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The Chocolate Lady's Book Reviews

Davida Chazan's Blog for mostly book reviews and literary musings (and maybe some chocolate).

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Goodbye, Columbus
Philip Roth
The Only Woman in the Room
Marie Benedict

Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly This novel is very nicely written, with interesting characters. In particular, the protagonist Caroline is beautifully formed, with a life that is fascinating for those who know little about how Americans tried to help those who became unwitting refugees in the US after Hitler invaded their homelands. However, we must remember that Holocaust novels are a dime a dozen. This is why I was hoping that this novel would be different, particularly since the blurb for this book talks about Christine and her helping two survivors of the women's camp Ravensbruck. Unfortunately, the detailed information about the two other women in this story, and their introduction to Ravensbruck was, in my opinion, too much back-story. Although retelling the grim and gory ways that the Nazis treated their prisoners is a necessary evil, I somehow felt that this book included these scenes only to evoke pity for these characters. I don't want to pity characters, I want to have empathy for them, to care about them, and the author let me down with this.

In addition - and I hope this doesn't sound racist or snobbish - as a Jew, I have a hard time with Holocaust novels that seem to outwardly ignore how the Nazis treated the Jews, and only focuses on the other "undesirables." I realize that the Nazis didn't only kill Jews, but they were their primary target, and to avoid that altogether was disingenuous, to say the least. However, I was glad that this book didn't focus on any overtly Christian themes, even though I believe that there is a market for Holocaust stories within the Christian Fiction genre (see my review of the novel The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron here http://drchazan.blogspot.com/2014/07/beauty-out-of-ugliness.html for more on my feelings about this).

Furthermore, the only Jewish reference I found in this novel was a passing reference to visiting the Ghetto and a remembrance of eating a Hanukkah delicacy. Unfortunately, the author didn't do her research properly, and the character said she remembered eating a type of doughnut that the Jewish bakers made for the holiday. Those doughnuts - known as "sufganiot" were never part of any Eastern European Hanukkah celebration at that time. In fact, sufganiot that are popular among Jews today, come from the Jews of North Africa and Arab countries. The word, sufganiot, comes from the Arabic and Hebrew words that mean sponge. While Jews in Poland did make something similar, their popularity as a particularly Hanukkah delicacy among Easter European Jews only coincided after Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews came together in Israel (i.e., post-1948). All of this is why I cannot give this book a rating of more than two and a half stars out of five, but I'm certain that it will find a much more sympathetic audience among non-Jewish readers.