Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

This is not a book from my grandfather's shelf, but I must add it; its voice must be heard. I picked it up because I had read another book by this author in a book club and came across this. I am always intrigued with stories about mothers and daughters. In part this is due to my lack of a mother and the fact that life continues anyway, bound by the lack of love and freed by the love I find in other places and people. My story is not so unusual, but this story is. I have wondered myself what my mother's real story is; what caused her to fear love. This story delves into a distant mother's story. She had been cold and distant from her daughters and despite that, with the urging of their loving father, the daughters attempt to get to know her anyway...to throw grace out and see what happens.

And oh the story that is uncovered amidst the snow both literally and figuratively.There is no way that you can read this tale and not be deeply affected by it; by a story you may have never heard before. It will haunt you...The story is based on the siege of Leningrad during WW11. We all know of the devastation and ripple affect of that war, but I had never really heard the story from a Russian living in Leningrad at that time. All of a sudden I am grateful for my cup of water; for my ability to smile. The loss...

I urge you to learn of this story, if not in this book, research it on your own. It will not make you smile, but that doesn't matter. Some stories need to be told anyway, most stories do because in the grand scheme of the whole world, understanding heals people.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

For all who have read this, you have loved it. I say that with confidence. I am in awe that this was her first book. The depth of the relationships and the struggle so mixed with love and despise was so complex and wonderful in its heartache. Reading this made me love my children more, regret my mistakes, enjoy my neighbors, appreciate other woman, and encourage braveness in all those around me. On a side-note, I do love the Bob Dylan reference...icing on the cake!

In the novel a woman is writing the stories of the lives of the "help", those that raise other peoples children and wash their windows. The stories are sometimes heavy with sadness and at other times hilarious.

You will gain something as you read this. I love the books that follow me into my own life; that speak out from time to time in my day.

Read this.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Name is Asher Lev

I will finish this book today. I have read it on and off and it has taken quite some times to complete. I do not necessarily want it to end though it sickens me a bit to read it. It borders on mental illness and for periods of time enters it; a dark world that is uncomfortable to enter. This is a story of broken tradition; of the creation of a new one, but it is also full of darkness, obsession, illness, and sanity.

What is it like to have a gift such as art consume your every breath? I understand Asher's father. He wants his son to study; to study in a way that gives respect even to the books and the desk one studies on. I get that; I even agree with that. Asher does not. He only understands that he pains his father with his art; his all consuming desire to paint and paint some more.

The family is devout. They keep kosher and pray and sing on Shabbot. Slowly and steadily Asher moves away from that for the sake of his art. The reader feels sad for Asher; for having a father who does not understand him; to move toward the secular world, but Asher angers me. It angers me that although he is a brilliant artist, he is also a rebel with a cause that I don't believe justifies his actions. Why must his gift of art consume/dominate every moment of his life? Why must art also dominate and suffocate the love for his family? It is an extreme and extremes worry me.

Asher's father is a man well known for his tireless work to build yeshivas for Russian Jews who can longer live safely in Russia. His job demands travel; is unsafe and fully exhausting had it not been for the morale of it all.

Asher travels only for his art. I do not understand this. There is more to travel for. Asher meets a man on his travels in Florence, a man who knew and worked with his father. The man shows Asher the yeshiva (school) his father built. Asher asks if he can help this man deliver any messages to other yeshivas as he travels on to Rome. It is as if he wants to be part of the story that his father wrote; the book he closed as a child and tossed aside.

Potok writes abruptly in this novel; he does not seem to have time or energy for frivolities which is in contrast to the art Asher so loves. It comes off poetic in a hue of dark gray. I read this in a fog Potok intended the reader to walk through. There is darkness here not so different than life. Though the reader's life differs, it is also the same. As one finds a passion so one finds separation from something somewhere. It is wise to read this book, but you may not find peace here.

At one point Asher settles into a studio in France for a few years after the leading Rabbi asks him to move away from the Jewish community in Brooklyn because of his secular art. He receives a gift from a woman there who owns a gallery. She gives him a beret, but he never wears it, he only wears the fisherman's hat he has always worn. He is his own person. Should that be celebrated? Is it necessary? He moved away from his faith but does not move into any other world either. I begin to like Asher here. He is no longer refusing his father and taking art's outstretched hand. He begins to stand between them without nervousness; he builds a home there. He begins to take in what people say and decides whether it is truth. Years ago he would simply believe.

At the end of my own words, I leave you Potok's...

"Away from my world, alone in an apartment that offered me neither memories nor roots, I began to find old and distant memories of my own, long buried by pain and time and slowly brought to the surface now by the sight of waiting white canvases and by the winter emptiness of the small Parisian street. It was time now for that. I had painted my visible street until there was nothing left of it for me to put onto canvas. Now I would have to paint the street that could not be seen" (My Name is Asher Lev, 322).

