For most Jewish readers, I suspect, the phrase “Warsaw uprising” refers to the stirring last stand of the Jewish ghetto fighters in 1943. But there was quite another upwelling of armed resistance in Warsaw a year later, and that’s the focus of “Warsaw 1944: Hitler, Himmler and the Warsaw Uprising” by Alexandra Richie (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40.00), an account of the doomed effort at self-liberation launched by the Polish Home Army against the Nazis even as the Red Army sat and watched on the far side of the Vistula.
Why is this book club different from all other book clubs? I know this phrase is out of season, but the strange confluence of holidays this year permits some flexibility.
What I know about Israel comes from a variety of sources, including the news and commentary in this newspaper, countless books, my own experiences as a traveler to Israel, and the Facebook postings of my friends who live there.
Mitch Albom has succeeded in striking an important chord in all of us — the intrinsic human desire to discover what lies beyond, the need to believe that the way we conduct our lives matters and that “the end is not the end,” after all, but another beginning.
Like stills from a film noir, the black-and-white photographs of a 17-year-old boy named Herschel Grynszpan that have come down to us — police mug shots, newspaper photos, a souvenir snapshot taken at a Paris street fair — capture the various faces that he presented to the public during the fall of 1938, when he boiled up out of a noisy Jewish neighborhood in a backwater of Paris and demanded the attention of the astonished world.
Jewish humor and Jewish theology share something in common. I can think of any number of jokes whose punch lines say something profound about God (“Work with me here — buy a ticket!”). And we need only consult the Torah to discover how the matriarch Sarah responded when God revealed that she would bear a child in advanced old age: “Sarah laughed ...” (Genesis 18:12).
Everyone is familiar with Adolf Hitler and the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Few remember that in the mid- to late-1930s the United States experienced a Nazi crusade of its own, one led by Fritz Julius Kuhn (1896-1951), a radical anti-Semite who dreamed of a fascist America led by a Nazi president. Kuhn never realized his dream, but he did develop a national Nazi movement--complete with propaganda wing, youth group, and its own version of the Schutzstaffel (SS)--that inspired a concerted effort (among politicians, law enforcement and media alike) to destroy him and his organization.
For retired Israeli spy Mishka Ben-David, writing fiction was a realization of artistic aspirations he had long suppressed.
Never underestimate the enormous emotional power of a piercing narrative voice, one that can decimate and exhilarate the reader, often simultaneously. Listen to the eloquence of Israeli author David Grossman recounting his early experiences reading Sholem Aleichem, one of the founding giants of modern Yiddish literature:
On a visit to Budapest earlier this year, my wife and I asked the concierge at our hotel for a restaurant where we could find authentic Hungarian fare. As we took our seats in the bustling little place he recommended, I was encouraged to see a house band tucked away in the corner, and our meal was accompanied by what I assumed to be traditional Hungarian and Roma tunes.
The stirring scene that opens “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” by Yossi Klein Halevi (Harper, $35), is a flashback to the night of June 6, 1967, when the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces crossed the no man’s land from West Jerusalem and approached the Old City, a sacred place that had not been under Jewish sovereignty for nearly 2,000 years.
In the prologue to his new memoir, “The Friedkin Connection,” Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin writes, “Life is lived forward, but can only be understood backward.”
When talking about Elie Wiesel, who turns 85 on Sept. 30, it is far too easy to fall into a list of superlatives. As a child who survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Wiesel witnessed more death and more horrors than most human beings ever will. A onetime journalist who wrote for Hebrew- and Yiddish-language newspapers, starting in the 1950s, Wiesel has gone on to publish more books than most writers ever do, including “Night,” which has become the second-most widely read work of Holocaust literature in the world.
One of the remarkable things about Ruchama King Feuerman’s second novel, “In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist” (New York Review of Books, $9.99) is the fact it is only available as an ebook in the NYRB Lit series. Such is the fate of literary fiction nowadays, and it remains to be seen whether authors and publishers will find their readership in the world of digital publishing.
