There are still some wonderful Pym lines with trademark ironic humor. When Letty tries to deal with a new landlord in the house, who enjoys religious singing, Pym writes: "'I wonder if you could make a little less noise?' she asked. 'Some of us find it rather disturbing.' 'Christianity is disturbing,' said Mr. Olatunde."
It is still vintage Pym, and true fans won't be disappointed that they invested the short amount of time to read this, one of her last works.
This novel is set at the same time and place as Robinson's novel Gilead, but focuses almost entirely on the Boughton family: the aging and frail ReverThis novel is set at the same time and place as Robinson's novel Gilead, but focuses almost entirely on the Boughton family: the aging and frail Reverend Boughton, youngest daughter Glory, who has come home at 38 to care for her father, and the 40-something prodigal son Jack, also home after a 20-year absence. Reverend Boughton and his son Jack are recurring characters in Gilead, so reading both offers a fuller portrait of these closely connected Midwestern preachers' families. (There is a third novel in this set, Lila, about the much-younger wife of the Reverend Ames, protagonist of Gilead, and which I have yet to read.)
This is a slow-paced story, but one that keeps your attention as the author peels layers and layers of mystery off the sad and lonely histories of both Glory and Jack, now unaccustomed to living together again for the first time since childhood, now each in caregiver roles to their father.
Jack's troubled past includes alcohol and prison, and in his return "Home" to Gilead he also seeks redemption from some of the mistakes and sins of his past, yet that redemption continues to elude him. At the same time, he longs for the woman he loves, Della, back in St. Louis, and is haunted by her refusal to answer his letters. Glory has also been disappointed in love and now faces the prospect of possibly being stuck in small Gilead perhaps forever as her father's caretaker and eventually as the sole inhabitant of the creaky old house she will inherit, as her other siblings aside from Jack are married and settled elsewhere.
The tension among the family members is usually on a low simmer but sometimes rises to spilling over: long-festering anger toward Jack over the child he Jack fathered while barely out of his teens and would not acknowledge; concern over Jack's apostasy, and resentment over his failure to come home even for his mother's funeral years before.
Robinson's mastery of language is beautiful, and her development of these finely accented characters is poignant and memorable....more
My friend and teacher, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, wrote this amazing book along with his wife, Susan Lapin, to show the deep and surprising insights of the HMy friend and teacher, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, wrote this amazing book along with his wife, Susan Lapin, to show the deep and surprising insights of the Hebrew language and its application to our lives. For example. in Hebrew, the word for friend is "ya-deed," which breaks down into the word "yad-yad," or, hand in hand. The word for face in Hebrew is "paneem," which is a plural construction, because people have more than one face -- the face they show to a prospective employer may not be the one they show to a loved one at home. These are two examples that reveal fundamental psychological truths about human nature as expressed through the Lord's language.
This book is engaging and enlightening, while also sharing essential Jewish concepts through the brilliance and succinctness of Hebrew. And if you don't read Hebrew, there is a helpful section at the beginning that introduces the Hebrew alphabet and explanations on how to view each letter as a "tool" to devlve into the deeper meaning. ...more
Minister John Ames is 77, and he knows he is dying. In this rapturously written novel, Ames leaves his seven-year-old son the legacy of a diary, withMinister John Ames is 77, and he knows he is dying. In this rapturously written novel, Ames leaves his seven-year-old son the legacy of a diary, with his thoughts, philosophy, reminiscences, and hopes and dreams for the young wife and son he leaves behind. Having lost a wife and child in his early years, Ames spent decades serving his congregation in faithfulness and loneliness. Unexpectedly, in his late 60s, a young woman enters his congregation and his life, giving him another chance at love and fatherhood.
Gilead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is a book to read slowly, savoring both the quiet wisdom infused throughout its pages, as well as its meditations on the relationships between fathers and sons, as well as on faith. Ames writes about his relationship with his own father; his father's relationship with his father, about his hopes for the future of his own son, who will grow up without him. He also writes about the father-son relationship between his closest friend, minister Boughton, and Boughton's prodigal, mysterious and troubled son, Jack. Why has young Boughton come back to town, Ames wonders? Does Jack have designs on Minister Ames' much younger wife? And can Ames' offer solace to Jack, estranged from his own father, and who wonders if he is condemned to perdition for his apostasy?
