Chrissie's Reviews > Mosaic: A Chronicle of Five Generations

Mosaic by Diane Armstrong
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's review
Aug 29, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: bio, poland, kindle, sample-g, history, favorites, religion
Read from October 13 to 21, 2011

No Spoilers!!!!!

On completion: This is an amazing book. I must give it 5 stars. Below I have written my thoughts as a traversed the book from cover to cover for I believe a very good book will keep the reader enthralled all the way through. This book does exactly that. I have given excerpts so you can see if YOU like this author’s way with words. I find her prose excellent.

I want an author, even in books that cover difficult issues such as the holocaust, to show me some hope, some wry humor. This reflects my own attitude toward life so I want to see this in books too. Here again the book succeeds. One finds the following lines at the very end of the book:

Now that there are so few Jews left, everyone is bewitched by Jewish culture. As Justine puts it, it’s like our fascination with the dinosaur. (90%)

This statement is made by the author’s daughter when they revisit Krakow when the book was being compiled. Before the war, In Krakow of 1939 there were 225.000 Jews. 15.000 were left after the war.

Each section of the book fulfills its purpose. The first part makes each family member a person you recognize by their faults and their redeeming qualities. In Part 2 history enters and shows you how each one was carried away by the horrible events and how each one responded in their unique fashion. How did children, young adults, their parents and the elderly, each with their own baggage, crawl through or succumb. The depiction is emotionally heart wrenching but never melodramatically overdone. Many of us have read of concentration camps, life in the sewers, the Polski Hotel, escape to the forests of Poland and more. In that this family is so large these historical events are all part of this family’s experiences. All of these named historical events and many more are shown through the particular experiences of family members.

And then finally in Part 3, we are shown the aftermath of the war on the individuals we have come to know. Each one has been changed in surprising ways. The survivors are spread all over the world, only one remains in Poland. Their lives after the war are just as interesting as before and during the war because the reader has come to care for these people. Some turn toward Judaism some away. Some grew closer to their spouse, others split and some children rejected their parents. The multitude of chosen paths is amazing to see and feel and learn about. The reader never feels detached from each one’s story. How has the author drawn me to so many different people and made each one important to me? I applaud her success.

The author goes one step further and looks at Judaism and what it means to be Jewish. It is to be part of a continuum, part of a family, part of a tradition that is even more than just the religious beliefs. By looking at this one family, by looking at each small mosaic piece and assembling them into a whole, we get a fuller view of what it is to be Jewish.

This book is not depressing. The author shows us there are people who did wonderful things to help the Jews. There is a huge present, happy surprise at the end of the book. You mustn't miss this.

The book provides a family trees, a map, wonderful photos, and a explanation of Polish names. It is difficult to read the family tree and the map on the Kindle version.


After 37%: I am still in love with this book. I JUST want to read. The book never drags. I am amazed that I have all these characters in my head. You are dealing with five different generations comprised of the author's, her children's, her parent's, her grandparent and great-grandparent's. I believe the author suceeds with this because the central focus in the first part of the book is the generation consisting of the author's parents and grandparents. With that as a foundation, and writing that draws you to the experiences of these people, everyone else falls into place.

Tha main reason why this book works is the author's expressive writing. Her choice of words and choice of examples to illustrate the events and emotions of her relatives. So if you like the style of writing, you will enjoy this book. I will give one more excerpt, then that is it. I do it so you can determine if the book will please you. I believe it is the force that will draw you to the book. The characters are interesting. The history is riveting, but it is the author's words that make the book:

On the sultry September day, her sister Mania Schwartz standing on her balcony when she witnessed a scene she would never forget. Turning to her husband, she called, 'Misko, quick, come and look at this!' Spilling along the entire width of Aleja Focha Avenue and down Grodecka Street came a ragged throng like debris floating on the current.

There were Russians, Kalmuks, Mongols and Turkomans, Uzbeks, Circassians, Georgians and Kirghiz, some with cheekbones and flattened noses, others with slanting eyes. Some of this motley army wore conical fur hats with flaps and long dun-coloured coats that reached their ankles as if they'd just left their yurts in the steppes. In clothes powdered with dust, they straggled all over the road without any apparent formation. Their footwear was as their outfits, and few wore boots.

