Monthly Archives: May 2018

“You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and in Between,” by Daniela Lamas

 Little, Brown and Co. 256 pages. Hardcover $27.00

The physician-author’s tremendous writing skill elevates this winning work.

Most people have close friends or relatives who’ve faced important medical decisions. Too many people have had to do so alone; others have been part of a group. The good news is that choices are available. The better news is that they include options that are likely to prolong a life threatened by a serious condition.

The nine essays in this valuable book are not clinical studies. Though they deal in sufficient detail with the science of the individual health crises that needed to be met, the principal focus is on the human cost of pursuing a promising solution and the unforeseen trade-offs of successful surgery or other treatments — “successful” often being subjective.

A fine medical journalist as well as an experienced physician, author Daniela Lamas exploits these two skillsets admirably. The common denominator is her talent as an interviewer. This, as well as her curiosity and her commitment to healing, has allowed Lamas to enter the harrowing emotional journeys of her patient-subjects. They have trusted her with their stories as well as a portion of their care.

Lamas is their voice in an era of amazing strides in medical technology that seems to promise a utopian future. She offers good news wrapped in true-life cautionary tales.

These stories involve patients whose stays in acute-care facilities often lasted months. Staying alive meant leaving a normal life: being tied to machines that helped them breathe, aided circulation, or helped flush their blood of impurities.

The subjects often needed ever-changing regimens of drugs, some with terrible side effects and unintended consequences. Others forced themselves into physical therapy routines that consumed their waking hours, leaving little time for other endeavors or pleasures.

Lamas transmits her keen awareness of the extent to which medical professionals are both in and out of touch with their patients:

“For my colleagues and me, the time in hospital when we intersect with patients…is generally all we know of their trajectories. Perhaps we see them if they get sick enough to return to the unit and if that readmission coincides with our time on service. But we rarely have an opportunity to follow them out through long-term acute care hospitals, infections, delirium, readmissions, and maybe, if they are lucky, back home to a life that looks something like what they left.”

Because she has approached these patients as an empathetic journalist, Lamas has had some degree of intimacy with their hopes and fears, their courage and exhaustion. She has come to know the family members who will have their lives changed by the condition of their loved one. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: You Can Stop Humming Now

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A haunting serial killer novel with spirited pacing and surprising twists

The Bricklayer of Albany Park, by Terry John Malik. Blank Slate Press. 342 pages. Trade paperback $16.99.

A psychological thriller with a strong dose procedural detail, Mr. Malik’s debut novel is the surprisingly solid achievement of a man who had never before attempted fiction writing. Its success is largely dependent on an impressive amount of well-integrated research, a masterful understanding of Chicago, and an equally keen grasp of extreme mental illness. The author provides plenty of surprises for his readers, as well as a torrent of suspense. 

Most of the novel is presented through two alternating perspectives. One narrative voice is that of Detective Francis (Frank) Vincenti, a once-aimless young man who has become a stellar investigator for the Chicago Police Department. In this way he was unlike his childhood friend, Tony Protettore, who was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of joining the police thoughts.

Readers learn of Frank’s odd friendship with and training by ex-cop Thomas Aquinas Foster, his CPD partnership with Sean Kelly, and his disastrous marriage to Beth – an aspiring lawyer.

Malik

The other narrator is simply known, through much of the novel, as Anthony. A serial killer who hunts down, punishes, and eradicates child molesters, Anthony is a meticulous planner (though sometimes his plans go wrong). Mr. Malik provides the gory details of Anthony’s crimes and stresses the killer’s interest in being celebrated for his work in cleansing Chicago of those who exploit children. Anthony stages his murders and the places where the mutilated corpses will be discovered. He thrives on publicity, and he bates the police officers, who efforts to protect children are insufficient. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 9, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Bricklayer

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“Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World,” by Avi Jorisch

Gefen Publishing House. 284 pages. Hardcover  $27.00

Innovation, suggests author Avi Jorisch, is the sacred calling of modern Israel. But while many have written about Israel’s grand success in developing problem-solving technologies, this is the first study to focus primarily on Israeli innovations that extend, improve, and save lives. Presenting uplifting profiles of fifteen innovations, all framed as contributing to Israel’s success at being “a light unto the nations,” Jorisch argues that the Israeli commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world, is a characteristic written in Judaism’s spiritual DNA. 

The innovations Jorisch describes are modern miracles—miracles resulting from the genius and dogged determination of exceptional, and frequently colorful individuals. The biographical profiles of these individuals are half the fun of the book. The creation of their inventions, often in the face of enormous obstacles, is the other half.