This remarkable book is one worth reading more than once, to savor not only the graceful and poignant writing but also for the wisdom and humanity of protagonists's voice. Toward the end of the story, Ames writes to his son:
"As I have told you, I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father's house -- even when his father did, a fact which surely puts my credentials beyond all challenge. I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that's all right. There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?
"It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health."
It is rare for me to give any book 5 stars. This one well deserves it.
As a butler in a "great house" in England, Stevens had served Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall for 20 years. For Stevens, as for so many of the BritAs a butler in a "great house" in England, Stevens had served Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall for 20 years. For Stevens, as for so many of the British whose careers were "in service" to the landed gentry, the goal was to serve with dignity and professionalism. Butlers of "great houses" oversaw a staff of dozens and held great responsibilities. Stevens was proud of his rank.
In this quiet but subtly powerful book, Stevens assesses his life and career while on a road trip. As he recalls in particular Lord Darlington's efforts after World War I to influence European leaders to ease up on the Versailles Treaty strictures imposed on Germany, Stevens begins to admit to himself that the employer he considered wise and almost infallible was, in fact, probably a Nazi sympathizer. Lord Darlington made choices that proved wrong and led to his eventual public humiliation, but, as Stevens muses, at least Lord Darlington had made his own choices. As the sun begins to set on his own career, Stevens asks himself the painful question: Have I made my own choices, or have I merely followed a path unthinkingly?
Stevens' recollections also dwell heavily on Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall whom he plans to visit on his trip. Miss Kenton is feisty where Stevens is subdued to the point of emotional imprisonment. When, in flashback scenes, she challenges him to allow himself to feel and to think for himself rather than just serve Lord Darlington, he doesn't have the language to respond.
The Remains of the Day is an outstanding study of a man in later mid-life reviewing how he has spent the best years of his life. The 1993 movie based on the book, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, is terrific, and its script is exceptionally loyal to the book....more
"What happened?" -- That is the question Shulem Deen was asked whenever he had to show his ID, and the bank teller or highway patrol officer did a dou"What happened?" -- That is the question Shulem Deen was asked whenever he had to show his ID, and the bank teller or highway patrol officer did a double take: the ID photo showing a Skverer Hasid (beard, payot, and beaver hat) versus the clean-shaven, bare-headed guy in jeans who over time lost his faith in his community and even in God.
Deen's memoir is the answer to that question, and it is deeply engaging, sometimes funny, and increasingly sad. As someone who grew up secular and wrestled for a good few years before casting my lot with Torah-based community, my path has been the opposite of Deen's. I discovered my embarrassing lack of knowledge about my own spiritual heritage, and set out to claim it. Without any firsthand knowledge of the Skverer community, I found his account of its unfathomable narrowness, refusal to sanction any form of Jewish practice not Skverer-certified kosher, refusal to allow the infusion of any secular literature, its very harshness, alarming. If what Deen has painted is really accurate across the board, it's a wonder that long black coats, hats and wigs are not being shucked off daily in pursuit of a broader Jewish life.
As a writer working on a memoir about my path to Jewish observance, I also have a new appreciation for how selective writers must be "inventing the truth," borrowing from the title of the excellent book on memoir writing. To craft a narrative that will flow, engage the reader and reveal the writer's truth, one must necessarily discard many other pieces of that truth. Throughout the book, I wondered what else was true, for example, his ex-wife Gitty could probably write her own compelling narrative, at least in a Yiddish edition. Deen's own parents were baalei teshuva, formerly secular Jews who embraced Orthodoxy, so it's surprising that he himself was so insular; kids of BTs usually are a bit more worldly. Still, it's a shock to read that on their wedding night, Deen had to make a couple of calls to the man who "provided instruction" on the mechanics of lovemaking, so unschooled was he and his bride, both of them 18. Years later, when Deen has the chance to interview at a large company in Manhattan, he has to go and buy his first tie (Skverers don't wear ties) yet he has no idea how to tie it; fortunately, by then he has a verboten computer in the house, and downloads instructions from howtotieatie.com.
