WeWriWa—The Smalls’ Shavuot menu

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This week’s snippet comes from Chapter 19, “Happy Shavuot,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next and published last spring as Movements in the Symphony of 1939. Last week I described the table itself, and now you’ll get to read about all the delicious foods on offer. I know many people really enjoy my food-themed scenes.

Cinnimin Filliard’s father helped to bring a German Jewish family to America from Amsterdam in 1938, and they’ve been living in the guesthouse ever since. Their youngest child, Sparky (real name Katherine, changed from Katharina), shares Cinni’s attic bedroom in the main house, and has become her best friend.

Cinni, who has no love lost for her family’s nominal religion of Methodism and finds Judaism much more fun and colorful, is thrilled to be invited to celebrate Shavuot with the Smalls (originally the Brandts). Her friend Kit’s father is also a guest.

Just prior to this excerpt, Cinni saw strange things that looked like bread doughnuts on a silver platter, and Mrs. Small explained they’re bagels from Philadelphia, to be served with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Cinni hoped her eyes weren’t wider than her stomach as she began heaping her plate high with a little of everything offered. She couldn’t complain for lack of meat when she had salmon broiled in butter, bagels loaded with the promised toppings, plenty of smoked salmon by itself, scalloped potatoes cooked in cheese, mushrooms stuffed with chopped walnuts, garden salad with chunks of goat cheese, fruit salad with shredded coconut flakes, and artichoke quiche. There was so much sumptuous food from which to feast, Cinni hardly cared there were some artichokes in the mix. If only her mother cooked such wonderful food. Mrs. Filliard put in some effort for Christmas and Easter, but didn’t offer anything nearly so grand.

“Which cheesecake would you like to try first?” Sparky asked after the supper plates and silverware were cleared away.

“Which cheesecake? You mean you’ve got more’n one? Lemme have a slice of all of ’em!”

Cinni’s eyes almost fell out of her head as Mrs. Small and Gary brought out cheesecake after cheesecake—the normal plain variety, chocolate, chocolate chip, lemon, orange, strawberry, raspberry, double chocolate.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Her mouth watered even more when Mr. Small and Barry lugged out canisters of ice-cream and bowls of toppings, followed by even more desserts upon which to feast.

“My folks never serve nearly so much dessert. I’m gonna weigh twenty more pounds after tonight.”

“We’re having ice-cream sundaes at synagogue after services tomorrow,” Sparky said. “Plus lots more cheesecake.”

“I almost wish I could tag along!”

WeWriWa—The Smalls’ Shavuot table

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Because the holiday of Shavuot is this weekend, I’m sharing something from Chapter 19, “Happy Shavuot,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next and published last spring as Movements in the Symphony of 1939. It took over a year after the e-book release, but now it’s finally available in print as well.

Cinnimin Filliard’s father helped to bring a German Jewish family to America from Amsterdam in 1938, and they’ve been living in the guesthouse ever since. Their youngest child, Sparky (real name Katherine, changed from Katharina), shares Cinni’s attic bedroom in the main house, and has become her best friend.

Cinni, who has no love lost for her family’s nominal religion of Methodism and finds Judaism much more fun and colorful, is thrilled to be invited to celebrate Shavuot with the Smalls (originally the Brandts). Her friend Kit’s father is also a guest.

The Smalls had set their table as nicely as they’d set it for the other holidays Cinni had joined them for. This time, they had a yellow tablecloth with evergreen-colored embroidery, and white china with green leaves around the perimeter. Cinni also liked their centerpieces, several vases of red and yellow tulips. They were humbler flowers than the roses and baby’s breath they’d had for Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. She didn’t like bouquets all that much, since they seemed such a waste of money when they wilted before long, but if flowers had to be used, she preferred down-to-earth ones like tulips and wildflowers.

“You ain’t using your other fancy china this time?” Cinni asked as she pulled out a chair between Barry and Sparky. “You’re lucky you had enough money for more’n one set. I don’t think my family had more’n one even when we were rich. One set is all you really need, unless you’re uppity rich snobs like the Hitchcocks or Malspurs.”

