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review 2018-08-31 09:47
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
Falling Out of Time (Vintage International) - David Grossman

In Falling Out of Time, David Grossman has created a genre-defying drama––part play, part prose, pure poetry––to tell the story of bereaved parents setting out to reach their lost children. It begins in a small village, in a kitchen, where a man announces to his wife that he is leaving, embarking on a journey in search of their dead son. The man––called simply Walking Man––paces in ever-widening circles around the town. One after another, all manner of townsfolk fall into step with him (the Net-Mender, the Midwife, the Elderly Math Teacher, even the Duke), each enduring his or her own loss. The walkers raise questions of grief and bereavement: Can death be overcome by an intensity of speech or memory? Is it possible, even for a fleeting moment, to call to the dead and free them from their death? Grossman’s answer to such questions is a hymn to these characters, who ultimately find solace and hope in their communal act of breaching death’s hermetic separateness. For the reader, the solace is in their clamorous vitality, and in the gift of Grossman’s storytelling––a realm where loss is not merely an absence but a life force of its own.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Translated from the original Hebrew, Israeli author David Grossman's unique novel explores various aspects of the grieving process through a combination of prose, poetry, even presenting a bit of the story in play format. At its core, it is described as a "fable of parental grief".

 

Our main character, simply named "Walking Man", working through the grief of having recently lost a child, paces around the courtyard area in front of his home in ever-widening concentric circles. This pattern has him gradually moving throughout the village, talking with other townspeople on matters they are struggling with in their own lives. Others in town choose to fall in step with him, so through this, the reader comes to know Net Mender (mute himself, he lost a six year old child); Midwife (married to Town Cobbler, they also lost a child -- a son less than 2 years old); Math Teacher; and The Duke, each working through the stories of their individual losses or struggles. Over the course of the book, we come to see that this process carries on for about five years. Occasionally, a question on the themes of grief or death is posed, something for readers themselves to think on. 

 

There are additional characters with a little extra something interesting to their own stories, such as Town Chronicler and Town Centaur. The chronicler serves as an almost Shakespearean sort of narrator to the rest of the story, but he also has a place as character in the plot (such as it is) himself. Having lost a daughter himself, the chronicler -- as you may have guessed -- chronicles the town's activities -- especially this new fad of walking in circles everyone seems to have taken up -- in his journal, findings to be shared later with The Duke. The Duke has decreed that villagers are to share & explain their various grief stories to the Chronicler as truthfully as possible. Each person in town is asks, how would you describe the grief in your mind?

 

Then there's the Centaur, who is the story's placeholder for representing people that choose to try to heal or cover up emotional hurt through rabid consumerism, sometimes leading to compulsive hoarding. Centaur -- who lost a nearly 12 year old son -- most definitely uses his "collecting" as a coping mechanism, and he also seems the most vocal and cross or is it just brutal honesty? regarding the behaviors of his neighbors. Some could read it as him simply deflecting away from his own problems. As he cries out at one point, "Even the Inquisition's tax accessors didn't torture people like this!" (regarding the Chronicler's line of questioning). Near the end, Centaur actually takes over the narration of the book. 

 

Presented in an allegorical-like style similar to that of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the primary theme of this story does reflect on mourning the death of a child. One character's story even looks at losing a child to suicide. However, other emotional trials are explored as well. The way Grossman chooses to bring forth the story draws the reader toward their own quiet ponderings on the various stages of mourning -- you know: mourning, sadness, denial, anger, bartering, acceptance -- as well as the ways a grieving mind will tend to look for signs of faith or hope in nearly anything. 

 

So, yes, undeniably some heavy themes going on in this little book (less than 200 pages total) but the combination of the unique format presentation (which makes it an even quicker reader), the thoughts it provokes, and just the sheer word choice still make this a pleasure to read. I haven't read any of Grossman's other books but some of the lines in this one just stunned me in the stark, simple beauty of the phrasing. Lines like "we unspoke that night", "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?" or this image of a married couple trying to come back from nearly breaking apart: "I stood up. I wrapped you in a blanket, you gripped my hand, looked straight into my eyes: the man and woman we had been nodded farewell."

