Jewish Noir: Kenneth Wishnia
An original compilation of stories with original themes each one more powerful than the next and each one drawing the reader’s attention to something that happened to those within the pages of each story that will touch your heart reminding you of what so many went through and still are today. Dark tales filled with hidden meanings, nuances and definitely themes and central ideas that most readers have the pleasure of reading within a compilation that keeps you wanting more. Every story has its own theme whether as in “The Legacy,” where a young girl manages to bring out of her strife and fears precious stones that would forever help keep her and her uncle alive and safe. Some of the stories reflect what happened during the Holocaust when a young girl receives a gift from an SS Officer whom we all know worked for Hitler: Mengele Hearing his voice and listening to how he created his fear in others and yet gained her trust and admiration is a reminder of what so many endured and how so many were fooled. He was a German Schultzstaffell officer and physician in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II and the story centers around genetics, taking DNA from victims and more. Famous for his inhuman experimentation the author brings it to light in this story. Some of the stories have themes about injustice, societies failings and even about a college where someone comes in and tries to change the status quo and although we hear Helen’s voice, see her power point presentations and realize that she has no clue as to what a college course she have in it, how to teach or understand the reasons why these people are do dedicated to their craft, she manages to brainwash some but not all. One man named Sam dares to test her and the end result is horrifying. The characters within these short stories are no different than those that we read about in the news as some are advocates of Civil Rights others against the Jews being present in that movement, the pogroms and of course the Holocaust. We are portrayed as Jews but some as cops, others gangsters and unfortunately the typical stereo type of a Jewish businessman who cheats, prays on the insecurities of others, their unfortunate circumstances and is considered corrupt. Although I learned that some of the stories are reprints having never read them before they are all new to me, reminding me of my own Jewish background, the Yiddish influence my grandfather instilled in me and the history of WWI New York in the story by Harlan Ellison. The story that was really quite compelling and different was the Yahurzite Candle where a young boy named Josh was mesmerized by the flame within this candle and his father’s actions that allows readers to know that there is a hidden meaning within the candle and the flame. “Good Morning, Jerusalem 1948 tells the story of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a someone trying to keep a special book of diagrams from getting into the wrong hands. Rabin was assassinated in the 1990’s and this story brings even more to light, as he is not just dealing with war but other issues too. Discrimination and bullying come to light in Kenneth Wishnia’s story that focuses on an incident that happened to his father in a story titled from the Lost Pages of Judith. Some things remain within a person and often being victimized people tend to push things inside, move ahead and hoping that they never have to deal with it again. Jewish people were pushed aside and often considered a minority and in college singled out, as fraternities can be cruel. Living Underwater is the story of a college professor who did not want to deal with the status quo as someone comes in all happy, cheerful and filled with her special PowerPoint presentation hoping to change the perspectives of those on staff by changing how they graded, created their curriculum and hoping that they would deal with the changes. Questioning Helen was out of the question. Sitting through her meetings tedious and at times embarrassing for some as her sarcasm towards Sam, a hardworking educator who actually got through to his students, made him do something that will surprise readers at the end. What happens when you do not want to confirm? Some endings you need to read for yourself and think what would have happened if everyone opened their eyes to see what was right in front of them and then demanded change.
All Other Nights is the story of a family that will never be the same. A Cantor abuses a young child studying for his Bar Mitzvah. When the father comes home from work and his wife relates that her son, Jacob is not okay and explains the father prays to Hashem that it is not true. Promising to deal with the problem he confronts the Cantor but some people think they are immune to the law. What happens when a son stands up for himself by putting his mother first to protect her from a dead that would ruin their lives? What happens when a mother commits the ultimate sin in order to stop someone from hurting others? What happens when a lie is told because it is better that way? The ending is sad and you will wonder what the mother does, the father and what about Jacob in a story that will bring tears to your eyes and yet admire a mother who changes the course of each night to come.
“Quack and Dwight,” was my favorite story as it deals with child abuse, the daring qualities of the two adults in order to safe a young child from a life of harm. Sometimes the wrong way or doing something that would normally go against the grain is the right way to proceed. When all is said and done would you agree with the outcome and why? You the reader decide this moral issue? Hormonal influences on eye color take center stage in Blood Diamonds by Melissa Y. This is a bone chilling story that will remind readers of what Mengele did during WWII and the experiments done on them to often serialize them or create children that they felt were perfect or a perfect race. Karen earned a scholarship for research but not what you would expect. Diamonds: are they ever improper? Eyes are precious but what happens when nestled “on a bed of ice, four freshly harvested eyeballs: two hazel, one green and one blue. The crown jewels, the heterochromic blue and green iris and much more. Karen was taken aback and so proud. What had she done? As the story continues to unfold you will learn the meaning of diamonds and the significance of a hairpin.
Each story is deep, dark and some show the tragedies in life, the failings of the main characters and the struggles they go through, as Jewish Noir is truly a different way of presenting real life issues to the reader. The Legacy by Wendy Hornsby as we meet Elena who travels over rivers, train tracks, back roads, towns and barely alive when she arrives to bring what someone sewed into their clothing a precious Legacy in order to help another survive. When Elena decides to honor her Bubbe’s request and get her Zeyde out of the old age home learn what a young girl will sacrifice and do to honor the wishes of someone she holds dear. Followed and having to watch her step each way will they survive? Finally: Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die told by Charles Ardai about a Rabbi who sacrifices himself in the face of danger. Someone enters the sanctuary and wants to find a man named Karoly and the events that follow as the congregation is held hostage and the final outcome will allow readers to know what one man did to safe others. This book is great for group discussions. Every story has its own moral and lesson for readers young adults and older adults to learn the dark side as stated on the back cover of the Diaspora o revolutionary fervor, the passing of generations and the abuse, the hate and anti-Semitism that still permeates even today. Author, educator and editor Kenneth Wishnia takes writing to a whole new higher level. This is one book that will make you think, wonder and ask: Can this still happen today?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine