An American Marriage : A Novel by Tayari Jones

February 20th, 2018 — 1:34pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This is a story of an unusual love triangle. A young married loving couple finds themselves involuntarily separated for five years. When there is an opportunity to reunite, wouldn’t you know if there is a third party on the scene? The story deals not only with love but with morality. The author presents the inner personal thoughts of each protagonist going back and forth between each one. The reader has an opportunity to empathize with each person as there is a building up to a very complicated conclusion.

The main characters are Black and the author is reminding the reader that our society frequently does not play fair with people of color. As the story builds to its crescendo and conclusion, I am on the edge of my seat but I also felt that I was being whipped back and forth by the author, which was very disconcerting. However, whether you feel gratified by the ending or not, it is worth going along for the ride .

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Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

February 15th, 2018 — 12:18am

Category: Uncategorized

Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon (translated by Anthea Bell with a foreword and afterword by Hermann Simon)

Hermann Simon knew his mother as a loving parent who was a Professor of Classical Antiquities at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He also knew that his mother survived World War II by staying and hiding most of the time in Berlin. During that period in Berlin, so she would not be discovered as a Jewish girl in her 20s and sent to a concentration camp. She rarely spoke about this experience and her son really didn’t know the details. Shortly before her death in 1998, he put a tape recorded in front of her and she agreed to tell her story.

Not only did Ms. Simon tell the story chronologically in vivid detail, but she also revealed her inner thoughts and feelings. She related how at first she wore the yellow Jewish star as was expected to be worn by all Jews in the city, although periodically she would hide it. She did the required work in a German factory making screws for war weapons. Then when her parents were “deported” and nobody knew exactly what their fate would be, she decided to “go to ground” which meant to go underground living in Germany. She hid her Jewish identity and found temporary lodging with non-Jewish friends. She would spend a few days or a week or two and then have to move on and try to find some other place to live.. At times, the circumstances was such that she had to give sexual favors and even got married for a short time in order to have a place to live. She had trouble getting food and most of the time she was in great hunger. Sometimes she had to sit in a wicker chair for hours at a time or sleep in the makeshift bed in the corner of somebody’s apartment who was risking their own lives by hiding her.

She was “underground” for about three years. She recalled not only the details of each phase of her hiding but painted a clear picture of the people she met and with whom she interacted. But most interesting was her ongoing recounting of her fears and feelings as she walked around the city or read books in an uncomfortable living arrangement with constant hunger. There’s no complicated plot or strongly unforgettable characters (other than Ms. Simon). We could appreciate the kindness of so many people who risked their lives to hide her. Her experience after the Russians liberated Berlin was also quite interesting.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Simon and her son for leaving the legacy of her experience as the young Jewish woman in Berlin during the war who “went to ground.” This book may not achieve the literary acclaim of some of the classic Holocaust books, but I still found it unforgettable. We all should be appreciative that the author and her son made the effort to preserve her story for future generations.

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10% Happier:How I Tamed the Voices In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works- A True Story by Dan Harris

January 16th, 2018 — 11:36pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris.

I never had a desire to meditate or develop mindfulness. This may be because in my work as a psychiatrist, I am always exploring the past to understand the present. I also seem to be attuned to capturing the present moment for future reflections rather than be intensely into the present. Frequently, I am moved to take photographs to hold on to a special moment. However, that does not mean that I am not curious to understand why many people whom I respect are into some form of achieving mindfulness. I was not quite moved to go to a retreat or read some esoteric books about Buddhism, meditation, or the like. However, when someone recommended this New York Times bestselling book by Dan Harris, a TV news reporter and anchorman, I thought I would give it a try.

This is a down to earth, humorous at times but a genuine journey by a guy who is bothered by the voices in his head (no real hallucinations), racing thoughts (no apparent manic problem) which he felt made him anxious  a good deal of the time. He had tried what appeared to be a reasonable run at psychotherapy, which may have helped somewhat, but his curiosity about exploring mindfulness persisted.

Mr. Harris met some serious practitioners of various forms of mindfulness and meditation, which he describes in a very readable style. He tried very hard (and I believe he succeeded) in explaining his journey and his personal experience. He gives a blow by blow (or should I say breath by breath account) as he learned to look inward to his breathing and his inner thoughts. He carefully describes the various steps, which he has tried as he learned to meditate and tells how it has been meaningful to him. In a humorous and at times self-deprecating manner, he seems to be quite sincere as he shows and discusses his various attempts and experiences. It appears to have worked for him. Not only has it worked for him, but also I believe he has written a very readable and successful book.

