Tag Archives: BOLLI Monthly Features


Every now and then,  Abby opts for a “sextet of shorts” instead of her more in-depth “trios” of reviews.  Here is her first eclectic batch.


Ben Fountain


A brilliant novel about war that takes place far from the field of battle at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game, the culmination of a “victory tour” for a squad of young grunts whose heroic actions in Iraq have made them a marketable commodity to drum up support for the war.  Hilariously skewers the culture of instant celebrity, politics, patriotism and power, and poignantly conveys the senselessness of sending young men to war. Five stars.  (Ang Lee’s movie version arrives in theaters this week.)


Claire Messud


Nora Eldridge is angry.  How angry?  “You don’t want to know,” she tells us in the opening line of this searing psychological study.  Four years ago, she was finally shedding the Nora who was “the good friend, good daughter, good teacher, doormat….Miss Nobody Nothing…” to become more fully alive,  the artist and special person she always knew herself to be.  She was brought to this euphoric but precarious state by falling in love with (pushing her way into? getting ensnared by?) a family: a glamorous, recognized artist, her professor husband, and their beautiful eight-year-old son.   Could it possibly end well?  A novel that grabs you and won’t let go.



Louise Erdrich


In 1912, Agnes DeWitt adopts the cassock and persona of a Catholic priest who drowns en route to his missionary post in remote North Dakota. For almost a century, Agnes binds her breasts and, as Father Damien, lives a “sincere lie,” ministering to the Ojibwe people she comes to see as her own.  This novel, written in 2001, is the sixth in the series that began with Love Medicine in 1984 and features many of the same members of the Ojibwe clans in the earlier books as well as Louise Erdrich’s elegant, lyrical prose and mix of realism, fable, and humor. The devotion and passion (both earthly and spiritual) of Agnes/Damien hold it all together, despite some sluggish patches in the Ojibwe stories, and make this an emotionally affecting novel.


Bonnie Jo Campbell


After she is raped by her uncle and her father is killed, teen-aged Margo Crane takes to the (fictional) Stark River in rural Michigan to look for the mother who abandoned her several years earlier and to find out how to live.  Margo is a crack shot,  knows every bend in the river,  lives off the land and is sometimes treated well and sometimes badly by the men she meets.  Beautifully written, especially if you enjoy description of the natural world and wilderness survival tales, which I don’t.  I was more interested in Margo than in how to skin a muskrat, but I was interested enough in Margo to enjoy this book more than I expected to.


Teju Cole


This critically acclaimed debut novel has no plot to propel it forward, just the ruminations of the solitary and possibly unreliable narrator – a young Nigerian-born psychiatrist – on identity, art, literature, music, death and more as he wanders the streets of Manhattan and has occasional interactions with friends and strangers, most of them immigrants like himself.  Beautiful prose, with crystalline descriptions of the city and crisp sketches of people.  Surprisingly compelling.


Joseph Roth


Written in 1932 by Joseph Roth, the under-appreciated Austrian-Jewish writer who died young of alcoholism in Paris a few years later, The Radetzky March depicts the waning of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years before World War I.  It begins in 1859, at the Battle of Solferino, when a peasant-born lieutenant saves the life of the young Kaiser, Franz Joseph I, and is rewarded with elevation to the nobility.  The novel follows successive generations of the now-aristocratic von Trotta family into the bureaucracy and the military and into eventual disillusionment that parallels the collapse of the Empire.  Roth’s prose evokes a lost world on every page, not as nostalgic reverie but with a portrayal of the deadly effects of the monarchy on its subjects of all classes and with vivid, detailed descriptions of everything from the landscape to village life to an old man’s cuffs.  Brilliant.


BOOK NOOK Feature Writer Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Searching is Not for the Faint of Heart

This month’s tech offering is all about the art of searching the internet–which is not really as daunting as it may seem.  

search 1

Let’s start by getting a bit of terminology out of the way.

web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.  The most common are Chrome and Internet Explorer though there have been many issues with Explorer so Microsoft is switching to Edge.  But Edge is not ready for prime time.  I suggest you all use Chrome though Safari and Firefox are good alternatives.  Chrome has about half the market.

web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the Web, returning pages that meet specified criteria Google is the clear winner here.  Bing and Ask are becoming intrusive and sometimes you’ll find them taking over (the subject of a much longer discussion.

pie chart

There is a lot of data out there to search.  The following snippet is old and is probably off by a factor of 10.  BUT  ….   Luckily Google runs “web Crawlers” at night to make it easier to find data amongst all this.

search question 1

It is expected that by the end of the year there will be a zettabyte of bytes moved every year.   That is a million times bigger than a Petabyte.  Most if not all of you use Google but it turns out that you can use it better.  There are books and articles with hundreds of examples of things that you can do; I’m just going to mention a few.

