Reading, Writing but no Arithmetic


I wrote a couple of weeks ago about studying (excerpts of) The Hobbit, and writing about Bilbo Baggins in my literature class. Since then we have examined some love sonnets. But as the main objective of this course is to instill the love of literature in English, I thought it would be nice if my pupils could read large chunks of writing without having assessment in mind – at least for a while.

So when I saw a message on a forum for English teachers from a colleague in Morocco who was looking for people to read and appraise her pupils’ short stories, I jumped on the occasion and suggested my own students could be part of the jury – her original idea was for teachers to rate the stories.

My colleague was quite enthusiastic about it and sent her pupils’ works via email. I printed the short stories and gave them to my pupils to read. Their task was to read them and pick out their favourite piece. It was a pleasure to see them read and discuss their choices for two hours.

My colleague’s students had been set a common topic through a question ‘What does a Moroccan think when he drinks mint tea?’ They were to write a maximum of three pages. Twelve students volunteered and submitted their works; their stories include a variety of themes such as child sexual abuse, drugs, sexual identity, childhood, memories, culture clash…

When my own pupils marvelled at the other students’ abilities to write in English, I thought that maybe I could challenge them and suggest they write their own short stories. My school has writing competitions in French but not in English. Next year, with my colleague, we have plans for a contest that will include several schools but I’d like my pupils to have confidence in their writing abilities first.

Have you ever taken part in a writing competition? Do you think that a set topic reins in writing creativity?

Alix & Valerie


I decided to read Alix & Valerie, a novel by Ingrid Diaz, after reading a review on For the roses. I was ready to enjoy this book and was not disappointed.

Alix is a twenty year old theatre and film student who has been in love with her best friend for years. The latter is about to get married and Alix is ready to feel wretched for the rest of her life until another friend takes her to a club one evening. There she meets Valerie – part time student and bartender – and her horizon suddenly widens.

Alix feels attracted to Valerie and soon realises that there is more to life than unrequited love and feeling miserable. A relationship develops but then Alix discovers that Valerie has not told her the whole truth about herself.

It dawns on Alix that things will never be the same whether with or without Valerie yet she feels cheated and confused and is not sure what she now wants from life. As for Valerie falling in love was not on the agenda but now that she has she needs to deal with conflicting plans and desires. Both women are faced with the ultimate question: is it possible to salvage a relationship that started off on false assumptions?

The novel falls into three parts. At first, the plot unfolds from Alix’s perspective. When the dark truth is revealed, the story is told from Valerie’s point of view. In the last part both viewpoints alternate. This device allows us to share both characters’ emotions as well as to understand Valerie’s motives. A third person narrative would not have achieved the trick so effectively.

The characters are endearing and realistic. It is only too easy to identify with Alix and her lack of confidence as she goes through the different stages of their relationship. Her feelings of insecurity and exhilaration make her real, believable and cute.

The dialogues are witty and cleverly crafted. At times they provide a most welcome dramatic relief.

Last, but not least, the seaside-lover in me enjoyed the role played by the sea in Alix & Valerie and found the beach scenes very evocative and powerful.



It had been ages since I last read lesbian fiction in English and I was not quite not sure what to turn to. I googled a few key words and came across raving reviews of Jericho by Ann McMan.

I had never heard of the author but the comments on Amazon and Goodreads made me want to read it. Thanks to the Kindle app on the iPad, I was able to read a sample of the book and got hooked immediately. I purchased the whole book and read on. I went on until I could no longer keep my eyes open; something which incidentally had not happened to me since I first read Pride and Prejudice during my college years.

Jericho is a romantic story between two women, Maddie and Syd, set in rural Virginia. Syd (Margaret) Murphy is relocating to Jericho where she has an eighteen-month contract to set up and run a new library while Maddie has moved back there to take over her deceased father’s medical practice.

Syd is running away from a failed marriage and has no precise plans about her future. Falling in love with a woman is certainly not on her agenda. Yet this is what happens. The two women meet by chance, a friendship develops but when friendship turns into love, both women need to confront their own fears and anxieties.

Jericho is an exciting début novel with unforgettable main characters and a fine cast of supporting characters. It is wonderfully written: the vocabulary is subtle and precise, the tone playful and the dialogues are well-crafted. It is also packed with literary and musical references as well as evocations of mouth-watering meals and good wines.

I strongly recommend this refreshing and delightful novel.

Good news: Ann McMan is currently writing a sequel to Jericho.

News and an Ethical Question


I have not totally disappeared from the blogosphere but being on vacation in a place where there is only one wifi spot inside the common room of the little restored village, I have not had the opportunity for much online presence. Besides I am also busy with visiting lots of fantastic places and enjoying the beauties of Italian nature and architecture.

