The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

March 3rd, 2020 — 4:44pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

 

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

An old man who happens to be a Moroccan immigrant and the owner of a small restaurant is killed by a hit-and-run driver in a small California town. The impact on his friends, neighbors, police, a reluctant witness, and a few others is examined. Each person gets to speak multiple times as a chapter is devoted to the thinking of that subject at various times. Since many are immigrants, we get a sense of where they are coming from geographically and psychologically. We see familiar scenarios of parents’ expectations of children and young people trying to find their personal identities as well as exploring relationships. The reader is confronted with prejudice, pride, jealously, love, sexuality and a lot more human experiences.

The story is also a classic “whodunit” mystery. It reminded me of the many episodes I have seen of the popular TV program Dateline where a real mystery is detected and there is an attempt to show how the cast of characters is related and explained in some depth. Here is where the book failed for me. I got caught in wanting to figure out who the killer was, especially since there was an early suggestion that there was a motive and not an accident. Therefore, I became less interested in the in-depth analysis of each character and wanted to see the police solve the mystery. So in retrospect, I did not appreciate the potential value of this book, although it did hold my interest.(2020)

 

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Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

February 27th, 2020 — 1:37am

Category: O - Other - Specify, Social

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

This is the inside story by an investigative journalist who played a major role in exposing the story of the sexual harassment, sexual abuse, assault and rapes by Hollywood Mogul, Harvey Weinstein against a significant number of women who were working as his underlings as well as aspiring actresses. It also tells how many people including network executives at NBC as well as attorneys and even a private investigation agency known as “Black Cube” modeled after the Israeli Mossad which included experienced undercover agents, tried to undermine his reporting. The author gives his firsthand experience describing how several executives at NBC ultimately put the “cabash” on his story which led to him ultimately presenting it in New Yorker magazine.

By coincidence during that time period that I was reading this book, Harvey Weinstein was on trial and a jury ultimately convicted him of crimes against women which will lead to him being in jail. This made the book extremely relevant. On this journey, we learn that other big names used their positions of authority and fame to abuse women. Matt Lauer, NBC anchor and Les Moonves, the CBS head were two such people.

It cannot escape the reader’s attention that Ronan Farrow, the author of this book, well-known as an esteemed journalist, was also witness to the tragedy of his family where his father, Woody Allen  was known to have molested, Ronan’s sister Dylan, daughter of Nia Farrow.  These tragic circumstances were touched upon in this book, but not elaborated upon.

While the subject matter of this book was not only interesting, if not, eye opening, the style of writing in my opinion left much to be desired. The reader was introduced to numerous names of network executives, producers, assistant producers, attorneys, public relations personnel, agents, private detectives, editors, assistant editors, fact checkers, anchorman, celebrities and little-known people and, of course, the well-known accusers and the not so well-known accusers. After being briefly introduced to all these people, they were frequently brought up again later in the book by name, without any reminder of who they were and their significance. In my opinion, this made the book a difficult one to follow although I do appreciate value of bringing all these people and the story to the public view.

 

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

February 16th, 2020 — 1:15pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This book, while not written as a psychological drama, will satisfy readers such as myself who look for psychological insight into the actions and life choices made by the characters of books that we read.

On one hand, there is Mr. and Mrs. Richardson and their four teenage children who live in Shaker Heights which is the quintessential upper middle class suburb of Cleveland. They meet the mother/daughter duo of Mia and Pearl who become renters of a small cottage owned by the Richardsons. This duo has led a somewhat nomadic life over the years with Mia being a dedicated mother who also creates artistic photographic pieces as well as doing housework to earn extra money. The daughter Pearl is accustomed to going from school to school as they settle in new places.

The complications of the interaction of these two unlikely families allows the author to guide the reader on an exploration of motherhood, teenage sexuality and love, abortion, adoption and a lot more.

Nothing here is superficial but rather, it is agonizing and real. Whether you agree or not with the choices made by the various characters, you will understand their point of view and be enriched by the insight into all the people you meet in this book.

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Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

February 5th, 2020 — 12:07am

Category: HI - History, P - Political

Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

There is no one who can make the case for the existence, value and justification of Israel better than this author. He understands the history, politics and the essence of this country as well as anyone. He is in a position through his writings, speeches and interaction with world leaders to articulate his point of view.

