Categories
Books Reviews

Truly Amazing Adventures

I just finished a book. It’s called The True Adventures of Gidon Lev by Julie Gray, and I want to sing its praises from the rooftops.

The True Adventures is an amazing book, unlike any other that I’ve read. It started out as an account of the full and unusual life of Gidon Lev, but very soon the author slotted into the story, as the two became, as Gray calls their relationship, “Loving Life Buddies.”

Gidon Lev proudly holds the brand new book

The subtitle for the book is: “Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.” It tells you immediately that this read will be poignant and humorous. It might make you wonder: How can you have humour in a book about a Holocaust survivor? My answer, in the typical Jewish habit of answering a question with another question, is: How can you not have humour when the survivor is a person who always has a smile ready to burst out? In every photo I’ve seen of him, every video, that cheeky smile is what I notice first. This is a man who never wanted his Holocaust experiences to define him, and they don’t. He is so much more than that.

I love the way the book is arranged, with Gray’s voice interspersed with quotes from various people and in particular from Gidon himself. In the middle of Gidon’s and Julie’s 2019 tour of Prague, for example, Gidon tells of Prague in 1938. When Gidon disagrees with something Julie wrote, his version pops up, too.

The writing itself includes some gems, like this description of Gidon: “merry, a bit kooky, with great intentions, always headed toward adventure and sometimes tilting toward windmills.” Also: “Memory is a famously mysterious phenomenon; the more we tell our stories, the more details we add, edit, or exclude.” And: “Anybody could relate to stories about relationships or jobs with bad bosses or a fun vacation. But when you experience something very specific, such as war or the suicide of a loved one or cancer, you occupy a different space. A lonelier one.”

Julie and Gidon in Karlovy Vary, 2019

Gidon was adamant from the beginning: the book was to be about his whole life and not just the Holocaust. I agree with him and yet… The Holocaust parts are so important, so poignant, so inescapably, unavoidably present, that they were what made the book for me, and it was right that the topic of the Holocaust kept returning in the narrative. It had to. You can’t go through an experience like that and just move on. It has to influence everything that comes after.

The Israel parts felt closer, perhaps too close, because naturally there were sections I didn’t agree with. I found myself thinking: I’ve lived here for forty-four years; how dare this newcomer say such things! But I took myself to task, because of course she’s had time to create her own views, and living here gives her the right to express them. Still, when I read that the Snake Path leading to the top of Masada is dangerous, I shouted back, “It isn’t! I’ve climbed it and it isn’t!”

The personal parts of the book were interesting as other people’s lives often are. I couldn’t imagine being in some of the knots Gidon found himself in. I marvelled at his ability to disentangle himself, even if not always in the best way.

I learned plenty from the snippets of information dotted around. “The word holocaust,” Gray writes, “was first used to describe the Hamidian (or, in modern terms, Armenian) Massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks from 1894 to 1896.”

I hardly need to add that I heartily recommend this book to everyone.

***

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. In no way did that affect my opinions, voiced above.

More information is available on the website. The photos are taken from there, with permission.

 

Categories
Israel SIM Talks with Miriam Social anxiety

SIM Talk 2: Jo Fenton

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

For the second SIM Talk, I welcome back Jo Fenton to the blog. She brought Tina to Letters From Elsewhere, and also wrote a lovely post for my other blog. I wonder which of the three topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings – she’s going to talk about…

Jo FentonWhen I was 19 I went on a six-week trip to Israel. It was my first visit there and I was very excited. The main purpose of the trip was to work as a youth leader in a summer camp in Ashkelon, under supervision of a Hebrew speaking youth worker.

I went as part of a group, and there was to be time afterwards for touring the country. I had foolishly planned to do the touring with a young man who was the friend of an ex-boyfriend! More to follow on that subject…

I was a shy, nervous nineteen year old. Although I’d had a fantastic time during my first year at Uni, being away with a group of strangers brought all my social anxiety to the fore.

There were some lovely people in the group, particularly amongst the girls, and I did make some friends. I’m not sure if it helped that my closest friend in the group was a recovering anorexic, and the other girls and I spent a lot of our time making sure she ate, and trying to convince her that her view of her body image was distorted. At the time, I didn’t realise how similar I was to her in many ways, having an inaccurate view of myself due to the unkind comments of just a few.

There was a young man amongst the group – an attractive-looking guy with a charming smile and a Scottish accent. I don’t know if he understood how hurtful he was when he commented almost daily on my nervous laugh. Perhaps he was stupid enough to think he was helping me. Not surprisingly the more he commented, the more nervous my laugh became!

ashkelonsunset
Ashkelon (photo by David Drori)

Ashkelon was beautiful. I loved working with the kids, many of whom came from deprived homes; but who were lively, cheeky and resilient. It felt great to be able to do something worthwhile with them. The highlight of each week was the Israeli dancing on the beach, where we would dress up, enjoy ourselves, and socialise. I kept away as much as I could from the young Scotsman. My anxiety always returned ten-fold whenever he was near. I spent several weekends with the girls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and fell in love with the country.

Eventually the time arrived for us to say goodbye to the children, and go off on our more extended travels. My ex’s friend, whom I shall name P to save anyone embarrassment, agreed to do a brief tour taking in Lake Tiberias and Netanya before meeting the girls back in Tel Aviv for the flight home.

P refused to accompany me to Masada and the Dead Sea as he had already been. Without knowing it, he did me a favour, as I’m sure I got much more out of the trip to those fantastic places when I visited with my husband, sons and my mum last year!

From the minute we set off on the bus towards Tiberias, he started moaning: I was cramping his style. The fact we appeared to be travelling together meant that all his potential girlfriends would be put off from approaching him. This complaint continued throughout the three days we spent in each other’s company. He thought nothing of my own feelings, but by then, I was so downtrodden, the idea of me getting a boyfriend seemed a million miles away. One thing I was certain though – he was not on the list!

Overall, the trip did little for my confidence. All the anxiety that had been squashed during my first year as a student, returned in full force thanks to these somewhat insensitive young men. It was not until I met my husband-to-be a few months later, that some confidence returned.

Looking back, I see that I shouldn’t have allowed these individuals to get to me, any more than my anorexic friend should have been affected by the idiots who joked that she was fat. (She was the opposite!) I’m happy to say that I haven’t been criticised for my laugh or my existence since then, and as stated above, I returned to Israel for a most enjoyable and fulfilling trip with my family last year.

Ah, the tribulations of the young! I’m so glad you had a much better experience on your second visit. Thank you, Jo, for that entertaining account, which includes all three topics of the series!

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Her first novel, The Brotherhood, is available from Amazon.

The sequel, The Refuge, will be released this summer by Crooked Cat Books.

Jo can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter.