Review: Yosl Rakover Talks to God by Zvi Kolitz

I stumbled across this tiny book among the shelves of my library and was drawn to it, mainly thanks to the title: Yosl Rakover Talks to God. I had never heard of the story before and the history behind it, but I was in for a wild journey.

Warsaw, 28 April 1943

There are two stories here. One is the now legendary tale of a defiant Jew’s refusal to abandon God, even in the face of the greatest suffering the world has known, a testament of faith that has taken on an unpredictable and fascinating life of its own and has often been thought to be a direct testament from the Holocaust.

The parallel story is that of Zvi Kolitz, the true author, whose connection to Yosl Rakover has been obscured over the fifty years since its original appearance. German journalist Paul Badde tells how a young man came to write this classic response to evil and then was nearly written out of its history.

What struck me almost immediately -and most noticeably- upon starting Yosl Rakover Talks to God was the unnerving honesty behind each sentence. There’s no purple prose or watering down the vocabulary; the author tells of the events as they are, and you feel it reverberating for pages to come. A simple passage made me contemplate as if I had just read a whole story. Take for example the one below:

“Rachel had said nothing to me about her plan to steal out of the ghetto — a crime that carried the death penalty. She went off on her dangerous journey with a friend, another girl of the same age.

In the dark of night she left home and at dawn she was discovered with her little friend outside the gates of the ghetto. The Nazi sentries and dozens of their Polish helpers immediately went in pursuit of the Jewish children who had dared to hunt in the garbage for a lump of bread so as not to die of hunger. People who had experienced this human hunt at first hand could not believe what they were seeing. Even for the ghetto this was new. You might have thought that dangerous escaped criminals were being chased as this terrifying pack ran amok after the two half-starved ten-year-old children. They couldn’t keep up this race for long before one of them, my daughter, having expended the last of her strength, collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. The Nazis drove holes through her skull. The other girl escaped their clutches, but she died two weeks later. She had lost her mind.”

The ending is what gets me every time because these two half-starved ten-year-old children were dying of hunger and are being chased as if they’re “dangerous escaped criminals.” Nothing makes my blood boil more than my hatred for Nazis. Nothing.

This is also why I don’t read the horror genre when you can just take a look at History, or even the news, and have pretty much the same feelings evoked.

But circling back to the story, the language created by Zvi Kolitz was rich in its attention paid to each deserving line, as every word takes part in delivering to the overarching theme.

“I am proud to be a Jew — not despite of the world’s relation to us, but precisely because of it.

I would be ashamed to belong to the peoples who have borne and raised the criminals responsible for the deeds that have been perpetrated against us.”

No author has consumed my world as much as Kolitz’s did with his short story. It’s my mission to get my hands on any of his remaining works. In the meantime, I will be sure to share Yosl Rakover Talks to God with anyone I can because it’s impossible to keep to myself.

Point proven, one last quote I want to share that talks about keeping quiet in the face of evil:

“The world will consume itself in its own evil, it will drown in its own blood.

The murderers have already pronounced judgment on themselves, and they will not escape it. But You, I beg You, pronounce Your guilty verdict, a doubly harsh verdict, on those who witness murder and remain silent!

On those who condemn murder with their lips while they rejoice over it in their hearts.

On those who say in their wicked hearts: Yes, it is true that the tyrant is evil, but he is also doing a job for which we will always be grateful to Him.”

The lengthy afterword offered necessary insight on Zvi Kolitz’s life before and after releasing Yosl Rakover Talks to God, his family history, the Yosl Rakover myth and  Kolitz’s fight to have his authorship be recognized. It was dynamic and all-consuming.

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Review: The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

I decided to give this audiobook – narrated by the author – a chance right after having watched Alain de Botton’s talk, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. I don’t really recall how my mind then led me to associate the aforementioned with Brené Brown’s work, but here we are…

On The Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brown offers an invitation and a promise – that when we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. Here she dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

I still remember the first time I listened to the author’s Ted talk (back in 2014) on the subject of vulnerability because it changed and transformed a lot in me. Brown’s use of humor and wit to educate the listener delivered everything I wanted. And I was ecstatic to then start the audiobook (albeit, three years later) and discover that her comical anecdotes were still on point with plenty of wit and snark to spare. I laughed heartily and merrily throughout the six sessions, which was so wonderful and centering to experience. Pure comedic gems that lead to fascinating discoveries concerning our lives. I went through a roller coaster of emotions that force me to reexamine myself.

