Monthly Archives: May 2017




Amos Lassen

I must admit that before hearing about this new documentary, I knew nothing about Allan Carr. However, because I have enjoyed all of filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentaries, I was sure to enjoy this one as I had his others. Allan Carr was a theater producer, manager, Public Relations genius, party giver extraordinaire, film producer, and the person responsible for the mess at the 61st Annual Academy Awards. He was a bizarre character even for Hollywood. He was a large man who wore kimonos and caftans, and even in Hollywood he looks as if he just wandered off the set of a Federico Fellini film: an elephantine man of 42, who conceals his bulk in gaudy caftans and kimonos and who had his hair styled in tight ringlets. He could have the bitchiest conversation in the world while loving the person who received the nasty remarks. He was also a loyal and generous person who believed that the job of entertainment was to provide happiness. He was the producer of the film version of “Grease” and produced the musical based on the French gay film “La Cage aux Folles” to America and he left behind quite a legacy when he died in 1999 at the age of 62.

Watching this film, we see that Carr was a complicated person. He was “fabulous” at the time when being public about one’s sexuality was considered a taboo. He was always himself wherever he was and did not care about how the public saw him.

Carr was born Allan Solomon in 1937 and was the only son of a wealthy Jewish family in Chicago. He was spoiled by his parents and his parents and already from an early age he was fascinated with everything to do with show business and the stars. In 1966, he moved to Los Angeles, changed his name and opened up his own talent agency where he demonstrated that he was not just a first-class salesman, but that he had a lot of nerve. It did not take long before he was the manager of such stars as Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Rosalind Russell, Dyan Cannon, Melina Mercouri and Marlo Thomas.

Steve Rubell lose patience escorting Olivia Newton-John and Producer Alan Carr into the’Grease’ Party at Studio 54.
SN 2181-23

Above all, Carr was a showman and he had a reputation for hosting promotional parties. It was his parties that brought him to produce the film, “Grease” which remains at the apex of his career. He took credit for everything and when one of his projects failed, he took it personally.

We learn that Carr has personal demons that haunted him and he became extremely heavy. Even though he surrounded himself with young handsome boys who wore next to nothing, Carr did not have his first sexual experience until he was thirty-years-old. It seems that he enjoyed watching more than participating. He was known to populate his pool parties at his home with who’s who in Hollywood along with gay guys who would participate in orgies after the guests left.

He was professionally respectable and accepted by all. His Broadway success with the hit “La Cage aux Folle” earned him a best musical Tony Award and the show ran for five years. In 1989 Carr produced the Academy Awards and got the job because he promised to create a show that he would turn the Oscars around from the dry show it had been in previous years, but he was panned by both the critics and the members of the Academy who publicly denounced Carr. This was the end of his career. He had been censored by the powers of Hollywood elite who he had considered his peers and friends.

Even though Carr knew that he was working out of his own area, her never let that stop him until the end. While he is still a mystery to many, Jeffrey Schwarz introduces him to us in a film that is just as fabulous as its subject.



“Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew” by Ken Schneck— Another Look

Schneck, Ken. “Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew”, illustrated by Dave Perillo, 1984 Publishing, 2017.

Another Look

Amos Lassen

We live in a world from which we need to get away every once in a while. Things have changed so rapidly that it helps to sit back, think and then try something we have done before. Ken Schneck has done that several times and in his book, “Seriously…What Am I Doing Here?”, he shares his adventures with us. When he asked himself the question that is the title of his book, he realized that he did not yet have an answer and so he decided to find it by leaving his world of academia. He went to Uganda twice, took a 425-mile bike ride; managed to make trouble at a Californian hippie healing retreat; and hiked in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. His book is a travelogue of those and other adventures as he searched for meaning and community. Like myself, as I mentioned in my earlier review, Schneck is a gay Jew, setting us twice apart from mainstream society (or at least it was that way and not so long ago). It is important to keep in mind that with Judaism comes the need to succeed and we can only fail when he continue trying. I remember when I was in high school that I got a “B” in a course I was struggling with. While a “B” is a fine grade, my father reminded me (several times a semester) that it was not an “A” and that he would really rather not speak to me until I brought that “A” home. There is something in the Jewish ethos that makes us strive for the very finest (kind of like the difference between a Chevrolet and a Cadillac).