With her keen eye for detail Mania noted that many coats were fraying and unhemmed, with threads training from them. They looked as if they'd grabbed their clothes before the tailor had time to finish them, and rushed off to distant lands. And they just kept coming, a bobbing sea of men in ragged clothes streaming down the street.

These shabby soldiers were the advance guard of the million-strong Russian army coming to occupy Lwow.

In Part One you learn about the family. In Part Two you see how history enters the lives of this family.


After 23%: I am still toroughly enjoying myself. If I were to make any complaint it would be that I want to know more about the historical events at the time. History is there, but I want more.

And then it was served up for me! :0) Lola is German, and she is madly in love with Izio. Head over heels! But how is this going to go when although her father is Jewish, her mother isn't. She is by Jewish definition, not Jewish! Hmmm, how do we solve this? To understand the dangers of the different "solutions" one has to understand history too. Anyhow, I am now being served some history:

Lola was shocked by what was happening in Krakow. Poland seemed to be a nation of two distinct groups, Poles and Jews. She found it strange that only Catholics were regarded as Poles, as if being Jewish precluded citizens from being Polish. The street assaults horrified her because they indicated that anti-Semitism was a grass-roots movement. Distressed, she said to Izio: 'In Berlin, the anti-Jewish propaganda comes from the top, from Hitler and his Nazis, but here the hatred seems to come from the people.'

It was at this time that Hitler escalated his persecution of the Jews. On 15 September 1935, the Nuremberg Decrees put into action Nazi polocies formulated in 1920. The first lethal step towards turning the Jews into outcasts in their own country had begun.

You have to read the book to see if this problem could be resolved. This "grass-root" hatred of Jews in Poland is well depicted in:A Day of Small Beginnings: A Novel
which I recommend.


After 13%:
I started this book with a bit of trepidation. When I heard of it, I was immediately fascinated, drawn in by the topic of following one Jewish Polish family family over five generations. It is basically a grandson's search to understand his revered grandfather, his father and 10 uncles and aunts over the tumultuous 1900s. That is a large family to come to grips with. Will I be able to keep track of everybody? Will these people remain flat character on the page or will I come to understand their loves, worries, fears and each ones's specific character? Will they come alive for me? Someone had further suggested that flipping between different time periods could be confusing. Although I have only read 13% of this lengthy book. I have run into several instances when the reader is transported 80 year ahead in time to hear what the author's now elderly living relatives often jokingly recall of their earlier memories. These memories have been brief, consisting of only one or two paragraphs. The commentaries had me chuckling, and I was relieved to see that I was in no way confused or "jolted" as I was worried I might be!

More importantly I have already shed tears for the author's father, Hesiu, born in 1901. Daniel, the author's grandfather was uneducated but very well respected in the Jewish community of Krakow, Kazimierz. He was devvout, but still rather modern. He trimmed his beard! :0) What he most wished for was a rabbi for a son. He in fact divorced his first wonderful wife Reizel because after 10 years they still had no children. His second wife Lieba Spira was so very hard working. She too, a wonderful person, She too had not a child by Daniel until after four years, after a meeting with the holy Sanzer Rebbe, Aron Halberstamm, the babies came. Not one, but a total of 12 along with miscarriages. You should hear what she has to say about this........

Oh how Daniel wanted a son to say the Kaddish prayer for him someday. That was not enough. He needed a rabbi for a son. His first son, Avner, was raised, dressed, pushed to become a Chassid. At three he was enrolled in cheder. Avner, Daniel's favorite son, would never become a rabbi.

You learn of each child, some more than others. This is good because you come to feels a special affection for a few. This is what a wanted. I wanted the family members to lift of the page and become real.

So far, I am very pleased. WW1 has begun and you see how history is drawn into the lives of these people you have come to care for.

The writing is excellent. People and landscapes and Jewish custome are delightfully recounted. Here you see a sparkle of humor:

While Avner was playing hide and seek with the Austrain army, Daniel and Lieba were far more worried about their second son Jerzy who was interned as an enemy alien in France. Like Avner, Jerzy had refused to become a rabbi. Since he hadn't matriculated, his option had been limited, and Daniel had decided to apprentice him to a furrier. Jerzy, who had a quiet sense of humour, was amused at the way his father introduced him to his employer. 'My son doesn't want to be a mensch, so let hime be a furrier!' he said. (13%)

I am pleased. I have been sick after my flu vaccination, and being culed up reading this book has been just wonderful. So I am sick - who cares! Heaven is reading and reading and reading a book like this with no interruption. Ant there is lots left. :0)

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03/22/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-29 of 29) (29 new)

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Lynne I wonder if this is at the bookstore. I'm going there this afternoon with Toni's daughter :)

Chrissie I think it would be fun if several of us could read it. For me it is available on Kindle. Have fun , and tell me what you bought! Glad to see you are enjoying your weekend off.

