Category Archives: Books

Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man Who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust Book Review

In the years leading up to World War II, approximately nine million Jews called Europe home. By the end of World War II, six million of them were dead.

Dave Hersch is one of the lucky ones. He survived The Holocaust and eventually immigrated to America, where he and his wife raised their children. His older son, Jack, thought that he knew his father’s story. It was only after his father’s death that he learned the complete story.

Jack J. Hersch tells his father’s story in the new book, Death March Escape: The Remarkable Story of a Man Who Twice Escaped the Nazi Holocaust. The narrative follows Jack as he both listens to his father’s tale harrowing of survival and follows him as he visits Europe to trace his father’s footsteps during the The Holocaust.

I’ve read many Holocaust books over the years. This one strikes close to home for me because it is a reminder that there will come a day when the survivors will no longer be around to directly tell their stories. It is up to their families and the rest of us to keep telling these stories to ensure that what happened to the Jews of Europe during World War II does not happen again.

 

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The Only Woman in the Room Book Review

There is a stereotype about women: their looks dictate their intellect. A pretty woman lacks in the intelligence department while an unattractive woman soars in the intelligence department.

Back in the day, Hedy Lamarr (b0rn as Hedwig Eva Maria Kieslerwas considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She was also incredibly smart, but given the era, her intellectual abilities were not exactly respected or appreciated.

The new book, The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict is Ms. Lamarr’s story from her perspective. The book starts when she is 19. It’s the early 1930’s in Vienna. She is a budding actress who catches the eye of a wealthy and powerful arms dealer. To protect herself and her family, she marries this man. While she plays the role of dutiful wife, she absorbs everything that she hears and sees.

When the marriage turns abusive and it becomes clear that her Jewish ancestry will put her in harm’s way, she escapes to Hollywood. In her new life and career, she is Hedy Lamarr, silver screen goddess. But she has a secret that only a few select people are privy to: she is a scientist. Her invention could possibly end the war and save lives, if those in power would give her work a chance.

I was shocked how much I loved this book. Before reading it, I was aware of Hedy Lamarr as a movie star and had heard that she was an inventor. But other than the basic facts, I was unaware of her complete story. I loved this book because it is the story of a woman who is clearly intelligent and capable, but is underappreciated for those qualities due to the era she lived in.

I absolutely recommend it.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life Book Review

Human beings have an innate need to be wanted and to be included. The problem is when instead of looking in the mirror for approval, we look to others for approval.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson was published in 2016. While this book falls into the “self-help” category, it is not your average self-help book. Mr. Manson is to the point, blunt and tells his readers to make a choice. They can care about everything, everyone and anything. Or, they can choose what/who is important to care about and discard the rest. He also speaks of how to deal with rejection and the unexpected challenges that life can bring.

I really liked this book. I liked it because Mr. Manson does not coddle his reader, but at the same time, supports them with real world experience and advise. I also appreciate his bluntness, because the truth is, life is hard sometimes. When that happens, the only thing we can do is pick ourselves up, and keep moving, in spite of how difficult it is.

I absolutely recommend it.

P.S. Mr. Manson uses the f word frequently in the book. This is your obscenity warning.

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Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom Book Review

When you learn from a master, the lessons learned often transcend the academic world. The lessons we learn from this person stay with us long after we have left the classroom.

The late Elie Wiesel was one of the most remarkable men of our time. He was more than a Holocaust survivor, successful author and a teacher. He spoke to our common humanity in a way that few people are able to do. Ariel Burger was one of the fortunate few who knew Professor Wiesel on a personal level; first has his student, then his teaching assistant.

Last year, Dr. Burger published a memoir about his time with Professor Wiesel entitled Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom.  They met when Dr. Burger was a teenager. Years later, he was offered a position of Professor Wiesel’s teaching assistant. For Dr. Burger, this relationship was more than the typical student/teacher or teaching assistant/Professor relationship. Professor Wiesel was a mentor and guided his teaching assistant as he dealt with life’s challenges.

