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review 2017-10-12 19:58
House of Day, House of Night by Olga Tokarczuk
House Of Day, House Of Night - Olga Tokarczuk

Finally I found a book set in Poland by a Polish author that isn’t 500+ pages long. This is apparently an award-winner, but to me it often seemed bizarre; perhaps something is lost in translation. The book is divided into many short segments, moving between a nameless narrator and embedded short stories, a few of which the book revisits in multiple sections. The thread binding it all together is the setting of Nowa Ruda, a town on the Czech border that was transferred from Germany to Poland after WWII. The German residents were forced to leave, to be replaced by Poles transferred from land that went to Russia, an upheaval that still echoes in the 1990s when the narrator and her husband buy a farm there.

The short stories are fairly good, though melancholy. They are set in the area of Nowa Ruda throughout its history, from the life of a medieval saint to a late-medieval genderqueer monk who wrote about her, from a man who turns into a werewolf after eating human flesh during the war to the narrator’s neighbor who goes searching for a man who professed love to her in a dream. Magic realism characterizes many but not all of these stories, which are generally interesting in their own right.

Unfortunately, the stories comprise only around half of the book. The rest of it occurs in the narrator’s head, which is taken up by lengthy descriptions of dreams (her own and other people’s, culled from the Internet), flights of fancy, housekeeping minutiae, and mushroom recipes. It is hard for me to fathom the narrator’s purpose, as the author tells no particular story about her: she faces no challenges and experiences no change. Only at the end does she make a startling, though unexplored, discovery about her elderly German neighbor, whose daily habits are also tediously described throughout the book. In the meanwhile she occupies herself with detailed fantasies about being a mushroom or containing a house.

This book has a definite ambiance, and I do like the way it unfolds the history of a place. If it had been a collection of short stories alone, I’d probably have given 3.5 stars. The stories suffer no lack of plot and are often evocative. But as is I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are the sort of reader who actually enjoys dream sequences.

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review 2017-01-01 22:27
KAROLINA'S TWINS by Ronald H. Balson
Karolina's Twins - Ronald H. Balson
Karolina's Twins
Ronald H. Balson
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by St. Martin's Press
ISBN:  1250098378 (ISBN13: 9781250098375) 
 
  I found myself looking forward to picking up this book after putting it down. Balsom does well going between past and present throughout the story. He developed Lena's and Karolina's characters well, and I wanted to be there to help Lena fulfill her promise to Karolina. Balson did not shy away from describing the Ghetto, concentration camps, the risks of being in the underground resistance, and the impact of keeping those events secret from family members. A definite must read recommendation.
 
 
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review 2016-11-22 22:07
Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online
Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online - Bailey Poland

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I don't read non-fiction that often, so when I do, I always want those books to be good, to teach me something, and/or to make me think. I guess this one was all three? I pretty much "enjoyed" reading it—from an academic point of view, because let's be honest, the problems it describes aren't so savoury, and it's such a shame they're still here in 2016. Interesting, too, was how I could discuss it with a couple of friends, and they hadn't necessarily realised either all that online harrassment involves: not just the insulting posts/tweets/interactions, but how all those get dismissed so easily, and by basically everybody and their dog, under the umbrella of "don't feed the trolls" and "if you don't like it, just turn off your computer".

Because not feeding offenders doesn't mean they'll stop: what they want is not always attention, but the feeling that they've "won" by driving you away.

Because "just turn the computer off" is not a solution, especially not in our age where every potential recruiter and employer looks you up on the web, and if you don't maintain some kind of online presence, you're not good enough, but if what they find are blogs and profiles defaced by abusers, it's even worse.

Because, sadly but unsurprisingly, it still all ties into the "blame the victim" culture; into victims being the ones who must waste time and make efforts to get rid of the abuse; into (yes, once again) the fact that women and minorities get a lot more abuse than ye olde middle-class white guy—and that it's about abusers demanding that their victims waste their time on them, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

I've been lucky so far in terms of abuse, but I've lived in bad places offline and I know what it is to get cat-called by shady guys in the street, who then proceed to insult you when you don't drop everything you're doing to turn all your attention to them. So, yeah, when we have to contend with that shite online as well? Not good.

Sadly here as well, people who'd benefit most from reading such a book (in order to realise why it's not okay—or that we've called their BS long ago and the only ones they're fooling is themselves) won't read it, won't care, will probably abuse the author, whatever. Nevertheless, I think this would be food for thought for many, many other people: it's amazing (and worrying) how easy it is to internalise that culture of abuse, to react ourselves with mild aphorisms like "just block them", as if ignoring what's happening will make it vanish by magic. Tiny little details that we continuously feed into our own daily narratives, poisoning ourselves, even when we're obviously against abuse and behave in civil ways otherwise.

The author provides quite a few examples of abuse situations or larger events like the Gamergate, showing how abusers behave, and what kind of dangers this can all lead to, ranging from personal and professional issues to physical wounds and worse (revealing information like Social Security numbers and addresses, for the targets to be abused offline as well).

The one thing I found a little difficult at times was the academic style, which was dry in places, and sometimes seemed to repeat itself (possibly in attempts to keep it to a more generic kind of language, I'd say, and prevent it from immediately being labelled as "see you're writing about abusers but you do that in an offending way"—also note the irony of, once again, having to keep ourselves in check so that the real abusers won't be able to bounce on it). On the other hand, the book as a whole is accessible and not "hard" to read and understand.

