Review: Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

I had originally started Irvin D. Yalom’s newest release Becoming Myself, where he mentioned this collection of stories which sounded more fitting because my attention span was slight at the time.

Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy offers a keen insight on ten patients, from all walks of life, who turned to therapy, “all ten were suffering the common problems of everyday life: loneliness, self-contempt, impotence, migraine headaches, sexual compulsivity, obesity, hypertension, grief, a consuming love obsession, mood swings, depression. Yet somehow (a “somehow” that unfolds differently in each story), therapy uncovered deep roots of these everyday problems—roots stretching down to the bedrock of existence.”

Though the problems may be considered “common problems of everyday life,” Love’s Executioner made them seem like anything but. Yalom writes his patients with the utmost respect and interest.

I’d like to mention in particular one story that started off the collection on a bang for me with Thelma, “a depressed, suicidal, seventy-year-old woman,” who for the past eight years “could not relinquish her obsessive love for a man thirty-five years younger.”

“Perhaps the function of the obsession was simply to provide intimacy: it bonded her to another—but not to a real person, to a fantasy.”

My attention was riveted to her. I went through a turmoil of emotions reading her story, and came out of it with a changed perspective of my own. It was such a wild ride that in the end I felt like both the doctor and the patient being treated. The longest piece, deservingly so.

“You are you, you have your own existence, you continue to be the person you are from moment to moment, from day to day. Basically your existence is impervious to the fleeting thoughts, to the electromagnetic ripples occurring in some unknown mind. Try to see that. All this power that Matthew has—you’ve given it to him—every bit of it!

“What goes on in another person’s mind, someone you never even see, who probably isn’t even aware of your existence, who is caught up in his own life struggles, doesn’t change the person you are.”

I was easily swept away into the pensive and therapeutic writing style. It offered an introspective look into moments not many of us get to see represented. The book also had many noteworthy lines that left an imprint on me, such as:

“You know, there is no one alive now who was grown-up when I was a child. So I, as a child, am dead. Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead—when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that old person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?”

This precise piece of commentary struck me.

Speaking of which, this note on experiencing “love at first sight” was so satisfying to agree on: “You don’t know this person. In a Proustian way, you’ve packed this creature full of the attributes you so desire. You’ve fallen in love with your own creation.”

At the expanse of sounding a bit abrasive, this book was perfect for my nosy self that likes to hear personal stories without having to share something of myself in exchange. And though I did not agree with the tactics used in certain tales, I read on in fascination of the differing views of reality presented. Now, I can move on to Yalom’s newest release.

Oh, and one last thing I have to highlight upon ending my review, this piece on experiencing “crushes”:

“At a conference approximately two years prior to meeting Thelma, I had encountered a woman who subsequently invaded my mind, my thoughts, my dreams. Her image took up housekeeping in my mind and defied all my efforts to dislodge it. But, for a time, that was all right: I liked the obsession and savored it afresh again and again. A few weeks later, I went on a week’s vacation with my family to a beautiful Caribbean island. It was only after several days that I realized I was missing everything on the trip—the beauty of the beach, the lush and exotic vegetation, even the thrill of snorkeling and entering the underwater world. All this rich reality had been blotted out by my obsession. I had been absent. I had been encased in my mind, watching replays over and over again of the same and, by then, pointless fantasy. Anxious and thoroughly fed up with myself, I entered therapy (yet again), and after several hard months, my mind was my own again and I was able to return to the exciting business of experiencing my life as it was happening.”

4.5/5 stars

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Review: Yosl Rakover Talks to God by Zvi Kolitz

I stumbled across this tiny book among the shelves of my library and was drawn to it, mainly thanks to the title: Yosl Rakover Talks to God. I had never heard of story before and the history behind it, but I was in for a wild journey.

Warsaw, 28 April 1943

There are two stories here. One is the now legendary tale of a defiant Jew’s refusal to abandon God, even in the face of the greatest suffering the world has known, a testament of faith that has taken on an unpredictable and fascinating life of its own and has often been thought to be a direct testament from the Holocaust.

The parallel story is that of Zvi Kolitz, the true author, whose connection to Yosl Rakover has been obscured over the fifty years since its original appearance. German journalist Paul Badde tells how a young man came to write this classic response to evil, and then was nearly written out of its history.

