A Lookery at: “Day After Night” by Anita Diamant

Day After Night

By Anita Diamant

Scribner Paperback Edition 2010

$15.00

You will find, dearreader, that I am particularly interested in both fiction and non-fiction about WWll. Not the battles or military side of it, but the social and psychological aspects of the era and the war, both here and abroad. Oftentimes, these books can be somewhat depressing. Today’s novel, Day After Night by Anita Diamant, based on historical facts and events that occurred in Palestine after the end of the war, is somewhat different from most WWll themed books that I have read.

To put the story and events into historical context for thereader, a brief history lesson is in order. Israel did not become a nation until 1948. From 1922 until then, Palestine (as the area was called), was under the administrative jurisdiction of Great Britain. Initially, Britain supported an independent Jewish nation. However, by 1939, the government of the UK reneged on its previous mandate allowing the immigration of Jews into Palestine. Only 10,000 people of Jewish heritage were allowed to immigrate to Palestine each year from 1939 to 1944. After that, legal immigration to Palestine for Jews was down to a mere trickle. WWll lasted from 1939 until 1945. Moving from Europe to Palestine could have saved millions of Jewish lives.

After the war was over, many of the remaining European and Middle Eastern Jews were homeless, or had no desire to live in countries that had turned their backs on them. In decrepit, dilapidated boats, and by some overland routes, Jews began arriving in Palestine with the help of the Haganah resistance movement. Most of them were “illegal” immigrants, without permission to settle in the country. These “illegals” were herded into detention centers by the British and languished there until decisions about their individual settlement rights were made.

Day After Night takes place in the Atlit detention center near Haifa between August and October 1945.  The four main characters are all Jewish women who have survived the war in Europe. Shayndel is a Polish Zionist who spent most of the war fighting Nazis along with the partisans in Poland’s forests. Tedi, the tall, blonde Dutch woman is the only survivor of her entire family. A French beauty, Leonie spent the war enduring her own indignities and horrors. The only concentration camp survivor is Zorah, an angry, bitter Polish woman who refuses to forget her wartime experiences. In the camp, “there was an unwritten rule… against asking survivors about their experiences” (p. 112). Although the reader learns each woman’s backstory, very rarely do the detainees share their stories with others.

The wartime encounters of each character are revealed in the novel, but not dwelled upon. The primary story is about life in Atlit – the arrival of new immigrants, the boredom, the anxiety, the waiting are all detailed. Palestine is so entirely different from Europe, that many find simple things, such as a cucumber and tomato salad for breakfast, the heat, real cigarettes and learning Hebrew to be amazing as well as confusing.

All of the women and camp residents are anxious to be released. Starting a new life free of barbed wire and foreign administrators is of paramount importance. Atlit is no picnic and is still confinement for each person. There is significant distrust among the detainees. Secrets abound. Spying becomes critical to the Jewish wish for freedom. Tedi, Leonie, Zorah, Shayndel and many others are possessed by the desire to break free of camp life.

While the women portrayed by the author are fictional, organizations, events and the incredible resolution of the story are not. Anita Diamant’s Day After Night is not your typical story of the Holocaust. It is a story about hope, new beginnings and the will to build the new, independent, Jewish nation of Israel. It is a very enlightening look into what life was like for the survivors of Hitler’s insane vision who arrive in Palestine. All the more so because the story is based on fact.

Another 3+ eye rating for a relatively unknown look into post WWll history.

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A Lookery at: “Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation

Jean Kwok

Riverhead Books (2010)

$25.95

It has been a long time since a novel has captivated me so completely that I have read it in one day. Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation did just that. Author Kwok’s debut novel draws on her own experiences to bring thereader the story of ah-Kim Chang and her mother, Ma.

ah-Kim and Ma are emigrants from Hong Kong who come to New York, desperate to leave Hong Kong before it reverts to Chinese rule in 1997. Sponsored by Ma’s sister Aunt Paula and brother-in-law Uncle Bob, mother and daughter begin their new life in a miniscule and squalid condemned apartment in a Brooklyn slum. Ma is employed at Uncle Bob’s piece-work sweatshop in Chinatown’s garment district, finishing clothing for one and a half cents per skirt. At the same time, Aunt Paula unwittingly provides ah-Kim with her first step toward a better future by giving her a false address that allows her to attend a better public school than the one nearest her home.