 

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From sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

January 6th, 2018 — 12:37am

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, FR - Fiction Romance, Uncategorized

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

If I had to make a list of the books that made the greatest impression upon me, I’m pretty sure I would include the Diary of Anne Frank, Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. Not surprising these books all deal with the Holocaust. Growing up in the post World War II, I became acutely aware of the details of what was done to the Jewish people in Europe in the previous decade. My own relatives who are not “survivors” but had family in Europe who perished during that period of time rarely talked about the details which probably fueled my interest. Being Jewish, I felt a personal connection to understand this horrific period of history. As a young psychiatrist working in Brooklyn, I treated a number of children of concentration camp survivors which made a lasting impression on me.

In the past few years, several excellent books which delved into this subject have been reviewed in this blog. This includes How we Survived, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, Once We Were Brothers, Maus I&II and The Book Thief.(you can click these titles to see my review of each of them )

This current novel From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon examines the impact of the Holocaust in Italy. In particular, it puts a light on the heroic efforts of members of the Catholic clergy who secretly risked their lives to save many Jews who had become the target of the fascist government of Mussolini which was was allied with Hitler.

The main characters are a Catholic priest and a Jewish young woman who grew up together since childhood. The author in the postscript revealed that these characters were fictional but all the horrible events depicted were real and based on factual events. The author appeared to pay close attention to historical details at the same time that she wrote a beautiful love story. As I finally closed the book after completing it I asked myself three familiar questions: How could so many people do such terrible things to the Jews? How did some people develop the courage to risk their lives and the lives of their families to try to hide and save so many Jews. What would I have done if I had faced the challenges of that time period?

This is a well-written book that may not answer these questions but will provide a page turning experience, which will hold your interest and attention as well as connecting to your emotions.

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Strangers In Their Own Land By Arlie Russell Hochschild

December 17th, 2017 — 11:51pm

Category: P - Political, Social

Strangers In Their Own Land

Anger And Mourning On The American Right. A Journey To The Heart Of Our Political Divide by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

The title and subtitles pretty much summarizes the heart of this book. It is the story of the journey of a prominent sociologist from the University of California at Berkeley who is clearly quite liberal on the political spectrum. However, she had a strong desire to understand the other side of the political divide and put herself in the shoes of people who identify with the Tea Party and its followers.

Through some personal connections of people that she had met, she is able to travel to places in the Deep South particularly the State of Louisiana and spend time with real people who live and work in red states and identify with the Tea Party. She comes to understand and shares with the reader a metaphor or concept of “Standing in a long line waiting for your piece of the American dream.” The typical person who she met, who she felt appeared to identify with this idea of patiently standing in line was often Christian, male, at least middle age and hard working. Of course, there were many women and younger people and other variations. But the important part of this metaphor that the “people standing in line” believed was that there were other people who were cutting into the line in front of them. These “cutters” were often immigrants, refugees, people of color and any minority you might think of. This “cutting in front of them” was usually felt to be sponsored by government action and government program such as welfare, affirmative action and other programs. There were deep emotional feelings that were connected with these ideas which appeared to block out any awareness of how many government programs have been used by their forebearers, family members and even themselves such as Medicaid, Medicare, government loans, school support, etc. In fact, many of these people actually see former President Barack Obama himself as typifying the people who they felt cheated them out of their piece of the American dream.

Ms. Hochschild clearly conveys that most of the people she met in her journey were kind, caring people who were often charitable to strangers. Some, but not all, do have deep prejudice. We see in her many discussions and listening sessions that the author had in the land of the right, there is a little room for debate, but that it requires listening and empathy to gain insight into a thinking of the people who she met. Clearly, Ms. Hochschild has a great ability to listen and is quite empathic which does not mean that she agrees with the subjects in her book.

The voyage which the author has taken is in my opinion is most amazing when she tries to understand how the Tea Party and its followers view environmental damage. She met many people who have clearly seen their beloved home state, home town and in some cases their own health and the health of their children, all damaged by gross negligence caused by big unregulated industry. You would think that people who are in this sad situation would welcome protection by government and government regulations. But instead, their predisposition against government and their view that government has been unfair to them, does not allow them to embrace the regulations that are needed to protect them.

The words of this review cannot give you a true understanding of the feelings of the people that she meets in this book. In my opinion, there are many solid facts that argue against the beliefs and conclusions that these Americans have made. The author’s journey makes it clear that rational debate will not begin to heal the chasm that exists at present. Perhaps there needs to be another important book written this time by a southern Tea Party author who will come to the blue states and try to understand why so many of us are acutely aware that “there for the grace of God go us.” We know the story of our ancestors and we experience the story of America quite differently than they do, but hopefully their empathy will allow them to understand us and perhaps we can all come together at some future time.