Lynne Downloading it now!

Chrissie YAY. I cannot wait to start sharing the tidbits with you!!!!!

message 5: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 24, 2011 04:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie I absolutely love it, although I still have only read 21%; Each character has such an identity, and poor Daniel. He so wanted his sons and look what happened. And Matus, who so needed warmth and that funny episode with the sacrificial rooster. Remember when they ate it up?! Maybe you read the book too long ago to remember all these poignant and wonderful details! I cannot speak directly since otherwise we would be wrecking it for others.

Oh, Anne, you changed it from three to four stars!

Anne I've been reading more of it since I first wrote the review.

Chrissie Well, why don't you start at the beginning and read the whole thing. It is just lovely! You will probably go back to your original five stars It is really good, Anne! True, there is a lot left to read.

message 8: by Sovotchka (new)

Sovotchka I'll come back to your review once it's 2012 ;).
I never thought about starting the review while I'm still reading a book but for such a lengthy novel it's probably the best way.

message 9: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 20, 2011 01:59AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chrissie Silver Raindrops, I often write running reviews because I think a book should sustain one's interest from start to finish. I am gald if my review can help you decide if the book is for you. BTW, I am reading this with Lynne, she is also in the 2012 group. We are gabbing via PMs. There spoilers are allowed! On your list I also recommended Anya.

Barbara, thanks so very, very much!

Lynne Oh, I loved the scene describing the arrival of the shabby soldiers. I could visualize it so well.

Chrissie Lynne, wasn't that passage great. Diane Armstrong can write. She pulls you in and one has empathy for the people and one sees what they see and feels what they feel.

I was thinking, can part three still keep my attention? Yes it does. Gosh, when she talks about her Mom at the end there.......... It is strange, Bronia, has aged, and you feel the difference as you would with your own parent. And there are no easy answers.

Lynne, it is fun we both like it so much.

Lynne I loved the "you will have your stories and I will have nightmares"

Chrissie Lynne, I do not remember that line, but I understand why you liked it/ This is what is so amazing about books. We each fasten on different line. With a good author, everyone finds lines that move them.

You know what cracks me up - the bicycle incident and how different cultural groups would respond differently. I cannot stop laughing about how in Belgium the money would just "disappear". Compare that to Germany and Poland. I will never forget those lines.

message 14: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue thank you for the good words of this book, I started it yesterday and I love this book !!

Chrissie Yes, lovely! I am so happy you are enjoying the book. For me it was amazing. Oh, when you want to talk about a line, and if it is a spoiler, just send me a PM. I would love to discuss it with you.

message 16: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Thanks, Chrissie. This definitely looks like a book I'd enjoy. Added it!

message 17: by Dem (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dem I have added it Chrissie as it looks like a book I would love, will put it on my order list for next week! Thanks

message 18: by Rachel (new) - added it

Rachel Looks fabulous, thanks for the thoughtful review!

Chrissie I really was impressed by the book. It makes me happy that you liked the review! Thanks. I am so happy you have all added it.

Lynne Oh I forgot to mention how painful the aging Bronia sequences were to me. They were too well-written and too close to home.

Chrissie Lynne, as you know I felt the same way about Bronia as she grew older. It hit me with a smack, when I compared the young Bronia and the older Bronia. It was still Bronia, but life was hard on her. I like that the characters remain the same people but mature as they get older, each in their own way.

message 22: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Thanks, Chrissie. I added it to my on-desk shelf, though that shelf is getting way too long too. It does look great!

Chrissie Lisa, I understand completely!

message 24: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan I REALLY want to read it though. But that's true of quite a few books. I do hope I get to this one though. Perhaps later this year.

Chrissie :0) Good I reminded you though.

message 26: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: ":0) Good I reminded you though."

I agree. Always feel free to remind me of books! Sometimes I do need reminders.

Chrissie Will do!

message 28: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie wrote: "Will do!"

Thank you, Chrissie.

Chrissie You are welcome!

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