My Appreciation For the Name Noah in Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok

“If he tells you stories, will you tell them to me?”

Full disclosure: I love the name Noah.

I like saying it, I like hearing it, and I like seeing it written on the page. The first story in Old Men at Midnight was like a love letter for the name Noah for the amount it was featured from page to page. I picked this book up at the library, upon turning around to face the library shelf it was on and randomly reaching out because I was familiar with the author’s name and wanted to read his words for the longest time, only to flip to the first page and have the very first word jump out at me: Noah.

All following details were a bonus, like the fact that he’s a sixteen-year-old survivor all on his own, living with his aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, under the tutelage of eighteen-year-old, Davita.

Old Men at Midnight is a trilogy of related novellas about a woman whose life touches three very different men—stories that encompass some of the profoundest themes of the twentieth century.

Ilana Davita Dinn is the listener to whom three men relate their lives.

Old Men at Midnight varies stylistically from what I usually reach for in my books, featuring writing style with minimal dialogue. But I was willing to take the plunge for Noah Stremin.

“Noah is the only one who survived.”
“The only one in his family? I am sorry.”
“ The only Jew in the town.”
I felt cold to the bone.
“Four thousand Jews, and he is the only survivor. My husband and I, we say to ourselves God saved him for a reason.”

I felt instant compassion and connection to Noah. His story captures so much of the loss survivors never regain. “You have pictures. I have nothing.”

I realized about halfway through the story that though I was here for Noah, his character would only be present for “The Ark Builder,” and I had two more men to get through. And following someone betraying his people to serve in the KGB in “The War Doctor,” or reading vulgar descriptions of women in “The Trope Teacher” didn’t seem ideal. Like this:

“Close up, a woman small and dainty in stature, jeans tight, without the revealing curve of panties, he couldn’t help noticing; sandals and thin ankles and bare toes; he felt the beat and drum of his blood.”

I’m perplexed as to why he seems to think this adds anything valuable to the book… And unfortunately this isn’t the worst to come:

“She must have sensed his approach, for she straightened and turned. He noticed immediately the bony shoulders and small, firm breasts and the nipples beneath the blue jersey. She was not wearing a brassiere.”

This only made me think back to this post:

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I got what I wanted from my Noah story, and it’s best to leave it at that. I’m still on a mission to find as many books with characters named Noah (so far my list includes: TRC by Maggie Stiefvater, the Mara Dyer Series, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Turtles All the Way Down). If by chance you have any additional recommendations please let me know in the comments below.

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Review: Fly Already by Etgar Keret

My first fully completed Etgar Keret collection read in Hebrew, courtesy of the lovely librarian at my local library! (Previously read in English: The Seven Good Years, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, & The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God.) Fly Already contains twenty-two character-driven short stories, circling different introspections on our thoughts through daily-life observations and reflection.

I took quite the journey for this latest Etgar Keret book to land in my hands, but here I am after having had quite a blast reading through the pages. The writer’s clever awareness of his surroundings hooked me in from the start. It’s present, in particular, with stories such as, “GooDeed” (which challenges economic privileges), “Pineapple Crush” (which shows the subtle importance of human connection and an ode to beautiful sunsets), “Pitriyah” (which breaks the fourth wall by voicing exactly my thoughts upon reading certain reveals) & “Don’t Do It!” (which brings a man’s journey full circle).

Everything was flowing all nice and dainty, until I came across the story “Tabula Rasa,” that pretty much made all the author’s hard work go down the drain, for me…

The book stooped so low so to manipulate the reader into emotionally identifying with a character presented as “A” and his situation of being locked up in an institution, when all he wants is to escape with his friend, Nadia. It all comes down to this: only to settle for the hurried reveal that “A” was bred and cloned to give a Holocaust survivor a sliver of peace by avenging his family murdered by Hitler’s Nazis. “A” then, of course, stands for Adolf Hitler, who in the meantime has been given a uniform and facial trim to match… Truly, what a cheap, distasteful joke to make of a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of millions. The writer makes a complete joke out of the survivor (what even was the look of making him practically beg “A” to be fearful of meeting his end) by sending the message that trying to chase after Hitler to avenge your family perished in the Holocaust is not worth it; move on, already. The audacity it takes to reverberate this mockery to thousands of readers worldwide makes me want to shout, which is why I’m writing this review.

“The world needed to be reminded that monsters were still at large.”  x

I still can’t wrap my head around this ridicule. How can someone write such an intensely sensitive piece of writing just a few pages ago, only to now write about Hitler through manipulatively hidden clues to make us actually feel sorry for him in the end? This warped mindset, especially from a Jew whose parents are survivors, gave me heebie-jeebies.

