Book Review

Book Review of Anxious People

Book Review: Anxious People is a Winner

This year has been heartbreaking. I lost both of my parents. Countless other people have lost loved ones. There were many job layoffs and jobs furloughed. Families and friends could not get together, even for Thanksgiving. Reading Anxious People is just what I needed. A bank robber on the verge of losing everything holds people hostage at an apartment viewing the day before the New Year. Readers learn the backstory of most of these characters, including the policemen who rescue them.

Swedish author Fredrik Backman combines insights about life, adding humor and some absurd conversations as he chronicles the hostage drama. The theme is life is a struggle and everyone carries their own pain and anxieties. We often cannot create the life we desire but should instead try to get through as best as we can while hopefully cherishing some good memories along the way. At the heart of the story is the despair we often experience when things do not go our way or we cannot save our loved ones from themselves.

We meet a father and son police officer team working on the case. The father is a widower who misses his wife, attempts to boost his son’s confidence in his police skills, and despairs that he cannot help his drug-addicted daughter. The bank robber recently experiences job loss, is in the process of getting divorced, and cannot pay the rent for an apartment. In addition, the robber’s spouse wants full custody of their children. The hostages have their stories as well.

Many of the keen observations about life come from the police officers reminiscing about their late wife and mother. She was a priest and this is just an example of what she used to tell them:

We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance…We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to convince ourselves that that will just have to…be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning” (p. 203).

The witness interviews consist of absurd conversations between the various hostages and the police officers that I found too annoying to be funny, but the dialogue and background information gave the story depth and insights. Backman builds a fascinating character with Zara, one of the hostages, in detailing her meetings with her psychologist prior to the main action.

The writing is superb, the plot is brilliantly woven, and the story is peppered with sharp observations about life.

I must be frank. This has been an all-out crappy year. But reading Anxious People reminds me we must get through these times and try to be there for each other.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. They are for sale on Amazon and many other places.

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Book Review: The Authenticity Project

The Authenticity Project is the perfect book to read when you are forced to stay at home and need some cheering up. Needless to say, the coronavirus has put a serious damper on all of our lives.

Appearances can be deceiving. You never know what other people are going through. In this story, a random set of strangers find out about each other when they leave behind a book titled The Authenticity Project. As each person finds the book, they connect with those who had previously written about their most agonizing personal issues and add a section about their own. A pervading theme is loneliness. When the characters find each other, their relationships involve helping one another by performing incredible acts of kindness. This story could have fallen into syrupy sweet sentimentality but doesn’t for a moment.  

It begins with an elderly artist who previously had a prominent career but has now been living as a recluse for the last fifteen years. When he leaves the book behind in a cafe, the café owner finds it. The single cafe owner is in her mid-30’s and is desperate to get married and have children. She meets the artist, encouraging him to go out. He even agrees to teach art lessons in her establishment. People attend and not only learn to draw, but end up bonding with one another. The cafe owner then misplaces the book, only to be found by an alcoholic and cocaine-addict seeking to clean up and lead a better life. The book continues traveling with other characters finding it and joining the others. The events and humor keep moving the story forward.

Although I guessed the ending, The Authenticity Project gives one a renewed faith in humanity and brings the reader happy feelings at a time when we don’t have many reasons to feel joyful.

A note: When I read the brief biography about the author, Clare Pooley, I learned she is married with three kids. She worked in the advertising world for twenty years. Just when I thought she had it all, she confessed at the end of the book that she is a recovering alcoholic. It goes to show you. Appearances can be deceiving. You never know what other people are going through.

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Book Review: The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800

For history lovers, The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788-1800 is a must read. Author Jay Winik guides readers through the major events of this pivotal global turning point. The American Revolution’s ideals of freedom and liberty were felt over much of the world. Motivated to strike a blow to England, his country’s enemy, King Louis XVI of France helped finance and support the revolution, sending troops like the famous Lafayette, At the same time, the enlightened Catherine the Great of Russia initially pursued these ideals and embraced the enlightened philosophies of Voltaire as well as prominent Russian reformers like Alexander Radishchev and Nikolay Novikov. Ironically, the revolution also inspired French radicals, who overthrew and then beheaded King Louis, resulting in France embroiled in a bloodbath of violence and anarchy.  As for Catherine, when the progressive ideals of freedom and independence threatened her authoritarian monarchy, she promptly crushed it, imprisoning Radishchev and Novikov in a major turnabout. Both Lafayette and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a statesman and national hero of Poland, fought in the American revolution but failed to achieve similar reforms in their respective countries –Lafayette was forced to flee the violence of France and Kosciuszko’s valiant attempts to free Poland from Russia’s tentacles failed.

Winik’s book is very readable, consisting not simply of dates and names. He relates the story behind the events and examines the lives of the major players. As an example, this book only heightened my respect for America’s first President, George Washington. In a time of reigning kings who ruled for life, Washington made the historic decision to step down after two presidential terms despite Americans’ plea for him to be crowned king. There were great minds at the country’s inception  –Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, and Adams immediately come to mind, but it was George Washington who utilized the best of their ideas and rose above their clashes in ideas and personalities, demonstrating  that this country provided a template for democracy all over the world during a critical time of turbulence and change.

My recommendation: Read, learn, and enjoy.

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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 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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