  • Put your most important search term first
  • “George washington” (caps don’t matter) is NOT the same as George Washington.  Putting quotation marks around the words indicates that you want to find the two words together in the page.
  • Take advantage of exclusion. “George Washington” –bridge will exclude all references that include the word bridge
  • Google makes a lot of smart guesses. Delta 1431 will get you the status of the flight.  02420 will get you the zipcode and bring up a map of Lexington.  781 will bring up the area code.  You can even put in Fedex or UPS numbers.  Put in Red Sox and you will get the information on the current game including a link for box scores, etc.
  • When you return a search, the words Search Tool is near the top. Click on that and you will see the words “any time” with a downward arrow.  Click on the arrow and you’ll see that you can restrict the time range for the search.  This is very important as it removes a lot of obsolete information.
  • For those with a mathematical bent, you can set up a Boolean Search, viz: snowmobile and (snowblower or Green Bay). But you don’t need the “and”
  • The asterisk is a wild card. The search for three * mice will allow any middle word
  • Define happy goes out to the dictionary for the word happy.  (I used that a lot when I was reading The Iliad.)
  • You can do math or currency conversion . You can even say 176 in roman numerals, and it returns the right answer.  1 a.u./c returns 8.31675359 min, with “a.u.” meaning “astronomical units” and c is the speed of light.
  • If you type in a location, you can get directions, a map, and  markings for traffic problems. You can even ask for a walking or bicycle route rather than a car route.
  • You can ask questions: double quarter pounder with cheese has * calories

search 2

This is just scratching the surface.  We could have a 1-2 hour talk on the subject!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on searching or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)






This month, our Book Nook feature writer Abby Pinard provides three selections focusing on World War II.


Laurent Binet, 2013

(translated from the French by Sam Taylor)


Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich. Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.

Reinhard Heydrich — the butcher of Prague, the blond beast, the man with the iron heart – was one of the cruelest and most feared of the high-ranking Nazis. Chief of security and an architect of the final solution, he was named Reichprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech states annexed by Germany, and was charged with crushing Czech resistance and all vestiges of Czech culture, “Germanizing” the desirable population and eliminating the undesirables. On May 27, 1942, as he was being driven to work in Prague in an open black (or possibly dark green) Mercedes convertible, he was the subject of an assassination attempt by Jan Kubiš, a Czech, and Jozef Gabčik, a Slovak, who had been trained for their mission in London and parachuted into Czechoslovakia several months earlier. “Operation Anthropoid” didn’t go off exactly as planned but the reprisals were as brutal as might have been expected. (Note: “Anthropoid,” a British-French-Czech film based on these events but unrelated to this novel was released recently to mostly positive reviews.)

The narrator of  HHhH, who may be the author, has spent years studying Operation Anthropoid – it would be fair to say he is obsessed with it – and in telling the story presents a parallel narrative about his struggles with how to tell the story. While the digressions might be expected to be distracting, the opposite is true. The narrator’s “eureka” moments when he unearths a key book, his decisions on what to include and exclude, his commentary on other novels based on historical fact, his musings on what drives people to extraordinary acts of cruelty and heroism serve to bring us closer to the story. And when it counts most, as the Mercedes approaches the bend in Holešovice Street where the assassins are waiting, he lets the story take over and propel us forward as if we don’t know what will happen.

At the end of the book, our narrator tells us that Kubiš and Gabčik are today viewed as heroes, celebrated in their homeland. But he describes himself as worn out by his “muddled efforts” to pay tribute to the many people who helped the assassins at great risk and great cost and who remain largely unknown.

…I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die anonymously. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don’t speak of them. 

Laurent Binet has spoken of them and has written a novel that is both suspenseful and profound. Highly recommended.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932

Francine Prose, 2014

Chameleon Club

In Francine Prose’s popular book about reading and writing, Reading Like a Writer, she advocates “close reading.” Only by slowing down and carefully reading every word can we understand what is said and what is not said – the nuances of meaning that the writer has worked so hard to put into every word and into the spaces between the words. That’s good advice when reading any serious writer and of course when reading Prose. (Is there a writer with a better name?)