It is soon obvious that Kimberly (her new American name) is going to struggle academically in the US in spite of her scholastic success back home in Hong Kong. Likewise, Ma has an impossible quota to fill each day at the clothing factory. Kimberly must join her mother on the job after school every afternoon so that Ma can make her daily allotment of finished skirts.

Aunt Paula and Uncle Bob effectively become the jailers of their relatives and the other workers by paying them for each item shipped rather than a regular minimum hourly wage. In addition, each payday Uncle Bob deducts from Ma’s income, cash to cover her debt to him for medical treatment in Hong Kong, the plane tickets to America, the visas (plus interest on the debt) and utilities for their apartment. Not much cash is left over for food, rent and clothing.

There are others who treat Ma and Kim with kindness. And, once Kim’s talent at school is noticed, both she and her mother realize that Kimberly’s academic aptitude is the key to improving their lives. There will be no help coming from their own relatives.

The struggles of balancing school, work, finances and social situations become staggering for the two women. Both Kim and Ma are forced to make decisions along the way that will have an immense impact on their future together.

The challenges the Changs are faced with and the consequences of their decisions — particularly Kim’s — will have to be explored by you, dearreader. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is an excellent novel, great for personal enjoyment or even a book club selection. Easily a 4+ eye rating.

An Updated Lookery at: “Spring Fever” by Mary Kay Andrews

dearreader,

Please take a lookery at my previous post “A Lookery at: ‘Spring Fever’ by Mary Kay Andrews to listen to an audio clip from the audiobook edition of the novel. You can also link to it here:

http://media.us.macmillan.com/video/olmk/macmillanaudio/springfeverch1.mp3

Many thanks to MacMillan Publishing for providing thebooklookery with this bonus!

Enjoy!

A Lookery at: “Spring Fever” by Mary Kay Andrews

An Audio Clip from “Spring Fever” by Mary Kay Andrews

Spring Fever

Mary Kay Andrews

St. Martin’s Press (2012)

$25.99

In Mary Kay Andrews’ latest “escapist novel”, Spring Fever, Annajane Hudgens is about to say good-bye to the only life she’s known in the quaint lakeside town of Passcoe, North Carolina and move on to a better future in Atlanta. She’s sold her loft, quit her job at the Quixie soda pop company, and is engaged to bluegrass musician, Shane. Proving that she is over her short-lived marriage to Mason Bayless, Annajane attends his wedding to the perfect-in-every-way Celia shortly before leaving town.

But the wedding doesn’t go off quite as planned, and Annajane finds herself and Mason Bayless coping with a family crisis instead. For years following their acrimonious break-up and divorce, Annajane and Mason continued to work together at the Bayless family’s specialty cherry soda soft drink corporation, the largest employer in the small town of Passcoe. They have managed to keep their working relationship professional even after the arrival of wunderkind Celia. Now, the formerly married couple are trying to manage a situation that Celia’s stellar business skills cannot control.

Annajane’s departure date arrives sooner than expected. She packs in a hurry and leaves her hometown for her fiance’ Shane, and the big city of Atlanta.

What follows is a fairly predictable “girl meets boy; girl loses boy; does girl want boy back?” story, set against a backdrop of corporate and familial backstabbing, deceit, betrayals, and eventually, an outpouring of closely held secrets. Much of the plot is easy to foresee; however, there are enough twists and turns at the end to forgive the novel’s somewhat unexceptional plotline.

Definitely not highbrow literature, Spring Fever is a fluffy, fun summer frolic that is easy-to-read and entertaining. It has an element of romance to it, but enough intrigue to keep the book from becoming overly sappy. Mary Kay Andrews has served up a novel as refreshing and as bubbly as an ice-cold bottle of Quixie cherry soda, and for that, I give it a rating of 3+ eyes.

