Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sometimes You Must Be Broken to Realize You're Lucky: Lucky Broken Girl by @ruthbehar

Lucky Broken GirlA very engrossing, thought-evoking read. Ruthie comes from Cuba (It's the 1960s). Her family has been chasing the dream of freedom for generations, starting with her grandparents, who fled Poland and Jewish persecution, only to have to flee Castro's reign. This little girl faces a troubling time. While most girls her age are going through puberty and deciding what to wear, Ruthie gets some hard life lessons from her bed, where she lies in a full-body cast for a year.

She learns what being smart is, sees the sacrifices her mother makes, develops patience, acceptance, and most of all, learns how to overcome fear...or well, better said, how to master it, as the fear doesn't really go away. You just push it aside and do.

As Ruthie says at one point in the don't realize how many wonderful people you're surrounded by until something bad happens.

There is so much to learn and take away from this novel. My favorite lesson was about perspective. About how you just have to move your bed to face the window and see things differently. I'll remember this lesson always.

Terrific book, writing, story. It's not just about a family of Jewish Cuban immigrants; it's about acceptance, sacrifices, fears, and growing up. While Ruthie's body wasn't allowed to grow during her casting; her mind certainly did. We can learn a lot from her.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Footprints in the Forest-- A Novel of A Female WWII Partisan Based On Fact

I wrote in my review of Karolina's Twins on this blog that I was just about burned out on the Holocaust.  Now I can say the same about WWII in general.  I've read way too much about WWII this year.  I admit that I was reluctant to accept author Jeannette Katzir's review request for Footprints in the Forest.  I accepted a free copy because I've never read about a real woman who was a WWII partisan.  This is a novel, but it's based on the life of the author's mother.  I wanted to see if there were significant differences between the fictional WWII Resistance heroines I'd read about, and one that actually existed.


Like a number of popular books, Footprints in the Forest is a dual time frame novel.  It alternates WWII Poland with New York in the late 1940's.   I found the WWII chapters more interesting and compelling.  The American portions of the book were lighter in tone which some readers may consider a relief from reading about characters who are continually running for their lives.

In some ways, Chana the protagonist, reminded me of Jacqueline, the female French Resistance fighter in Marge Piercy's  Gone To Soldiers which I reviewed here.  They were both changed by their experiences, but I thought that Jacqueline became stronger and Chana emerged from WWII more fragile.   I understood why Chana  was so traumatized, but I preferred her fellow female partisan, Leeza who was more of a survivor type.   It was fortunate that Chana had Leeza's friendship because she certainly depended on Leeza for emotional support.  Chana also couldn't have survived without the steadiness of her brother, Isaac, who was always there for her.

Chana's developing art career in the U.S. was the aspect of the American narrative that I found most appealing.    I enjoyed reading about her creative process, how she learned to paint in oils and how her relationship with the gallery owner eventually evolved into a friendship.  On the other hand, I found Chana's stereotypical fantasy of the perfect wedding rather annoying.   It was also a very American idea of weddings, and it didn't seem likely to me that a Polish Jew from a religious background would have become so Americanized in her expectations that quickly.

 There were a few names that I thought were inappropriate like the Russian partisan whose first name was Barry and the Polish Jew who had a brother named Thomas.  There was also a Hebrew error.  Alov ha'shalom  (may he rest in peace) is correct if the dead individual is male.  If the dead individual is female, it should be aleha  ha'shalom.  Yet these are minor problems.

The background otherwise seemed authentic and well-developed.   I felt that I was there in the forest with Chana trying to survive Nazis, severe weather and other dangers.  This was a gripping portrayal of the life story of Katzir's mother.