Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Körbels of Prague and the Demise of Jewish Identity

Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, by Madeleine Albright. Harper. 480 pages. $29.99.

Most Jewish readers attracted to Madeleine Albright’s recent book are no doubt curious about the degree of Jewish identity that attached to the author upon her discovery, late in her life, that both of her parents came from Jewish families. Yes, the 64th U. S. Secretary of State (and the first woman to hold that position) was born a Jew, but she didn’t know it. Many of her relatives, including three of her grandparents, died in the Holocaust, but she didn’t know it. She has no meaningful Jewish identity, but that in itself hints at a story of Jewish families in Nazi-infected Europe that perhaps can never be told. 

The story Albright does tell has three dimensions: it’s a WWII narrative with a Central European focus; more precisely, it’s a Czech-eye view of WWII and its aftermath. More narrowly (and richly) yet, it’s a perspective that hinges on the part her father, Josef Körbel, played in the Czech foreign ministry as press attaché  and ambassador to Yugoslavia, as scribe and mouthpiece for the Czechoslovakian government-in-exile (in London) after his country fell to the Nazis, and as effective subordinate to the major Czech leaders, Edvard Beneš and Jan Masaryk, even through his country’s second fall, to the Soviet Union, after a very brief hope of renewed democratic independence.

Readers will be frustrated once they realize that Albright was barely a toddler when the historical timeline she fleshes out began. She is rarely writing from memory, as she was much too young to have experience-based insights on the events that she relates. In addition, Albright spent very few of her early years living in Prague, and more of them living in either Belgrade or London.

His own future insecure after the Soviet regime took hold, Josef Körbel was able to gain political asylum from the U. S., bringing his family here in 1948 and building a significant career as an international studies professor at the University of Denver. Albright’s positions in the U. S. government and her father’s place in Czechoslovakia’s government gave her access to materials that she fashioned industriously and intelligently. She explores, with clarity and dramatic pointing, the political twists and turns by which the democratic Czechoslovakia that came to life in the aftermath of WWI became a victim of Nazi aggression and then a pawn in the east-west game following Germany’s defeat. The Czechs had the bad luck to be liberated by the Soviets.

Madeleine Albright – official photo as Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright’s narrative of how a small European nation caught in the crossfire fared during the stormy years leading up to and following WWII is bolstered by an abundance of sources, an array of captivating photographs, a cast list of principal characters, a detailed time line, and a bountiful index. Fortunately, this apparatus does not interfere with accessibility. On many occasions, Albright’s personal (as distinguished from professional) voice adds charm and wit to the presentation of unfortunate occurrences.

The story of Madeleine Albright’s response to the discovery of her Jewish ancestry is a leitmotif running through the analysis of Czechoslovakia’s fate. Once their Jewish parentage became known, she and her younger siblings explored family papers, government records, and various archives to piece together a good bit of their parents’ Jewish past. There was no one from whom Albright could receive the answer to this question: What led her parents to convert to Roman Catholicism when Madeleine was still very young and never reveal the truth about their Jewish origins?

Knowing the character of her parents, the author surmises that their decision was meant to be protective. It’s not clear whether or not Josef’s assignment to work with the Czech government-in-exile was intended as an escape from his family’s likely discovery and probable extermination as a Jews. Albright suggests in various ways that the young Körbel couple had worn their Judaism lightly, making it relatively easy to leave it behind.  Prague Winter reveals no information about Albright’s grandparents having relationships with Czechoslovakia’s Jewish communities.

The questions that linger include these: (1) Did Josef Körbel attempt to get his parents and in-laws out of danger? (2) As the Nazis rose to power, how many other Jewish individuals or families disowned their Jewish selves to save (or try to save) their lives? (3) How many succeeded?

This review appears in the August 2012 editions of L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and the Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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Florida Heritage Book Festival – St. Augustine

St. Johns County Convention Center at
Renaissance World Golf Village Resort
500 S. Legacy Trail, St. Augustine, FL 32092 

September 13 & 14, 2012  /

Featuring Jeff Lindsay (keynoter)

Steve Berry

Diana Abu-Jaber

Edna Buchanan (honoree)

–And many others

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Semi-rural Sarasota sets stage for murder, nostalgia, romance

“Life and Death on the Tamiami Trail,” by Sheila Marie Palmer. CreateSpace. 366 pages. $14.99 from, Kindle ebook $9.99.