There is a lot of wit and humor in this book and I laughed my way through it. I understood that I was laughing with the author and laughing at myself at the same time. In fact, it hit home so many times that I read and reread certain sections over and over.

I have always felt that the best books are those that appeal to the emotions and that pull us in. That is exactly what happens here. While I emphasized the humor earlier, I need to almost note that there is also sadness and a great deal of insight. Like Schneck, we are all on a journey to find out just who we really are and some of us need to do more drastic acts to learn that. We all want to belong somewhere and have a sense of community. Some find that in academia or in a circle of friends. As Schenk looked for that place, he got to Uganda and his other destinations. I can only wonder whether it is the destination that we seek or just the journey that gives us the fulfillment we need.

There are some helpful hints here to consider before and while undertaking that quest and each is a pearl. I see this as both a fun and educative read and I cannot help to recommend it to others.


“Sabena Hijacking: My Version”

A Terrorist Siege

Amos Lassen

On May 8, 1972, the Palestinian group, Black September, seized control of Sabena Flight 971 shortly after takeoff from Vienna en route to Tel Aviv. The next day, Israeli Special Forces began a daring operation to rescue the passengers and retake the plane. This film gives us a moment-by-moment restaging of that nerve-racking time. The captain was held at gunpoint and Jewish passengers were separated from the others and the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane unless Israel agreed to release Palestinian prisoners. In the film, we hear from passengers who recall the events and we listen to newly discovered audio recordings of British pilot Reginald Levy, and an interview with the sole surviving hijacker. Also featured are future Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who both took part in the raid, as well as Transport Minister Shimon Peres. Through striking reenactments and harrowing testimonies, this is a riveting look at the true story of a terrorist siege that forever shaped the State of Israel. “Sabena Hijacking: My Version” is both captivating and filled with suspense even with us knowing in advance how it all ends. The film juxtaposes Israeli and Palestinian narratives to pose hard questions about the seeds and legacy of political terrorism.

While hijackings are rare, El Al is always a target. In the film we see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two former Prime Ministers, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, as young men experiencing one of the most dramatic and difficult events of their lives. “Sabena Hijacking – My Version,” is a documentary and moment-by-moment reenactment of the hijacking of a Sabena Flight 971 by four armed members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist organization on May 8, 1972, and the storming of the jet by the Israeli Special Forces unit Sayeret Matkal. The film includes a dramatic and precise reenactment of the events of that day interspersed with testimonial interviews from all sides – the passengers, the Israeli soldiers and even one of the hijackers, as well as archival footage from the time. Among those interviewed are Peres, who was Minister of Transportation and Communications, Barak, who commanded Sayeret Matkal, and Netanyahu, a member of Sayeret Matkal and a member of the team that stormed the plane. Netanyahu was shot in the arm when Marco Ashkenazi, a fellow soldier hit a female terrorist in the head with his gun and accidentally pulled the trigger. One especially dramatic moment in the film features Netanyahu describing a dispute he and his older brother Yoni (who was killed on the far more famous hijacked aircraft raid in Entebbe four years later). Yoni wanted to be on the team storming the Sabena plane together with his brother’s unit. The younger Netanyahu insisted that they couldn’t both risk their lives entering a plane filled with explosives. “What will we tell our parents?” Benjamin asked. But Yoni insisted, saying “My life belongs to me, and so does my death.” Reaching a stalemate, they referred the dispute to their commander Ehud Barak, who agreed with the younger brother and ordered Yoni, despite his protests, to step down.

Netanyahu tells us what took place after he was injured. As he lay on the asphalt, he saw someone run to him from far away and he recognized his brother Yoni. As he came closer, he saw his brother’s clothing was stained with blood. In a moment (after realizing his brother’s injury was minor) his face changed and he told you that he shouldn’t have gone.