Deen's growing frustration at the disconnect between the rigid, even harsh rules of his Skverer community and the larger, freer world he is learning about through library books, the internet and even TV make his double life less and less tolerable, and despite his and Gitty's efforts to hold their family together (they have 5 children), they divorce. Still, having been involved in the Orthodox world for 30 years, it's hard for me to believe that even in the most repressive of Jewish communities there weren't more acts of kindness, more offers of support or guidance, that religious Jewish communities are famous for. He paints a community where even a small step out of line can lead to acts of violence or revenge. To the extent these things are true, it's a desecration of God's name. However, I also suspect that some of the kinder, more noble aspects of life in his former community were left out because it didn't suit his narrative.
As other reviewers have mentioned, it's hard not to feel very sorry for his wife, Gitty, who watched her husband slowly but steadily rebel step by step by step: bringing secular literature in the house, then a computer, and even a television. This wasn't what she had signed up for. The double life Shulem lives becomes too much for them both, and divorce, when it happens, is not a surprise.
His love for his children is palpable, which makes their growing estrangement from him (which he blames largely on Gitty's growing anger at what she considers his dangerous influences, with backing from rabbinical authorities and even the family court system in Rockland County) the more painful to read about. He first loses his eldest daughter's respect, then the next daughter, and finally his sons, ending up depressed enough to require short-term hospitalization. On the other hand, his lifestyle became one his children had been taught to be dangerous. He was in an unwinnable situation, and it is heartbreaking.
His discovery of an entire OTD ("Off the Derech") community online and in person was a real eye-opener for me. I would be interested to learn more about how these former Hasids deal with their need for spirituality and community.
While Deen's writing is excellent and the story heartfelt. I was most disappointed with the section where Deen asked a friend of his, who secretly had educated himself about non-Hasidic Jewish thought, to help him understand the rational explanations for God's existence -- a concept considered dangerous by the Skverers. But when Deen dismisses the theories of so many brilliant and learned thinkers on this topic, I concluded that he had already decided to check out from Judaism totally. Hanging out in Greenwich Village on Friday nights and eating turkey and cheese sandwiches follow soon after, providing him with a lonely form of freedom.
On a personal note, I hope that Shulem Deen will one day be willing to give Judaism another chance; there is a big wide world of communities that manage to combine involvement with both secular life while also providing a foundation for a life of spiritual meaning. ...more
This biography of Jackie Kennedy Onassis was overly fawning, which is why I only gave it 3 stars. Donald Spoto's research was impressive if selective,This biography of Jackie Kennedy Onassis was overly fawning, which is why I only gave it 3 stars. Donald Spoto's research was impressive if selective, and I ended up skipping a fair amount of material especially in his first section detailing her early years. I just didn't need to know what time the young Jacqueline Bouvier had French class in 8th grade, and other such details.
Still, I gained a great deal of appreciation for this First Lady's intellectual sophistication, self-discipline in many areas, and of course, her famous composure at the funeral of her husband, whose head was almost literally shot off right next to her. Her emotional trauma was unimaginable.
If the author hadn't overdone his praise of her on nearly every page, I could have taken much more of what he wrote about her at face value, particularly her abilities, talents and personal attributes, which he lauds to excess. I was intrigued, though, to learn that beyond her fashion-driven sense, Jackie also had good political instincts, providing the president with apt phrases to use in his speeches from Churchill as well as famed French philosophers, but it was Jackie who had read these books, not JFK. According to one source, it was Jackie who urged the president to sell wheat to the Russians in 1963, and it was Jackie who was credited (even by Arthur Schlesinger Jr, who worked as a special assistant to the president and later became JFK's official biographer) with having the unerring sense of the right next political step to take. I also hadn't realized Jackie's fluency with several languages. On the campaign trail in 1960, she spoke French at a Cajun festival in Louisiana, Italian to immigrants in Boston, and Spanish to Puerto Ricans in New York. Her charm, youth, and elegance became enormous political assets to John Kennedy, and his razor-thin electoral victory may well have been cinched by his wife's appeal.
Her husband was a notorious womanizer, though, (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and clearly had no concept of sexual fidelity. Given his frequent bouts of illness due to his Addision's disease, as well as his frequent, severe back pain, it is astonishing how rabidly he pursued and bedded other women. He clearly did not fear exposure, even brazenly having one of his mistresses sign in as a White House visitor dozens of times while Jackie spent long weekends at one of their vacation homes. These frequent separations, along with Jackie's mind-boggling spending sprees on clothing (in 1962 she spent more than $121,400 on clothing, $21,000 more than JFK earned as president), may have been one way for her to cope with the loneliness of her marriage.