I would have called it “The Sheriffs and the Gypsies.” Certainly this book, disguised, ornamented memoir presented as fiction, is better than the unpromising title it wears.

From the vantage point of a mid-1980s murder case, Sheila Marie Palmer launches what amounts to a cultural history of semi-rural Sarasota County. It’s the first book I’ve read set in this part of Florida that isn’t busy with marinas, sport fishing, and transplanted retirees; with upscale eateries, tourists, and second home ex-urbanites. Ms. Palmer’s tale takes us through several decades in a place that is rooted in neighborhood friendships and simple, unpretentious lifestyles. A place that may no longer exist. 

The protagonist, Sheriff Bernie Raines, has spent her life there. Raised in a somewhat friendly compound of small apartment-homes called Attwood’s Place, she had the somewhat unusual experience of living in a n area that also was the home of a Gypsy clan.  Her childhood friend was a boy named Zindelo, grandson of the Dukker, the clan patriarch. Many of these colorful people had circus jobs.

Bernie must investigate the murder of a mob-connected criminal, Antonio Verde. When the immediate and only suspect turns out to be Bernie’s childhood friend, Zindelo, she isn’t sure how to react. Perhaps she should remove herself from the case. Instead, she chooses to enlist the assistance of Buck Davis, sheriff of neighboring DeSoto County. Buck is already more than a fellow professional and more than a friend.

As the unfolding present dramatizes the investigation, providing authoritative details about procedural matters, flashbacks amplify the world of Bernie’s youth and the history of the region. It also amplifies much about Gypsy lore that is alternately charming and unsettling. That same forward motion, as you might have guessed, builds the deepening relationship between Buck and Bernie. The rumors blossoming around them are somewhat ahead of the progress of their romance, but the romance is catching fire.

Sheila Marie Palmer

Poor dead Antonio Verde is a man from Chicago who has been implicated in mob activities. What was he doing in Sarasota? He owns a piece of property there, but he’s been a shadow – hardly known by anyone. What got him killed? And, if it isn’t Zindelo, who is the killer?

The answer has something to do with Bernie’s recurrent daydreams, dreams and nightmares. Something has kindled her memory of things past – no doubt the presence of Dukker and Zindelo is the primary spark. However hard Bernie tries, there is a veil that her memory can’t pierce.

Dukker has suggested to Bernie that she had better conclude her investigation within a week. Just what will happen if she doesn’t is not clear, but the mild threat puts additional pressure on her. So do certain strange occurrences that seem to be aimed at frightening or harming her. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 25, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 26 issues of the Naples, Bonita Springs, and Spacecoast editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Sheila Palmer

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2012 Other Words Conference

November 8th-10th, 2012

Starting with a Thursday night reading by Florida Book Award winners and finishing with our first-ever Advanced Breakthrough Workshops in poetry and fiction on Sunday, Other Words 2012 is set to become a milestone.

The Eighth Annual Other Words Conference, held again this year at Flagler College in the nation’s oldest city of St. Augustine, will include panels, readings, workshops, and Florida’s largest independent literary book fair.  Papers and panel proposals on the conference theme of “WANDERLUST: Writing and Travel” are now being accepted.  Panels on topics other than the main theme will also be considered. 

Gold Medal Florida Book Award winner for poetry Stephen Kampa will lead the opening celebration reading Thursday evening. 

Other Words conference readings will conclude Saturday night with two of Florida’s best and most widely travelled prose writers, Kelle Groom and Bob Schacochis.  

 Concluding the conference are the new Advanced Breakthrough Workshops in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Nonfiction.  The four-hour sessions offer writers in-depth work with Other Words core faculty members Terry Witek, Mark Powell, and Ira Sukrungruang.

Conference registration fees remain the same as last year. The new Advanced Breakthrough Workshops being offered for the first time can be taken without full conference registration. Those rates are: Sunday Advanced Breakthrough Workshops Only:  $100 for members, $125 nonmembers; Member Students, $55 Sunday only; Nonmember Students $70 Sunday only. See the registration page for full details.

Conference Goals

Kelle Groom


  to bring together writers, editors, agents, publishers, book sellers, grant administrators, directors of writers’ colonies and retreats, and other interested folk in one place. We’ll be talking about the how to of the literary arts: how to write it, make it, sell it, fund it, and nurture it.


to bring together hundreds of the region’s literary arts people and form a regional coalition that promotes our mutual literary efforts in as many ways as possible.