A Lookery at: Knowing When to Call it Quits

It’s been too many days, dearreader, since I have reviewed a new title for you; please allow me to apologize for that. No, I have not thrown in the towel after just one week, I’ve simply been underwhelmed by three horrid books!

I recently received two books for pre-release reviews. You may have read About thebooklookery last week, and made note of the genres I prefer to read and write about. Both of these books were profiled in categories I enjoy — Historical Fiction and Mystery. Unfortunately neither were as described. Both novels had strong elements of genres I truly dislike.

The first title I gave up on after struggling through just the first three pages (and I mean slogging)! The second novel I stuck with for over half the tale before asking myself — is this really necessary? I decided it wasn’t.

I turned next to a book I had chosen because the protagonists in the story were both born on the day the Berlin Wall fell. My first child was born on this day, so it sounded like something special. In fact, some of the reviews said it was “life-altering” and would change the reader’s outlook on the world. Both admirable qualities in a piece of writing. Sadly, for me it did neither. Again, the genre was not as described, and while the story was so-so, and I finished it, it fell short of my expectations.

So after attempting to read three books I’d rate as so-so to truly lousy, it made me think — just when do I call it quits when it is a chore reading something other than a required textbook?

For me, it depends on a couple of questions:  One — is reading this book really worth my time? In the case of the first book, where I read the first few pages repeatedly, trying to get “into” the story, absolutely not! Two — is the story something I might end up liking? In spite of trying to enjoy the second book, it proved impossible to do so. And three — did I pay for the book? In this case, only the third book was purchased, so I felt more compelled to finish it.

So when do you, dearreader call it quits? After three mind-numbing duds, I am moving on to some brain candy from a favorite “beach read” author, Spring Fever  by Mary Kay Andrews. Definitely fluff, and easy on the intellect, but at least she’s fun to read!

See you back here soon!

A Lookery at: Collection Day

 

Some years ago, my daughter was experiencing a difficult time in her life. One activity that always gave her comfort was reading. Her high school had a mandatory daily reading break when everyone from the Principal to the students, teachers and even the kitchen and grounds staff were required to read. All offices on campus would close, and phones were left unanswered for the duration of this reading period.

During one of these sessions, my daughter was reading One for the Money by Janet Evanovich, the first book in a series that I had recently discovered and thought she might enjoy.

Across the aisle from her sat a girl she did not know. However, when this student noticed what my teen was reading, she very enthusiastically introduced herself and started a conversation about the book. Soon they became close friends, often sharing and swapping books with each other.

Sometime later, I had the opportunity to visit and meet her friend’s family. Now our family was far from prosperous, but we weren’t hurting, either. Through conversations with both girls I knew that the friend came from a very large, very low income family.

I met her girlfriend’s family, and was immediately struck not by the number of children in the room or the modesty of the home, but by the collection of books that this family owned! Every surface held stacks of books; every wall had simple built-in bookcases, crowded with reading material. Every person in the family was either looking at or reading a book.

When I mentioned how envious I was of their vast book collection, the girl’s father opened the door to the attic (actually more of a large crawl space — SoCal does not have many traditional attics), and pointed out the bookshelves lining the attic walls. I was dumbfounded! I had never seen so many books in one place outside a library or a bookstore!

It was obvious that reading was a prized pastime in this family. It was also then that I realized that collecting books can be an affordable hobby. And I’m not talking about collecting first editions or rare books. Books did not have to be purchased through Amazon.com or a bookstore. Books could be picked up very economically at garage sales, thrift shops, library or estate sales, or at used bookstores. They could be passed on from sibling to sibling, friend to friend, home to home. If a person wanted to read and be entertained badly enough, tight finances would accommodate this hobby. This family did not have a lot of extras in the home, but they made reading a priority.

For this reader, Collection Day has a new meaning.

