Review: The Sisters Weiss

The Sisters Weiss

by Naomi Ragen

Copyright 2013.

 

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s, sisters Rose and Pearl grow up in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family in New York City. Together, they learn the Jewish culture and religion: the strict regimen of preparing and eating kosher food, the prayers and other rituals. Rose, the older of the two, takes care of Pearl, and they develop a bond.

As a child, Rose takes an interest in photography when she wins a camera as a prize for depositing a certain amount of money in a bank account. The camera is cheap, and she gives up, thinking she can never take pictures like the ones she sees in books. When she’s in high school, the father of one of her friends, who is not an orthodox Jew, loans her a book of photographs, some of them of naked women. When her parents find out, she is proclaimed a sinner and sent to live with her grandmother in another part of the city and attend a more stringent Jewish high school.

That doesn’t stop her from pursuing photography. Realizing that she can lie to her grandmother about her whereabouts, she starts taking a photography class at a local arts institute. Her parents eventually find out, and she is forced to move back home, and preparations are made to marry her off as soon as possible.

At seventeen, Rose doesn’t want to be like her mother, caring for a husband and children and having no time for her own ambition. However, she tries to abide by her parents’ wishes until she discovers that in order to marry a boy her parents have chosen, she must give up photography. The night before her wedding, she leaves her family home, never to return.

Forty years later, Rose is a successful photographer with several published books and various awards for her work. She has traveled all over the world, married twice, and had two children. When her niece, Pearl’s daughter, shows up on her doorstep, also fleeing an arranged marriage, Rose is forced to confront her past and compelled to re-connect with her family.

This was one of those books I couldn’t put down. I was fascinated and horrified to learn of the Jews’ dietary restrictions and the list of things a person couldn’t do on the Sabbath. I was amazed to discover that even in 2007, there were still orthodox Jews who led sheltered lives, providing girls with just enough education to allow them to be good and pious wives and mothers. I found the glossary of Yiddish terms interesting and helpful, although I understood most of them within the book’s context. I was disappointed in the ending, though. Without giving it away, let me just say I wish it could have been different.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

What I Read in June

Chasing Utopia: a Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni. Published by William Morrow, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Copyright 2013.

 

This is a collection of the author’s poems and essays. Utopia, in this case, is actually a type of beer, and in the title piece, she talks about her search for this rare, expensive beverage. Other topics include black culture, hip hop music, family memories, poetry, and living alone. Although most of her essays were interesting, I was bored by a lot of her poems. They were just what I needed to put me to sleep on a Friday night in a strange motel room while attending a writers’ conference.

 

Where Aspens Quake by Tory Cates. Published 1983 by Simon & Schuster.

After photographer Christin Jonsson receives a negative review of her exhibit at an Albuquerque gallery, she quits her mindless job as a graphic designer, dumps her apathetic boyfriend, and flees to New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains where she is hired as a cross-country ski instructor at High Country Lodge. She falls for the establishment’s owner, Grayson Lowerey, but he turns away. His developmentally disabled daughter and past relationship with his ex-wife have created a barrier that Christin must help him overcome before the story can reach that happily ever after ending.

This book brought back memories of photography and skiing. My younger brother Andy dabbled in photography as a kid. Reading scenes where Christin is developing photos of mountain scenery in a rented dark room in Taos, I was reminded of the times I watched Andy develop pictures in an upstairs bathroom converted to a dark room. I also thought back to my two attempts at downhill and cross-country skiing during which I landed flat on my back and gave up. If I had an instructor like Christin, I might have succeeded. I liked the way she took the time to ensure each student’s success by starting them out on a level plain and then gradually increasing the route’s difficulty. In any case, during hot summer months, this book will refresh you.

 

Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien. Copyright 2013.

 

Author Edna O’Brien talks about her life growing up in the Irish countryside before and during World War II and her life in Dublin where she apprenticed at a pharmacy and became involved in the theater and literary scene. She also describes how she married another writer against her family’s wishes, gave birth to two sons, and moved to London where she did most of her writing. She discusses the objections of Irish people to her novels and her husband’s resentment of her success as a writer and how that eventually led to a messy divorce. She then describes meeting such celebrities as Paul McCartney and Marlin Brando and other aspects of her writing life including how she wrote plays for stage and screen. That was about as far as I got before deciding not to finish the book.

Although I enjoyed Edna O’Brien’s reading of this book on a Hachette Audio recording, after her divorce, her experiences seem to become more and more bazaar. She describes a party during which a man offered to use an electric drill to bore a hole in her forehead and a session with a pseudo psychotherapist during which she and the man took LSD. After that, I decided enough was enough.

 

Wake the Dawn by Lorraine Snelling. Copyright 2013.

 

In the woods near the small town of Pineview, Minnesota, on the Canadian border, Ben, a patrol officer, finds an abandoned baby girl and takes her to a clinic run by Esther, a physician’s assistant. They work together to save the life of the baby and others in the wake of two severe storms that hit the town almost simultaneously, resulting in downed trees and power lines and damaged houses. Ben has turned to alcohol to help him cope with the death of his wife in a car accident. Esther suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a hit and run. Eventually, the two of them help each other divest themselves of their emotional baggage and achieve that happily ever after romantic ending.

Once I started this book, it was hard to put down. I was not in danger of falling asleep while listening to this one, another Hachette Audio recording. Although it wasn’t read by the author, the narrator did an excellent job, even using a Minnesota accent with some of the characters’ voices.

However, this book contains some religious overtones I could have done without. The themes of forgiveness and trusting in God aren’t introduced until the middle of the story by the time you’ve gotten into it and absolutely must know how it ends. Had I know this, I might not have read the book. Otherwise, it’s a good story.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author,

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