What struck me almost immediately -and most noticeably- upon starting Yosl Rakover Talks to God was the unnerving honesty behind each sentence. There’s no purple prose or watering down the vocabulary; the author tells of the events as they are, and you feel it reverberating for pages to come. A simple passage made me contemplate as if I had just read a whole story. Take for example the one below:

“Rachel had said nothing to me about her plan to steal out of the ghetto — a crime that carried the death penalty. She went off on her dangerous journey with a friend, another girl of the same age.

In the dark of night she left home and at dawn she was discovered with her little friend outside the gates of the ghetto. The Nazi sentries and dozens of their Polish helpers immediately went in pursuit of the Jewish children who had dared to hunt in the garbage for a lump of bread so as not to die of hunger. People who had experienced this human hunt at first hand could not believe what they were seeing. Even for the ghetto this was new. You might have thought that dangerous escaped criminals were being chased as this terrifying pack ran amok after the two half-starved ten-year-old children. They couldn’t keep up this race for long before one of them, my daughter, having expended the last of her strength, collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. The Nazis drove holes through her skull. The other girl escaped their clutches, but she died two weeks later. She had lost her mind.”

The ending is what gets me every time because these two half-starved ten-year-old children were dying of hunger and are being chased as if they’re “dangerous escaped criminals.” Nothing makes my blood boil more than my hatred for Nazis. Nothing.

This is also why I don’t read the horror genre when you can just take a look at History, or even the news, and have pretty much the same feelings evoked.

But circling back to the story, the language created by Zvi Kolitz was rich in its attention paid to each deserving line, as every word takes part in delivering to the overarching theme.

“I am proud to be a Jew — not despite of the world’s relation to us, but precisely because of it.

I would be ashamed to belong to the peoples who have borne and raised the criminals responsible for the deeds that have been perpetrated against us.”

No author has consumed my world as much as Kolitz’s did with his short story. It’s my mission to get my hands on any of his remaining works. In the meantime, I will be sure to share Yosl Rakover Talks to God with anyone I can because it’s impossible to keep to myself.

Point proven, one last quote I want to share that talks about keeping quiet in the face of evil:

“The world will consume itself in its own evil, it will drown in its own blood.

The murderers have already pronounced judgment on themselves, and they will not escape it. But You, I beg You, pronounce Your guilty verdict, a doubly harsh verdict, on those who witness murder and remain silent!

On those who condemn murder with their lips while they rejoice over it in their hearts.

On those who say in their wicked hearts: Yes, it is true that the tyrant is evil, but he is also doing a job for which we will always be grateful to Him.”

The lengthy afterword offered necessary insight on Zvi Kolitz’s life before and after releasing Yosl Rakover Talks to God, his family history, the Yosl Rakover myth and  Kolitz’s fight to have his authorship be recognized. It was dynamic and all-consuming.

5/5 stars

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

Review: The Realist by Asaf Hanuka

The Realist is a weekly comic strip collection, unfolding Israeli cartoonist Asaf Hanuka’s portrait of contemporary life, commenting on everything from marriage to technology to social activism through intimate moments of triumph and failure.

This year I’ve taken on the task of, slowly but surely, familiarizing my way through a number of Israeli authors. Hanuka’s comics looked like the perfect component. His work seemed at first glance like an illustrated version of Etgar Keret‘s short story style.

So I began The Realist impressed by the author’s individualistic style, but then in the same breath felt disappointed at the depiction of Asaf Hanuka’s utterly mundane and commonplace life. It was mediocre at best and confusing at worst… Fighting with his wife, not feeling loved by his kid, which I want to note that it read like he, as a father, wasn’t doing the best at showcasing his love, either. Such as, constantly being on the phone when his son is trying to connect with him. It just brought to mind Ellen Fisher’s point about how spending “quality, consistent time where your face is not in the phone” will only benefit you both. You can’t expect the bond between father and son to be there without working on it…

Also, at certain times during my reading experience, I felt like the flow from strip to strip was hard to grasp, especially when the author talked about his marriage. His skips around in time just didn’t help the overarching theme.

Even though things didn’t really pan out the way I had planned or expected it to with The Realist, I fortunately still found some quiet little gems here and there that I’d like to share next:The Realist 1--bookspoils

 

The Realist 2--bookspoils

 

The Realist 3--bookspoils

 

The Realist 4--bookspoils

 

The Realist 5--bookspoils

I’ve never felt more seen as when I read the above touching comic.

The Realist 6--bookspoils

 

The Realist 7--bookspoils


3/5 stars

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