In the 1970’s when terrorists were like animals of prey, grabbing planes, kidnapping passengers and threatening to kill them and sometimes succeeded in doing so. The lesson of this era, for Israel was that it was not merely sophisticated military expertise but determination and daring against those who threatened Israel with this kind us of terrorism. Today, terror has become more widespread and is the product of terrorist states and disintegrating state entities. It is important that Israel has the resolve and to defend itself and what is true of Sabena is still true today.

The Sabena aircraft was piloted by Reginald Levy, a British Jew, who died in 2010 and on whose memoirs much of the film’s drama was based. It was taken over en route from Vienna to Tel Aviv by armed hijackers with the demand that Israel release 300 political prisoners. If Israel did not comply, they threatened to blow up the plane. They separated the Israeli passengers from the others, and landed the plane in Israel, where a waiting game ensued. The plane was secretly sabotaged and negotiators directed by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan stalled for time, as they formulated a plan, which entailed the commandos dressing up as aircraft technicians, allowing them to approach the plane without arousing the suspicion of the hijackers.

Of all the interviewees, the most riveting testimony was from Acre-born Therese Halsa, one of the Palestinian hijackers, who was 18 at the time of the hijacking. She is the only surviving hijacker; the two male members were shot and killed. She and her female accomplice who were wearing explosive triggers, survived the storming of the plane and were sentenced to prison terms. Despite the fact that the two female hijackers were sentenced to life, one was released after serving only seven years and Halsa after serving thirteen and she now lives in Jordan.

The film shows Halsa and the other hijackers as human and complex. One moment she was devotedly tending to the hostages, even administering an insulin shot to a passenger with diabetes, while in the next, she shows her sincere regret that she was foiled in her mission to blow up the plane after it was invaded by the Israel Defense Force commandos and her comrades were shot. She says that she really wanted to blow up that plane.

The film was created and produced by Nati Dinnar, who after reading detailed accounts of the hostage rescue, realized that it was as compelling, if not more so, than any fictional drama. He felt that this is an important story to tell since there is much in it to learn about terror. Dinnar said that it had been crucial to him to tell the stories from the perspectives of all participants, which is why he included extensive interviews with Bassam Abu Sharif, a former senior adviser to Yasser Arafat and leading cadre of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who personally knew the Black September member, who led the hijacking operation and served as his voice in the film. He, like Halsa, are portrayed sympathetically in the film, not as a cold killer but as a desperate and conflicted man trying to be a freedom fighter who was outwitted and outmatched by the Israelis. Today, with suicide bombers and video beheadings, the behavior of the Black September terrorists as they waited patiently for their demands to be met feels quite restrained. They may have been threatening to take the lives of the plane’s passengers, but showed little thirst for blood.

“IN BETWEEN”— Balancing Tradition and Modern Culture

“In Between” (“Bar Bahr”)

Balancing Tradition and Modern Culture

Amos Lassen

Arab-Israeli writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud’s feature debut “In Between” is the story of three Palestinian-Israeli women who live split lives. These strong, modern, sexually active women, live independently in the center of Tel Aviv, away from their families and the weight of tradition; they struggle to be true to themselves when confronting the expectations of others.

They women are fluent in Arabic and Hebrew and they dress in a way that makes them completely indistinguishable from their Israeli/Jewish contemporaries ultra-chic lawyer Layla (Mouna Hawa) is a very stylish and seductive lawyer and her flat-mate, Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is a lesbian disc-jockey, and part of a Palestinian cultural underground scene. They party until the wee hours at clubs, drink and do drugs with a set of bohemian friends. Salma adopts a more submissive persona when dutifully visiting her conservative Christian family, who believe that she is a music teacher and continue to invite potential suitors over for dinner. Layla, however, refuses to compromise her lifestyle and remains separate from her family. She ignores the romantic attentions of a Jewish attorney by telling him to “keep our flirtation fun.”

