Facing the Truth
“Lore” is set in Germany immediately after World War II ad Hitler has just taken his own life. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is rushed to a house in the German countryside because her Nazi parents realize that they are in danger and imprisonment as the Allies begin occupying Germany. They were correct in this—Lore’s father suddenly disappears and her mother is raped when she tries to find out what happened to her husband. She then orders Lore to take her sister, twin brothers and baby to go to her grandmother’s house if she does not return after being taken away by Allied forces.
This is a side of the war that is not usually depicted on film and we can see what a risk it was to made a film about a Nazi. Lore had been a member of Hitler youth and never questioned voicing her disapproval and hatred for the Jewish people. Yet she is an adolescent and approaching womanhood. As she and her family move across post-war Germany, she sees how the German people have suffered—they see dead bodies who had been rape victims and murdered by the Allies and the children themselves see mistrust and starvation everywhere. When they go into a small town, Lore see the horrors of the concentration camps in photos pinned to a wall. A local resident tells her that they now must stand in line and look at these pictures if they want to get something to eat—a loaf of stale bread. Lore assumes that the pictures have been doctored and we, in the audience, become aware of what it was like in Germany after the war (as a Jew, I could care less) for German citizens who were not part of the atrocities of the Nazi party.
The film is fiction and the story is told from various viewpoints and we see a portrayal of a journey through a country wallowing in poverty and chaos after the fascist regime in Germany fell. We see something else and I must say that this is just a strange film that brings in a love story while depicting the blackest history the world has ever seen. It is the story of a teenage girl when she faces her own beliefs and it looks at the themes of family, guilt, war, survival, sexual awakening and loss of innocence. It is both a coming-of-age film and a tale of survival of a child of the Nazi regime (about whom I really did want to care for but found that I did). Lore sets out to face the bitter truths of the responsibilities of become an adult and realizes the fallibility of the ideology she inherited. Her father had been a high- ranking SS officer. She found herself abandoned and mixed-up when her parents are arrested for war crimes. Right before she was taken away, Lore’s mother implored her to take care of her younger sisters and brothers and they traveled over 500 miles north to her grandmother’s house where Lore takes on the role of mother and she lies to her siblings and does her best to get food for them and tells them that their parents are fine. On the road, they were stopped by American soldiers who requested to see identification papers and they are rescued by Thomas (Kai Mailina), a Jewish teen. He tells the soldiers that he is their brother and that they were sent from Buchenwald to Auschwitz to wait for liberation. He continues to travel with them and they are suffering from lack of proper food and covered with insect bites. They slug their way through Bavaria and Lore still has bigoted feelings toward Thomas since he is Jewish yet he continues to help them and feels like a martyr.
The director, Cate Shortland, tries to bring the audience to see things through Lore’s eyes—after all, she is only guilty of being born into a family of Nazis. She is too young to really understand what it cost her to be a member of Hitler youth yet she is too old to not see the atrocities that her father and her government caused. She seemed, at first, to be ambivalent toward Thomas and it is through this that we see Lore begin to change. I just find it hard to watch blossom under the conditions that they are in.
This is a fresh, albeit unrefreshing look at Germany’s transition from conqueror to conquered. Lore becomes highly aware of this as she sees the physical wreckage and destructive emotional forces of guilt, denial and utter bewilderment engulfing fellow citizens attempting to process Germany’s capitulation. While everything technical about the film is excellent, I was put off by Lore who is stuck in the mold that her Nazi parents placed her and granted it is not fair to have these feelings toward a child, I am unable to think about this in any other way.
Reed, Mark. “The God Hunters II: Reunion”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.
Warning: This is speculative fiction so if that is not what you like, this is probably not the book for you.
Mark Reed follows his first novel “The God Hunters” with volume 2, “Reunion”. Several months ago, David Ruger was an average mortal man with a boyfriend who was not serious. Things changed and now David is living in an alien universe, “The Expanse” and he not only has supernatural powers but a new boyfriend, Doug Colt, who is everything David’s ex was not. Doug is strong and that is just what his occupation demands.
David joins up with Doug and his brother, Bryan as they try to find a group of trolls set on revenge. The hunt takes them to places across the Expanse to the Shards of Exeter which is known for its magic and very large landmasses. It is there that the supernatural rules and enemies hide. David has visions about the kind of life he is must have and his role in it. He must reshape the Expanse and deal with the evil that caused the war years ago. Now that threat of yore has resurfaced, David is forced to save the family he loves so much.
