Monday, April 23, 2018

Inspiration in an Eggshell

I am sometimes asked what artist inspires me. I usually sit for a moment in silence as I contemplate all the artists whose work I’ve enjoyed. It is not that I don’t have one, but rather that I have many and their influence may not always be conscious. I don’t try to imitate a specific artist. I would rather find my own path, but what we view does have an impact, even one of which we may be unaware.

I often go through museums and in the ones that permit photographs, take photos of the work that speaks to me. Sometimes I pick a theme, such as portraits, and photograph only work within that category. What I like about this exercise is that it forces my responses to consciousness, rather than just letting them wash over me and then be forgotten.

When I return home, I take those photos and put them in an electronic file by museum and country or state. I have over 2100 images of artwork from 20 museums in the United States and another 20 overseas. I must confess that I seldom go back to them. What matters is the act of selection, curating my own gallery of sorts and identifying the work to which I respond.

Sometimes I am influenced by artists who I experience in different environments. When I spent a month in Lithuania in 2009, I rented the apartment of an artist,  Vytenis Lingys. Large canvases filled the walls, their dominant color a serene white, with bold color and iconography within that white stillness. When I returned home, I found myself missing those canvases, especially his use of white. I often think of his work when I use white in a painting and remind myself not to shy away from its use. Often, I use it in an entirely different way, washing it over a first attempt and letting suggestions of imagery emerge, but it was from his canvases that I learned to appreciate the emotional power of the space evoked by white.




from Papersource.com
Inspiration often comes from very unexpected sources and I am often intrigued by ideas that imagery symbolizes. I once was captivated by a bamboo bowl with eggshells embedded in its gold surface. I had given it as a gift to a family member who was going through a difficult time and in my note I wrote about the idea of brokenness and its role in our journey through life. It is no small coincidence that Leonard Cohen had died around then, and I recalled his writing Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.

It took a year for that inspiration to bear fruit. We had returned from Yellowstone, a place of amazing texture and color, and I decided to do some small paintings to get myself painting again. As I considered the textural elements of the landscape I decided to experiment with eggshells. I gathered them from our breakfast and soaked them to remove the yolk. Later I put them in a plastic bag and crushed them into pieces. I used medium to attach them to the wooden surface on which I worked and then painted portions of them. I was surprised at how they often clumped together, appreciating the difficulty of creating that beautiful bowl with each separate piece so delicately laid out. Still the clumping meant I could build interesting structures. I  later delighted in the way they interacted with paint. Thus began my first foray into painting with eggshells.

Six months later I was working on a project for the 70th birthday of Israel. I've written about that in Walking on Eggshells. I was thinking of newness, birthdays, but also the fact that the State of Israel came to be in part out of the Holocaust, a time of brokenness and destruction. I noticed the bag of eggshells on my paint table, left over from that first attempt. I began to think about the significance of egg shells in conveying those concepts and particularly the fact that brokenness preceded the birth of Israel. I ended up incorporating the egg shells into the painting, not just as surface, but as symbolism.

More recently I have been working on a  painting for the Jewish Artists' Lab on the theme of Crossing the Threshold. I began to think of how we enter a threshold and imagined us leaving a trail of eggshells behind as we enter a place of newness, abandoning the familiar. It is a time when we are fragile ourselves, often fearful of the unknown.This time that trail led to a question mark of eggshells as we face uncertainty. I'll write more on this piece when I declare it finished.

Perhaps next time I am asked about inspiration, I should reply with a much more layered response - a bowl, Leonard Cohen and my breakfast all served as inspiration.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Tale of Two Sisters


“I’m glad you’re taking it easier on the goals,” my sister commented on our lengthy phone call last night. "I think you push yourself too hard." Now that is a little amusing when you consider that one of the purposes of my call was to get us moving on a book we’ve talked of writing jointly. I had just finished a workshop on storyboarding a book and wanted to share what I had learned. 

You may recall, I had written of abandoning my reading and blog goals and descending into laziness and sloth. Now perhaps the laziness and sloth is a bit tongue in cheek, but it speaks to an inner fear of exactly that. Part of what makes life satisfying for me is in the doing and there is an underlying fear of losing the discipline that keeps me in motion. My sister proposed that I did this for my late father who valued drive and achievement. I think it is more that I am similar to my late father. I got the “drive” gene.

