The Japanese Love by Isabel Allende

December 14th, 2018 — 1:59pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The author provides an in-depth description of the various characters presented in the book. This includes the experience of a Jewish family in Eastern Europe as the Nazis take over, living in a Japanese internment camp in the United States during World War II, as well as the subsequent life of some of the survivors of these events. We also meet a young woman who suffered from tremendous abuse and molestation as a child by her stepfather. However, this writer found this book disjointed as it jumped from one character to the other without any particular theme or purpose. While this approach often allows for the unfolding of the background after we have met a character much as a therapist learns the psychodynamics as the sessions progress, each of these tales did not seem to have coherence. Even the love lives of the various subjects of the book while very interesting did not seem to have relevance to any storyline. It may very well be that the characters were based on real people and this is the nature of their lives. If this is the case, the author gave no such clue in any postscript to the book. Certainly, we are open-minded and appreciate any variations in the love life and relationships that people may have but a novel describing these things becomes more engaging when we can see how they develop or have some insight into any response or struggle to a biological propensity.

The author certainly had empathy for how people might deal with aging as she tried to show how her main characters handled the late stages of life. It is also interesting to try to understand how the author chose the title for her book. The essence of the various stories in my opinion was not simply centered around this particular man or the fact that he was Japanese. Although I had concerns, this book appears to have been well received by the public and is another best seller from Ms. Allende.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

December 7th, 2018 — 12:36am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story should be of great interest to many people because it is a great example of the American dream of a family who worked so hard that their children could have an opportunity for a good education and success in life. It is a story of how a Black-American was able to overcome the prejudices that still exist in this country. In addition this is a first hand account of an intelligent, ambitious woman who not only achieved success in life but also has worked incessantly to give others a fair chance to make the most of their lives. And of course, it is about a woman who married a man who became president of the United States, which gave her the opportunity to become first lady of this country. In this position, she was able to give hope and opportunity to many others. It is also the inside view of the fascinating life in the White House for eight years during Barack Obama’s presidency.

If you were looking for Michelle Obama’s deep-rooted feelings about Donald Trump, you won’t get too much of an inside story. She was angered by Trump’s supporting the false idea that her husband was not born in the United States and she believed that this endangered her family. She reiterated the fact that he is a misogynist and was appalled of the way he has treated women in the past.

It is not surprising that this Princeton University and Harvard law school graduate can write quite well. Although she credits many people for helping her with this book, I am sure she would be just as clear and interesting in any personal conversation as she was in this very readable and worthwhile book.

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Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

November 28th, 2018 — 11:18pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is a story about a remarkable woman born at the turn of the 20th century and who died in the mid 1980s. It is a work of fiction by a very talented writer who based this novel on the writings of Margaret Fishback, whose archives she studied in depth. Ms. Fishback was a poet, feminist and a highly paid advertising executive for R. H. Macy, the world renowned department store in New York City.

There is no real plot or storyline for this book. Each charming chapter tells a story of a particular event in the life of this woman. It is told often by flashbacks as she takes a stroll through her beloved Manhattan. It might be how she fell in love at first sight, her marriage, her pregnancy, the birth of her son, having to leave her job because she gave birth to her child, her divorce, a day at work at R.H. Macy, various parties she has attended or one of the many strolls that she did through Manhattan.

What makes this book so engrossing was the ability of the author to hold the reader’s attention with her insight into herself and the people around her. Of course, the credit for the success of this book must go to Ms. Rooney, the author, although we cannot know how much of the compelling nature of it came from the writings of Ms. Fishback, which were discovered and credited by the author. I found this book a page turner and a very good read.

 

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Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

November 8th, 2018 — 10:05pm

Category: P - Political

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

I remember very clearly as a young boy, the great happiness among my family and friends on May 14, 1948 when there was the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. I also recall my first trip to Israel as a medical student with my wife in 1963 as part of a program for young Jews to better appreciate the meaning and the importance of the State of Israel. One more related memory for me to set the tone of my feelings about this book was nine years later, when I entered our synagogue with my family in 1973 on Yom Kipper and was shocked to learn of the surprise invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Israel a couple of times with my family over the years including one time as Visiting Professor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

I have never been any type of scholar of the Israeli-Arab dispute and conflict. I understand that the Arabs have great animosity towards the Jews and feel that the land of Israel is also Palestine, their homeland. As I came to appreciate the persistence of the Arab’s feelings and entitlement about Israel, I began to side with the idea of the “two-state solution.” My reasoning was that the Israelis could live in peace and their families would be safe and there would not be any threats. I assumed that the Arabs should feel the same way. This book was to teach me that I was quite naive in my simple views of the situation.

