Jamilia … a review

I first heard about the book Jamilia a long time ago, in context of Kyrgyztan. I cannot remember what it was now… I got my hands on the Telegram copy a few weeks ago. It is only a novella, took me only about an hour and a half to read it. It is a beautiful love story and is the first major novel by Chingiz Aytmatov.

The novel is the story if Jamilia, as told by her brother-in-law Seit, a young Kyrgyz artist. Jamilia’s husband is at the front at war and this books talks of her love of Daniyar, a local cripple. While nothing earth-shattering happens, the book recounts the tender emotions of love and the sense of society very beautifully. The story is backdropped against the collective farming culture which was in its peak in that period.

During the Soviet era, Aitmatov was known as the “intellectual father of the Kyrgyz people” and as the “voice of Central Asia.” Under Stalin, he was a tax collector, a warehouse worker and a machinist, before studying veterinary medicine and literature and eventually becoming the most popular Soviet writer.

I’d recommend the book, and I think free versions are available on the web too.

Committed … a review

I had read and enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love when it was doing its famous rounds. I had no idea that there was a sequel. So when I came across this book in a pile, I picked it up out of curiosity. I was not disappointed.

Gilbert is a good writer, her tone is very conversational and her stories and failures come across as honest and relatable. In this book, she traces the misadventures that ensue in her life when she falls in ove with ‘Felipe’ – a Brazilianborn businessman, nearlt twenty years her senior. He cannot get into the Us because of visa issues and so they must get married even though neither of them are remotely inclined. And all this happens in the first few pages, which is quite exciting.

What follows is a mish mash of travels, adventures, and Gilbert’s own journey into history to understand the very institution of marriage and where she might fit into it. She claims to be neither an anthropologist nor a sociologist as she takes the reader to a Laotian household and lays bare some secrets of the Hmong tribe. She frequently intersperses her travelogue with the relationship stories of her own ancestors and the history of the Western traditions as well.

Another interesting thing about the book was the analyses of the role of women in amarriage unit, both historically and also in the modern day world. Gilbert navigates this with great difficulty, but has thoroughly succeeded in making the reading experience enjoyable. Humour crept up on me as she speaks about what women want, what men are thinking, and why fighting on a stinky old bus is a bad idea.

Read this book, whether you are in a relationship or not, married or not, because in the end,it will help you understand your own perspective on things better as you take sides during her narrative.

Letters from Skye … a review

The title of this book contains two favourite words, so even before I began reading it, I knew I would like it. The entire book is written in the form of letters – between a poetess Elspeth from Skye and her pen pal David from America, and parallely Elspeth’s daughter Margaret’s letters to various people. Elspeth and David correspond during World War I and Margaret’s letters are based around the Second World War. It all begins when, upon the publication of a book of poems, Elspeth receives a rather sweet letter from a ‘fan’ in America. The story spans two generations, about two decades, two wars, and two continents – finally reaching culmination at the St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh (it’s on Palmerston place on the West end, it’s beautiful).

The book is very well written. There isn’t much surprise in the way of the plot because the letters alternate between the two women’s stories and Margaret’s story fills us in on the gaps left in Elspeth’s. So, no surprises, really, but I enjoyed the concept and the backdrop of the war and of life on Skye. Skye is stunning and the idea of a poetess penning her thoughts as poems and letters and slowly but surely falling in love with a man she’d never met is just my type of thing. Let me warn you, however, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; which is possibly why this book has got mixed reviews on websites etc

But like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought scenes from Skye, Edinburgh, and London quite vividly in my head. The writing is atmospheric and evocative; the emotions expressed are very natural and believable. I’d recommend it.

 

I Truly Lament … Author interview

UPDATED Lament Nurture tour banner

A few words from Matt Freese, whose book I enjoyed a lot. I’ve also enjoyed the banter I’ve shared about the holocaust, his writing, and various other things. Enjoy…

BM: The role of fantasy and fairy tale as a tool for the human mind to process trauma… is the mind trying to pass it off as unreal and distant?

