Review by Linda F. Burghardt for Jewish Book Council (NOW IN PAPERBACK)
Best-selling author Kristin Hannah is known for her mother-daughter fiction and her sensitive probing of the relationship of sisters. In The Nightingale, her twenty-first novel, she uses her considerable skill as a storyteller to transport us to France during World War II and bring us the story of Isabelle and Viann, who are sisters but not friends. The result is an epic love story and family drama that portrays two young French women who are plunged into unimaginable chaos by a country at war, yet who must find within themselves the courage to face the forces of destruction in order to keep their families together.
BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY for The Jewish Week
Plotlines that cross over seamlessly between the U.S. and Israel.
There are the writers living in Israel, like David Grossman, Etgar Keret, Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, whose Hebrew words are translated into many languages and published around the world. There are other widely published authors writing from Israel in Arabic. Then there are Israeli writers, penning their works from New York, in Hebrew, and native English speakers who have made Israel their home, writing their books in English and publishing them mostly abroad. And, just as North American Jewish writers of the last century, such as Herman Wouk, set some of their work in Israel, their contemporary counterparts are placing characters in the landscape of the Negev and the streets of Tel Aviv.
Review by Reinhild Draeger-Muenke for Jewish Book Council
I opened Joseph Kertes’ novel The Afterlife of Stars at 4:05 on a quiet Saturday afternoon, vaguely curious about the story—and finished it at 9:20 that same evening, not having paid attention to anything in the meantime excerpt the spellbinding story of the Beck family, told by its youngest member, “9.8”-year-old Robert. This unexpected level of absorption seems just about adequate to honor the emotional intensity experienced by three generations of Becks during one month in 1956. Forced to flee Budapest at the beginning of the Hungarian revolution, they make their way to Canada via Paris. (Kertes himself fled as a child in 1956 with his parents from Budapest to Canada, and one wonders how much of the events described in the novel actually happened in real life.)
By Victor Wishna for JTA
Sure, winter might seem like the ideal time of year for curling up with a good book — but summer is when you might actually have time to read.
So before these warm months all too swiftly fade to fall, here are some Jewish-themed titles, from a wide range of genres, to fill your beach bag (or tablet) for the season.
A bonus: These works, from an international smattering of authors, are equally enjoyable while riding in an overcrowded bus on your way to work.
By Curt Schleier for Hadassah Magazine
It turns out the Jews are not the people of the book. That moniker, writes author Adam Kirsch in The People and the Books, is “an Islamic title, used in the Koran to designate both Jews and Christians—peoples who possess their own revelations from God in the form of holy scriptures.”
That is one of many tidbits in Kirsch’s brilliant, well-researched work, which looks at Jewish texts over the past 2,500 years to explain the enduring, diverse beliefs and philosophies regarding the nature of God, Torah, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people.
Adam Rovner for Jewish Book Council
Dalia Rosenfeld, a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, moved to Israel two years ago to reinvent her life. And though she has been publishing sharply observed literary fiction in American journals and magazines for two decades, The Worlds We Think We Know (Milkweed Editions) is her first collection. The wait for these twenty new stories has been worth it.
Adam Rovner: The Worlds We Think We Know has already garnered praise from major American writers, including Adam Johnson, Cynthia Ozick, and Gary Shteyngart. Shteyngart has called your work “very funny, Jewish and wise.” Are you conscious of being a “Jewish writer?” What does that mean to you?
Dalia Rosenfeld: I wish I knew! I was hoping I was far enough removed from the immigrant experience to be unqualified to answer that question, but here I am, suddenly the holder of a second passport, a new immigrant to Israel. But that doesn’t help much either, because the days of linking “Jewish writer” to immigrant status are pretty much over now. If the question implies loyalty to a people, I feel that strongly outside the context of writing, but on the page my loyalty is to language. Jews owe their survival to the power of the written word—you can’t take your land with you into exile, but you can take your stories—which is not to suggest that focusing on language alone makes one a Jewish writer, but feeling at home in language constitutes a major part of the Jewish experience.
By Sanford Pinsker for Hadassah Magazine
Kafka’s Son, Curt Leviant’s latest novel, may or may not successfully capture the family Kafka never had, but it incorporates great moments of madcap comedy as well as pays homage to the world’s best postmodernist novelists such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.
