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December 02, 1994 - Image 169

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-12-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Ceresnie & Offen

I

wo new works from Har-
vest Books recount in pas-
sionate, almost dreamy,
lyrical prose the story of
Jewish life in Eastern Europe be-
fore the Holocaust.
Garden, Ashes by Serbian
author Danilo Kis recounts the
life of Andi Scham and his desti-
tute Jewish family who are al-
ways seeking refuge.
Told through a child's eyes,
Garden, Ashes focuses on Andi's
father, Eduard, describing him
as a Don Quixote-like figure and
drunk who "refused to acknowl-
edge the distance between earth
and heaven." Eventually, he van-
ishes during the Holocaust.
Mr. Kis also is the author of
A Tomb for Boris Davidovich and
The Encyclopedia of the Dead.
In Jewels and Ashes, Arnold
Zable returns to his parents' east-
ern European home, visiting the
cemeteries and the torn-down vil-
lages, recalling the haunting, lost
lives of generations past.
Among Mr. Zable's stops is Bi-
alystok, where he is troubled to
find that synagogues once filled
with people are now empty mu-
seums, mere curiosities.
Mr. Zable is a native of Aus-
tralia and the author of two chil-
dren's books.

H

e loved keys, called his wife
"my little popsy wopsy"
and enjoyed posing naked.
Harry Houdini was born
in 1874 and became the greatest
magician in the world. His life is
the subject of a new biography,
The Life and Many Deaths of
Harry Houdini (Random House)
by Ruth Brandon.
Ms. Brandon, who says she re-
gards biography "as a framework

within which to look at cultural
history," writes of Houdini's mys-
terious feats, but also considers
why he so desperately wanted to
escape. She writes of his con-
suming love of his mother ("If
God ever permitted an angel to
walk the earth in human form,"
he said, "it was my mother!") and
of his obsession with death.
He knew exactly what his grave
— or its tombstone — would be
like, because he was busy having
it made. The plot at the Mach-
pelah Cemetery which now hous-
es the bones of his mother, father
and brother Herman was in-
tended for the whole family, but
— literally above all —himself...
In 1916 it was reported that a
sculptor had been toiling for a
year to produce "last resting
places for Houdini's father and
mother...It has taken over two
years of constant work to con-
struct and place the Exedra (a
granite wall) in position and there
is yet six months to a year's work
ahead to complete it. The Exedra
weighs more than 50,000 pounds
and 1,000 tons of Berry Vermont
granite were used in the setting
and building..."
Houdini took a good deal of
pleasure in controlling the dispo-
sitions of this final home in New
York in which he so vividly pic-
tured himself He ruthlessly dic-
tated who was and who was not
to be buried there. Leopold and
Sadie (relatives with whom the
family was no longer friendly),
the guilty couple, were out. The
rest of his brothers and sister
would be welcome, but none of
their husbands, wives or off-
spring. The only exception was
made for (Houdini's wife) Bess. ❑

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