Whether it is the author’s exceptional writing talent, the fact that we have had an uncommonly snowy winter, or a combination of both, but when I started reading Snowbound by Cari Hunter I was immediately drawn into the atmosphere and the plot.
Snowbound is set in the fictional English village of Birchenlow, in the Peak District during a heavy snow storm. Police Officer Sam Lucas and her partner Mac are called on the scene of a robbery. The burglary turns sour, Sam is injured and taken hostage in the middle of nowhere.
When one of the criminals calls and asks for help lest his younger brother might die, Dr. Kate Myles volunteers to go and assist him as well as Sam in the cold and isolated barn where the latter is held captive by the increasingly desperate and dangerous pair.
I do not want to spoil the story for you; suffice is to say that the two women connect in a way they had not anticipated. Sam is still bruised by her former relationship while Kate never seemed to have envisaged that there was more to life than her job and her cat.
I thoroughly enjoyed Snowbound. The novel is fast-paced and well-written. The characters feel real and true-to-life, the kind of women we might actually run into.
I have almost finished The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, the author of She’s Come Undone. It is a good novel with a fine storyline. The narrator is an English teacher at Columbine, Littleton whose wife barely escapes the massacre. Although she survived her existence becomes miserable and from then on their lives is a series of ordeals. The man character is not as cleverly crafted as Dolores in She’s Come Undone but the book is still a pageturner.
The movie I saw – The White Ribbon – is totally different and not a light one. If you decide to go and watch it, you need to be aware that you will probably be haunted by the implicit and explicit violence it contains.
The story is set in a Protestant village in Northern Germany in 1913. A community which is ruled by the baron, the pastor and the doctor, in that order. Strange things happen and we witness how different people in this close-knit community react.
Because of the slow pace, the sobriety of the language and the choice of black and white, the film powerfully conveys the atmosphere of the stifled and stifling community.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on 10/20/09, published on 10/21/09, Michael Haneke explicitly and unequivocally declared his intentions in making this movie:
He intended to make a movie about the roots of evil. He explained that he believed that the environment of extreme, punitive and sexually repressive protestantism in Germany, had laid the groundwork for Fascism and Nazism. He added that he saw the same patterns developing in fundamentalist Muslim societies today, and that it is those societies that today were spawning terrorists and suicide bombers. Finally, he expressed the sentiment that The White Ribbon is a movie against all extremisms.
I started The Outside World by Tova Mirvis on Shabbat and finished this morning. It is a novel I thoroughly enjoyed and which I strongly recommend.
The Millers (Modern Orthodox)
Naomi: The mother. Always trying to please everyone and accomodate the different members of her family. Reads handbooks for help.
Joel: The father. The skeptic in the family. Spends time at work or reading when he can no longer cope with his family. Can’t understand his son since the latter came back from Israel and became ultra-religious. Misses the time they used to spend together but can’t bring himself to tell him.
Ilana: The daughter. The typical teenager. Slips from childhood to adolescence within a few months. Looking for role models while rejecting the ones she has got.
Bryan: The son. Or should I write Baruch? Spent two years in yeshiva in Jerusalem and only came back to get married despite his parents’ disapproval. Is overjoyed such a beautiful and religious girl as Tzippy is willing to marry him. Chooses to renounce Columbia and yeshiva to work in a kosher store instead, hoping this would leave him time to study; which of course it doesn’t.
The Goldmans (right-wing Orthodox)
Shayna: The mother. Has been planning her eldest daughter’s wedding since before she was born. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she wasn’t brought up religious and is afraid people might see through her and consider her a fake.
Herschel: The father. Always convinced fortune is round the corner if only he can find the right idea but always broke. His obsessions annoy everybody else but he is the only one not noticing.
Zahava, Malky, Dena and Dassi: The youngest daughters. Long for their sister to marry the fairy tale Jewish prince of their mother’s dreams.
Tzippy: The eldest daughter. Dreams to get married but also to escape her mother’s world and idée fixe. Is only too happy when she meets Bryan and he seems to provide exactly what she is looking for: a different family, more exoticism and romance.