 

 

All universal ideas he incorporates here, but never before have I experienced them presented in quite this way. Just think on that one line:  "Why did you become dead? How could you be incautious?". It sounds odd at first, but when you pause and consider it, does it not just capture that early anger you sometimes feel at having lost someone too early in life... that sense of how DARE they leave me? Again, that choice of wording! Amazing! 

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review 2018-08-04 22:12
The Histories (Tacitus)
The Histories (Oxford World's Classics) - Tacitus;W. H. Fyfe,D.S. Levene,Tacitus

The death of Nero begins a Roman bloodletting that Augustus had thought he had completely ended as four men will within a year claim the title Emperor.  The Histories by Tacitus follows the aftermath of Nero’s death as a succession of men claimed the throne until the Flavians emerge to return the Roman Peace.

 

Tacitus begins his work with those who had prospered under Nero worrying for themselves while the rest of the populace celebrated and setting the stage for the eventual assassination for Galba and the rise of Otho, who the former had passed over as his chosen successor.  Yet at the time of his death Galba was facing a mutiny on the German frontier that had installed Vitellius as their choice as emperor, a task that Otho took to quash and retain his own throne.  The invasion of Italy by Vitellius’ legions brought war to the core of empire for the first time in almost a century and witnessed the defeat of Otho’s forces before he committed suicide.  The rise of Vitellius brought Vespasian, the leader of the legions fighting the Jewish War, into the fray as he accepted the proclamation of his legions as emperor and soon found the supporters of Otho and others joining him.  After the crushing defeat of his forces, Vitellius attempted to abdicate but the Guards wouldn’t let him resulting in his death by Vespasian’s soldiers.  On top of civil war in Italy and the final phase of the Jewish War under Titus, a Gallo-German uprising at first claiming support for Vespasian became an invasion and rebellion that took numerous legions to suppress and the aftermath would be alluded to in Tacitus’ own Germany.

 

Although The Histories are incomplete, from the beginning Tacitus brings his aristocratic ideology and politics in focus early by showing only someone with political realism and firm hand on the legions can prevent civil wars and the rioting of the masses.  The writing is quick-paced, going hand in hand with the rapid succession of events but Tacitus does give excellent portraits on the prime actors in this historical drama the played across the Roman world.  The only thing a historian would have against Tacitus would be the twisting of the chronology to suit his own purposes.  Yet like Agricola and Germany, my biggest complaint is how Oxford World Classics edition is structured with the Notes at the very end of the piece and making the reader use two bookmarks so they could go back and forth.

 

The Histories, the first of Tacitus’ two large scale historical works, shows the horrors of civil war and the according to Tacitus the dangers of leader who cannot control the legions and masses.  Even though the we are missing over two-thirds of the overall work, the portion we have that covers the Year of Four Emperors shows the breakdown of society in vacuum of strong leadership that is important not only in that time but throughout all of history including down to our own time.

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review 2018-07-31 21:51
Abraham's Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity
Abraham's Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity (Question and Answer Format) - Philip G. Samaan

Many Christians have no idea what the religion of Islam actually is and for many who have read the Old Testament, they forget that Islam began among the descendants of Abraham’s other son Ishmael.  Dr. Philip Samaan attempts to give Christians, in particular Seventh-day Adventists, a glimpse of actually Islam and Muslims in Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity.

 

The first two-thirds of the book Samaan focuses primarily on everything related to Islam beginning with Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael in the Biblical record before turning his attention to Muhammad as well as the rise and spread of Islam.  After the historical portion, Samaan then looks at the faith of Islam itself and its similarities and contrasts to Judaism and Christianity.  Then after covering Jesus in Islam, the book turns to focus on Christ for nearly the last third of the book until the last chapter covers how Christians—Seventh-day Adventists—can witness to both Muslims and Jews.

 

Born in Syria into an Orthodox Christian family, Samaan not only grew up amongst all three faiths but has studied them diligently bring extensive knowledge to this book.  However, while Samaan is particular knowledgeable on the subject went to write, it felt that he wrote parts of at least three different books in this roughly 280 page book.  Not that the material cover wasn’t insightful, but when the book ignored Islam for long stretches which felt weird given that it was to be the main topic.  While the book structure was a little surprising, the biggest drawback is the editing of the text which could have been tightened up in several spots and in some places were determinately to the understanding of what Samaan was discussing.

