Monthly Archives: February 2020

Disease, exhaustion, and starvation threaten family in wartime Burma

No Long Goodbyes, by Pauline Hayton. PH Publishing. 311 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

If ever a book gave inspiring testimony to courage, the spirit of adventure, and basic human kindness, Pauline Hayton’s new historical novel is such a book. Her story follows a group of people caught up in the nightmare consequences of Japan’s invasion of Burma, at this time a British colony, in 1942.

This little-known but horrific slice of WWII reveals how armed nationalistic endeavor can conspire with natural forces and hazardous terrain to push those caught in such a maelstrom to – and beyond – their limits.

Pauline Hayton

Ms. Hayton’s story, however, is not rooted in wartime alliances, strategies, or rationales, but in how people, unexpectedly trapped by circumstances beyond control, can find strength, resilience, and an angelic sense of purpose in helping one another. Though it is necessary for them to band together, there is something spiritual going on in their commitment to sacrifice for the common good.

This book, then, is a love story on many levels. It explores broken, repaired, and redesigned families. It shows how people of different backgrounds, races, and cultures can become attached to one another through the strength of their common humanity. It demonstrates that a family does not have to be a bonded by blood. It assures us that second chances can be realized and that the pains of loss and feared loss can be overcome.

The central figure is Kate Cavanagh, a British woman in her late twenties recovering from the death of her late husband who committed suicide after murdering their child – in part because the child was not biologically his.

Deciding to restart her life in Burma, Kate does well socially. She encounters and falls in love with Jack Bellamy, a recent widower with two small children. Jack is the head of a tea plantation. The two marry, but soon find themselves attempting to flee the Japanese forces, the natural forces of endless rain and cold, the scarcity of nourishment and clean water, the extremely dangerous mountain ranges, the threat of hungry wildlife, and the omnipresent risk of deadly disease.

The destination for safety is India, and the newly formed family, along with their Indian nursemaid, could never have imagined what lay ahead. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 27, 2020 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach editions of Florida Weekly, the March 4 Fort Myers and March 5 Charlotte County editions, click here: No Long Goodbyes

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“Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947,” by Norman Lebrecht

Scribner. 464 pages. Hardcover $30.00.

A brief taste of an amazing book!

Nor­man Lebrecht’s study is filled with ener­gy, irony, and new angles of vision. He makes a pow­er­ful point that most of the fig­ures fea­tured in this book made their con­tri­bu­tions in what was essen­tial­ly an anti­se­mit­ic world. While the par­tic­u­lars of such con­di­tions run through the book’s six­teen chap­ters, more engag­ing is the author’s blend of diverse per­son­al­i­ties with var­ied rela­tion­ships to Jew­ish iden­ti­ty: reli­gion, cul­ture, law, and peoplehood.

Although most of the chap­ters detail impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions by Jews to the ben­e­fit of mankind with­in the stretch of this hun­dred-year peri­od, many chap­ters focus on sig­nif­i­cant changes par­tic­u­lar to Jew­ish cul­ture and iden­ti­ty. His­tor­i­cal writ­ings con­tin­ue to applaud the accom­plish­ments of Ein­stein, Kaf­ka, Marx, Freud, and oth­ers of world-chang­ing stature, but it is inside the inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that the con­tri­bu­tions of giants such as Theodor Her­zl and Solomon Schechter are celebrated.

Norman Lebrecht – photo credit Abigail Lebrecht

Lebrecht enjoys devel­op­ing his explo­rations through com­par­isons and con­trasts. The Her­zl-Schechter chap­ter titled ​1890: Two Beards on a Train” is one pow­er­ful exam­ple. It ends with the intro­duc­tion of a third shaper of Jew­ish des­tiny, a foil to Schechter’s role in birthing the Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment; this part­ner is Men­achem Mendel Schneer­son, who invig­o­rat­ed and mas­ter­mind­ed Chabad Lubavitch. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council web site, click here:  Genius & Anxiety

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Superb thriller explores the lasting effects of trauma

The Stranger Inside, by Lisa Unger. Park Row Books. 384 pages. Hardcover $26.99.

Ms. Unger had done it again. She’s taken her readers to places that no one should have to enter, and she’s made it extremely difficult for them to escape from the spell cast by her soaring skill and fright-filled imagination.

A major question that the book explores is to what degree trauma can shape, perhaps misshape, identity and functionality. The premise involves three friends knocking on the door of their teen years who are engaged by a demonic lost soul (himself a trauma victim) who had been following one of them around. The central character is Rain Winter (who has other names). Her friends are Tess and Hank – who is also her admirer and rescuer.

Tess loses her life in the madman’s attack. Rain and Hank survive, the trauma having reshaped their lives in somewhat different ways. Each must deal with “the stranger within,” a haunted, stunted self that cannot quite be covered over by the more normal self – the self that has built a constructive life but is never completely free.

The abductor-murderer, considered a victim himself, served jail time for his crimes. But he, like several other madmen whose crimes had reached the media, had met a violent death. It seems like vigilante justice is getting these perverts off the streets. Are serial vigilante killers the good guys or just more bad guys?

Lisa Unger

When readers meet Rain, she is on hiatus from her work as a journalist to take care of her young daughter. But the news about possible vigilante justice keeps pulling her back to the memories imbedded in and surrounded by her traumatic experience. She needs to tell that story.

Rain is literally haunted by Hank, whose demons seem more out of control and who has a neediness that only Rain seems likely to understand and alleviate. Though he has established himself as a therapist and does important work, especially with children, he has not yet been able to fully heal himself.

Ms. Unger’s art is amazing in how she handles the special community of the three schoolmates who were attacked so long ago. Chapters begin with the voice or thought stream of one of the three. Readers cannot always be sure which one it is until the scene’s momentum develops. Each seems to need a psychic rendezvous with the others. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 12, 2020 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 13 Naples, Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, Charlotte County, and Venice editions, click here:  The Stranger Inside

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