Every Sunday, precisely when the clock strikes 4 p.m., I am one of many who fall victim to the Sunday scaries. This past Sunday, my Hail Mary attempt to fend off the scaries was to indulge myself in some premature spring cleaning. One thing led to another, and next thing I knew I was eight chapters deep into one of my favorite books. A wildly out-of-character move on my part, if I do say so myself. But new year, new me.
The book I desperately found myself lost in is called “Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust.” With so many of us having questioned or even lost faith in humanity over the course of the past year, I was looking for examples of human goodness. “Izzy’s Fire” is the story of how 13 members from five Jewish families struggled to defy the odds of the Holocaust and survive with the help of a small, poor Catholic family. Although not a survivor herself, the author, Nancy Wright Beasley, vividly depicts this heart-wrenching story in an engaging and compassionate light. Beginning with their escape from the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania and ending with their new life in Richmond, Virginia, this book walks you through every step of the unimaginable. It’ll break your heart and renew your faith in humanity all at the same time.
At the age of about 10, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia, with my aunt for the first time. Within minutes of walking into the museum, I went from being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to heavy-hearted and hopeless. I’m not sure what I expected, but I most certainly didn’t expect to meet, let alone talk face-to-face with, a Holocaust survivor himself. It just so happened that the survivor I met that day, and would later visit again, was Jay Ipson, one of the Holocaust Museum’s founders. Jay’s father is Izzy, which makes “Izzy’s Fire” their family’s story. On the day I met Jay, he told me all about his family’s unparalleled struggle to survive the Holocaust, and he suggested I read “Izzy’s Fire,” which I was later able to get a signed copy of. The intensity behind it all is more eye-opening than I can put into words for you.
After meeting Jay, reading “Izzy’s Fire,” and multiple visits to the museum, what I find so inspiring about Jay’s story is not just that he survived, it’s that he’s taken this trauma and crafted it into a devastatingly beautiful narrative for us all to experience. The book lays it all out on the table for the reader, and the museum brings it to life. Jay’s story is one that will stick with me forever and one that I will always encourage others to learn from. Above all else, Jay’s story reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there’s always a silver lining. Jay’s silver lining was having faith in humanity. Ours can be too. So, as we all try to navigate our way through life’s ups and downs and weather whatever storms come our way, I want to leave you with the same reminder Jay wrote to me: “We must always be good to our friends and neighbors.”
Book Review: ‘The Silent Patient’
It’s been about a month since my last book review, and in that review, I mentioned how completely out of character it has been for me to be reading so much lately. Well, since then, I am very proud to say that I have read six more books. That’s right, six whole grown-up books I’ve read in the last five weeks. I mean, I know I told you all that I hoped the previous book review I wrote wouldn’t be my last, but there was never a time when I imagined myself reading six books in a five-week period. So mom, I guess this isn’t “just a stage” after all.
Of those six books, only two have been thrillers, which if you read my last review, you’d know are my favorite. I enjoyed reading both of them, but the one I’m going to write about today is called “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides, a psychological thriller that was super easy to read and nearly impossible to put down.
The Silent Patient is about Alicia Berenson, a famous painter in London, who murdered her husband and has been silent ever since. Alicia was convicted, then admitted into a psychiatric unit in North London, where she has spent the last six years silent. Theo Faber is a forensic psychotherapist, who, after six years of obsessing over Alicia’s case, finally gets the opportunity to work with her. Theo, you’ll learn, had a pretty traumatic upbringing. Given this and his seemingly miraculous recovery to become a forensic psychotherapist, Theo immediately empathizes with Alicia’s story and feels compelled to fix her. A psychotherapist turned Sherlock Holmes in a matter of pages, Theo is determined to unravel the mystery behind what sparked Alicia’s violent act and her subsequent silence.
Between their silent meetings together and his own—what I can only describe as—illegal and inappropriate “detective work,” Theo begins to grasp the true identity of Alicia Berenson. Just like any psychological thriller worth its salt, the twists and turns in this book will leave you wanting more until the very end. And the ending, well, that you certainly won’t expect. I didn’t, that’s for sure.
Overall, I really liked this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a thriller, and The Silent Patient did not disappoint. The storytelling in this contemporary novel is dark, twisted, and addicting, with an ending that will leave you speechless. On a 5-star scale, I’d rate this book a 4.5. I highly recommend it.
Book Review: ‘The Unbroken Thread’
In October 2020, in the middle of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis published an encyclical titled Fratelli Tutti, or “All Brothers.” In it, the Holy Father wrote:
Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data. That is not the way to mature in the encounter with truth. Conversations revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential to give meaning to our lives.
