Archive for 2020


Deadly Ties by Aaron Ben-Shahar

June 23rd, 2020 — 1:53pm

Deadly Ties By Aaron Ben-Shahar

The author of this novel, Aaron Ben-Shahar is an Israeli attorney-at-law who has served in highly sensitive positions in the Israeli Secret Service. When I read his first novel, A Minister in a Box (see review), I could not help but believe that his description of mystery, intrigue, murder, secret agents, etc., must have been based on his own real experiences. Now once again, he has produced another novel which takes the reader behind the scenes of the Mossad, the Israeli highly secret intelligence agency as well as an Iranian comparable secret agency. It has an unbelievable plot, which is actually believable because it rings true.

The story features Bonnie, a prominent minister in the Israeli government who after the death of his mother finds a letter for him in his mother’s desk. Early in the story, we have learned that his mother had a onetime sexual fling many years ago. Now the letter tells him that the man he always thought was his father was not actually his biological dad. This leads Bonnie on an adventure to find this man who turns out be an equally high placed Iranian minister. Needless to say, this novel, as was the first one, is filled with mystery, intrigue, and twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It was hard to put down this book; I highly recommend it.

In addition to the entertaining value of this excellent well-written novel, it also deals with an area, which as a psychiatrist and student of human behavior I have pondered over the years; that is the occasion where a person becomes obsessed with the desire to know the nature of their biological identity when it has previously been unknown or in question.

There have been several movies which have dealt with this subject one way or the other. The names of some these films were( see links to reviews): Philomena, The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, and Stories We Tell. I have also written about this subject on my blog(see link) Psychiatrytalk.com.

At times in conversation, I have asked an acquaintance what they might do if they received communication from the hospital where they were born was computerizing their records and they found out that the person was actually accidentally “switched at birth.” Would you want to meet your biological parent?

What if the situation were that the hospital was notifying you that a child born to you was accidentally switched at birth? Would you want to meet that long lost child? Suppose you were told that the family with your biological child would like to meet you, would you agree to this meeting? Would you tell your child that they were switched at birth? How would you feel if your child was anxious to meet the biological parent? Different people respond differently to these questions. The urgency of meeting the biological parent varies from person to person. Some people feel it would not make a difference in their life. I actually have known people who have discovered a biological parent unknown to them previously and then become very close to them.

These issues are part of the central theme of this intriguing book. Whether or not you would have the same feelings of the main character, I am sure you will find this an interesting and fascinating book well worth reading.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, FT- Fiction Thriller, Uncategorized

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

June 8th, 2020 — 4:52pm

The Weight Of Ink By Rachel Kadish

This is an unusual and very interesting storyline. The narrative toggles back and forth between modern day London and Amsterdam during the 17th century. A removable panel in a wall behind the stairs in a lovely home in modern day London is discovered to have a trove of documents written in the 1600s. Helen Watts, a woman professor and a graduate student, Aaron Levy, begin to extract and translate these documents, which are mostly in Portuguese, Hebrew, and English. The majority of these old papers were written by a well-known, blind rabbi’s personal scribe. The scribe allowed the rabbi to carry on correspondence with some of the great intellectuals of that time in various parts of the world. The modern day professor and her graduate student make an amazing discovery that the scribe was actually a young woman by the name of Ester. Of course, it was unheard of that a woman at that time would be well-educated and able to carry on such a high level of intellectual writing and reading. The story gets more complicated as a competing high-powered intellectual team also gains access to the documents and realizes the significance of them. The reader follows the unfolding of the story as each chapter moves back and forth more than 300 years. The modern day translators realize that the young woman scribe had on her own taken up a correspondence with some of the intellectual giants of her time including Spinoza while signing her name with a pseudonym. As the reader is whipped back and forth with alternating chapters being in the past or present, there is an opportunity to learn the details of the private lives of not only Ester and the people around her, but also about the private lives of Helen, the professor and Aaron the graduate student. One aspect of the distant time period is that there was a deadly plague sweeping London and the rest of the world. (Sound familiar?).

This book develops into a page turner, which includes intrigue, romance, death and dying, and a lot more. At times, the language was felt by this reviewer to be somewhat obtuse and even a little difficult to follow. However in the end, we appreciated that we have been taken through an original fantasy, which not only highlighted the intellectual trials and tribulations of a particular time period but also provided insight into the human psyche.