“My family has several sets of tableware!” Mr. Green protested.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I hope you don’t think we’re uppity. Having more than enough money to afford things like that means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

“Oh, no, I wasn’t talking about nice rich people like you. I meant snobs like the Hitchcocks and Unicorn-Mitchells.”

Gary smirked. “I’m glad the Unicorn-Mitchells go to private school, since I’d never be able to keep a straight face if one of them were in my classes. Is the first part of their name really Unicorn, and why did no one ever think to change it in all these years?”

“Part of their family tree must be German, Austrian, or Swiss–German,” Mr. Small said. “Einhorn is a fairly common surname, and means ‘unicorn.’ Or they could be Dutch, since Eenhorn is also a fairly common surname. I assume someone changed it after immigration, though I’m not so keen to blend into the host culture I’d change my name to Unicorn.”

An adolescence spent running all over Europe

Note: This is edited down from a 1,774-word book review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2004–06.

This memoir by Maia Wojciechowska is the story of how she, her mother, and her two brothers spent the first half of WWII going from country to country, while her father was with the Army as a pilot and waiting for the safest moment to join them. Several scenes inspired things in my books, like their escape on the train on the first day of the invasion of Poland, and when they’re smuggled over a border in potato sacks in a truck.

On 1 September 1939, Maia hears and sees planes flying overhead, and thinks one of them may be her father. She’s happily running along with her new Doberman puppy and is heartbroken when her dog is suddenly felled by a bomb. This makes her very angry at the Nazis, a hatred which lasts the entire rest of the war.

Maia’s mother decides to leave for France (where her husband has already left for) with her three children—Zbyszek (Zbigniew), Maia, and obnoxious little Krzys (Kryzsztof). But the train, one of the last few allowed to leave Poland, is constantly being stopped because of the incessant bombs. Outside, large groups of people are fleeing on foot. Zbyszek and Maia laugh about how much the train will stink if it’s hit by a bomb, since the last thing a person does before dying is defecate.

Eventually, they have to get out and start walking too, since the tracks are destroyed by bombs. During one air raid, Maia gets in a lot of trouble because she stands right out in the open as a plane drops bullets and smaller bombs, and keeps flying right over her as she stands there calmly. After this, they board another train which also eventually gets stopped because of more bombed-out tracks, but when they reach Łódż on foot, they’re able to board a train that takes them to France, where they previously lived for a year.

They live in several places in France, both before and during the Nazi occupation. For awhile, the children play war with their new friends, also refugees from Poland, including twin boys. They have stockpiles of weapons, which they found abandoned by the French army, and pretend to die from being shot at, after they spend the more important parts of their meetings discussing how they’re going to exact revenge on Germany and France and how they’re going to save Poland. The twins like to pretend to die in one another’s arms.

When all the other Polish families are evacuated, Maia and Zbyszek sneak a machine gun and ammunition into their apartment to shoot the oncoming Germans and the traitorous French who are hugging them and giving them flowers, but their mother sees the gun and wrestles it away from them. Maia also gets into trouble at school, once when she beats a boy who tried to lift her dress and another time when she pretends to not understand French, till she gets the principal as her teacher, who knows from her mother that Maia knows and understands French quite well.

Maia barely goes to school at all, since she’s constantly playing hooky, staying home with colds, or being punished by being made to stand behind the blackboard or outside because she won’t talk. Several schools throw her out because she’s absent so much, and because she refuses to participate. Maia and Zbyszek swore an oath to never speak to a French person for the duration of the war, nor to speak French, and they’re keeping to it. Maia only breaks it when their mother is briefly arrested after they arrive in Vichy France, and she asks how long she’ll be in there.

During the time in France, they also live in the same hotel as a mysterious and somewhat creepy older woman, who tries to seduce the confused Zbyszek.

