Item description for Chains Around the Grass by Naomi Ragen...
Set in the 1950's in New York City, CHAINS AROUND THE GRASS is a portrait of a Jewish-American family that glows with affection, tenderness, and courage when tragedy changes the lives of all who are left behind. A passionately personal and heartfelt book, based heavily on autobiographical material, this is the book Ms. Ragen says that she became an author to write.
Sara is barely six years old when her beloved father unexpectedly vanishes from her life. Her mother, Ruth, a dreamy and reluctant housewife, is now left with three small children to bring up, and the knowledge that she will somehow have to pick up the pieces, if she is to survive and fend for the family. But Sara takes up a vigil at the window of their dismal apartment, refusing to accept that her father won't be coming back.
"She thought of herself as a lighthouse keeper, a watchman on guard, a sailor on the topmost rigging, scouting for land. It was her duty to be there when the magic moment happened as it surely must, for no other explanation made any sense.
She scouted the men passing by, searching for those of a certain height, a certain weight, a certain walk... She followed each with hope until he turned right instead of left or left instead of right, or drew close enough to prove too tall or too short, too thin or two heavy. And each disappointment chipped away at her hope, reducing it, but never actually killing it. Like a plant cut to the ground, the roots sent up foolish new growth that twined around the facts, embellishing them, giving them something akin to beauty."
To this bittersweet and moving tale of childhood and the loss of innocence, the author brings the added intensity of a personal memoir. This is Naomi Ragen at her best, her writing charged with a searing, emotional truth as she unravels a tale of childhood, betrayal and the unending resilience of family love.
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NAOMI RAGEN is the author of eight novels, including several international bestsellers, and her weekly email columns on life in the Middle East are read by thousands of subscribers worldwide. An American, she has lived in Jerusalem for the past forty years and was voted one of the three most popular authors in Israel. Her books include Sotah, The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, and The Covenant.
Naomi Ragen currently resides in Jerusalem. Naomi Ragen was born in 1943.
Reviews - What do customers think about Chains Around the Grass?
"Chained up" Jul 25, 2008
I stumbled upon this book while browsing and had it not been for my own personal experiences growing up likewise in a Queens Housing Project, I never would have purchased the book. After reading the first few intense pages of "Chains aound the grass" that's when it had a grip on me and I was then sold.
Still, one need not have been raised poor and living in the projects to experience the fright and sheer terror little Sara felt while venturing out in a new neighborhood filled with bullies, perverts and strange boys. One of the most powerful chapters written by Naomi Regan that will have you in tears. You will surely absorb the emotional impact of one diaster after the other of ones family life encounters. A story of a family's uphill struggle for the American dream followed by a downward trend of personal tragedies and defeats. No doubt that your heart will go out to the characters in the story. An exciting read for enthusiasts of nostalgia and of past times with a hint of spiritualism.
beautiful in every way Aug 20, 2006
I LOVED THIS BOOK.It made me laugh outloud and it made me cry.Mostly it made me think.
This is a story about real life and not the usual immigrant founding a dynasty cliche.
All of the characters are well devoloped and I found myself loving them and hating them as if they were members of my own family.And of course they could have been.
The universal message of what the measure of a man is is profoundly moving especially in our materialistic world.
Measuring Your Life with the Right Yardstick Apr 21, 2006
Naomi Ragen is an international bestseller novelist, a writer of and about the core of human life. Chains Around the Grass (The Toby Press, USA, 2003) is the book Ms. Ragen says that she became an author to write. Setting the story of a poor Jewish family in the heart of America, Naomi Ragen calls for a revision of attitudes shaped by the sickness of reckless capitalism and its people who have turned into machines fuelled with business.
The novel's prologue is captivating. Through the eyes of the moment, little Sara Markowitz is shown sitting in humility in her rich uncle's house with her mother Ruth and brother Jesse out for the funeral of her father David Markowitz. Pursuing the old American dream of a well-off future, David never realizes the greater need of familial love that is showering him all along and the lives of his family chug along the uncertain paths of the business world. With the loss of David the family slumps into an indefinable channel of struggle against the demands of the society and its own integrity.
Chains Around the Grass is one of the semantically richest works carrying a number of issues. Sick capitalist values are questioned in the suffering of widowed Ruth and her children with several close, rich, relatives. The dilemma of a poor minority's identity under social pressure speaks in Ruth's resentment of changing Jesse's family name to `Marks'. What underlies insanity is illustrated cogently in Jesse's character. Sara's character embodies the process of personality development under early childhood traumas. The best explored is, perhaps, gender inequality prevailing in the social world, best instantiated in Sara's feelings of hatred towards her own brother.
Naomi Ragen's striking symbolism in her novel's situations is the quality of her work that best complements other merits. The heaven of idealized life is shattered to `chips flying away under time's relentless chisel'. When they were united and beautiful like young lush grass, they were out of reach on account of `chains' around them. One set of `ropes' is replaced with another and the dream of catching your life's beauty is never actualized until you see your life's time ending abruptly like a dream. Naomi Ragen is at her best in justice with her characters. Reality comes to them as they finally learn to `measure their life with the right yardstick'. Through Ruth's faith, we all know that a purely humanistic relationship is possible if we know the beauty of our inner self. It is an illustration of Eric Fromm's humanistic psychoanalysis; a story as real as reading one's own mind.
With all its beauty of language and elements of realistic fiction, Chains Around the Grass carries a problem as a book. The title and the prologue are suggestive of Sara as being the protagonist. It is through Sara's eyes that the tenderness of life and monsters of fear are revealed to us but Sara's character is treated scantily as compared to that of her parents and her brother Jesse. Essentially it is the story of Ruth's life. Her figure could have given a better illustrative title and prologue.
Depressing novel about a family mired in poverty. Mar 10, 2002
Naomi Ragen's four previous novels dealt with Orthodox Jews and their personal problems and struggles. These novels were intensely human, very frank and controversial. In a departure from these themes, Ragen's new novel, "Chains Around the Grass," focuses on the unfortunate Markowitz family and their myriad personal problems.
The time is the 1950's and David Markowitz, husband of Ruth, and father of three children, is again forcing the family to move, for the fourth time in ten years. He is a dreamer who thinks that one day he will strike it rich, and his family will then have the life that they deserve. For the time being, however, the Markowitz family is moving into a low-income housing project in Far Rockaway, Queens, while David plies his trade as a taxicab driver.
"Chains Around the Grass" does not succeed, mostly because Ragen has no central focus beyond describing the family's miserable lives. She touches on many themes, but they do not coalesce into a satisfying whole. Ruth Markowitz stays at home with the children, as was traditional in the pre-feminist fifties, although she has few domestic skills. Her considerable brains and talent are underutilized, which contributes to her depression and keeps the family income low. David is a charming but unstable man. He fights with his relatives who are better off than he, and he is simply unable to work at a steady job long enough to make good. None of these themes has enough resonance to make the novel come alive.
The book does have its poignant moments, especially those that center around the middle-child, Sarah. She is an excellent student, who believes that school and perhaps religion will be her ticket out of her dead-end existence. However, Ragen does not show us what is unique about this family and why their story is worth telling. "Chains Around the Grass" is little more than a very bleak story about a very unhappy family.
skip it Feb 24, 2002
I've read other books by this author and couldn't even finish this one. It was an extremely depressing story and there was far too much philosophical mumble-jumble. Read her other books instead.