I do not like speculative fiction and I only read it when asked to review a book about it so I admit my bias here. I really wanted to like the book but it is just not the kind of book for me. It is well written and the characters are well drawn but it did not speak to me and I found myself reading it because I had to. However, for those who like science fiction and the paranormal, this will be the kind of read that they are looking for.
Willen, Rachel. “Ladders to Heaven” BTTW Press, 2013.
Crown Heights, 1990s
In Crown Heights we meet five characters who are dealing with their Judaism and who come to terms with the universal issues of sex, love, gender identity, faith, racism and violence. Lark is a “smart mouth” teen rebel whose father, a former hippie is a “born again” (baal tshuva) Jew. Rachel doubts her relationship to the ultra Orthodox Jewish community she was born into and dreams of escape. Jamal, “Rainman”, is a black neighborhood “know-it-all” and with whom Lark is obsessed and finds to be very sexy. Yakov’s grandfather is the revered rabbi and will most likely succeed him but is conflicted about his religion and about his obligations to God as he lusts with both body and soul for Daniel, his friend since childhood. Daniel goes beyond the neighborhood so that he can live his life openly and honestly. When Crow Heights becomes the site of riots, the neighborhood is torn and each of the characters is forced to deal with change. The formerly hidden world is exposed as are the concepts of piety and family dynamics.
Willen gives us characters that are real and complex and who have to face change. Lark and Rachel seek their own ideas of truth in a world steeped in religious values and family loyalty. They must decide if they can question and challenge their world which exists primarily on ancient religious ideals and family loyalty knowing that the modern world is just steps from where they live.
When we begin reading, we get the idea that the plot is about the struggle of four families who are dealing with the results of choices each has made but we soon understand that the theme of the novel is religious obsession which demands blind faith and causes bigotry, betrayal and abuse. The three young people who are coming of age and reaching maturity find their lives challenged by these three issues and must find ways to live, love and forge friendships.
“Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond…” by Judah LeBlang— Sharing a Life
Leblang, Judah. “Finding My Place: One Man’s Journey from Cleveland to Boston and Beyond…”. Lake Effect Press, 2012.
Sharing a Life
I originally reviewed Judah LeBlang’s “Finding My Place…” when it was first published in 2009 and now it has been reissued with new material and a third section,” One Man’s Journey through the Middle Ages”. It all begins in Cleveland, Ohio is the 1960s and then takes us to the gay Mecca of Provincetown, Massachusetts–with stops in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington, DC during President Obama’s first inauguration. Judah’s Leblang’s journey is more of an internal one which touches on universal themes: unrequited love, the search for one’s place and identity, and wrestling with Father Time. This new edition includes numerous pieces which have been broadcast on NPR stations around the United States, and published in newspapers and magazines in Boston and Cleveland and the text of Leblang’s one man show about aging gracefully: “My Life in the Middle Ages.”
What could possibly please a Jewish gay guy more than reading about someone else being Jewish and gay,
Leblang grew up outside of Cleveland and his childhood days were not the happy and carefree times that so many others have. But there were the good times along with the bad. His life is a journey of discovery that is both comedic and dramatic. Leblang grew up much like I did—it seems so long ago yet it is very vivid in my mind. I am sure that this author’s memories are clearer than mine and he puts them down on paper to share them with all of us. It is not easy being an outsider and it was especially not easy being a sexual minority at a time (the 60’s and 70’s) when we were totally non accepted and looked at as if we were lepers. Leblang takes us with him on his journey and although his story is personal, it is one that we can all relate to. This is a story that we can all share because we are all or have all been on a search for ourselves. We, like the author, are defined by the events we have been part of and by the people we have known. We lose and we win and we eventually come to terms with who we are. However, most of us cannot write about it the way Leblang does. He writes with pride and he writes with a defiance that makes us proud and angry as we go with him on his journey. There is a lot to learn here and a lot to reinforce that which we have already learned.
The book is divided conveniently into chapters that are episodic and it is the wit and the prose that draws us in. Leblang handles detail beautifully and I loved the chapter in which Judah tells us how he became Judah and stopped being Bruce. Now that I have relocated to the Boston area the book speaks to me more than ever because I now know some of the places he writes about. I also am aware of the way Bostonians see the world and while I struggle to adopt this culture, I realize that here is a place I can be me without having to explain myself to anyone and I believe I first realized that back when I read this book but was living in Arkansas. I wholeheartedly recommend this to everyone who is either on his own journey or is simply looking for a good book to read.