Though only First Lady for less than 3 years, Jackie undertook a huge job of "restoring" the White House to a former state of elegance. When she first toured her new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at just 31 years old, she described the bedroom curtains as "seasick green," the first floor hallway like "a dentist's office in bomb shelter." Raised in elegance and an avid admirer of the elegance of 18th century Europe, Mrs. Kennedy returned Thomas Jefferson's inkwell, Van Buren's Empire chairs, Washington's armchair, and Mrs. Grant's writing desk their rightful places in the White House.
Her glamour made the press go wild for any and all news about her, though she valued her privacy even as it slipped away. "Publicity in this era has gotten completely out of hand," she told press secretary Pierre Salinger, begging him to do a better job of protecting her and her children from the press.
The Kennedys lost their first baby to a stillbirth; a second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Fortunately, Caroline and John were born healthy, but their last baby, Patrick, died just days after his premature birth. This additional loss seemed to devastate the president like nothing ever had before, and the author writes that this emotional trauma brought the couple to an emotional closeness that had so far eluded them. Tragically, it was just weeks before the assassination.
Jackie Kennedy had also met her second husband, the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis, in the 1950's, though Jackie's sister, Lee. The sisters accepted invitations to sail with the shipping tycoon on his gilded yacht, staffed with 60 servants. Yet one example of how Spoto protects Jackie's reputation is when he writes about her accepting an invitation from Onassis to spend a few weeks on the yacht with him just a few weeks after Patrick's death. JFK was against it for many reasons, not the least of which was how this would appear to the public if she indulged in such fabulous opulence at such a tender time. What Spoto doesn't write was that during this trip, the first photographs of Mrs. Kennedy sunbathing in a bikini were published by the foreign press, a groundbreaking image of a first lady that made the president livid. Spoto does acknowledge, however, that Jackie couldn't seem to resist the world of luxury, spending several aimless years after her husband's assassination immersed "in a world of luxurious indolence," going from resort to resort, in search of some form of escape. It was sad to think how empty her inner life must have been to have sought refuge in the world of materialism.
I never understood what made this still young, still vibrant woman marry the pudgy, unattractive, much older Onassis five years after losing John F. Kennedy. But Spoto's theory makes sense: Bobby Kennedy's assassination may have been the bridge too far for Jackie. She had been very close to Bobby, and seemed to want to escape America totally after losing her brother-in-law. But when Onassis himself died after only 6 years of marriage, Jackie acknowledged she could no longer live through men and needed to live her own authentic life.
This is when her early journalism training and insatiable appetite for reading became a saving grace, and Jackie O became an assistant editor at a New York publishing house. Spoto goes overboard here, though, quoting ad nauseum anyone who had worked with her who noted that she was a modest, hardworking woman who expected no favors and made her own coffee. "Jackie was, to put the matter briefly, a woman with an enormous capacity for learning, for appreciation, for hard work, for sheer elation -- she was, in other words, someone with a great soul."
You have to get through quite a lot of this sugary writing, and there are surely more balanced biographies of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, but I learned to appreciate this woman and her intelligence, complexity, and devotion to her children, Caroline and John. I also admired her love for the written word and her skill as an editor, pushing beyond her identity as one of the world's most famous and richest widows, but also a career woman in her own right.
This book is written in a breathless, almost tabloid style, and I enjoyed the fast pace of the writing. It is as much about the evolution of John KennThis book is written in a breathless, almost tabloid style, and I enjoyed the fast pace of the writing. It is as much about the evolution of John Kennedy and his leadership style as it is about the assassination of Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. O'Reilly comes down clearly on the side that Oswald acted alone, and shows how the FBI failed to see Oswald's danger, even thought they had him in his sights.
O'Reilly devotes considerable time to Kennedy's philandering, Mafia ties, and his bungling of the Bay of Pigs, and the near hatred between Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It all makes for a fast, entertaining quick look at this slice of American history.
