Bobish by Magdalena Ball, reviewed by Aaron Paul Lazar
It has been a long time since a book has profoundly impacted me and lingered in my soul for weeks on end. Occasionally--in the past--I’ve been compelled to reread passages or savor sentences because of their intense beauty. Some of these have belonged to novels by Dean Koontz, who has a magical way with words when he allows himself to wax poetic. But I’ve never read a poem or novel that made me repeatedly recite “word-pearls” like those populating Bobish, a poetic story.
Magdalena Ball has accomplished this with great tenderness and brilliance. I can’t stop thinking about the book.
Based on facts and careful interpretation of Ms. Ball’s Jewish grandmother’s journey from Eastern Europe’s Pale of Settlement in 1907 to America, the snippets about Bobish’s life are poignant and deeply moving. The construction is pure poetry, no pun intended.
Take a look at this segment which refers to Bobish’s journey and arrival in New York City:
From “Small Woman with a Big Bag”
She didn’t choose so much
as let the motion of time take her.
Not for herself, but for her children not yet conceived
who were already pulling her forward by the handles of her valise
a suitcase full of dirt and longing.
“A suitcase full of dirt and longing” – isn’t that perfectly evocative of a young immigrant hoping for life-as-advertised in America?
This woman is drawn between memories of her sweet homeland (albeit extraordinarily dangerous with an impending invasion) and the free world she now inhabits in New York. The streets are not paved with gold and she must work her fingers to the bone to survive. Yet the sweet recollections of her past haunt and comfort her at the same time.
Bobish married for love but sadly ended up the victim of domestic abuse. These passages broke my heart.
“Silence and Monkeys” by Magdalena Ball
She was not musical
to avoid setting off
the bear inside him
he hated dirty floors.
If she kept the house clean if she didn’t blink too hard if she didn’t hum
beneath her breath
she would make it
though there was always an urge to let go and scream
break every chipped dish the monkey box chattering and whining
across the surface of her skull
let me out let me out
when she was trying
so hard to be still.
In spite of the hardships she endured, there were sweet moments in this brave woman’s life as well. See this excerpt from “Nickel Empire.” It made me crave summer and hotdogs.
From “Nickel Empire”
no, here was pure sound, the children’s pockets jangling with nickels home-made swimmers
a basket full of food walking across the promenade the boardwalk, the sound of the Atlantic Ocean
lapping indifferent to the growing crowds, hotdogs
red hots, ice cream dripping down the arm, sprinkles
Another memory of Coney Island follows:
From “Low Chroma (Coney Island, 1946)”
Eyelids down, body on damp rock there is no day or night, only rotation this close
ultraviolet might be visible
as to a hummingbird
fired in a harlequin kiln
against hillside moss
I read these last three lines over and over again. The imagery is just magnificent.
And who can’t imagine this beautiful scene? I must admit I’m partial to blue flax, green dragonflies, and orange butterflies.
not just to another mythical place where her art could bloom
tiny blue flax flowers with green dragonflies and bright orange butterflies
In the heartbreaking end to the story, we learn of Bobish’s fate. She grows closer to her childhood nirvana, and thoughts turn to nature.
From “Subject to Dispersal”
there were bees on the Primulas sweet scent like orange lollies
the smell continues to linger
even as it dissolves into a past she can barely access
Orange lollipops, like orange popsicles, are one of the best and most evocative of childhood memories. How can one not taste that flavor on their tongue?
Magdalena Ball has created a magnificent work which I know I’ll go back to reread soon. Thank you for such a well-crafted book.
Highly recommended by Aaron Paul Lazar, USA Today Bestselling Author.
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