Dec 142014
 

warburgI learned a lot about the plight of European Jews in the years 1944 to 1947.  American Jews knew of the death camps, but widespread American anti-Semitism prevented Roosevelt from even mentioning the word, Jews, in his fight against the Nazis.  He could not or did not direct strikes against concentration camps or the trains that fed them and the U.S. refused admission to Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis.  Before this book, I knew the Pope was at least silent on the issue of the Holocaust while it was happening, but Carroll’s opinion is that the Vatican was complicit, rather than just mum.  The Vatican actively aided and abetted Nazis.  When the war ended, and Part II of Warburg in Rome begins, the church and the U.S. government were so focused on the upcoming cold war with Stalin’s Soviet Union that they conspired to ferret Nazi war criminals out of Europe to Argentina in ways that might help their anti-communist campaign.  But the fact that I can’t quite explain what the Americans got out of saving Nazis in their fight against communism is one of many flaws with this novel.  The characters – a non-practicing, Yale educated Jew, a beguiling Italian spy whose breasts always seemed worth mentioning, an Irish American priest from New York city — are all two dimensional at best.  The plot and dialogue are simultaneously confusing and as predictable as a black and white movie from the 1940s.  To his credit, Carroll, a former priest himself, is incredibly even-handed and sympathetic to the Jews and nothing short of distraught at the actions of his church.  He made me want to read more about the role of the Church in WW II, but I’m not sure I want to recommend this book to anyone else.

Dec 142014
 

We’ve made and eaten a lot of hummus in our time, but this batch that Sue made was the the best I’ve ever eaten.  Even our nephew Jeremy, the one who has visited Israel three times in the last year said it was on par with the best homemade hummus he’s eaten in the Middle East.  Sue used the recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and knowing Sue she followed every direction with precision.  It paid off.  The hummus had a dozen different flavors in it — garlic, lemon, chickpea, zatar grown by or Jerusalem Arab friends, high quality Spanish olive oil, fresh black pepper — and was as creamy as whipped butter.

I did my best and baked two dozen sourdough pitas from my Saudi Arabian starter.

Sue's hummous accompanied by pitas made from a Saudi Arabian sourdough.

Sue’s hummous accompanied by pitas made from a Saudi Arabian sourdough.

Nov 262014
 

unamericansEight short stories about young and old Jews in America and in Israel and every character elicits your sympathy.  Antopol starts her stories in the middle of a discussion you might have just dropped in upon and within moments you are riveted by people so real, angst so visceral, and tension so necessary to resolve it is at once remarkable it is only a story that you are reading and even more exceptional that it is a short story at that.  In one, a pair of brothers living in Israel must come to terms with the fact that the younger, less talented, and less capable has saved the life of the older, more handsome, and more successful-in-every-way brother.  In another, a B-grade actor is released from a year in jail after getting caught up with communist actors and directors during the McCarthy era.  A young Israeli, in a third story, is, forced home to live with her parents when her overseas career as a journalist burns out but falls in lust with a slightly older widower who has a troubled teenage daughter.  How would you balance an unexpected love affair, fizzled career hopes, your parents, and a teenager living her despairing father and without her mother?  Neither the plotlines, nor the list of protagonists does justice to this series of stories that all seem to revolve about a single aphorism.  “Be careful what you wish for.”  A must read of a young author’s first book — Antopol is in her early 30s.

Nov 262014
 

yiddishkeit_62025Even the title of the book isn’t really translatable, encompassing as it does more than a language.  Yiddishkeit is a people, it’s culture, and an era of history, all but obliterated by the Nazis.  So all the more interesting to take on a language, a sound, and the essence of Ashkenazi Judaism in a graphic novel, that is with pictures.  Yiddishkeit, the book and the culture, are a sprawling amalgam of history and storytelling, plays and text, cartoons, and serious literary analysis, and above all, opinionated.  Pekar, Buhle, and their coauthors have assembled a textbook with a surprising format, but they capture the spirit and for those of us that love Yiddishkeit, we are glad that they have.blog-yiddishkeit-122211-copy

Nov 132014
 

indonesiaIndonesia is the fourth largest country in the world comprised of more than 10,000 islands and hundreds of languages and cultures.  From west to east it stretches the equivalent of Anchorage, Alaska to Washington, D.C. In Java, where more than half the population lives you can find hipsters, international businessmen, ungodly traffic, and muslim women covered from head to foot.  In the east, in Papua, bushmen live in the jungles.  It’s a thriving democracy and an inefficient, bureaucratic, corrupt nightmare of decentralized governance.  Ethnic divisions lead to mass slaughters and average Indonesians may be the most welcoming people on earth.  In most places you can find decent cell coverage, but might have to wait an interminable week before a boat arrives to take you from one island to the next.  Elisabeth Pisani has lived in Indonesia off and on for decades and has done her best to travel from one side of the country to the other talking, cooking, sleeping on rattan mats in crowded huts, and waiting with locals wherever she could.  She does a remarkable job of tying personal experiences of the variety of cultures who have come to be ensnared in the modern country called Indonesia to the national experience of a country rattling its way into the global marketplace of ideas and commerce.  Pisani’s writing is strong and engaging, but somehow the length of her trip is as exhausting to read about as it must have been to undertake.

Nov 132014
 

rusticryeMade this one to share with my senior thesis students.  It was 11/11/14.  November 11 is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, Germany, and the start of Carnival.  The bread disappeared in a hurry.

Oct 282014
 

agent zigzagPrior to the outbreak of WWII, the British citizen Eddie Chapman spent his youth blowing safes and robbing banks.  Passing in and out of jails, Chapman learned new techniques for thievery and when he wasn’t incarcerated, he fell in love, seriously in love, with a series of women.  When war erupted, Chapman was languishing in a cell on the isle of Jersey which fell under Nazi occupation and after failing to escape a couple of times figured his best chance for freedom was to volunteer to become a Nazi spy, that is, a British citizen employed by the Nazis to spy on the British.  A year or so later the Germans took him up on his offer, trained him, and air dropped him into Britain for the purpose of blowing up a British airplane factory.  Chapman’s apparent success led him to become one of the most decorated Nazi spies in history, only soon after landing in England, he also because one of the most celebrated spies in the British secret service, where he acted as a double agent spying on the Nazis.  Using newly released documents McIntyre uncovers a fascinating history of the spy war raging between Allied and Axis forces.

Oct 232014
 

TBMSixteen monks live in an isolated Canadian monastery dedicated to Pure Gregorian Chant, God, and the obscure Saint Gilbert.  Until there are fifteen monks because the Priar has his skull crushed.  Inspector Gamache and his sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir are called to the northern waters and deep forests of Quebec to investigate their eighth mystery in this Louise Penny series.  It is Penny’s best.  Gamache and Beauvoir do waht they can to penetrate the silent, mysterious, centuries old abbey while the monks practice the same analysis on the inspectors of the Quebec Surete.  The monks love chants, the chants mesmerize all who hear them, and questions arise: why are some men called to become solitary monks; others find solace in solving murderous crimes; a few succumb to their inner demons with murder; and some men turn away from music and can only find inner peace through drugs.  This is a multi-layered novel that also performs what we so often want from a good mystery.  Yes, we have suspense, but we also learn something.  Here we are treated to the invention of music, the inner workings of a contemporary, if very remote monastery, and the simple beauty of Gregorian Chant.