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BOOKS: A writer’s second chance, a son’s lament and a movie icon bares his soul

Aviva Lowy
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Published: 30 December 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

AVIVA LOWY enjoys Delia Ephron’s new lease of life, discovers who betrayed Anne Frank, sees the scars in an Australian family and learns many truths about Paul Newman.   

The Jewish Independent

Left on Tenth: a second chance at life - Delia Ephron (Doubleday)

American author and screenwriter Delia Ephron is probably best known for her work as a romantic comedy writer (You’ve Got Mail) and her collaborations with older sister, Nora, of When Harry Met Sally fame. So readers should note that this memoir does deal with some sobering issues, including the death of Ephron’s husband and her own life-threatening illness.

That said, the book is a romance with a happy ending, and Ephron does indeed get a second chance in both her love life and her actual life. So, take heart, and read on.

In the process of trying to disconnect a telephone land line after her husband has died, Ephron’s internet is accidentally cut off. After several frustrating attempts to be reconnected, she writes a very amusing op-ed for The New York Times titled Love and Hate on Hold with Verizon. Almost as if this were one of her own scripts, the article elicits an email from a man she met in college some 50 years ago and has not seen since. In fact, she can’t remember him or the date, which was set up by Nora.

Her new/old beau re-enters Ephron’s life shortly before she receives bad news about her own health, which tests their budding relationship. Can love - and modern medicine - conquer her malady?   

“I’ve gotten to make my living by my imagination. That’s a lovely thing,” writes Ephron.

Lovely for us, too.

The Jewish Independent

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: a cold case investigation - Rosemary Sullivan (HarperCollins)

The Diary of Anne Frank is probably the best-known book about the Holocaust. More than 30 million people, young and old, have read the story of the Jewish teenager who hid with her family in an Amsterdam attic. Sadly, the family were betrayed and sent to concentration camps. Only Anne’s father, Otto, survived.

So who gave the family away? This book covers the meticulous search by an international team, led by a retired FBI agent, which combed through thousands of pages of documents and interviewed descendants of those involved in the events. 

As well as being a whodunit, going through the evidence for the likely suspects, the book creates a picture of what it was like to live in Anne’s world and how the family managed to stay alive. This is particularly interesting because, as we learn from a footnote: “There were between 25,000 and 27,000 Jews hiding in the Netherlands, one third of whom would eventually be betrayed.”  

While readers will discover the name of the person who betrayed the Franks, author Rosemary Sullivan writes, “he was not ultimately responsible for the deaths of the residents of Prinsengracht 263. That responsibility rests forever with the Nazi occupiers who terrorised and decimated a society, turning neighbour against neighbour. It is they who were culpable in the deaths of Anne Frank.”  

The Jewish Independent

What the Boy Hears when the Girl Dreams - Graeme Friedman (Lusaris)

Colliding with a goal post during a football game has resulted in 12-year-old Finn gaining a superpower: he has extraordinary hearing. Waking up one morning to discover that he can hear himself blink, Finn soon becomes privy to much of the world that was previously private to him, including his parents’ arguments in their Sydney home, his father’s revelations of PTSD, and the sleep-talking of Buseje, the Malawian asylum seeker living in the downstairs granny flat.

It’s a lot for a young kid to take in, let alone try to remedy. But our hero is equal to the task, able to harness his powers for good. 

In his efforts to save Buseje from deportation, Finn tries to decode the meaning of her nightmare cries, quizzing her about her African youth. It is not long before Finn enters her dreams, ‘accompanying’ her back to Malawi and the scenes of her childhood trauma. Author Graeme Friedman’s deft use of magic realism allows Finn to ride the night-sky dreamscape alongside his great-grandad, Jim Townsend, a motorcyclist who lost his life racing at the Maroubra Speedway.  

More than just a coming-of-age novel, What the Boy Hears When the Girl Dreams is a wonderful affirmation of the human spirit, full of compassion and hope. It’s also a delight to read a book with so many familiar Australian references.