Avi Jorisch

 

 

 

Many of the innovators, Jorisch recounts, received nothing but scorn for their unconventional ideas. Others endured multiple failures before their world-changing concepts were transformed into successful businesses that solved monumental problems—not just for Israel, but for all who would learn how to take advantage of their breakthroughs.

Jorisch details the story of the Hatzalah ambucycle organization that sharply reduced the time between accidents and the arrival of first responders. This is a wonderful story of the interaction between informed, trained volunteerism and established professional expertise. It is also a story of cooperation between Arabs, Jews, and Christians. The influence of United Hatzalah on other nations has been enormous. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here: Thou Shalt Innovate

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Melting pot Boston in mid-twentieth century explored from Jewish perspective

Review by Philip K. Jason

My Mother’s Son, by David Hirshberg. Fig Tree Books. 368 pages. Hardcover  $23.95.

This is one beautiful book. It portrays a pivotal period in U. S. history flavored by the scrambling lives of European immigrants, their acculturated children, and their more fully Americanized grandchildren. Its action springs from family and historical events of 1952-1953, though it manages to cover decades both before and after. The narrator, not yet thirteen as the story begins, is looking back from near the twentieth century’s end. His name is Joel. At one point he is told that he wasn’t named for anyone in particular, but for the Jews as a whole.

The shadow of the Holocaust haunts Joel’s family, and for very good reasons that are made clear in the stretches of family history and family memory that run through the book. The Korean War is threatening to become the next world war.  The polio epidemic is on everyone’s mind. On the local level, Boston’s beloved Braves, a baseball team with which so many identify, may be preparing to relocate to Milwaukee. The seeds are being planted in Boston for the future presidency of a still very young and inexperienced Massachusetts politician – a man whose Catholic identity inspires the immigrant population and points to the character of the city.  

There are signs that the keyholders of political and other kinds of power may be changing. Representing this change is Joel’s powerful grandfather – a man whose business, ostensibly furniture, interfaces with various criminal activities. Even Joel and his brother Steven are involved.

Aside from marvelously recreating the time and place action, Hirshberg does a fine job of balancing the understanding and sensibilities of the young Joel against the much older and wiser version of himself that is telling the story. The story itself grows out of the bits and pieces of the past – and the application of the past to current events – that have been the bread and butter of the radio show that has been Joel’s occupation and occupational therapy for almost fifty years, drawing a large audience.

Devices that deepen the novel with additional key perspectives include most notably entries in his Aunt Rose’s diary. Rose is the most enigmatic character in the novel. Her attempts to come to terms with the Holocaust, with her years of travel as a circus performer, her transit to the United States, and her relationship to her husband Jacob– whose long preparation for death is a chilling strand of this complex, vividly detailed, yet  richly satisfying novel.

Conversations between family kingpin “Papa” Mischal (Rose’s father) and his lieutenants Murph Feldman and Moses O’Neil (whose names are symbols of the immigrant melting pot) explore the motives behind the shady dealings out of which Boston’s family, community, and political lives are constructed. It’s payback time for repressed or humiliated minorities.

Hirshberg

And these underhanded enterprises are presented in colorful prose vignettes that suggest a kind of innocence to the era while admitting to its harsh edges.

Although the early 1950s period is the core of the book and the fulcrum of Joel’s meticulously painted coming-of-age self-portrait, Hirshberg understands the need for readers to discover the steps that lead to the grandfatherly Joel whose voice has dazzled his listeners for so many decades. He allows us summary glances at Joel’s high school and college years, his military service, and his lifelong situation of needing to wrestle with important and transformational secrets about identity and the many faces of love.

It may seem curious that Hirshberg, after concluding his narrative, adds a glossary of foreign language terms – the list reinforcing the polyglot nature of Boston at the middle of the twentieth century. This spray of German, Hebrew, Irish, Italian, and Yiddish – plus a dash of Latin – suggests how the various ethnic groups interacted with one another, and in an unexpected manner, it enriches the cultural broth.

The glossary is also a reminder, if one is needed, that this is a very Jewish book – Jewish in the American way of successive generations being influenced by and reshaping a vanishing but not quite extinguished past. It is a world of Hebrew School lessons, Yiddish phrases being maintained and even penetrating the dominant non-Jewish community, and ethnic foods and – of course – memories. There are stories hidden until they must be revealed. There are other stories repeated and reshaped, perhaps with no expiration date.

I have not addressed the title of the book because to do so carries the likelihood of giving away something important too soon. I say this, dear reader, to entice you to this beautifully prepared feast of wisdom and discovery.

This essay appears in the May 2018 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Greater Naples), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee).

 

 

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