Harris, Ed. “Fifty Shades of Schwarz”, Fifty Tales Media, 2013.
This year “50 Shades” of whatever have dominated the best seller charts so it is only natural that there be several parodies of the bestselling books. Ed Harris has a special taken and it is very funny yet moving story of trying to find love and romance in a world of modern technology and fast dating. We meet Maya Stein, a 29 year old graduate of Brandeis who lives in Brooklyn and works for an Internet marketing firm in Manhattan. She is a confident young woman who has been around (shall we say?) and who spends her free time (and her not-so free time) cruising the web. She is dating Jeremy Goldberg who is a part-time waiter and who is taking online classes in education and is writing a screenplay. Maya is not sure how she feels about him but I sense that she is ambivalent as we see when Jeremy pressures her to change her Facebook status to in a relationship.
While web surfing, Maya finds herself on JDate where she cyber meets Aaron Schwarz, a real estate broker who is not only intense but who has some interesting tastes in sexual activity (Nu?). It seems that he had a troubled childhood. At the same, her mother, Dottie, tries to set Maya up with a single and young rabbi, David Teitelbaum. As the years pass—and they do so quickly, the novel moves ten years forward as Maya reflects that perhaps she should have gone to her high school prom with Adam Goldman who is now graduating from Harvard Medical School. She wonders if her life would have been any different if she and Adam had married especially when she lets us know that the reason the turned him down was because he had acne.
The only way that I know this is a parody of that other 50/grey book is because of the title—I am most certainly not going to read it and the thought of doing so makes me feel like a conformist. One of the beauties of reviewing books of a special genre or genres (LGBT and Jewish) is that I get to choose what I want to read and do not have to rely on bestseller lists which, for me, at least, do not reflect the tastes of this country and which often are tasteless. To further illustrate that point, I quote from the reviews on Amazon.com:
Here are what some reviewers wrote:
“I so enjoyed Fifty Shades of Schwarz! In particular, I love the situations you’ve created to allow the reader to get to know Maya. I’m incredibly impressed at your understanding of the female psyche. In my opinion, you’ve nailed it.
Stanford grad and former contestant on the TV show The Bachelor, Britt Billmaier wrote:
“Mordechai Richter meets Anais Nin for the 21st century – I love it.”
Jonathan Schmalzbach, co-founder of Beyond Books and former NY Times contributor”.
.This alone should let you know what kind of book this is.
Elledge, D.E. “A Good Name for a Hero”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.
From Platonic to Physical
Set on the Gulf Coast of southern Florida, this is the story of desires in conflict and discovering what is important in life. Ty Blackburn takes tourists on his boat for chartered tours of the scenic beauty and wildlife of the area. He hires an assistant, Cody Masterson, to be his second mate to assist with the photographic aspect of his tours and of his life. Ty, who is gay, finds himself smitten with Cody who is exceptionally good looking and self-proclaimed straight. Of course, this could cause problems and when Cody’s manner and behavior suggest that perhaps he is not as straight as he might want Ty to believe, Cody must decide how to move forward. He has a strict rule about dating employees and this frustrates him and the situation. Then there are the dangerous letters and secrets that neither Ty nor Cody are willing to share. The danger begins to take on reality and at this point, both men talk to each other about their pasts and this intimacy causes the relationship to become physical. They face pressures that threaten what they have and Cody is put in the position of having to save Ty. However, first he must resolve the conflicting desires within himself and make a decision as to what is really important to him.
Elledge gives us in Ty and Cody two very real characters here and a compelling plot. Most of us have been in situations where we read people in our minds and later find out that we did so correctly. The coming together of these two men ad the way they care for each other is a heartwarming experience.
Thomas, A.J. “A Casual Weekend Thing”, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.
Doug Heavy Runner was an openly gay Miami police officer but when his mother became ill, he left the force and went home to his reservation to help care for her. That was two years ago and he is still there; now a small town deputy in Elkin, Montana. He has a very poor sex life but maintains his sanity by having casual sex with out of towners. Christopher Hayes came to town and the two men met and had fantastic sex and that meeting extended into a weekend causing Doug to break his own rule that he was only interested in quick sex.
