Category Archives: Uncategorized

“THE VINYL REVIVAL”— The Whys and Hows

“THE VINYL REVIVAL”

The Whys and Hows

Amos Lassen

“The Vinyl Revival is a documentary that explores the renaissance in all things vinyl. It looks at the revival of vinyl over the past several years and explores the whys and hows with industry pundits, artists, record shop owners, vinyl fans and many more.  

Directed and produced by Pip Piper, we hear from new record shop owners as well the established die-hards who a still going and thriving. The film discusses the importance of the record shop and vinyl as a whole. We learn the why’s of vinyl’s revival, the human need for belonging, the love of history and the stories of how little record shop has shaped so many lives.

Record collecting has become a pursuit of the most fashion-conscious consumer and we wonder if it is a fad or it will last.  Are we in danger of another record shop decline? Why must we support these bastions of culture?

The DVD features an 8 page booklet chronicling the making of the film, with contributions from director Pip Piper (Last Shop Standing) and author Graham Jones.

The film has interviews from Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Philip Selway (Radiohead), Ade Utley (Portishead), Joel Gion (The Brian Jonestown Massacre), The Orielles, CASSIA and many more.

 

 

 

 

“The Prisoner’s Wife” by Maggie Brookes— Based on a True Story

Brookes, Maggie. “The Prisoner’s Wife”, Berkeley Trade, 2020.

Based on a True Story

Amos Lassen

“The Prisoner’s Wife” by Maggie Brookes was inspired by the true story of deception that pushes a courageous young woman deep into the horrors of a Nazi Prisoner Of War camp to be with the man she loves.

In the dead of night, Izabela, a Czech farm girl and Bill,  a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run. Izabela is dressed as a man and the two manage to evade capture for as long as possible but then, they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs. 

As they flee, they are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. This is just the beginning of what they go through. Their living conditions are appalling and they deal with constant fear of Izzy being exposure. Then they were lucky enough to become friends with a small group of fellow prisoners. Together they became a family and all were willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

This is the story of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times and of love and endurance during horrible hardships. While this is a fictional story, writer Brookes engaged in extensive research to write this book. She actually visited the sites she writes about here. Her descriptions of the conditions are realistic and harrowing.

Beginning in 1944, we meet Izabela as a Czech teenager whose family has torn asunder by war. Her father and older brother were fighting with the resistance against the Nazis and her  mother was left short-handed to run the family farm. Izabela yearned to join the fight and set off on an adventure of her own. The Nazis were supplying several POWs to help with manual labor on the farm. Izabela fell for Bill King, the handsome musician and now prisoner from England. They secretly marry and ran away to support the rebel fighters but were captured by the Nazis. At this time Izabela was disguised as a male. The guards thought they brought in two young male captives—a British man and a mute teenage boy named Algernon Cousins.

Izabela’s survival was dependent upon her ability to keep her secret going and it was only because of  fellow prisoners who came together to protect Izabela from the worst that she was able to survive.  This is a powerful love story as well as a look at courage and strength of the human spirit.

 Izabela risked her life and suffered the dangers of living as a man in a POW camp to stay with her husband. The detail is very real and potent.  It will keep you turning pages as quickly as possible and make you believe again in the goodness of humanity.

 

“MY HINDU FRIEND”— Fighting Cancer

“MY HINDU FRIEND”

Fighting Cancer

Amos Lassen

Diego Fairman (Willem Dafoe) been fighting cancer for a decade. The chemo has helped keep it at bay but is no longer working. The only thing left for him to do is have a bone marrow transplant but Diego doesn’t want to die in a hospital. His doctor warns him that to do nothing means things will happen very quickly and we will be gone in months. Diego is a talented film maker who has alienated a great number of his friends and family during his ten year battle with cancer. He somehow manages to stumble into a relationship and he marries quickly. Having found the will to live in a beautiful woman, he goes to Seattle to face treatment.

This is writer-director Hector Babenco’s own story in My Hindu told by a  character with another name. “My Hindu Friend” looks at what makes life worth living meaning love, art, and how the two are different words for the same thing. It is quite a frank and raw assessment of one’s life and the meaning we give it when it’s facing death.

 

Diego does what he feels needs to be done and marries his long-term girlfriend Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido), puts his affairs in order, makes a huge donation to his estranged brother (Guilherme Weber) and undergoes bone marrow treatment. While undergoing treatment, he starts to have weird dreams and visions, including several run-ins with death himself (Selton Mello), who’s actually quite a likeable guy and a wage slave to a higher order. Diego’s life is really hanging on a thread when he meets a young Hindu boy (Rio Adlakha), who’s undergoing the same treatment as himself, and having the young one as a brother in pain, he finds hope again, as well as strength to pull through and to pull his friend through with him.

