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Summer Reading

Summer – especially this one – is the perfect time to take a 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 – both fiction and nonfiction – that were published in 2019/2020.

The Guest Book 
by Sarah Blake
National Jewish Book Awards Finalist 2019
A family saga that jumps back and forth between four generations in the life of a single, wealthy, American family. The saga spans eras from preWorld War II to the present, illuminating the great divide – the gulf that separates the rich and poor, black and white, Protestant and Jew. From their family retreat on the coast of Maine, the family navigates the evolving social and political landscape as it crumbles around them and they struggle to pick up the pieces of their privilege. Blake lays bare the memories and mistakes each generation makes while coming to terms with what it means to inherit the past.

The Book of V 
By Anna Solomon
The lives of three women intertwine across three centuries as their stories of sex, power, and desire finally converge – and ultimately collide – in the present day: Lily is a mother, daughter, second wife, and wouldbe writer, grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires, while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife; Vivian Barr is the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic husband find success in Watergateera Washington D.C.; Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. 

The Tenth Muse
By Catherine Chung
National Jewish Book Awards Finalist 2019
A tale about legacy, identity, and the beautiful ways the mind can make us free.  Growing up in the 1950s Midwest, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem. As she matures from into an exceptional mathematician, she must face the most human of problems – who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? These questions grow ever more entangled as Katherine becomes involved with a charismatic professor. When she embarks on a quest to conquer the greatest unsolved mathematical problem of her time, she is forced to confront some of the most consequential events of the 20th century and rethink everything she knows of herself.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (and What It Means to Americans) 
By Naomi B. Sokoloff, Nancy E. Berg (Editors)
Scholars, writers, and translators tackle a series of questions that arise from the changing status of Hebrew in the U.S. To what extent is that status affected by evolving Jewish identities and shifting attitudes toward Israel and Zionism? Will Hebrew programs survive the current crisis in the humanities on university campuses? How can the vibrancy of Hebrew literature be conveyed to a larger audience? The volume features a diverse group of distinguished contributors, including Sarah Bunin Benor, Dara Horn, Hannah Pressman,Ilan Stavans, Michael Weingrad, and Robert WhitehillBashan. Their essays give fellow Americans a glimpse into the richness and vitality of modern Hebrew, as they focus not only on Hebrew as a global phenomenon and longlived tradition―but on what it can mean to Americans.

Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage: Selected Stories
By Bette Howland
Bette Howland was the daughter of a workingclass Jewish family in Chicago in 1937, mentee and onoff lover of Saul Bellow, author of three books and winner of the MacAurther “genius” grant who never wrote a book again. In 2015, Brigid Hughes of the magazine A Public Space found a worn copy of Howland’s memoir W‑3 at a used bookstore. Hughes sought out the rest of Howland’s work, eventually meeting her son and the ailing, now deceased, Howland herself. They presented Hughes with a treasure trove of correspondence with Bellow and unpublished work, some of which is now featured in Calm Sea, a collection of stories (many autobiographical) rife with  biting, humorous observations and canny emotions.

The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed Race Jewish Girl
By Marra B. Gad 
In 1970, threedayold Marra B. Gad, whose biological mother was white and Jewish, and whose biological father was black, was adopted by a white Jewish family in Chicago. For her parents, it was love at first sight – but they quickly realized the world wasn’t ready for a family like theirs. While still a child, Marra faced prejudice fro both Blacks and Whites. Even in her own extended family, racism bubbled to the surface. Marra’s family cut out intolerant relatives, including her once beloved GreatAunt Nette. After a 15year estrangement, Marra discovers that Nette has Alzheimer’s, and that only she is the only family she has left. This is a story about what you inherit from your family – identity, disease, melanin, hate, and most powerful of all, love.

Fly Already: Stories 
By Etgar Keret
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
In Keret’s latest collection of stories, a young boy narrates a postapocalyptic version of the world where a youth army wages an unending war, rewarded by collecting prizes; a father tries to shield his son from the inevitable; a guy just wants to get a joint to impress a girl and ends up down a rabbit hole of chaos and heartache; and two unlikely people connect through an evening smoke down by the beach, only to have one of them imagine a much deeper relationship. The thread that weaves these pieces together is our inability to communicate, to see so little of the world around us and to understand each other even less. Yet somehow, a bright light shines and our universal connection to each other sparks alive.

