Posted in 1920s, Books, Hermann Hesse, Religion

Happy 100th birthday, Siddhartha!

Like so many of Hermann Hesse’s other novels, Siddhartha too is quite short, but it’s anything but rushed, underdeveloped, and simplistic. Hesse was an absolute master at honing in on major, big-picture events and transforming them into profound episodes that feel much longer, and pulling the reader right into the story as though s/he’s personally experiencing it right alongside the protagonist. His novels wouldn’t feel the same if he fleshed out all the events between the episodes he chose to focus on. The books would be far longer, but they wouldn’t have the same impact.

Siddhartha was written over two major periods from December 1919–May 1922, and various newspapers published some of the chapters from August 1920–July 1922. The complete novel was published in October 1922.

In Ancient Nepal’s Kingdom of Kapilavastu, a much-belovèd, spiritually-inclined young man named Siddhartha longs to leave home to forge his own path to enlightenment, try to figure out the mysteries of the Universe, and learn as much as he can about all things spiritual and religious. Towards this end, he begs his father to let him join the samanas (ascetic sages) in the woods.

Siddhartha’s father, a Brahmin, feels it beneath himself to speak angry and violent words, but he’s nevertheless extremely indignant to hear this request. However, Siddhartha won’t be deterred that easily, and remains standing in the same place through the entire rest of the day and all of the night.

Finally, Siddhartha’s father realizes his mind is made up and that he’s already mentally gone. He gives his blessing for Siddhartha to leave with his best friend Govinda.

Siddhartha is like a sponge, soaking up all the wisdom from the samanas, and learning how to live with barely any possessions and no money. But as much as he’s spiritually grown, Siddhartha still feels he’s missing out on other important lessons, and wonders if perhaps no one will reach Nirvana, since they’re just going around in a circle instead of ascending upwards.

One day, the illustrious Buddha comes through town, and Siddhartha and Govinda eagerly, reverently go to meet him. Govinda is so inspired by Buddha’s teachings, he decides to become one of Buddha’s monks.

Govinda doesn’t want to lose his oldest and dearest friend, and begs Siddhartha to join him in becoming a Buddhist. Nothing he says or does convinces Siddhartha to change his mind, but right after Govinda leaves to become a novice monk, Siddhartha encounters Buddha in the garden.

Siddhartha showers Buddha with loving, respectful words, highly praising his Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Middle Way, and other key philosophical teachings. With the utmost respect, Siddhartha says he’s afraid if he becomes a monk, Buddha’s teachings and his love for Buddha will become his ego and a new idol to worship. He’s also determined to find his own unique path to enlightenment.

Siddhartha wanders alone through the forest for awhile, and begins a new chapter of his life when he takes a ferry across the river into a town which very much appeals to him. In this town, he meets a beautiful courtesan named Kamala, who promises to teach him the art of pleasure once he smells sweet, shaves, cuts his hair, wears nice clothes and shoes, and has money.

Siddhartha eagerly obeys these commands, and soon reinvents himself as a very successful merchant under the tutelage of Kamaswami. For many years, Siddhartha lives in Kamaswami’s mansion and becomes his second-in-command in the business. Though Siddhartha isn’t a naturally-inclined businessman, and he cares less about things like rice, wool, or even money, he has a lucky touch, is eager to learn all he can, and cares about his customers and clients on a personal level.

Siddhartha also becomes Kamala’s lover, and learns all about sensuality, love, and pleasure from her.

After twenty years, Siddhartha tires of this superficial city life and hectic rat race, and decides to return to the forest. He contemplates suicide by the river, but is pulled back to the desire to live by the holy sound of Om. Siddhartha then falls into deep sleep which powerfully reinvigorates him.

When he awakens, he finds Govinda, who doesn’t recognize him after so many years, and with such a changed appearance. Govinda is overjoyed when his old friend reveals himself, even if they can’t be together for very long.

Siddhartha decides to spend the rest of his life by the river, which he loves and adopts as a teacher. His prayers come true when he meets the same old ferryman, Vasudeva, who joyously welcomes his friend.

Through constant communion with the all-knowing, soul-penetrating river, and all the experiences he’s had throughout his life and continues to have after coming to the river, Siddhartha finally reaches his own personal enlightenment.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Precious protection


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.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, escaped from a death train under cover of night and found shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

After being assigned the Polish names Liwia and Fryderyk, the Polish forms of their middle names, a nun asked where they got the rosary and scapular they arrived with.

“A very nice lady gave them to us before we got off the train. She taught me four Catholic prayers, and taught my brother a very easy prayer for little children. Her parents converted before she was born, but the Germans thought she was still Jewish.”

“Oh, good, you already know some prayers. Some of the other people we’ve hidden didn’t know anything. What’s your dolly’s name?”

“Ambrózia. My sister bought her in a big store in Budapest. She came from France.”

Dr. Kaczka smiled.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene (and chapter).

“Well, let’s hope she’s your ambrosia and confers the same kind of protection on you as it did on the Greek deities. No one can live forever, but living a long life is good enough.”

After Dr. Kaczka and the nuns had gone, Ráhel leaned over and whispered the Sh’ma and its first paragraph in Dániel’s ear, just as Mirjam had commanded. She also added the last paragraph, and then repeated it in Hungarian, adding the concluding line of the Our Father afterwards.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them serve as a symbol before your eyes; inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus you shall remember to observe all my commandments and to be holy to your God. I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. And deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Farewell blessings


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.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). With help from other passengers, a rock was transformed into an axe which increased the size of a pre-existing hole in the floor. Now some of the young men on the train are raising a loud disturbance to mask the escape.

