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Description of Felice’s Worlds:
FIRST SHE ESCAPED THE HOLOCAUST AND THE POVERTY OF THE SHTETL. AFTER THAT, SHE MOVED IN MANY WORLDS. AND IN EVERY ONE SHE MADE HER MARK.
Fascinated by his brilliant and beautiful mother, Felice, Henry Massie explores the many worlds she inhabited–and conquered–in this powerful memoir. Possessed with a remarkable gift for reinventing herself, Felice was sent to Paris to be educated, and later fled her Polish shetl for Palestine when the Nazis came to power before World War II. Having escaped the Holocaust, she immigrated finally to America. She arrived penniless, worked first as a nanny for the president of Yale, and eventually married and settled in St. Louis. Drawn to the art world, she began collecting works in the new field of Abstract Expressionism, becoming active in the New York City art world, lecturing on modern art at Washington University, and eventually amassing a collection that included works by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.
A portrait of an indomitable woman–on a remarkable journey!
Rob Swigart -
“This is very much a book for the general reader and not merely for those interested in European Jewish life around the time of the Second World War. Anyone curious about modern art, or the Twentieth Century in general, not to mention those who like damn good writing, will find Felice’s Worlds a rare treat.”
“restrained but honest and insightful, giving us a portrait of a woman who is both admirable and troubled, indomitable and damaged. And it shows a son who comes to understand more about both his mother and himself in the process of telling her story.”
Julie Smith -
“One of Felice’s friends called her “the quintessential perfect modern woman.” I call her a role model. We should all be so inventive, so quick, so brilliant and mesmerizing. When I got to the part of the narrative where she immigrates to America, I held my breath, afraid the exciting part was over. But I just didn’t know Felice. I ended up fascinated to the end, riveted by Felice’s ability to be herself, to make her mark no matter where she was.”
Felice’s Worlds currently has a review rating of 5 stars from 14 reviews. Read the reviews here.
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An excerpt from Felice’s Worlds:
The train with four wooden carriages stuttered to a halt at the Lebanese crossing into Palestine near noon on a September day in 1935. Felice and her companion stepped into the sun, feeling the intense heat, tasting the sting of salt from the Mediterranean Sea to the east. For a moment a breeze from the mountains on the west brought a hint of freshness. The wild grass along the tracks was burnt golden. Everything was sear, scorched, except for the flowers in the border station’s window planter boxes. Dust hung in the air from a gravel road that paralleled the tracks.
Inside the stone building, a British officer examined passengers’ travel documents and passports. When Felice’s turn came, the crisply uniformed colonel looked at her bare shoulders and her short beige and cream linen dress. She was beautiful, petite, just five feet tall, her long black hair in a chignon, lipstick and eye liner carefully applied. Then he looked at the man by her side. A marriage certificate issued the day before by a rabbi in Beirut said they were husband and wife. The man looked malnourished. He had a red beard and long ear-locks, and large spectacles covered his face. His black suit was all dusty, and his head was covered with a large Hassidic black fedora. The couple did not speak to each other.
Felice presented her documents—a Polish passport with an exit stamp from Marseilles dated two weeks earlier, and an entry stamp into Lebanon dated the week before, plus her French university diploma. She was twenty-five and had just graduated from the University of Nancy, France, with a doctor’s degree in dental surgery from the medical school. The colonel knew the deception: more and more Jews were using fictive marriages to make their way into Palestine as Hitler’s Nazis spread anti-Semitism into Poland and closed off opportunities for Jews to make a living.
The colonel was under orders to do his part at the border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into Palestine, which had been a British mandate since the end of World War I. There was a quota for Jews, intended to minimize conflicts with the Arab population. He asked Felice first in English, which she didn’t know, then in French, “Are the two of you married?”
“Yes, of course,” she answered him.
“What language do you have in common?” he continued, probing the ruse.
But Felice and her newly certificated husband had no language in common—he spoke Arabic and Hebrew, and she Polish, French, German, Yiddish, and some Russian. “The language of love,” she said in perfect melodious French, not missing a beat, flirting with the colonel.
His rejoinder: “Tomorrow is my day off. I will meet you for dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.” She smiled at him. He stamped her entry visa!
The train steamed south. Sometimes it was within sight of the bright blue Mediterranean sand dunes bordering the tracks, sometimes inland among marshy wasteland, sometimes passing through orchards and citrus groves on land reclaimed from swamps by settlers from Russian and Poland. Occasionally there were Arab villages with stone houses and crops and fruit trees laid out in neat squares marked by low stone walls. Every once in a while cypress trees stood pencil thin, almost black like sentinels in rows along the edge of a field or road.
The carriage was humid and warm, windows pushed open to let in the salty air. A tall, skinny, coal black porter from the Sudan in a long white robe passed through the corridor with a tray of sweets, glasses, and a copper urn with mint tea. The train click-clacked and swayed from side to side. From her purse Felice took the letter her father Moses had sent her in France. Writing from their village in Poland, he had given her meticulous instructions, which she had read over and over and memorized in case she lost the letter. She was to go to Jerusalem with the man her father arranged for her to marry, and he would provide her with lodging and a job in return for the $200 her father had sent directly to him..
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