Christopher is a detective who came to Montana from California to handle the details about his brother Peter’s suicide and had no idea that the man with whom he had spent the weekend was the same man who was handling his brother’s case and he certainly wants to spend more time with Doug. However, the house that he inherited from his brother burns down and Christopher and Doug become suspects to arson. This does not prevent the new men from investigating the case and they learn that Christopher’s brother’s death caused them to be on the trail of a pedophile who is determined to keep his last victim quiet. As Doug and Christopher search for that victim, things go awry and Doug ends up hospitalized and Christopher is being held by the killer.
When Christopher got word that his brother was dead by suicide, he is told that he must go get the body. He had not seen his brother since he was 12 years old and he had only heard that he was in prison. There was no love lost between Christopher and Peter and Christopher was recovering from a gunshot wound and dealing with his dead brother was the last thing he needed.
Doug had been called to rescue a man who was hanging off of a cliff but when he gets there he finds only a dead body with strange skin cravings. He needed to find the closest relative to claim the body. Little did Christopher or Doug know that romance was nigh. When Christopher arrived in Montana, he was tired and stressed so he went to a bar hoping to find sexual adventure for the night and there he met Doug who was looking for the same. They hook up and what was supposed to have been a “one-nighter” became a weekend affair. When they did part, both were surprised to find each other when next they met. Things got very heavy when the two men had to deal with being suspected of arson while trying to find clues left behind by Peter and trying to locate a pedophile. At the same they deal with the growing attraction between them. Then as they search for Peter’s lover, Doug is shot and taken to the hospital ad Christopher stands alone against the killer, whoever he might be. Christopher disappears and there is not much time to find him before he ends up like Peter.
I have never read anything by Thomas before so I assume he is a debut writer although you would never know that from the quality of his work. He gives us mystery and suspense as well as wonderfully drawn characters and excellent writing. The mystery itself is quite disturbing because of the pedophile issue but everything works out and I say that without giving anything away. There are new discoveries all along the way and the two deal with each thing that comes their way but without question, the best part of the story is how Doug and Christopher deal with each other.
The Other Torah— A new English translation of the Samaritan Torah offers scholars a different version of the sacred text
The Other Torah
A new English translation of the Samaritan Torah offers scholars a different version of the sacred text
While Jews study a number of religious books—from the Talmud to the Shulchan Aruch—the text that provides the religion’s very foundation is the Torah. And the version of the Torah most commonly studied by Jews is known as the Masoretic text, the most authoritative Hebrew version of the Torah.
But it is not the only one.
A small, ancient sect known as the Samaritans rely on the Torah, and the Torah alone, as their sole religious text—and the Samaritans use a somewhat different version. Two weeks ago, the first English translation of this Hebrew text was published by Samaritan historian and scholar Binyamin Tsedaka: The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah. There are some 6,000 instances where this version of the Torah differs from the Masoretic text; the question for scholars is which version is more complete, or more accurate.
As an ancient Semitic people, the Samaritans abide by a literal version of Torah law. Eschewing Jewish practices that are rabbinic in origins, they believe only in the Five Books of Moses and observe only holidays found in the Pentateuch, such as Passover and Sukkot, as opposed to Jewish holidays like Purim or Hanukkah whose origins are found elsewhere in Jewish scriptures.
Their rituals mirror an ancient world that few religions still keep today. On Passover, for example, their high priest sacrifices a sheep in a community-wide ritual, where its blood is dabbed on foreheads and later eaten together with matzo and bitter herbs. On Shabbat, Samaritans abstain from cooking and kindling fires and pray barefoot in white, identical garments. And, echoing a routine taken straight from the text of Leviticus, Samaritan women move to their own private homes during menstruation for seven days of isolation.
Much of what the Samaritans practice has some resemblance to Jewish traditions, except their beliefs surrounding the holiness of Mount Gerizim, the mountaintop they believe they were commanded by God to conquer. Tsedaka, 68, grew up in Nablus, which is in the shadow of Mount Gerizim, but after the eruption of the first Palestinian intifada in the late 1980s, two-thirds of the Samaritan population relocated. Their community is now split between Kiryat Luza in the West Bank and the Israeli city of Holon.
