Books

Roger Cohen’s Back Pages

The Times columnist traces the meandering arc of his family, from Lithuania to South Africa to England.

01/20/2015
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Roger Cohen’s maternal great-grandfather was born in Siauliai, Lithuania, in 1877, and left for South Africa in 1896. Arriving penniless, Isaac Michel had no formal education but could add and subtract, and eventually built a large retail empire. He died almost five decades later, with a lavish estate in Johannesburg that included a sprawling home, an arboretum and a turquoise Cadillac in the curving driveway, the chauffeur at his call.

“For my family, the past was gone,” says Cohen. “It took me quite a long time to decide I wanted to explore it.”  Rebecca Ring

Steve Israel’s Terror Plot (Just Kidding)

The L.I. Democrat’s debut novel (featuring one Morris Feldstein of Great Neck) grew out of his experiences in the House Armed Services Committee.

01/06/2015
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‘Tsuris ahead,” Steve Israel opens his debut novel, “The Global War on Morris” (Simon & Schuster). I’m not sure how many of his congressional colleagues in Washington would know the Yiddish word for troubles, but the meaning quickly becomes clear.

Israel: “Major threats” exist, “but there are moments in government that are funny.”  Katrina Hajagos

The Overlooked List

Ten books from 2014 that didn’t get the attention they deserved.

12/31/2014
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At this time of looking back and looking ahead, we’d like to point to some titles published over this past year that have been overlooked and are worthy of attention. Many relate to exile and memory, and one novel even speaks of a black market in memory.

Read it. Via lbi.org

Modiano’s Paris

Three novellas by the Nobel Prize winner, all shadowed with loss.

12/23/2014
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Patrick Modiano’s newly translated novellas are mysteries of remembering and forgetting. The fictional narrators, who resemble the author, search for truth about an elusive past, always linked to the Nazi occupation of Paris. 

“Suspended Sentences,” a trilogy by Nobel Prize laureate Patrick Modiano, is now available in English.

When Basketball Was Jewish

Dolph Schayes and the NBA during a more innocent time.

12/16/2014
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In the early days of professional basketball in this country, the sport was largely a city game, played by upwardly mobile athletes from working-class families — often with immigrant roots — who used their shooting and defensive skills as their ticket to a better life.

Dolph Schayes: An NBA Hall of Farmer with Bronx roots, he settled in Syracuse after starring for its basketball team.  Wikimedia

A Writer Of A Certain Age (And Temperament)

Brian Morton’s latest literary creation is a feisty New York character through and through.

10/21/2014
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What distinguishes a New York novel are not just the streetscapes, but also the pull this great city has on its characters. The eponymous Florence Gordon is one of those fictional New Yorkers who believe that “a life that took place elsewhere couldn’t truly be called life.”

Novelist Brian Morton’s latest work is a kind of generational tug of war.  David Kumin

Amis Moves Needle On Holocaust Humor

New novel, set in a concentration camp, is latest in cultural trend to probe Shoah with satire.

09/29/2014
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In a German concentration camp, the commandant and an officer of the Waffen-SS, the armed wing of the Nazis’ SS paramilitary unit, are discussing the “selection” of Jewish prisoners to live or die. “There was no selection. They were all certainties for the gas,” one Nazi tells the other.

Amis

King David As ‘Collage’

David Wolpe tackles the grace, and the contradictions, of the biblical monarch.

09/09/2014
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The young David is captured in Michelangelo’s colossal marble masterpiece, in the days before his battle with Goliath. The sculptor expresses his beauty and hints of the boy’s majestic future. That’s the David a reader pictures in the opening pages of Rabbi David Wolpe’s new biography, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), when the High Priest Samuel visits the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite in search of a new king to replace Saul. Before meeting David, Samuel encounters his older brothers.  David is then summoned back from the fields, where he is tending the sheep, and his life is about to change.

Rabbi David Wolpe

Short Fiction, Long On Identity And Family

New collections by John J. Clayton, David Shrayer-Petrov and Judith Felsenfeld

08/26/2014
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John J. Clayton’s short stories have been awarded the O. Henry and Best American Stories prizes; “Radiance” was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. The 10 stories in “Many Seconds into the Future” (Texas Tech University Press), deal almost exclusively with Jewish men, aging, longing, aspiring, regretting, remembering and searching. These are tales of fathers and sons, of brothers, of husbands. Women have names but little color.

New biography suggests that the views of Israel’s first Ashkenazic chief rabbi were more pluralistic, and less nationalistic.

Reassessing Rav Kook

In new biography, Yehuda Mirsky argues that the founding chief rabbi of Israel’s ideas were co-opted by his son.

08/26/2014
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While some books offer a good read, and others encapsulate groundbreaking scholarship, Yehudah Mirsky’s “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution” (Yale University Press) manages to do both.

New biography suggests that Israel’s first Ashkenazic chief rabbi was more pluralistic. Courtesy of Yale University
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