Even as Lou’s downward slide was gathering momentum, she prided herself on maintaining certain standards and not losing touch, as many of her neighbors were, with basic human decency and compassion. She was slow to come on board with the measures against the Jews, however much she personally disliked them. She knew that harsh tactics were sometimes required. She’d waited on line at the Palais Berlitz to see an informative exhibition entitled “The Jew and France,” where a display confirmed what she’d long suspected: behind every scandal lurked a Jew. Still, she didn’t enjoy seeing children herded through the streets at gunpoint. Once she was almost hurt by some idiot cops hurling crockery down from an apartment at a terrified Jewish family being loaded into a van.

“Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932” is the title of the emblematic photograph that launches Gabor Tsenyi’s career. It is a picture of two women, a cross-dressing athlete named Lou Villars, who will become France’s first female race car driver and then an infamous Nazi collaborator, and Arlette, her lover, who will leave Lou for a powerful cop/gangster. This assured, atmospheric novel covers a lot of ground – love and betrayal, good and evil, war and its aftermath, the mutability of truth – and ultimately packs a powerful punch. It opens in 1928 and tracks the transformation of Lou Villars from unhappy child to disappointed lover to monster, a life based on a real woman named Violette Morris. It is to Prose’s credit that we sympathize with Lou even as she betrays the country she professes to love. Other characters are also inspired by real-life figures, including the Hungarian photographer Brassai and there’s a dissolute American writer who resembles Henry Miller.

Prose makes the Chameleon Club the locus of the decadence and desperate good times of Paris in the jazz age and she circles back to it through occupation and war. The story is told and retold in alternating chapters by different narrators through excerpts from a biography of Lou Villars, letters, journals and a memoir, each presumed to be self-serving and unreliable. Taken together they paint a picture that captures the conflicted loyalties of a giddy and terrible time, a picture that surely contains the truth but in whose version? History is as changeable as gender roles at the Chameleon Club and this captivating novel is stunning in its contemplation of its meaning.

Love & Treasure

Ayelet Waldman, 2014


This is a solid effort by Ayelet Waldman. She has chosen a subject — unearthing the stories of those lost in the Holocaust — that has too often been taken up by mediocre (or worse) writers and riddled with melodrama and cliché. Waldman does better. She centers the novel on the historical “Hungarian Gold Train,” crammed with millions of dollars worth of gold, jewels, furs, and household goods that have been “collected” from the Jews of Hungary. When the train, on its way to Germany in 1945, is intercepted by the victorious Allies near Salzburg, Austria, a promise is made to return the goods to their rightful owners or heirs but the impracticality of the task, not to mention that the brass have quarters to furnish, doom that intention and most of the items simply disappear in the fog of post-war Europe.

The novel’s primary protagonists are Jack Wiseman, who as a young American soldier was put in charge of the contents of the train, and his granddaughter Natalie, who he asks just before his death to find the rightful owner of a pendant he himself impulsively pilfered. The story is told in three parts: Jack’s stewardship of the confiscated goods in 1945; Natalie’s present-day search in Europe and Israel for an heir of the pendant’s owner; and an entertaining narration by a Viennese psychoanalyst of his treatment of a headstrong young Jewish woman in 1913.

Waldman covers a lot of ground and the plot threads are not all equally well executed. In particular, two love stories are clichéd and unconvincing and the grandfather/granddaughter relationship is toothache-inducing. But she eschews the simplistic good/evil paradigm so common in fiction about the Holocaust and takes a more realistic view of a complex moral universe. Bottom line: This is well-written, absorbing historical fiction marred only slightly by a bit of sentimentality.

BOOK NOOK Feature Writer Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.




Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Additional Security Issues


tech talk

In August,  I talked about the importance of proper passwords for your computer life and stressed that using the same password for everything risks that someone able to find it has access to your whole life.  I also said that simple passwords like your spouse’s first name or the name of your first pet are too easy to crack.   Thanks to Facebook and easy hacker tools, data about you is readily available so you have to come up with complex passwords at least 8 characters long.  So how can you remember all this?  The first step is to get them off paper and into a computer file, like an Excel spreadsheet.  But don’t name the spreadsheet “passwords” and put it into a folder called “important computer information”.

