a must-see movie about Jewish life in the Ukraine? #ukraine

Nina Kossman <nina@...>

Avishalom (Avi) Klammer writes, in part:
I'd also take this opportunity to recommend to all the
masterpiece must-see (feature) movie: Everything is
Illuminated (which very much tells what jewish life in
the Ukraine is/was-to a point of my feeling an
incredibly intense connection to it-a connection that
I believe reflects how life in the Ukraine, used to be
for my grandmother, whom sadly, I know very little
about... A must-see/must-not-miss (not recent) movie,
available on DVD (Netflix, etc...).

While I appreciate the recommendation, to see "Everything is Illuminated", I
have to politely disagree with the opinion of the recommender about this
"must-see" movie. Neither the book nor the movie accurately "reflect
what Jewish life in the Ukraine is/was." For those of us who lived in the
former Soviet Union or studied the period the author's blatant mistakes are
obvious. "Everything is Illuminated" appeals to an American's fantasy of
Jewish life in the "old country" but unfortunately it's all made up; the
author even got the date of the German invasion wrong (and repeats this
mistake several times). Also, >from the main character's mangled English, it
is obvious that the author knows neither Ukrainian nor Russian grammar which
could have helped him to create plausible mistakes in his narrator's
English. Foer's 18th century characters use makeup and drink iced tea (!);
his Soviet-era characters experience / reflect none of the cataclysms of
that time (e.g. Communism, the great famine, collectivization, mass roundups
/ executions in the years which preceded the German invasion, etc). If you
want to read a more truthful story about "how life was" for Jews in the
Ukraine, and how it was destroyed, I recommend Anatoly Rybakov's excellent
novel "Heavy Sand." Rybakov was born near the time and place he describes
and knows what he is talking about--he's a great writer. "A Scrap of Time"
and "Journey" by Ida Fink are great works of art as well as eyewitness
accounts of the Holocaust on territory of Poland/Ukraine. There is also "The
Lone Survivor" by Michael Diment, a diary of the author's survival in a
small-town Ukrainian ghetto. And don't miss "Babii Yar" by Anatolii
Kuznetzov: the author lived right near the place, and his "document in the
form of a novel" is testimony to what he saw and heard. An account of the
destruction of the Lithuanian Jews can be found in "Kaddish for Kovno: Life
and Death in a Lithuanian Ghetto 1941-1945" by William W. Mishell. (Mishell
is a survivor of the Kovno ghetto). I can recommend more books for those who
are interested. These authors recount their own harrowing experience; as
Foer lacks this experience, he fills in the blank spots with his narrators'
sexual exploits and quirky diction, which wears off after some twenty pages.
Holocaust does not need to be made entertaining or clever; it is shocking
enough when told plainly. Remember Primo Levy on writing about the
Holocaust. As for books on pre-Holocaust Jewish life in the Ukraine, there
are of course Isaak Babel, Isaak Singer, and Sholom Aleichem.

Nina Kossman

Amos Israel Zezmer <amos.zezmer@...>

Thanks, Nina, for your message.

I think many of us share your feelings about "Everything is
Illuminated." I disliked the book after reading about ten pages it. Out
of duty to the friend who thrust it in my hands and said, "You've just
got to read this book. All of Britain is raving about it!" I read it to
the very end, disliking it even more. I cannot imagine wasting my time
(and eyesight, again) with the film.

Amos Zezmer
Yerres, France

Moderator's note: I was sent the book by a cousin - since the subject
town was Trochenbrod. My father was born there so I "had to read" this book.
I, too, put it down after the first few pages, resenting the vulgarity of the
language. That was two years ago. In Salt Lake I saw the movie. Thank
goodness the vulgarity was gone (mostly) and the story as I saw it was
somewhat sensitive. But it did not reflect life in Trochenbrod which is
what I was expecting. The real life in Trochenbrod was portrayed more
accurately in a thesis by Morton Kessler written in the 80's, and in a tiny
pamphlet written by David Schwartz and published in Israel in 1936.

Miriam Korshak <mkorshak@...>

I must dispute Nina's critique of the original post praising this
film. This film is NOT a documentary, nor is it more than a
fictional slice of life set in in today's Odessa, and rural
countryside, with a sub-hero in the person of a young American. The
lead Ukrainian character is almost a comedic anti-hero. The comedy
comes with his bold statements showing his gross misconceptions of
Americans. Even Grandpa's dog, "Sammy Davis Junior, Junior" is
hilarious. She wears a T-shirt stating she's a "seeing-eye
bitch." Grandpa is the driver on this expedition. Imagine the
consternation of the visiting American tourist meeting his official
tour-guide/driver who uses a seeing-eye dog.

The point of the film is neatly summed up in one of the closing
speeches: (Paraphrased) "The past is always within us, looking
out. Look inward to the past and find yourself."

My chief complaint about the film is that too much of it is
un-subtitled Russian and Ukrainian. There's some English 'narration'
and some of that is hard to understand. Given the social strata of
the Ukrainians with speaking parts, I would hardly expect them to
speak gramatically. Let's face it: to the English-speaking ear,
most Russian and Ukrainian sounds like the speaker is angry. That's
just the way they talk, and the inflection they use.

Remember: it's only a movie, not a documentary. But it's
believable, warm, touching and very thoughtful. And if you've ever
traveled by car in that part of Ukraine, it's totally authentic.

Miriam Korshak