Maia has her share of unthinking moments too, like when they’re going to Spain and she’s entrusted with a hatbox containing a teddybear stuffed with money and jewels, totalling more than $4,000. The money and jewels are from fellow Poles in Lisbon, who want to send packages to their relatives back home. Everything is going according to plan, until she loses sight of her family at a train station and gets on the wrong train. It’s going to Madrid too, but won’t arrive at the same time, as Zbyszek tells her as he runs alongside the departing train. Maia begins talking to a man sitting next to her during the ride, and when she gets off and rejoins her family, her mother is angry and horrified that Maia somehow let him make off with the teddybear without her realising it. He opened the window so she could exit faster, and when she turned around to introduce this handsome stranger to them, he was gone.

Eventually, the family are leave France for Portugal. However, this is only temporary, and they soon fly to London. The father joins them at this point, and it’s hard getting used to him being back in their lives and to living in a strange new place, with new schools, new people, and a new language. Maia proudly tells anyone who tries to speak to her that she’s Polish and doesn’t wish to learn English. The moment she left France, Maia went back to speaking French. There’s no more reason to keep the pact outside of France, and she’s not speaking French to actual French citizens. However, she still doesn’t want to speak English, and settles on a Catholic boarding school where everything is taught in French.

On the ship to America, which takes off in November 1942 after a lengthy delay, Maia gets the idea to commit suicide romantically, since she’s in the midst of unrequited love, and decides she’ll die by the cold winds. She desperately loves a handsome young soldier, and the night before they’re to reach America, where her father has been assigned a post in Washington at the Polish Embassy, she goes on deck and ties herself to a post with her scarf. She would’ve taken her clothes off to be even more romantic, but she doesn’t like her body.

Zbyszek comes upon her standing on deck at dawn, having read her suicide note, and laughs at her plan. “Are you going to freeze your ass off?” Maia abandons the freezing to death suicide after he laughs at her and volunteers some information which deeply shocks her, and she goes back down to her private cabin. It’s coming up on five in the morning, when they’re due to dock, but she doesn’t want to be among all the other people coming up to see New York as they slowly come in for their landing. Just like everything else she’s done over the past three years, and her entire life before that, she wants to be different.

I really love Maia because she’s her own person and a tomboy, not a docile girly-girl who stays out of trouble. Like many tomboys through the ages, Maia wishes she were a boy, because of the freedom and increased opportunities available to boys. She doesn’t get along well with her mother either, which I also relate to.

The Executed Renaissance (Розстріляне відродження)

My IWSG post is here.

Khrushelnytskyy family, early 1930s. Six of the people in this photo were murdered by Stalin’s thugs.

The Executed Renaissance is a term coined by Polish publicist Jerzy Giedroyc in a 13 August 1958 letter to Ukrainian literary critic and essayist Yuriy Andriyanovych Lavrinenko. In the letter, Mr. Giedroyc proposed this as the title for an anthology of Ukrainian literature of 1917–33.

“On the title. Maybe it would be good to give as a general name: Executed Renaissance. Anthology 1917–1933, etc. The title would sound spectacular then. On the other hand, the modest name Anthology can only facilitate penetration behind the Iron Curtain. What do you think?”

Jerzy Giedroyc, 1906–2000

The title was accepted, and the anthology was published in Paris in 1959, in the magazine Kultura, which Mr. Giedroyc had founded and was editor-in-chief of. Many Ukrainian emigrants had been published in this magazine, and it was instrumental in helping to reconcile Poles and Ukrainians.

Mr. Giedroyc sent review copies to the Writers’ Union in Kyiv and Ukrainian Soviet magazines at the editors’ expense, and took every chance he got to send it behind the Iron Curtain, both legal and illegal.

Since then, the term Executed Renaissance has expanded to refer to the great flowering of literary, cultural, artistic, musical, theatrical, philosophical, cinematic, intellectual, and spiritual life in Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s after so many centuries of being under foreign heels and unable to express their native culture and use their own language. Many of these people were murdered during the Great Terror of the 1930s.