Once the treatment takes positive effect, Diego soon becomes a minor celebrity just for being a survivor. Five years pass until he can be declared in good health again, and at the end of this his life he seems more shattered than ever: Livia leaves him as she’s fed up with just taking care of him and not having a life of her own, he can no longer perform sexually and he continues to have weird visions, just like when he underwent treatment. There’s no Hindu boy to help him through it all …

Babenco tells his story as a factual revue using associative and at times non-linear storytelling to make the emotional undercurrents palpable and to give depth to the on-screen goings-on. Together  with beautiful cinematography and Willem Dafoe at the top of his game supported by a very solid cast, we get an unusual film.

When finding himself at a crossroads, Diego meets a young Hindu boy who is undergoing the same treatment as him. The two soon bond and Diego begins to undergo a change in his attitude. Telling his stories to the young boy, Diego begins to realize that should he survive, he will have to begin treating those who have been with him a lot better.

The film was originally meant to be in Portuguese but when Babenco decided to cast Willem Dafoe in the lead role, it was decided that it would be mostly in English with some Portuguese mixed in. Babenco shares his own experience when he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1994.

Willem Dafoe is excellent as Diego. He blames himself for what has happened in his life—  as if he blames himself for having cancer. Perhaps it is this self-blaming that causes him to be spiteful towards those close to him. Even at his own wedding, he manages to incur the wrath of a fellow director by trashing his last film.

The first half of the film is where we see Diego at his worst. However, it is when he meets this young Hindu boy, played by newcomer Rio Adlakha, that Diego sees life for the better. From telling him stories to having a fun adventure with him as they play pretend when they believe they are getting chased by police, we see Diego’s better side. And that leads to seeing a more likable Diego in the second half despite one small misgiving that ultimately proves to be forgivable by the end—- a very erotic rendition of the classic “Singin’ in the Rain”. This is a beautiful and realistic look at a directing legend’s final film, a semi-autobiographical film about a life changing experience.

“Nine Tenths of the Law” by Claudia Hagadus Long— Two Sisters

Long, Claudia Hagadus. “Nine Tenths of the Law”, Kasva Press, 2020.

Two Sisters

Amos Lassen

Zara and Lily, two sisters live in contemporary New York City. They are trying to get back a menorah that once belonged to their family and was stolen during World War II. During better times, the menorah was part of a display at the Jewish museum where Aurora, their mother recognized it. She was afraid to say anything about it. She had been a teenager, living in Warsaw, when the Nazis rose to power and murdered her family. She was able to survive because she was pretty but she was scarred forever because of what she went through.

Zara and Lily want the menorah back with them where it really belongs and so they plan a way to do so but as they do, they have to face their own demons from the past. While Zara seems to have repressed her mother’s story, she still has terrible visons over which she has no control. Lily deals with her demons head on through promiscuity and sheer nerve. The sisters remain close as  they move forward in life. However, the menorah is elusive, making the plot complicated. In order to get the menorah back, great trials must be faced head on.

Granted what I have written here does not seem to be upbeat but I assure you that this is not a dull read and the humor we have is wonderful. Lily and Zara share a sense of humor with each other and with the readers. You might wonder how humor fits into a story about Nazis and stolen art so you will have to read the book to see how that works.

We are reaching that point in history where there are few Holocaust survivors alive so we must hear their stories before it is too late. Writer Claudia Hagadus Long’s mother was a survivor but would not speak about it. Her mother’s trauma has been passed on to her and it is her stories that are the basis for the book.

“Apeirogon: A Novel” by Colum McCann–Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

McCann, Colum. , Random House, 2020.

Love, Loss, Conflict and Life and a Plea for Peace

Amos Lassen

An apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. It is also the name of Colum McCann’s new novel about  those living through the conflict between Palestine and Israel as told through two families whose outlooks and lives were changed when the lives of their two daughters were taken. It all began on a regular kind of day but ended with two families dealing with the grief of loss. Through sharing their stories of the loss of their daughters, they were more able to see the infinite sides to each other’s story and this led which led then to understanding and a friendship. 

The novel is based on the lives of real people, Rami Elhanan, an Israeli and his daughter, Smadar, and Bassam Aramin,  a Palestinian and his daughter, Abir. When Abir was ten years old, a rubber bullet ended her life. Smadar was thirteen. The focus here is on their fathers, how they met, and how they helped each other find some degree of peace.

