Book Reviews

Book Review: The Will to Live On by Herman Wouk

The Will to Live On by Herman Wouk is an engaging read. Growing up, I had read This is My God, the first book about Judaism he wrote in 1959. The Will to Live On is the companion volume he published in 2000. Even though it is not a recent publication, the issues he discussed are still relevant today in 2019. Herman Wouk, who passed away at age 103 this year, was a bestselling author of numerous novels, including two that were made into television miniseries, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Similar to his first book, Wouk explains why religion is an integral component of his life. Back in 1959, his first book was well-received despite the prevailing lack of interest in Orthodox Judaism among the Jewish mainstream and the media. The nation of Israel was strong and unafraid of its belligerent neighbors. Wouk expounded on his steadfast traditional observance even though his lifestyle was going against the tide of American Jewish life. By the time he wrote The Will to Live On, Israel had already gone through wars that endangered its very existence and it is now subject to much controversy on the world stage. He shares his thoughts on the public’s renewed interest in traditional Judaism even though only a small percentage of Jews are still observant. Wouk expresses doubts whether Jews would continue on as a people or fade away due to dwindling observance. He concludes his work by stating that he instinctually believes the Jewish people will continue to survive as a distinct people, perhaps in innovative ways.

Wouk had a life most writers would envy. He was able to write full-time, travel the world for background material for his writing, and meet famous people and world leaders. He briefly summarizes the history of the Jewish religion and ends by discussing the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform camps and the views of individual Jews on religion, Israel’s future, and their thoughts on the future of the Jewish people

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, I felt Wouk missed one important component–even in America, the land of the free, many employers require their employees to work on Friday after Shabbat begins and even on Saturday. The Jewish holidays throughout the year, always occurring on different dates due to the Hebrew lunar calendar, make it difficult for those considering a more observant lifestyle to take so many days off of work. Added to that, Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are often located in expensive neighborhoods. To walk to a synagogue and observe with other Jews, a person or family must make a very sizable income. What’s more, the cost of Jewish day schools is soaring and many simply cannot afford the tuition, forcing them to send their children to public schools. I wish Wouk would have addressed these issues rather than just focusing on the allure of the secular lifestyle. These are very real obstacles to living an observant lifestyle. 
Otherwise, a good recap of Jewish history and Jewish life today. 

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Book Review of The List

My father-in-law, Bernard Kursman, passed away on May 17th. Since then, I have been in a daze with all the traveling, the mourning rituals, and returning to regular life. He had been very ill for the past year and my family and I have been under incredible stress. I have recently started back on writing and decided to post a review of a fascinating book I read that takes place in post-Holocaust Britain.

The List was an eye-opening historical novel. It tells the story of Edith and Georg, who escaped the Holocaust and now live in a boardinghouse with other escapees. Edith is pregnant and both she and her husband are desperately waiting for news of survivors in their families. At the same time, Georg, a lawyer, is having trouble securing employment because the British do not want to hire “aliens.” They must contend with discrimination as British citizens debate whether they should deport the refugees back to the countries of their birth so available jobs and housing go to the country’s returning soldiers. At the same time, Jewish people are organizing in Palestine to sabotage British control because they are restricting Jewish immigration in efforts to placate the growing resentment of the Arab population. 
I learned a great deal about the lives of the Holocaust survivors and escapees as well as their uncertain status in post-WWII Britain. The author enables readers to empathize with the pain of refugees desperately trying to locate surviving family members, Georg’s job-seeking frustrations to provide for his wife and their unborn baby, and the pressures Jews and British experience in Palestine.
Author Martin Fletcher’s characters Georg and Edith were based on his own parents and their challenges as they worried about their loved ones while anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first baby. The characters and plot make the story memorable and riveting. In the beginning, the readers don’t see the connection between the characters in Britain and those in Palestine, but Fletcher expertly weaves them together for a compelling conclusion.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues, families with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis.

Idelle is available to write blog content for businesses and organizations. Please contact on this website.

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Book Review: Not of This Fold—A Mystery that also takes a Critical Look at the Mormon Church

A Mormon Mystery

Not of This Fold immediately draws the reader in through the engaging personality of Linda Wallheim, a Mormon bishop’s wife and an amateur sleuth. Since this is the fourth installment of Linda Wallheim mysteries, readers know that she figures out who the murderer is at about the same time as the police. In this book, she has a sleuthing partner, Gwen Ferris. Gwen is also married to a Mormon bishop but is having a spiritual crisis due to the Mormon stance on a variety of issues.

