This is how my son describes the books I’ve been reading for the past 35 years:
So they were poor Jews in Russia/Eastern Europe, the bad guys came and burned their homes and they were forced to walk and walk and walk, with no food, in the snow, and their jewels were sewn in the lining of their clothes. A righteous goy, with ten in his family, takes them in to his two room flat, shares his meager meals till they can get enough passage money for America, while one of the precious daughters hooks up with a blond/blue-eyed soldier and stays in this foreign land.
Ok, so it sounds a bit like Fiddler On The Roof, but it is a real scenario that has happened in many of our families.
My son thinks I should move to different subject matters and I tell him, “If the book cover has the words ALIENS, DEAD, DISAPPEARED, KIDNAPPED, KILL, OUTER-SPACE, SCI-FI, with pictures of blood, crosses, dead bodies, guns, knives, skulls, space ships or scary looking aliens, NOT for me!”
I read to be entertained, 90% of the time before I fall asleep at night, so my last thoughts and images need to be pleasant so I don’t dream of dead kidnapped aliens with blood oozing from their chopped up skulls while space ships attack the planet Earth!
And I read to learn history and new things about myself. I’m embarrassed to say I have dozens and dozens of Danielle Steel books, one of the most successful writers who I believe to be the worst writer ever but she is a great story teller! I always find insight and things I should have been thinking about within myself from her stories. They are filled with family, women, relationship and inner-conflict issues and the take-away is an ah-ha moment of something I haven’t thought about. So thank-you, Danielle Steel, but please find a new editor to check out those run-on, confusing sentences!
(The book covers and hyperlinked titles will take you to Amazon.com where you can read more about each work.)
The themes I enjoy the most are family sagas when the characters have a definite personal growth and awareness of their life and environment, where they get out of bad situations and work beyond the odds to new and better scenarios for themselves and those they love. There seems to be a new surge on Holocaust stories, not so much about Tevye’s family, but individual, personal, quiet stories with much punch to grab your heart, like Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and her next book, A Secret Kept.
My most recent favorite is The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, opening at the wedding of an older man’s grandson. As he looks into the eyes of the bride’s grandmother, he is taken back to the days of another life, love, marriage and separation. This amazing story takes you on a romantic journey of life lost and renewed love, to full circle of life.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, (all her books are wonderful) is an extraordinary story of the young females of China who are forced into foot-binding so as to be more attractive to a future husband. The utter pain and suffering, physically and mentally, to these little girls are beyond imagination, you feel it all, and the courage they display is captured in this wonderful story.
The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones would make a great movie, I loved it! It’s the journey of a German born Christian girl from the country who wants more to life than the farm and follows her older sister to Frankfurt, pre WWII. She is a maid in a wealthy Jewish family home, the owner is an art curator who schools her in fine art. The mistress of the house dies and our farm girl has a new place in the household while becoming an expert in the art world. She finds herself in Hitler’s favor as he wants her to create a special art museum but her distain for the Nazi’s takes her to places she would have never expected. An exciting adventure that has twists and turns with one who gives of herself for others. A must read.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok takes you from Hong Kong to the New York slums with a young daughter and mother who want a better life. The daughter picks up English and the ways of America quite easily while the mother is still embroiled in the old traditions. To respect and care for her mother, the child works long and hard hours in a sweatshop, not letting on that she leads a double life so she can better their conditions. Through freezing winters and simmering summers, they live in unbearable circumstances till the daughter is able to take them to a well deserved life.
Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carne is the story of an ultra Orthodox girl in the Ottoman Empire who grapples with her tradition and the artistic talent she believes G-d gave her. She is obedient but tortured as to how to lead her life. She dreams of going to Paris to study art and can’t believe when circumstances take her there while leaving three children behind. She does everything against tradition and leads a life that was only in her dreams, including whether to follow her love-struck heart. She then has to decide to return home or continue her talents. Fighting her inner demons, she does what she knows to be right.
The hardship and courage of immigrants is often beyond our scope of understanding, while we only know it as fiction when others have lived it. So many of these stories seem just that, stories, someone’s fantasy/imagination. But the reality is, it IS the REALITY of many. How brave of them to tell and share their life’s experiences with us.
I so encourage people to tell someone “their story” so it can be known to your heirs, as your legacy. EVERYONE HAS A STORY and it is unique. It took ten years, but I wrote a family history/recipe book filled with my Bubie’s stories, her journey to America, my father’s family relocation to Los Angeles that includes recipes and their stories. It is my family’s legacy, may not be on Amazon but it’s in the hands of those who matter and who want to know the story!
I LOVE books, I love holding them while reading them, displaying them all over my house. I fought getting a KINDLE but it’s great for traveling and keeping in my car for when I’m in traffic! We must encourage our children and grandchildren to read and read more, and reading to a child is vital to teaching them to read, to seeing and hearing the world so they can capture and create their own imaginations.
Here are more of my favorite wonderful books:
Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Language of Threads: A Novel
A Day of Small Beginnings: A Novel
Share your titles and great reads with others!!
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21 Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family’s past in order for them to live their future is all the muse she needs!
She has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir and is completing her first novel.
Her grandmother’s journey to America and life is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism.
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