Book Review Friday – Daughters of Iraq

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Daughters of Iraq coverRevital Shiri-Horowitz’s Daughters of Iraq gives a glimpse into a world that I’ve never explored or even considered. Once the veil parted, the visions held on the other side  bathed me in their golden halo of reminiscences.

I know enough about the history of the Middle East, including both Iraq and Israel, to know that its historical story overflows with  themes of war. Daughters of Iraq leaves the wars alone for the most part except for Eddie, who fights a losing battle for Jews living in the Muslim Iraq.

Jews in Iraq almost sounds like an oxymoron, but through Ms. ShiriHorowitz’s telling of the story through generations, I learned that the Jewish culture in Iraq was rich and colorful, and most of the Jews forced to leave did not want to go. The many who fled to Israel remembered their lives in Iraq as magical and rich. Even though safe from persecution, Israel didn’t provide the same culture as they one they left.

Once the family entered Israel, they were separated into different kibbutz’s and instead of living next door to one another or even in the same house, the family unit was fractured and splintered. When Eddie and his grandmother finally leave Iraq to find the rest of the family, they must save for years in order to find an apartment where they can all live. It’s a world away from their lives in Iraq.

Ms. Shiri-Horowitz tells the story through the narration of two generations. The two sisters, who grew up in Iraq with a mother very much the head of the household and very concerned with social standing, tell their story through reminiscing by an aging and alone Farida and through the journal of Violet, who writes her memories down for her children, as she lies dying of cancer. As Noa reads her mother’s journal six years after Violet’s death, and she listens to Aunt Farida tell her story of life in Iraq. Through the delving into a past Noa has never experienced, she finally recognizes life-changing truths about her family.

The descriptions in this book transported me to that time and place in Iraq before the Jews became unwelcome residents. Ms. Shiri-Horowitz gives the reader a true taste of the culture’s smells, tastes, and textures as shown in this passage from Violet’s diary:

In 1940s Iraq, society was organized in a tribal fashion. We lived in a kind of communal house in the desert by the wide Chidekel River. An abundance of palm trees grew on its banks, and we cooled ourselves in its waters during hot summer days. Baghdad, evoked in the songs of Leila Maurad, whose silky voice and forlorn lyrics we loved. Baghdad, where the entire city slept on rooftops during summer. On those hot, enchanted nights, we watched movies in open-air movie theaters. From the rooftops, we looked at the moonlit sky, at the distant, innumerable stars blazing above. On the roof, you could dream about the secret, uncharted worlds.

I recommend this book if you enjoy learning about a different culture, if you enjoy reading descriptive literature, and if you enjoy discovering how a family finally discovers the true meaning of home. You won’t be disappointed with The Daughters of Iraq.

For more on Revital Shiri-Horowitz, visit my interview with her for Author Wednesday.

 

Book Review Friday – The Luck of the Weissensteiners (Book 1 of The Three Nations Trilogy)

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I interviewed Christoph Fischer in June on Author Wednesday. Today I review his novel The Luck of the Weissensteiners.542568_135806279903679_1569303214_n

 

History of the twentieth century was one of my major areas of study in college. However, the history I studied presented an ethnocentric view of World War II. Of course, I know about Hitler’s rise to power, and the major steps he took in Europe prior to our entry into the war. I understood the political and social ramifications. I understood the uneasy alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan. But I only knew of these histories from the perspective of the first, isolationist United States, and then, as the full-speed ahead entry into the war heroes who saved the world from the evil Axis powers.

Reading Christoph Fischer’s The Luck of the Weissensteiners presented another view of that period through the camera lens of people living in Eastern Europe. The book shows people from all the different perspectives before, during, and after the war. It’s an eye-opening read to learn that the United States wasn’t the center of this war. In the lives of these ordinary folks, the United States played an almost peripheral role.

The Luck of the Weissensteiners exposes how the Eastern Europeans reacted with a wide range of attitudes and actions as the war tore apart families and friends and allowed no trust to exist in all the varied relationships. There may have been a world war taking place on the larger stage, but for the characters in Fischer’s novel, it is a civil war being fought, and the lines are blurred and often changing, depending on who’s in charge.

Jews and Gentiles fall in love and marry, which creates a problem when Hitler’s master plan begins to take effect, even in countries where he’s not invaded. . .yet. The propaganda used to smear the very genes of Jews causes one husband to question the moral integrity of his wife. He buys the line of inherently weak genes so much he even takes their son away – a son who is Aryan in looks, leaving behind his Jewish wife and their unborn child. The atmosphere of fear changes people, oftentimes not for the better.

Through it, all one family stands strong.

This book’s retelling of the history of this period in Europe is personalized through the characters that represent a cross section of the lives impacted by the atrocities of war. Jews, Gentiles, Germans, Slovakians, lesbians, and traitors all point to one direction. War never makes much sense when the individual lives of its victims are examined. Neither side wins when people are persecuted for their religion, political beliefs, nationality, or sexual orientations.

It’s a sad commentary on the human condition when a people are forced to hide their identities behind forged passports, and then forced to throw away the forgeries to appease the winning side. When it comes down to it in the aftermath of the war and the liberation of Europe, all individuals are suspect, and mankind is taken down a notch.

Christoph Fischer has written an important book for its historical perspective. He personified the vagaries of war through the fictional characters. At times, it reads like a history book, but before it bogs down into a lesson in civics, he comes back to the individuals experiencing the actual effects of the persecution.