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Cinema as Therapy by John Izod and Joanna Dovalis

October 15th, 2017 — 12:18pm

Category: MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

This book review originally appeared in The Academy Forum published by the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry Vol.62, Number 2,  Fall 2017

Cinema As Therapy: Grief and Transformational Film by John Izod and Joanna Dovalis, published by Routledge, London and New York 2015

Reviewed by Michael Blumenfield, M.D.

Dr. Blumenfield is a Past President of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry and regularly reviews movies at FilmRap.net

This book discusses the following 9 films:

Birth (2004)

Tsotsi (2005)

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993)

Trois Couleurs: Blanc (1994)

Trois Couleurs: Rouge (1994)

The Son’s Room (2001)

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003)

Morvern Callar (2002)

The Tree of Life (2011)

I am listing all the films covered because unless you are intimately familiar with these movies (which I was not), I believe it will be very difficult for you to appreciate and follow the detailed discussion of each of them in this book.The authors carefully dissect each movie, often scene by scene, sometimes discussing the camera angles, the music, certainly the dialogue (sometimes word by word), and most important their detailed understanding of the psychodynamics of each character and their interaction with each other. There are frequent references to psychoanalytic writings with a heavy emphasis on Jung.

The difference between this type of an approach compared to a case study is that the latter would be presented in an organized manner where we might have a context to examine the details. In this book, the author assumed that their interpretations and their psychodynamic formulations are correct and they continually build and elaborate on them in their ongoing dissection and discussion of the movie. We have to accept that their understanding of every nuance is valid. Did the screenwriter who created the characters and storyline consciously plan every symbolic twist and turn of the story, choice of phrase, meaningful color of clothes or sky or flowers, appearance of animals or birds, all of which were interpreted by the author of this book as having special meaning. Even if we assume that the psychodynamics are flowing from the unconscious of the screenwriter and director, we still have to do a reality check on how movies are actually made. Sometimes the clothes chosen by wardrobe people based on availability as might be a particular location, which may not be chosen because of symbolic meaning. The red color of the sky may be an artistic coincidence and not a symbolic choice to express anger, etc.

Even if what I believe is a great deal of over interpretation was valid, it would be difficult to understand most of it without knowing the past history and insight into each character. When we are studying a case history in a conference or supervision, the presenter has given us a context by providing the background (parents, youth, previous interaction, etc.) and usually an insight into a psychodynamic formulation, which the presenter wishes us to consider. If we are treating a patient and are formulating our understanding of the psychodynamics, we do this through a process of learning past history and early relationship, transference manifestation and the patient’s response to our interpretations. This is in contrast to having the author unfold a movie story and provide detailed interpretation of nearly every piece of behavior which is unfolding before us on the screen without a previous context.

In the introduction to this book, the authors note that they have chosen to emphasize grief in cinema and they imply (as does the title of the book) that cinema can be used in grief therapy. They seem to be suggesting that transformation and perhaps working through might be achieved by cinema. They note that film allows the viewer to more freely surrender themselves to their feelings. They elaborate that the audience might share a common trait with the character in the movie, which evolves into particular patterns of grieving caused by a devastating and undigested loss. The idea would appear to be that the movie experience would be therapeutic in working through the grief. While some of the movies discussed in the book did have grieving and loss as part of the theme, I did not feel that the authors returned to this idea in any depth in showing how viewing the film might be therapeutic to the audience.

Having said all of the above, I do believe it would be a wonderful experience to attend the movie with the authors and have a subsequent discussion with them about the film that we just experienced. I also believe that the authors would be ideal teachers to discuss the film that students or colleagues who have all viewed the film and could interact with each other about their interpretations. This book could be a textbook for a psychoanalytic class that was going to study one of the movies and have a sophisticated dialogue about possible psychodynamic interpretations. It would be even more of a challenging endeavor if a psychoanalyst would embark upon teaching a group of film students about psychodynamics and use this book and the particular movies as subject matter. In addition, it certainly would be fascinating if the authors could present clinical material where a movie had become a therapeutic experience to a particular patient in helping them work through their grief or other issues.

