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Search for Reality – Paul Celan

11-23 PCelan

Jewish poet Paul Celan was responsible for some of the most striking German-language writing about the Holocaust. His experiences as a survivor led him to compose such heart-wrenching works as “Todesfugue” (“Death Fugue”).

This quote brought to mind the idea that believing in miracles may require a break from “reality”. That we can only find miracles where we search for them, or that miracles can happen for those who can immerse themselves in the unknown, illogical, even chaos.

There is such grief and darkness in Celan’s writing that the journey towards the hope of victory seems infinite. And yet if reality can be won, can it be the reality that we yearn for?

Celan’s poem “Todesfugue” is available on-line in English here: https://www.celan-projekt.de/todesfuge-englisch.html

 

Book Reviews

Casting Lots – Susan Silverman

Casting Lots is the story of family. How it is created, what it means to belong, and perhaps most vividly, how it changes with time. In this memoir, author Susan Silverman describes her journey as a mother of internationally adopted children. With exceptional emotional clarity, Silverman writes about how the process of adopting her sons from Ethiopia affected her as an individual, and in all her family roles of wife, birth mother, sister, and daughter. Her attention to these webs of relationships added a deep sense of humility and vulnerability to her writing. Silverman’s willingness to share in such authenticity provided solid grounding to an emotionally powerful book. I do not think it is possible to read this book without reflecting on the roles we play in our own families. Readers should be prepared to make personal discoveries both for the better and the worse.

I received this book as a “Parent’s Choice” through the PJ Library program. As I read it, I especially appreciated the underlying themes of inclusion and the primacy of love in establishing Jewish families. Silverman’s story indirectly, but powerfully, challenges the out-dated and limiting community expectations of nuclear families in Jewish life. In Silverman’s book, our families are built with love, compassion, friendship, and kindness. Understanding does not always come easily. Racism, sexism, and fear are present and painful enemies. The world in which we want to raise our children is not the one we navigate every day.

I suspect that more experienced parents will find more depth in Casting Lots than those just starting out on their parenting journeys. The book has the potential to be a remarkable resource for extended families, provoking meaningful conversations among parents, siblings, and older children. Silverman provides practical and supportive insights into the systems of international adoption, and those considering such a step will likely find it encouraging. And all readers will remember that each of us is capable of feeling and sharing so much more love than we ever thought possible.

Book Reviews

Conviction – Julia Dahl

One of the most fun parts of writing book reviews is getting to read books that are outside of my usual comfort zone. Because we like to keep things positive here on Books and Blintzes, you will never hear about the duds. But every so often a book arrives at my doorstep that surprises me as just being the right book at the right time. Conviction, the third installment of Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts mystery series, was just that book.

Being too impatient for most mysteries, I had missed Dahl’s acclaimed debut installment, Invisible City. The good news is that Dahl includes enough of the characters’ back stories in Conviction to make sure readers can get up to speed quickly. So go ahead and read Conviction first. Then, when you’re hooked, you can go back and enjoy the other two books.

This book caught my attention because of its setting. Investigative reporter Rebekah Roberts is drawn into the story of a gruesome murder that took place in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn shortly after the riots in the summer of 1992. Now, 22 years later, she’s exploring the possibility that the wrong person was convicted. This gives Dahl a platform to incorporate not only the politics of the relationship between the Hassidic and African-American residents of Crown Heights in 1992, but also to highlight the issues of gentrification, police brutality, and the ongoing tensions in race relations that have intensified rather than disappeared. Readers interested in the way that the media portrays local events and the crime beat will appreciate Dahl giving them a front row seat to the action.

Dahl drives Conviction with strong characters and respect for the communities she portrays. Her straightforward prose keeps the pages turning, and aside from a generous sprinkling of Yiddish and Jewish religious terms, the book is accessible to anyone who might enjoy a crime novel. I will confess that even though the Conviction held my attention enough that I burned through it in less than 24 hours, I still flipped forward to read the ending when I was halfway through. Without any effort, I was able to think of five other people who I knew would be interested in this book. I will be enthusiastically sharing my copy, which is just about as good as a popular mystery can get.

 

I received a free pre-release ARC from the publisher, Minotaur Press, in order to write this review.