Andee (7), me (10) with our grandfather
How do we take a positive quality and keep it from taking over our life? How do we manage our innate qualities so they don't run amok? It takes a while to learn who we are and what is unique to us. It helps to have a sister to do so, someone of the same gender who grew up with the same parents, but somehow turned into a different person. I shared a room with my sister as a child, yet somehow failed to really know her. Oh, I knew her idiosyncrasies. She was scared of thunderstorms as a child. She couldn’t fall asleep without the radio. I couldn’t fall asleep with it. I needed silence, she needed white noise. She used to pile her clothes on a chair and I thought longingly of the day when I would live on my own with an empty chair. Now I pile my clothes on a chair.

Those were the years when we were busy learning who we were. We had the myopia of childhood, a time when we were the center of our own universe. Later when I married, my sister was single. After she married and began to raise a family, I divorced. When I remarried, she divorced. Always out of sync with our lives and living different lives in terms of family. We communicated at the crisis points, always able to talk when lives were in upheaval, but living in our separate worlds and separated by geography.

A Shared November Birthday in the 1980s
We came together when our mother needed support. Our father had died, and our mother was living on her own in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. As is often the case, the daughters are the parental support system. We needed to learn to work together. Much to my surprise, my little sister proved to be a competent person. Who knew? No longer the kid who was afraid of thunderstorms, now capable and thoughtful about how best to support our mother. We bounced ideas off of each other and put together a plan with each of us playing a role, but also drawing on outside support. 

Our differences proved to be complementary. We were both good problem solvers, but she was better with the warm fuzzy stuff. I was better with organizing the facts.  I dealt with finances, she dealt with health matters. Our mother had always associated me with doing things. We had traveled together overseas, and I took her on adventures. My sister had the grandchildren and spent more relaxed family time with my parents. We easily fell into those roles again. As I lived further away, I came in for longer visits. My mother and I explored the city together and even took a trip to Israel. My sister shared more relaxed time with her on shorter weekly visits.  

We both trusted each other to deal with our respective spheres with my mother’s best interests always paramount. When we had different opinions, we worked it through. Along the way we developed a new relationship between us. So now we are talking about jointly writing a book on this shared experience, supporting parents as they go through a series of losses, from memory to life. We join them on that journey, losing them gradually until they leave this world and we then integrate who they were into our daily life. That latter stage especially intrigues me, how we make sense of these important relationships. Along the way our relationship with siblings takes on a new form. If we are fortunate, dealing with those losses together brings us closer. It is an often challenging, but rich experience, if we give ourselves over to it.

I have been going through my email correspondence with my sister, reassembling the history and reliving the ups and downs of those years where our focus was on our mother. The differences between us also emerge. I sent long lists after each visit of what I did from dealing with household problems to taking my mother on outings. The longer the list, the more successful the visit. Perhaps it was my way to exert control over an essentially uncontrollable situation. My sister responds that she is exhausted just reading my lists. Then there is the day to day. I spoke to my mother in the morning, my sister spoke to her in the evening. In between we traded information on conversations with our mother, insights into her and needs we identified. The teamwork is evident. When our mother passed away, I felt all the loss that went with it, but also a desire not to lose this new-found relationship with my sister. Perhaps the book is a way to continue it.

 I'm pretty sure it won't be easy.We are different people but working through and respecting those differences may make this a rich experience also. We have two voices and we will try to let each tell their story, weaving them together at times to let our shared story emerge. As to that question of how we manage our innate qualities, perhaps we do so by making room for someone who brings different qualities, tempering and augmenting our energy in new and different ways.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Finding Hope in Truth Telling


I have a memory of the Washington Monument, pink in the glow of the sunrise, as I taxied to the airport, quite a breathtaking image. I once worked for a company headquartered in DC so have made many trips there. Recently I was returning for a conference.  This time, however, it felt as if I was entering enemy territory, a sentiment I’ve never felt even with past presidents with whom I’ve disagreed. I used to feel as if this was in part my city. Now with the current White House occupant, it felt tarnished. 

It was a bit like my first and only visit to Germany. Prior to that visit I always considered going to Germany verboten. This was the country that murdered my family. What can I say? I’m slow to forgive. Now I know Germany has worked to come to terms with its history, but I had this very strange visceral reaction to the beautiful landscape as the train headed towards my destination. I was angry. How dare it be so beautiful after the horrors they wrought. Only my purpose justified that visit. I was part of the first group of Jewish genealogists to do research in the Holocaust records.

