Welcome back to another Write On Purpose book review. I share well-written books. I highlight what makes each good from the reader’s perspective, and reveal what writing skills and techniques make it an irresistible read. Thus, each review serves both writers and readers. This time, it's a Jewish historical novel called Please Say Kaddish for Me by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.
The author describes this book as "The dark side of Fiddler on the Roof." This is the perfect elevator pitch for the historical tale set in czarist Russia at the turn of the 20th Century. Here is the description from Amazon:
Please Say Kaddish for Me by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
Jewish persecution under Russian Czar
1899 Russia under the cruel Czarist rule is not a good place to be a Jew!
Russia under the diabolical Czarist rule is a very bad place and a very bad time to be a Jew. Fair game to marauding peasants and government militia alike, the random slaughter of entire Jewish families is commonplace rather than a rare occurrence. It is, however, a time for brave men. And brave women.
Barefoot, wearing only a flimsy nightgown, sixteen-year-old Havah Cohen alone escapes the brutal massacre by the Czarist tyranny that destroys her home and slaughters her family on a frigid November night in 1899.
Love ignited, lost and found, insurmountable struggles and challenges, Kishinev's Jewish pogroms and all odds against them, Havah and her soul mate, Arel, withstand the storms of life in this unforgettable story of a time and place rarely spoken of, and romance and courage so profound as to be rarely experienced.
While I read more paranormal, fantasy and suspense, I enjoy historical fiction, because I gain insight into another era in a way that my boring history classes in school never conveyed.
What made Please Say Kaddish for Me a great story, and what can authors learn by reading it?
Deeply Personal Historical Perspective
The reader lives this dark era of history through Havah and her people. Havah flees the brutal murder of her family in only a thin nightgown. A family in a nearby town takes her in, yet Havah's horrors are just beginning as she and the other characters navigate dangerous times and constrictive traditions..
There are no sweeping political statements or pontification, just deft storytelling.
Writers are advised to start right in the middle of the action and grab the reader's attention. Here's the opening of Please Say Kaddish for Me:
Gunshots and screams woke sixteen-year-old Havah Cohen from a deep and dreamless sleep. She ran to her window and saw flames shooting through the roof of the synagogue. Dense clouds of smoke poured through the windows as men with shovels and rocks smashed the stained glass. BY moonlight she could see her older brother lying beside the road in a blood-stained night shirt. Her other brother, a few feet away, lay face down.
As you can tell from the passage above, Wisoff-Fields pulls you right into the scene with her tight and detailed descriptions. This keeps up throughout the book.
No sagging middle
I'm sure you've read books that start out great but get flabby in the middle of the story. The action remains steady with plenty of twists and turns throughout the novel.
Wisoff-Fields takes her time letting the relationships unfold. She does not gloss over the hardships. That's how life is. The story rings true, with all the ups and downs of life in dangerous times.
Some will make you mad. Some will feel familiar. Some will make unwise choices. Some will lose all hope at times. If you're like me and many other reviewers, there are so many characters introduced at the start that it's confusing for a while, but the story captivated me so much, and in a bit I got them all sorted out as I read.
Havah, the primary point of view character, is complex and interesting. She goes through so much and is saved from death more than once. She is so young yet has lived through so much in that short time.
Without any narrator intrusion whatsoever, Wisoff-Fields conveys Jewish life and culture of the time. Yiddish words pepper the story, yet she gives the translation, so the reader feels included, not lost. The reader comes to know the cultural significance of disability, arranged marriages, and traditions organically through the storytelling.
Writing Tips for Authors
If you're an author, you can learn much to help you hone your craft by reading this book. I took note of these elements with my author's eye while I read the story:
- Character development
- Plot pacing
- Deep point of view
- Show don't tell
- Avoiding narrator intrusion
I gave Please Say Kaddish for Me a 5-Star Review on Amazon
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About Rochelle Wisoff-Fields
Kansas City native, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields is the author of THIS, THAT AND SOMETIMES THE OTHER, an anthology of her short stories, which she also illustrated. Her stories have also been featured in several other anthologies, including two editions of VOICES.
A woman of Jewish descent and the granddaughter of Eastern European immigrants, Rochelle has a close personal connection to Jewish history, which has been a recurring theme throughout much of her writing. Growing up, she was heavily influenced by the Sholom Aleichem stories as well as Fiddler on the Roof. Her novels PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME and FROM SILT AND ASHES, represented by Loiacono Literary Agency and published by W & B Publishers, were born of her desire to share the darker side of these beloved tales--the history that can be difficult to view, much less embrace.
Before becoming an author, Rochelle attended the Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied painting and lithography. She and her husband, Jan, have raised three sons in the Kansas City metro area and now live in Belton, Missouri. When she takes a break from writing and illustrating, Rochelle enjoys swimming, dancing and maintaining her blog, ADDICTED TO PURPLE
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