Tsedaka, who lives in Kiryat Luza, has dedicated much of his life to the Samaritan community. As a historian, author, educator, and elder of his group, Tsedaka considers himself a guardian of his ancient tradition, as he is one of fewer than 800 Samaritans left. He has authored more than 75 pamphlets on Samaritan scholarship, but he calls his new translation of his Torah, which took him seven years to compile, his biggest achievement.
“Samaritans have such beautiful traditions that when you will collect and read materials about them, you will fall in love,” Tsedaka said. “For the first time ever, English Bible researchers will be able to include my people into their explorations of the Torah.”
The 6,000 differences between the two Torahs that Tsedaka highlights in bold in his book can be split into two categories: 3,000 of the differences are autographical, meaning there are spelling differences or additional words placed in the text, while the other 3,000 are more significant in changing the Torah’s narrative.
Some of the autographical changes help make the story read more smoothly. For example, in Genesis 4:8, when Cain talks to Abel, the Masoretic version reads, “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him,” whereas the Samaritan Torah contains additional words: “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ ”
The Samaritan Torah also offers a slightly different version of some stories. It includes parts of dialogues that are not found in the Masoretic text: For example, in Exodus chapters 7 through 11, the Samaritan Torah contains whole conversations between Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh that the Masoretic text does not.
The other differences that are significant in narrative sometimes change the story, and sometimes “fix” small sentences that appear incoherent.
In Exodus 12:40, for example, the Masoretic text reads: “The length of the time the Israelites lived in Egypt was 430 years,” a sentence that has created massive chronological problems for Jewish historians, since there is no way to make the genealogies last that long. In the Samaritan version, however, the text reads: “The length of time the Israelites lived in Canaan and in Egypt was 430 years.”
Earlier in Exodus, in 4:25, the Samaritan Torah offers an alternative narrative to the slightly problematic story about Moses’ son not being circumcised when an angel of God “sought to kill him.” The thought that Moses did not circumcise his son, as the Masoretic text states, seems inconceivable to many Jewish commentators, Tsedaka noted. The Samaritan text, however, reads that it was Moses’ wife, Tziporah, who had to “circumcise her blocked heart” by cutting off her belief in the idol-worshiping ways of Midyan, her homeland. A mention of an “internal circumcision” is later found in Deuteronomy 10:16 in both versions, which reads, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.”
Perhaps the most variant of texts within the two Torahs is the differences in the Ten Commandments.
“The Commandments are all in the form of ‘do’ and ‘don’t do,’ ” Tsedaka asserted. “The Masoretic version includes the intro of ‘I am your God that took you out of Egypt,’ as a commandment, when we see it as an introduction. Our Ten Commandments start later, and we have our last commandment to establish Mount Gerizim.”
While an “extra” commandment to establish an altar on Mount Gerizim might seem random in the Masoretic text, the part that follows the Ten Commandants in the Masoretic version talks about the forbidden action of building stairs to an altar. Some scholars believe that the Masoretic text would not be discussing steps to an altar without talking about an altar first, and so some believe there might be a part of the text that is missing in the Masoretic version.
Until the 1950s, Bible scholars turned to the Jewish Masoretic text as the definitive version of the Torah, virtually ignoring the Samaritan text. However, in the winter of 1947, a group of archeological specialists searching through 11 caves in Qumran happened upon the Dead Sea Scrolls. After rigorous study of the scrolls, researchers have come to believe there were several versions of the Torah being studied throughout Jewish history, according to Eugene Ulrich, a theology professor at University of Notre Dame.
The scrolls they found in Qumran matched the Samaritan text more closely than the Masoretic text, leading some researchers to believe the Samaritan text held validity in the minds of Jews during the Second Temple period and that both texts were once studied together.
“Finding the Dead Sea Scrolls proved that there were two versions, if not more, of the Torah circulating within Judaism, but they were all dealt with with equal validity and respect,” said Ulrich, who served as one of the chief editors on the Dead Sea Scrolls International Publication Project. “The Samaritan Torah and Masoretic Torah used to be studied side by side. The Masoretic text wasn’t always the authoritative version. They were both seen as important during the Second Temple time period.”
Ulrich said after the destruction of the Second Temple, the people split into three groups, each with their own text: The rabbis took the Masoretic text for their own, the Samaritans took theirs, and the Christians had the Masoretic version translated into Greek, known as the Septuagint.