Last year I came to DC shortly after the election for the Women’s March. That too seemed like sufficient justification to enter enemy territory. So, what brought me this time? For a number of years, I’ve attended a museum conference focused on Jewish museums (CAJM.net). I’ve learned that as an artist who tells stories, much of what I do echoes the work of museums. This conference was focused on the responsibility that museums bear to create dialogue and to tell the important stories of our time and our history truthfully. At their best they are truth tellers and play an important role as our society undergoes turmoil. When we talk of the role of the press and of courts in holding up a society that values core principles, we also should consider the role of museums in educating, challenging and engaging the populace.

While the conference addressed these topics, my visits to national museums, also underscored this. The two portraits of the Obamas had recently been revealed and I decided to focus my one free day on the National Portrait Gallery. My niece met me at my hotel and we walked to the nearby metro. When we entered the Gallery, the main attraction was clearly the Obama portraits. President Obama’s was in the Presidential Gallery while Michelle was located in a different area of the museum. 

A line, beginning in a large covered atrium, snaked toward the painting for those who wanted to take a picture of themselves in front of it. While that seemed a bit silly to me, at least for myself, it was actually quite touching to see a young African American child before the portrait, for whom the Obamas represented the idea of possibilities once thought unreachable.

The Presidential Gallery (also online) soon captivated me beyond the Obama portrait. There is a portrait of every president and a description of them as a leader and the times in which they were called to lead. I was struck by the fact that slavery was an issue that  presidents began to struggle with in the 1830s and it left its imprint on every administration up until the Civil War and its aftermath.


Now I must admit that I was not happy about the idea of our current occupant taking up space in the gallery someday, but was somewhat reassured by the fact that the text did not sugarcoat anything. If they were corrupt, it hit it head-on. And yes, we had some who were considered corrupt long before Nixon or our most recent occupant. There were several who wrought damage that took many years to right. Andrew Johnson ascended to the presidency after Lincoln was assassinated and Reconstruction took a turn as he supported returning power to the white Southern planters and depriving freed slaves of their rights. He came within one vote of being impeached.

Even the “good” Presidents had their flaws. It noted that Teddy Roosevelt opposed birth control for women, and immigration. Teddy!! For the most part they were men of their times and carried the beliefs and prejudices of those times. I was struck by the fact that Lincoln alone, seemed to transcend his times.

I was surprised and pleased to discover a painting of the four women Supremes and found much of interest in the museum's artwork.

At the end of my conference we met at the US Holocaust Museum and went through the exhibition. Here I was struck by the way Hitler positioned himself as the only one who could improve the plight of the country and the use of the People’s radio to pump out propaganda to the populace. The same position is assumed by the current occupant and the radio has become the cyber sphere. I closed my visit with several hours in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture after hearing the director speak eloquently at the conference. The museum goes from African culture and slave ships to Jim Crow laws and intimidation by lynching, providing a different perspective on the debates referenced in the portrait gallery.  It concludes by celebrating the influence black culture has had on our society in its many dimensions.

Normally I don’t get past the National Gallery. This visit felt especially rich in the history it shared and its relevance for today. The museums gave me hope that truths will be told. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Boundary Between Discipline and Sloth


Are there certain things you do religiously, with intention and regularity? My husband for example goes to the gym three times every week. Never fails. And that doesn’t include his regular thirty-mile bike ride to and from our studio. 

I must confess to lacking that level of physical discipline, although his discipline has helped to encourage me in my habits. If nothing else, it guilts me into working out on a more regular schedule. Disciplines of the mind are more my forte. For a number of years, I have tracked my reading and blog writing. And how do you track? On the most fundamental level we count. We set that number against a goal. For many years my goal was five books and four blogs a month.   To be disciplined you often have to be a bit of a number counter. How else do you know you’ve achieved your goals?

I have always feared losing the structure of a disciplined life. When I left my work life, I was especially concerned that with no regular routine I would settle into laziness and sloth. I’m not quite sure where that comes from, but it does cause me to overcompensate a bit.

Now I’ve learned a few things over time. One is that we each have areas where discipline comes naturally and areas where it doesn’t. Disciplines of the mind or of the body are just one division. We can appear to be extremely disciplined in one area while not at all in another. Most of us are not disciplined in all spheres. It is just too much to take on, so we decide what matters most to us or comes more easily.