The Jewish Independent

It’s a Shame About Ray - Jonathan Seidler (Allen & Unwin) 

It’s no spoiler to say that the Ray of this book, Jonathan Seidler’s father, is dead. On page one, we find Seidler and his three siblings sitting shiva for their dad. But the Jewish ritual isn’t cutting it for the kids, the youngest of whom is still a teenager, and they turn to watching all of the movies in the Fast & Furious franchise to get them through.

The author is at pains to let us know in this memoir that he has grown up in the rarefied environs of Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where it’s all mansions with water views, an embarrassment of beautiful beaches and the comforts that only a wealthy minority enjoy. It’s a lifestyle made possible by Ray, a colourful and much-loved Darlinghurst GP whose practice encompasses a cast of characters from visiting celebrities such as Beyonce to drug addicts.

And yet, with such a successful and abundant life, why did Ray suicide? That’s the thing about depression: it has precious little to do with the objective circumstances of those afflicted. Loving relationships, strong family ties, and impressive careers offer little protection.

Seidler’s story of growing up with Ray and the mental illness which, unfortunately, he has also inherited, is told with wit and humour. A constant thread through the book is the music obsession of his youth: nu-metal. You’ll come away knowing more about Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit than you might want. On the other hand, if you do wish to get into Seidler’s headspace, you can actually scan the QR code on the inside back cover and listen to the soundtrack of the book.      

The Jewish Independent

Lapvona - Ottessa Moshfegh (Random House)

American writer Ottessa Moshfegh is one of the new names in the literary firmament. The child of two foreign-born musicians - her mother from Croatia and her father an Iranian Jew - her debut novel, Eileen (2015) won the Hemingway Foundation/ PEN Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. 

It's fair to say that Lapvona, her fourth full-length novel, is a pretty weird read. Although, if one is familiar with the author's previous work, this may come as no surprise. Deeply unsympathetic characters, gruesome and unpalatable details, and minor deviations from reality are all par for the course for Moshfegh.

But that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had with Lapvona, which follows father and son Jude and Marek, peasants in a fictional medieval, Europesque land, as their lives are beset by constant misfortune. 

The book is easy to read with a pleasingly simple style - reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk or Little Red Riding Hood. So, like a classic children's fable, is there a moral to this story? You'll have to read it to find out.

The Jewish Independent

Paul Newman, the Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man - edited by David Rosenthal (Century)

In 1986, movie icon Paul Newman sat down with his dear friend Stewart Stern (writer of the screenplay of Rebel Without a Cause) and began telling him his life story. A private and shy person who felt he’d withheld himself from his children, Newman intended this as an “offering to his offspring” and a chance to set the record straight.

The conversation with Stern continued for five years. At the end, the two were overwhelmed with the material gathered and let the project drop. The transcripts were only discovered in 2019, after the deaths of both men, and have been chronologically edited into this book, interspersed with anecdotes from friends and colleagues.

From his early life as an unassuming, diffident boy, Newman realised that being Jewish meant, “some avenues were shut to you, avenues you might have liked to walk on”. Luckily for him, he grew from the little kid who did Yiddish voices for laughs to deflect the bullies, to a handsome Hollywood heart throb. “It was my appearance that got me in the door,” he quips. “Where the hell would I have been if I looked like Golda Meir? Probably no place.”         

Readers will learn about his dissolute time in college where he held the beer-chugalug record; his tumultuous affair with Joanne Woodward which brought an end to his first marriage; the early death of his eldest child to a drug overdose; his passion for car racing; his charitable work and, the movies…  always the movies. 

If you are a fan of Paul Newman - and if you’ve seen him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, how could you not - then this one’s for you.

About the author

Aviva Lowy

Aviva Lowy started her career as a radio journalist with 2JJJ and the ABC. She has written on a broad range of subjects, from food and travel to science and health.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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