I’ve chosen two reviews – one for each book – to highlight here. Both are detailed and well-thought-out. Sometimes their authors understand the characters in different ways from me. That’s fine. When interpretations differ, that’s a sign of a book that gives readers plenty to think about.
Neither Here Nor There
This book had such meaning for me- it was, in simple terms, about feeling confined in a lifestyle you no longer agree with: that is no longer right for you. That’s Esty’s story, she doesn’t belong, and feels like an alien- an imposter- so, she decides to leave the haredi lifestyle (the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew) and moves on. Of course, as expected, there are a number of hurdles she has to first get over: her family doesn’t seem very accepting, her community disapproves and then there’s Mark.
She likes Mark and, believes he may be good for her. But, will she fit into his secular lifestyle? She can’t hold his hand without flinching, she finds it wrong whenever they sit too close. But, funnily enough, it can’t be more right. She’s moving on, independently. But will she be able to keep going?
I liked this story, mostly because I could relate: I don’t always feel as though I’m free to take up certain things- because of my religion, though I’d say it was more to do with culture. And I sometimes battle with my thoughts, when I’m rebelling against what my culture’s principles dictate. It is difficult to leave behind, or ignore, your upbringing- it’s your community. Not only do you face isolation, but confusion- you hardly know what goes on behind the other side of the fence. How the other half live, and the author of this book acknowledges that.
I just had a slight issue with the main character, she was making a big life choice and it seemed weird that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into- then again, she was a young nineteen year old. But I felt that seemed to imply she was too naive to know any better. Then there was how she automatically fell for Mark, describing him to have been handsome and the connection between them. It was too fast, and seemed improper, a stark contrast, from her actual attitude towards men- as is revealed later when she is hesitant towards Mark’s touch. Though, aside from this- the book was a delightful, engaging, read.
This book reminded me of a poem I once read titled, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Moniza Alvi. Both this book, and this poem, represent the feelings of disillusionment, confusion of one’s identity and isolation, the idea of being an ‘in-betweener’, neither here nor there.
The Women Friends: Selina
This book is perfect for fans of historical fiction, with LGBTQ characters as well as an honest depiction of the “just before” Hitler claimed Austria during WW2. It’s an important read for those reasons, as well. We can all too easily forget that it did seemingly happen “overnight” because these were emotions and opinions and feelings that had been brewing in the citizens minds well before Hitler came to power, before he stepped foot into Austria. He came to power because people were already agreeing with him about everything, including the final solution.
We start off with Selina Brunner who has decided to move from the countryside to Vienna in hopes of escaping the destitute conditions world war one left much of the European countryside suffering from. She has experienced sexual assault in her past, and this is immediately brought up as one of the reasons why she was so eager to move; she needed to put her past permanently behind her. She struggles with this at first and it is not until she meets Janika, a Jewish muse of Gustav Klimts, that she is able to put action to her feelings and she falls in love with Janika. Their love is not to be, and after Janika marries a man, Selina is forced to meet other people. We see Selina meet a national socialist woman, but while they live together for a time and she does introduce her to her parents, they do not fall in love nor do they stay together.
In the end, Selina makes a choice between staying utterly true to herself and how she identifies, or marrying a Roma man to help him escape.
The entire book, while simple in some areas that begged for deeper character exploration, is one that I would say is important to read, especially right now with the way politics seem to be turning. It is a lie to say that things aren’t already bad; that’s how things like the Shoah happen. Things that were already bad, were purposely ignored until they had no choice but to come to a head in a way so horrible, there are no words to express. The author does a wonderful job of showing that it wasn’t just Hitler that caused the Shoah to happen, but the people as well. And it was also people like Selina Brunner who helped others during this dark time so that it wasn’t their last; while this story is fictitious, the heart of it rings true from page to page.