Monday, May 18, 2015


Fig Tree Books sources, publishes, and promotes high quality, commercially viable novels that chronicle and enlighten the unique American Jewish Experience (AJE).  We do this in three ways:  (1) by selecting new voices that have not had the opportunity to publish fiction previously in this genre; (2) by working with authors who have previously published novels, novellas and/or short stories; and (3) by re-publishing works that have been out of print or never been available as an e-book.

Fig Tree Books, a new publishing house focusing on literary fiction exploring the diverse American Jewish experience, announced its list for the fall 2015 season. The two books include THE SEA BEACH LINE, a novel by Ben Nadler (October) and a new edition of THE PAWNBROKER by Edward Lewis Wallant (November), featuring a foreword by acclaimed novelist Dara Horn.

Originally published in 1961, THE PAWNBROKER was one of the first American novels to depict the lingering trauma of the Holocaust. It takes place in Harlem, where protagonist Sol Nazerman runs a pawnshop about 15 years after his liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Remarkable for its attempts to dramatize the aftereffects of the Holocaust — dream sequences in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film version are famous for being the first time the extermination camps were depicted in a Hollywood movie

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Set in the underworld of post-Giuliani New York City, THE SEA BEACH LINE melds mid-20th century pulp fiction and traditional Jewish folklore as it updates the classic story of a young man trying to find his place in the world.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Literally Everyone in the World Hates the Jews, and What To Do About It

Two new scholarly books show how even the most neutral academic can feel bound to answer anti-Semites’ demonic vigor in kind

By David Mikics for Tablet Magazine

In many parts of the world, Jews are increasingly unwelcome in the 21st century. The number of countries in which wearing visibly Jewish clothing such as a kippa means risking physical violence has hit an all-time high. On both the individual and the national level, Jews are targeted with extraordinary ferocity: We hear Israelis (but no one else) being compared to Nazis; we are told that Jewish nationalism is oppressive and archaic; that Israel is a uniquely racist country; that Israel’s terrible misdeeds explain why people hate Jews. Instead of being seen as ordinary or all too human, Jews are seen as carriers of a uniquely transcendent evil. No other group of people on the planet is accused so much and of such fantastic wrongs. For a few decades after the Holocaust, it seemed that anti-Semitism might wane or even die out. That hope has now been defeated. Could anything we do or say stem the tide, or will Jew-hatred persist as long as there are Jews to hate?

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Monday, May 4, 2015

My Teacher’s Son: A Memoir of Heresy Is Marked By a Father’s Unnerving Piety

In and out of the fold of ultra-Orthodoxy, Shulem Deen and his father Dovid both pursued honest religious feeling

By Shaul Magid for Tablet Magazine

I have a friend who was once summoned to the principal’s office in his son’s Jewish day school. His son apparently had stopped praying during communal morning prayers. He attended the compulsory prayer service but refused to pray. “This is a problem,” began the principal, “prayer is a religious obligation.” “I think you misunderstand my son,” replied my friend. “He is being religious precisely in refusing to pray to a God he doesn’t believe in.”

Many of us unconsciously think we understand faith, or piety, even if we were not taught about it in school or do not live inside it. We are often taught that faith is generally good but too much of it is generally bad. We then choose the degrees to which we separate ourselves while still trying to remain connected to its roots. As the Jewish joke goes, “Everyone to the left of me is a heretic, and everyone to right of me is crazy.” But what if we err in our orientation? What if we modern Jews are a spiritually dis-oriented people?

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Israeli Historian Otto Dov Kulka Tells Auschwitz Story of a Czech Family That Never Existed

Why Holocaust accounts—and their fictions or omissions—can be a threat to the history of a complicated, tragic human reality

By Anna Hájková for Tablet Magazine
In 2013 the Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka published a recollection of his childhood in concentration camps, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death. Historians and general audiences praised the poetic and reflective tone of the book. Deported at 11 years of age from Theresienstadt, Kulka spent a year and half at Auschwitz and is one of the very few children of his age who survived. Quite unlike most other survivors’ accounts, Kulka’s book has little narrative: It is a collage of impressions, dreams, and metaphysical musings about the world of Auschwitz.

Yet this style masks the fundamental omission of a complicated family history, including adultery, bitter divorce, and a paternity suit. In short, what Kulka wrote was a book about a family that never was.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Wherever You Go: A Novel

By Joan Leegant

Review By: Bonny V. Fetterman for

Politics is front and center in Joan Leegant’s novel about American Jews in Israel—three strangers who arrive with different agendas and whose paths intersect in Jerusalem. Yona Stern has come from New York to make peace with her older sister, Dena Ben-Tzion, who lives on a settlement over the Green Line with her husband and five children. Yona and Dena had quarreled over a personal matter, but the political situation makes Yona feel uneasy from the moment she descends from the bulletproof bus into the community called Givat Baruch. Dena, rigid and self-righteous, does not want a reconciliation and only speaks to Yona through her children.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Alexis Landau’s Merchant Ivory Novel

In a ‘richly appointed’ debut, ‘The Empire of the Senses,’ German Jews of the 1920s live in blissful ignorance

By Adam Kirsch for Tablet Magazine

Picking up a book with the lush title The Empire of the Senses, you probably wouldn’t guess that it was a historical novel about German Jews in the early 20th century. Given the inevitable conclusion of any such story in the Holocaust, a title with words like “darkness” or “shadow” or “fate” might seem more appropriate. But in her richly appointed debut novel, Alexis Landau deliberately defies such expectations. Life at any time and place, her title and her prose seem to say, is full of sensual beauty, if you choose to live it that way and write about it that way. And her book functions as a kind of extended séance, conjuring up the look and feel of experiences from the glamorous—a decadent party in Weimar Berlin—to the arduous—a field hospital on the Eastern Front. Here, for instance, is Lev Perlmutter, the novel’s hero, visiting a miracle-working rabbi in Lithuania:

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Yosef Haim Brenner: A Life

Anita Shapira; Anthony Berris, trans.

Review by Bettina Berch for

Although his life ended nearly a century ago, Hebrew writer Y. H. Brenner (1881-1921) remains a hero to generations of young Israelis. Perhaps there’s a sort of timelessness to any great writer’s anguish, which only grows more intense as the mythologies multiply. This might present difficulties for many biographers; after a certain point, the facts of the actual life can begin to seem meager next to the legends. Fortunately, Shapira avoids the larger-than-life Brenner and immerses readers in the details of the life of this “radical pessimist,” from his boyhood and military service in Russia, to his years as a Hebrew writer and publisher in London, to his sojourn in Galicia, to his life in the Yishuv, in Palestine, before his tragic death. Along the way, readers learn about the struggles between the Yiddishists and the champions of the Hebrew language, arguments over where to locate the Jewish homeland, tensions of young Jews over the appeal of assimilation, debates over how to live as a secular Jew, and other issues of Brenner’s days…and our own. Indeed, although the author refrains from reminding the reader of how modern Brenner’s struggles were, it’s certainly an element of his unending allure. This biography is dense and well-documented—not a light read, but a valuable addition to any collection focusing on the birth of Hebrew belles lettres. Illustrations, index, notes.

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