                Gwen and her husband are unable to have children, which is a heartbreaking situation for any couple. But it is compounded because, as Linda describes it, the church tells women “We were told so often that raising children was the most important thing we can do with our lives, that mothering was an eternal role, and even when we were resurrected and living in the celestial kingdom, we’d be silently serving our spirit children, . . . ” (p. 18). Gwen has other issues with Mormonism: the church’s attitude toward immigrants from Hispanic countries, the prohibition of same-sex marriages, and the male domination of church leadership. Gwen has quit her high-paying job and plans to enter the police academy to make a difference, but her complaints are leading to marital strife as she contemplates leaving the church.

                Since Linda is a grandmother and Gwen is in her twenties, Linda looks at her as the daughter she never had and guides her while they investigate who killed Gabriela Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant with three young children. Gwen works in the Spanish ward and had befriended Gabriela, so she wants to see justice done. She and Linda do a lot of traveling and interviewing of potential suspects, which draws the ire of the police, who insist they are interfering with the investigation.  

                I could relate to Linda because she is a real person and not a stereotypical Mormon bishop’s wife with a perfect life. This is her second marriage, one of her five sons left the church and another is gay, and she is also questioning the church’s rulings and practices. The story leads me to believe that Mormon author Mette Ivie Harrison is voicing her own inner conflicts with the church.

                I felt the character Gwen Ferris was too one-dimensional. She kept repeating the same slogans throughout the story: Mormons look down on brown-skinned people, Mormons refuse to give women leadership positions, and the church must change with the times. It becomes obvious she is taking out her own unhappiness and unfulfillment on religion.

                Overall, Not of This Fold is a fast, enjoyable read. It certainly makes the reader think about the Mormon’s traditional positions when society is challenging traditional beliefs. In fact, I think the social issues often put the mystery story itself in the background. I also noted missing words in the text. This I do not blame on the author, but rather it is the proofreader’s responsibility. Other than that, I find this story riveting because it has such a unique twist. But those looking for a mystery that solely concentrates on the whodunnit may not appreciate Harrison’s work.

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Book Review of Walking Prey: Sex Trafficking of America’s Youth

Author Shares Her Child Sex Trafficking Nightmare

After reading so many headlines about child sex trafficking, I decided to read and review Holly Austin Smith’s Walking Prey (2014). The author is an unusually brave sex trafficking survivor who travels across the country relating her experience when she was only 14 years old. Smith cites many statistics, provides reasons for the prevalence of child sex trafficking and gives practical advice on prevention and the rehabilitation of victims.

Smith recounts being an awkward teenager who felt disconnected from her family and alienated from her peers when she ran away with a man named Greg who turned out to be a pimp. She candidly recalls her weeks on the streets of Atlantic City, her rescue, and rehabilitation treatment. The following is a few reasons young girls may be vulnerable to manipulative older men seeking to lure them into prostitution:

  • According to a 2012 Ohio Human Trafficking Commission report, young people involved in sex trafficking in that state experienced neglect (41%), abuse (44%), sex abuse (40%), emotional abuse (37%), and physical abuse (37%).
  • In 2011, an FBI report stated that many gangs use prostitution, including child prostitution, as “a major source of income” by “luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse.” The report estimated that there are 1.4 million gangs in the United States.
  • There are many cases of girls and young women promised well-paying jobs and then smuggled across the Mexico-U.S. border to be trafficked for commercial sex. Smith believes that American teens may also be lured into going to Mexico for this purpose.
  • In our consumer-driven society, children are constantly viewing advertisements sending the message that in order to be popular and accepted, they must obtain certain products. Many cannot afford all these products and those that do purchase them inevitably find they do no fulfill expectations. Compared to the images in the ads, children come up short. They then seek other avenues where they feel desirable and accepted. Pimps are on the look-out for girls who appear lonely and vulnerable and entice them with a lot of attention.

Smith is emphatic that these teenagers should be treated as victims rather than criminals. Pimps lure the ones who suffer from difficult family lives, low self-esteem, and little or no support.  And once these children are rescued, they require a great deal of help so they can enter back into society and live productive and stable lives. The author cites many cases, including her own experience, where survivors are treated like criminals. Some survivors actually end up becoming advocates and help put systems in place to facilitate the rehabilitation process for young survivors.

Surely, society must do better to prevent occurrences of sex trafficking in the first place by providing more support and resources for troubled youth.

Smith concludes that “Too many children and teens across the country, as well as their parents, have never heard about child sex trafficking in the United States, and this must change…Community members in general must be made aware of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children” (pp. 167-168).

I highly recommend Walking Prey to everyone, particularly parents of teenagers. It is an eye-opening experience that they cannot afford to ignore.

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