A Lookery At: “The Monster of Florence: A True Story” by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

NOTE:  Adult content

In Italy, young adults tend to marry later in life, living at home with their parents and family until wed. As a result, young couples take automobiles to rural areas of the country to engage in sexual activity. In the hills surrounding Florence, this practice is so well-known and so much a part of local tradition, that it has spawned another practice — Peeping Toms — who stake out known “hot spots” waiting to observe couples in the act of intercourse. This subculture is accepted and highly developed. There are several layers of activity and even commerce that take place. Peepers stake claim to the “hot spots” and sometimes sell their right to view this activity when a known “good car” is in the vicinity.

Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples were victims of a brutal and depraved murderer, who lurked in the hillsides bordering the town of Florence waiting to attack his prey of unsuspecting lovers. Most often, the young men were shot first and the young women fired upon, killed and then dragged out of the cars and violated with what coroners suspected was a scuba knife. There was no indication of sexual activity, but in each case, the woman’s vagina had been removed. One couple that was attacked took the assailant by surprise — instead of killing a young man and woman, the killer had attacked a gay couple. One of the men sported long hair, which likely led the murderer to believe he had interrupted a heterosexual couple.

The investigation and legal proceedings of these murders lasted over 25 years, making it the longest and most expensive crime investigation in Italian history.

Journalist and author of murder mysteries, Douglas Preston arrived in Tuscany with his young family in late 2000, intent on writing a mystery featuring the artist Masaccio, who started the Renaissance in Florence.

Not long after arriving, Preston is introduced to journalist and crime reporter for La Nazione, Mario Spezi. Spezi regaled him with the history of the serial killer that he dubbed The Monster of Florence. Mario, the first journalist on the scene of the initial killing, tells his new acquaintance  that one of the murders happened within sight of the rented Tuscan farmhouse Preston occupies. The mystery author’s interest is piqued and the Masaccio mystery story is put aside in favor of trying to solve the mystery of the Monster’s crimes.

The two journalists research the cold case crimes and become so involved in the investigation that their own liberty is at stake. The reporters soon find that the investigation of the murders is riddled with botched police work, personal vendettas, multiple characters and suspects, conspiracy theories, rumors of Satanic cults, a Sardinian clan connection, arrests, trials, convictions and reversals.

Vital information is suppressed or ignored, gossip and falsehoods are believed as truth, and reputations and lives are lost due to the incompetence of the Italian criminal investigation and legal system.

One of the first head prosecutors, Piero Tony of the Corte d’Assise d’Appello (Appellate Court) declares, “This investigation … if it weren’t so tragic, would put one in mind of the Pink Panther.”

Spezi had gained access to an FBI Psychological Profile of the suspect drafted in 1989 at the request of the Italians. He compared the information in the profile with his own research and arrived at a convincing conclusion about the identity of the Monster of Florence. He shares his thoughts with Preston, and the two talk to the suspect in an attempt to gain a confession or an admission of guilt. yourstruly will not disclose what happens next, dearreader — you must discover that for yourself.

The Monster of Florence: A True Story, is almost impossible for an American audience to comprehend. The American legal premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty, our Constitutional rights to freedom of the press and speech, and the right to a speedy trial are all absent from an Italian investigation. The antics of this investigational and prosecuting circus are unbelievable.

An interesting comparison between the case of the Monster of Florence and that of the recent high-profile Amanda Knox prosecution and trials is made in an afterword. Preston exposes some of the similarities of the legal atrocities in the two cases, leaving his dearreaders to wonder whether the Italian justice system has anything to do with justice at all.

Four eyes for The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Take a lookery at this title if you enjoy true crime or legal thrillers.

yourstruly

The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi was originally published by Splendide Mendax, Inc., and Mario Spezi (2008).

A Lookery at: To Be, or Not to Be?

After an agonizing 48 hours or so of deep thought, I have decided to forego referring to myself as yourstruly. While I will still use this as my pen name for thebooklookery, I will not use the name throughout my posts. It feels too cumbersome, ponderous and pompous.

You, dearreader, will still retain the honorific of thereader or dearreader as a token of my esteem for your continued support.

yourstruly

A Lookery at: Paper or Plastic?

A couple of Christmases ago, I received a generous and unexpected gift of cash. Loving all things literary, I decided to purchase a basic Kindle. Although I didn’t expend a great deal of effort researching other ereader options, I felt Amazon’s Kindle was the best fit for my reading habits.

