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  • Growing up Jewish in post-WWII Germany

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 9, 2014 | 4:12 pm

    Yascha Mounk’s “Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) starts on an ironic note and stays there. Two decades after the end of World War II, when the latest wave of official anti-Semitism swept over Communist-ruled Poland in...

  • Archaeology, truth, Jerusalem

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    January 3, 2014 | 2:06 pm

    Archaeology is more than a science when it comes to Jerusalem, a place where the turn of the spade may reveal an artifact that has political and theological overtones. Katharina Galor and Hanswulf Bloedhorn, authors of “The Archeology of Jerusalem: From the Origins to the Ottomans”...

  • Jews and Muslims, their common threads

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 19, 2013 | 5:07 pm

    The encounter between Jews and Muslims, which began during the lifetime of Mohammed, has never been without tensions and conflicts, perhaps never more so than today.  “A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day” (Princeton University Press, $75),...

  • Three different ‘Family’ ways

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 12, 2013 | 1:25 pm

    Word of mouth is the real maker of best sellers in the publishing world, and I can think of few books with quite as much buzz as David Laskin’s remarkable family chronicle, “The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” (Viking, $32).

    Laskin tells a story —...

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  • Warsaw’s other uprising

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    December 4, 2013 | 6:34 pm

    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...

  • Eight books to light your Chanukah season

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 27, 2013 | 12:12 pm

    The early arrival of Chanukah coincides with Jewish Book Month, which suggests a convenient shopping list for gift-giving. Here are eight books I am planning to give this year to the book lovers among my family, friends and colleagues. Some of these books already have been reviewed...

  • Favorite childrens’ books old and new

    November 21, 2013 | 4:14 pm

    Remember “The Chanukkah Guest” by Eric Kimmel? Those 20-somethings who consider their favorite Chanukah stories from childhood would no doubt recall the tale of the 97-year-old woman who “did not see or hear as well as she used to, but she still made the best potato latkes in the...

  • Financial planning for a move to Israel

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    November 21, 2013 | 2:44 pm

    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. But the information and insights in “A Financial Guide...

  • 2 authors, 2 takes on Jewish humor and theology

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 30, 2013 | 12:53 pm

    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...

  • Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund

    October 29, 2013 | 11:33 am

    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...

  • The art of feeling Sholem Aleichem’s unforgettable legacy

    October 22, 2013 | 1:59 pm

    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...

  • Q&A with Alan Dershowitz

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 15, 2013 | 3:55 pm

    No one can accuse the ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz of understatement, but the subtitle of his new autobiography, “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law” (Crown, $28), is a bit misleading. It’s true that Dershowitz’s claim to fame began with his work on a long list of famous cases, but...

  • Hollywood and Hitler: A book review

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 9, 2013 | 3:20 pm

    It’s rare that a book garners as much pre-publication publicity as has Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler” (Belknap Press, $26.95). Even more unusual, however, is the backlash that greeted the book now that it is actually available to read.

    “Perhaps I’m...

  • ‘Fiddler’ makes the world richer

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    October 3, 2013 | 4:42 pm

    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,...

  • Amos Oz: Alone among friends

    September 26, 2013 | 1:52 pm

    I believe Amos Oz desperately wanted to become a better man than his father was.  It feels as if he has spent his lifetime trying to nurture inside himself an empathy that he believed his father lacked.  The famous, 73-year-old Israeli author of more than 30 books, including his...

  • The consequences of Israel's contradictory dreams

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 24, 2013 | 4:27 pm

    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...

  • The Jewish Jane Austen

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 18, 2013 | 12:22 pm

    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...

  • Kafka — demystifying the man behind the “Kafkaesque” mystique

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 12, 2013 | 12:12 pm

    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...

  • Politics, poetry & pop: An Autumn of literary options

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 6, 2013 | 2:47 pm

    This fall’s book season brings forth an unusually rich and provocative crop of new works by famous and revered authors, some for children and some for adults, some from abroad, but many from right here in Southern California.

    Among the brightest literary lights in Los Angeles is...

  • Power of Yizkor

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    September 3, 2013 | 12:40 pm

    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...

  • The mystery of the missing husband

    August 28, 2013 | 5:28 pm

    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...

  • Holiday reading round-up for kids

    August 22, 2013 | 10:01 am

    The good news for Jewish children’s books this year is the occasion of the 20th anniversary of beloved picture book character Sammy Spider. There is even a colorful plush toy available on the publisher’s Web site (karben.com). Sammy’s creator, the prolific L.A.-based children’s...

  • ‘Serenade’: Love and liberation

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 21, 2013 | 1:12 pm

    One of the bitter ironies of history is that Hitler and the Nazis loved music but it did nothing to soothe the savage breast of Nazi Germany. A second irony is that the high culture of Western Europe, including its heritage of classical music, featured the compositions and...

  • ‘Resistance’ was not futile

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 14, 2013 | 2:42 pm

    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...

  • Jesus, the Jew

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 7, 2013 | 10:03 am

    Reza Aslan, an author and scholar of religion, has established himself as a familiar face and voice on American television, the go-to guy for commentary on the Islamic world, and he embodies all the right stuff: youthful good looks, depth of knowledge and the kind of media savvy...

  • The importance of ‘Paper’

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    August 2, 2013 | 10:27 am

    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...

  • A tale of a Golem, a Jinni, of love and of humanity

    July 31, 2013 | 4:45 pm

    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...

  • ‘Freud’s Mistress’: A psychiatric affair

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 24, 2013 | 1:50 pm

    Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman entered the literary scene in 2007 with a debut novel titled “Literacy and Longing in L.A.,” a lively, offbeat chronicle of a contemporary woman in crisis that was described by Booklist as “book lust meets chick lit.” Love of books played as...

  • FDR: Hero or enemy of the Jews?

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 18, 2013 | 2:06 pm

    When I resolved to enter into the public conversation about “FDR and the Jews” by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman (Belknap Press, $29.95), a much-talked-about book, I was reminded of the disenchantment that some Democrats felt toward President Obama when he abandoned the...

  • Jews and dogs, unleashed

    By Jonathan Kirsch

    July 8, 2013 | 9:50 am

    “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...

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