Briefly noted

If you are looking for an easy, convenient book to read to your children, Purim Goodies, written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman, is probably not a good choice.

March 1, 2007 11:29
4 minute read.
purim book 88 298

purim book 88 298. (photo credit: )


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Purim Goodies By Amalia Hoffman Gefen 36 pages If you are looking for an easy, convenient book to read to your children, Purim Goodies, written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman, is probably not a good choice. For a start the story is set in Stanislavka and the names of the two main characters - Groyseh Adella and Kleineh Adella - are difficult for young children to pronounce. With shalach manes, tzimmes, lokshen, kindl, mandelbrot, taigelach and hamantaschen to boot, Purim Goodies is more like the Purim tongue-twister. That said, Hoffman's beautiful illustrations and the plot's overall message succinctly sum up one of the main aims of every Jewish child's favorite festival. When the two Adellas, both working for different families in Stanislavka, meet by chance in the street, they decide to examine the shalach manes trays sent by their respective employees. As they open up the food packages, traditional gifts during the Purim festival, the girls decide that it's okay to sample one or two of the items. However, they get carried away until eventually all the hamantaschen, mandelbrot, lokshen and the like are "completely gobbled up." Their actions cause friction between the two families who believe the other has skimped on their Purim package. In good Jewish tradition, the misunderstanding needs to be sorted out by the town's wise rabbi, who concludes: "In our town there are people who go to sleep without supper and you are arguing over strudel, taigelach and hamantschen?" While some may find Hoffman's incorporation of the Yiddish terminology and traditional words charming, for those who are unfamiliar with their sounds and for children who have never heard the words before, the thread of this traditional story is lost within the first few pages. - Ruth Eglash Ace of Spades By David Matthews Henry Holt 302 pages If he has any fond memories of his early years as the pale-skinned child of a black father and a white mother, David Matthews doesn't share them. Barely a few pages into his memoir, it's clear his story will probe some seriously uncomfortable themes: family ties shredded over racism, an unstable mother abandoning her infant and excruciating racial self-deception. Toss in what he calls "minor league poverty" in a tough Baltimore neighborhood and sporadic child abuse, and Ace of Spades is not a happy read. Yet Matthews's admirable honesty and mostly fluid writing are enticing - and he doesn't bother with blame or self-pity. Instead, the memoir comes off as an important primary source about the tortured byways of racial integration in the 1970s, especially as lived by one lonely, confused child. Ace of Spades is part of an emerging genre of memoirs around a similar theme. That is, while adults in the 1960s and '70s were publicly grappling with the social upheaval of the civil rights movement, many of their children also did quiet battle on the front lines of integration. Many had intense racial identity struggles, but were mostly left to sort it out for themselves. Ace of Spades describes Matthews's father, Ralph Matthews, who was the longtime managing editor of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, as a celebrity in local black circles. He was friends with Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Miles Davis, among other black notables. But he was one of those stalwart cheerleaders for black empowerment who, bewilderingly, had a string of white girlfriends and wives - and biracial children. One of those children, David Matthews, with his white skin, straight hair and features that aren't exactly black, begins about age 10 pretending that he's white - Jewish, like his mother. (Mentally ill, she'd left the family soon after Matthews's birth, never to return. Her ex-husband replaced her with women who were sometimes affectionate and sometimes brutally abusive.) He eventually realizes that, though he is a racist, his racism was "exceedingly rational": Living on the edges of an affluent white area surrounded by poor black neighborhoods, Matthews must navigate the social minefield of a racially mixed world, especially at school. With few friends and a father who worked endless hours, Matthews' childish mind concocts crude tactics to survive. He rejects blackness. "I wanted access. I wanted the benefit of the doubt. I wanted in on the America that smiled back at me from my television and from my teacher's encouraging glances... Life for me was not a war between black and white, or rich and poor, it was a life sentence that could be commuted only by whiteness, real or imagined." Matthews seems to delight in turning a unique phrase. He often uses unconventional words and writing tactics, including footnotes that contain his marginally interesting mental ramblings. It mostly works. But he loses his footing when he lapses into impenetrable writing, such as, "A tangential benefit of that enfeebling cultural diktat was the justifiable anger that smoldered at its core." It's as if he can't quite figure out what he wants to say, and hides behind his own words. By the end, Matthews has made sense of his father's decisions, probed his mother's life and reconciled with himself as a man with black roots. But it feels rushed. It's a testament to his skillful writing that, despite a tortured life chronicled over 300 pages, we still want to know more. - AP

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