Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chevalier's Features 2 Books by Gene LePere

We are featuring 2 books by local author, Gene LePere. The first is the book Little Man in a Big Hurry.

It is the remarkable story of her father, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, who donated the largest private art collection ever accumulated to the people of the United States.

A rags-to-riches story of an immigrant Jewish boy, barely eight years old, who arrived in the United States from Latvia in 1907 and who, through oversized ambition, energy, smarts, luck, and determination, accumulated a multi-million-dollar collection of contemporary art which is now housed on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in a Smithsonian Museum which bears his name: The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Joe's father died in Latvia when Joe, the twelfth of thirteen children was one year old. By 1906 his mother, with two of her daughters, arrived in Brooklyn where they worked in sweatshops to bring the remainder of the children to America. From this humble beginning, ambitious Joe set out to lift his family out of poverty. His first financial successes were made as a broker's broker, with later successes in gold and uranium mining. He was also married four times, and struggled to balance family life with the work that consumed him.

Having developed a fascination with art that brightened up "ugly walls" where he had lived as a child, Joe Hirshhorn began a hobby that would soon turn into a joyful obsession, buying and collecting art. After he accumulated a vast and impressive collection, offers to house the collection came pouring in from London, Italy, Canada, and Israel. Finally, under the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, a suitable museum was built where Mr. Hirshhorn's collection is on display today.

The 2nd book we are featuring by Mrs. LePere is Never Pass This Way Again. It is the true story detailing the nightmare conditions of her brief confinement in a Turkish prison in 1983.

Charged with attempting to leave the country with ancient artifacts in her baggage, she failed to convince her accusers that she was merely an American tourist on shore leave from a cruise ship, who had been coerced into purchasing souvenirs by a street peddler.

LePere's diurnal progress through the mazes of the Turkish judicial system reflect not only her experience of culture clash but her bewilderment at being helpless. Handicapped by her inability to communicate fluently, she nevertheless made friendships with her jail mates, her lawyers --Turkish and American -- and the Engish-speaking community.

The influence of the Hirshhorn family engineered her escape before she was tried. Not an indictment of the Turkish people, the book is rather a warning to travelers in foreign lands.

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