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Inmate 1818 and Other Stories
By: Bernard Otterman
Publisher: Liber Novus Press
Publication Date: October 2014
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: November 12, 2014
It was always her father’s moods that had disrupted the family dynamic. Indeed she had left as a young woman to head to Santa Fe to become a potter. Father never wanted to join the family celebrations, even when she’d finally settled down and married Rubin. “I can’t enjoy myself among ‘goyim.’” There was always something, something maddening about him. He was a Holocaust survivor, but his moodiness was still annoying. Time had marched by and she had two children, boys, her mother had passed away, but the moodiness remained. Father hated Germans, gentiles weren’t on his list of favorites, and he insisted ‘Goishe’ (Christian) nations “looked the other way during the Holocaust.”
The family moved to Merrick. It was closer to Father, but he still was surrounded by an aura of distrust and hatred. There weren’t going to be any “meaningful ties with him,” no matter what transpired. It was Rosh Hashanah and he finally agreed to come for a visit. During dinner the talk unfortunately turned to the Holocaust. “Come this fall, Larry will be studying the Holocaust in Hebrew school.” Nothing but tommyrot according to Father because no way anyone who hadn’t experienced it, couldn teach it. There had been little undecipherable snippets over the years that were clues to the man.
Mother, in the heat of arguments, had thrown out insults like “echtige sonder” and snapped that he was a “’sonder man.’” Nem, they knew nothing about the Holocaust and neither did his flippant daughter who had supposedly studied it. “What do you know about the ‘Sonderkommandos?’” She knew that in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Father had been, there were “groups of inmates who were forced by the Germans to remove the bodies from the gas chambers and burn them in the crematoriums or the open pits nearby.” It was the work of the devil and they were as evil as the SS in her mind. It finally came out ... Father had volunteered to be a Sondercommando. Had the man sold his soul to the devil for clean sheets and a shower?
Bernard Otterman’s characters and their experiences during a period of history’s darkest moments whirl through these pages. My mind, like that of anyone who will be turning these pages, whirled with emotion and questions. There was the woman who chose to lose a part of herself to save her son, the mystical tale of the creation of a golem, a man whose guilt overwhelmed him when he thought he killed his sister, and yet another of a teen struggling with the fact that his grandfather had been an SS commandant. The tales, all exquisitely penned, somehow take on the same tone, asking me to think about the philosophical questions and dilemmas each presented. As I read, I thought little about them, but each time I put the book down I did.
For example, when I read about that teen, who was trying to build a Lego Lager (concentration camp) to soothe his soul over the idea of the fact he was related to an SS commandant, it brought to mind the film Hitler’s Children. The sins of the father’s cannot be owned by the children, nor can any of them atone for them. A Joseph Conrad quote, buried in the pages poignantly tied the tales together: “all humanity was bound together—the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.” Many times I hear people complain that they’ve heard it all when one talks about the Holocaust, but they have not yet heard Bernard Otterman.
Quill says: This is an amazing collection of historical Holocaust fiction that needs to be heard!
For more information on Inmate 1818 and Other Stories, please visit the author's website at: www.bernardotterman.com
Saving Baby: How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption
By: Jo Anne Normile
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 2014
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: November 11, 2014
Jo Anne Normile had a dream – a dream to own a grandson of the famed racehorse Secretariat, and see that horse race. She had no idea how deep into the “Sport of Kings” this dream would take her, nor how it would forever change her life.
The first thing Normile needed to make her dream a reality was a top-notch broodmare (a female horse used for breeding) that would produce her future champion. The horse she found was Pat, a sweet Thoroughbred mare that was already in foal. The agreement with Pat’s owner was that Normile would care for the mare and once the horse foaled, she’d be able to re-breed Pat and that resultant foal would be hers. The first foal would go back to Pat’s owner once it was old enough to leave its mother. That foal, officially named “Reel Surprise,” was nicknamed “Baby” and was soon the love of Normile’s life. How could she send Baby back to Pat’s owner? Eventually, Normile was able to work out a deal with the foal’s owner and Baby became her horse. Her horse to love, spoil, and blow kisses to. As Baby grew, however, the time to send him away for training drew near. As part of the sale agreement, Normile had promised Baby’s original owner that she would race the horse and so, reluctantly, she sent her prized horse off to the trainer.
A fair amount of Saving Baby relates the ups and downs of Baby’s training, although as Normile admits, many of the experiences were not positive. From his first trainer’s insistence on keeping the horse through the winter (the horse was originally supposed to go home after a few months of initial training), to the second trainer’s feeding poor quality hay and making her horse very sick, to the actual races where Baby lost almost every time, the author honestly tells all. Time after time, she admits that she allowed things, “against my better judgment,” because she was enamored with the “Sport of Kings” and thought all would be well. But slowly, while spending a significant amount of time in the stabling areas of the track, she saw things that made her re-think the world of racing. When Baby became a victim of these track issues, Normile made a promise to her beloved horse to help other racehorses.
With her background and connections, Normile was the perfect candidate to start rescuing racehorses that had reached the end of their careers. Whether from age or injury, most of these horses were destined to travel in horrible, terrifying conditions to the slaughterhouse. Normile founded an organization called CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) that grew exponentially once established and word got out about what wonderful sport horses most of these washed-up ex-racehorses would make.
Some readers may question why Normile didn’t simply pull her horse out of training and bring him home. This is a valid question and, no doubt, she asked herself that over and over, particularly after Baby suffered at the hands of the racetrack. But as so many people know, it’s very easy to get swept up in the excitement of racing, and think that everything will be okay, that no harm would ever come to your horse. The reader, too, will get swept away in the story, hoping that Baby will return home safely.
As the book progresses, the author tells numerous stories of horses that her organization saved, as well as some that they couldn’t get to in time. This story will give fans of racing something to think about next time they head to the track to bet on their favorite horses.
Quill says: You’ll get angry, and shed a tear or two while reading about Baby and other racehorses. There’s no doubt, Jo Anne, that Baby would be proud of all you have done for ex-racehorses.