Summer is the perfect time to take a relaxing break from the great big (sometimes burdensome) world and lose yourself in a good book!
What to read? We checked out the Jewish Book Council at www.jewishbookcouncil.org – and came away with an enticing list of books with Jewish content or Jewish themes that were published in 2016/2017. So, pull up a beach chair, pop open the beach umbrella…and start reading.
Ways to Disappear
By Idra Novey
For fans of Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, an inventive, brilliant debut novel about the disappearance of a famous Brazilian novelist and the young translator who turns her life upside down to follow her author’s trail.
Beatriz Yagoda was once one of Brazil’s most celebrated authors. At the age of 60, she is mostly forgotten-until one summer afternoon when she enters a park in Rio de Janeiro, climbs into an almond tree, and disappears. When her devoted translator Emma hears the news in wintry Pittsburgh, she flies to the sticky heat of Rio. There she joins the author’s son and daughter to solve the mystery of Yagoda’s disappearance and satisfy the demands of the colorful characters left in her wake. What they discover is how much of her they never knew.
A thrilling story of intrigue and a radiant novel of self-reckoning.
Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan
By Ruth Giligen
At the start of the twentieth century, a young girl and her family emigrate from Lithuania in search of a better life in America, only to land on the Emerald Isle instead. In 1958, a mute Jewish boy locked away in a mental institution outside of Dublin forms an unlikely friendship with a man consumed by the story of the love he lost nearly two decades earlier. And in present-day London, an Irish journalist is forced to confront her conflicting notions of identity and family when her Jewish boyfriend asks her to make a true leap of faith. These three arcs, which span generations and intertwine in revelatory ways, come together to tell the haunting story of Ireland’s all-but-forgotten Jewish community. Ruth Gilligan’s beautiful and heartbreaking Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan explores the question of just how far we will go to understand who we really are, and to feel at home in the world.
Leaving Lucy Pear
By Anna Solomon
One night in 1917 Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle’s house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea’s hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea’s abandoned child–now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own. In mesmerizing prose, award-winning author Anna Solomon weaves together an unforgettable group of characters as their lives collide on the New England coast. Set against one of America’s most turbulent decades, Leaving Lucy Pear delves into questions of class, freedom, and the meaning of family, establishing Anna Solomon as one of our most captivating storytellers.
Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America
By Samuel C. Heilman
Hasidism, a movement many believed had passed its golden age, has had an extraordinary revival since it was nearly decimated in the Holocaust and repressed in the Soviet Union. Hasidic communities, now settled primarily in North America and Israel, have reversed the losses they suffered and are growing exponentially. With powerful attachments to the past, mysticism, community, tradition, and charismatic leadership, Hasidism seems the opposite of contemporary Western culture, yet it has thrived in the democratic countries and culture of the West. How? Who Will Lead Us? finds the answers to this question in the fascinating story of five contemporary Hasidic dynasties – the Munkács, Boyan and Kopyczynitz, Bobov, Satmar, and Chabad communities – and their handling of the delicate issue of leadership and succession. Revolving around the central figure of the rebbe, the book explores two dynasties with too few successors, two with too many successors, and one that believes their last rebbe continues to lead them even after his death. Who Will Lead Us? is an academic study but an accessible read. Anyone interested in Jewish history mixed with a bit of palace intrigue will enjoy this book.
Red Shoes for Rachel
By Boris Sandler; Barnett Zumoff, trans.
As Mikhail Krutikov explains in the foreword to Red Shoes for Rachel, Sandler has long been a champion of modern Yiddish, publishing stories in Yiddish since the 1990s, founding a Yiddish magazine for children, teaching Yiddish at Hebrew University, and serving as editor-in-chief of the Yiddish Foreword. In this book, Sandler brings together three novellas originally written in Yiddish and beautifully translated by Barnett Zumoff. The three novellas all feature characters who struggle with loss and longing, past and present, memory and its consequences. They tell the stories of people whose roots have been cut and who struggle to find a foothold. The notion of fate or destiny runs through the stories. Hiding places or alcoves represent places where characters confront their pain.
But what’s most compelling is Sandler’s unique turn of phrase. Sandler and his translator have gifted the English reader with a sense of that elusive mass and heft of Yiddish. Red Shoes for Rachel proves that Yiddish isn’t a dead language after all, but one that still teems with mystery and life.
