Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “the Holocaust”

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 22: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Plot summaries are the most boring part of writing these reviews, so is it okay if I cheat a little and just ask Wikipedia? Please guys? (Just say yes…)

“Jonathan Safran Foer, a young American Jew, journeys to Ukraine in search of Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod, his family shtetl… Jonathan begins his adventure with Ukrainian native and soon-to-be good friend, Alexander “Alex” Perchov, who is Foer’s age and very fond of American pop culture, albeit culture that is already out of date in the United States. Alex studied English at his university, and even though his knowledge of the language is not “first-rate”, he becomes the translator. Alex’s “blind” grandfather and his “deranged seeing-eye bitch,” Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., accompany them on their journey. Throughout the book, the meaning of love is deeply examined.”

Okay, thanks for letting me do that. Anyway, the first thing I want to get out of the way is that yes, JSF’s writing is pretty damn precious. Half of the novel is written from Alex’s point of view, and his broken English is utilized as a main motif to comedic effect: “seeing-eye bitch,” “masticated her tail,” “It was very rigid to understand,” etc. It worked, and it was funny, but these sections at times come across not so much as a means to further the story, as they are a humorous academic exercise in thesaurus abuse. By which I mean: literary dick-measuring. Even considering this bit of pretentiousness, though, these sections are pretty funny — both for the language gymnastics and for some of Alex’s editorialized translations to the American tourist.

The other parts of the story, interwoven in parallel, are meant to be excerpts from the Jonathan Safran Foer character’s novel, an imagined and fictionalized version of the history of Trachimbrod (stand-in for Trochenbrod,) the shtetl where his ancestors originated from in the Ukraine. These sections are written with a heavy hat-tip to Gabriel García Márquez, but they are really lovely. The residents of the shtetl really come to life through Foer’s imagination, and they get their share of humor, too.

The historical setting of WWII naturally means there will be some tragedy, and some really tough, heart-wrenching sections. There is, allegedly, a bit of controversy around Foer’s depiction of the Nazi liquidation of Trachimbrod/Trochenbrod; my feeling (as a non-historian) is that this is pretty clearly fiction, and as Foer took the liberty of re-naming and reconstructing the town, I didn’t have any issues with his presentation.

Reading this, I instantly began comparing it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I also reviewed but didn’t like that much. The precious writing is present in both in spades, but the characters in Everything is Illuminated were not quite as too-advanced-for-their-own-good — a characteristic I found very grating in the former. As book-reading types, many Cannonballers will probably have picked this one up already, but if you haven’t, I’d definitely recommend it as worth reading.

Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #3: Night by Elie Wiesel

I work as a teacher partly because there’s a wonderful social element to thejob. No teacher can exist in isolation. We have to collaborate and combine our ideas with other educators or wither under the weight of the job; we have to share with and adapt to students or we might well be committed for ranting to ourselves. I know from prior experience that working with and for others helps me to feel like I’ve reached something close to a state of grace, and that, if deprived of these interactions, I would be something less than whole.

I felt this way first in an English class, when I read Viktor Frankl’s memoir of life in a concentration camp: Man’s Search for Meaning, and suddenly felt as if all of life was illuminated before my eyes. And I felt this way again as I spent the last few weeks reviewing Elie Wiesel’s Night, a more common curricular choice and the next book in my 10th grade syllabus.

While Frankl seeks to find the optimistic solution to every stormy cloud, Wiesel paints a more human portrait of endurance–one filled with much more doubt, horror and grief than his philosophical counterpart. The brutal depiction of men degraded to the level of dogs is terribly true, and truly affecting. Through it all Wiesel shares his frank, grim confessions of internal conflict holding the reader close to a situation that is too often sanitized to “such a shame” platitudes.

In its conclusion, Night reveals the daily salvation that came to Wiesel from his relationship (difficult though it was) with his father. Though he never makes as pointed an argument as Frankl does, his anecdotes offer a captivating portrait of humanity in it’s darkest hour. While the tone and mood left me grimly stone faced till the end and made it difficult to really “love” reading the book, Night reaffirmed what I learned first from Frankl. No matter how often I despair of how others treat me, or how self-obsessed I become with my own needs and wants, I know that the more I respect my responsibility to/for others, the more my life and my world will improve.

brittanykate’s #CBR4 Review #4: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

My latest read, The Street Sweeper left me speechless. Trust me when I say I’m not often rendered speechless by anything. I finished this a week ago but I have only just managed to completely process how amazing this book is. I almost want to go back and start reading it all over again.

Eloquently written, featuring a myriad of potentially controversial topics, Perlman has produced a damn good story, which had me hooked from the very first paragraph: “Memory is a wilful dog. It won’t be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you. It can sustain you or feed on you. It visits when it is hungry, not when you are. It has a schedule all of its own that you can never know. It can capture, corner you or liberate you. It can leave you howling and it can make you smile.”

The Street Sweeper is a remarkable tale that takes us back and forward in time, from contemporary New York to pre-war Poland, from the awful events leading up to the civil rights movement in America to suburban Melbourne. Perlman’s third novel is rich in detail, meticulously plotted, cleverly constructed, with often shimmering prose. What stands out to me however, is the deliberateness of his approach. Here is a man with a lot to say about memory, responsibility, consequence, respect, history, legacy, connections, and Perlman expertly incorporates these ideas into the many intertwining stories told within The Street Sweeper.

I came away from The Street Sweeper with a profound sense of peace and understanding. It left me, at times, reeling. It made me bawl, thinking about what we as humans are capable of. It made me smile; the story is so realistic and so incredibly uplifting. The thing I loved most about this book, though: I didn’t want to put it down. I don’t think I could possibly recommend The Street Sweeper highly enough.

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