It’s textbook Stockholm syndrome that makes victims want to grow close into the confines of the enemy as a defense mechanism, so that in another lifetime they won’t be abolished: Keret’s ending came across as “if I show Hitler (imah shmo) in an emphatic light then surely he wouldn’t have hunted down and annihilated my nation.” It’s the same syndrome that led another Israeli-Jew to recklessly exhibit Hitler’s paintings at Haifa’s gallery ‘Pyramida’, which is funded by the Ministry of Education, aka making tax-paying Israeli-Jews (which, incidentally, homes more or less 200,000 Holocaust survivors) pay for showing the devil’s work.

The way these syndrome victims move on is to befriend the enemy and forgo all moral values in the process, and it’s a powerful statement to the horrors of Stockholm syndrome. If you find something (a painting, a book, a statue) more important than human morality, it’s a sign that you’re taking a part in this virus; when brilliancy trumps harmfulness to society, you’re in danger.

Another point that hit me repeatedly throughout the collection was the author’s quite obvious need to appeal to the masses and acquire more international readers by presenting numerous stories set in the West to make it easier for his translators to adapt. I’m pretty sure that the only readers that care to repeatedly venture into his work are either Jews, Israelis, or both… so I personally would’ve appreciated stories that remained close to his roots since those are where he shines best.

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Rant Review: Risk! by Kevin Allison (Editor)

Oh man, I really was not expecting to be in the position of writing this bitter review, but, alas, here we are…

It’s funny, really, because I went into Risk! the MOST excited after having read the very first story and received such a positive feeling throughout my reading, which is exactly what made me request a copy from the publisher, who kindly provided one. With Great Beauty by A. J. Jacobs is a story set on finding an online match for his babysitter who “happens to be crazy hot.” The author talks to guys he meets online through her profile, which grants him an insider’s look into what it means to be a beautiful woman, living vicariously through her: “because with great beauty comes great responsibility.”

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An incredible start to the collection; it set the mood for what’s to come, in my mind. And yet I continued reading only to discover how utterly mistaken I was. The introducing story is the peak of happiness that this collection hits.

I was expecting this to be in the vein of The Moth Presents All These Wonders by Catherine Burns, where we have a mix between the happy and sad, tragic and wistful. But this is just non-stop tragedy thrown your way, and I felt misled.

The consecutive stories that follow in Risk! all settle for the same damn shock-factor: death. It all comes across quite jarring since nearly every essay settles for announcing these out-of-nowhere deaths and suicides and killings. There’s no build-up preparing the reader; it’s like those jump-scares in horror movies that are only there to shake you up and don’t add depth to the story.

Also, some trigger warnings before certain pivotal stories would’ve been much appreciated. I settled for checking out the Q&A at the end of each essay to get a clue for what’s ahead. There are deeply unsettling stories featured in here that at times made me feel physically revolted, enough to lower my need to reach for this book. It’s sad that these jarring stories came to overshadow those that are full of fragile, wide open, lingering truths.

Taking away filters may be fun for the teller, but I don’t want anyone else to be hurt.

Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst of it all. The worst of it all I can grant to Nimisha Ladva’s An American Family. Oh damn, my heart beats furiously just thinking about where to start with this one.

This story has a) no redeeming quality whatsoever b) literally raised my wrath without even trying, while I read it in the morning, which c) pissed me off for the rest of the day.

And it all comes down to this moment on her wedding day with David, who’s Jewish:

She leans in, puts her hand tenderly over David’s head, and gives him his gift. That is when I see it for the first time.
My mother has painted a swastika on it.

This, instead of being addressed, is then excused as being a part of their culture way before “the evil bad Nazis took it”. UMMM… 

How can the mother be this desensitized to not realize the scope of the person in front of her? Never thought I’d need to write this down, but take a minute before pulling out the swastika and consider the connotations of whether or not it’s appropriate in front of a person who’s clearly not Hindu.

And David, if there’s ever been a clearer sign for a Jew to make a RUN for it (on his wedding day, no less), this is it. But the man wasn’t even fazed. Moral of the story: American culture has him so brainwashed he doesn’t even blink at the sight of a swastika from his own in-laws. I am terrified that my own people are forgetting history this rapidly. Stop depleting your roots, PLEASE.

I feel like the quote from Yosl Rakover Talks to God, on the world moving on all too quickly by not holding Nazis and their silent accomplices accountable, seems all too fitting in here:

“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.”

After, it was pretty much impossible for Risk! to have any redeeming points. That’s not to say that I didn’t try multiple times to move on. But you know, when you have such a favorable first impression of a book, you subconsciously hold on a little longer hoping for that spark to reappear… But it never did with this one.

This is where the subtitle, “True Stories People Never Thought They’d Dare to Share,” paints a clear picture for why it’s best to keep some things to ourselves.

Expected publication: July 17th, 2018

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