Readers are in for a wild ride as the novel has no fewer than seven beginnings—and concludes with seven endings. The first beginning—with a bow to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick—reads as follows:
Call me Amschl.
BY LEERON HOORY for The Times of Israel
Farideh Goldin left her native Iran at 23, while her ‘baba’ stayed. Fulfilling a promise to her father, today she writes extensively on the Persian-Jewish experience
Persian Jew Farideh Goldin promised herself she wouldn’t write any more books after her first memoir was published in 2003. But she’s recently released “Leaving Iran: Between Exile and Migration” (AU Press), an account of both her and her father’s lives preceding the 1979 Islamic Revolution and its aftermath.
During his final trip to the United States in 2006, her father, Esghel Dayanim, gave her a suitcase filled with his writings about life in exile.
“I had promised him I would tell his story,” she says. “It took 10 years to write… It was difficult to translate, and very emotionally draining.”
By Michael Frank for Tablet Magazine
For much of my childhood, my two grandmothers, Harriet Frank Sr., and Sylvia Ravetch, lived unhappily together in an apartment on Ogden Drive in West Hollywood, California, an arrangement I took to be perfectly normal until I grew older and realized that not everyone else’s grandmothers were roommates. Actually: not anyone else’s. Improbable roommates, too, in the case of these two women, who—I understood only later—could not have been more mismatched. Harriet (“Huffy,” in the family) was American-born, Reed- and Berkeley-educated, a writer who had had her own radio program and had worked as a story editor for Louis B. Mayer; she was a powerful personality, outspoken, dominant, and highly charismatic. Sylvia was born in Safed in what was then Palestine, and while she spoke five languages and worked for much of her life as a teacher of Hebrew, her formal education ended abruptly when, at 16, she left her native country. She was quiet, observant, and steady, a resident of the back (thus smaller and inferior) bedroom on Ogden Drive. For years, Sylvia’s volume button was turned down low—until suddenly it wasn’t.
by Jack Riemer / JNS.org for Algemeiner
Guy Laron’s forthcoming book, The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East — to be published, fittingly, around the war’s 50th anniversary — is both impressive and disheartening, and it should be required reading for US President-elect Donald Trump.
Laron delved into the archives of different governments and thoroughly documents the mindset of the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Russia and the US in the days preceding the war, describing circumstances in which none of these countries really meant to go to battle, but political leadership, despite their misgivings, reluctantly capitulated to the pressure of the military.
In The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray argues that the continent is committing suicide—in part because of the decline of religion and its replacement by a public dogma of human rights completely detached from theology. A very different book, Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, likewise acknowledges the Judeo-Christian roots of liberal democracy, while putting on display its author’s contempt for religion. Discussing both books, Jonathan Sacks notes that Harari in fact demonstrates precisely the dangers of secularism against which Murray warns.
By Jewish Lives (Sponsored) for Tablet Magazine
An excerpt from Barry W. Holtz’s new biography of the 1st-century sage of the Talmud
This is a sponsored post on behalf of Yale University Press and its Jewish Lives series.
To die saying the Shema, to fight against attempts to abrogate the study of Torah, to fulfill your mission as teacher even at the point of death—these are legacies handed down through the powerful narrative of Akiva’s last moments. But Akiva’s afterlife—that is, his place in the consciousness of the Jewish people—goes beyond his tragic death. He has lived on as the hero figure of rabbinic Judaism in many ways.
Jewish Book Council
A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan’s Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.
BY ILANA SICHEL for Jewniverse
A handsome older gentleman stands softly illuminated by the rain-splattered window behind him, a small, satisfied smile gently curling his lips. The sentence “My name is Izrael Nathan Melamed, not Adam Adams” is scrawled on the facing page, in his early 20th-century European handwriting.
A glamorous woman in black with a cocked straw hat crosses her ankles beneath a gilded mirror. “In my heart I always felt my parents would survive,” she wrote.
Jewish Book Council
Jerzy Kosinski was a great enigma of post-World War II literature. When he exploded onto the American literary scene in 1965 with his best-selling novel The Painted Bird, he was revered as a Holocaust survivor and refugee from the world hidden behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. He won major literary awards, befriended actor Peter Sellers (who appeared in the screen adaptation of his novel Being There), and was a guest on talk shows and at the Oscars. But soon the facade began to crack, and behind the public persona emerged a ruthless social climber, sexual libertine, and pathological liar who may have plagiarized his greatest works.