For schedule of events, presenting authors, and registration information, click here:

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A devilish delight of mystery and magic

“Dark Magic,” by James Swain. Tor. 352 pages. $24.99.

James Swain has switched gears. After building two successful mystery series, he has begun a very promising third one.  It’s not just mystery, it’s not just mystery and magic – this time out it’s mystery, magic, and psychic powers. And more.  Meet Peter Warlock. It’s not just a stage name!

Peter performs spellbinding magic at his own theater on the west side of Manhattan. Still a very young man, he is already a superstar. Since his parents’ death when he was a boy, Peter has been raised by friends of theirs, all individuals with psychic powers and various kinds of special supernatural talents. The elders in this group have nurtured him, protected him while preparing him to deal effectively with his other home – the spirit world.

This ring of psychics meets regularly, and their séances can produce amazing results, often visions of forthcoming crimes or disasters. In “Dark Magic,” Peter has visions of thousands of people dying in the Times Square area. The cause is unknown, but they have only a few days to help the police discover the means, the ends, and the perpetrators so that the disaster can be averted.

Working with Garrison, a savvy FBI agent who will act on any lead, even a psychic’s vision, Peter gains knowledge that a demonic group called the Order of Astrum, a group that had murdered his own parents, has planned the impending disaster and has sent an assassin to kill Peter, and perhaps the rest of the psychic group.

James Swain

Now the chase is on. While the suspenseful action builds through the four day time line, several other issues build momentum as well. There is a dimension of Peter that is growing. He is inhabited by a hostile, dark force that is gaining strength and breaking out from time to time. Where does it come from? Can he learn to control it? To whom can he confide about emerging secrets about his true nature?

Members of his psychic family know more than Peter does, but they are reluctant to reveal too much too soon. His assistant, Liza, who is also his girlfriend, cannot get close to him. She knows there is a part of Peter that is sealed off from her. How can there be an intimate relationship without trust and sharing? James Swain artfully complicates his mystery plot with these elements of troubled romance and occult powers.

Is Mr. Swain serious with this spirit-world stuff? Well, sort of. There is a glimpse of tongue-in-cheek humor every so often, and a comic stream trickling through the novel that lightens tension and invites a complex reaction to the paranormal doings. Horror and charm coexist. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 11, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples and Space Coast editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Swain pdf

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A Memory of Roland Flint


This piece was written soon after the death of Roland Flint (January 2, 2001) and published in the March/April 2001 issue of Writer’s Carousel (The Writer’s Center, Bethesda MD). Truly, this dedicated and gifted poet was one of the most unforgettable characters that I’ve been blessed to know. Like many others who had a similar life-changing opportunity, I will never forget him.

I find it difficult to speak in a public or professional voice about Roland Flint, a man who was a dear friend to me for over thirty years as well as a poet whose work I greatly admired and respected. He was a man with a great, caring soul – and what he cared about often found its way into his work: the unseen heroism of the common man, the magnitude of pain and suffering in people’s lives, the sources of endurance that sufferers discover, the miracle of human love, the beauty of the human form at rest and in motion, the juicy sexuality of creation, and all the promises of life that vie with all the obstacles of living.

 He had such a hearty laugh, he could have so much fun hearing a joke or telling one, that it is easy to forget how close so much of his life was to tears. But the laugh was not a mere cover or compensation: it was the tonic burst of a life-force at once fierce and gentle. I think I’ll miss that laugh as much as anything. That laugh shoots through many of the poems – especially the prose poems – and we have the poems. But they are not quite the same thing.

Roland Flint as Poet Laureate of Maryland

 Roland’s dance with the goddess Fame was only partly danced when he fell ill. I don’t mean that he hadn’t been long beloved by a wide spectrum of those who love poetry, those who read it and write it. But certainly he had not yet become a household name, and his work is not exemplifying one thing or another in the anthology texts that suggest to students a writer’s importance.  I think he was getting there fast, and may get there yet. He has a big chunk of space in any anthology I ever imagine.

 What does this mean? He started late in a generation of quickstart careers. His first two books, so lovingly brought to readers by Dryad Press, did not appear until he was 37 and 41 respectively. When RESUMING GREEN, from prestigious Dial Press, put him on the map in 1983, he was thoroughly a middle-aged man. And then the Dial imprint died and with it the parent company’s interest in this fine collection. When STUBBORN appeared from the University of Illinois Press in 1990, a National Poetry Series Selection, Roland had turned a corner – at 56. I don’t think he wrote less as the years went by, but rather that he allowed less to get into print. He was a severe judge and careful editor of his own work. It was another nine years until LSU Press brought out EASY. He had a lot more in him, I’m sure.