Any file on your computer can be encrypted.  Yes, I know that is one more password to remember.  Depending on the version of Microsoft Office you have, there are somewhat different processes, and you can Google to find them.  For Word 2010 or Excel 2010, click on FILE, then on INFO, then on PROTECT DOCUMENT and you can supply a password.

IMPORTANT: practice this on some test documents until you are sure you remember just how to do it.

Quite a few companies sell password Managers (protected by a password) where you can store all your passwords and information about the passwords.  These managers make it easy to retrieve the password you want from a variety of devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet).  Here is a review from PC Magazine of the best password Managers in 2016.  There is a lot of interesting material in this article and it is interesting to me that the PW Managers most talked about a couple of years ago are no longer on this list. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

To switch topics …

I received a note asking me about the unsubscribe link found at the bottom of many emails sent by commercial companies. The question (reminds me of Marathon Man) was “Is it safe?”  Well, that depends.  If you are certain that the email is from a legitimate company, then the unsubscribe is a perfect way to stop getting their email.  But sometimes, the email is unsolicited and might be what is called phishing.  It looks like it is from a legitimate company but is not, and the unsubscribe is a trick to get you to click on to a link that will import malware to your computer.  But let’s say that the email is from a legitimate source.  Then hitting the unsubscribe tells the sender that you are real, and that may give it information about you that is tucked into your response, setting you up for other advertising from complicit companies.  I recently got an email containing an unsubscribe link.  The source address on it was UNO@unoinsiderclub.com.  I suspect it is okay, but anyone can buy an address like that.  The UNO home page is unos.com so I would have been more comfortable if I had received the email from that url or a subset of that url.

Next month’s talk will be on travel, but before we get to that, here is a reminder: Take out all the credit cards and other stuff (like SS card and license) in your wallet and place it on your printer.  Take pictures of both sides. Then take a picture of your passport.  Put these pictures in your safe deposit box and another safe place in your house so if your wallet is stolen you know what the crooks have.  Why not limit it to your safe deposit box?  Because if the theft is Saturday at 4pm you won’t be able to get to the safe deposit box until Monday morning.




SEPTEMBER BOOK NOOK: Two New Novels of Note

Our “Book Nook” feature writer Abby Pinard brings us a couple of new items to consider…

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Dominic Smith, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

What a delight!  This is a historical suspense novel with redeeming literary value – character driven, intricately plotted but without contrivance, and elegantly written. With pivotal events taking place in New York in 1958, we are seamlessly brought forward to Sydney, Australia in 2000, and back to 17th-century Amsterdam and the Dutch Golden Age that produced Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The painting at the center of the novel hangs over the bed in the New York penthouse of an attorney whose family has owned it for 300 years. When it is stolen and replaced by a meticulous forgery, the attorney isn’t sure he even wants the original back but determines nevertheless to track down the forger.  The graduate student who had agreed to copy the painting goes on to become a prominent art historian and authority on the artist – one of the very few women among the Dutch masters –  but is haunted by her past.

The evocation of art and painterly technique is fascinating; the portrayal of people driven to actions they will regret for a lifetime is moving without being melodramatic; and the writing is precise and restrained yet compelling, with quotable passages on every page. Here’s just one that I had to read more than once: “…unmarried women make good academics because they’ve been neutered by too much knowledge and bookish pleasure. The world hands them a tiny domain it never cared about to begin with.” Hmm.

Art, deceit, loss…this is a fine novel disguised as a page-turner.

Thanks to Linda Dietrich for insisting that I read this book!


The Little Red Chairs

Edna O’Brien, 2016 

The Little Red Chairs


 On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the eight hundred metres of the Sarajevo high street.  One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege.  Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains.

 A stranger comes to town…   The town is Cloonoila, a rural Irish backwater, and the stranger, soon known as Dr. Vlad, announces himself as a healer and sex therapist. He is exotic and alluring and is viewed with suspicion by the village priest, but the children and especially the women gradually fall under his spell, most notably Fidelma, the town beauty trapped in a cold marriage and longing for a child.

Edna O’Brien doesn’t string us along with tantalizing clues to the stranger’s identity.  The epigraph quoted above signals the truth:   Dr. Vlad is a notorious Bosnian war criminal responsible for the torture and genocide of Muslims and Croats. He is modeled on Radovan Karadzic, who hid for thirteen years before being arrested in Belgrade.  Dr. Vlad has appeared in western Ireland as if by magic.