The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America
By Daniel Okrent 
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
A forgotten dark chapter of American history with implications for the current day, this book by tells the story of the scientists who argued that certain nationalities were inherently inferior, providing the intellectual justification for the harshest immigration law in American history. Brandished by the upper class Bostonians and New Yorkers  –  many of them progressives  –  who led the antiimmigration movement, the eugenic arguments helped keep hundreds of thousands of Jews, Italians, and other unwanted groups out of the US for more than 40 years. A work of history with stunning relevance to the present day, The Guarded Gate connects the American eugenicists to the rise of Nazism, and shows how their beliefs found fertile soil in the minds of citizens and leaders worldwide.

The Hotel Neversink
By Adam O’Fallon Price
2020 Edgar Award Winner
The Hotel Neversink is a gothic novelist in, of all places, the Jewish Catskills. In vignettes from different characters’ points of view, we follow the descent into ruin of the once grand building “Foley’s Folly,” a mansion built at the turn of the 20th century by an eccentric tycoon, and bought by a Jewish immigrant, Asher Levem Sikorsky, who turns it into a hotel. O’Fallon Price masterfully evokes historical detail, and this blend of sensationalism and realism allows him to question the class and gender assumptions that underpin Gothic fiction .

The World That We Knew: A Novel
By Alice Hoffman
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, the story follows three young women who must act with courage and love to survive. Hanni Kohn knows she must send her 12yearold daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked. Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

How to Fight AntiSemitism 
By Bari Weiss
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
In her urgent new book, York Times staff writer Bari Weiss examines the dangerously high level of American antisemitism coming from both right and left. The aim of this new rise of antisemitism, she says, is the elimination of the Jewish people and Judaism itself, whether this is accomplished through violence or the political destruction of the State of Israel. An outspoken advocate for Jews and Zionism, Weiss’s exposition of modern antisemitism is deep and layered;  her multifaceted plan for Jews is creative and insightful. She tells us to embrace Judaism, renew our values, and respect ourselves. “There has not been a single moment in Jewish history where there weren’t antiSemites determined to eradicate Judaism and the Jews,” she says. Her answer: Call out hate, support Israel, join more than one synagogue, and consider reclaiming the peace that comes from observing Shabbat. Strengthening our Jewish identity, she writes, will strengthen our image in the world.

Antisemitism: Here and Now
By Deborah E. Lipstadt
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
A penetrating and provocative analysis of the hate that will not die, focusing on its current, virulent incarnations on both the political right and left: from white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, to mainstream enablers of antisemitism such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, to a gay pride march in Chicago that expelled a group of women for carrying a Star of David banner. Is there any significant difference between leftwing and rightwing antisemitism? What role has the antiZionist movement played? And what can be done to combat the latest manifestations of an ancient hatred? In a series of letters to an imagined college student and imagined colleague, Lipstadt gives her own superbly reasoned, brilliantly argued, and certain to be controversial responses to these troubling questions.

Someday We Will Fly
By Rachel DeWoskin
National Jewish Book Awards Winner 2019
Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is 15 when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn’t understand them – always worrying about her mother. Meanwhile Lillia is growing up. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a “gentlemen’s club” without her father’s knowledge. As the conflict between Japan and America grows more intense, Lillia and her family fight to survive. The book concludes with a detailed list of historical sources, and an important “Author’s Note” in which DeWoskin explains the difference between works of history and historical fiction, and meditates on the nature of the two. Recommended for readers from 14 to adult.

Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel
By Matti Friedman
Winner of the 2018 Natan Book Award
National Book Awards Finalist 2019
The four spies were young, Jewish, and born in Arab countries. In 1948, at the outbreak of war in Palestine, they went undercover in Beirut, spending two years running sabotage operations and sending crucial intelligence back home. It was dangerous work. Of the dozen members of their ragtag unit, five would be caught and executed – but the remainder would emerge as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agency.  Journalist and awardwinning author Matti Friedman’s tells the meticulously researched tale of Israel’s first spies. It’s about intrigue and espionage – but it’s also about the complicated identity of Israel, a country that presents itself as Western but in fact has more citizens with Middle Eastern roots, just like the spies of this fascinating narrative.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem 
By Sarit YishaiLevi; Anthony Berris, trans.
National Jewish Book Awards Finalist 2016
Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin’ ‘70s, this is a story about mothers and daughters, and the binds that tie four generations of women. Gabriela’s mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there’s more to her mother than painted nails and lips. Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family’s previous generations. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.

Main Photo: Cover art by Jack Crowley

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