 Though I’m grateful for these books and the PIGEON volume that came out along the way, I want more.

 I also want more of that splendid vocal instrument that he tuned to perfection when giving a reading. What a dazzling presence he was at the podium: in performing his poems, Roland always achieved star power. Some faulted him for it, and some detractors believed that his readings made the poems seem better than they were. Others, those who would read and listen and read again, discovered that the voice truly revealed what was already there. But it’s a simple matter: Roland wrote to be heard. He knew the roots of poetry are in oral tradition, and he partook of that tradition even as he crafted poems that can speak right off the page. He taught us how to hear.

 And he taught other poets how to read – deliver, if you will – their poems to listeners. Not just by his example, but through workshops and serious individual advice, he helped a great many poets do justice to their writings.

 Roland at times showed a bard’s ego. I think for him it was a healthy pride. But he could revel in the deflation of it, and that’s one thing I loved about him. It’s an old story that many people have heard, because Roland would enjoy telling it on himself. Sometime before his first book, AND MORNING, came out, Roland told me that he had written a poem for David Ignatow. This sounded, though it probably wasn’t, a bit stuffy and a bit name-droppy to me. Feigning an innocence about these literary matters while eager to exercise my wiseguy persona, I asked: does he need one? Well, at this little dig Roland cracked up. He chuckled over it for years, — decades. He offered the story back as a way of complimenting me, though the laugh was on him.

 Show me a man who can laugh at himself and in no way be belittled, and I’ll show you a man of great spirit, self-knowledge, and robust cheer.

 OK. I haven’t listed the awards, the recognitions, the magazine credits, the fellowships, and the whole rigmarole of acclaim. They sit in official bios and will be selectively placed where they need to be referenced. These are not what made Roland an impressive man to me. That he learned enough Bulgarian to translate and recite it is something I admired, but I was touched when he would offer a Hebrew phrase or blessing when he knew I was celebrating the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday.

 One thing that made him impressive – and loved – was this: when he asked how my children were doing, he actually remembered what I had told him last – though months and even years may have intervened. He knew exactly what kind of careers they were pursuing, where they were living, what kind of problems they were contending with – and he hadn’t seen them since they were kids, decades ago. Roland always listened, he always heard, and he always cared. And do you know, he had formed a bond back then that left those children knowing who he was in a way that prepared them to share my sense of great fortune in being his friend, and now to share my loss.

 Hello. Goodbye. Peace. Shalom.


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FWA’s Florida Writers Conference 2012

Florida Writers Association / 2012 Annual Conference
The Magic of the Pen

October 19-21, 2012

Find your agent, meet your publisher, and get the scoop on the industry at FWA’s 11th annual conference, the most comprehensive conference in Florida for writers of all genres. Register early and get a free gift from FWA.

 Click here to register online.  Click here to download a registration form.

NOTE: FWA’s Annual Conference is a member benefit. If you are not an FWA member and would like to attend, we welcome you, but there will be an additional $45 charge. You may elect to pay this charge and not become a member, or, you may join FWA for an annual fee of $45.

Want more information?  Please click here to go to the 2012 FWA Annual Conference page.

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We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

This remarkable blend of personal narrative and uncluttered research explores both the author’s need to enhance and transform her Jewish identity and the capacity of the Lithuanian people to deal productively with the issues raised by Lithuania’s participation in Hitler’s destruction of its Jews. Wishing to immerse herself in the Jewish culture of her ancestors, the author travels to Vilnius for a summer of study. Here, while taking a strenuous course in Yiddish language and literature, she avails herself of every opportunity to learn about the Holocaust in Lithuania, as well as the conditions of Jewish life during the periods of Russian and Soviet rule surrounding the Nazi reign. 

Ellen Cassedy

Revelations by her great-uncle, a member of the Jewish police under Nazi occupation, lead Cassedy to track down those individuals who shared his experience. She also explores the experiences and present attitudes of the non-Jews who had assisted their condemned neighbors and those other Lithuanians who had been bystanders – indifferent or fearful witnesses. How do those people feel, now, about their behavior then? What did they learn from their experiences? What, if anything, did Lithuania learn?

To read the full review, as it appears in the online version of Jewish Book World, click here: We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

See all my JBW reviews at: PKJ in Jewish Book World

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