MF: I imagine fantasy is useful for the reader in that it provides a psychological distancing, safer that way, more digestible. If I can have the reader grasp or understand the humorous and not so humorous workings of a golem, his concerns as the protector of Jews, of being a monster and a grim reaper as well, I then can have him mirror back all kinds of reflections (pun intended) about the people who have called upon him for help. In “The Disenchanted Golem” I raise more questions than I could ever answer, but it is in the questioning that I can deepen if not enrich the tale I am writing. When Kafka begins his short story with a young adult who turns into a bug, we are off and running. One of Freud’s great teachings is how the human mind makes use of fantasy for all kinds of conscious and unconscious purposes. I have no significant attachment to golems, but the concept intrigued me for the purposes of my own story telling, especially when one Jew finds that the golem is really useless and all that counts is his own existential self – as it should be.

The golem is a vast projection of a persecuted people, a people that historically have been quite rational in their approach to life and living and yet they, too, collapse into a mystical belief. An unremitting and historical condemnation will do that to you. The story goes of three men of differing religious backgrounds, one of whom is Jewish, who visit a doctor and each is told that his condition is terminal. One man breaks down and says he will go back to the old country to live out his last days. The second man leaves the office and runs purposefully in front of a bus and is killed. The Jew is left. And the Jew, hearing his fate, says “I’d like to see another doctor.” Alas, reason goes so far as some of my stories depict. I was intrigued as a writer in playing the role of the golem. It tested my imagination and my skills. When I write, I leave spoor and I leave it up to the reader to follow this or that trail. I am not that anal that I know exactly what each ”dropping” means. I like to leave the reader and myself guessing. I have found that this approach gives dividends to me as a story teller and perhaps to the reader who doesn’t need everything spelled out.

Consequently the golem is a projection and as we know we place all kinds of stuff on others as we project. On one level, all stories are Rorschach tests.

BM: A little bit of background to your life and inspiration for writing about the Holocaust.

MF: I am a product of lower middle class parents who just managed to get by; I lived in housing projects; I had toys and clean clothing and ate well. I didn’t know we were far from well-to-do. I was a reader as a child, passive, inert, non-assertive, introverted and shy. High school was a horror; I didn’t wake up until the age of 32. I had a few anti-Semitic experiences growing up and I had an acute awareness of being Jewish and very proud of the heritage. Like Freud, I am a godless Jew but fully aware that if you forget you are a Jew, the world will quickly remind you of that. Reading about the Holocaust and Jewish history in general made me ask questions. It was decades later I sat down and began to write what it must have been like in one of the camps. It took decades for the book to write itself and so when I began to write I did not have to stop. It was channeled. Imagination, fantasy, anger, rage and resentment flowed. I counted on my unconscious to guide me, it always does.

BM: Do you research using conventional ways? Past records of events etc., or do you pick an incident and revolve the fiction around it?

MF: I look up words or terms as I go by. I stay away from non-fiction accounts because I have imbibed enough to know what I want to portray in fictional terms. If I want to know what a blochfuher is, that’s readily available. To the point, I research me. I am the source.

BM: Folklore and the Holocaust? Where did that come from?

MF: I happened upon it, it is in my background. I did not read extensively about golems, for that is not my way. I dip my writer’s pen into the inkwell and then go on. After all, there are only three golem stories in the book and their purposes vary. The Disenchanted Golem, an editor has said, really sums up the entire book. You look at that, make of it what you will.

BM: What are you hoping readers will take away from this book?

MF: I haven’t the slightest idea. It is true that after you write a book it is no longer yours and that goes a long way to say that is why there are hundreds of acting interpretations of Hamlet. Sam Goldwyn had a telling line when asked about his most recent movie’s theme: “If you want a message, send for Western Union.” After all, what we take away from a book may be fleeting, passing or a sensibility. I am not teaching. I am exploring. Come excavate with me, if you choose.

BM: What further writing projects are you working on or planning to work on?

MF: I am working on a memoir of two summers, 68 and 69, I spent in Woodstock and the long range impact it has had on me to this day.

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Other blogs participating:

Jan. 16 – Mathias @ Mathias B. Freese: A Writer’s Blog

Jan. 20 – Fran @ Just Reviews

Jan. 21 – Bobbie @ Nurture Your BOOKS

Jan. 23 – Mathias @ Mathias B. Freese: A Writer’s Blog

Feb. 3 – Rachel @ Leather Bound Pounds

I’m sure they will all be good reads.

