Category: FG – Fiction General


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

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

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

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

October 31st, 2019 — 7:23pm

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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Comment » | FG - Fiction General

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

September 26th, 2019 — 12:23am

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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Comment » | FG - Fiction General

Normal People by Sally Rooney

August 24th, 2019 — 11:10am

Normal People by Sally Rooney

One of the most intriguing things about this book is the title. I believe that that author is telling us that every meaningful relationship is built upon complex psychodynamics. In this story, we have a boy and girl who become friends in childhood. She is from a wealthy family with one parent and a brother who is frequently mean to her. He is raised by a single loving mom who is actually a housekeeper for the girl’s family. He is very popular in high school with lots of friends. She is a loner and often didn’t go to classes. They both are very smart. They have their first sexual experience together which is very intense and meaningful. As both of them mature and go to college they develop a different circle of friends and relationships but they still have various meetings and encounters. One of them has a tendency to have a depressive disorder. Both of them have complex dynamics related to needs and preferences influenced by earlier experiences with family members. For example one has certain masochistic needs. These factors all influence their choices and experiments with relationships and the struggles whenever they periodically reconnect. This very well-written book shows us the very complex psychological factors which greatly impact on their pathway in life and their attraction to each other. There is nothing common, typical, or easily predictable, but yet, that is what human behavior is all about. “Just two normal people.”

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

August 19th, 2019 — 11:45am

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

We meet “Wash”, the main character as an 11-year-old slave on a sugarcane plantation in Barbados. We come to realize that his chance of living to a ripe old age or even having any kind of meaningful life is quite slim. Then by chance, he is “given” to the owner’s brother who needs a manservant to help with various projects. It is ironic that through this one slave’s subsequent life which is quite unusual, we are allowed to come to appreciate the almost no chance that his brothers and sisters and numerable other Black people held in captivity have for any self-realization and an opportunity to find their potential as human beings.

Wash is the “assistant” to Titch, his new owner who was a scientist of sorts with a clear plan to develop a “cloud-cutter” (a hot air balloon). Titch soon realizes that Wash has talent as an artist in not only making scientific drawings but depicting all sorts of scenes from nature. Wash leaves the plantation with Titch to lead a new life which takes place during a time period when slavery in the United States is “abolished.” However, we are reminded that “Jim Crow” is alive and well as our main character is searched for by a bounty hunter as Wash’s previous owner had decided to put a thousand-dollar reward for his return, dead or alive.

Through the storyline and the author’s insight into the main character as he attempts to reconcile his past with the new opportunities he has, we come to understand how important “Big Kit”, his mother figure in his earlier life was to him. We also appreciate how meaningful to him is “Titch”, the man who took him from slavery on the plantation to a new life and because of his own issues ended up complicating Wash’s life with further dilemmas.

There is adventure, mystery, romance all mixed into the novel as the reader has another opportunity to understand the great scourge of slavery. It is not surprising that this book is on the short list for the prestigious Booker Prize.

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

Where The Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

June 30th, 2019 — 1:25pm

Your comments are welcome at the end of the review

Where the Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

The story takes the reader to a place I would not usually choose to visit- the wild nature land in North Carolina. A young girl is gradually abandoned by her siblings and parents and grows up alone in the marshland. She has her dad’s motorboat and she can fish and collect mussels et cetera and sell them in the local town in order to get gas for the boat and the essentials of life. She is known by the town folks as the wild marsh girl. While living a very isolated lifestyle, she has on occasion to meet two local young men. One of them teaches her to read and she ultimately over many years becomes a renowned expert in writing and painting the local nature life. Since the author is a well-known expert in nature writing, her depictions are quite beautiful and fascinating.

The marsh girl is attracted to both young men and one does not treat her very well. There is an incident where one of the young men dies under mysterious circumstances. So, there is intrigue and ultimately a courtroom drama, which is, as interesting and well-written as any literary courtroom scene that you might encounter

So, we have sensitive novel about living in the wildlife with all the beauty and mysteries of nature. We also have a sensitive depiction of a naïve young woman who feels her yearnings, as do all the creatures of nature. On top of all these, we have a mysterious death and a murder trial. For me, half of the time this book was a page turner, the other half, I was turning the pages to get through the book. I conclude by giving it a mixed review. (2019)

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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, T - Recommended for Teenagers

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book introduces the reader to the story of Koreans who migrated from Japan shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It also traces the occupation of Korea by the Japanese prior to this time and follows a family who lived in Japan for four generations. This book tells the story of discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese. Through the depiction of various characters, the reader learns about family values, the role of women, religious beliefs and the impact of culture on the lives of this multi-generational Korean family.

The book takes the reader on an interesting journey which not only studies all aspects of the personalities and values of the characters, but also paints a very vivid picture of the bustling street markets in Korea as well as the life in the universities in Japan. There is also a very interesting and revealing story about “Pachinko”, a gambling parlor game that is common and also the connection to the criminal underworld of the people who run these games.

This is a good read which pulls back the curtain and reveals the lives of people who we may not have had the opportunity to meet and understand.

 

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

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