The author of this book is an Israeli scholar, born in the United States, but moved to Israel when he was a young man. He not only knows the Jewish history but is also very knowledgeable and understanding of the history of the Arabs and the origin of their feeling towards Palestine. He reminds the reader of his book that both people had their origin as being descendants from the two sons of Abraham. He wrote this book as a series of letters to his Palestinian neighbor whose home he can see from his own house off in a distance on top of a hill. He traces the history of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel in a very compelling manner. He fills in many of the gaps in my knowledge and provides a depth of understanding that adds to the stories we tell at Passover or during the various Jewish holidays and when we read and discuss parts of the Torah or when we do these things during Jewish holidays, Bar Mitzvahs or any services at the synagogue.

Halevi clearly makes the case that the Jews are not only a religion but a people and have a commitment and a connection to the land of Israel. He wants his Palestinian neighbors to appreciate this. At the same time, he presents a very measured understanding of the Palestinian’s attachment to the land. He reviews the situation of how Prime Minister Menachem Begin almost brought Israel to accept the compromised two-state solution, but the Arabs could not honestly agree to such an arrangement. This book doesn’t offer a solution for the seemingly intractable problem. However, he feels sure that the Israelis could eventually accept the two-state solution if they truly believe that the other side would support this and recognize their right to exist. Only then would there would be a chance for living in peace and harmony. What comes across in this book is that the author is empathic to the feelings of his neighbors and hopes that someday, they will reciprocate this feeling. His book is very well done and will be quite enlightening to most readers as it was for me.

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Waking Lions by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

October 15th, 2018 — 1:12pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

 Waking Lions  by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

 The setting is modern day Israel. A neurosurgeon in the early evening at the end of his shift at the hospital, takes his SUV out on an open road to release some of the tension built-up during the day. After speeding on what he thought was a deserted road, he hears a thud. Upon getting out of the car, he realizes that he has killed black Eritrean man. He uncharacteristically decides to leave the scene of the accident and vows to tell no one what happened. His wife, who is a homicide detective, is assigned the case.

Certainly, this has the makings of a great story, which it is. However, the author is intent on also making it a study of many aspects of human behavior including marital relationships, honesty, fidelity, blackmail, prejudice, discrimination, drugs, conscience and a lot more, perhaps too much. I can see that the author deserves the accolades that she has received for the book, as she has developed many wonderful skillful metaphors worked into the narrative. For me, however, these many deviations or sidetracks directed me away from my interest in the characters and the plot. I found myself reading faster and faster and flicking my finger more quickly on my iPad as I was not inclined to reflect as much as the author wanted me to do. This may have been my shortcoming as the book was very well received and recommended to me from people that I highly respect.

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Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

October 5th, 2018 — 8:01pm

Category: Social

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Although this book bemoans the loss of conversation because of modern technology, I don’t believe I have recently read a book that stimulated more conversation with people who are important to me than this one did. Early in the book, there is a reference to a cute two-minute video which had 51 million hits the last time I looked. It is titled “I Forgot My Phone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8). The response to this simple message reveals to me the awareness that people now have concerning their increasing dependency on their phones.

It is stating the obvious that people are on their phones much of the time, at the dinner table, while working, in school, walking in the street, riding in the car-frequently while driving, before going to sleep, just after waking up, as well as in many more places and situations. The author hammers home the point which should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that texts, emails, emojis, etc. are taking the place of real conversations between people. Replying to a text or email while you are with people is not a real conversation with the person who is in your presence or with your phone partner. In person conversations facilitate real relationships and creativity.

The impact of this book, which is based on a good deal of personal research by the author as well as studying other peoples’ research and observations, is not simply a loss of the art of or advantages of meaningful conversation. Ms. Turkle makes a very strong argument and a scary one, as she gives numerous examples proving the point, that the more we communicate with our phones as compared to being in person, the more we lose the ability to have empathy and to be empathic with other people. The ability to relate to others and to understand their feelings is the essence of what makes us human. Ms. Turkle is making a very compelling case that modern technology is making us lose our humanity.

This point is made in the book numerous times. While it is even somewhat repetitious, there is great value to see it in so many different contexts. For example, there is a parent who takes a small child to the park and is looking at his or her phone rather than looking and talking to the child. The author gives the all familiar example of a family who is at home or in the car with children involved in games or texting as the parents are likewise preoccupied with their phones rather than the family relating to each other. When there should be an in person creative business meeting, instead the meeting is held by Skype during which the participants are multitasking in their own locations. There is a school lunch table where friends instead of talking and understanding each other, are looking at their latest texts. There are obviously numerous other examples that could be made and are made in this book.

