Monday, January 26, 2015

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind

by Sarah Wildman.  Review by Carl J. Rheins for

Sarah Wildman, a reporter and European correspondent for The New York Times, Slate, The New Yorker, and other publications, has given us an elegantly written story that uses the life of medical doctor Valerie (Valy) Fabisch and her mother to illustrate the fate of hundreds of thousands of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews who were trapped in Nazi-occupied Central Europe and eventually deported to extermination camps in Poland.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

A Zionist Novel

The Betrayers: A Novel

By David Bezmozgis
Little, Brown and Company, 240 pages

Note:  Last week's blog about Soviet authors included mention of Bezmozgis

by Marat Grinberg for Commentary

Though he is often grouped with other American authors of Soviet Jewish lineage, notably Gary Shteyngart and Larisa Vapnyar, the novelist and short-story writer David Bezmozgis bears little relation to either or to anyone else. Stylistically, his prose is laconic. Aesthetically, he shuns postmodern games. Thematically, he does not fetishize the Soviet past or dwell on it obsessively. Most important, Jewishness is central to his work. Rather than treating it as something negative and superficial, or as an occasion for a mordant joke, Bezmozgis imbues Jewishness with rich meaning—historical, cultural, psychological, and moral. His first novel, The Free World (2012), is an uneven but unflinching work that depicts with tragic and poignant honesty a family of Soviet Jewish immigrants stuck in Rome on their way to America. Bezmozgis’s second novel, The Betrayers, firmly establishes him as a rare voice of moral seriousness in current American literature—and as perhaps the only philosophically Zionist novelist now at work in America.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Year of the Former Soviet Author

By Yevgeniya Traps, The Jewish Daily Forward

In the recently published memoir “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka,” Lev Golinkin recounts the story of his family’s 1989 departure from the rapidly disintegrating Soviet Union. The Golinkins make their way to America, relying on the kindness of strangers; unsure of what they might find, they are guided largely by the sense that whatever it is, it is sure to be better than what they are leaving behind.

Theirs is not an atypical story: Alienated by tacitly sanctioned anti-Semitism, driven away by the lack of opportunity and other finer things, Soviet Jews packed up their scant belongings — people did not generally have very much to begin with, and guards were checking for valuables at the border — and headed into the great unknown. Which is to say, like many an immigrant before and after them, they took their stab at the American dream.

And, like many an immigrant before and after them, if they were at all inclined toward the written word, they wrote all about the stab and the disappointment and the compromises and the sacrifices and the semblance of a truce they finally established with the new version of their lives.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Spring 2015 Jewish Book Preview

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter for

We were overwhelmed with amazing Jewish books and authors in 2014, and, considering the pile of 2015 books already towering on our desks, it looks like 2015 will bring the same punch. With Saul Bellow's 100th birthday approaching in June, be on the lookout for three new Bellow-themed books coming out over the next few months, listed below. Additionally, two of our Unpacking the Book authors have debut novels coming out in March: Daniel Torday (The Last Flight of Poxl West) and Alexis Landau (The Empire of the Senses).

Looking for some great new cookbooks? Well, we already have six mouth-watering options on the horizon. And if you're looking to hear from some crowd favorites we have new books by Jonathan D. Sarna, Steve Stern, and Elisa Albert coming your way as well.

You'll also have the opportunity to hear from twelve of the below authors on our Visiting Scribe series—including Shulem Deen, author of the forthcoming memoir All Who Do Not Return—where they'll share more about their work, the backstory, reading lists, and more. Plus, there are some great book club reads that you'll be hearing more about over the coming months (The Nightingale and A Reunion of Ghosts, to name just two).

We're really excited about the year ahead and hope that you'll continue to check back here to learn more about these titles and their creators—and perhaps even win a book or two!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Encountering Ellis Island: How European Immigrants Entered America

Review by Peter E. Kornblum for

With a rising demand for farm and industrial workers, America opened its portals to approximately 20 million immigrants between 1892 and 1924. Fourteen million of these new, mainly European arrivals entered through Ellis Island, which had replaced the aging Castle Garden facility located at the Battery on the New York City shore. In his detailed and engrossing narrative of those years, historian Ronald H. Bayor offers an eye-level account of the perilous “journey to Ellis Island.” While he mainly depicts the particulars of this early-twentieth-century moment, he still points to the eerie continuity between that time and twenty-first-century America. Bayor observes that “two ideological views shaped U.S. immigration policy and still play a role in contemporary America.” On the one hand, a positive spirit of “civic national­ism” welcomed “diversity” and promised “equality and fairness to all who came to the United States.” On the other hand, Ellis Island and especially Angel Island on the West Coast could also signify an opposing spirit of crude nativism, bigotry, and “racial nationalism.”

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Miriam Michelson, American Jewish Feminist Literary Star of the Western Frontier

(And her brother Albert won the Nobel Prize in Physics)

By Karen E. H. Skinazi and Lori Harrison-Kahanfor Tablet Magazine

Abandoned by her off-the-derech Hasidic mother, Rebekah Roberts, the semi-autobiographical journalist-sleuth of reporter Julia Dahl’s Invisible City, published by Minotaur Books this past May, has little knowledge of her Jewish heritage, beyond the Hebraic spelling of her given name. So, when the rookie reporter is sent to investigate a murder in Brooklyn’s Hasidic enclave, she sees the assignment as a dual opportunity: Scoop the rival tabloids with an exclusive on the slain mother of four, whose naked body had been found in a Gowanus scrap heap, and reconnect with her own mother, who returned to the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, fold after her daughter’s birth, leaving Rebekah to be raised by her Christian father in Florida.

Over a century before Dahl, another Jewish writer turned her own sensational experiences as a newspaperwoman into a suspense-filled, bold-voiced work of popular fiction. The writer’s name was Miriam Michelson, and the novel, A Yellow Journalist, published in 1905, began as a series of short stories in The Saturday Evening Post. These interlocking stories chronicled the adventures of the author’s gutsy alter ego, Rhoda Massey, a “girl reporter” for a San Francisco newspaper in the time of Hearst and Pulitzer.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

New York Times Top 100 Books of the Year: Enchanted Connections

‘The Magician’s Land,’ by Lev Grossman

Review By Edan Lepucki

If Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” was like “The Secret History” crossed with “Harry Potter,” and if its sequel, “The Magician King,” was a descendant of “The Chronicles of Narnia” (with a touch of the 1990s flick “The Craft” thrown in), then what cultural mash-up does Lev Grossman conjure in “The Magician’s Land,” the trilogy’s final book? I can’t tell you, because I was too thoroughly swept away by this richly imagined and continually surprising novel to be concerned with cute comparisons.

“The Magician’s Land” is the strongest book in Grossman’s series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining.

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