I loved this book. I loved it because I felt like I was sitting in Professor Wiesel’s classroom, learning with his students. I also loved it because it speaks to the legacy of love and learning that only someone like Elie Wiesel could leave to the world.

I recommend it.

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Unmarriageable: A Novel Book Review

There is more to adapting a classic novel to the modern era. In theory, transferring the characters, narrative and setting from the original novel to a new novel sounds relatively easy. But the reality is that it is easier said than done.

Soniah Kamal’s new novel Unmarriageable: A Novel, was released last month. Based on Pride and Prejudice, the book is set in Pakistan. Alys and Jena Binat come from a family of five sisters. Both are in their early 30’s and neither are married, much to their mother’s chagrin. In their world, social status, connections and money play a role in where one lands on the social hierarchy. Once upon a time, the Binats were high up on the social hierarchy. But a family squabble has forced the Binats into the middle class.

At a wedding, the Binats are introduced to a pair of young men. Fahad “Bungles” Bengla takes an instant liking to Jena, while his best friend Valentine Darsee is quick to dismiss Alys. In response, she hates on him like her life depends on it. Will these two couples end up together?

I loved this book. It has the spirit of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, but it feels new and exciting. I appreciated that Ms. Kamal did not simply translate Pride and Prejudice from early 19th century England to modern-day Pakistan. She added new layers and expanded the characters in a way that did not feel like an utter destruction of the characters that Austen fans know and love. There is also an Easter egg in regards to Austen’s own life, but I will not tell you where it is in the novel. You will have to find it.

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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The Hidden Life of Otto Frank Book Review

For many, Otto Frank is mainly known as the father of Anne Frank. Her diary has been read the world over by multiple generations of readers and has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times.

In 2003, writer Carol Ann Lee published a biography of Otto Frank entitled The Hidden Life of Otto Frank. The book tells Otto’s story, from his childhood in Germany to  the horrors of the Holocaust and finally, the post war years, as his youngest daughter’s diary became a worldwide cultural sensation.

I really enjoyed this biography. I enjoyed because Otto is given the spotlight that he deserves. The book is quite a hefty read in terms of content and length, but it also engaging. Ms. Lee was extremely thorough in her research, telling the story of a man who has become a symbol of an era when hate and prejudice ruled. She also asked the question that many of us have asked over the years: who betrayed Anne, Otto and the rest of the residents of the annex to the Nazis?

I absolutely recommend it.

 

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Thoughts On the Anniversary of the Publication of Pride and Prejudice

It has often been said that first impressions are lasting impressions, even if they do not tell the whole story of the person we have just met.

First Impressions was the initial title of Jane Austen‘s immortal classic, Pride and Prejudice.

Today is the 206th anniversary of the book’s initial publishing.

Elizabeth Bennet is far from the simpering, fainting “save me” heroine who is waiting for a version of prince charming to sweep her off her feet. She is lively, intelligent and not afraid to share her opinion. Unlike other women of the time, she is not going to just marry the first man who asks her because it is her only option in life. Marriage in her eyes is about compatibility and affection, not someone’s income or family connections.  But even with her strengths, she is thoroughly human and learns that judging someone based on a brief first impression is not the best way to figure out who someone is.

Fitzwilliam Darcy is equally imperfect. I have to admit that there are moments in the first few chapters when I just want to smack him or call him a very unladylike name. But the genius of the character is that as the book goes on, Elizabeth and the reader learns that Darcy is not a snob. He is responsible for many people’s happiness and security, especially his much younger sister. He also finds large parties and social gathering difficult to maneuver socially. There are some people for whom they would rather stay home than go to a party where they know almost no one.

The thing that strikes me every time that I read Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth Bennet is a modern heroine. In a time when women had no rights, no voice and were basically chattel to the men in their lives, Elizabeth Bennet is not afraid to stand up for her rights. She is caught between a rock and a hard place. In Jane Austen’s world, marriage was more often about family, status and income than love, companionship and affection. She could remain single, but given her meager inheritance, she would likely be beholden to the generosity of others. She could marry her cousin, Mr. Collins and stay in her childhood home, but that marriage would be extremely unhappy.

