Monday, November 27, 2006


I read half of a couple of books lately - I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere, by Anna Galvada and No Touch Monkey, by Ayun Halliday.

Mostly I was interested in the chapter on Amsterdam hookers in No Touch Monkey - recommended by a friend. It's re: the law of the Red Light District: Don't photograph the hookers. Halliday is one of those $20 a day (or less) travellers - she's really into sleeping on park benches and proud of the good funk she gets going after wearing the same clothes for weeks on end and not showering. There's a time and a place for all that, sure - but for me that time and place has passed.

I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere is a book of short stories translated from the French. Some are breathtaking, but some are kind of lame. Each story has a similar voice and tone, making them somewhat difficult to differentiate. Neither book is holding my attention, and I just got In the Image by Dara Horn, so I'm going to move on to that one.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank

I picked up a copy of The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank: The stories of six women who knew Anne Frank, compiled by Willy Lindwer, in the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. I believe it was made in conjunction with or after the excellent documentary, Anne Frank Remembered. One woman was friends with Anne before she went into hiding, Hannah Elisabeth Pick-Goslar (she is also in the documentary), remarkably found Anne later in the camps, although they never actually saw each other because there was a wall between them. Most of the other women met Anne and her family in the camps - they were also people who had been in hiding, and, unfortunately, caught at the last minute. Each of these remarkable women, in their 70s and 80s when they recount their tales, mention how they new the Franks - how they busted up batteries with Anne and Margot and Mrs. Frank, a disgusting job but one which allowed them to talk with each other - and later how the girls had contracted typhus and were dying. But each story is, fittingly, their own, beginning before the war, their experience in the camps, their release after the war was over, and how they cope with their life experiences at the time of publication - most quite honest about how they choose not to remember certain details as a form of self-preservation, most also not able to understand how they survived while others died.

The book is not just a tribute to these six women, and, of course, Anne, but to all women who suffered during the war. It's a beautiful tribute to the sisterhood of women, extending across boundaries of religion, country, and race. Two of the women in the book formed a little club which, they both say, was the only way they survived. Writes one (Lenie de Jong-van Naarden):
Women seem to have greater endurance, to take the orders less to heart, and perhaps they are a bit more independent... Our little club of women has stayed close all these years, right up to today. Without each other, we wouldn't have made it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus was on the Daily Show tonight. He won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his work providing loans to poor people - sometimes very small loans (a couple of bucks, even) to very, very poor people. Like, beggars. Tonight he said that 97% of the loans are given to women. Yunus is Bangladeshi, so I originally perked my ears to this story (which I first heard about on a great interview on NPR) because it reminded me of my own period living in Bangladesh, and because he has a beautiful Bangladeshi accent that makes me feel all cozy inside. Obviously, he's a brilliant guy, and a wonderful humanitarian. He looked to the most marginalized sections of humanity and had faith in them. Once I had a brilliant idea that homeless people were an untapped resource, and that ad firms should consult the sign-bearing homeless for their marketing savvy (an idea I still hold to), although, instead of saying I should win the Nobel Peace Prize, a certain husband said I was a depraved human being! Genius, you know, is so infrequently recognized.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The World to Come

I picked up a copy of The World to Come for my vacation to Amsterdam, because I had read some great reviews, and it caught my eye because both this book and her other book (which I just ordered) both have to do with art. The art in question is a painting by Chagall, who also appears as a character in the novel. It's a sweeping story about multiple generations of a Jewish family, with dramatic themes of trust, creativity, and time. Horn is an expressive writer, whose descriptions of color and space easily match the joyous visuals of Chagall's work. She writes:
Color, color, bold, loud colors, colors that sang, colors that hummed, colors that screamed, colors that sobbed, or more often than anything else, colors that seethed, angry, bitter, unlooked at, unnoticed, darkening not from age but from loneliniess, from knowing that they do not exist without someone to see them - Sara did not merely see them, but heard them, smelled them, tasted them, touched them.
The World to Come has the emotional complexities of Safran Foer's excellent Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Like Safran Foer, Horn sensitively blends the highly charged histories of her characters - involving real-life events like war and terrorist attacks - without taking advantage of the emotional power or cheapening the meaning.

For me, the most interesting parts of the book were those in which the characters grappled with the concepts of what happens to us before we're born and after we die - and how the cycle of life so frequently occurs at the same time - that we lose and gain family members at the same time (a phenomenon I'm experiencing myself lately). She ties these ideas to Jewish parables (by the writer Der Nister, or Pinkhas Kahanovitch), allowing the characters to explore them spiritually and independently.

According to an interview in the back of the book (the paperback), Horn began writing this story after a Chagall painting, Study for 'Over Vitebsk,' (the same work in the book) was stolen from the Jewish Museum in New York. You can learn more about that story by listening to this audio report from NPR. Read the first chapter online, but I encourage you to read the rest as well.

Thank You, Jeeves

Over vacation, I took another P.G. Wodehouse book - this one, Thank You, Jeeves. All of the Jeeves and Wooster series follow a certain formula, which I outlined in my previous entry - Wooster finds himself in a bit of a bind, and then Jeeves comes up with a brilliant solution to get him out of it. This book was a little bit different, only in that Jeeves temporarily leaves the service of Bertie Wooster due to his insistence to play the banjolele. There are some pretty hilarious passages centered around Bertie's obsession with this instrument, but, on the negative side, there's also a few racist bits (of the black-face and N-word variety) in the book that really turned me off.

Finding the perfect vacation book is tricky. Laying on a beach is easy - I like a little Carl Hiaasen or some chick lit garbage - maybe Jane Green or something like that. But a city vacation is more difficult - I want something more intellectually stimulating - so for our trip to Amsterdam I picked up The World to Come, by Dara Horn - it was great!