When Muslim graduate student, Nour (Shaden Kanboura) who wears a hijab comes to occupy the third bedroom in Layla and Salma’s apartment, the stage seems to be set for confrontation, but Hamoud instead shows the developing sisterhood between all the roommates. Not only do they share the uneasy status of being Arab-Israelis (and thus “other”) in a predominantly Jewish society, but they also share the problem of finding the right, supportive, understanding romantic partner.

Nour’s hypocritical fiancé, Wissam (Henry Andrawes), doesn’t understand why she wants to continue her studies and go on to work. He believes that eventually she will stay home, run their household, and mother their children. Nour’s perspectives on the world broaden due to her exposure to Layla, Salma, and their friends while Wissam’s continue to narrow. He accuses Nour of being a whore like her roommates, and treats her like one. While working as a bartender, Salma meets an attractive young doctor named Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) and they embark on an affair. Salma loves playing with fire and brings her new girlfriend to her parents’ place when she is supposed to meet yet another potential husband. Layla meets handsome filmmaker Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby) and sparks fly but Ziad, despite having lived abroad and having a penchant for drink and drugs, can’t completely escape his conservative roots. He’s embarrassed to introduce Layla to his sister who still lives in a village and he criticizes her nonstop cigarette smoking.

Hamoud’s screenplay is a critique of traditional, patriarchal Palestinian society, threatened by modernity, feminine power, and the court of public opinion. We also see the racism of Israeli-Jewish society toward Arabs, from the people on the street who avoid a woman in a headscarf to the snarky manager at the restaurant where Salma works who yells at the kitchen staff for speaking to each other in Arabic.

The chemistry among the three women is excellent and they show the sense of living “in between” and the toll that it takes on their lives as “others”. Cinematographer Itay Gross shows the freedom and vibrancy of the women’s Tel Aviv life in contrast to the dull colors and claustrophobic spaces of village life. The viewers certainly get an update on their ideas about the lifestyle of Palestinian women in Israel. “In Between” focuses on daily life and is a portrait of social change. We see that alongside the traditional male-dominated Arab family structure that there exist independent females who are incredibly cool and part of an uninhibited underground scene. This is a light-hearted dramedy of girl power.

Certainly the women’s freedom comes at a price, but despite some dark and dramatic moments, none of the three young women looks likely to go back to a traditional life however uncomfortable it can be to live “in between” tradition and modernity. The opening disco sequence is a challenge to straight society.

Salma and Layla have minds of their own don’t bat an eye over the arrival of a fully covered Islamic Nour who has come to live with them. Despite the prejudice she might initially incite, she’s a woman in transition, just on the brink of liberating herself. In one of the film’s most shocking moments, her arrogant fiancé just can’t understand why she wants to study and work instead of keeping house for him and their future children and makes an intense gesture of disrespect that sets off a compassionate display of solidarity.

Hamoud tackles almost all the taboos of Arab Israeli society: drugs, alcohol, and homosexuality. Salma is rejected by her Christian family for being a lesbian, while Leila leaves her boyfriend when she discovers he is more conservative than he claims. Nour ultimately rebels against her family and traditions by leaving her religious fiancé Wissam after he rapes her. The municipality of the Muslim village Umm am-Fahm has issued a statement condemning the film as being “without the slightest element of truth” and barring it from being screened there and Hamoud as well as her actresses have received death threats.

“Bar Bahar” literally meaning “land and sea” in Arabic and translates as “neither here, nor there” in Hebrew. I understand that Hamoud chose to set the film in Tel Aviv that is regarded the most tolerant and liberal city in Israel to make a point that even there racism against Arabs is prevalent.

“Unsub: A Novel by Meg Gardiner— Caitlyn Hendrix, Detective

Gardiner, Meg. “Unsub: A Novel, Dutton, 2017.

Caitlyn Hendrix, Detective

Amos Lassen

“Unsub” is the first book in a new series about detective Caitlin Hendrix. We meet her as she is hunting down a ruthless, cunning serial killer known as “The Prophet.” The book is inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer and we meet the new, young detective determined to find the serial murderer that destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years before. Hendrix has only been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer who caused her to have nightmares as a kid reemerges. The Prophet is classified as an unsub or an unknown subject by the FBI. He terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed Hendrix’s father who had been the lead investigator on the case.

