Review: A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff) by Trina Robbins

A Bunch of Jews 1-- bookspoilsI have an ever-growing fascination with Yiddish literature thanks to my Ashkenazi roots, so I was ecstatic when I saw that Trina Robbins had adapted her father’s A Minyen Yidn un Andere Zakhn into comic form.

This collection of engaging and humane short stories, featuring different sets of illustrators for each one, of arrogant schoolteachers, boastful travelers, stingy merchants, adoring pets, and all the disasters and triumphs that can happen to families and tight-knit communities. “It’s a snapshot of a way of life that would end with the coming of the Nazis and WW2, although none of them knew it yet.”

However, while I enjoyed most of the tones and themes explored in the stories – a deep mixture of melancholy and nostalgia – most tales would end a bit nonsensical and unclear to me, so that it became harder and harder to appreciate to message. But on a brighter (and a bit random) note, the short story about latkes made me crave them by a tenfold, so bonus points for that.A Bunch of Jews 2-- bookspoilsSince this comic adaption was on the shorter side, I’m intrigued to check out the book by the author’s father, Muttel (Mutye) Perechudnik, originally published in Yiddish. And I do hope that more comics like this one will be adapted in the future.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 21st, 2017

4/5 stars

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Review: Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz

I’m grateful to have completed my reading goal of the year (100 books) with this heartrending novel-in-verse. Up From the Sea follows the life of how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village.

“What could possibly hurt me
more than this quake
already has?”

On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about in the storm. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town.

I went into this read expecting it to grow in intensity with each passing page since it’s tackling such a heavy subject matter. However, I felt like there was little to no emotion inserted in the writing where it counted the most. In the end, it came off quite distant and disconnected from what I was anticipating with the discussions of 3/11 and the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

“We all remember
exactly where we were
and what we were doing
when our lives
changed forever.

9/11 and 3/11 are so different,
two separate disasters—
but maybe they’re also
the same, Tomo says.

How so? Kenji asks.

Each one changed
our country forever.”

The afterword where the author discussed the inspiration behind some of the scenes in Up From the Sea was the one place where I felt everything I should’ve encountered during my reading experience.

“Inspired by a young boy I met in the disaster zone, I began a novel about a boy who loves soccer and creates a team to rally his town after the tsunami. Months later, I discovered that exactly this had been done in coastal Onagawa. The team is the Cobaltore Onagawa Football Club. Supporters from all over the world helped in the difficult days following the disaster.
Later, I learned that a soccer ball that had belonged to a teenager in Rikuzentakata washed up in Alaska. Amazingly, the ball was found by a man with a Japanese wife who could read the messages written on it. The couple traced the owner and traveled to Japan to return the ball.”

I really wish I’d read this before starting the book.

But as with any read there are still a few pieces that made me experience something deeper within myself. Here’s a handful of them:

Up From the Sea 1-- bookspoils

 

“THERE’S A SAYING IN COASTAL TOWNS—

inochi tendenko—
save your own life first.

A long time ago,
if you wanted to
marry someone from the coast,
the elders asked:

“If a tsunami came,
who would you save first?
Your wife and child,
or yourself?”

“If you can’t save yourself first,”
they said,
“you can’t marry anyone here.”
They’d lived through a tsunami,
knew its full power.

It’s true.
If you can’t save your own life,
the town will disappear.

And if that happens,
the future, too,
will disappear.

So don’t you dare
feel guilty for being alive,
Old Man Sato says,
looking from me to Taro
and back again.

We’ve got the future
to build.”

 

Up From the Sea 2-- bookspoils

 

Up From the Sea 3-- bookspoils


Ultimately, this survival story based on real life emotional events is vividly capturing and ends on a hopeful note.

I also listened on repeat to my favorite song of Lorde’s new album while reading:

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Up From the Sea, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Between Friends by Amos Oz

I watched Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness last year, which is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Israeli author Amos Oz. But this collection of eight short stories was my first read by the author and now I’m intrigued to find more of his works.

Amos Oz’s compelling new fiction offers revelatory glimpses into the secrets and frustrations of the human heart, played out by a community of misfits united by political disagreement, intense dissatisfaction and lifetimes of words left unspoken.

Ariella, unhappy in love, confides in the woman whose husband she stole; Nahum, a devoted father, can’t find the words to challenge his daughter’s promiscuous lover; the old idealists deplore the apathy of the young, while the young are so used to kibbutz life that they can’t work out if they’re impassioned or indifferent. Arguments about war, government, travel and children are feverishly taken up and quickly abandoned – and amid this group of people unwilling and unable to say what they mean, Martin attempts to teach Esperanto.

While Between Friends was certainly a quick read, only two tales out of the eight stood out in my eyes. The first one being the introducing story, “The King of Norway,” which chronicles the life of Zvi Provizor, a middle-age bachelor who likes to carry the sorrows of the world on his shoulders. (“Closing your eyes to the cruelty of life is, in my opinion, both stupid and sinful. There’s very little we can do about it. So we have to at least acknowledge it.”)

This story resonated deeply with its discussions of Provizor’s emotional issues, in particular the fact that he doesn’t like being touched.

“Never in his adult life had he touched another person intentionally, and he went rigid whenever he was touched. He loved the feel of loose earth and the softness of young stems, but the touch of others, men or women, caused his entire body to stiffen and contract as if he’d been burned. He always tried to avoid handshakes, pats on the back, or the accidental rubbing of elbows at the table in the dining hall.”

And the following tale I liked was titled “Father,” which follows sixteen-year-old Moshe Yashar with his quiet and gentle manner. It delivered everything I didn’t know I wanted from this collection. And the one thing that stood out the most was this next paragraph on animal cruelty and veganism.

“Someday, Moshe thought, a future generation will call us murderers, unable to comprehend how we could eat the flesh of creatures like ourselves, rob them of the feel of the earth and the smell of the grass, hatch them in automatic incubators, raise them in crowded cages, force-feed them, steal all their eggs before they hatch, and finally, slit their throats, pluck their feathers, tear them limb from limb, gorge ourselves on them and drool and lick the fat from our lips.”

Such a powerful passage to secure my ongoing interest. To paraphrase Moshe, I kept finding myself deeply touched by the enigmas contained in these pages. Discussing “big, simple truths: loneliness and longing, desire and death.”

However, one subtle thing I noticed the more I read on was how similarly the inner qualities of the narrators were described. The word ‘quiet’ was used an absurd amount of times to describe every single one of them. We had quietly persistent,” quiet” and composed,” quiet persistence,” etc. So either the translator or the author went a little overboard… And this then lead to each short story blending into the next one, until it became difficult to distinguish the voices.

On a brighter note, I did enjoy the fact that all the tales were connected in one way or another, so that we got closure on certain storylines that weren’t quite finished before. Also, I cherished the fact that these quietly moving stories were set on around the kibbutz movement.

All in all: This was a great introduction to Amos Oz’s writing style and I’m eager to continue on.

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Between Friends, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!