As always, we study and examine the past so we don’t forget it. As long as genocide exists in the world, we must do as Fischer has done in his novel – remind us, and remind us again, that our faith, our color, our language, and our life choices should matter not a wit. In the end, it’s our integrity and how we treat others that matters the most.

Thank you, Christoph, for writing this important book to remind us never to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Author Wednesday – Revital Horowitz

typewriter

Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today, Revital Horowitz stops by for an interview. I first about Revital from Christoph Fischer when he reviewed Daughters of Iraq and its author Revital Horowitz on his blog. Daughters of Iraq is historical fiction based on Revital’s family’s story. Daughters of Iraq cover

Welcome to Author Wednesday, Revital. It took me quite awhile before I recognized my “voice” as an author so it always interests me to discover how other writers “hear” their voice. When did you first discover your voice as a writer?

As soon as I sat down to write my first novel Daughters of Iraq, I discovered that I had a voice, and that my voice needed to be heard. When I first started writing, I had a vision, and I had a mission to complete. I knew that my family history should be told, and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided that the best way to reach the most people I could reach, and tell this story, should be through a historical fiction book. I thought I learned best through stories, and now that I even think about it more, I realize that stories from generations to generations keep history alive even before the invention of paper.

I saw my voice as the voice of so many silent voices that are forgotten. I thought that telling the story of the Jews of Iraq would put those people on papers of history, and without it, they will forever be lost. I admit it was and still is a heavy weight on my (not so wide) shoulders. I wrote the story, and I give lectures all over the world to whomever invites me, and I tell their story, and I revive some Jewish history past that is hidden, and not so well known as the European Jewish history part. But, there were Jews all over the world, including in Arab countries. You will not find many of them today in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya and other places. If you are interested in learning why, you will find some answers in my book.

It is a noble pursuit and one worth pursuing. Even though you had this vision, when were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”

It took a very long time for me to realize that I am actually an author, and this title really describes who I am. Besides  being a mom, a wife, a daughter etc., it was the first time in my life to really appreciate what I have done with my life for myself. I am very proud and happy to carry the other titles too, but this one is was totally mine and for myself, and I love so much what I am doing. I love writing, and I love passing my ideas and thoughts to others. I see that as one of the best gifts I’ve ever received in my life.

It’s wonderful you were able to heed the call. Not only do you give a voice to a voiceless people, you also gave yourself a voice as an individual. How did you come up with the title of Daughters of Iraq?

Daughters of Iraq was written as an honor to life and women who are forgotten. I wanted to expose their story to the public, and was able to do so through the book I have written. It is a story of three women and two generations, and for me, being an immigrant myself (I moved to the United States from Israel), I was able to go deep into emotions and even places I have never been (Iraq), and yet be able to describe the lively Jewish life more than 150,000 people have experienced. Being an immigrant is a very unique experience that so many people go through, and yet it’s so hard to pass the feelings of not being understood, or not being able to describe feelings and places to other people who have not experienced it. It is very different then visiting a place, and it is more of bringing your traditions and country with you.  This is how those women felt when they immigrated to Israel, and so many times it was hard to close on gaps between generations, when parents were raised in different places than their kids.

I can only imagine how difficult that must be, but through books such as yours, we can attempt to understand the experiences of others. What is unique to your book? What do you think people who buy your book find in it? Why do they like it?

I think there are a few unique things in the book. First, it takes the readers back to Iraq of the mid-twentieth century. It also takes the readers back to historic events in Iraq and in the newly established country of Israel. The book bounces between places and time, and I really like reading those kind of books, and know by now that many readers like it, too.

Are you working on something new?

Yes, I am. I am actually on the final steps of my second novel Hope to See You Soon. It is a story of two women who are best friends. One lives in Israel and the other in Seattle. The book explores what time has done to their life and friendship. Each one of them was  jealous of the other for many years. One is jealous for not traveling and staying in one place, and the other one is jealous for that same reason, but from the other side: She wished she would have stayed in one place. It is interesting to see that after all, everyone has their own destiny and needs to be happy with their own lives.

That is so true. It’s taken many years to realize that grass is never greener somewhere else. I’m sure this book will be a very interesting exploration of that discovery. I’m so happy you stopped by for a visit today, Revital. Congratulations on the success of Daughters of Iraq and finding a way to express the experiences of those who are no longer able to tell their stories.

revital_img1About Revital Shiri-Horowitz:  Revital Shiri-Horowitz is an experienced teacher and presenter to Jewish communities and audiences. Using her own life story and excerpts of her novel, Revital Shiri-Horowitz generates a warm and uplifting experience for the listener. Her overall mission is to connect her audiences to their roots so that they can be closer to themselves.

Revital Shiri-Horowitz was born and raised in Israel. As a kid, she wrote poetry and short stories. She’s been writing in her journal almost every day since she was nine years old, and up to the time she met her husband, but never imagined that one day she would become a published author in more than one language, and in so many countries, and even continents.

Revital went on to earn a BA in Hebrew Literature and Geography from Tel Aviv University, an MA in Geography from Haifa University, and an MA in Hebrew Literature from Tel Aviv University.

She was an assistant professor of geography in Haifa and Tel Aviv Universities, and has been an editor for Hebrew-language books.

Based in Seattle, Washington, and in Israel, Revital is the mother of four boys, married to Amnon for twenty years, writes poetry, runs a blog in “Haaretz,” an Israeli newspaper, and is working on a second novel.

Links:

Amazon Author Central

Daughters of Iraq purchase link (Amazon)

Website: Revital-sh.com