Moving back and forth through time and memories, we get the story of the characters. These memories and stories differ in length and some of them come with photographs and some have few words; some are political while others offer varying perspectives. We get a view of the ways these lives were personally affected and that the journey here lead to a  beginning of a sense of personal peace. The reader gains a broader view of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Rami Elhanan had served his obligatory military term as a youth. His service had been during wartime when he had to shoot to kill. Now he just wanted to live a regular life –working at his career in graphic design and enjoy his home with his wife and four children. But that was not to be.  In 1997, Rami’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber as she was walking in Jerusalem with a friend. Rami’s initially felt hatred and wanted revenge. He remained like this for a year until a rabbi invited Rami to the Parent’s Circle (a support group for both Israeli and Palestinian parents who had lost children). Rami went reluctantly and there he first saw a Palestinian woman holding a photograph of her dead daughter. He realized that his was the first time in his life he had thought of an individual Palestinian person as a fellow human being. As he dealt with his hatred and vengeance, it disappeared and he eventually sought out the organization, Combatants for Peace, where he would meet Bassam Aramin; a Palestinian man who would teach Rami what life is like in Occupied Palestine.

Bassam grew up on the West Bank  that was controlled by Israeli security forces. The area was subject to house raids, humiliating checkpoints, and armed soldiers on patrol. Bassam and his friends liked to raise the Palestinian flag at their school even though it was outlawed and when soldiers would come to take it down, they would throw rocks and run away. As a teen, Bassam and his friends found some grenades, and threw them at a convoy causing him to be labelled as a  terrorist and sentenced to prison for seven years when he was just seventeen. In prison, Bassam became quite radical, but while watching a documentary on the Holocaust, he found himself thinking of the Jewish people as fellow human beings for the first time in his life. When released from prison, he  cofounded Combatants for Peace, and two years after meeting Rami for the first time, Bassam also became a member of an organization that no one wants to join, the Parents Circle,  when his own ten-year-old daughter, Abir, was shot in the back of the skull with a rubber bullet that was fired by an eighteen-year-old Israeli soldier from the back of an armored jeep while Abir was buying candy for herself and her sister. The two fathers, Rami and Bassam, suddenly became Joined forever in grief. Now they meet meet times a week and are as close as brothers.

Writer McCann goes into the struggles of two fathers left mourning their young daughters who are determined to prevent these tragedies from happening again and again and again… The depiction of violence here is explicit and without compassion. The stories are complex but the reward for reading this is great— a better understanding of what is going on in the Middle East.

Even though Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another,  when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss it connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict. McCann met the real Bassam and Rami on a trip with the non-profit organization Narrative 4 and he was moved by their willingness to share their stories with the world. They felt that if through their hope they could see themselves in one another, perhaps others could the same.
 
With their blessing, McCann began to write and uses real-life stories to begin another story— one that “crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. The result is an ambitious novel, crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.”

Over the course of the day, these two men’s lives intertwine as they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace. Through telling the men’s stories via short vignettes, McCann goes from the present to the past, sharing the lives of these men, the lives of their daughters, and their experiences.  McCann writes with emotional accuracy, sensitivity and beauty. I often laughed and wept on the same page.

“Im The Last Face You’ll Ever See” by Matt Converse— Pure Horror

Converse, Matt. “I’m the Last Face You’ll Ever See”, Independently Published, 2020.

Pure Horror

Amos Lassen

Matt Converse is a horror writer and it is important to know that. I love his writing but be warned, it is very dark. He writes of neglect and physical and sexual abuse. He introduces us to Sean, a serial killer who has nightmares that seem to be psychically connected to Stephen, a loner who lives in the back of the building.  

Sean and his best friend, Anna, are woken by screams one night and learn that their newest neighbor has disappeared. When Sean goes to see what is blocking the garbage chute, Anna helps him and they discover the body and what happened to it. Not only are they horrified but also have a feeling about how it got there. However, they have no proof. Sean has been sleepwalking and dreams of fog and dark clouds and watching the killer murdering his victims. He and Anna plan to capture the guy for the police, but things do not go the way they planned. Ultimately Anna’s realizes what has really been going on and things become terrible.

Converse pulls us into the plot and I found it impossible to stop reading. So much so that I did not moved until I closed the covers and then find that I was haunted by what I read.  The story is dark and scary and shocking, especially the twist. This makes it impossible to describe without spoiling the read.

It is a perfect horror story with blood, gore, screaming, intrigue, and a surprising twist that can in no way be anticipated. Just the description of the building where the action takes place is unsettling. In each apartment there is a story and each scared resident just might be the killer. However, with Sean in charge, there is a feeling of comfort. Sean knows everyone and knows the building completely. I found it fascinating that not only did I constantly try to guess who the killer was, I also continually guessed who would be the next victim.

The plot is quite dramatic and there is also a good deal of sadness. Above all there is horror that is, as I said, unforgettable.

 

“The Interpreter” by A.J. Sidransky— Love and Loss

Sidransky, A. J. “The Interpreter”,  Black Opal Books, 2020.

Love and Loss

Amos Lassen

War is raging around Manila and Kurt Berlin, a 23-year-old American GI, is recruited by the OSS to return to Europe to help with the investigation and interrogation of captured Nazis. Berlin been a refugee from the Nazis himself and now as he is working with them. He understands that the Nazi he’s interpreting is responsible for what he went through during his own escape. He also realizes that this same Nazi probably knows something that could help him to find the girl he left behind. Of course, Berlin think about revenge. Berlin is taken on a  journey through the terror of pre-war Vienna and occupied Brussels and he clearly remembers his escape with his family through Nazi-Occupied France and the destruction of post-war Europe. It is only natural for him to think about how much of this he will able to take.  

This is the first book in writer A. J. Sidransky’s three volume “Justice” series. Here he takes us back to 1939 when Berlin was a teen refugee running from the Nazis and then to his coming to America and his later becoming an attorney and covert CIA agent. With an introduction like that, it is easy to see how this novel pulls you on the very first page. In fact, I was so much into what I was reading that I finished in one sitting.

Those of us who know survivors of the Nazi regime understand how tense a book like this can be. A. J. Sidransky combines tension and fine writing to bring us a novel that keeps us turning pages as quickly as possible. We quickly see the link between Nazi Europe and the beginning of the Cold War. Sidransky brings together the wish for revenge and the story of love and loss. Humanity that had been destroyed by World War II had to be rebuilt as well as faith in fellow man. Sidransky does this through the character of Kurt Berlin.

I find that as a Jew, a read like this is extremely emotional and as I read, I attempted to feel what Berlin felt. He is such a finely built character (yet with a bit of aura of mystery), that he is both enigmatic and extremely human. What we read is often disturbing and unforgettable but then we cannot allow ourselves to forget the most horrible period of human history. I have spoken with many survivors but was never able to identify with them as I did with Berlin’s conflicting emotions. It is so hard to pretend to be someone you are not and I cannot imagine how awful it must be to know you can be captured at any moment.

We have all thought that there must have been some dirty dealings going on behind the scenes and the way they are pictured here is illuminating. I read this with both a sense of fear and a sense of pride. It is both original and historical, frightening and life affirming. Above all it is unforgettable. Developing a great plot with glorious and descriptive prose, Sidransky sets the standard high for all other books about the period.

 

 

 

“How to Bless the New Moon: The Priestess Paths Cycle and Other Poems for Queens” by Rachel Kann— Transformative Poetry

Kann, Rachel. “How to Bless the New Moon: The Priestess Paths Cycle and Other Poems for Queens”, (Jewish Poetry Project),  Ben Yehudah Press, 2019.

Transformative Poetry

Amos Lassen

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Rachel Kann last week and to hear her read her poetry. It was quite an experience. She lets us know that being a prophet is not dead and that each of us has the possibility of reaching that point. We can all be touched by “forces far beyond our [your] mundane knowing.” It is best to be clear here about what is a prophet. It is not someone who sees the future, a definition it has claimed through modernism. Rather, a prophet is one who speaks to God and to whom God replies. Kann’s words take us to the place where we feel that God is with and in us and that our conversations are meaningful, healing and transformative. Kann celebrates that we are the “very mystery we are discussing. ”

Reading Kann’s poems at home did not bring me to this point. It was when I heard her read them that I recognized the truth she espouses. That does not mean that you cannot enjoy the poem by just reading them— they just become more powerful when she relays what she writes. I want to believe that poetry is for everyone even though I know that many do not want to be bothered with it. The bother becomes what transforms us and I can only hope that these words will make you want to bother. Remember, it is perfectly okay to approach a poem with no knowledge of the genre. When you feel the results of that, you become that much of a better person.

Kann writes about women, specifically feminist women in the bible and she presents us with a new way to see life. We also see these women differently that we usually do when reading the holy books. Our imagination allows us to see how they were once and Kann brings them into our lives today. We begin to see them as part of us and as part of those we know. The fact that they lived thousands of years ago no longer holds importance.
we need to not only imagine that these women once.