Back then, The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and he failed to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh. It was the case that ultimately ended a once promising career.

Now, twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never been able to escape the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. Now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her thereby threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly has kept up for her own protection.

Hendrix is determined to decode the Prophet’s messages and end his career as a criminal even though her father has warned her to stay away from the case. She soon finds herself getting closer to the killer with each murder although she is not sure in the killer is the Prophet or an imitator. To say anymore about the plot would ruin the thrilling read that keeps you glued to your chair and turning pages as quickly as possible.

Author Meg Gardiner is superb at developing characters and I understand that this is true of every book she has written. This is my first Gardiner read but I will be reading the others now that I see what a fine writer she is. The book immediately pulls in the reader in and if you are like me, you will read the book in one sitting. Everything about this book is wonderful ant that includes the crisp prose and the suspense of the plot.



“MAMA COLONEL”— Meet Munyole Sikujuwa Honorine

“Mama Colonel” (“Maman Colonelle”)

Meet Munyole Sikujuwa Honorine

Amos Lassen

Documentary filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi follows the work of a senior Congolese policewoman in charge of stopping sexual violence and physical abuse against women and children in her African country. We know that war and ills within society always leave behind a multiplicity of victims. Some battle scars are visible while others are not. “Mama Colonel” shows us the challenges of helping victims of domestic violence, rape and child abuse. We meet Colonel Munyole Sikujuwa Honorine, a widowed mother of seven and a commander of a police unit for the protection of children and women against sexual violence. We see Colonel Honorine’s efforts at curtailing social malaises in a society that upholds witch-hunts and disregards rehabilitation for rape victims. Following a recent transfer from Bukavu to Kisangani, we accompany her through a series of meetings, raids and campaigns. The documentary’s full focus is on

Honorine whose activities draw attention to the plight of victims of heart-wrenching stories of abandonment and ostracism. While Honorine is altruistic and enthusiastic about her duties, these qualities are not shared by many. Seeing the deplorable state of her official residence, it is obvious how much currency her government places on her unit and its duties. Her intention of involving the residents of Kisangani in achieving her goals is resisted by some. She also has to deal with hostility from the physically disabled casualties of war who consider themselves the “real victims” chiefly because they are recognized by government.

The way Honorine handles of the challenges ahead of her and her unit show her dedication to affecting positive change in debauched surroundings. What is ironic is that a society that is eager to condemn its children to prophets over allegations of witchcraft is unwilling to contribute solutions to its communal problems. The documentary is as much homage to Honorine as it is a criticism of the society she has to deal with. We see that there is some hope for Kisangani’s neglected and abused even though society is reluctant to accept them.

This Congolese-French co-production begins with Honorine getting ready preparing to leave for a new position in Kisangani. What appears to be a promotion turns out to be a daunting challenge for her and it also reveals the dire social circumstances in which the country remains stuck years after its latest deadly civil war.

The problems are evident right from the get-go, as she battles with the men supposedly paid to help her move her belongings to her new city. Their ineptness is mirrored almost from the start in her new workplace. Kisangani is Congo’s third largest municipality yet when she meets the rest of her team, half the officers don’t bother to show, while those that do are motley crew who really do not seem to care about what they are supposed to do.

Yet, Honorine is not fazed by the useless men hanging around, or by the horrible adults she has to confront to save yet another child. Hamadi manages to allude to the dire circumstances in his country by capturing the dismaying attitudes of the people and the “fake victims.” The common belief is that children deserve violence and confinement because they are practicing “witchcraft.”

The good deeds and galling crimes highlight how the Congo’s social structure and there is also the specter of past wars still lingering above all.