This morning I finished The Sunday Philosophy Club by Aleaxander McCall Smith – the author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series. It is a fine holiday read where the main character has a keen interest in ethics. Here is a passage which caught my attention. Two characters are discussing whether one of them should help and get involved after witnessing a crime and they get into a debate about involvement and moral duty in general.

“We can’t have moral obligations to every person in this world. We have a moral obligation to those we come up against, who enter our moral space, so to speak. That means neighbours, people we deal with, and so on.”

Do you agree?

My Race – a Book Review


When I read about My Race by Lorraine Lotzof Abramson in The Jewish Week, I knew I’d enjoy it and ordered it straight away. I have been interested in South Africa ever since I was a teenager, maybe because I had heard about it through my parents who visited this country in 1976.

My Race is an autobiography. Lorraine Lotzof Abramson whose grand-parents had immigrated from Eastern Europe grew up in South Africa. Regretting that she had not questioned them more about their lives, Lorraine Lotzof Abramson wanted her granddaughters to know about her life that’s why she decided to write this book.

The title is a two-fold reference to Lorraine’s status: she was a white Jew in South Africa and an athlete who was a national champion and a winner of nine Maccabiah medals – because South Africa has been barred from taking part in the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo Lorraine, Lotzof Abramson never took part in the Olympics although she had been selected by her country.

Being written for her teenage granddaughters, My Race is a wonderful book for anyone who wants to know more about South Africa. Lorraine Lotzof Abramson relates her own story against the backdrop South Africa’s history.

She is also quite honest about her family’s ambiguous position in South Africa. Her mother was a liberal who regularly criticized the country’s racist government at home and as Jews they were never made to feel they were quite as South-Africans as the Afrikaners. Yet Abramson acknowledges that they enjoyed the advantages and privileges of the white population such as the right to vote, the freedom to move and settle anywhere in the country, a free education …

On a more personal level, there are beautiful passages in the book: Lorraine’s years in high school where she and the other forty Jewish girls were able to practice their faith, her romance with the American swimmer who was to become her husband, her lovely tributes to her parents.

My Race is a book I deeply enjoyed and which I strongly recommend.

Lorraine Lotzof Abramson on YouTube

Jewish Thinkers



As you may remember if you are a regular reader of this blog, I am a fan of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and have read most of his books. I have particularly enjoyed the first two volumes of A Code of Jewish Ethics. Two authors that have also inspired me are Blu Greenberg and Eliezer Berkovits.

Yet, in the past few months I have not read anything that could compare to these authors. I am considering getting Torah Umadda by Norman Lamm which has just been reprinted for the 20th anniversary of the first edition (with an afterword by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) and was wondering whether any of you had read it. More generally I would love to know what Jewish thinkers and writers inspire you the most.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm and Torah U’Madda, a post by Harry Maryles

Torah Umadda Is Better Than Ever, a review by Rabbi Gil Student

The Latest Gadget


About a month agon I treated myself to the Ipad – along with a shell and a sleeve – and have enjoyed every second I have spent on it since.

I have purchased two kindle books: All-of-a-Kind Family (which I have read and greatly enjoyed) and Heart of the City by Ariel Sabar (which I have not started yet) and have downloaded a number of news apps (you can try and guess which ones) in both French and English.

Although it is not something I frequently do, I have also watched a few youtube videos to test the app and was pleasantly surprised : the quality of the image is really good.

I have also visited a number of blogs and commented from the Ipad on a few occasions.

Mostly I use my new gadget for reading, in the evening, and do not find it too heav – a frequent criticism. In fact reading it in bed is far more enjoyable than I expected.

I still need an iPad Camera Connection Kit but reckon that I will take the Ipad on my next trip and might even leave the computer at home.

There are obviously lots of other features that I have not discovered yet but I would recommend it for all the reasons I have mentioned above.

Hush: a Short Book Review



Hush by Eishes Chayil is a novel for young adults about sexual abuse in the Hassidic community of Boro Park. The story is told from the point of view of Gittel who – as a child – witnessed her best friend being abused. The narrative goes back and forth between the child-Gittel and the teenager who is about to get married.

This novel is quite subtle in that it is not a downright criticism of ultra-Orthodox Judaism but of the cover-up of such stories. Thus the guilty brother is sent to Israel and the narrator is prevented from testifying by her own mother. The narrator’s father is a complex character who obviously loves his daughter but fails to help her when she most needs it.

It is a powerful novel and one which stays with you for a long time after you have read the last page.

More thorough reviews:
Rabbi Fink’s review
Velveteen Rabbi’s review

A very poignant post: A Note From a Victim of Abuse