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Tag : book

The Lilith Blog

August 5, 2020 by

Nostalgia for the 1939 World’s Fair

Neither Maxine Roth nor Vivi Holden wanted to be sent to World’s Fair in the spring of 1939; Max was angling for a journalism internship at the New York Times and Vivi was excited by a starring role—her first—in the Hollywood film Every Last Sunset. But both young women do end up at the fair.  What they learn—about themselves, the nature of friendship and indeed life—are the basis for the novel We Came Here to Shine (St. Martin’s, $16.99). Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough chats with author Susie Orman Schnall about her entertaining new summer read—think of it as a perfect respite from the horror of the daily news.   (more…)

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The Lilith Blog

July 31, 2020 by

Is Rape a Crime? A Conversation with Michelle Bowdler

Is Rape a Crime: A Memoir, an Investigation and a Manifesto (Flatiron, $27.99) ought to come with a warning: parts of this book are so harrowing that I frequently had to put it down for a spell before picking it up again, avid to continue. Long after the fact, author Michelle Bowdler returns to the home invasion and brutal rape she suffered as a young woman.  As one might expect, the attack both branded and shaped her.  When she was finally ready to explore the subject in print, she was able to go deep into her own experience but also wide, to place it within a historical and cultural context.  Bowdler talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what this literary exploration has meant for her—and what she hopes it will mean to others. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 16, 2020 by

“Better Things:” Your Jewish and Frankly Feminist Review

Better Things reached season 4 and protagonist Sam’s kids are still assholes: the formerly angelic Duke a little bit more, the always caustic Frankie a little bit less, and we barely see lovely wild child Max anymore. Time, in the world of this funny, melancholic, and moving show about raising three daughters as a divorced single mom in LA, is progressing. And Sam – played by director and creator Pamela Adlon, herself, like Sam, a single divorced mother with a Jewish father – is moving on too.  This season is all about movement: in the water that forms the backdrop to every episode in one way or another; in the lingering camera shots that dwell on paintings, or facial expressions, in an expected black and white silent movies; and in the interviews of women that dwell lovingly and joyfully and painfully on their words as if to insist that these words matter. 

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The Lilith Blog

July 14, 2020 by

Stitching for Survival: the Story of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel

Some artists work with a brush; others with a pen, and still others with their voices, bodies, or a musical instrument. Trudie Strobel’s instrument is a slender needle, and she wields it with fierce and incredible power. Lilith first learned of Trudie Strobel’s recovery of her Holocaust past when she told Rabbi Susan Schnur of recreating the treasured doll the Nazis had torn away from her when she was a small child. When Jody Savin encountered Strobel’s work, she knew she had to tell her story (Stitched & Sewn: The Life-Saving Art of Holocaust Survivor Trudie Strobel, Prospect Park Books, $35).  Savin talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about the delicate process of excavating Strobel’s harrowing past and how her art was a way of coming to terms with it.

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The Lilith Blog

May 31, 2020 by

Three Characters, Three Storylines, and Three Time Periods

The Book Of V (Henry Holt, $27.99) is nothing if not ambitious—three main characters, three storylines and three wildly divergent time periods—and yet novelist Anna Solomon manages to weave all three together with an effortlessness that belies the profound nature of her fictional probing. She talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about why Esther and Vashti continue to be subjects of endless speculation and fascination, and what their stories can teach us today.  

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The Lilith Blog

May 30, 2020 by

A Debut Novel About Family

When La La Fine is eight, her mother disappears, and her father, Zev, starts taking her with him to work. Unfortunately, Zev’s work is part-time locksmith, part-time burglar. Fifteen years later, when Zev gets arrested, La La quits veterinary school to raise money for his legal defense the only way she knows how—robbing houses. What constitutes a good mother? A good father? A good daughter? A normal life? These are questions posed by R.L. Maizes in her compelling debut novel Other People’s Pets (Celadon Book, $26.99).

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The Lilith Blog

May 20, 2020 by

Embracing “Quasi-Motherhood” With Humor and Empathy

Dani Alpert is one funny lady, and like many comics, she uses her life as a prime source for her material.  After falling for a divorced dad of two, she struggles to find a way to embrace the offspring she claims never to have wanted.  Fast forward to the break-up with said boyfriend, which comes with an unseen punch—by this time, she loves the kids and wants to keep them in her life. 

Alpert talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about her new memoir, The Girlfriend Mom, in which she gives us the skinny on how she does just that—and what she learns along the way. 

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The Lilith Blog

April 25, 2020 by

Beyond the Ghetto Gates: The Liberation of Jews in Italy

In the late 18 century, French troops invaded the Italian port city of Ancona, liberating the Jews from the ghetto where they’d been forced to live. This new freedom had consequences both cultural and personal. Novelist Michelle Cameron’s Beyond the Ghetto Gates (She Writes Press, $16.95) is set in this bracing moment and she talks to Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about why she chose this particular time and what she hopes her readers will learn from it. 

Yona Zeldis McDonough: You selected an atypical chapter in Jewish history on which to focus; what drew you to it? 

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April 20, 2020 by

Writing Outside the Frame

What was it like to be a politically engaged young Jewish woman in 1930s Germany?
In her ambitious historical novel, The Girl with the Leica (Europa, $18), Italian novelist Helena Janeczek explores in fiction the life of Gerda Taro, a real-life photographer and an anti-Fascist activist who died at the age of 27 while covering the Spanish Civil War. Janeczek creates a complex portrait of Taro and her friends—a group of German and East European Jews who came of age in the years leading up to World War II.

At the center of the novel is Taro (born Greta Pohorylle) whose specter haunts the three friends and lovers narrating her life. While still a teenager Taro was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in Leipzig. Defying convention, she had several love affairs and worked as a typist. By the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Taro had become an accomplished
photographer. Along with her partner André Friedmann, known as Robert Capa, she documented the war with an unflinching eye, supplying the world with jarring images of modern warfare.

And yet after her death Taro was remembered only as Capa’s partner, her work largely forgotten. The first exhibition of her photographs was organized in 2007, 70 years after her death. The novel opens with a captivating prologue featuring photographs of Spanish militiamen in moments of leisure. In the first two, a man and a woman smile flirtatiously at one another, a rifle propped in the man’s arm and his military cap. Capa and Taro, we are told, saw something of themselves in this couple when they photographed them.

These photographs can serve as a metaphor to Janeczek’s indirect approach to her subject. Instead of following the prologue with a more intimate portrait of Taro, the novel takes the reader to Buffalo, New York, several decades after the war. Buffalo is home to Dr. Willy Chardack, who’d been known in Gerda’s set as the Dachshund. Though Willy was briefly Gerda’s lover, his love for her was mostly unrequited. Now a respected researcher and family man, Chardack remembers Gerda as a fearless activist and a consummate “modern” woman, possessing “unreal, cinematic elegance”— but, surprisingly, not a photographer.

The next chapter, told from the perspective of Gerda’s friend Ruth Cerf, paints a fuller portrait of the protagonist. Here Gerda is still a glamorous socialite, but Ruth sees the ambition underneath that exterior. Remembering Gerda’s remark about a new job at the Photo Alliance, Ruth reflects: “[T]hat small woman who attracts every gaze, that incarnation of elegance, femininity, coquetterie, and no one would ever suspect that she reasons, feels, and acts like a man.”

Not long after, with Friedmann’s support, Gerda takes up photography in earnest. The recent invention of the first portable camera, the Leica, allows photographers to capture events as they happen. The young couple excels in this new type of photography, which is as thrilling as it is remunerative.

Shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War the couple decides to change their names. Friedmann becomes Capa and Pohorylle becomes Taro. In Janeczek’s reimagining, the idea is entirely Gerda’s. It’s obvious that the names mask the couple’s Jewishness; but, thinking like a publicist, Gerda also chooses names that sound American and are reminiscent of contemporary celebrities.

In the ensuing dialogue the characters reflect on identity, but say little about the
Jewish identity that they leave behind. Despite being one generation away from
the shtetl, Gerda apparently doesn’t view Jewishness as central to her identity. Like
her comrade and lover Georg Kuritzkes, Gerda resists Fascism not, primarily,
because of its consequences for the Jews, but out of a universalist socialist ethos.
Such ideals captivate Gerda much more than her parents’ religion.

In the last chapter, which gives us Georg’s view, Gerda’s portrait coheres. Troubled by Gerda’s wartime photography, both Georg and Ruth try to imagine their friend on the battlefield. “I don’t understand what she felt. Hardly any fear, O.K. And then?” Ruth asks years later. And Georg reflects that “The war … changed Gerda, just as it changed everyone, civilians and, much more, the men at the front. And why shouldn’t a woman who went to the front almost every day resemble a soldier?” For Ruth, Gerda’s work represents political commitment and an ability to remain “ein Mensch.” Georg, on the other hand, affirms that Gerda “had become a photojournalist,” determined to document “the things that needed to be shown.”

While I wish that Janeczek had focused more on the historical aspects of Gerda’s life—her Jewish identity, her proto-feminism—this portrayal of reminds us that before the concentration camps forced a monolithic, tragic fate on millions of Jews, Europe’s Jews forged identities apart from ethnicity or religion, just as many do today.

Polina Kroik is the author of Cultural Production and the Politics of Women’s Work. She teaches at Baruch College, CUNY.

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April 20, 2020 by

A Journey of Mourning, and Exploration

All My Mother’s Lovers (Dutton, $27), the debut novel from Ilana Masad comes with a disclaimer in the dedication: “To Ima/Andi, who is not the mother in this book,” as well as a dedication to her father, in Hebrew.

The book opens with Maggie, having sex with her girlfriend, getting the call that her mother  Iris has died.

After Iris dies, Maggie returns to her parents’ house, where her brother still lives. Cleaning out her mother’s documents, she finds five sealed envelopes, addressed to men Maggie has never heard of. In her will, Iris directs that the letters be sent out in the event of her untimely death. Maggie decides to deliver the envelopes herself.

Maggie feels Iris never really understood her or approved of her sexuality, and had a very specific picture of who her mother was: dedicated to work and family, straitlaced, faithful. But during shiva, Maggie finds out that Iris was previously married to a man who abused her; only part of what Maggie doesn’t know about her mother.

Delivering the letters and talking with the men receiving them, Maggie begins
to get a bigger, more layered picture of Iris. What appears, shockingly, as a series
of extramarital affairs and relationships slowly unfolds into a more nuanced explanation of Iris and her choices. “Maggie can half recognize her, but not fully.”

How often do children, even grown children, really know their parents? This is a book that takes an unflinching look at sexuality and its role in our lives: how it builds bridges, burns them, and changes how others view us and how we relate to others. For some, it even changes the trajectory of their lives.

Jaime Herndon is a writer and editor, and is working on an essay collection.

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