While most differences between the two Torahs are only slight and may not even be apparent to an untrained eye, according to Ulrich, the Samaritan Torah provides a more coherent reading because the story flows better in its text. “There are whole passages of stories missing from the Masoretic version,” he said. “A lot of the stories in Exodus and Deuteronomy are missing parts of the conversation, leaving the reader alone to do much assumption as the story goes on. In the Samaritan Torah, however, these gaps are filled, providing a smoother encounter of what actually happened.”
James Charlesworth, a professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton University’s Department of Biblical studies, said the Samaritan Torah is his preferred version. “As the stories and histories go, the Samaritan Pentateuch appears to be more favorable because the voice of the text reads more clear[ly],” he said. “In my judgment, the Masoretic version has some corrupt parts of it, and the Samaritan Torah is the best reading we have. There are sentences scholars are left to either reinterpret or simply ignore because they seem they don’t belong.”
Charlesworth believes Jews and Christians have not shown the Samaritan text the proper respect it deserves: Thousands of years ago, Samaritans and Jews had a shared interest in both scriptures, but the Samaritan Torah later became shunned. Charlesworth said this English translation would finally provide the academic world insight into the origins of the development of scripture.
The Samaritans claim their Torah is older and more authentic: “It’s more logical that a group of people who’ve lived in one place for thousands of years have kept their Torah preserved,” Tsedaka asserted, “as compared to a people who have moved all over the world.”
But some Bible critics side with the Masoretic version, citing it as older and, indeed, more authentic. Referring to a principal of textual criticism called lectio difficilior potior, which states that a harder reading of a text is preferred to an easier reading, Yeshiva University’s Aaron Koller said some scholars believe the Samaritan Torah’s text, which presents fewer interpretive problems, proves that it had been tampered with. “Some scholars believe someone took an original version of the Torah and simplified it to the Samaritan version,” he explained. “It’s hard to believe a difficult reading of a text is original, because why would someone change a text to make it unclear? Rather, when a text is simplified, it’s easier to believe that the text was altered in order to make it simpler.”
Koller noted that the consensus view held by most Bible scholars is that the Masoretic version of the Torah is the older, original version. The structural changes of the Samaritan Torah give reason to believe it’s been changed, he said, but that should not stop people from studying it. Both should be studied, he said, to understand the history of interpretations of the Torah—a book that continues to unfold with meaning as time goes on.
“Outside of the Samaritan community, most believe the Samaritan Torah was an editorial revision of the Masoretic text,” Koller said. “But they are a group that consider themselves heirs to biblical Israel, just like the Jews. It’s important just to learn the remarkable tradition they’ve preserved for 2,500 years.”
Mother and Son
Harry is an internationally famous concert pianist who lives with another man, Bernard, his lover, in London. He goes to Paris to try to make his mother better understand about his sexuality but when he gets there, he learns that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. With this news, Harry’s life is severely altered and in an attempt to deal with his feelings of guilt and hurt, he throws himself into a life of short intense sexual affairs and he is forced to question his capacity to love. Solomon gives us a story about the destructive and regenerative love between mother and son as Harry questions the relationships in his life—with his mother, with his partner and with the woman who has been his closest friend. He is in the saddest period of his life and is bereft about his mother. He remembers that his mother wanted him to be able to have a perfect life and it has been his desire to be independent and a good man. He also begins an affair with Helen which he keeps from his mother and learns that he is bisexual. As his mother’s life moves toward its end, their relationship is seen as the paragon of simplicity and purity.
Harry has always strived for perfection in his music, his sexual life and his sense of aesthetics. He tries to find beauty in the mundane and is a keen observer of everything around him. Early on, his mother blames herself for his homosexuality and tries to get Harry to move into a more conventional and accepted lifestyle. She tells him that what he has with Bernard can’t be as great or as satisfying than children and the love for a woman. She is still quite young—in her 50’s and is not ready to die but she also does not want a long, drawn-out painful death. Chemotherapy does not stop her cancer and she begins to plan her death.
This is a novel of true beauty and while it might be a bit painful to read, it is also tremendously rewarding. I could not help but think of my own mother and death from cancer. I did not see her during her final year as I was living out of the country but I could easily have put myself into Harry’s place and experienced the same gamut of emotions. The prose is gorgeous but with a sense of vagueness which presents a stark contrast between the life of those with money and the ugliness that is part of ending life. In classifying the novel, it falls into several categories—eulogy, confession and an exercise in forgiveness. Each word seems to be handpicked to provide an intimate look at family and love. Even though there are many characters, the novel never loses that intimacy and it ultimately becomes a look at life overcoming death. At first both Harry and his mother refuse to admit death into their lives but ultimately conspire with it so that Harry’s mother can die with grace and dignity.