It has been fifty years since O’Brien’s fiction debut, The Country Girls, scandalized the country with its searing portrayal of the social and sexual mores of rural Ireland. In The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in ten years, she is casting a wider net, tackling broad questions about evil, complicity, and penance.  Her prose is beautiful and brutal as she shatters the gentle, almost mystical aura of Cloonoila with a scene of horrific violence,  Fidelma’s abasement, and her search for redemption among the lost and broken. Powerful and haunting.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!



There are many pieces of application software that are available–some you pay for, and others are free.  And then there are some which have both free and pay versions where the latter comes with extra capability.

Today I’ll discuss AdBlockPlus and Secunia PSI.

John Rudy additionAdBlockPlus Whenever you go to the internet, you are inundated with ads. This is because the folks providing you the information you are requesting are looking for ways to derive income from the process. Luckily, a number of companies have developed products to significantly reduce (not eliminate) these ads. I use AdblockPlus, which is free https://adblockplus.org/ Note that it has to be installed separately for each web browser. I use Chrome exclusively, so that is where I have it installed. I’ve had it for about 2 years. In the picture below you will note that it places a small icon in the upper right of your browser, and when you click on it, you learn how many ads it has blocked. When you set it up, you can exclude certain sites and make other choices. Not surprisingly, a lot of companies are unhappy about this, and I frequently get a message when opening up a web page asking me to close the blocker. Here is some recent data. “A new survey of users found that only 41% of those surveyed were aware of ad blocking. But among those who are aware of it,80% block ads on desktops and 46% percent do so on smartphones, suggesting it’s just awareness that’s holding back higher ad blocking adoption.” It has been reported (Wired magazine) that some ad block companies are receiving money from companies to exclude their sites from the block list!

Secunia PSI   There are many reasons to keep your software up to date. The most obvious is that you have access to the newest           capability that the software ofers. But the more important reason is that most software comes with vulnerabilities, and new releases fix them. The problem is that you may be unaware that a new release is available and that you might not know how to perform the update. That is where Secunia PSI (even the free version) fits it. It will check your software against the newest versions and, in most cases, perform the updates automatically. I have set it to run when I reboot my computer. There are some products that require manual updates, and it tells you.   Go to the following site, and you will be taken through the simple process.  The web page has a lot of additional information which you may find to be helpful as well.


BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides these helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)



We are pleased to inaugurate our new monthly technology feature!  On the first Friday of each month, John Rudy will provide us with good, solid, practical, hands-on (and off) information and advice about our computer use.  Be sure to respond with questions and topics you’d like to have John address in future articles.

Today’s subject is PASSWORDS.

Almost everywhere you go in the computer world, you are asked for passwords, but there have been enough articles recently to convince everyone that, despite this mandate, many files are not secure. So let’s hit the basics.

  • To be secure, a password must be long and complex. Using “123456” or “johnrudy” will be cracked almost instantaneously. That is why you want a minimum of 8 characters and should use upper and lower case, numerals, and special characters. That gives about 75 options for each position.
  • Do not use the same password for all your accounts. If you do, when it is cracked, you are open totally.
  • Not everything has to be protected in the same way. Worry about money. So bank accounts, brokerage firms, and any site that has your credit card should be protected most carefully–and each must be different. (Using “123456” for your high school will probably result in little damage.)
  • Passwords must be written down. That does NOT mean having a file titled PASSWORD.doc on your computer or a written list in your desk top drawer. This is really the subject of a subsequent article, but if you store them in a file, the file must be encrypted with a password; and if you write them down, store them in a non-obvious place, like with your cheesecake recipes. There are a number of good, automated programs that can address this issue. Another solution is to place this file on a thumb-drive.
  • Give your password file to your heir. This is not a joke. Someone you trust needs to be able to step in when memory issues, incapacitation, fatal illness occur.

And finally, when you dispose of your computer, remember that merely deleting a file does NOT, in fact, remove it from your system. Best Buy and other places claim that they fully wipe your drive when you give them an old computer. Here is a good article on the subject from a reputable source.