The Worlds We Think We Know
By Dalia Rosenfeld
Fiercely funny and entirely original, this debut collection of stories takes readers from the United States to Israel and back again to examine the mystifying reaches of our own minds and hearts. The characters of The Worlds We Think We Know are animated by forces at once passionate and perplexing. At a city zoo, a mismatched couple unite by releasing rare birds. After being mugged in the streets of New York, a professor must repeat the crime to recover his memory – and his lost love. In Tel Aviv, a sandstorm rages to expose old sorrows and fears as far away as Ohio. And from an unnamed Eastern European country, a woman haunts the husband who left her behind for a new life in America. In Dalia Rosenfeld’s prose, the foreign becomes familiar and the mundane magical. The Worlds We Think We Know is a dazzling debut – clear-eyed, empathetic, and heartbreaking.
Heretics: A Novel
By Leonardo Padura; Anna Kushner, trans.
In 1939, the Saint Louis sails from Hamburg into Havana’s port with hundreds of Jewish refugees seeking asylum from the Nazi regime. From the docks, nine-year-old Daniel Kaminsky watches as the passengers, including his mother, father, and sister, become embroiled in a fiasco of Cuban corruption. But the Kaminskys have a treasure that they hope will save them: a small Rembrandt portrait of Christ. Six days later the vessel is forced to leave the harbor with the family, bound for the horrors of Europe. The Kaminskys, along with their priceless heirloom, disappear. Nearly seven decades later, the Rembrandt reappears in an auction house in London, prompting Daniel’s son to travel to Cuba to track down the story of his family’s lost masterpiece. He hires private detective Mario Conde, and together they navigate a web of deception and violence in the morally complex city of Havana.
In Heretics, Leonardo Padura takes us from the tenements and beaches of Cuba to Rembrandt’s gloomy studio in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, telling the story of people forced to choose between the tenets of their faith and the realities of the world, between their personal desires and the demands of their times.
What to Do About the Solomons
By Bethany Ball
Meet Marc Solomon, an Israeli ex-Navy commando now living in L.A., who is falsely accused of money laundering through his asset management firm. As the Solomons’ Santa Monica home is raided, Marc’s American wife, Carolyn – concealing her own dark past – makes hopeless attempts to hold their family of five together. But news of the scandal makes its way from America to the rest of the Solomon clan on the kibbutz in the Jordan River Valley. There we encounter various members of the family and the community–from Marc’s self-absorbed movie actress sister, Shira, and her forgotten son Joseph; to his rich and powerful construction magnate father, Yakov; to his former star-crossed love, Maya; and his brother-in-law Guy Gever, a local ranger turned “artist.” As the secrets and rumors of the kibbutz are revealed through various memories and tales, we witness the things that keep the Solomons together, and those that tear them apart.
Told with razor-sharp humor and elegant acuity, What to Do About the Solomons is an exhilarating first book from a bright new star in fiction.
The Weight of Ink
By Rachel Kadish
Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a cache of seventeenth-century Jewish documents newly discovered in his home during a renovation. Enlisting the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and in a race with another fast-moving team of historians, Helen embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”
Electrifying and ambitious, sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, The Weight of Ink is a sophisticated work of historical fiction about women separated by centuries, and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.
Schadenfreude, A Love Story
By Rebecca Schuman
Rebecca Schuman’s new (and hilarious) memoir, Schadenfreude, A Love Story is the story of a teenage Jewish intellectual who falls in love – in love with a boy (who breaks her heart), a language (that’s nearly impossible to master), a culture (that’s nihilistic, but punctual), and a landscape (that’s breathtaking when there’s not a wall in the way). Rebecca is an everyday, misunderstood 90’s teenager with a passion for Pearl Jam and Ethan Hawke circa Reality Bites, until two men walk into her high school civics class: Dylan Gellner, with deep brown eyes and an even deeper soul, and Franz Kafka, hitching a ride in Dylan’s backpack. These two men are the axe to the frozen sea that is Rebecca’s spirit, and what flows forth is a passion for all things German. First love might be fleeting, but Kafka is forever, and in pursuit of this elusive passion Rebecca will spend two decades stuttering and stumbling through German sentences, trying to win over a people who can’t be bothered.
At once a snapshot of a young woman finding herself, and a country slowly starting to stitch itself back together after nearly a century of war (both hot and cold), Schadenfreude, A Love Story is an exhilarating, funny, and yes, maybe even heartfelt memoir proving that sometimes the truest loves play hard to get.
Bed-Stuy is Burning
By Brian Platzer
Do the Right Thing meets The Bonfire of the Vanities, in this debut novel about marriage, gentrification, parenthood, race, and the dangerous bargains we make with ourselves.” (Ann Packer, New York Times bestselling author) set over the course of one cataclysmic day when riots erupt in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood.