The same sentiment would not have been out of place in Sohrab Ahmari’s book The Unbroken Thread. Framed as a message for his young son, The Unbroken Thread desperately searches for ways that modern men and women can give meaning to their lives. The subtitle, “Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos,” aptly sums up his solution. When society around you seems to be going insane, it is a good idea to look to the past for solace.
In this sense, The Unbroken Thread is a consolation of sorts. It presents 12 anecdotes, each spotlighting an historical figure from a diverse group that includes St. Augustine, Confucius, and Andrea Dworkin. All of these luminaries found themselves in uncertain and irresolute times, and instead of submitting to the fads of the day, they hewed to certain truths they knew to be inviolable. Despite the Whiggish viewpoint from which we are all taught to interpret history, Ahmari does a good job of demonstrating that our current “Age of Chaos” is not uniquely disordered. Societies and cultures have lost their way in the past—the St. Augustine chapter is especially compelling on this point—but the human story is not foreordained to be one of continued devolution into madness. In other words, there is hope.
Importantly, in framing the book as advice to his son, Ahmari is able to transcend the “profiles in courage” genre in which it risks getting pigeonholed. Each of the 12 chapters presents an historical figure, yes, but more precisely it addresses how that historical figure dealt with a question relevant to our own time. These include questions that thinkers have pondered over for centuries, if not millennia, such as “How do you justify your life?” and “Is God reasonable?” as well as ones that presuppose an understanding of the current moment, like “Can you be spiritual without being religious?” and “Is sex a private matter”? In 21st century America, some of these are treated as settled questions, and taking the opposing side can get you “canceled.” But all of them are worth taking seriously and thinking about in depth.
In a chapter on the Roman philosopher Seneca, Ahmari writes, “The life of the mind amounts to vanity, or something worse, if it doesn’t actually improve how we live.” This is a challenge to the reader of The Unbroken Thread. If the book fails in any respect, it is that it doesn’t quite offer a roadmap as to how to use the acts of its worthies to improve one’s own life. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are phenomenal role models on how to live a saintly life, but the average reader of The Unbroken Thread is not going to be able to write City of God or the Summa Theologica as a rejoinder to our own culture of decadence.
But that is not a failure on Ahmari’s part. The Unbroken Thread never claims to be any sort of manual. Other, much older books, can help with that. This book’s stated goal is to pose questions that make you think, and on that it succeeds. It is up to the reader to make use of that thinking to improve his or her life.
Book Review: ‘The Chicken Sisters’ Keeps Me Reading
This marks my third book review this year and I have high hopes it won’t be my last. As my inner (very inner) bookworm emerges from its cocoon, I can’t help but wonder if this is just some “you’re kinda adulting but you’re also kinda not” phase that will soon pass. You see, I am a lot of things, but a bookworm is most certainly not one of them. Or should I say wasn’t? On rare occasions, I have found myself lost in a really good book, usually a thriller or mystery of some sort, but again, pretty rare. I’m also quite notorious for starting a book and then never finishing it. (I’m working on it, ok?) So, I’m switching it up, trying new things and embracing this new, very adultish, profound interest of mine.
Which brings me to: “The Chicken Sisters,” my latest read. My sweet, sweet mom gave this to me and my sister this past Christmas, which was a very on-brand thing for her to do. I mean, just another thing we can bond over, right? After all, “sisters” is in the title. The book, obviously about sisters, was given to us not because of that, but instead, because it is a “Reese’s Book Club Pick.”
Naturally, I had to let it sit and age a bit before cracking it open, like any esteemed bookworm would do. After about five months, I decided it had aged long enough and started it, fully determined to finish it, which I did.
Given that this isn’t my typical go-to book genre, I was surprised by how much I liked it. Not that I didn’t trust Reese Witherspoon of course! I will say, I got a little bored reading it, especially in the middle of the book. The titular sisters’ “rivalry” became a bit petty and annoying at times, as opposed to realistic. The characters irked me some, but I feel like that’s almost inevitable. The character development seemed a bit rushed, but you definitely see their growth by the end of the book, which is the least I could ask for. Last thing I’ll say is that the ending was a little predictable, but at the same time, I wasn’t able to predict how they got to the end (if that makes sense). I definitely recommend this to sisters because it made it all the more relatable, which I think is what kept me drawn in the most. Don’t get me wrong, my sister and I are best friends and have never even come close to the annoyingly estranged relationship shared between the two main characters (seriously). But, it takes having a sister to understand that this type of conflict between sisters is certainly feasible.
Overall, this book is light-hearted, funny, relatable, and wholesome. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or two toward the end. All good tears though! What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good ending. And for those of you who would like a numerical rating, I’d give it 3 stars, which is still pretty darn good in my book (pun fully intended).
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