A good percentage of the Executed Renaissance weren’t from wealthy or upper-middle-class families, and so hadn’t had the luxury of a good education, or even any education at all. They had to learn about great art, literature, music, and other culture on their own initiatives, in between working on farms and in factories, serving in the military, and just trying to survive war and famine.

Their subsequent creations were all the more amazing because they were self-taught.

Literary association Lanka, 1924. Three of the people in this photo were murdered by Stalin’s goons.

For the very first time, a generation of intellectuals, writers, artists, and musicians came from the real world. They knew what it was like to work for a living, struggle for everything they got, and live without luxuries. When they wrote about peasants and the working-class, they based it on personal experience instead of romantic ideals and secondhand information. These weren’t pampered rich kids and champagne Socialists.

Many of their creative works prominently featured rebellion, independent thought, existentialism, and expressionism.

Members of VAPLITE, Free Academy of Proletarian Literature, 1926. Six of the people in this photo were murdered by Stalin’s goons; another committed suicide, physically and mentally broken by the Holodomor and the start of political repression

When Stalin took full power and eliminated all competition, a wave of terror started, and Ukrainian culture and language were once again repressed. Those who were lucky escaped the USSR, while others felt forced into unhappy silence or writing propaganda. Some chose suicide. Most of the rest were arrested on false charges, tortured, and shot or sent to the GULAG.

A great deal of literature now circulated through samizdat (clandestine, underground publication and distribution) and tamizdat (publication abroad after being smuggled out). Some works were forever lost.

Union of Peasant Writers, 1924. At least four of the people in this photo were murdered by Stalin’s thugs, and another died in the GULAG.

Most Great Terror victims were posthumously rehabilitated after Stalin’s death, and some managed to survive the GULAG. However, that didn’t undo the massive cultural loss. Untold numbers of a bright, talented generation with so much creative and intellectual potential were murdered. Some scholars estimate 30,000 Ukrainians were in the Executed Renaissance.

Just a few of the fallen:

Mykola Hurovych Kulish (6/18 December 1892–3 November 1937), playwright, teacher, WWI and Russian Civil War veteran

Mykhaylo Vasylovych Semenko (19/31 December 1892–24 October 1937), Futurist poet

Mykhaylo Boychuk (30 October 1882–13 July 1937), painter, founder and leader of the Boychuk school of art

Irchan Myroslav (né Andriy Dmytrovych Babyuk) (14 July 1897–3 November 1937), poet, novelist, playwright

Lyudmyla Mykhaylivna Starytska-Chernyakhivska (17 August 1868–1941), poet, playwright, novelist, died en route to a Kazakh GULAG at age 73. Her sister Oksana died in the GULAG in 1942, in her late sixties.

Ivan Vasylovych Lypkivskyy (14 August 1892–13 July 1937), painter

Valerian L’vovich Polishchuk (19 September/1 October 1897–3 November 1937), poet, novelist, literary critic

May all their memories be for an eternal blessing.

From gutter to glitter and back again

Released 9 January 1931, Little Caesar was the first of the classic gangster films made famous and popular by Warner Brothers. While there certainly had been more than a few prior films featuring gangsters, it was only in 1931 that the modern gangster film as we know it took shape. Now, for the first time, real violence was depicted onscreen, and gangsters were protagonists instead of antagonists or side characters who had to be brought down.

Depression audiences keenly related to these anti-heroes who weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths and had to work hard for everything they got (even if most people in the audience didn’t climb out of the working-class world through crime!). In the blink of an eye, gangster anti-heroes also lost everything they were so proud of and worked so long and hard to achieve.

And since the über-restrictive Hays Code only came into play in 1933, these earliest gangster films were at liberty to show a great deal of violence and gritty realities.