While the results of the invasion of our phones and all that goes with it is scary and discouraging, there is hope. The author talks about families, businesses and schools that are addressing these issues with no phone zones, no phones at meals or in the car and other creative ways of bringing people together and encouraging conversation. However, it is also clear that we are far from solving this problem. In fact, the author shows us with many examples that we are regressing “Siri” to robots who we want to take care of us. Do we believe that artificial intelligent machines can understand and respond to us? Where are we going with this issue? What should we do about the effects of modern technology on our humanity and the impact on our children. Read this book and keep talking about this subject.

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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

September 11th, 2018 — 11:52pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

In the nine years that I have been writing my blog (BookRap.net), more than 10% of the 164 books I have reviewed have had “Holocaust” as a keyword listed in the search section. This does not include the many books on the subject I have read before that time which include three that stand out in my mind; Diary of Anne Frank, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List. I was a small child safely living in the United States when World War II ended. While many of my older relatives escaped Europe before the war and none were concentration camp survivors, I felt a deep link with my unknown Jewish relatives and their friends and neighbors who were victims of this terrible atrocity. This connection was reinforced early in my career when I was a director of a mental health clinic in Brooklyn and we saw many survivors and children of survivors.

Early in this book, while I was feeling my usual attachment to this terrible piece of history, I found myself asking, “Why am I going through these events once again?” I thought there was nothing really new here. However, as the book progressed, I did notice that it turned to a specific piece of history which I don’t recall as often relived in books and film on the subject; that is the one German concentration camp which was exclusively for women and that was Ravensbruck. It gave a depiction of the horrendous Nazi experiments that took place on these women with cruel and destructive surgery to their legs in order to test the effects of a new antibiotic. The story related how these women were made to participate in slave labor and then were selected to be murdered when they became ill or too weak to work or just to meet a quota for a certain number of murders to be done. After their death, their bodies would be put in an oven for cremation.

While this book is a novel by Martha Hall Kelly, the author did spend several years researching the background of the lives of some of the characters upon which the book was based. She also did appear to earn the right to write this book in the first person, as she appeared to know quite well the characters who were featured in it as she allowed them to tell their story. She went back and forth with each character mostly during the war years, but there were a few chapters 10 to 15 years during the post-war period.

I believe there was a special sensitivity that the author showed from a woman’s point of view. The deep mother-daughter relationship was explored in various very difficult circumstances as well as the bond that existed between two sisters in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations. Of course, there also was the connection between other women who were living together through this tragic time.

While this book perhaps becomes another book with a keyword “Holocaust” on my blog, I also know it will be an excellent contemporary novel that will be available and hopefully one with great appeal to today’s generation of readers, so this piece of history will never be forgotten.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

September 3rd, 2018 — 2:35pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas

The main theme of this book is well known to every black parent and child who has participated in “The Talk.” A black teenage boy and girl who were like buddies since they were young kids are riding at night in a car. A white policeman pulls them over. The teenage boy who was driving was asked to get out of the car. He wants to know why is he being pulled over and is irritated. Skip a few beats, and the next thing we know there are several gunshots. The boy is dead and the girl is left to tell the story – the whole story.

Although this is a novel, we know every nuance of this painful tale could be true. The details of this girl’s life and the life of her parents, siblings, relatives, friends and the life and death of her childhood friend all feel genuine and real as they jump from the pages of this book or as they light up on your iPad.

Our heroine, on the surface seemed to lead two lives. One is at the private school she attended with her white friends, which her parents hoped would give her the best chance in life. The other was her time with her friends and family in the “hood” where she was comfortable and could speak her mind and talk in her true language. Did I mention that Starr (that was her name) actually was bilingual and much of the book was written in a language that was not my native tongue, but for some reason every word and nuance was crystal clear.

The author found a way to take us on journey into the lives, hearts and emotions of this 16-year-old black girl and also her parents, siblings, uncle, cousins and friends. We came away with insight into how a destructive riot can envelop a community.

However, there is a glimmer of optimism among the painful hate and destruction in this book and that is in the character of a bewildered white young man  who is Starr’s boyfriend. He stands by and closely follow the bright light that is his inspired girlfriend. His journey appears to be one of insight and understanding into the pain and hate that rumbles through the streets. Perhaps this is the author’s metaphor for hope that will eventually emerge in the future.