John Rudy
BOLLI Member and Tech Wizard John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides this helpful hints in this monthly feature in BOLLI Matters.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)



JULY BOOK NOOK: Three Books about Immigration

Book Nook reviewer Abby Pinard is back–this time, with three books about immigration.


by Boris Fishman, 2014


Slava Gelman is a junior staffer at a magazine that isn’t but might as well be The New Yorker, where his assignment is to ferret out and crack wise about absurd news items in small-town newspapers. Slava lives on the Upper East Side, which isn’t but might as well be on the other side of the world from “Soviet Brooklyn” where he landed as a child on arrival from Minsk (as did Fishman), where his grandparents still live, and which his parents fled for suburban New Jersey. When Slava’s grandmother dies, he treks via subway to Brooklyn and before long is trekking regularly, roped by his scheming grandfather into crafting (he’s a writer, isn’t he?) a fictitious claim to the German government for a slice of the reparations pie earmarked for Holocaust survivors. So what if Grandfather didn’t suffer precisely as required to be eligible? Didn’t the Germans make sure to kill those who did? So begins Boris Fishman’s darkly comic and very impressive debut novel.

Fishman pulls off a difficult feat in a first novel, even one so closely grounded in his own experience. He has written a book that is both funny and genuinely moving. The Jews of Brighton Beach, who survived the Nazis and the Soviets through cunning, luck and sheer force of will, are a brilliantly drawn tough lot, re-inventing themselves once again in a place where you can “afford to be decent.” Slava wants to free himself from “the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn” and earn a byline by writing elegant prose but in borrowing true elements of his dead grandmother’s life to fashion false narratives for his grandfather and his grandfather’s friends, he is drawn more deeply into the past and into the community he has longed to escape.

Poor, confused Slava, torn between past and present, loyalty and honor, skinny uptown Arianna and luscious childhood playmate Vera… Is he being followed? Will his fraud be uncovered? At what cost? Will he do the right thing? I loved this book. Fishman tells a good story, one with moral ambiguity and conflicting loyalties, and his prose crackles with irony and wit. If you were in any danger of thinking that the immigrant experience has been exhaustively mined in fiction, think again. Boris Fishman is a welcome voice and A Replacement Life is a wholly original and worthy contribution.



by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, 2014

second book

“The morning was ideal, a crime to waste it cooped up. They were off to the shore. That means you too, Pasha — you need some color, a dunk would do you good, so would a stroll. Aren’t you curious to see Coney Island? Freud had been. Don’t deliberate till it’s too late. Strokes are known to make surprise appearances in the family. Who knows how long…? Now, get up off that couch!

 “Pasha had just flown in last night and didn’t feel well…fourteen hours strapped into an aisle seat near the gurgling lavatory of a dented, gasoline-reeking airplane, two layovers…would have been tough on any constitution and Pasha didn’t have just any constitution but that of a poet…If he’d been smart, he would have been born a half-century earlier into a noble family and spent his adult life hopping between tiny Swiss Alp towns and lakeside sanitoria, soaking in bathhouses and natural springs, rubbing thighs with steamy neurotics, taking aimless strolls with the assistance of a branch, corrupting tubercular maidens…

“Instead Pasha was born in 1956 to a family whose nobility was strictly of spirit.”

Meet the Nasmertovs in 1991, all but Pasha planted in Brighton Beach two years ago but pining for Odessa. Scraping by in circumstances significantly reduced in status and income (both grandparents had been physicians), three generations live under one roof in a neighborhood that replicates home, even in its proximity to the sea. Gently, hilariously and mostly brilliantly, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, herself born in Odessa and raised in Brighton Beach, captures the struggle between striving for assimilation and yearning for home. Despite their urging Pasha to emigrate and join them in Brooklyn (where he won’t have to do anything but sit on the couch so they can look at him), he is their connection to Odessa, keeper of the apartment in a prime location and the beloved dacha. Fifteen years later, Frida, the youngest Nasmertov, now in her twenties and at loose ends, visits Odessa and despite finding life there no rosier feels drawn to a place she barely remembers and that her parents and grandparents fled.

Akhtiorskaya has said that her next book might be fantasy or sci-fi. Thankfully, she wrote this one before forswearing further fiction based on her family. She is a talented writer and it will be interesting to see how she applies her talent in other realms following this fine debut.



by Zachary Lazar, 2014

third book

This is a book about identity.  Its characters — some fictional, some historical — are actual or metaphorical immigrants, products of the turbulence of Jewish history. Meyer Lansky flees pogroms in Eastern Europe, becomes a notorious American gangster and, denied citizenship by Israel, returns to the U.S. to face charges. Gila Konig, concentration camp survivor and Lansky’s mistress, never at home in Israel, emigrates to New York but always feels herself a refugee. Hannah Groff, a journalist who travels to Israel to investigate the death of an Israeli writer, unearths her own family’s history as she pursues her story and wrestles with her own feelings of rootlessness.