Baruch gave them more details, none of which made Joel feel better. They were planning to get married as soon as possible. He would continue learning, in a yeshiva in New York for the next few years. She would teach nursery school to support them. “Spending the first years of marriage in yeshiva gives us a foundation for the rest of our lives,” Baruch said, making Joel feel as if he were quoting sentences from a primer his rabbi had given him, How to Become Religious and Alienate People.
She knew that this wasn’t what people expected of her. Going to college seemed like a radical departure from what her life was supposed to be. It was the litmus test among her friends. it marked you as being modern or not… She had seen it as something to be stamped out, or at least ignored. But now she ralized she had been wrong. It wasn’t the voice of her evil inclination after all. It was the voice of her imagination, and it was calling to her.
– I’ve just finished Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, a novel by Gary Morgenstein. The main character, Joss, attends a bat-mitzvah and instantly falls in love with the female rabbi of the Park Slope Reform Synagogue. He is convinced she is the love of his life and is ready to resort to any scheme to get near her. Yet things are complicated by the fact that Joss hasn’t come to terms with his divorce. He still pays frequent visits to his ex-wife, Ellen, and is affected when they quarrel or when he learns she has a new boyfriend.
I didn’t quite relate to the characters maybe because of the novel’ s point of view. The story unfolds from Joss’s viewpoint and what he expects from life in general and women in particular was something I couldn’t identify with. In addition I found that, although a rabbi, Thalia was not particularly religious and this was a disappointment. I guess I expected a more spiritual approach of the issues involved.
However Gary Morgenstein has paid great attention to the dialogues; the novel is therefore enjoyable and humorous and it is easy to imagine how it could be made into a very entertaining movie or play.
– I was very lucky to be sent the latest issue of Conversations, the Journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. The spring issue deals with Orthodoxy and Religious Education. I had a look at the table of contents last night and read a great article entitled “Steal This Book: Jewish Literature in the Yeshiva World” by Ezra Cappell.
Ezra Cappell believes that American Jewish literature is part and parcel of what it is to be a Jew in America and therefore should be taught in Yeshivot and Orthodox schools – rather than be frowned upon or dismissed – just as differing views over Halachah are taught in Gemara classes. He concludes his essay by quoting Kaaterskills Falls as a perfect example of a Jewish author who makes us consider tradition and reflect on our heritage through literay creation.
– Which leads me to ask whether any of view has read novels by Tova Mirvis (an author mentioned in the essay) or Ezra Cappell’s book American Talmud: the Cultural Work of Jewish American Fiction.
– It is Sunday so don’t miss the latest edition of Haveil Havalim compiled by Phyllis from Imabima.
Three of my favorite bloggers, Leora, SuperRaizy and West Bank Mama, have written about books this week. Since I am a bookworm too, I thought I would also post about books.
While I am reading a book, I like to know what I’ll be reading next. I find it thrilling to anticipate something new and exciting. This time I am spoilt as I have three books on my bedside table.
– Essential Essays on Judaism by Eliezer Berkovits.
– The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman. A collection of short stories that are linked together.
– Brodeck by Philippe Claudel. The book has not been translated into English yet but will be published in the United States in June 2009.
What are you planning to read?
Kaaterskill Falls is a novel by Allegra Goodman, it is also is a two-drop waterfall located near in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York. The Catskills are famous in American cultural history for being the site of the so-called Borscht Belt, a Jewish resort area where Allegra Goodman has set her story.
The novel focuses on a number of characters who are the disciples of Rav Elijah Kirshner while exploring what it is to be part of a cloistered community.
The rav is an aging widower afflicted by Parkinson’s disease. The father of two sons, he has not yet declared who will succeed him when he dies; the pious but stolid Isaiah, or the brilliant but worldly Jeremy.
Andras Melish, a Holocaust survivor, is impatient with his wife while a doting brother. He is not sure where he stands as regards religion and still comes back to Kaaterskills Falls year after year.
Elizabeth Shulman is restless. Although a devoted wife and the mother of five daughters, she expects more from life than being a dutiful housewife.
The author chose to follow the “show, don’t tell” admonition. Thus rather than exposing, summarizing, and describing what happens, Allegra Goodman prefers to show the main characters’ actions, words, thoughts, and feelings. She does not explicitely criticize or praise but lets us draw our own conclusions.