 

Abraham’s Other Son is an informative book on the history of Ishmael and his descendants in Muslims around the world.  While Philip Samaan’s book is not perfect, it is able to give Christians—not only Seventh-day Adventists—a true glimpse at what Islam really is and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.

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review 2018-05-25 19:43
Women of Our Time: Golda Meir
Golda Meir: A Strong, Determined Leader - David A. Adler

When I was a child we had a cat which my mom christened Golda My Ear (he was a yellow tabby) which was a clever play on words that went completely over my head. Therefore, when I came across a book while shelving entitled Golda Meir: A Strong, Determined Leader it felt like fate was telling me to take it home and read it. (It's so short that I finished it on my first train home.) David A. Adler decided to write about Golda for the "Women of Our Time" biography series which covers a wide array of spectacularly talented, intelligent, and strong women. Prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge of who Golda Meir was which is pretty shocking seeing as how she was Israel's Prime Minister. She grew up in Russia but her family moved to Milwaukee when she was a young girl in the hopes that they could improve their quality of life with the opportunities that America promised were available to all within its borders. Much like her sister, Golda was homesick and longed to be a part of the larger Jewish nation and to build it in Israel. That determination never left her and she made it a reality after she married and moved to Palestine to be an active participant in the political party that wanted to build the Jewish nation. It covers not only her childhood and her move to Palestine but also her political career as Prime Minister and her meetings with Nixon (as well as her secret missions to the enemy's camps). Lest you picture her as a pacifist, she was not against using weapons to protect her people against the encroaching Arabs, Egyptians, and Syrians which threatened daily to drive them out of the space they had carved for themselves. Overall rating from me is 8/10 because I wanted a little more depth to the narrative.

 

As this is written with a younger audience in mind the chapters are very short and not exactly chock full of details. If you want the bare facts (or want to teach them to your child) then this is a great resource. I think this book and the rest of the books in the series would be a great resource in a classroom or home library as the women discussed come from different parts of the world and worked in various fields/capacities. It can never hurt to teach children about powerful women who paved the way!

 

Source: Penguin Random House

 

What's Up Next: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The Outsider by Stephen King

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review 2018-05-11 17:04
After Birth, by Elisa Albert
After Birth - Elisa Albert

As we approach Mother's Day in the U.S., pop culture has lately been reassuring me that my decision to never have children is a good one.

 

Most recently, I went to see the movie Tully, in which a woman who's just had her third child struggles to sleep and care for herself until finally she relents and accepts her brother's gift of a night nanny. Life for her improves markedly, perhaps magically (for a reason).

 

Inspired by Tully, I consciously chose to read After Birth. Might as well ride this wave of mother-related trauma, I thought. The novel follows Ari, a first time mother, over the course of three months, her son just turning one. It flashes back to when she was pregnant, endured what she feels was a needless C-section, and when what is likely to be post-partum depression ensues.

 

In its bitterness, its sometimes funny rants and ambivalence about Jewish identity, After Birth felt of a piece with Albert's first novel, The Book of Dahlia, which I read last year. I admired that book for its stubbornly unforgiving protagonist, dying of brain cancer. Similarly, Ari's often caustic, volatile voice, her resentment at modern birth practices and various mothering cliques, as well as the unnecessary isolation of motherhood, was often refreshing to read. Sometimes, however, it became a bit much for me.

 

Ari wrestles with her past, doomed relationships with other women, including her mean mother, who died of cancer when she was young, former friends, roommates, lovers. In the present, she befriends and helps a new mom who was in a seminal feminist band. This relationship enables Ari to "grow up," to perhaps become less judgmental or bitter about the women in her life, and those who may become a part of her life.

 

Like everything else, motherhood in the U.S. has become commodified, both as an inextricable part of the health care industry and as a way to sell "stuff" that mothers have done without for ages. The most valuable, engaging aspect of After Birth is the insistence that, however individual birth plans and approaches to mothering may be, women are not meant to raise children on their own (whether there's a man or not); we're meant to help each other.

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