Conclusion: Important matter, dealt with in understandable ways, and deserving of being read by a wide range of people.

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review 2016-11-06 12:01
Children's Review: If You Were Me and Lived in Poland
If You Were Me and Lived in...Poland: A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World - Kelsea Parks Wierenga,Carole P. Roman

We received this book to give an honest review. 

You know I never really knew much of anything about Poland so this was a nice book about the different things that is within Poland. Like all the other books in this series we get to learn what people eat there, festivities if there are in, what you would call your parents and so much more.

These are great books to have in a classroom so children can learn about different places around the world.

K really liked the Children's Day that they celebrate over there and has decided we should do that here. 

I think this series is good of children from ages 5 on up because it gives them information on different cultures in different parts of the world, but in a fun way. 

 

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review 2016-10-24 08:02
The Way Meat Loves Salt by Nina Jaffe
The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition - Nina Jaffe

Genre:  Jewish / Family / Poland / Fairy Tale / Magic


Year Published: 1998


Year Read:  2016

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

 

Mireleh

Even though there has been like a million retellings of “Cinderella” done already, I do recall one version of the tale that was quite unique as it had the “Cinderella” character running away from home and dancing with the prince of the story in disguise and that version came from a fairy tale called “Cap O’ Rushes.” So, imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a Jewish version of this tale called “The Way Meat Loves Salt” by Nina Jaffe along with illustrations by Louise August and I was pleasantly surprised by this brilliant version of the classic fairy tale!

Many years ago in the country of Poland, there lived a rabbi who had a wife and three daughters. The names of the three daughters were Reyzeleh, the oldest, Khaveleh, the middle daughter and Mireleh, the youngest. One day, the rabbi wanted to know how much each of his daughters loved him and he decided to ask each of them how they felt about him.

Reyzeleh answered, “I love you as much as diamonds.”

Khaveleh answered, “I love you as much as gold and silver.”

And Mireleh answered, “I love you the way meat loves salt.”


When the rabbi heard Mireleh’s answer, he was so enraged that he kicked Mireleh out of his house. Mireleh then wonders through the forest crying when suddenly, an old man dressed in a white robe showed up carrying a tall silver staff in one hand and a wooden stick in the other hand. The old man then tells Mireleh that she should go to the house of Rabbi Yitskhok ben Levi, the renowned scholar of Lublin and that he has a wife and son that could take care of her. When Mireleh goes to the house, the family took her in and let her stay in their attic. One day however, a wedding feast was being held in Cracow and Rabbi Yitskhok’s family decided to go to the wedding feast, but they let Mireleh stay at home. Mireleh wanted to go to the wedding, but she realized that she did not have the proper attire to attend the wedding. So, she used the magic stick that the old man gave her and she was able to make a beautiful dress appear out of thin air! When Mireleh arrived at the wedding, the guests were astonished by her appearance and Rabbi Yitskhok’s son immediately took interest in her and wanted to know everything about her. But, Mireleh kept quiet and did not tell the rabbi’s son anything about herself. As soon as the wedding feast was over, the rabbi’s son wanted to know more about the mysterious girl who came to the wedding and he decided to put some tar and pitch out in the front of his house to wait for the mysterious girl to arrive. When Mireleh came back to the house, she ended up getting one of her shoes stuck in the tar pitch and she had to leave without the other shoe. The rabbi’s son then picked up the shoe and declared that whoever fits the shoe will be his bride.

Will the Rabbi’s son find the woman who fits the shoe?

Read this book to find out!


Nina Jaffe’s writing is beautifully written as she does a brilliant job at retelling this ancient old version of “Cinderella” and incorporating Jewish customs into the story that makes it stand out from other folktales. I loved the way that Nina Jaffe incorporated the Jewish traditions in this story such as the groom stepping on the wine glass during the marriage ceremony as we get to learn more about Jewish culture through this story and how they define the characters. I also loved the fact that this story takes place in Poland since it is rare that I read children’s books that take place in Poland and it gives the story an extremely unique feel. Nina Jaffe did an excellent job at bringing out the theme of true love in this story as Mireleh, the main protagonist, is unfairly thrown out of her own home just because she stated that she loved her father as much as “meat loves salt.” While it takes most of the story for the father to figure out what Mireleh’s statement really meant, it was intriguing to me that Mireleh would make such an odd statement about her love for her father and yet, it still meant that she truly loves her father, even if the statement “meat loves salt” sounded a bit odd to both her father and the reader (unless you think about that statement really hard). Louise August’s artwork is beautiful and cute to look at as all the characters are drawn in a cute way and I really loved the Polish outfits that the characters wear such as the large dresses with the aprons that the female characters wear and the polo jackets and baggy trousers that the male characters wear.

Parents should know that the core part of this story is that the father ends up kicking his own daughter out of his home due to his daughter’s odd comment about how much she loves him. This could upset some readers as it hits closely home to children who were forcibly put out of their own homes by their parents or have dealt with parents who were abusive towards them. Parents might want to reassure their children that while such abuse can happen in real life, they should let their children know that they will always love them no matter what happens.

Overall, “The Way Meat Loves Salt” is a beautiful story about what true love really is and the importance of family no matter what kind of differences you may have with each other. I would recommend this book to children ages six and up since the Jewish terms might be a bit confusing for some smaller readers and the scene of the daughter being kicked out of her home might upset some children.

Review is also on: Rabbit Ears Book Blog

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