Aaron, a disgraced rabbi turned Wall Street banker, and Amelia, his journalist girlfriend, live with their newborn in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the most dynamic and historically volatile neighborhoods in New York City. The infusion of upwardly mobile professionals into Bed-Stuy’s historic brownstones belies the tension simmering on the streets below. But after a cop shoots a boy in a nearby park, conflict escalates to rioting – with Aaron and his family at its center. Pulled into the riot’s vortex are Antoinette, devout nanny to Aaron and Amelia’s son; Jupiter, the single father who lives on their block with his son, Derek; Daniel, Aaron’s unhinged tenant in their basement unit; and Sara, a smart local girl, broiling with confusion and rage. As the day unfolds, these diverse characters are forced to reckon with who they are and what truly matters to them.
A sharp-eyed, fast-paced, and empathetically rendered narrative about a changing neighborhood and its residents.
The Genius of Judaism
By Bernard-Henri Levy; Steven B. Kennedy, trans.
For more than four decades, Bernard-Henri Lévy has been a singular figure on the world stage – one of the great moral voices of our time. Now Europe’s foremost philosopher and activist confronts his spiritual roots and the religion that has always inspired and shaped him – but that he has never fully reckoned with. The Genius of Judaism is a breathtaking new vision and understanding of what it means to be a Jew, a vision quite different from the one we’re used to. It is rooted in the Talmudic traditions of argument and conflict, rather than biblical commandments, borne out in struggle and study, not in blind observance. At the very heart of the matter is an obligation to the other, to the dispossessed, and to the forgotten, an obligation that, as Lévy vividly recounts, he has sought to embody over decades of championing “lost causes,” from Bosnia to Africa’s forgotten wars, from Libya to the Kurdish Peshmerga’s desperate fight against the Islamic State, a battle raging as we speak. Lévy offers a fresh, surprising critique of a new and stealthy form of antisemitism on the rise as well as a provocative defense of Israel from the left. He reveals the overlooked Jewish roots of Western democratic ideals and confronts the current Islamist threat while intellectually dismantling it. Jews are not a “chosen people,” Lévy explains, but a “treasure” whose spirit must continue to inform moral thinking and courage today.
A profound and hypnotic intellectual reckoning.
The Fortunate Ones
By Ellen Umansky
One very special work of art – a Chaim Soutine painting – will connect the lives and fates of two different women, generations apart, in this enthralling and transporting debut novel that moves from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles.
It is 1939 in Vienna, and as the specter of war darkens Europe, Rose Zimmer’s parents are desperate. Unable to get out of Austria, they manage to secure passage for their young daughter on a kindertransport, and send her to live with strangers in England. Six years later, the war finally over, a grief-stricken Rose attempts to build a life for herself. Alone in London, devastated, she cannot help but try to search out one piece of her childhood: the Chaim Soutine painting her mother had cherished. Many years later, the painting finds its way to America. In modern-day Los Angeles, Lizzie Goldstein has returned home for her father’s funeral. Newly single and unsure of her path, she also carries a burden of guilt that cannot be displaced. Years ago, as a teenager, Lizzie threw a party at her father’s house with unexpected but far-reaching consequences. The Soutine painting that she loved and had provided lasting comfort to her after her own mother had died was stolen, and has never been recovered. This painting will bring Lizzie and Rose together and ignite an unexpected friendship, eventually revealing long-held secrets that hold painful truths.
Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud
By Barry W. Holtz
Born in the Land of Israel around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the greatest rabbi of his time and one of the most important influences on Judaism as we know it today. Traditional sources tell how he was raised in poverty and unschooled in religious tradition but began to learn the Torah as an adult. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E., he helped shape a new direction for Judaism through his brilliance and his character. Mystic, legalist, theologian, and interpreter, he disputed with his colleagues in dramatic fashion yet was admired and beloved by his peers. Executed by Roman authorities for his insistence on teaching Torah in public, he became the exemplar of Jewish martyrdom. Drawing on the latest historical and literary scholarship, this book untangles a complex assortment of ancient sources to present a clear and nuanced portrait of Talmudic hero Rabbi Akiva.
Eat My Schwartz
By Geoff and Mitch Schwartz
Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz are the NFL’s most improbable pair of offensive linemen. They started their football careers late, not playing a down of organized football until they joined their low-key high school program. Despite all that, they wound up at top-tier college programs and became the first Jewish brothers in the league since 1923. In Eat My Schwartz, Geoff and Mitch talk about the things that have made them the extraordinary people that they are: their close-knit and supportive family, their Jewish faith and traditions, their love of the game and drive for excellence and, last but not least, the food they love to eat, whether at home or on the road. Theirs is an inspiring story not just for every football fan but for everybody wanting to figure out what it takes for dreams to come true―and how to stay well-fed throughout the process. For readers with a love of professional football and food, Eat My Schwartz is a perfect pairing.
By Michael Chabon
In 1989, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for Chabon’s latest novel. Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the “American Century,” the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.