Books:
Wed, 02/19/2014
New offerings from acclaimed Israeli novelist David Grossman, food writer Laura Silver and novelist Ayelet Waldman.
New offerings from acclaimed Israeli novelist David Grossman, food writer Laura Silver and novelist Ayelet Waldman.

Fiction

In her award-winning debut novel, “All Russians Love Birch Trees” (Other Press, February), Olga Grjasnowa tells of the uncommon adventures of a young, multilingual Jewish immigrant from Azerbaijan who is forced to deal with grief. It is set in Frankfurt and then in Israel. Translated from the German by Eva Bacon.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz’s new novel written in verse, “The Wherewithal” (Norton, February), is a closely observed, poetic account of a young man hiding in a San Francisco basement to avoid the Vietnam War, who translates his mother’s diaries of Poland that detail the 1941 Jedwabne massacre.

Michael Wex’s satiric first novel, “Shlepping the Exile” (St. Martin’s Press, February), is the story of a chasidic boy and his refugee parents making new lives in the Canadian Rockies.

The eponymous “The Museum of Ordinary Things” in Alice Hoffman’s new novel (Scribner, February) is a freak show on the Coney Island boardwalk, in the early years of the 20th century. Hoffman writes of immigrants, heiresses, a Butterfly Girl and idealists as she spins an urban love story set against New York history.

A first novel, “The Book of Jonah” by Joshua Max Feldman (Henry Holt, February), is a retelling of the biblical story with a young ambitious, unmarried Manhattan lawyer named Jonah Jacobstein at the center.

Part play, part prose, part poetry, David Grossman’s new novel “Falling Out of Time” (Knopf, March) is the story of bereaved parents trying to reach their lost children. The novel begins in a village, and as the man who comes to be known as “Walking Man” sets out, others join him, all enduring loss with deep questions.

Tova Mirvis picks up on the frequent fantasy of New Yorkers — of knowing what goes on in the lives of people so close by, hidden and seen in plain view, living behind the windows of facing buildings. “Visible City” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March) follows three Manhattan couples whose lives intersect, with much to offer about themes of intimacy, loyalty, ambition, aging and desire.

In “Love and Treasure” (Knopf, April), Ayelet Waldman creates a love story, suspense story, historical novel and tale of a granddaughter honoring her grandfather’s life. The novel shifts across eras, and is inspired by the Hungarian Gold Train in World War II.

A literary novel in the expanding genre of books about the inside of the haredi community, “The Marrying of Chani Kaufman” by Eve Harris (Grove/Atlantic, April) is set in London in 2008. Harris spins a story about the courtship of 19-year-old Chani, as she’s about to marry a man she has only met a few times. The novel was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

The real-life American Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky stars in Zachary Lazar’s novel “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Little Brown, April), a story involving a murdered poet, an investigative reporter and Lansky’s mistress, a Holocaust survivor — all of them connected in a complex web of crime, suspense, loyalty and Jewish identity.

In Yvette Manessis Corporon’s first novel, “When the Cypress Whispers” (HarperCollins, April), an American-born daughter of Greek immigrants is drawn to the small island off of Corfu, where her family lived for generations. Closely connected to her grandmother there, she learns of her role in helping save a family of Corfu Jews during World War II.

Aharon Appelfeld’s “Suddenly, Love” (Pantheon, May) observes a lonely elderly man who made his way from Ukraine to Israel after World War II, his young caretaker, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and their evolving connection.

Graphic

Liana Finck turns the popular advice column for new immigrants that appeared in the Yiddish Forward into a nonfiction graphic novel, “A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York” (Ecco, April). There’s even a recipe for schav, sorrel soup.

Poetry

The former U.S. poet laureate Maxine Kumin died earlier this month. She writes with a careful eye to the natural world, and Jewish themes are sometimes reflected in her work, as in “Purim and the Beetles of Our Lady” in her latest volume, “And Short the Season” (Norton, April).

Non-Fiction

“Judaism Examined: Essays in Jewish Philosophy and Ethics” by Moshe Sokol (Academic Studies Press, February) addresses key philosophical questions, concerning freedom and tolerance, joy and pleasure, and more.

In “A Bride for One Night: Talmud Tales” (Jewish Publication Society), Knesset member Ruth Calderon retells Talmudic stories as imaginative fiction, providing new readings of ancient texts. This is the first book in English by Calderon, who has a doctorate in Talmud. Translated by Ilana Kurshan.

A tie-in to the PBS and BBC series of the same title, “The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC - 1492 AD) by Simon Schama (Ecco, March), is an illustrated cultural history of the Jewish experience across three millennia. The story as he relates it — through uprooting and assaults, prose and poetry — is both universal and particular. (See Film/TV on page 34 for interview with Schama.)

Deborah Jiang Stein was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother and later adopted by a Jewish family in Seattle. “Prison Baby” (Beacon Press, March) is a memoir of hope, detailing her own struggles and journey. She is the founder of the unPrison Project.

As she tried to figure out how to move beyond her own grief when she lost her mother, Meryl Ain sought to find out how others keep memories of their loved ones alive while engaging again in life. She, along with Arthur M. Fischman and her husband Stewart Ain, a Jewish Week staff writer, collected 30 interviews with people from all backgrounds about their approaches — whether special projects, song and story, philanthropic work and film, among others) in “The Living Memories Project: Legacies That Last” (Little Miami Publishing, March).

“Dear Mendl, Dear Reyzl: Yiddish Letter Manuals from Russia and America” by Alice Nakhimovsky and Roberta Newman (Indiana University Press, April) provides background information about and translations for sections of “brivnshtelers,” Yiddish books of model letters consulted by families separated by migration. Among the sample letters are “She is not for you” and “I too have decided to go to America.”

Drawing upon international archives, “A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide” (Yale, April), adds to the debate about how the Germans, during the war years, understood the mass murder of the Jews.

“Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City” edited by Madelaine Adelman and Miriam Fendius Elman (Syracuse University Press, April) brings an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the culture, traditions, history and politics of the multicultural, eclectic city.

Anyone who remembers — and longs for — the knishes made at Mrs. Stahl’s bakery in Brighton Beach will understand Laura Silver’s passion to learn everything she could about the iconic potato pie. Everything from international knish lore and history to the Stahl family recipe is presented in “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food” by Laura Silver (Brandeis University Press, May).

Hillel Halkin pens the next title in the “Jewish Lives” series, “Jabotinsky” (Yale University Press, May). Jabotinsky was a celebrated journalist and novelist, political thinker, founder of the branch of Zionism now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and, in Halkin’s view, the most controversial and misunderstood of Zionist leaders.

In the memoir “Maybe Not Such a Good Girl: Reflections on Rupture and Return” (Blue Threads Communications, May), Susan Reimer-Torn writes of coming of age in an Orthodox family in New York City and longing for freedom and self-expression, and eventually moving to Paris. After 22 years of self-exile, she returns to New York and reconnects with her past and with Judaism, through community and reengaging with Jewish texts and teachers.

“50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany” by Steven Pressman (HarperCollins May) expands upon the HBO documentary, unfolding the story of the single largest group of unaccompanied refugee children allowed into the United States in 1939. Their rescue was orchestrated by a Jewish couple from Philadelphia.