Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review of “Is There Anybody to Love You” by Kalin Terziyski

There’s nothing beautiful about the city of Sofia in Is There Anybody to Love You? by Kalin Terziyski (Dalkey Archive Press, December 2018; translated by David Mossop), a collection of short stories set in the Bulgarian capital. “The houses in Sofia are ugly because they’re old,” thinks the protagonist of the story ‘The Beggar’. “Their age doesn’t do anything to enhance their beauty, just destroys their rendering.”

In the title story it is constantly raining, while in ‘Problems with the Cleaner’, “the stifling heat of August lies as heavy as an old carpet.” The rain is so strong in the story ‘A Stroll through Space with Slight Deviations in Time’ that it seems “as if a cursed and evil decision had been made to engulf us in water.” Still, the heavy rainfall can also serve to refresh the air. After a downpour nearly inundates the city, “the sun even comes out—a strange, droll sort of evening sun—just before it hides behind the mountain peak of Vitosha to go on to someplace else.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

10 Reasons to Visit Bulgaria This Year


Bulgaria is not on the bucket list of most travelers and many would find it difficult to place the country on a map. This is a shame because Bulgaria is an amazing, underrated travel destination, one that is blessed with stunning natural beauty and an abundance of fascinating places to visit. Listed below are ten of the most compelling reasons to travel to Bulgaria this year.

Sofia. Many visitors start their exploration of Bulgaria in the country’s capital. Sofia has a very Eastern European ambience but everywhere there are signs of that it is quickly adapting to the modern era. Most of the main attractions are in the center, where the Roman ruins of Serdika can be seen in the metro stations. It is hard to miss the gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built to honor Russia’s assistance to Bulgaria in its war of independence from the Ottomans in the 1870s. The stunning Jewish synagogue, the Banya Bashi mosque and the stunning Central Mineral Baths building are all within walking distance of each other.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review of ‘The Book of Jeremiah’ by Julie Zuckerman

When we first meet Jeremiah Gerstler, he is a mischievous eleven-year-old who sees no harm in releasing spotted frogs on his family’s seder table during the recitation of the Ten Plagues. But Jeremiah is certainly not the delinquent his school’s headmaster claims he is. He’s a boy after all. Although his parents would love to make him a mensch, Jeremiah will find his own way in life.

When we next meet Jeremiah, nearly seventy years have passed. An essay collection on the subject of the international political economy is being published in honor of his 80th birthday. The dedications in the book praise him, not for the academic achievements of his long career, but for the fact that he “does not tolerate academic laziness.”

“‘These you call dedications?’” Jeremiah fumes. The underlying message, he realizes, is that he is being called out for his “mercurial, volatile, and impulsive” nature. When we hear Jeremiah’s remarks at a celebratory gathering, we tend to believe that this description may be totally on the mark.

Monday, May 20, 2019

"The novel moves at a rollicking pace"


Based on the aftermath of the 2012 coach bombing at Burgas in Bulgaria, Ellis Shuman’s fictional thriller, The Burgas Affair (Createspace, 2018), takes us on a roller coaster ride through Bulgaria and the Black Sea coast, following the exploits of a joint Bulgarian/Israeli detective team in tracking down the perpetrators. As such, this is perfect beach reading if you are staying on the Black Sea coast this summer.

Read the full review on talkingthepiste.com

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It’s Not Easy Writing a Bad Review of a Good Book

I was already reading The Overstory by Richard Powers (W. W. Norton & Company, April 2018) when it was announced that the novel had won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I was reading the book but I wasn’t enjoying it. But, seeing that it had just won a literary award, I was determined to read until the end and see if I could understand why it had won the prize.

After finishing the book, I wasn’t sure whether I would write a review of The Overstory. I hesitated, not wanting to write a bad review because as an author, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of criticism, if it’s not constructive. But the whole point of book reviews is to help a reader decide whether to read a book or not. To let a reader know what they are getting into. So as a service to readers, I will list a few of my impressions of this Pulitzer-winning novel.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The “Pogacha”


We are celebrating the birth of Nikola, the son of one of my wife’s colleagues. We are in the Sofia apartment where the newborn has been kept at home with his mother for 40 days, a period in which only the immediate family has been allowed to visit. But now the baby is no longer at risk from evil spirits. And a special round loaf bread has been baked for the occasion. The pogacha.

During our two-year stay in Bulgaria, we witnessed many of the local customs but this was the first time we had been invited into a Bulgarian home to be part of such an intimate ceremony. Usually, only women - family members and friends - are invited to this special ceremony. Traditionally men are supposed to leave the home, but on this occasion, I am invited to stay and along with a few other men, wait in a separate room.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Recent Reads - April 2019 edition


This year, winter in Israel was a long, drawn-out affair. After five years of drought, abundant rains fell, turning the hillsides and fields brilliant shades of green. Luckily, there are always good books to keep you company during the winter months. Listed below are some of the books I’ve read recently. I hope you will enjoy them as well!

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (G.P. Putnam's Sons, January 2018). How would you live your life if you knew the date of your death? This is the secret revealed in 1969 to the four young siblings of the Gold family. Simon is the youngest and he is the first to leave the family’s New York City home for the gay life of San Francisco. His departure is followed by Klara, who elects to become a Las Vegas magician. Daniel starts a career as a doctor in the American army and eldest sister Varya throws herself into the study of primates and research into longevity among human. Each of these stories is told in turn and we follow the siblings and their unfulfilled lives as they approach the date of their predetermined deaths. Well-developed characters and highly recommended!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Why I am voting Meretz, again


The main reason my vote went to Meretz in the past was its stance on the conflict with the Palestinians. Amazingly, that issue is barely mentioned in the run-up to the elections this year.

Looking through an archive on my blog I found an old article I wrote explaining why I was voting for the left-wing social-democratic and green political party. Although I agree with everything I wrote back then, the arguments I made seem so out of touch with today’s reality. And the reality right now is pretty bleak.

The outcome of the vote, I’m afraid, is already known. Bibi Netanyahu and his Likud party will again form a coalition with the rightwing parties. The next government will be extremist, a threat to our democratic state. Expect additional actions against Israel’s Arab minority; further concessions to the ultra-Orthodox; attacks on the justice system; and the annexation of Palestinian territories.

Meretz’s platform starts with the words, “The State of Israel is a democratic country, the country of the Jewish people and all its citizens.” Meretz works tirelessly to protect civil rights and promote social justice, including the rights of women, LGBTQ, retirees, national minorities, and people with limitations. These are worthy causes and I fully support them.