Margaréta is a Catholic woman who taught the children some basic prayers in Latin and Hungarian while they were in the second ghetto. Both of her parents converted from Judaism as teenagers, but that didn’t spare her from deportation.

Dutch mosaic depicting Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing; Copyright Kleuske

Mirjam raised her hands, putting spaces between her thumbs, first two fingers, and last two fingers, as Ráhel and Dániel clung to her legs and the young men continued screaming for water, bread, and air. She almost tripped over her words in her race to say the priestly blessing as quickly as possible. “May God bless you and keep you. May God cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God lift up his face unto you and give you peace.”

Margaréta removed her scapular and put it around Ráhel’s neck, with one segment hanging on her back and the other on her chest. “I don’t want anyone to take this away from me at the factory. Anyone who wears the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be protected by the Holy Virgin. Think of her as a loving universal mother, not a religious figure.” She pulled off her wooden rosary and put that around Dániel’s by now rather swollen neck.

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

“You can sleep with this under your pillow, and squeeze it in your hand when you’re scared.”

“Bend your knees and jump,” Mirjam instructed, barely able to make herself heard over the continued screams from both inside and outside the train. “Don’t let go of Dani’s hand. We’ll find each other after the war.”

“Be good to the people who take you in,” Mrs. Kovács said. “Never forget who you really are or how much I love you.”

Ráhel jumped through the hole as their German guards stormed up to the train. Mirjam handed Dániel down next, his teddybear still in his feverish arms.

“You’re not getting any water or bread!” a reedy soldier shouted. “We’re giving you one more minute to be quiet, and if you can’t shut up, you’ll all be shot!”

Posted in Architecture, Photography, Religion, Travel, Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian history

Dormition Church of Lviv (церква Успіння Львіва)

I originally intended this post to be part of my 2022 April A to Z series on Ukrainian history and culture, but I stuffed it into the drafts folder because I couldn’t find enough information about the church’s history, artwork, and architecture for a substantial, detailed post. Yet again, I didn’t allow myself any time to work on a post about my radical rewrite of The Very Last, so here’s that bonus A to Z post.

New additions are in bold.

Copyright Konstantin Brizhnichenko

Throughout history, Lviv’s Dormition Church has had four incarnations. The first, probably constructed during the High Middle Ages, was burnt in 1340 when Polish feudal lords attacked the city. Church #2, built of bricks and first mentioned in 1421, was destroyed in 1527 when a great fire swept through Lviv. Peter the Italian, an architect from Lugano who became a citizen of Lviv, rebuilt the church from 1547–59. Alas, the third church fell victim to another fire in 1571.

The Chapel of the Three Saints was built nearby from 1578–91, and the Italian architect Pietro of Barbona rebuilt the Kornyakt Tower, which had collapsed in 1570. Both of these structures were joined by a fourth church which was constructed from 1591–1629 by Paolo Dominici Romanus, Wojciech Kapinos, and Ambrosiy Prykhylnyy. The ikons were painted by Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy and Fedir Senkovych.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

Many people financed the construction, primarily Moldovan rulers (both male and female). It was originally built of brick, but midway through construction of the walls, the Assumption Brotherhood replaced it with hewn stone. The church was consecrated on 26 January 1631 by Lviv Bishop Yeremiya Tissarovskyy and Kyiv Archimandrite Petro Mohyla.

On 3 January 1584, prior to the start of construction on the fourth church, the Catholic Archbishop of Lviv, Jan Dymitr Solikowski, attacked the existing church. He expelled congregants, scorned the priest and ignored his authority, and sealed the church.

And what was the unspeakable crime committed by the Orthodox faithful? Not adopting the Gregorian calendar and continuing to use the Julian calendar, which was ten days behind by the 16th century, on account of a never-corrected error from the Council of Nicaea.

This intolerant archbishop also forbade Ukrainians from ringing church bells on their own holiday dates and attacked the Church of the Epiphany that same year of 1584.

Copyright xiquinhosilva

In the 18th century, noblewoman Feodosiya Strilbytska, wife of parish priest Oleksiy Strilbytskyy, donated 6,000 złotych to the church. Out of gratitude, a painting of her was put on display. It’s now in the Lviv National Gallery of Arts.

Yet another fire damaged the church in 1779, and it was rebuilt in 1796 with a few changes. Perhaps surprisingly, given the era, it was beautified with stained glass windows designed by Petro Ivanovych Kholodnyy in 1926–27. Though Soviet rule was atheist, Stalin hadn’t yet risen to full, unquestioned power and begun cracking down on the use of non-Russian national languages and cultures. During the 1920s, national expression flourished in republics which had long been under the heel of enforced Russification.

Copyright Швітланьо (Shvitlano)

Copyright Aeou

Lviv artists Kostyantyn and Yakiv Kulchytskyy carved the coats of arms of donors Simeon and Iyeremiya Mohyla above the northern and southern doors.

Some of the ikons in the ikonostasis have been with the church since the fourth iteration opened in the 1630s. The most valuable are from the Passion Cycle, made by Fedir Senkovych and Mykola Petrakhnovych-Morakhovskyy.

Copyright Alexander Skrypnyk

The church was restored and repaired from 1965–73.

The Lviv Assumption Brotherhood, the non-clerical Ukrainian Orthodoxy fraternity who founded the church, remains active to this day. Members patronize the Sunday school, care for the building’s upkeep, and organize the cultural and spiritual life of the church.

Copyright Kugel at WikiCommons

Copyright Oleksandr Kaktus

On 29 November 1989, the church came under jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Sunday school began in 2008, with three age groups, and a children’s choir was formed in 2012.

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

Copyright Ivan Sedlovskyi

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Judaism, Religion

WeWriWa—The Smalls’ Shavuot menu


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!”