 I also have learned that we have to really define our objective carefully, so our measurement is meaningful.  Numbers are productivity driven and that doesn’t work for everything. For example, anything creative has its own process. It doesn’t necessarily happen on our schedule. The goal is more one of showing up and taking the first step and then the second. I may start painting and then paint over it and begin again. That counts as discipline, but in a way that respects process. If my focus was on making my living from selling my work, then a number goal might be appropriate, and I might also be doing a different kind of artwork.

I’ve also learned that sometimes we can choose to abandon a discipline when the discipline itself runs counter to the meaning of the effort. For example, as I neared the end of the year and was a few books shy of my target, I found myself rejecting those eight-hundred-page books. The discipline had begun to detract from the joy of reading. And sometimes external factors get in the path of discipline. Certainly, this past year my constant need to be informed of political matters has redirected my reading energy and affected my ability to remain focused on story, except for the story unfolding within our Capital.

This is the year I’ve decided to let go of some of my discipline, to abandon my reading goals and to write when I feel like writing. Laziness and sloth, here I come.

Maybe when our political world settles down, I’ll settle back into my rhythm of reading. In the meantime, I’ll catch up on some of those extremely long books. I’m not going to disappear from the blogosphere but may be writing this blog with less frequency. I began the year with a burst of enthusiasm and signed up for a number of writing classes at our local writing center. I want to begin roughing out a book idea and thought that might help move me forward. I have no shortage of writing to do, albeit for a different purpose. So, I hope you will continue to join me on this journey as I test the boundaries between discipline and sloth.

 photocredit- meneya at morguefile

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Runway of Time

I woke this morning to an open calendar. No outside commitments, meetings or obligations, a full day to fill as I wish. I scroll up and down just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. A blessedly blank page. I wallow in the unexpected luxury of a runway of time.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to fill it with, just that no one else gets to fill it for me. Next stop, my to do list. There I find several tasks that truly demand a runway of time. This is not just an hour or two gap in my schedule. A runway of time allows me the time necessary to settle into an idea,  to work on a painting in a way that requires contemplation before I can even begin, to write in the meandering way that writing often requires or to take on a time consuming video project with transcription and editing. It allows time for process and thought, not merely squeezing in one more thing in that eternal quest for productivity that I am so prone to.

These are the type of projects that fall to the bottom of my list where they languish if no deadline forces my attention. Video projects in particular, form the bottom layer in my archaeological dig of to dos. And so I decide to tackle the backlog that has sat there for years. 

So what composes this layer? Mostly old women. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I have several interviews with women in their 90s and older who I wanted to record while I still could. They include the then 101 year old grandmother of a family member. Her recent death at 106 forced my attention back to the partial transcript I had left abandoned.  Apparently you have to die to get my attention. I also do the website on the former Jewish community of the Polish town from which my grandfather came. I document family histories of people from that community. I have several interviews with Holocaust survivors from there, all needing transcription and editing. One who recently passed away knew my family in Poland and with this fresh commitment  I am eager to revisit that recording. My friend Dora, in her 90s, also from my ancestral town, reminds me that we have some recordings to do and we don’t have forever.  

The software has changed since my last stint of editing and I have to relearn how to work with it. It is slow back and forth work with occasional gems to reward me. One recording takes me back in time, placing me in dialogue once again with my interviewee, but with five years of perspective on aging. Now I am approaching an age milestone myself and it makes me reflect on how someone views aging when they have blown through all those milestones. My 101 year old interviewee talked of the party her friends threw her at 99. “I don’t think they thought I would make it to 100,” she laughed. “Well you showed them,” I had replied. And then some, I think now.

I think about the questions I sometimes ask elders in interviews, the meaty ones. What were the challenges you faced? What gives your life meaning? Perhaps it’s too early for me to know my final answers. More challenges, more meaning yet to come.  I discuss those questions with my friend Dora. Dora has often told me that you have to find younger friends as your age group shrinks. I’m one of them for her. I know her well enough to anticipate her answers to these questions. We talk about how life is such a surprise, how we are a surprise.  So many unexpected things can happen and isn’t that wonderful? We are both optimists. I am well aware that I am in a sweet spot of life, a time of discovery and meaning. Past youth and middle age, but not yet “old.” “Old” is always someone else.