I found something cosmic yet earthy in the poems in this collection and this allows me to look at things differently and tempts me to try things I have not done before. This is transformation. Mixing the wisdom of life with the wisdom of Biblical women provides a new outlook on things that we so often take for granted. Those of you who know me and read my work know that I see fine literature as a transformative art and I look for that in everything I read and review. Seldom does it jump out at me as quickly as it does here.

I could do as I usually do when reviewing poetry— pull lines out of contest to show my point but to do that would take away from the volume as a whole. I want you to be able to approach these poems knowing as little about them as possible so that they can affect you in the ways that they affect me. These poems are more than a read; they are a total experience.

 

 

 

“The Lost Book of Adana Moreau: A Novel” by Michael Zapata— Epic and Intimate

Zapata, Michael. “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau: A Novel”,  Hanover Square Press; 2020.

Epic and Intimate

Amos Lassen

Having been born and raised in New Orleans, I gravitate toward books written about the Crescent City. Michael Zapata’s “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” especially drew me in because it is linked to Hurricane Katrina, an event that I witnessed first-hand and survived.

This is a mesmerizing story of a Latin American science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript unites decades later in post-Katrina New Orleans

It all begins in 1929 in New Orleans with a Dominican immigrant named Adana Moreau writing a science fiction novel. The novel gets rave reviews, and Adana begins a sequel but then falls gravely ill. Just before she dies, she destroys the only copy of the manuscript.

Decades later in Chicago, Saul Drower is cleaning out his dead grandfather’s home when he discovers a mysterious manuscript written by Adana Moreau. With the help of his friend Javier, Saul tracks down an address for Adana’s son in New Orleans, but as Hurricane Katrina strikes they must get to New Orleans in order to find answers.

This novel is a tribute to home, storytelling and the possibility of parallel worlds. The story moves back and forth between the quest for a man in post-Katrina New Orleans for whom a mystery manuscript was left to be posthumously delivered and the story in the manuscript. We read about friendship, the possibility of parallel worlds, and the way the real and the unreal constantly meet.

Adana Moreau’s long lost novel brings together a fascinating cast of characters with lives that transcend time. Zapata takes us on a journey through history, friendship, family, the extraordinary, the ordinary, and the stars. He gives us a meditation on displacement and exile that cherishes the bonds between people even when those bonds are severed by time and distance. We see something about the persistence of stories and the singular power that books can bring to the fore. The book moves between eras and genres gracefully and with fluidity.
The themes of regeneration and rejuvenation make this a harrowing, immersive tale and it all the more amazing in that this is the author’s first novel.“ Zapata’ writes with lyricism and boldness about grief, loss, and memory.

“Air to the Throne: A Poetry Chapbook about Air Guitar” by Michael Croland— A Journey

Croland, Michael. “Air to the Throne: A Poetry Chapbook about Air Guitar”, Independently Published, 2020.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

In his new chapbook, Michael Croland introduces to Matt “Airistotle” Burns, two-time world air guitar champion and takes us on his journey. Airistotle has been racking up prizes for his ability with the air guitar. He is heading to Kansas City, Missouri for the national guitar competition. He is two-time world champion and four-time US champion  and the poems in this collection pay tribute to his life by looking at it through “new directions and alternative perspectives for air guitar and other invisible instruments.” At first it feels as if we are reading a simple  chronicle of competitions” but we come to understand that the real themes here are  nationalism and the prioritization of winning during the Trump era

Think about what air guitar is. Croland shares that it is “a viable longstanding form of performance art that is generally entertaining” and allows for “meaningful artistic expression”. An air guitar is a form of dance and movement  a pin which a performer pretends to play an imaginary rock or heavy-metal-style electric guitar. Playing an air guitar usually consists of exaggerated strumming and picking motions and is often paired with loud singing or lip-synching. It is not meant to be taken seriously. “Air guitar is preferable to there guitar because imagination is uninhibited… a guitar lacking in matter matters”.

Croland divides his chapbook into chapters in which the poems (written between 2014 and 2019) are arranged chronologically. I found each poem to be enlightening and fun to read. Filled with characters who are larger-than-life, we ultimately get the essence of air guitar and what it takes to be an air guitarist.

During the last ten years, Airistotle has been a force at competitions and performances. Croland takes us on the journey he made to get to the top. We become very aware of Croland’s cleverness in looking at important issues in the guise of air guitar. I wanted to include several lines from some of the poems but found that impossible to do since they are arranged in an order that does not easily allow me to pull verses out if. This is a book that is meant to be read in the order that it is published and since line follows line and poem follows poem, I found myself reading the anthology in one sitting. I was immediately pulled in with the first poem and was not able to let go.