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The Last Innocents by Michael Leahy

August 24th, 2018 — 5:44pm

Category: S- Sports

The Last Innocents – The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers by Michael Leahy

After recently reading Roger Kahn’s book titled, “The Era 1947 – 1957”, I was ready for another baseball experience. This book seems to pick up where the previous one left off, as the author follows the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and deals mostly with the decade of the 1960s. It is interesting to me that I also enjoyed this book immensely, even though I had stopped closely following baseball during this period since not only were the Dodgers no longer in Brooklyn, but I personally was totally absorbed in college, medical school and psychiatric training.

Perhaps the appeal of the book is that it is “inside baseball”. The author describes the trials and tribulations of the personalities involved, but he also recounts the details of important games and even the individual at bats. He not only reports the various key baseball moments as they happened, but he subsequently has chatted with many of the key players 40 or 50 years later about various at bats or important plays in the field. Even if I were not following baseball closely during this decade, I was very familiar with certain heroes of the time and of prior years such as Sandy Koufax, who was one of my heroes as he started off and had a great career with the Brooklyn Dodgers before moving to Los Angeles.

The personalities of many players emerged in this book along with the indelible impression which they left on the game. For example, the author gets into the head of Maury Wills, the Dodgers’ shortstop and fantastic base runner, as he traces his life and career in wonderful detail. As a psychiatrist, I could not help but enjoy learning about the personal life and baseball career of Wes Parker, who played first base for the Dodgers for eight years. The author told about Parker’s family history coming from a rich family, his relationship with his parents, his insecurity despite his wonderful baseball career and the meaning that being a success in baseball had for him. He weaved Parker’s history in and out of various chapters. He probably could have presented the full story of this man’s life at a psychiatric meeting and received great acclaim.

The book not only told great baseball stories and let the reader relive key baseball moments mostly about the Dodgers, but it also brought memorable news events that were occurring in our country during this time period. This included the assassination of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the civil rights movement and the impact of the Vietnam War. I could not put this book down and it was a great reading experience.

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The Era 1947-1957 by Roger Kahn

August 11th, 2018 — 9:49pm

Category: S- Sports

The Era 1947-1957

When the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers Ruled the World By Roger Kahn.

If you were living in New York and old enough to be a baseball fan during the time period 1947-1957, which this book covers, you will especially enjoy this book. Kahn who is a prolific sportswriter, best known for his classic Boys of Summer (1972) which was about the Brooklyn Dodgers, has been writing books for over 60 years.  Can you imagine being a kid in a city where there are three major league baseball teams and frequently at least one and sometimes two will play in the World Series? When you are living through it, you take it for granted. But when you can look back on it, you realize what a unique experience it had been. Kahn, not only had the writing skills to take us back to that special era, but he has knowledge of the behind-the-scenes events, interactions and personalities of the people who starred in this era.

Before I go further, I must acknowledge that there was only one team that really mattered to me, and that was the Brooklyn Dodgers. My favorite players were Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop and Jackie Robinson. It was only years later as I grew up, did I fully appreciate the significance of Branch Rickey bringing Robinson to Brooklyn as the first black major league baseball player. But all the behind-the-scenes details are here and a lot more about the personalities and the events of the golden era of baseball.

To me the book was very personal as I imagined that it will be to the older readers who were drawn to this book. One of the most traumatic moments of my life, certainly of my youth, occurred on October 3, 1951, when Bobby Thompson of the New York Giants hit a homerun off  a pitch thrown by Ralph Branca in the 9th inning of the decisive third game of a three-game playoff for the pennant that defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers and put the Giants in the World Series against the New York Yankees.It was known then and now as “The Shot Heard Round The world.” I remember exactly where I was and all the details of that “at bat.”

It happened that my best friend’s father got two tickets to the subsequent 1951 World Series that would now take place between the Giants and the Yankees (a famed Subway Series) and I was invited to go to the game with my friend. We took a subway to Coogan’s Bluff where the Yankees played the Giants. I distinctly remember when a Yankee by the named Gil McDougal hit a grand slam homerun and neither my friend nor I were moved since we were shameless Dodger fans.

This is the type of book that will ignite memories in anyone who lived through this era. It will bring alive many events and personalities such as Willie Mays and his famous outfield “catch”. Other persons that come to mind are “Joltin’” Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Leo Durocher, Charlie Dressen, Casey Stengal, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Allie Reynolds, Joe Black, Roy Campanella, Walter O’Malley and many others.

This book was written in 1993 with an after foreword provided by the author in 2001, but it is a timeless book. It provides an account of the personalities and events of our national pastime “when the Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers ruled the world”.

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