This book not only reflected themes of power and freedom of expression, something that Ester could not do as a woman, but also towards the end of the book Ester struggles whether or not she would want her words to live on, even if not attributed to herself herself but known by the content. This raises an interesting question about how any author looks to the future and how important is their own personal posterity as compared to the creativity they bring to their pages.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

April 28th, 2020 — 10:05pm

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is clearly a page turner (a swiper for laptop and Kindle users) and a definite fascinating read. It will provide a sensitive in depth insight into the plight of immigrants striving to make it from Mexico as well as from Central and South America to the United States. The book depicts the deadly role of the cartel (gangs) and their cruel leaders along with their ruthless followers. You come to understand that if you resist the will of the leader, let alone publicly speak out against them, the result can be death to you and your family including children and relatives.

The main characters of the book are Lydia and her 8-year-old son Luca who experienced such a punishment to their entire family because of an anonymous newspaper article written by Lydia’s husband who was a journalist and wrote about a cartel leader. This sets off a journey to the north by the surviving mother and son to escape to the United States.

The reader feels the constant fears and dangers of the fleeing duo and the people who they meet along the way. Whether it is jumping on moving trains, unbearable thirst, fear of drug dealers, fear of the immigration police, or fears of being attacked by the people they meet along the way, it all comes across as a real and quite frightening.

The author has done her homework and appears to have recreated a slice of contemporary history that is not well known. I was not surprised to see that this book has been a great seller and received many positive reviews including one by the author Stephen King and in fact the book was one of Oprah’s book picks. Anticipating e success, from the very beginning was the fact that the author received a seven-figure advance for her manuscript. However, I was very surprised and interested to see that the book also received many negative reviews including disparaging attacks on the author by people who felt that as a white non-Hispanic she had no right to pen this book. Several Latino writers wrote that the novel was stereotyping and exploiting the suffering Mexican immigrants. Apparently, some book stores decided to cancel the author’s book tour because of fear of disruption.

I personally believe that the book can stand on its own. It seemed to me, that the main protagonists were good people whom I respected and would be very proud if they were my ancestors. I believe that even most of those who did not like the fact that the author wrote the book agreed that it was fascinating, suspenseful and a great read.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

April 26th, 2020 — 6:54pm

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
This is an excellent novel. Not only is it a history lesson about Spain and South America in the mid and late 20thcentury but it is also a perceptive and sensitive examination into interpersonal relationships where there is love, separation at the time of war and revolution.
The story opens by focusing on two people as they flee from the ravages of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s under Franco’s fascist government which killed and tortured many of his opponents The author is obviously enamored with the writing of Pablo Neruda whom she quotes frequently throughout the book. Neruda also was the savior of thousands of Spanish refugees fleeing from Franco, who fled mostly on foot to France and then were allowed to board the SS Winnipeg, which he had actually chartered to cross the Atlantic and bring the fleeing Spanish refugees to Chile.

The Chilean people were generally receptive to the fleeing Spaniards. Among the various leaders that they encountered was the popular government of Salvador Allende (who is actually the author’s uncle and godfather). Alas, Allende’s government was overthrown in 1973, which created an unsafe environment for many of his supporters including the characters in our story, which led them to then flee to Venezuela. Finally, in their later years, the characters in this book whom we are following, returned to Chile where they feel most at home.

As I mentioned, as interesting as this is a political history, most of which many of us did not learn in school in the United States, it is also a moving story of a romance and meaningful relationship. We met Roser as a young girl growing up in Spain where she became a pianist, then widowed while she was pregnant. We then get an insight into her complicated relationship with Victor Dalman who was a physician and brother of the father of her child. We come to understand how circumstances led them to get married, become life partners and ultimately lovers.(2020)

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

March 3rd, 2020 — 4:44pm

 

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)

 

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

February 27th, 2020 — 1:37am

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.

 

Comment » | O - Other - Specify, Social

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

February 16th, 2020 — 1:15pm

 

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.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

February 5th, 2020 — 12:07am

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.

Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

January 7th, 2020 — 11:47am

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.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

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