Review: Letters to Talia by Dov Indig

I was captivated when I read the back cover of Letters to Talia, since the concept of having an irreligious Jewish kibbutz girl writing corresponding letters to a soldier/ Yeshiva student about Judaism and learning more about her faith sounded almost too good to be true. But the book lived up to even the highest of standards I had set for it in my head. It’s an everlasting read that had me bouncing from one emotion to the next.

Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Letters to Talia, published in his memory by family and friends, contains excerpts from an extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel , in 1972 and 73, the last two years of his life. At the time, Talia was a high-school student, and Dov was a student in the Hesder Yeshiva Kerem B Yavneh, which combines Torah study with military service.

Coming into this right after having had to tolerate the non-stop infidelities in This Is How You Lose Her was like a breath of fresh air. Not only does Dov Indig, an only child of Holocaust survivors, have practically the perfect answer on literally everything regarding God, Jews and our identity, people, and homeland. We’re left with lots of food for thought, and it was a real challenge trying not to write the whole book down into my notes so I wouldn’t forget even the tiniest thing uttered by him. There was this genuine fear inside me that I would forget a convincing argument of his, and it stemmed out of how utterly convincing his points were in their nature. Dov Indig kept on surprising me with his knowledge page by page. A real wunderkind. It is these kind of quiet stories that tell the moving account of someone’s words and actions that affect me the most.

I mean, there were times when Talia presented a case seemingly unfit to contradict (such as, the recruitment of Yeshiva students into the IDF, and civil marriage in Israel), but he always pulled through with pages and pages of wise words on the relevant topics and sources to support his statements. And not only that, but his responses came across as really balanced and well-thought-out. You could feel his calm and welcoming nature reverberate off the page when it came to answering questions about Judaism.

Usually, I would insert some quotes of his here to prove my statement, but since I read the Hebrew edition that option isn’t relevant at the time. But just know that there’s no denying the colossal wisdom and faithfulness behind Dov’s words. Knowing the end of his story, however, made every moment of his utterly melancholy and bittersweet. I’m thinking mainly about those parts when he got hopeful about what his future would entail as a believer. It’s impossible not to feel the weight of the words (and the world) in those pages.

Since this conversation is made up by two parts, I have to mention that I was displeased from the get-go with the way Talia handled the conversation. My annoyance stems from the fact that her personality relies heavily on not knowing really… anything. Talia tends to go for deep questions without inquiring first if what she’s asking is fact or something she heard from ear to ear, which leads to a lot of naïve and shortsighted comments on her side. Over the course of Letters to Talia it began to feel like one of those plot devices, where one side asks foolish questions just so that the hero can appear more educated. So it became difficult to enjoy the conversations circling Dov and Talia because I was dreading for her point of view to appear. I mean it’s pretty difficult to enjoy an educated conversation when one person isn’t adding anything remarkable to the table other than white noise.

The funny thing is that I then read this article that interviews Talia nowadays, and she seems to agree on her naïvety back in the day. So there was a tiny source of comfort knowing that she would somehow grow into her character over the years.

But luckily, Dov’s writing, that showcased just how well-read and enlightened he was, made up for the negatives of the other side. It was a true privilege to bask in the wisdom of his words through the letters shared in this book.

As a last side note, I do wish we would’ve gotten to see some pictures of the letters they sent one another just because I’m curious as to how his writing style looked like on paper. But overall Letters to Talia is a highly recommended story that I’m utterly grateful to have read.

5/5 stars

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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

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Review: The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc

This collection seemed like the perfect blend between Strong Is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker and Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York. So the wait to get approved for this ARC was nearly excruciating with me checking my emails every day for a week. But I’m glad to say that it lived up to the hype I created in my mind.

Since 2013 photographer Mihaela Noroc has traveled the world with her backpack and camera taking photos of everyday women to showcase the diversity of beauty all around us. The Atlas of Beauty is a collection of her photographs celebrating women from all corners of the world, revealing that beauty is everywhere, and that it comes in many different sizes and colors. Noroc’s colorful and moving portraits feature women in their local communities, ranging from the Amazon rainforest to London city streets, and from markets in India to parks in Harlem, visually juxtaposing the varied physical and social worlds these women inhabit. Packaged as a gift-worthy, hardcover book, The Atlas of Beauty presents a fresh perspective on the global lives of women today.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the women featured in here. They bring dignity, strength, and inner beauty that shines from page to page. From each of them I learned or was reminded of something new, whether that be tolerance, kindness, resilience, natural and authentic beauty, serenity, strength, and generosity. Plus, the vibrant and colorful photographs really brought something new to the table.

However, as captivating as the images were, I feel like the words that accompanied them, save for a few, failed to move me. In comparison to the collections I mentioned at the start of my review, it was difficult to ignore how bland the text is. I wanted to see what lies beneath the surface, to feel like we’re getting to know the person in front of us… But again, save for a few, I rarely encountered it in this collection. Also: I’m low-key sad that the utterly powerful cover picture wasn’t included in here.

On a brighter note, I’d love to share the photographs of the enthralling women that captivated me:

The Atlas of Beauty 1-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 2-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 4-- bookspoils

Pokhara, Nepal:The Atlas of Beauty 3-- bookspoils

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:The Atlas of Beauty 5-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 6-- bookspoilsThe Atlas of Beauty 7-- bookspoils

New York, USA:The Atlas of Beauty 8-- bookspoils

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan:The Atlas of Beauty 9-- bookspoils

Tehran, Iran:The Atlas of Beauty 10-- bookspoils

Nampan, Myanmar:The Atlas of Beauty 11-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 12-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 13-- bookspoils

 

Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador:The Atlas of Beauty 14-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 15-- bookspoils

I was truly surprised to see Eden Saban in the above, since she’s quite well-known in Israel, thanks to being on the last season of Big Brother. So now I’m quite eager to find out if the author randomly stumbled upon her and asked for a picture, or if they set this up….

The Atlas of Beauty 16-- bookspoils

 

The Atlas of Beauty 17-- bookspoils

On that bitter-sweet note, the sharp women and girls featured in The Atlas of Beauty have made a new fan out of me. I’m definitely interested in keeping up with Mihaela Noroc’s photography works next in the making.

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

Expected publication: September 26th, 2017

5/5 stars

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