The conspiracy that seems to me that O'Reilly raises is not about Oswald's killing Kennedy; it's his mentioning how Marilyn Monroe's death was pronounced a suicide by overdose of pills, though her stomach was empty. She had been distraught over the president's dumping her after a weekend affair, and with the 1964 campaign on everyone's mind, it fell to Bobby Kennedy (who may also have had an affair with her) to keep her quiet. His Mafia ties were still strong. I was left wondering more about whether this was a murder versus suicide rather than wondering if Oswald acted alone in ending "Camelot." ...more
I'm a big admirer of Sara Yoheved Rigler, but I found this raved-about book disappointing on a few levels. First, it became repetitive, as a few of thI'm a big admirer of Sara Yoheved Rigler, but I found this raved-about book disappointing on a few levels. First, it became repetitive, as a few of the anecdotes about the Kramers (both Chaya Sara as well as her husband, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe) were mentioned more than once. Also, as is common in books written about "gedolim," or people who were spiritually very great, some of the stories sound far-fetched. Just one example of several here: when an odd-looking couple showed up at the Kramers' door right before Pesach, announced they were staying with them, began cooking in their kosher-for-Pesach kitchen, and even told the Kramers that THEY would eat outside, and the visitors would eat in the house. The Kramers tolerated this situation. But that's not "giving" to those in need; that's giving in to insanity. How is that a mitzvah?
Both Kramers were extraordinary people, selfless on a superhuman level, both almost eerily attuned to God's "frequency." Rigler creatively writes "sign posts" throughout the story, showing how and in what way Chaya Sara had been presented with a choice, and (of course) made the right choice in her life of giving and of faith. This is one of the biggest strength's of the book, in the way that Rigler illustrates how more average people can also make choices that will lead us more toward spiritual growth, less toward ego gratification. It is also helpful that she acknowledges how far she falls below the ability of the Kramers in various situations, knowing the average reader would also fall short, too.
The Kramers, both Holocaust survivors, devoted their lives to service of others. Rabbi Kramer, a Satmar Hasid, did "rescue" work, helping to attain Jewish education in particular for Sephardic Jews whom the Israeli government shamefully separated from their religious roots by placing them in secular schools and communities. Throughout the book, Rabbi Kramer is seen as taking out money, sometimes fistfuls of money, to help the needy Jew, no questions asked. Only one fleeting reference attributes his ability to do so to fundraising from the Satmar organization.
However, I was bothered by his inability or refusal to house his own wife in anything other than what the author herself calls a "hovel," with a concrete floor, a leaky corrugated tin roof, barely a stick of furniture. She didn't even have basic candlesticks, but stuck candles in sand. In one scene, Chaya Sara asks her husband why they can't have curtains, and he dismisses the question with, "Why do we need such things?" His wife is silenced. Yet later on, Rigler takes great pains to show the extent to which Rabbi Kramer goes and shops for things such as a new jacket, new pens, and other things for some of the hundreds of young students he is helping to support in Jewish schools. Why? Because he understood that you need to satisfy a person's emotional and physical needs. It bothered me that his own level of asceticism was one he insisted on imposing on his wife. All she wanted was to live in something a bit better than a Third world hovel, and the Torah I have learned would argue against this Krameresque level of impoverishment, not to mention the concept of beautifying the act of a mitzvah, which surely would argue for the Rabbi to have found some shekels in his pocket for at least an inexpensive pair of candlesticks for his selfless wife.
Similarly, while he always had money to help pay for others' weddings, tuition, food, medicine, he did zero planning for his wife's maintenance after his demise. For the better part of the 15 years she lived beyond him, Chaya Sara was reduced to asking for money for herself. Of course, she never complained, and only saw the good. I still think, though, that charity begins at home, and that despite the hundreds of references in the book to the rabbi being a "tzadik," a righteous man, this elemental failure is a strike against the "tzadik" status.
Still, this couple did incredible work, taking care of severely handicapped children and adults in their tiny home, offering guidance and hope to those in need of both, providing life-saving Jewish education to hundreds of Jews who would otherwise have been lost to Judaism. Most "average" readers cannot begin to fathom their level of self-sacrifice or piety. It is truly hard to believe such people were capable of so much. ...more
This was a very absorbing novella about a young attorney, Claire, whom we get to know through dual story lines. At first, it seems the story will revoThis was a very absorbing novella about a young attorney, Claire, whom we get to know through dual story lines. At first, it seems the story will revolve around whether Claire will be able to get her client, Grace, off a murder rap for killing her own daughter. Instead, Pishko reveals Claire's backstory in her former professional life, working for a high-rolling financial firm that is busted by the feds, and her romance with the head of the firm.
