Book Reviews

Book Review: Marking 75 Years of the Liberation of Paris, a Review of Mistress of the Ritz

August 25 of this year marked 75 years of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. In honor of this historic event, I am posting a review of the novel Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin. The story is based on the real lives of Blanche and Claude Auzello, an American woman and her French husband. Together they managed the Ritz, Paris’ world-famous hotel. They hosted many notable people of the time, including Earnest Hemingway, Coco Channel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They were living the good life until the Nazis took over the city. Then the Auzello’s were forced to follow their orders and make them comfortable while fearing for their lives if they did not comply. However, in secret, they helped the Resistance at every opportunity. Below is my review:

Mistress of the Ritz was an engrossing book based on the lives of the Frenchman Claude Auzello and his American wife, Blanche. Claude ran the famous Paris hotel, the Ritz, during World War II. The Ritz was the last name in luxury, and famous people frequently stayed there. Author Melanie Benjamin captures the opulence of the hotel amidst the horrors of the war. Claude and Blanche had a difficult marriage-Claude was unfaithful and they kept secrets from each other as they struggled to survive the war years and waited for the Allies to liberate the country from Nazi occupation.

The writing is extraordinary and the reader cannot help but get lost in this story of the Nazis taking over the hotel, the Resistance’s covert operations to undermine them, and Blanche and Claude’s efforts to deal with each other as well as the German invasion. Benjamin portrays the darkness and hardship of the occupation vividly. The reader cannot help but be terrified for the Jewish families who disappear in the middle of the night. With the exception of the collaborators, the French hate the Nazis but must be subservient to them if they want to stay alive. 
Toward the end of the story, the author reveals the biggest secret of all, but I figured it out because Benjamin alluded to it often enough. The ending was shocking and leaves readers with many questions.  Recommended.

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Book Review: Dreyer’s English

I was an unusual kid in school – I loved English grammar. I still remember diagramming sentences to demonstrate my understanding of the different parts of speech. Reading Dreyer’s English brought me back to the days of my high school English classes.

Of course, reading an entire book about straight grammar, style, and punctuation would be dry and boring, even for me. But this book is anything but. Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, gives entertaining and often humorous explanations and comments while writing about proper English usage and style. Dryer writes about words and rules in which people often make mistakes. Some examples include similarly-spelled words like aid and aide, which titles need quotation marks and which require italics, and the frequent mistake of using two words when one is sufficient (For example, the term “free gift” is a redundancy). Dreyer uses famous people, books, TV shows, and songs as examples. Together with his wit, Dreyer’s English a pleasure. While I was reading, I started wishing I became a copy editor myself because he made the rules so fascinating – I would love to work with words on an everyday basis. My only complaint is the footnote symbols are so tiny that I often missed them, so by the time I got to the bottom of the page, I didn’t know which section each footnote was referring to. Overall, it is a handy reference book for everyone.

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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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