Next June, Anne Frank would be 70 years old. Public interest in the young Anne Frank and her diary — an account of her 25 months hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex in Amsterdam, which has now been translated into 55 languages, with more than 25 million copies sold — is unceasing, with new editions of the diary, a recent revival of the Broadway play, documentary films, children’s books, dissertations and critical articles, with frequent contention between the people and organizations who claim to represent her interests.
More than 50 years after Hitler’s death, there’s no consensus among the many Holocaust scholars about the nature of his evil, his motivations, his self-awareness, his hiddenness. As journalist Ron Rosenbaum points out in his new book Explaining Hitler (Random House), there are many competing visions and passionate, bitter disputes.
Alan Lew was getting ready to sew his raksu, the garment worn by Buddhists for lay ordination, but he kept procrastinating. Instead, he wrote poetry and a monologue in the voice of his Bubbe Ida. With every stitch, he was supposed to say “I take refuge in the Buddha,” and he soon realized why he couldn’t sew at all: He felt he was betraying his Jewish soul.
It’s not unusual for strangers to tell Helen Epstein that she changed their lives. They’re referring to her 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust,” which identified and described an experience that many sons and daughters of survivors shared but few discussed in public. After 18 years, that book — her first — remains in print, still selling.
Within moments of meeting Eli Evans, it's clear that he's not the typical New Yorker. He's more polite than most, and he's a natural storyteller. But it's his accent that places his roots far from even the outer boroughs of this city: He's a son of Durham, N.C., where his father was the first Jewish mayor in the city's history. Evans wears his Southern Jewishness the way a Texan wears his Stetson, with pride.
The one thing that most reviewers of E.L Doctorow’s new novel City of God (Random House) seem to agree on is that it’s an ambitious work. It’s an unusual, non-linear, non-smooth, rambling postmodern novel that takes on themes of God, science, religion, love, war, popular music, bird watching and movies; it’s also a novel about writing. Not always easy to follow, its several narrative lines and multiple speakers shift abruptly, and those readers who like their novels to have beginnings, middles and ends might find it difficult.
Judging by their covers, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld’s just published work A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice (Schocken) and his earlier “The Jewish Catalog” (Jewish Publication Society) — published almost 30 years ago — couldn’t be more different. His new book is hardcover; its jacket features a traditional papercut design in deep colors, highlighted in gold, altogether very handsome. The first book, a paperback he edited along with Richard Siegel and Sharon Strassfeld, is bright red, with a do-it-yourself look.
Imre Kertesz, a Hungarian Jew who is this year’s Nobel laureate in literature, often says that he’s a medium of the Holocaust. “Auschwitz speaks through his stories,” a friend of his, the Israeli literary critic and author Shmuel Thomas Huppert, tells The Jewish Week. “His main theme is Auschwitz. He stresses the fact that first of all he’s a writer. He didn’t become a writer because he was in Auschwitz but, by being in Auschwitz, he found his major theme.”
It was like theater: A conversation about a new book seemed to turn into a live version of the book. As soon as we began talking, the two co-authors, both rabbis, were conversing as friends, but disagreeing with each other all the way.