Underlying the displacement felt by the characters is an examination of the moral underpinnings of the state of Israel and its place in the world today. Was the writer murdered because he depicted King David as the forebear of the Jewish gangster and because he compared the founding of Israel to the vision Lansky and Bugsy Siegel had of building a shimmering city in the desert of Nevada? As a plot device, that’s an easy question to answer. As a moral/political question, it’s a heavy burden for a novel to bear and it’s not always easy for the reader to stay afloat.

Lazar skillfully weaves together multiple narrative threads across oceans and decades. When I finished the book, I was thinking that all those narrative threads were confusing and the angst suffocating. On second thought, I became more comfortable with the author’s ambition. The reflection in modern Israel of the brutality and existential threat suffered by Jews over centuries makes this more than a complex story about characters looking for a home. The novel is difficult but fascinating and ultimately satisfying.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!


Eleanor and Liz
Senior Moment Bloggers, Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)


by Liz David

The tune came up on my iPod during my morning “constitutional.”

Always Look at the Bright Side of Life.

I love the tune.

I step in time to the music, and I sing along as I walk.

But, how is it possible to always look at the bright side…

When my sister-in-law Miriam, whom I’ve known since I was nine, died a few weeks ago after ten years in a nursing home?

When my friends are facing life-threatening obstacles?

When the world is so topsy-turvy?

When terrorists kill and maim the innocent almost every day?

When children, old folks, and thousands in between don’t have enough food?

When our presidential candidates have higher disapproval than approval ratings?

When, worst of all, the Red Sox lose to the L.A. Angels by a score of 21-2? I mean, really!

The saying “when you save a life, you save the world” is true.

So, as elders, we need to connect our heads and our hearts,

To encourage ourselves and others to do what we can when we can,

To reach out to the people around us,

To make a difference by modeling what it is to really live, every day, until we die,

To, hopefully, save the world.



by Sue Wurster

When it comes to movies and videos, my taste tends to run to all things British, and in this first installment of our monthly “Screening Room” feature, I thought I’d share a few gems starring my favorite British “Great Dames” Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith.

You may not have run across Dame Judi in the 2014 British made-for-television gem, ESIO TROT.  Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Dench plays a sweet widow living in an apartment house for mature residents.   Her new upstairs neighbor, Mr. Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman), soon notices the lovely lady as he waters the lush plants in his terrace garden.  This is a sweet, warm romance well worth searching out.


It can actually be seen online by clicking here.

In 2012, Dame Judi made a very short TV movie called FRIEND REQUEST PENDING in which she and a friend spend an afternoon exploring the world of social media networking.  A wonderful piece about love and lifelong friendship.


Dame Joan Plowright in MRS. PALFRY AT THE CLAREMONT is a 2005 gem.   Essentially abandoned by her family after moving her into the Claremont Hotel, Mrs. Palfry ends up enjoying a wonderful friendship with a young writer.


And for anyone who loves a good comic mystery, WIDOWS PEAK is not to be missed.  The lovely young Edwina (Natasha Richardson) moves into Widows Peak, where a surprising number of residents fit that description, and stirs up the social scene.  Great fun!


And then, there’s dear Dame Maggie.  Ah…Maggie–she just keeps going!  Her most recent venture, THE LADY IN THE VAN is the true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s relationship with an eccentric homeless woman who parked her van temporarily in his driveway…and remained there for fifteen years.  Beautifully done.


And if you didn’t catch this 2003 HBO Made-for-TV movie, give MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA a try.  After a terrorist bomb is detonated on a train in Italy,  Mrs. Delahunty, a rather eccentric romance novelist, opens her villa to three stranded survivors.


One of my favorites includes all three of my cinematic idols–so, if you haven’t seen TEA WITH MUSSOLINI, it’s a must.  And if you have, it may be time for another visit.   It’s a lush, semi-autobiographical Zeffirelli production about a young boy being brought up by a group of British woman during (and after) World War II.


Lily Tomlin (a different sort of dame altogether) is in this one as well, and I recently saw GRANDMA on “On Demand.”  Lily plays a poet who hasn’t written since losing her partner.   When her pregnant teenage granddaughter appears on her doorstep, she is quick to rise to the occasion to help her.


Share YOUR favorites in an upcoming “Screening Room” feature!