No one can tell me Chaim Potok does not know how to write. He writes so beautifully even in darkness it is quite amazing to witness. I thought I was done with Asher for a while, but I fooled myself. I am now in the middle of "The Gift Of Asher Lev" and will write about it soon. I wanted to try to move away from Potok for a bit, certain I would return, but I guess I am not ready to and so I read on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I have finished Chaim Potok's The Promise. Truthfully I finished many weeks ago, but I did not blog. I saved the last 15 pages or so because frankly I just did not want to face the fact that this is ending. I truly treasured every late night I read his words and fell to sleep. I was hopeful that the story would continue; there are 7 or so more books by this author, but when I picked up his third novel I realized that this story ends and another begins.

This is a story of childhood and of growing up. Who amongst us cannot relate to that? But this story is so rich with detail and not with drama. There are television shows out there that thrive on drama and books that pull you in and keep you on your toes. Many catastrophes happen in these stories, but not here. Here there is life in it's truest form, with just the right amount of movement. I cannot help but feel nostalgic when I think over the two novels and the relationship between these two friends as they went through Jewish high school and then college. How they grow!

They grow in their physical bodies, but mostly in their minds, in the way they think and the way they respond to the world. Both boys were uniquely set up to succeed, albeit in different ways. One boy was taught through silence and through knowledge, the other love and knowledge. Ultimately the training in silence led the boy to become a man and use the silence to heal a young boy. Reuven, the second boy was taught with love and learning and I just cannot comprehend a better way of parenting and teaching. If only I could hone that skill, perhaps I can. I do not know what will become of Reuven, his story does not end, in fact it has really just begun near the end of this novel. Though the world around him told him he was wrong, he boldly stood up, respectfully in all senses of the word, and told his story. Though different than the other scholars in his methods of learning, he is respected in the end and how can he not be! The pure goodness is amazing in this character, mostly because he really could exist and wouldn't that be amazing? I wish there was a book by Reuven's father so that I could read it and teach my own children to be Reuvens! It is in a different time and a different culture, where children were listened to and respected and highly motivated to study and learn. I want that.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Promse; 150-168

In the novel right now Reuven is talking with his Rabbinical teacher. His teacher is concerned that Reuven is living two lives. Reuven's father's way of studying Torah involves changing certain words to make the meaning more clear. Reuven tends to agree with this because the commentaries that Jewish students study and the Rabbi's that wrote them also have changed words to identify the meaning more clearly. These Rabbi's who wrote the commentaries are seen as the best there is; they are not to be questioned but rather idolized. The teacher, though, is convinced there should be no rewriting of any kind, including commentaries. Reuven does not study Torah in this fashion while at the Yeshiva (Jewish School)because he knows it is not well received there. And so there comes a point when the teacher reads one of Reuven's father's books and discovers that Reuven is studying two different ways and that the teacher is unwilling to advance Reuven as a Rabbi unless he is sure that Reuven believes what the teacher believes.

So Reuven stands at a crossroad.

Sometimes we believe things and we take those beliefs with us into different groups of people and different situations. We are taught to stand on our beliefs no matter what and we are also taught that we should allow others to speak; to hear their side of the story, to not be closed minded. I can't help but think about the fine line that exists there in that place.

Monday, November 22, 2010

To Care/The Promise

I just picked up The Promise again waiting for something to spark my interest enough to write about. I completed a few paragraphs and was ready to begin. You really have to love a book like that; a book that urges deeper thinking. The main character, Reuven is a college student working towards becoming a Rabbi. He is having trouble with a professor that seems to be dark and lonely. The professor has been in the war, but as a prisoner rather than a soldier. He has different views than Reuven about Judaism and laws. Reuven is beginning to harbor bad feelings towards the professor but he does not sit in that long. He wants to know more; he cares enough about other human beings to want to know more. Reuven goes to a library and looks up the many books the professor has written and begins to read them. It is here when I stopped to write. How many times are we troubled by someone and we sit there in that place of frustration and go no further? To care enough to attempt understanding, well that leads to peace. Just a thought for us all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Promise; 120-135

I was reading a blog about the use of technology, specifically a particular woman's decision to buy an e-reader/kindle. I was immediately brought back to the days when I would walk around San Francisco's step inclines and come upon a dusty old shop of used books. Or what about the smell of an old library book that you know has traveled farther than you have. It has been held in doctors offices awaiting a result of a pregnancy or cancer. It has had tears fall on it and sometimes a midnight snack. It has been used to throw at someone and to hug as if a friend. A book; a breathing book that only speaks when you allow it, can unite people, it is a shared entity. And so, do we replace it with individual readers that when broken are tossed in the wind? When a book tears, it is repaired, sometimes with rolls and rolls of tape so others can enjoy it; so others can pass it on knowing they are part of a circle that hands things to one another and gets pleasure at the thought that others will share in the joy of that book. How would The Promise read if Rueven did not go to the Judaica libraries and work the stacks of books there, finding references and commentaries? I'm just saying this particular time; I will bypass convenience for experience.