In this book, Dershowitz not only explains and defends Israel but he is able to clearly describe its poignant history and reason for being. So much of the anti-Israel sentiment is related to deep-seated, long-standing hatred originally coming from the Arab world but also coming from overt as well as covert anti-Semitism which not only resides in the Arab world but is often hidden in various segments of American society as well as throughout the world. Dershowitz understands and describes this long history of anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings He articulates some of the political differences and some debatable points of Israel policy and is able to describe his various points of disagreement and also present various ideas which he believes should be open for negotiation. Dershowitz describes the unfair criticism of modern-day Israel for defending itself from the unprovoked rocket attacks into Israel, as well as the vicious attacks on the Israeli population from tunnels originating in Arab countries. In this book, Dershowitz dissects out the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) in regard to Israel, which even some Jewish groups have supported, but is clearly built on the idea of destroying Israel.

This is the latest of many books written by Dershowitz. His style is clear, coherent and the reader feels that you are having a conversation with a friend who happens to have first-hand knowledge and acquaintance with many past and present world leaders as well as having an exquisite mastery of world history, which he magnificently articulates. Dershowitz seems to show a lack of modesty as he name drops various U.S. presidents, Israeli leaders as well as other important people with whom he has visited and dined over the years. He is also not shy about sharing his many accomplishments at one point enumerating the long list of top-rated universities that have offered him tenured professorships. His lack of  modesty aside, this book is an important one and should be read by everyone who is a friend, foe or who does not understand the importance of the existence of Israel.

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Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

January 7th, 2020 — 11:47am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

BORN A CRIME – by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a popular comedian, currently host of the late night, Daily Show on television. He was born in South Africa and is now in his mid 30s. The book does not deal with his work on television or his interaction with celebrities. Rather it is more or less an autobiography which traces his life beginning in South Africa when he was born a crime since it was against the law for mixed racial couples to have children or even to be married. His father was white and his mother was black. His father was mostly out of the picture and the young Trevor was very close to his mother. At times, they were very poor and he even had to eat caterpillars for food at one time. The reader gets a feel what apartheid was like in South Africa. During the author’s youth, things changed somewhat as apartheid was abolished and he was able to go to a mixed school, but the author describes how there were still clear distinctions between white, black, and colored (or mixed).

While Noah was technically colored, he clearly identified with being black. He gives the reader a picture of the violence between various black groups after apartheid fell. There are descriptions of the stereotypes of the various black groups and many life-threatening situations, which Trevor and his mother experienced. What comes across is the very close loving relationship that he and his mother had for each other as Trevor was growing up in South Africa.

The book did jump around to different time periods not necessarily in chronological order, but it is more like you have had a conversation about some experience with a friend that might not follow the last time you spoke with him or her.

The book clearly presents the inside story of life in South Africa during the past 30 years. It is a piece of history that most of us never learned in school and it could not be better told by someone who lived it and has the ability to express himself as well as Trevor Noah. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen the audio version of the book, so I could have heard it through the voice and expression of the author.

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Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

November 29th, 2019 — 1:02pm

Category: O - Other - Specify

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian who has written about Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, FDR, George Bush, and many more. Tim McGraw is Grammy Award winning musician who has sold more than 50 million records and he is the most played country artist as well as being an author. While this is obviously a joint project, Meacham wrote the narrative text whereas McGraw offered his take on selected songs in a framed presentation which probably just as well could have been blended into the book.

Nevertheless, the final product is an amazing presentation of the songs and music that have been part of the American fabric since its birth. The context of various musical pieces often including the actual circumstances in which the words and music were created, are frequently very familiar to the reader.

There will be some pieces that most of us never heard of such as the “Liberty Song” which was created in 1768. There is also “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, an American Revolutionary War song that which will probably be familiar to most children. The book winds its way through American history with a background of American music. Many of the readers will know the story of Francis Scott Key who eagerly looked to see if the American flag was still flying as the British and Americans battled in the war of 1812. The book also includes the words and songs that came from the oppressed slaves in America and not only accompanied them on the road to freedom but also became part of the fabric of American music especially jazz and beyond.

This book is much more than a recital of songs and music. It is an in-depth look at American history while at the same time using music and song to reflect the history that is being made. The journey includes the assassinations of Lincoln, Martin Luther King and JFK and much more. We are presented with a combination of a music and history journey through the great world wars, Korean, Vietnam wars as well as the cold war and American political wars. Intertwined in this wonderful historical piece are many of the words of songs, which have left their indelible mark on all of us who have experienced some small part of history and read about so much more.

As I read this excellent book, I could almost hear much of the familiar music and words in my head. I also could not help but think what a tremendous accomplishment it would be if the author could have created an audio book with much of the music described. I checked and found out that while there is an audio version read by the two authors, much of it only has the authors reading the words of the songs while the music and singing was largely excluded. Should the authors be able to obtain the rights to all or most of the songs described in the book and blend them with the narrative, it would surely be a classic that people might very well pay the extra cost for the royalty payments which would be necessary. I would hope that such a project would come to fruition.