Franz Kafka has entered our language as an adjective — “Kafkaesque” is applied nowadays to almost anything that strikes us as senseless or surreal — but the man himself remains obscure. Saul Friedlander’s short biography in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, “Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt” (Yale University Press, $25.00), offers an intriguing effort to fill in the blanks of a famous but little-understood author.
I suppose that Kol Nidrei is still the best-attended service of the Jewish calendar, but surely the memorial service known as Yizkor is a close second. After all, Yizkor — which means “May God remember…” — is the moment when we are invited to recall in solemn prayer the loved ones who have passed away, a deeply poignant and sometimes painful experience that stands out in sharp relief from the other services during the High Holy Days.
While reviewing “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” by Natasha Solomons (Plume Original), the bestselling author of “The House at Tyneford,” I was also reading Ralph Ellison’s, “The Invisible Man,” and the thought occurred to me that invisibility can take many forms that might have nothing to do with skin color.
David Harris-Gershon, author of the forthcoming memoir “What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?,” is frank about the contradictions in his personality.
As one of the very few reviewers who found fault with Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” I once wrote that I would have preferred a film based on “Defiance,” Nechama Tec’s brilliant study of the Bielski partisans, which shows Jews not as the passive beneficiaries of a Nazi factory owner’s largess, but as active resisters who picked up a gun and fought back. And, in 2009, director Edward Zwick came to the same conclusion in his own movie, also titled “Defiance.”
When Judith Schneiderman was 14, she was taken from Hungary and sent to Auschwitz. It seemed that all hope was lost — that is, until she opened her mouth.
What is a reviewer to do when a truly gifted writer writes a genuinely awful book? I suspect that I was invited to write this review because the editor suspected that I might be open to the author’s experience, moved by the power of her words, and might not dismiss her critique of Israel, her sympathy with the Palestinians and her participation in the Gaza flotilla out of hand.
In 2010, Lesley Hazleton was asked to give a brief talk about the Quran. “As far as I was concerned, I was talking to those several hundred people in the hall,” Hazleton said in a recent phone interview. “I certainly had no idea that a nine-minute video about reading the Quran would go viral. … I mean, I’m in my 60s, so the words ‘Lesley’ and ‘viral’ don’t even belong in the same sentence.”
A profound irony suffuses this book review. “Paper, An Elegy” by Ian Sansom (William Morrow/HarperCollins, $24.99) is a celebration of the civilizing function of pulped vegetable matter, but you are reading about the book in the paperless environment of the Internet. And so passes the glory of the world.
Every now and then a reviewer might have the luck of a novel landing on her table that is not only engrossing, imaginative and a pure joy to read, but also well-crafted and intelligent. This is the case with Hellen Wecker’s debut novel, “The Golem and the Jinni” (Harper\Harper Collins Publishers).
“I’m reading a great book about the middle-aged brain,” I recently told a friend, “but I can’t remember the title.”
“The Elephant and the Jewish Problem” is the punchline to a hoary old Jewish joke, the point of which is that there is a Jewish perspective on every subject imaginable. The same point is made in a remarkable work of scholarship, “A Jew’s Best Friend? The Image of the Dog Throughout Jewish History,” edited by Phillip Ackerman-Lieberman and Rakefet Zalashik (Sussex Academic Press, $65, hardcover; $34.95, paper), a pair of self-proclaimed dog lovers who were inspired to explore what Jewish tradition has to say about dogs and Jews.
The legal thriller is a fast track for debut novelists, but Robert Rotstein enters the race at winning speed with “Corrupt Practices” (Seventh Street Books, $15.95).
One of the profound changes in American popular culture that emerged during the 1960s was the willingness of famous Jews to openly embrace their Jewishness rather than hiding it behind phony names and personas.
At 85, my father is full of optimism and humor. You would never guess that at the age of sixteen he was a victim of the greatest atrocity of the 20th century.
Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, is the Paul Revere of our era, and his latest call to arms is “Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet” (Palgrave Macmillan: $27). Co-written with Internet law expert Christopher Wolf, the book alerts us to the sewer of hatred that runs through cyberspace and exhorts us to do something about it.
Ah! How authors wax poetic about the allure of a vulnerable woman! How tempting it is for that mensch in shining armor to whisk that vulnerable waif off her delicate feet and carry her away on his white horse, how tempting to rescue her from unnamed perils, and especially from her own demons.
The ongoing public conversation about the future of American Judaism is embodied in a small library of recent books, many of which have been considered here. None of them, however, offers quite the same potent brew of courage, clarity, passion and expertise as Shaul Magid’s “American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society” (Indiana University Press, $40), a scholarly but also visionary book about what it means to be a Jew in America today.
Francesca Segal’s debut novel, “The Innocents,” won the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in fiction.
How does any man survive unspeakable trauma? After 70 years of controlled silence, Otto Dov Kulka, Czech-born Holocaust historian and Professor of History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has come forward to show us his roadmap in “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination” (Allen Lane/Penguin: $23.95), an intricate journey of muffled grief and remembering, translated by Ralph Mandel.
David Shields, author of the hotly debated “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto,” has bewitched us once again with his innovative genre-bending meditation “How Literature Saved My Life” (Knopf, $29.95).
I met Lillian Faderman last Saturday when we both appeared on a panel titled “Holocaust Lives” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. To be sure, the Holocaust figures crucially in her new memoir, “My Mother’s Wars” (Beacon Press, $25.95), but her book is more than a testimony of the Holocaust — it is a love story, a family memoir and, above all, an American tale.
The ups and downs of everyday life, the many dramatic struggles woven into the fabric of life, provide writers—this group of shameless voyeurs and hoarders of stories—with invaluable ideas for our novels.
Among the many ways the Jewish people have sought to honor the Six Million, perhaps none is so life-affirming as the revival of interest in Yiddish, the mother tongue of the vast majority of the men, women and children murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
With “Faith Unravels: A Rabbi’s Struggle With Grief and God,” Rabbi Daniel Greyber, former executive director of Camp Ramah in California, has written a memoir that explores the unique grieving process of a clergyman.
The argument over Israel’s presence in the territories beyond the Green Line has recently come to focus almost exclusively on security issues, but there is literally no aspect of life in Israel that is not affected by its settlement policies. Indeed, the Jewish identity of Israel, and even the prospects for its continued existence, are called into question.
The making of a memorable book requires the skills of an alchemist. Every author starts with the raw material of his or her own experience and expertise, but it can take a certain secret ingredient — passion, vision, inspiration — to transform the dross into gold.
Each time I officiate at a marriage, I perpetrate a small fraud. I read the ketubah, the marriage contract, in its original Aramaic and then I read the “translation."
The book proposal that landed "Girls" creator Lena Dunham a $3.7 million publishing deal was leaked online on Monday.
So, I am to write down the driest of facts, which is what my friends want me to do.
When Theodore Ross was just a boy, his mother took something away from him and never gave it back — his Jewish identity.
Have you heard of Witold Pilecki? A new book, “The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery” (Aquila Polonica: 2012), documents, in his own words, Pilecki’s remarkable exploits, and I can’t think of a better gift to give yourself for Chanukah.
Something disturbs me about the way Howard Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize winning author of “The Finkler Question,” navigates the rocky road of his fluctuating Jewish identity.
When I quickly first read the Wall Street Journal’s brief note that Herman Wouk had written a new novel, “The Lawgiver” (Simon & Schuster: $25.99), about making a film about the life of Moses, my synapses apparently misfired. It isn’t about the “life” of Moses, as I first misread it.
Jews have long been called the People of the Book, but the fact is that we elevate words and even letters to the realm of the sacred.
Nothing is quite so purely American as the comic book, which is why it will come as a surprise to some readers to discover that philosopher Harry Brod regards Superman and Spider-Man and many other comic-book characters to be uniquely Jewish artifacts that offer crucial insights into the Jewish experience in America.