The latest issue of Library Journal compiles a list of Jewish literature reviews for librarians. The article asks "What is Jewish literature?" and answers with the criteria that the authors have to be Jewish. The books needed to be written in English, Hebrew or Yiddish and have recognizable Jewish characters. Readers will find the themes universal - they detail the search for identity and explore the relationship with a deity. The also discuss the familiar issues of family and civic responsibility. These are books anyone can and will enjoy.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal is an exploration of the Ephrussis family. At that outbreak of World War II, the banking dynasty was as wealthy and powerful as the Rothschilds. After the war, a collection of 264 small Japanese Netsuke was all that remained. DeWaal is a world known ceramicist fascinated with the story behind art objects. This book is the result of his exploration into five generations of his family's past and the story of the mysterious Netsukes.
D.A. Mishani is the editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature at Keter Books in Israel. His first novel, The Missing File, is set in Tel Aviv and follows the disappearance of a 16-year-old boy on his way to school on a normal morning. Detective Avraham finds out more than he wants to know about the young man, and uncovers a complex mystery that leaves him questioning innocence, guilt and the nebulous nature of truth.
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman is the story of four women who tended the doves during the Roman siege of Masada in 70 C.E. Each of them has arrived in Masada in different ways and with different secrets, but their compelling story of four months of survival against overwhelming obstacles binds them and is told in, what many feel is, Hoffman's masterwork.
Hannah Levi is known throughout Venice for her gifts as a midwife - she can coax the most reluctant baby. When she is summoned by a Christian nobleman to attend to his wife, she must decide whether to break the Papal edict forbidding Jews from rendering medical aid to Christians. The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich is set in the 16th century and follows two complex interwoven stories to a dramatic conclusion.
Art Spiegelman is best known for his masterpiece Maus, a graphic memoir of the Holocaust. MetaMaus was published in honor of the 25th anniversary of this classic and tells the story of what propelled him to write the story, and includes early drafts, photos, interviews and information about his family. A bonus DVD provides a digitized reference copy of the complete "Maus" linked with interviews, documents and Spiegelman's notebooks.
Norwegian by Night is a complex thriller set in Norway. The elderly Sheldon Horowitz witnesses a murder and goes on the run with the victim's young son. Horowitz' granddaughter and her Scandinavian husband must search for him in a mystery novel that challenges the quality of popular Scandinavian mystery authors Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo.
It is rare that a common housefly is a central character in a novel, but that is the case in Jacob's Folly by Rebecca Miller. Jacob Cerf is a peddler in 18th-century Paris. He is amazed to find himself reincarnated as a fly in present-day Long Island. The lowly fly influences the lives of a reliable volunteer fireman and a young Orthodox Jewish woman in a rollicking and saucy book.
Deborah Feldman was raised in a Brooklyn, N.Y., Hasidic community that values silence and suffering over individual freedom. Abandoned by her mother as a toddler and with a father unable to cope due to mental or developmental disabilities, she was raised by her Hasidic grandparents and forced at 17 to marry a man she barely knew. At the age of 19, she escaped with her son. Unorthodox is the story of her harrowing journey away from the strict sect and into the life and possibilities she always dreamed of.
This list just scratches the surface of the Jewish literature titles at the Peter White Public Library, but they are representative of the present titles in this genre.
- Pam Christensen