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June 20, 2003 - Image 77

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-06-20

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frontation, surprising twists, a
breathtaking ending.
The Tattooed Girl is a quick read, a
manageable 307 pages, but Oates, like
Philip Roth, is too gifted to merely tell
a story.
The erudite Seigl offers philosophy.
We reflect on comments such as
Primo Levi's "So long as we are
human, we must ask."
Oates is noted for her architecturally
structured work. The Tattooed Girl
reflects this craftsmanship. The first
chapter is four sentences. A single one-
word sentence speaks volumes:
This gifted writer enthralls.
— Edith Broida


By Dani Shapiro
(Knopf; 288 pp.; $23)

fter reading
the first few
pages of Dani
Shapiro's newest
book, Family
History, you know
something terrible
and life-changing
has happened to
Rachel Jensen and
her family.
What you don't know is that you
soon will be reading far into the
night, willing to give up sleep in
order to find out what has happened
and how it all turns out.
The story is told in flashbacks, and
the narrative flows smoothly between
past and present as the reader is drawn
into the lives of this once-idyllic fami-
ly that is now on the edge of disinte-
The Jensens' own family history
begins when Rachel, a Jewish girl
from New York who aspires to a
career in art restoration, falls in love
with Ned Jensen, an idealistic artist
whose parents are successful "WASP-
y" New England real estate develop-
ers, selling "McMansions" to wealthy
young professionals in country club
subdivisions with street names like
"Arthur Way" and "Edward Drive."
Despite their differences, and the
disapproval of Rachel's critical and
overbearing mother, Rachel and Ned
are happy, even though Ned has yet
to make it big in the New York art
world, and Rachel's career has not
taken off as rapidly as she had hoped.
They take pride and pleasure in
their daughter, Kate, and in their ordi-
nary yet contented domestic life, until


the day Kate returns from summer
camp, sullen and uncommunicative,
with orange-yellow hair, a tattoo and a
navel ring.
Rachel tries to ignore her growing
feelings of unease until Kate, in a
moment of anger and fear, sets into
motion a series of events that escalate
like a raging wildfire. And, even after
the flames are reduced to smoldering
ashes, the damage is far-reaching and
seemingly beyond repair.
Shapiro writes insightfully about
how easy it is to take life for granted,
until it begins to dissolve before our
eyes: "I had no idea my life was easy.
We didn't have enough money, or
space, or hours in the day. The boiler
had a leak; the dog needed a bath.
Little things got the better of me.
Now, all that seems absurd."
She speaks to every parent's deepest
fears: that we can try our best to be
good parents and protect our children,
and things can still go terribly wrong.
When the story ends, what finally








and his new wife, Tsila, Miriam gradu-
ally learns that nearly everyone in this
insular world knows more about her
and her family's history than she.
aught up in the
Stepmother Tsila, considered "sour"
swirl of history
by the town, actually is a talented
that led to the
businesswoman — a dressmaker —
1905 Russian
and the strength of her family.
Revolution is Miriam,
Unsentimental about life, the educa-
a sensitive young
tion Tsila gives Miriam includes how
woman languishing in
to stand up to the yentas (gossips).
a Siberian prison for
Times of change are on the way,
murder. Miriam writes to the daugh-
however, throwing off religious tradi-
ter who was taken from her at birth,
tions and social distinctions, making
and will never know her, in Nancy
revolutionaries out of daughters and
Richler's encompassing second novel,
sons no longer willing to conform.
Your Mouth Is Lovely.
Girls opposed to their father's choice
Lonely Miriam, rejected by her sui-
of husband simply run away. Couples
cidal mother and abandoned by her
live together unmarried in bigger
father, lives in a small Jewish village in
cities. Young people create secret
Belarus as an outcast. It is during the
"study groups" to plan political-actions
last years of Imperial Russia, when
or make bombs in their haste to hurry
Jews were confined to a territory called along a new society.
the Pale of Settlement. Richter vividly
When Miriam gets to move beyond
re-creates the complexity of what
the confines of her shtetl to Kiev, she is
would seem to be a simple, homoge-
exhilarated with her freedom. Then
events and transitory people conspire
to take it away.
Miriam, never especially political,
finds herself making pickups and
deliveries of guns, dynamite and other
munitions, caught up in the pulse of
the revolution.
Later, in the harshness of her Siberian
exile, Miriam yet dreams sweetly of a girl
ice skating in a lovely blue coat, and feels
comforted knowing that Hayya is safe
and loved. The promise embedded in this
child of the third generation makes all the
misery that's passed before endurable for
Miriam — and for us, who have come to
care very much for her.
This is a richly detailed, engrossing
book with memorable, and sometimes
very funny, characters.
Richter draws us into a lost world
we should miss only in nostalgia.

The reality was quite unkind.
— Esther Allweiss Tschirhart

By Nancy Richter
(Ecco Press; 368 pp.; $25.95)








emerges is a poignant illustration of
strength and survival in the face of
unimaginable circumstances, and of
the bond of love between parent and
child that transcends everything else
that has ever mattered.
The first I thing I did after finish-
ing Family History was to go out in
search of another book by Shapiro. I
devoured Slow Motion, her autobio-
graphical novel, with equal vora-
ciousness. I can't think of higher
praise for a book or its author.
— Ronelle Grier

neotisworld, where Jews for genera-
tions have worked hard, kept their tra-
ditions and remained grindingly poor.
But in Miriam's town, the people
thrive on superstition; for example,
women eat a particular kind of reed to
encourage pregnancy. And gossip,
though religiously forbidden, is the
favorite form of entertainment.
As time goes by, Miriam is alarmed
to find herself without any secrets in
her narrow world. Nearly 7 when she
leaves the midwife's crowded house-
hold to rejoin her father Aaron Lev

By Lauren Weisberger
(Doubleday; 360 pp.; $21.95)

unite. The ulti-
mate beach
book has arrived. The
Devil Wears Prada is as
shallow as the shores
of Cass Lake. And if
the names Manolo
Blahnik or Jimmy
Choo aren't familiar,
stop reading now because this roman a
clef just won't be your cup of latte.






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