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Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America by Jill Leovy

October 10th, 2017 — 8:26pm

Category: Social

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

This is a very sad book. It is a story of homicide in the so-called Ghetto area of Los Angeles. Most of the victims and perpetrators are young black men and boys. Not surprisingly, these murders are often gang related, sometimes revenge for previous murder or because somebody is believed to be a “snitch”. Other times the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of these murders don’t even get mentioned in the newspapers or on TV. It’s not unusual for there to be a couple of murders per night in each police district. These crimes may occur in a family where there is a tradition of crime and violence. But on the other hand, sometimes the victim is a high school kid who seemed to be on verge of breaking out of this cycle of crime. Countless families become devastated by this epidemic of murder as the author skillfully and vividly described in so many cases. At times the reader just wants to say, “Enough!” as it it is quite painful to read this book.

The book is also about the Los Angeles homicide detectives and their dedication and professionalism. We see countless examples of how these detectives deal with the horror and indescribable painful situations that they have to view every day. We see their patience and empathy as they speak to family members of murder victims and often making a death notification. This reader was blown away by their ability to do this type of work on a day-to-day basis and treat each murder with care and individuality. We follow some very skillful, dedicated detectives who do their jobs with great respect for the victims and their families.

The juxtaposition of getting insight into the impact of these murders on the families and the professionalism and dedication of the police homicide detectives was quite interesting. However, nothing was more dramatic and eye-opening then when one of the homicide detectives’ sons was murdered and we follow another detective as he applies his intellectual and emotional skills to follow and solve this case through the court room and final verdict. It was clear that this LAPD homicide detective did his best to bring justice to this case in the same manner that he handled all his other cases.

This book really gives a wonderful window and insight to how the police, despite difficult circumstances and at times limited resources, do a job about which they and all of us should be very proud. Reading this book is as engrossing as any TV show about crime and it probably brings the reader closer to the real thing than any movie or novel could do. It is all true and happening every day in Los Angeles and in many other cities throughout the country

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What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

October 2nd, 2017 — 11:29pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, P - Political

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“History is written by the victor” is a quote by Machiavelli. In this case, it is a loser who tells what happened. Actually, this book is more than an accounting of what happened in the 2016 presidential election in which Hillary Clinton had 2.9 million more votes than did Donald Trump but lost the Electoral College and thus lost the presidential race. This book provides an insight into the persona, personal development and most important, the hopes and aspirations that Hillary Clinton has for this country. She also shares her shock, surprise, disappointment and, devastation that she experienced in losing this election.

Hillary does deliver what the title of the book promises. She explains the story or should we say the non-story of her, “emails. ” and essentially states that FBI Director Comey’s suggestion that she was being investigated for criminal activity concerning her emails which in fact was a very minor situation and that he did not mention that Trump’s campaign was being investigated for the serious activity of colluding with the Russians was quite harmful to her. The suggestion that she was participating in criminal activity that really had no basis but nevertheless gained the news initiative and allowed her opposition to use it against her essentially changed the outcome which all the polls were projecting as a win for her. Clinton also discussed the role of the Soviet Union in cyber attacks on the United States election which are now being developed in the current news stories.

Although she is fairly confident that she would have won the election if it had not been for the timing of Comey’s ill-stated unfair public statements, she also makes an effort to examine how her opponent had tapped into a segment of the U.S. population that was hurting and believed that they were not understood. It’s quite apparent that Hillary Clinton was unambivalent as to her opinion of the character of her opponent. She felt that Trump was a narcissist and a liar. A couple of years ago, I read an interesting book titled The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It tells how ex-presidents of the United States get together from time to time to share experiences and engage in discussions and activities which are usually quite cordial and constructive. I could not help but wonder how Hillary might interact with Trump should she be accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to such a gathering in the future.

I have a photo of Hillary with my then 10-year-old granddaughter which was taken during the 2016 campaign which I titled, “Two future presidents”. Clinton does share her sadness that she has disappointed so many women, young and old, who were expecting her to break through the glass ceiling. In fact, her planned victory speech was going to be in a room with lighting that would give the illusion of a shattered glass ceiling. Hillary shares with the readers how painful it has been to disappoint so many people who pinned their hopes on her for changes and opportunities that would have been related to her accomplishment in being the first woman president of the United States. However, she does appear to be coming around to recognizing that she has set the stage for another woman to accomplish this feat which she hopes will happen in her lifetime. She plans to continue to be active in many ways and I am sure that she will continue to make a difference.

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Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

September 19th, 2017 — 5:11pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, P - Political

Behold the Dreamers

By: Imbolo Mbue

 

There could not be a more pertinent book to read during the time period that I read this book. The immigration issue, DACA and related subjects are front and center in the current political discussions.