Little Caesar was based on a crime novel of the same name, written by American novelist W.R. Burnett in 1929. This was his very first novel, and was such a runaway success he was invited to Hollywood as a screenwriter. Most of his books were converted into screenplays, and feature characters who are above all else deeply human, regardless of their walk of life. Hardened gangsters and criminals can show a softer side or even attempt to give up their wicked ways, while cops, judges, and guardians of so-called virtue can be evil, cruel, and two-faced.

And of course, Little Caesar also launched the film career of my second-favorite male actor of the sound era, Edward G. Robinson. Though he began appearing in films in 1916, it was only in 1929 that he began doing it regularly. (He began his acting career in the Yiddish Theatre District of New York in 1913, and débuted on Broadway in 1915.) Sadly, due to the institutionalized antisemitism of the era, he had to use a Gentile-sounding stage name in lieu of his birth name, Emanuel Goldenberg.

Astonishingly, Clark Gable was seriously considered for either the lead role or the second-leading role. While he certainly played his share of tough guys, I can’t see him as Rico at all! Edward G. Robinson was the absolute perfect choice for the title character. Seeing anyone else attempting that role would just feel wrong, similar to how The Wizard of Oz would be a completely different film had Shirley Temple been Dorothy.

Because Edward G. Robinson had already played several gangster characters, both onstage and in films, and since he’d proved his chops in a number of films throughout 1930, Warner Brothers asked him to take the lead role. After Little Caesar shot him to superstardom, he signed a longterm contract with the studio.

Caesar Enrico Bandello (Rico) and his buddy Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) hold up a gas station at night and promptly beat it to a diner, where they read in the newspaper about Diamond Pete Montana, a big shot in the underworld. Hearing about Pete’s success makes Rico burn with jealousy and resentment, so much so he decides to move to a bigger town and start making waves for himself. Joe meanwhile wants to return to his dancing career, and only sees crime as a temporary quick fix for money.

Towards that end, they relocate east to Chicago and start working at the Palermo nightclub, which is but a front for mob activities. Though Joe joins the gang along with Rico, he spends more time working as a dancer and predictably falls in instalove with his partner Olga (Glenda Farrell).

Olga feels the gun in his pocket while they’re kissing, and isn’t exactly pleased about it. Joe asks her to pretend she didn’t see it, and tells her not to worry, that it’s just a little good luck charm. He’s very hesitant to leave his life of crime for Olga, as much as he likes her, since no one gets away with desertion and betrayal.

Out of fear of what the gang might do to him otherwise, Joe agrees to take part in a holdup at the Bronze Peacock club during a New Year’s Eve party. He’s very shaken up when he returns to Olga’s room and confesses what happened. However, he insists he didn’t do the shooting, and reiterates that it’s impossible to leave his gang.

Rico demands a much bigger cut than boss Sam Vettori promised him, and is soon raking in riches beyond his wildest dreams. He’s particularly delighted to be honored at a swanky dinner, at which he receives a fancy pocketwatch (stolen from a shop last night). One of the people honoring him is Diamond Pete Montana, who’s now lower in the pecking order than Rico.

Absent from this banquet is Joe, who hasn’t come around in a long time.

Joe overhears a rival gang planning a hit on Rico, and phones his gang to warn them. They’re unable to find Rico until after he’s been shot, but the bullet only grazes his arm. Rico is touched to learn about how Joe tried to save him.

Rico’s next move is to take over his gang’s entire territory and convince rival boss Arnold Lorch to leave town alive before he leaves it in a pine box. His power, prestige, and wealth continue increasing. Before long, he controls the entire North Side and is living in a grand mansion.

Rico invites Joe to his new digs and asks him to be second-in-command of the North Side. It’s too big for Rico to control all by himself. Joe immediately refuses, which earns Rico’s wrath. If Joe doesn’t give up Olga and return to the gang, there will be terrible consequences.

Joe slips out while Rico is on the phone, and rushes to warn Olga. The situation becomes even worse when Olga calls the cops instead of discreetly leaving town together like Joe begged her to do.

Now the stage is set for one final showdown between Rico, Joe, Rico’s gang, and the law.

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