I begin to notice the increasing ratio of grey heads in our yoga classes, just an occasional tattooed woman in her twenties to remind us of true flexibility. The ratio increases for classes during the work day.  I think back to my yoga classes when I was that young woman, minus the tattoos and flexibility. I remember visiting my aunts in Florida not so many years ago and them admiring my slim waist. Now I know they were mourning their own once youthful figures as I too notice younger and slimmer forms. I slip between ages, suddenly seeing with clarity what I viewed with a myopic gaze when young. Every age comes with its benefits and detriments. There is some freedom in no longer focusing so much energy on appearance, now I care more about function than form. I glance at my husband on the adjoining yoga mat, a trim and handsome graying man. I don’t think of him as “old” either, part of my bubble of people of like age to whom I grant immunity in my perception of aging.

 Now I am free to focus on the things that matter to me and let life unspool in often unexpected ways. There is a growing awareness that life is finite, reinforced when parents die, then the occasional high school classmate. That one time sense of immunity has been pierced. My personal runway of time is shrinking and infinitely precious.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Walking on Eggshells


 I had written earlier of an arts and study partnership through which I work with an Israeli artist to commemorate Israel’s seventieth birthday. Our assignment was to agree on a text and each develop an individual artwork on that theme, perhaps sharing other elements if we chose.

Our first task was to successfully connect by video chat which took some doing. My partner soon knew me better than I intended when she heard my frustrated expletive when the communication didn’t appear to be working. Oops, apparently it was, so much for first impressions. We’ve had a number of chats since and gotten to know a bit about each other. We then began to tackle our second task, agreeing on a common theme.

As part of our study we read and discussed several texts, among them the Declaration of the State of Israel which is largely a vision statement. It paints the hopes and dreams of what Israel could be. It speaks of how the Holocaust further demonstrated the need for the State of Israel. Despite outlining the vision, the Declaration is grounded in reality. In the body of the statement it talks of “loving peace, but knowing how to defend. “ It recognized this would not be an easy road and acknowledges that while our eyes must be on peace, they must not neglect defense. This is not surprising given that Israel was built on the bones of the Holocaust.  For Israel to offer a place of refuge to Jews around the world, it must first be able to offer a place of relative safety. We agreed that this would be our common text to explore.

As I read the vision statement, I found myself wondering how we had done at achieving that ambitious vision that promised a nation "based on freedom, justice and peace . . . equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex . . . freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture . . .safeguard [of[ the Holy Places of all religions." It went on to offer to its Arab inhabitants "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

Arab Israelis make up 21% of the population, 1.6 million.  Arabs who live in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were offered Israeli citizenship, but refused and are considered permanent residents.  They are entitled to become citizens and they receive municipal services and have voting rights in the municipality. 

So what are the facts? Freedom of religion is afforded to all religions. Israeli Arabs have political rights with a consistent history of serving in the Knesset.  Every state-run company is required to have at least one Arab Israeli on its board. Holy places are safeguarded. The one exception for Arabs is an exemption from compulsory military service. A major bone of contention is the Jewish nature of the state and the right of return afforded all Jews, the very core principles that underlie the state. This is a right which feels personally important when I look at the fact that throughout history the Jews had nowhere to flee when their lives were at stake. 

So vision vs reality? It seems to me that the divide is largely created by the need for security. The fact is that Israel has not been able to deliver on the vision of peace as it is not a one-sided choice. The clause on defense in the Declaration speaks to this reality.  So how to represent these concepts?

We find vision in several Biblical texts. In Numbers 13:23,  Moses sends out the scouts to bring back the fruit of the land.  They bring back grapes on a pole born between two men.  In the sky of the painting you will see faint grape-like clusters in the clouds.  In Deuteronomy 30:19  God calls upon us to "choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.”  Choosing life is closely allied to loving peace. This is not a culture or belief system that breeds suicide bombers, looking to a reward in the afterlife. To capture the idea of the continuity of life, I took the form of DNA and wove it through the sky. Within it is the quote from Isaiah 2:4 "Lo yi-sa goi, el goi che-rev" which in its entirety means "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall study war no more.” Also in the sky is the form of a bird, actually a flying scroll, an image of an archeological find that can be found on the first stamp with the name of Israel in 1948.  Below the sky is the image of church, synagogue and mosque all co-existing.