This is Solomon’s first novel and was written more than 20 years ago and it “is an achingly beautiful, deeply perceptive story of family, sexuality, and the startling changes wrought by grief, loss, and self-discovery”.
Young. “A Harem Boy’s Saga – I: Initiation”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
A Provocative and Erotic Autobiography
I am always flattered when I get a letter from someone I do not know asking me to review his book because for me it is a validation that my work is being read and/or paid attention to. When the author of this book asked me to review him, I immediately said yes because he wrote an autobiography and I am curious about young autobiographies. Not only that but this is book one of a five book series. Young is in hid forties and he tells us that while this is his true story, he promised to maintain confidentiality and allegiance to his mentors and his society so we know that the names have been changed.
Young was born into a Chinese family of privilege in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, the third son who early on showed an interest in ballet and fashion. He and his father, a very successful businessman, did not really have a good relationship and in fact, he was not much of a father or a husband. Young was sent to boarding school in England after he was caught having a sexual rendezvous with another boy. What his father did not know was that at school he would be inducted into the Enlightened Royal Oracle Society or EROS and it was there that he learned sensuality and sexuality. The members are trained to be apprentices in harems in the Arab Emirates. What we see here is a very personal view of the Arab world and it is indeed shocking when we consider the treatment of homosexuals under Muslim law. Hopefully this book will bring others with similar experiences to write their stories. I had always believed that such secret societies were fabrications of vivid imaginations and to learn that they actually exist show us the skin trade is alive and well. In addition to receiving a traditional education, Young learned sensuality and carnality. Young writes about his life with great detail but there are graphic scenes of sex that might make some readers wince (but not the readers I know). We get a look at cultures and subcultures that we never knew existed and a brand new look at the Middle East. For me this was a revelation as I lived for many years in a non-Arab country but I did have gay Arab friends and never heard of anything like this. I do not doubt a word in this memoir because I am so aware of the patriarchy that exists in these countries so it is not totally surprising to read that this went on.
There is so much to be learned here—from Young’s childhood life in Malaya to the secret societies in Europe and to the sexual adventures of the upper classes in the emirates. Young was born into affluence and remained there even as a member of a harem. He catches all the details which at times are shocking but taken as a whole this is quite an educational text. Coming in at about 600 pages, I could not stop reading and the more I read the more I learned.
Some may wonder how Young got from England to the emirates and how he was able to hide this from his parents. The trip came under the auspices of a student exchange scholarship program by which Young was sent to a private school somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula. From there he was taken to a secret location where he met other scholarship recipients. He was introduced to the rules and regulations under which he was to live and informed that they were never to be violated. He, in turn, was granted rich rewards and he became a player in a game of the rich and powerful that took place in secret and behind closed doors.
EROS was founded by George Gordon, Lord Byron in the 1800s. During his travels he became enamored with the Turkish way of life and was especially fascinated by the harem. With the passage of time there began an exchange program between England and the emirates and wealthy Arab families funded the scholarships in cooperation with the boarding school. Young felt sure that he had made the right decision and was rewarded not only by the Arabs but by the masters at his school. Boys who were not sexually inhibited were recruited. They had to be comfortable with their sexuality and not afraid to go new places and do new things.
The book comes in at about 600 pages (and this is just the first of five volumes) and I sat and read the entire book without stopping. There is just so much here but the reader must be prepared for the graphic sex. Chapter 28 is entitled “The Art of Seduction and Flirtation” and is basically the pre-requisite for what is to follow as the boys are trained in the arts of body language and grooming which are regimented. Sensuality and foreplay are also considered arts and are taught as well. (An interesting note is that there were young girls who were trained to satisfy the heterosexuals and there were bisexuals as well).
Perhaps one of the chapters I found most interesting was “Sex Before Circumcision”. Arabs are circumcised at 13 years old and there is a difference in sex before and after as is so wonderfully written about here. I could go on and on with examples but it is to everyone’s advantage to read for themselves. I just did not want the book to end. Think about how often we get an education with eroticism to boot. The book is extremely well written and if this review seems to be coming to an abrupt end, that is deliberate. I just want everyone to have the experience of reading this. It is unlike anything I have ever read before.