I began purchasing books on my Kindle through Amazon’s online Kindle Store. In addition, most books published prior to 1923 are free, and there are several websites/blogs that will notify readers by email or Facebook updates of free or deeply discounted titles available for the Kindle. I downloaded a slew of classics and ebooks by independent authors.

One purchase was a new release by a favorite author of mine that was priced considerably lower than the hardcover edition. I added the book to my Kindle library, read it, and then promptly archived it.

My Kindle is one of my favorite possessions. It is simple to transport. It can be read while waiting for an appointment, at the salon, while getting the oil changed or in the comfort of my own home. I can easily fit an enormous book, and then some, in my handbag. One book can be finished and another started without leaving my favorite chair. In addition, the boredom factor in many situations is lowered by the availability of games, newspapers and magazines on the Kindle that are more current than those available in most waiting areas.

However, I continue to buy books in hardcopy (both hardback and soft covers) for several reasons: I collect titles by certain favorite authors, and prefer their books in print; flipping through the pages of our latest book club selection is easier than navigating through an ereader; I love books and that “new book smell”; and I like having tomes to put on my bookshelves.

A chance to attend a luncheon with the author of the previously mentioned new release occurred about 18 months after I bought the book in Kindle format. I searched high and low for the title that the writer was slated to discuss, not remembering where I had put it, but knowing that I had read and enjoyed the book. It was finally located in my Kindle archives.

Now, how was I going to obtain the author’s signature on an ereader?? This writer is one of my all-time favorites!! How could I pass up this opportunity?? Well, I couldn’t, so I bought a print copy of the book at the gathering, and happily had it personally inscribed by my favored author, even though it meant buying the same title twice.

So, which do you prefer? Paper or plastic? There’s room for both pages in my book!

A Lookery at “The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel” by Meg Waite Clayton

“The Wednesday Sisters:  A Novel” by author Meg Waite Clayton begins by settling the reader on a bench in the middle of Palo Alto’s Pardee Park, next to Frankie (or Mary Frances, rather) O’Mara, the narrator of the story. It is late 1967, and Frankie and her her husband, Danny, are contemplating a move to California from the Midwest.

While watching her children play, Frankie meets another young mother, Linda Mason, an aspiring runner. The women introduce themselves and gossip about another park mom whom they haven’t yet met, Brett Tyler, who wears white gloves to the playground.

By mid-1968, the O’Maras have moved into the Pardee Park neighborhood. A friendship is formed between Frankie, Linda, the brilliant Brett, Southern belle Kath Montgomery and eventually, BoHo Ally Tantry. The friends discuss their favorite writers and books as they watch their children play.

Fall approaches and the Wednesday Sisters, as they have chosen to call themselves, gather to watch the Miss America Pageant. The pageant’s talent competition inspires the sisters to challenge each other to pursue their personal goals and produce their own writing projects. Some of the women are more reluctant to expose themselves through the written word, but eventually, they all tackle the task of writing and critiquing one another’s work.

The turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s in the Bay Area provide the backdrop for the story as the friends experience and participate in the social upheaval taking place around them. These women are bright, and mostly well-educated, but were raised to be housewives and mothers. The world around them is changing, as are the expectations of their roles in society.

Infertility, illness, in-laws and infidelity, as well as partners, prejudice, and progress all leave a lasting impression on the Wednesday Sisters who pursue their writing and friendship with passion.

“The Wednesday Sisters:  A Novel”, rates four eyes (no pun intended) with yourstruly. It is particularly interesting to observe the changes that took place in the US from the point of view of young mothers as opposed to having experienced this era as a child.

I look forward to reading more work by Meg Waite Clayton, such as her novel about law students known as “The Four Ms. Bradwells”.

“The Wednesday Sisters:  A Novel” by Meg Waite Clayton is available in paperback from Ballantine Books (2009). http://www.amazon.com/The-Wednesday-Sisters-A-Novel/dp/0345502833/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339410192&sr=1-1