Claire's decisions are often morally dubious, and the painful repercussions lead her to a very different professional direction, representing prisoners accused of capital crimes and without other means of defense. As the reader learns more about both Grace and Claire, it becomes easier to find sympathy for both.
This is not a typical legal thriller. The mystery is not so much on what will happen to Grace, but in exploring such evergreen issues as the complexities of human behavior and motivations, and the power of faith to both heal or, in some cases, corrupt.
Elizabeth Gilbert needs no further endorsements; this bestseller from 9 years ago has ensured her ongoing reputation. She's a lively, intelligent writElizabeth Gilbert needs no further endorsements; this bestseller from 9 years ago has ensured her ongoing reputation. She's a lively, intelligent writer, adept with phraseology. But this memoir of a young newly divorced writer's year-long journey to Italy, India and Indonesia, to both find her "center" and recover from the trauma of an expensive and emotionally draining divorce left me wondering several things.
First, I wondered how a woman so eager to connect to God and a spiritual life could spend 4 months in both India and Bali, where so many people are desperately poor, and not write a word about its impact on her. While she raises a large sum to help a poor Balinese woman purchase a home, the single grand gesture, as generous as it is, is not the same as a cultivated habit of giving. Gilbert may well do so, but she doesn't say anything about it. The focus on her story is ultimately about HER feelings, HER anger, HER sense of loss, HER finding HERSELF, without regard to how she will fit in to any community outside of herself.
Second, she writes at excessive length about her deep unhappiness in her marriage and about her husband's anger at her for perceived selfishness. I couldn't help but wonder, though, since she traveled so often and at length for her work on previous books, whether the man had a point: maybe he wanted a wife who stuck around longer to develop the relationship? Her marriage was not the reader's business, but if she's going to go on about it, may as well also write about whether he had a point.
Finally, she experiences many unbelievably fortunate, hard to believe, breaks, such as arriving in Bali to meet up with a medicine man she had met before, but has no idea how to find him, yet manages to find him that same afternoon. She runs to her herbal healer to treat a budding leg infection and voila! Within 2 hours it is healed. As someone who benefits from herbal treatments, this is a bit much to believe.
She writes at length about her time in the ashram in India, working on the discipline to learn to meditate and eventually finding moments of transcendence. This is laudable, but to me, a truly evolved consciousness is one where you don't just sit and go deep inside yourself, it's where you learn to connect regularly with the outside world, as inconvenient as this may be, because people are often a pain in the neck!
She is always conflicted about romance, determined to avoid it for the year while she finds a new way of living/being, but in Bali she ends up in love with a Brazilian man, a happy ending that one hopes will last.
For all these faults, I still enjoyed reading the book. Few writers have had the good fortunate Gilbert has had to have, as she acknowledged, received an advance for the memoir even before setting off for her year-long journey, and instantly had so many exotic people and situations to write about....more
Sometimes I have a perverse aversion to reading books that become massive bestsellers; I hate to admit it, but it's probably just writerly envy. So yeSometimes I have a perverse aversion to reading books that become massive bestsellers; I hate to admit it, but it's probably just writerly envy. So years after Mitch Albom published this book I finally read it, and it was wonderful. I shouldn't have waited so long, especially as Albom had proved his abilities with Tuesdays with Morry, which I had read many years earlier and found to be moving and memorable.
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Albom takes us on a journey that intersperses scenes from the Earthly life of Eddie, who never managed to rise above a job as an amusement park maintenance man, with his celestial life in Heaven, where he meets the five people whose lives he changed, and most of whom take him by total surprise by what they reveal.
Comparisons with "It's a Wonderful Life" are frequent, and with good reason. When he dies on his 83rd birthday, Eddie is sour about life. Too long a widower, father to no children, Eddie's life is simple and lacks depth. But as Albom shows, even the simple goodness of an amusement park maintenance man can have far-reaching effects. A quick and lovely read.