SPRING ARTS-BOOKS
Fri, 02/13/2009
Jewish Week Book Critic
  Fiction The title of Dara Horn’s new novel, “All Other Nights” (Norton, March), hints at its connection to the themes of Passover. With its timely publication, the novel about the Civil War, and the role and relationships of Jews in the North and South, is likely to provoke conversation around many seder tables. Her seder night scene, attended by Judah Benjamin, the Confederate statesman, along with other invented characters, includes a murder. This is Horn’s third novel, after two award-winning novels — “In the Image” and “The World to Come” — and the first told through a single voice. Horn spins an intricate story of love, loyalty and also the divisiveness that lingers in this country. She was inspired to begin this when, while on a book tour in New Orleans, she was wandering around the city and found a Jewish cemetery. When she saw the very old tombstones, she began inventing lives. A debut novel by philosopher and author Joshua Halberstam, “A Seat at the Table: A Novel of Forbidden Choices” (Sourcebooks, March), is the tale of a father and son, set in the chasidic community of Borough Park, told with an insider’s knowing perspective. An international bestseller that won France’s most prestigious literary award, “The Kindly Ones” by Jonathan LittellJ (HarperCollins, April) is the 900-page fictional memoir of a former Nazi officer who reinvents himself after the war as a factory owner and intellectual devoted to his family in France. Set a the end of the 19th century on a settlement in the Galilee, “Valley of Strength” by Shulamit Lapid (Toby Press, March) is the story of a pioneer woman who comes to Palestine after surviving a pogrom in Ukraine, works the stony land, and eventually breaks into the world of politics. The characters in “Crossing the Hudson” by Peter Stephan Jungk (Other Press, March) are suspended between Europe and America, a Jewish family’s past and present, in this novel that features a Kafka-like event on the Tappan Zee Bridge. “Rhyming Life & Death” by Amos Oz (Houghton Mifflin, April) begins with a famous writer giving in a reading in Tel Aviv, facing all the usual questions asked by audience members, who goes on to imagine and invent lives for the strangers surrounding him. “Laish” by Aharon Appelfeld (Schocken, March) is the story of a 15-year-old orphan traveling with a band of Jews — mystics, rabbis, widows, black marketers — who set out before World War II to reach the Holy Land. Award-winning detective-story writer S.J. Rozan takes her team of sleuths back in history, to the Jewish community of Shanghai, during the years of World War II, in her latest mystery, “The Shanghai Moon” (St. Martin’s, March). “In the Flesh” by Koren Shadmi (Villard, March), a graphic novel anthology, is the work of an Israeli-born artist who has worked as an illustrator and cartoonist since he was a teen; he published his first book at 17, before serving in the Israeli Defense Forces as a graphic designer and illustrator. His work combines stark visual imagery with a sense of the surreal, and he enjoys testing borders as he explores the sorrows of love and desire. He describes the “poor souls who appear in this collection, tiptoeing their way on the verge of the fantastic and looking for love where there might be none.” Non-Fiction From the highly acclaimed biblical scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, “The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious” (Schocken, May) takes the reader on a literary, psychoanalytical and spiritual journey through the biblical text. In her close readings, she looks at relationships between the figures of the bible, among themselves and with God. Drawing upon Freud and other thinkers, she illuminates the desires and motivations of biblical figures, and the connection between conscious and unconscious experiences. As she writes,   “Communication that takes place between human beings is never exhausted by what is consciously and explicitly communicated. ... The complex interplay of forgetting and remembering, the traumatic departures from our own experience, all leave traces in our movement of communion with one another.” The author, a master teacher of Torah known for her innovative approach, is particularly interested in the ways in which the rabbis, in midrashic and chasidic commentaries, reflect on the often subtle developments in the text. She looks closely at the stories, among others, of Noah’s intoxication, Jonah’s flight, the Akedah, Rebecca’s pregnancy, Joseph’s relationships with his brothers. Zornberg, who grew up in Scotland, was educated at Cambridge and now lives in Jerusalem, is the award-winning author of “The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis” and “The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus.” “A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Bell Tower, March) is written in the style of Jewish legal codes, with ordered, thematic chapters and paragraphs, featuring practical examples. Among the topics covered are comforting mourners, visiting the sick, giving charity, offering hospitality, and dealing with non-Jews. “Exodus and Emancipation: Biblical and African-American Slavery” by Kenneth Chelst (Urim, March) is a collection of essays reflecting on the biblical descriptions of the exodus from Egypt, comparing it with the experience of African Americans in this country, during the time of slavery, emancipation and fighting for equality. The author, a rabbi and professor of operations research (the mathematics of decision making) at Wayne State University, looks deeply into the biblical narrative and at slavery’s toll on the individual and the community. In “Orthodox Jews in America” (Indiana University Press, March), Yeshiva University professor Jeffrey S. Gurock presents the history of Orthodox Jews, from the early 1700s to the present, exploring issues of religious freedom, economic opportunities and social acceptance, for individuals, families and communities. He portrays the varying lifestyles of Orthodox Jews, in a pluralistic society, and covers contemporary controversies, whether struggles within Orthodoxy, or with other Jews. Israel After publishing “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War” last year, Israeli historian Benny Morris has written “One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict” (Yale, April). When asked about the relationship between the two books, he says that, in a way, the new book follows through on “1948.” For him, “1948 is still with us, both in the sense that a two-state solution for the Palestine problem is what the international community and the Israel left and center still want, and in the sense that the refugee problem, created in that year, remains with us and is the main motor force of Palestinian revanchism.” The new book is a timely interpretation, looking at the present day legacy of the events of 1948. Morris, a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University, examines the history, in particular the goals, of the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement. He then analyzes various one- and two state- solution proposals, made by different streams on both sides, and he arrives at a new way of looking at the situation, that includes a sliver of hope. “My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century” by Adina Hoffman (Yale, April) is the first biography of a Palestinian writer. The author, who is a founder and editor of Ibis Editions in Jerusalem, tells the life story of Taha Muhammad Ali, who was born in the Galilee in 1931. Now widely praised for his poetry, he is an autodidact who runs a souvenir shop in Nazareth. This is the story of the man, and also of the culture and challenges from which he emerged. “Hovering at Low Altitude: The Collected Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (Norton, April) showcases the work of a writer considered to be one of the great Hebrew poets of our time, who died in 2005 at age 69. The poems, in which the secular poet sometimes draws upon Jewish sacred texts, show much stylistic range, often reflecting on unequal balances of power.