By Adam Dickter for Hadassah Magazine
Isra Isle: A Novel By Nava Semel. Translated by Jessica Cohen
In the course of modern Jewish history, there were several visions for a Jewish national home other than Theodor Herzl’s dream of Israel in historic biblical land. In the early 1900s, for example, in response to pogroms in Russia, the British proposed annexing a slice of Uganda for the Jews—a nonstarter. Even more absurd was Mordechai Manuel Noah’s concept of a Jewish homeland as “Ararat City,” to be located in the gray mist of Niagara Falls, where he had purchased Grand Island, poised between the United States and Canadian borders. Noah (1785 to 1851) was an influential American diplomat and journalist, but, ultimately, he couldn’t rally much enthusiasm for an “Isra Isle” while world Jewry dreamed of a return to Jerusalem. (Michael Chabon envisioned another alternate home for Jews in Sitka, Alaska, in his book The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)
Review by AJ Frost for Jewish Book Council
Roz Chast’s breezy and winsome jaunt, Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, prides itself on not being a “definitive guidebook,” nor an “insider’s guide,” nor a “history book.” Rather, it is a deceptively rich rumination of New York as it exists today, an animated investigation into the heart of what makes New York such an indelible beacon of opportunity. In her inimitable cartoon style, so often a highlight in each week’s New Yorker, Chast breaks down what it’s like to live in the Big Apple.
Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg
By Naomi M. Gruer for Hadassah Magazine
In her new book, Nurture the Wow, Conservative Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explores the mundane and mystical, frustrating and fascinating, physical and philosophical aspects of raising children. Using self-deprecating humor and situations from her own life, Ruttenberg ties the act of parenting to the practice of prayer and spirituality. She also questions preconceived and deeply embedded notions of how to be spiritual. “It’s possible that our kids can be important teachers who help us better find the doorways to the transcendent,” she writes.
BY GARY ROSENBLATT for The Jewish Week
Haroon Moghul’s ‘How to Be a Muslim’ explores his struggles with his religion and inner demons.
HHaroon Moghul’s powerful new memoir, “How to Be a Muslim: An American Story” (Beacon Press), is not a how-to manual for religious practice — far from it. Rather, it’s a searing, intimate portrait of a brilliant but troubled young man struggling with spiritual, psychological and physical challenges while trying to balance a commitment to his religion’s tenets and succeed in a secular society.
He happens to be Muslim, but his story is as universal in appeal as it is particular in its details. At times funny and at times painfully raw, the book reads like a confessional — an extended exercise in self-reflection shared with the public as a cautionary tale.
Devorah Baum for Jewish Book Council
Grace Paley – Collected Stories
Everyone should read Grace Paley. She deals with tough stuff with wit, vitality and grace and she tempers what many would consider tragic storylines with an insistence that where there is life there can always be ‘enormous changes at the last minute’. Unlike the dominant male voices in American Jewish letters, who’ve tended to resist the labeling of either themselves or their fictions as Jewish, Grace Paley showed no such commitment phobia: “I like being Jewish” she once – shockingly – said.
Hélène Cixous – Reveries of the Wild Woman, Primal Scenes
Review by Inger Saphire-Bernstein for Jewish Book Council
Two companion collections of short stories edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene explore interactions or collisions between Jews and aliens and Jews and zombies, respectively. The editors invited accomplished science fiction writers to submit new stories related to the open-ended themes. Inclusion of Jews (or Judaism), aliens and/or zombies were the only expectations. As a result, the stories vary widely in subject matter, accessibility, and tone.
Jewish Book Council
Every month, JBC Book Clubs offers weekly email subscribers a dedicated email with special book club features that will enhance a book club or add to your personal reading experience.
Whether your book club is formal or informal; social or educational; interested in reading only books of Jewish content, just a few Jewish books throughout the year, or good literature that happens to have Jewish themes, JBC has a book for you and the resources to take you to the next level.
By Leah F. Finkelshteyn for Hadassah Magazine
Jewish in America is a work of history that is as much about the future as it is about the past. In much of the book, author Richard Rubin details American Jewish history from colonial times to the present, highlighting the uniqueness of the American Jewish experience. He deftly intersperses his own experience with anti-Semitism—as a child, when applying to college and while serving in the army in the mid-20th century—with historical observation and social science data.
By Sharon Leder for Jewish Book Council
Sharon Leder is the author of the recently published novel The Fix: A Father's Secrets, A Daughter's Search. She will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
I had the privilege in 2008 of teaching a seminar at the Wellfleet Library on Cape Cod on the father-daughter relationship in Jewish literature. The American Library Association sponsored the program, “A Mind of Her Own: Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World.” My teaching American Pastoral by Philip Roth, Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem, Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, O My America! by Johanna Kaplan, and Bee Season by Myla Goldberg helped me find my own character, Sara Katz, eight years later. And in May 2017, my revised novel, The Fix: A Father’s Secrets, A Daughter’s Search was published by KiCam Projects.
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.