The Shack

the shack masks blog 2018
I created this digital sketch for my book, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. Although the skills displayed are crude, the picture helps to tell my story and conveys the mood of the day.

I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”.  It’s an odd book.  Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not.  As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall.  The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture.  My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.

 

As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.

With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.

The shack was my library.

Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.

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The Accidental Anarchist, By Bryna Kranzler: Book Review

Jewish refugees Liverpool 1882
Jewish refugees from Russian pogrom, Liverpool, England 1882


Bryna Kranzler’s The Accidental Anarchist traces the adventures and misadventures of Jacob Marateck, the author’s grandfather. The book is based on Jacob’s diaries, which were written from memory. The diaries document Jacob’s personal history and are part of the Marateck family legacy.

Jacob Marateck was witness to dramatic events in Russian history. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, conspired with revolutionaries and was exiled to Siberia. Eventually, he followed the only path that would insure his survival: He emigrated.

Jacob’s saga begins when he is conscripted into the Russian army. The naive youth stumbles through a series of calamities from which he manages, improbably, to escape. He brings along with him on his travels three abiding tools that get him through the adventures: a clever mind, an abiding sense of humor, and an unshakable faith. That faith, in my view, more than anything else, becomes the spine of this story.

When Jacob sets off for the army, his family, and just about everyone who knows him, gather and bid him goodbye. Ahead of him lies the unknown. Behind, an insular society, one that has provided family, friends and moral compass. What will the world, what will the Russian army, do to Jacob? His father offers advice that will stay with Jacob and protect him from the mischief of outside influences. “Be a Jew”, his father instructs. We see throughout the book that it is this injunction, and Jacob’s adherence to it, that determine the course of his life and his character.

His father’s words ring in Jacob’s ears as he marches to war. They provide strength as he struggles to resist temptations . “Be a Jew”. Conforming to his mandate means conforming to the laws of the Torah, even when hunger and carnal desire strike.

Of course, being a Jew in imperial Russia is not an identity Jacob can easily deny. Antisemitism pervades every aspect of Russian society. It is inescapable in the marketplace, the courts and the army.

Although Jacob’s journey takes him to war, prison and exile, his tone is never grim. The book has an almost picaresque quality. Even more than Bryna Kranzler’s art, I believe it is Jacob’s humor that makes his story enjoyable.

The essential truth of Jacob’s recollections is born out by other material from the same era. Tolstoy’s Resurrection, for example, describes an irrational court system, a decadent military and a brutal process of exile. Resurrection is not simply a novel. It was Tolstoy’s attempt to expose flaws in Russian society and government. The book has been faulted for being a screed rather than a work of fiction.

Byrna Kranzler has done a skillful job editing and organizing her grandfather’s diaries. After his death, associates and family recognized the value of his unique record. They preserved the diaries and transcribed them. Kranzler explains that she is third in the line of this legacy project. She edited and consolidated the material further. Consolidation involved taking liberty with details to create an entertaining story. The result is a blend of history, memoir and novel.

Overall, The Accidental Anarchist may be taken as a genuine reflection of the diarist’s experience. I would have enjoyed reading the originals, in translation, but most readers would probably prefer this more organized rendition. The Accidental Anarchist is a well-written and worthwhile book.

A. G. Moore     August, 2017

Trailer Dogs

dog for trailer dogs
Ellen Garrison

Ellen Garrison experienced life-changing events. She lost her business, her home and much of her savings. As she readily admits, her problems were not unique. After 2008, many people, not only in the US but across the world, were in similar circumstances. What to do? Ms. Garrison considered her choices. Weeping and gnashing her teeth was one of them. There was a bit of that, and then she picked herself up and wrote a book. That book, Trailer Dogs, doesn’t make the proverbial lemonade out of lemons. What it makes is closer to a few strong Margaritas.

Ms. Garrison is angry. That is understandable. She doesn’t deny her anger, she channels it. This book could have been a diatribe filled with hatred and blame. Instead, it became an acerbic comedy, akin to a stand-up routine. The author takes sharp aim at hapless targets. Fortunately, her default perspective, toward people and animals, is kindness. Harsh talk and barbs do not translate into hostile action. Quite the contrary.

I’m not a fan of stand-up comedy. Ms. Garrison’s critical observations were off-putting to me. But she won me over with her generosity, toward everyone and everything. There are characters in this book that would have tried my patience. I’m not sure I would have extended the kindness to them that she did.

If you enjoy stand-up comedy, this book is for you. If you’re sitting comfortably at home and believe you’re in no danger of losing that home, this book may be for you also. And if you’ve ever told a trailer park joke, this book is especially for you.

Ms. Garrison writes about a community that is like every other community. It has the young, the old, the eccentric, the usual. Instead of disparaging the community in which she has become an involuntary member, she embraces it. That is a tribute to her generosity and insight. I might not have enjoyed her humor, but I certainly did enjoy getting to know her.

 

A. G. Moore, August 2016