Summer Reading In The City
Tue, 06/21/2011
Jewish Week Book Critic
Goodie One Shoes Cover.
Goodie One Shoes Cover.

‘I am Vaclav the Magnificent,” the young magician introduces his performance, explaining that he comes from a “land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages” and is reappearing “here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn (which is a Borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America), where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-pieces suit and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo.”

Vaclav and Lena, the title characters of Haley Tanner’s unforgettable novel, are Russian immigrants who meet as young children in an English as a Second Language class and then become inseparable, with Lena serving as Vaclav’s assistant in his magic shows. But it is Lena who disappears in the story. Just before the publication of “Vaclav and Lena” (Dial Press), Tanner’s young husband Gavin died after a six-year battle against cancer, and she has said that her own great love inspired the novel, that her husband’s presence is on every page. She now lives in Brooklyn.

Over a period of four years, Saul Landa traveled across the United States, from Maine to Seattle and points in between, visiting 18 Jewish communities. At each stop, he interviewed community leaders, historians and longtime residents, trying to uncover the real reasons for the success and perseverance of the Jewish community over time. His book, “A Timeless People: Photo Albums of American Jewish Life” (Gefen) is a chronicle of his travels, with his own color photographs combined with archival images. Attentive to details in his conversations and his photography, Landa creates an intimate portrait of American Jewish life, with an emphasis on the Orthodox world. Landa, who has been photographing the Jewish community for more than 35 years, visits schools, shuls, Shabbat tables, holiday celebrations and communal institutions, noticing immigration patterns, family legacies, engravings on doorways, signs and memorabilia. When not traveling, the photojournalist, who is also a dentist and ordained rabbi, lives in East Brunswick, N.J.

With the publication of “Goody One Shoe,” (Hilliard and Harris), Roslyn Siegel kicks off her Emily Place murder mystery series set in a shoe store. Emily, who has a doctorate in English, opens a shoe store on Broadway in Manhattan, after she leaves her husband. Her own father owned a Brooklyn shoe store for 25 years, but Emily follows her own vision of the perfect shop: Her store is a place where, of course, every shoe is discounted. Something “like a Starbucks for shoe lovers,” it’s a place that smells of coffee, where women can try on shoes — whether designer sandals or sneakers — and discuss them with other women. Emily creates a respectable hangout for women, but her faithful clients and salespeople start worrying when a staff member is found dead —murdered with a Jimmy Choo stiletto. The author lives on the Upper West Side.

Joseph Braude, who grew up in an Iraqi-Jewish family and is fluent in Arabic, Persian and Hebrew, uses his knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and history to penetrate Moroccan society and uncover the truth behind a murder of a young guard at a warehouse in Casablanca. The first Western journalist to gain permission to work within an Arab security force, he is assigned to a group of detectives in Casablanca. His main contact on the case is the victim’s best friend. Braude’s “The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder and the Search for Truth in the Arab World” (Spiegel & Grau) is timely and full of surprising detail. Braude lives in New York.

“Ideas bubble out of my head like steam from a teapot, and most of my stories are true or partially true or somewhat true. They come out of my life,” William D. Kaufman writes in one of the stories in his new collection, “The Day My Mother Cried and Other Stories” (Syracuse). A natural storyteller with a distinctive voice, Kaufman has a very long life to draw upon. He’s now 96. This is his second collection, following the successful publication of “The Day My Mother Changed Her Name.” As in the earlier book, Kaufman unfolds his tales with much color and wit. Some of the stories are set in his father’s hometown in the Ukraine, while others take place during the author’s early life in the United States or during his later travels. The book includes enthusiastic forewords by Baruch Feldstein and Peter Pitzele. Kaufman makes his home in an assisted living facility on Long Island.