All of these passages speak to choosing life and peace, not war, and yet the importance of knowing how to defend is also recognized in the Declaration.   I decided to use a checkpoint as a symbol of security as a line awaits passage. Some checkpoints are wooden guard posts, others are turrets and I opted for the latter. The figures are suggested, not distinct, with the exception of the three by the tower. The checkpoint sits atop a rocky promontory constructed of crushed egg shells as we are frequently walking on eggshells, trying to balance competing objectives. The State of Israel, while a long-time dream, came to fruition out of the Holocaust. Life was shattered, much of our people destroyed and a new life was created in Israel. Many countries turned their backs on the Jews during the war, including the United States. They did not offer a place of refuge in an uncertain world. This is an important role that Israel plays. It will always be a refuge to Jews around the world.  It will always be a place that understands the importance of being able to defend. Eggs of course represent life, but in this case, crushed, they represent the destruction of life. In rebuilding upon the shards of that destruction, we are all too aware of the importance of security.




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Readings: Dislocations of Culture and Gender


As I survey the list of my favorite readings in the prior year, I note that there are quite a few set in Asia, not an unusual topic in my reading. I grew up reading books by Pearl S. Buck and have often wondered at my affinity for Asian-related literature. Perhaps our early reading leaves its fingerprints. My last post discussed books that explored the experiences of immigrants to the United States. Both of the following books touch on dislocation in a different way, through the intersection between different Asian cultures, particularly when one enters the other’s culture. 

This year I went back to an author who I have written about in the past, Tan Twan Eng.  A few years I read his book The Gift of Rain and was awed by the sheer beauty of his writing. Eng writes of Malaysia where he grew up, and what little I know of Malaysian history came from his prior book. I find that reading historical fiction often fills in the gaps in my knowledge of history. In The Garden of Evening Mists (2012), Eng introduces the reader to the many layers that make up Malaysian history; British rule, Japanese occupation and Communist insurgents. He explores the relationship between a Japanese garden designer and a female judge of Chinese descent who was held captive during the war. As the story unfolds, so does the wartime experience, raising more questions than it answers. There is a puzzle at the heart of this, but it is not a story where all the loose ends are wrapped up. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions. Along the way we are also introduced to Japanese garden design and the tattoo art of horimono.

Pachinko (2017) by Min Jin Lee is an epic novel that traces four generations of a Korean family over a span of eighty years. Beginning in 1910 when Japan ruled Korea, it follows the family as they move to Japan.  In Japan, Koreans are considered outsiders and their choices are often limited. Even if born in Japan, they are required to register as an alien every three years.  As they are closed out of many occupations, pachinko parlors become one of the paths to employment. This is a book composed of many individual stories set within this broader history and the constraints placed upon ethnic Koreans.

There is another theme that recurs in my reading, that is the presence of women in unexpected capacities. Women are often in the role of “the other” even within their own culture. We need not go to another country to experience a sense of dislocation.

We returned from a trip to Yellowstone and Glacier this year and I was especially struck by the beauty and unusual visual sites of Yellowstone. I was a receptive reader when I stumbled across the book Letters from Yellowstone (2000) by Diane Smith. This book is set in 1898 and is the story of a young woman who joins a field study in Yellowstone. The study leader assumes she is a man and goes through a bit of an adjustment when he learns that his expectations are incorrect. I found it fascinating to step back to an earlier time in Yellowstone, especially because fresh from our visit I could picture many of the places they described. The story is told solely through the letters of the team to colleagues and family. I was a bit skeptical about that approach initially, but felt that ultimately it worked well, especially in expressing the voice of Miss Bartram as she carefully weaves herself into the team and proves her value.

In The Weight of Ink (2017) by Rachel Kadish, another young woman pursues an unexpected path when she relocates to London from Amsterdam to serve as a scribe to a blind rabbi. This gives her the opportunity to study and develop her intellectual gifts while she navigates a world that would easily squelch those abilities. This story is told in two periods, the London of the 1660s and the early twenty-first century.  It involves the discovery of a cache of documents from the earlier period that led the present-day historians on a search for the story of the scribe.  While the search of the scholars was necessary to create what proves to be a fascinating exploration, I was most intrigued with the early story.  The author does wrap up the loose ends in a way that is both clever and believable.

There are a few other books that I especially enjoyed noted below:

Hero of the Empire by Candace Millard 2016- an excellent story of Churchill's formative years during the Boer War, reads like a novel.

We are Called to Rise by Laura McBride 2014 – four stories come together in one event, and yes there is an immigration story within this as well.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger 2013- based in 1960s Minnesota with the hindsight of forty years, a coming of age story with life-altering events.

Stolen Beauty by Laura Lico Albanese 2017 – the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of Klimt’s well-known portrait and her niece Maria Altmann, who successfully reclaims her painting from the Austrian government.