So I thought I’d share next a few points from the audiobook that really resonated with me:

  • Self-acceptance and self-love: “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
  • The difference between shame and guilt: the former being a focus on self (I am bad) while the later is focused on behaviour (I did bad). And how crucial it is to pay attention to their differences.
  • Shame resilience and moving through it. Owning your story.
  • The difference between empathy (being the antidote to shame) and sympathy:“Empathy is feeling with, sympathy is feeling for.”
  • Debunking the myths about vulnerability.
  •  Practicing gratitude in the midsts of foreboding joy.
  •  Setting boundaries and learning to say no: “Choose discomfort over resentment.”
  •  Overfunctioning & underfunctioning anxiety.
  • To be vulnerable and let ourselves be seen: “No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them.”

To put it simply, The Power of Vulnerability is all about becoming aware of your emotions and “bring to light processes people aren’t even aware they’re engaged in.” I wish I could make everyone in my close proximity listen to this audiobook as soon as possible. Already I’ve had so many discussions over the past few days about certain notions shared by Dr. Brown that are well worth the spotlight.

And not only did she make this reading experience feel fun and interactive while following her mindfulness, the personal anecdotes about her husband, kids, and friends made me laugh out loud without fail. That’s just a guaranteed way to make me remember a crucial point a long way down the road. Plus, the book never suffered from giving off vague advice, thanks to Brown having the experiences of those she researched and of her own to back-up the statements.

4/5 stars

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Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I had quite high expectations going into The Alchemist, granted that it had been my mom’s favorite read about a decade ago when she picked it up. But upon having reached the last page myself, I was unclear on whether the book had made a positive impression on me or not. The one thing I remember for certain is that the ending had me laughing out loud (more on that later*). Oh, and there were a number of passages that made me either contemplate everything I know or feel like someone could see through my soul.
However, there were also a lot of moments were I completely zoned out while listening to the narrator. So I don’t know what to take out of this book.

Having this as my second Coelho read, I knew more or less what to expect: a quick read with beautiful quotes that I would think about for a number of weeks. Also, the author’s prologues are always exceptional in stealing my thoughts and time:

“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”

Greek mythology combined with wit guarantees my interest secured in the palm of your hand.

The Alchemist follows a young Andalusian shepherd in his journey to Egypt, after having a recurring dream of finding treasure there. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

My love for this book is a quiet kind of love. The writing changed something inside me that I don’t have words for yet. So I’ll let Paulo Coelho’s quotes speak instead:

“You came so that you could learn about your dreams,” said the old woman. “And dreams are the language of God. When he speaks in our language, I can interpret what he has said. But if he speaks in the language of the soul, it is only you who can understand.”

I was instantly won over when dreams were mentioned in here.

“People say strange things, the boy thought. Sometimes it’s better to be with the sheep, who don’t say anything. And better still to be alone with one’s books. They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them.”

I found this to be so fascinating that I ended up reciting it back to my mother.

“The boy knew what he was about to describe, though: the mysterious chain that links one thing to another, the same chain that had caused him to become a shepherd, that had caused his recurring dream, that had brought him to a city near Africa, to find a king, and to be robbed in order to meet a crystal merchant, and . . .
The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being, thought the boy.”

“The closer he got to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became. It seemed as if what the old king had called “beginner’s luck” were no longer functioning.
In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty, nor impatient. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.”

“Don’t be impatient,” he repeated to himself. “It’s like the camel driver said: ‘Eat when it’s time to eat. And move along when it’s time to move along.’”

“If good things are coming, they will be a pleasant surprise,” said the seer. “If bad things are, and you know in advance, you will suffer greatly before they even occur.”

This kind of reminded me that quote from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
“My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”

“When people consult me, it’s not that I’m reading the future; I am guessing at the future. The future belongs to God, and it is only he who reveals it, under extraordinary circumstances. How do I guess at the future? Based on the omens of the present. The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”

“Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”


One last thing I want to point out is that I wasn’t expecting this book to be so philosophical…and I wasn’t anticipating to like it so much for that. I’m truly excited to see what I’ll think of my next Coelho book.

*That ending…. I genuinely laughed out loud when Santiago realized where his treasure was buried. And I kind of applaud the author for interweaving the intricate details of this tale in such a seamless way.

I also listened to this song while reading thanks to the latest and most beautiful episode of This Is Us:

The “And I will remember you” from the song has me on the edge of tears every time.

3.5/5 stars

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