Link to the Author’s website: http://www.mathiasbfreese.com/

See you around! And here’s a gorgeous picture from just now

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Upcoming Blog Tour

You might remember a recent review of a Holocaust based book that I put up. Go read it again. Here!

I’m very excited to announce that the author Matt Freese, who by the way, is a very interesting gentleman with many things to talk about, is going to stop by my blog. He will have written about a topic I have posted to him and will also be answering a few questions. The tour runs from January 12th- February 13th, 2015 and I will be participating in January, hurray! I really enjoy finding out from authors what makes them tick and I hope you lot will stop by too.

About the book: “A weirdly wonderful short story collection exploring the Holocaust from diverse perspectives in literary styles ranging from gothic and romantic to phantasmagoric.”

I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust is a varied collection of stories: inmates in death camps; survivors of these camps; disenchanted Golems complaining about their designated rounds; Holocaust deniers and their ravings; collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitler’s bedroom suite went up for sale!); an imagined interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the Berlin bunker; a Nazi camp doctor subtly denying his complicity; and the love story of a Hungarian cantor, among others.

 Title: I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust

Author: Mathias B. Freese
Genre: Literary Fiction
Formats: Paperback & eBook
Published by: Wheatmark
ISNB: 9781627871617
Pub. Date: Sept. 14, 2014
Number  of pages: 252
Content Warning: 18+ for graphic violence
Purchase at: Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com

Other than that, good friends, Happy New Year 2015! Have a great one. And as always, thanks for sticking around in 2014 🙂

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My Kaleidoscope … a review

There are many reasons to read books based on the holocaust. Most importantly, it is a piece of very important world history. Nothing before it was as we know it, nothing that came after will ever be the same. How can we as humanity, choose to shut out parts of history that are unpalatable? No one shuts out men landing on the moon… Why then, would you shut out genocide? Is it too unpleasant? Perhaps too far removed? I think we understand ourselves best by understanding where our surrounding came from. Right, now that was good to have that rant. It was a result of me finding out that apparently reviewers turn down books about the holocaust.
Anyway, Shari has merely retold her great grandmother Emma’s story. So as an author, her contribution is minimal, she is just the messenger, which is how a memoir should be. Sort of like Otto Frank’s publishing of Anne’s diary. Now, Emma was not a little girl so obviously this book is from an adult perspective. Which is good in a way that it makes it easier to read because the author is on the same plane or even the same place in life. However, it is even more horrific because the author, the victim, truly understands what’s going on around them. There’s no childhood filter, no blissful ignorance, and no father/mother figure to look up to. Emma Fuchs was a truly inspiring woman, back in the day she was a good businesswoman, and back in the day she also watched as it was taken away from her, along with her husband.
I will not try to process in words what people had to go through in concentration camps and the like. I cannot even imagine the cruelty that man can mete out to man. But it is through these real tests of absolute hardship that heroes like Emma emerge. She survived, and what’s more, gave up everything to forge a better future for her daughter by emigrating. It is a beautifully written book. I would recommend it as a new year read, for it will serve you well in a time of some retrospection and introspection.

I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust … a review

The first book by Mathias B. Freese that I reviewed was last year, it too, like this one, was short stories. So, naturally, I approached this latest book with a certain set of preconceived notions about his style of writing and the overall content. It was however, quite a different experience. Freese is a gifted writer. I say this because I have read quite a few books about the holocaust and this has such a different approach to the whole issue. Each story involves a folk tale, or a fable, from Jewish folklore. And creatures, both good and bad, come alive to take the characters of the book through bizarre journeys.

One of the stories that touched me most was one that involved a ‘golem’ . “In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, magically created entirely from inanimate matter.” Mothers tell children stories of the golem as a creature that must be summoned when no hope remains and the world is dark. A Jew who is escaping from a camp has the golem in his head and conversations follow. The story is bone-chilling. I have always marvelled at the cruelty of man to man but never have I come across such raw rendering of emotions. Even the story about Hitler’s relationship with Eva seems true.

Needless to say, it is a most depressing read. Do approach with caution. This book affected me almost as much as Anne Frank’s work, and that is the highest praise I can give it.

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