“POP EYE”— A Man and his Elephant

“Pop Aye”

A Man and an Elephant

Amos Lassen

Middle-aged architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is experiencing a mid-life crisis. He is being sidelined at his architecture firm by younger architects and his signature project, a large shopping centre, is scheduled for demolition. His marriage with wife Bo (Penpak Sirikul) isn’t going well either. One day he stumbles across Pop Aye, an elephant from his childhood, and decides to buy him. Together they embark on a road trip through rural Thailand.   

Writer/director Kirsten Tan’s film is about both discovery and recovery. She uses the dialectic of past memory versus present experience to present her story. Thana’s present is fraught with uncertainty yet through finding with his long-lost elephant, he is afforded a rare trip down memory lane.  In the process of recovery, he is blessed by the beauty of his gigantic, graceful friend, and comes across a few interesting if random characters.  Thana was raised in poverty in the town of Loei in Northern Thailand but made his way to Bangkok and became a successful architect. Decades later, he deals with feelings of inadequacy and although despondent, he is surprised to find an elephant walking the streets of Bangkok. Together, they set off on a walking journey across Thailand back to Loei, where Thana intends to return Pop Aye to the farm of Thana’s uncle.

The film is by not a fantasy. Thana has grown tired and disillusioned with city life decides to return to Loei so he and Pop Aye begin a journey from the bustling city of Bangkok into rural Thailand where they will meet eccentric characters, including a transgender woman named Jenny who Thana treats with some compassion and, Dee, a gregarious homeless man living in an abandoned gas station who knows that his days are numbered. These encounters help Thana grow into a man at peace with the disappointments of his life. The elephant is an avatar that slowly and resolutely marches towards an end that is pre-ordained but not necessarily without surprise.

Sad-eyed former musician Thaneth Warakulnukroh is reserved but deeply compelling as the architect in crisis. Granted. Many people will not be interested in a film about a man and an elephant but this is a delightful look at the road that so many of us have to take in our lives.

“OPENING NIGHT”— Saving the Show

“Opening Night”

Saving the Show

Amos Lassen

In Isaac Rentz’s “Opening Night” , we follow Nick (Topher Grace) out of his apartment and down Broadway into the back of a theater where a new show is about to open. Nick is the stage manager with quite a back-story. We soon meet every major character that we’ll see over the next hour-and-a-half.

Nick wasn’t always a stage manager. He used to be a Broadway performer himself until a terrible opening night pushed him out of the spotlight. Now he’s managing a new jukebox musical, “One Hit Wonderland”, starring J.C. Chasez (playing himself). The show features musicalized versions of songs from pop music’s whose careers are now over. Nick’s ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Alona Tal) is in the chorus but gets bumped up to the second lead when the fading Broadway star cast in the role (Anne Heche) is hurt by a clumsy prop guy (Paul Scheer). Nick then begins to confide in close friend/performer Malcolm (Taye Diggs) while he is being pressured by the show’s producer (Rob Riggle). Nick is encouraged by the timid assistant stage manager (Lauren Lapkus) and he helps the theater’s medic (Brian Huskey) take care of Heche, the diva with a concussion.

It takes a little while to realize that the new show is not only about a jukebox musical but that this film is also a jukebox musical itself. Not only do we see performances from the new show but the characters in the film also spontaneously break into one hit wonder songs backstage. These numbers are the best in the movie and, this reinforces the idea that any good satire is powered by a true affection for its subject. There are many laughs that revolve around the scandalous behavior of the cast and crew, from sexual one-upsmanship to extreme drug abuse. However the jokes do not have the sting that should come with a bitter main character like Nick.

This is a theater kid’s dream complete with singing, dancing, vulgarity and humor. Nonetheless, the jokes are funny and often quite sexual yet there are several heartfelt and emotional scenes. The characters are well balanced and well developed and have the kind of chemistry that lets them play off of each other. The song and dance numbers are all quite good and taken as a whole, we really get a look at the corniness of musical theatre.

On the serious side, we see that Nick has commitment issues and has recently just messed up his four-year relationship with Chloe. As opening night begins, Nick is forced to evaluate his actions while dealing with the overwhelming drama that is constantly occurring backstage. “Opening Night” pays homage to musical theatre while at the same time pokes fun at all the drama that goes on behind the scenes. It can be easily be seen as a musical but also as mockumentary about what happens behind the scenes of a big show.

While it is predictable and cheesy, it works and everyone involved seems to he having a great time. Somehow the film manages to capture everything that people love and hate about theatre.

“The Destroyers: A Novel” by Christopher Bollen— A Thriller

Bollen, Christopher. “The Destroyers: A Novel”, Harper, 2017.

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

Ian Bledsoe comes to the Greek island of Patmos broke and humiliated. He is running from the fallout of his father’s death that has affected him financially and emotionally. His best friend from his youth, Charlie, is enjoying the pleasures of Patmos and Ian feels that this might give him the hope to het his life back together.

Patmos is an island that many of us dream about with its days in the sun. Of course, Charlie’s yacht helped as did the appearance of girlfriend from Ian’s past but there is also something very dark on Patmos as there is in Charlie and he suddenly disappears, Ian realizes that he is stuck in deception after deception. At one point he remembers a game, Destroyers, that he and Charlie would play when they sere kids and he understands that they are, in effect, still playing. Christopher Bollen has given us a literary thriller that is totally original and sophisticated.

What really makes this such a fascinating read is not only he beautiful prose but the complicated characters that make us want to know more about them. Herein lies Bollen’s talent— we must keep reading to do this as he only gives us a little about them at a time. Put this together with Bollen’s feelings about wealth and the consequences of having in, gives us a powerful look at our world today. Then there is also the theme of redemption

that for me permeates the novel and really made me think. This is a read that is filled with suspense as it looks at the nature of identity and power. The problem that I have in writing a review here is that I must be careful not to give away to much and spoil the read for others but I will tell you to reserve a block of time when you begin reading because you will not want to stop once you begin to read.



“Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith” by Israel Drazin— Exploring Puzzlng Questions

Drazin, Israel. “Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith”, Geffen, 2016.

Exploring Puzzling Questions

Amos Lassen

“Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith” is part of a larger series that explores questions that have puzzled readers of the Bible for centuries. Rabbi Israel looks at why Ruth and Esther were included in the Jewish Bible while the Book of Judith, which has a more openly religious character than either Ruth or Esther, was not and only appears in the Jewish apocrypha.

Drazin’s has divided is book into three units, one on each of the three books and then each unit is further divided into chapters that give an overview of each book and explore key themes in greater detail. Looking at the book of Ruth, for example, we read the textual evidence that suggests that Ruth did not convert to Judaism, despite Rabbinic interpretation which identifies her as an early convert. “The book of Ruth not only does not indicate that Ruth converted, it states seven times that she remained a Moabite—including twice in the final chapter. In fact. Boaz calls her a Moabite when he speaks about marrying her.”

In his analysis of the Book of Esther Drazin identifies several inconsistencies in the story and shows its pagan origins. For example, the primary practices of Purim (feasting, drinking, and sending gifts) mimic the practices of King Ahasuerus. Furthermore, the author notes that Esther is a reticent heroine and that Mordechai’s valor that is praised at the story’s conclusion and Esther’s. Nowhere does it say that there is a requirement to read the Book of Esther.

Judith is included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bible, while it is only included in the Protestant and Jewish apocrypha even though each of Judith’s sixteen chapters has references to God and prayer observances while Ruth and Esther, contain little or nothing about God or religion. Drazin gives us a review of the book’s plot and concludes by focusing on Judith’s heroism of Judith in defeating Holofernes and liberating the Judeans from foreign rule.

The rest of the book looks at why Judith was not included in the Jewish bible Drazin gives us several reasons that have been suggested in the past, many deal with Rabbinic Judaism’s discomfort with a strong female protagonist. However, he does not accept this and suggests that the real reason comes from Rabbinic Judaism’s dislike of a “proactive theology that denied a reliance on God”.

As a whole, we get new insights and a comparative analysis of three books with a female protagonist but I must say that I found what makes this book so interesting is that it introduces us to the Book of Judith.