This article by library volunteers Barbara Breakstone and Doris Gould originally appeared in the August 2017 KOL.
We got into a conversation about books made into movies recently.
BB: I had just seen The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) and thought it trivialized the Holocaust. The non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman was about a woman who ran a zoo in Warsaw during World War II and was able to shelter about 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Mainly, I thought Jessica Chastain was just too perfect, never a missed step, angelic with the
animals, saintly with the refugees, perhaps sacrificial with the German zoo keeper who wants a “relationship.” No sense of the horrors of the Holocaust in this movie, a sanitized version of the book.
DG: I remember Exodus (1960) as the earliest movie from a book, by Leon Uris, that I read and saw. Oh, those long descriptions of UN debates and diplomatic maneuvering in the book! But, the movie concentrated on the compelling blue eyes of Paul Newman and his character Ari Ben-Canaan, the major hero of the story. Sal Mineo, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Peter Lawford – great cast – acting in a movie whose script was written by Dalton Trumbo. The Am Shalom book group discussed Exodus a few years ago – it’s held up surprisingly well.
DG: This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper, became a movie in 2014. The story is of a fairly secular Jewish family whose husband/father has died and the mother asks her four children and their partners to not only come back for the funeral (of course), but to also have a full seven day shiva, which of course is beset with all kinds of sibling and other relationship goings-on. We both thought the characters and relationships were more nuanced and real in the book.
DG: The June Am Shalom book group discussed The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. The book is celebrating its 50th anniversary and we found the story of two Jewish boys, one Hasidic and one Modern Orthodox, in post-World War II New York City, certainly stood the test of time. In the movie, made in 1981, Robby Benson and Rod Steiger are the Hasidic boy and his father (who is the leader of this particular Hasidic sect); Barry Miller and Maximilian Schell play the Modern Orthodox
characters. In addition to contrasting Hasidism and Modern Orthodoxy, the book brought the boys together in friendship based on like interests and
provided some insight to post-WWII American history and the founding of Israel.
BB: One of the older movies (1947) adapted from a book is Gentleman’s Agreement, by Laura Z. Hobson. Gregory Peck plays a journalist who is asked to write a series of articles in post-WWII America on anti-Semitism. Peck decides to post as a Jew and experiences all sorts of anti-Semitism, both blatant and veiled. Gentleman’s Agreement won three Oscars, including Best Picture. I have not read the book nor seen the movie for years, but I remember them as extremely compelling.
Finally, how can we write this column without mentioning Shindler’s List, the 1993 movie adapted from the book of the same title, in which Oskar Shindler, a German businessman, starts a company that makes cookware and utensils in World War II Poland and ends up saving the lives of over 1,100 Jews who worked at his factory. Both Thomas Keneally’s book and Steven Spielberg’s adaptation and direction were outstanding.
So many other movie adaptations exist. Go to http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/subject-reading-list/books-that-inspired-films, for examples of other adaptions. While you are there, search around the Jewish Book Council site; lots of good stuff exists there.
We hope you are having a terrific summer, with lots of good books and lots of good movies! Stop by the library and check out a book for summer reading! Thanks to our volunteers, who labor, even in the summer, to keep the library organized and interesting. And thank you to all of you who make donations to the Library and Technology Fund – that is where the money for new books comes from!