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

October 31st, 2019 — 7:23pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

Just about every family has complicated relationships. When you look in- depth into them, you are likely to find surprises and interesting stories. Cathleen Schine, the author, is an excellent storyteller and draws the reader into the lives of her characters. She starts off by introducing us to an elderly couple; Betty and her husband, Josie who have two grown daughters, Annie and Miranda. Josie has just surprised everyone by asking his wife of many years for a divorce since he plans to marry his secretary. He also insists upon living in their New York apartment and relegating his wife to their beach cottage in Westport, Connecticut where his daughters and now single wife will live. Their cousins and other people who live nearby have become an important part of the story. There are also new characters encountered both young and older people who develop meaning relationships with the three main characters. The more we understand about them, the more we can appreciate the impact of events on them and agonize over the decisions that they have to make. The net result is a good story which will probably hold your interest although this may not be one of your unforgettable top reads.

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A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips with Steven Talty

October 8th, 2019 — 3:54pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips with Steven Talty

I was given this book in hard copy by a nephew who found it a very good read. I looked up my review of the movie which starred Tom Hanks and came out in 2013. I gave it five stars (highest rating). So, while I knew the story and the outcome, I decided to give it a try. It is a fast read with no big surprises, but it held my interest. This is the kind of book which invites the reader to more or less identify with the protagonist. Would I have been as dedicated and brave in the face of being held captor with threats being made to my life? I would like to think, yes, but I really do not know. In case you do not read it, the funniest line in the book is that Captain Phillips and his wife had a longstanding routine that he would call her, after being away at sea and ask if Captain Phillips was there. She would say, “No, he is not” and he would reply, “Good, I am coming over now.” If Captain Phillips isn’t at your house, you might want to bring in this book to get a glimpse of this inspiring man.

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How To Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

October 4th, 2019 — 9:53pm

Category: HI - History, P - Political, Uncategorized

How to Fght Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

I believe that this book was one of the most important books that I have read in a long time. Certainly, it is true because I am a Jew who has been aware of the historic and contemporary antisemitism. However, I think this book has equal relevance to both Jews and non-Jews who may not have thought about the subject but yet have concerns about some of the serious injustices which continue to exist in our world.

One of the critical lenses through which the author viewed this subject is in the discussion of the meaning and importance of the state of Israel. While she is aware that Israel may be far from perfect, she clearly exposes the anti-Israel views as expressed in in the BDS slogan (boycott, divest, and sanction)by people who want to eliminate the state of Israel This type of thinking is clearly the result of deep-rooted antisemitism even though some of it may come from Jews themselves when talking about Israel.

The author also examines the flawed and historic stereotyping of Jews and the dangerous way of thinking which has led to the pogroms, the holocausts, and other hideous events in human history.

Most fascinating is the author’s crystal-clear exposition how antisemitism can exist in the United States and throughout the world on the political left as it does on the political right. Once you are aware how it is expressed, you can see it all around you by “well-meaning” people who have had stereotyped views implanted deeply-rooted in their thinking and yet with the potential to so easily emerge.

We recently heard this young author speak at a local event and we were very impressed by her knowledge, insight, and empathy for the thought processes in the perpetuators as well as in the objects of antisemitism. Also, during the recent Jewish holiday, we were aware of at least two sermons by different rabbis who dealt with the subject of antisemitism in a similar manner as expressed in this book. Whether or not they had read this book, we strongly recommend that you should read it.

 

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The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

September 26th, 2019 — 12:23am

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

This story is about an elite family that has owned an island off the coast of Maine for 3 generations. It started with a wealthy couple Ogden and Kitty Milton in the 1930s. Ogden Milton ran a bank that may have had some secret dealings with the Naizis during that time. Ogden and his wife seemingly had everything until tragedy struck them. In response to their grief, they purchased the island and made a tradition of yearly visits to the island every year as the family would grow with new generations. The prejudices and complex feelings became apparent as time went on. A Jewish man gets a job in the patriach’s bank and he becomes involved with one of the daughters. His best friend from Harvard, a black man, also joins one of the family get-togethers on the island.

The book not only shows racism and power but clearly addresses some of the differences in how various family members accepted others who were different.. The author skillfully lets the reader into the mind and thoughts of each of the characters. Her style included choosing various time periods out of sequence, which I thought made it difficult at times to closely follow each character.

The author’s description of the island and the house and other buildings on it was so clear that I was not surprised to find out that it was based out on a real place and probably some actual people and their experiences.

This is a solid good read that I would recommend for consideration.

 

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