Imbolo Mbue has obviously had some very personal experiences depicted in this book about immigrants struggling to be able to stay in the United States and not be deported. This is the plight of the two main characters, Jende and Neni, a married couple from Cameroon in Africa now living in New York City and having two children. He works as a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman and Neni, his wife, takes care of the children and works, and is studying to be a pharmacist. They have a flimsy story as to why they should be allowed to stay in the United States and they are living from court date to court date with tremendous anxiety whether or not they will be deported.

There is a very engrossing storyline that makes a great drama as well as informing us of the nature of the relationship between these struggling immigrants. We come to understand the legal intrigues as well as the most personal feelings that may be experienced by people going through this situation.

The writing is excellent, although I had one complaint with the author’s style and format. During several points in the story, I was totally engrossed and on the edge of my seat swiping page after page on my iPad when the author adds a chapter that goes back in time in order to help develop the character or provide background information. I personally found that a distraction and wish she could have found another method to achieve her goal of enlightening the reader with more background.

I came away from this book with a new and deeper appreciation of the current immigration crisis. But really, as moving as this story, it is obviously a tale of only one couple and their individual story struggling for the right to stay in the United States. There must be thousands of other scenarios and I feel we have only scratched the surface but nevertheless it was a worthwhile experience.

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Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

September 7th, 2017 — 5:54pm

Category: P - Political

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the famous cast of characters behind the scenes of World War II. Growing up in the post-war years, I read many books and followed radio, television and movies on this subject. I certainly heard the previous generation talk about FDR and the New Deal. Also, Edward R. Murrow was one of my heroes and I collected his I Can Hear It Now record albums and as a youngster, I followed his TV shows Person To Person and other productions, and even tried in a small way to emulate him during college as I had a radio program called Face the Mike. But I must admit after reading Citizens of London, I realized that I  “didn’t know squat” which really means I didn’t appreciate what was really going on during this fascinating time in history.

This book puts the spotlight mainly on three people:

Gil Winant who was Ambassador to England from the United States during World War II.

Averell Harriman, who was in charge of Lend-Lease and a confidant of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Edward R. Murrow, who was the iconic radio newsman who made memorable broadcast from England back to the United States.

In addition, this book provided an amazing insight into the thinking of Winston Churchill and FD Roosevelt, as well as Dwight Eisenhower and the people around these great men.

This book also captures, in depth, the atmosphere in Britain from the late 1930s to the post-war years. The author provides insight into the thinking and feelings of the citizens of London, as well as the Americans who, for various reasons, spent much of his period in this very special city. We come to see and understand the contrast between England as they battled the Nazis, who eventually took over Europe, and the Americans on the other side of the pond who were very reluctant to get involved in the war. In Britain, they were rationing food while America was coming out of a depression and beginning to enjoy prosperity.

It took the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get the United States to finally join the British in the war against Germany. This book gives us an inside view of the bustling City of London as hundreds of thousands, if not more, of the allied soldiers gathered to await for D-Day. We see this city become a vibrant place, despite having been heavily bombed by the Germans,  that would endure even more severe V2 rocket attacks later in the war.

I also had no idea of the disputes and infighting between the British generals and their American  counterparts, as well as the jostling between FDR and Winston Churchill. It was especially interesting to see the behind-the-scene interactions when these great leaders held their secret meetings during the war  or as they communicated back and forth through their emissaries.  We are also given the sense of the complicated post-war planning or should I say the serious lack of such planning that created many difficulties when the war finally ended. It was an amazing disparity between the jubilant United States at the end of the war that was looking forward to an expanding economy, an equally jubilant, liberated and unscared Paris, filled with victorious soldiers and grateful citizens, whereas London was still climbing out of the devastating damage from the bombing, rationing and the scourge of war  as the Americans found their way home.

This book couldn’t cover everything in depth and it is a little light in discussing the extent of the holocaust. It did describe perhaps Edward R. Murrow’s most dramatic radio broadcast back to the United States (even more memorable than the broadcast from a US bomber over Germany that was nearly blasted from the sky) and that was the broadcast of Murrow’s description after he entered the Buchenwald concentration camps with the US troops. As he witnessed the unspeakable horrendous sights  he nevertheless did find the words to describe them, despite his tears.

Lynne Olson has tapped many historical resources, published diaries, as well as archives about the war to provide a vivid and sometimes a very personal behind-the-scenes account of World War II. She has framed this story by focusing on a handful of participants, one of which is the City of London itself. The author also pulled aside the curtain that  usually covers the personal lives of these famous participants. The wind and heat of war apparently led to various romantic liaisons in the three major subjects of this book, Winant, Harriman and Murrow and even involved trysts with women of the Churchill Family. There was even an unexpected very sad suicide by one very important character in this book.

This is a very well done, informative and interesting book that well deserves your attention.

 

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