I keep going back to Pride and Prejudice not just because it is one of my favorite books, but because I find reassurance and comfort in the book. When I am feeling down or unsure of my voice, Pride and Prejudice gives me strength to move forward. For that reason, among others, I keep coming back to this treasured masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

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Annelies: A Novel Book Review

Among the 1.5 million children that were killed in the Holocaust, Anne Frank is one of the most famous. Her diary, published after the war has been read by millions of readers over the years. But what if Anne survived?

This is the premise of the new book, Annelies: A Novel, by David R. Gillham. The book starts off just after the end of the war. Anne has survived and made her way back to her father, Otto Frank. Out of the eight people who hid for two years in the annex, they are the only survivors. Though she looks like the same Anne, the horrors she experienced have profoundly affected her psyche and outlook on the world. This creates conflict with her father, who is doing everything he can to return to normal life.

Will Anne be able to find the emotional freedom and security that she once took for granted and more importantly, will her relationship with her father heal?

The reviews on goodreads are mixed. As someone who is familiar with the diary and the person that Anne Frank was, I had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction. This not a non-fiction book. It’s essentially a what-if narrative, using what is known about Anne and those around her to tell a new story. In my opinion, Mr. Gillham should be given some slack and be allowed to use creative license while drawing on documented facts about his subject.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Truths We Hold: An American Journey Book Review

To be an American these days is not easy. Our country and our culture are backed by the idea that all citizens, regardless of identity or labels are equal. But the reality is that inequality based on identity has existed since the early days of the Republic. That does not mean, however, that we can live up to the ideals the built our country.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) is one of the most prominent Democrats in the Senate. She recently published a book entitled The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Senator Harris’s politics and view of the world were formed at an early age. She was born in 1964 to immigrant parents. Her father is originally from Jamaica and her mother is from India. After her parents divorced, she and her younger sister spent most of their time with their mother, who worked as a scientist. As a young girl of color in the 1960’s and 1970’s, she grew up in a country where what it meant to be a person of color was changing. As an adult, she pursued a career in law before getting into politics. Her cumulative experience, both personal and professional, allows her to be both personal in her politics and bold enough to move this country into a better direction than we are now.

I really enjoyed this book. Part autobiography and part political manifesto, I believe that every American who truly believes in the ideals of country should read this book. Senator Harris is exactly what we need in this country right now and represents everything that the American dream stands for.

I recommend it.

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I May Not March In This Year’s Women’s March and That Makes Me Sad

This Saturday is the annual Women’s March. Around the world, millions of men and women will make it clear that times are changing. We will not stand by anymore and be treated as second class citizens.

I have participated in the last few marches, proud to have made my voice heard. This year, I may not march and that makes me sad. The charges of antisemitism and hateful words have poisoned this march, limiting (in my mind at least), the good things that have come about.

Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland, two of the leaders of the Women’s March were guests on The View today.

When asked about the prejudiced remarks by Louis Farrakhan, Ms. Mallory said that she doe not agree with his remarks, but she did state that she could not condemn such remarks. She makes this statement starting at 6:28.

The thing that makes me angry is that Jewish women have been part of the foundation of the American feminist movement since begging. Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich Shavelson were two of the women who got this movement started in the early 20th century. Betty Friedan (author of The Feminine Mystique) and Gloria Steinem were part of a group of women who kept the ball rolling in the 1960’s and 1970’s. All of these women are Jewish.

I am proud to be a feminist. I am proud of how far we have come and how we continue to fight for our rights in spite of the obstacles in front of us.

But I cannot be proud of my sisters-in-arms who would denigrate me as a Jewish woman and deny the place of Jewish women in the history of the American feminist movement.

For that alone, I am sad and I may not march this weekend.

 

 

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