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.
The madness always calls him back. You only have to glance at Elie Wiesel’s tortured face to know that he is always at risk. Even after the countless novels and the Nobel Peace Prize.
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.
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."
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.
Nothing says more about the unsettled state of American publishing than the fact that Jonathan Adler is the only author who will be presenting a book event at the Skirball Cultural Center during Jewish Book Month.
The single most hotly debated (and often heartbreaking) issue of Jewish identity is whether and to what extent we carry our Jewishness in our blood.
Yoram Hazony opens his new book, “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture” (Cambridge University Press: $24.99), with a challenging question: “Is there something crucial missing in our understanding of what the Hebrew Bible is all about?”
It’s hard to imagine anyone else’s reality. We pretend we do in order not to feel so helpless. But usually, we’re just guessing or faking it. Thus, it is incredibly rare and spectacular to find an author who possesses the literary talent to transport us so completely and persuasively to an utterly foreign realm.
Michael Chabon, the literary wunderkind, won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” which conjured up the American comic book industry in the glory days of the 1930s and 1940s.
Marni Davis had me with the title of her book, “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition” (New York University Press: $32). But the book itself, an academic monograph that is also highly readable, is an eye-opener.
Among the most-played songs in my iTunes library are four immortal (and often-covered) compositions by Leonard Cohen: “Sisters of Mercy,” “Bird on a Wire,” “Hallelujah” and, of course, “Suzanne.” Significantly, “Hallejujah” is a meditation on the “sweet singer of Israel,” King David, although Cohen himself is, famously, a Buddhist monk and, not so famously, a former student of Scientology with a “Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release” to show for it.
Perhaps nobody who reads book reviews in The Jewish Journal would ever ask herself or himself, “Am I a Jew?” Perhaps the act of reading The Jewish Journal answers the question. After all, would somebody unsure of her or his Judaism seek out such a publication? On the other hand, maybe seekers are attracted to The Jewish Journal looking for clues, if not definitive answers.
Those parents and teachers looking for a new twist on the story of Jonah (read yearly on Yom Kippur) need look no more. This latest version from children’s author Tilda Balsley sticks to the biblical text but is appropriate for very young children. The clever rhymes demand to be read out loud, such as after Jonah suggests that the frightened fisherman throw him into the sea: “Immediately, the weather cleared. / But things were worse than Jonah feared / ‘I wish I hadn’t volunteered.’ ” The vibrant, bold illustrations are truly stunning, and the artist’s interpretation of a huge, bright orange fish is probably more accurate than the usual depictions of whales. “A giant fish swam to his side / And stared at him all google-eyed. / Its mouth, humongous, opened wide / and, CHOMP! / He found himself inside.” Entertaining fun with a biblical message of forgiveness that is surely important to remember during the High Holy Days.
Paul Auster is best known and often praised for his postmodernist novels and short stories, including "The New York Trilogy" and "Sunset Park," but his lifetime of literary achievement actually began with a 1982 memoir, "The Invention of Solitude," his first published work under his own name.
A cantata is a musical composition typically composed of solos, duets, and other forms for voice, sung with instrumental accompaniment. Thus framed, the title of Jeffrey Lewis's latest novel, "Berlin Cantata" (Haus, $15, ISBN 978-1-907822-43-8), aligns nicely with the book’s structure, since nearly every chapter is presented as a monologue voiced by one of 13 characters.
Meyer Harris Cohen was born in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in imperial Russia, immigrated with his family to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and reached Los Angeles' Jewish point of entry in Boyle Heights in 1915. Up to this point, the spare details of his biography are unremarkable. But Meyer was later nicknamed "Mickey," and his name still echoes with the larger-than-life reputation he acquired on the mean streets of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s.
"If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world,” Albert Einstein quipped in 1922. “Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”
A pervasive Jewish mythology has always idealized the mother-son relationship. But Proust knew better. Shortly after his mother’s death, he wrote an article in Le Figaro about a man who bludgeoned his mother to death and attempted to speculate what might have ignited this man’s descent into madness. Proust discussed the crippling dependence and blurred poisonous boundaries that sometimes overtake mothers and sons.
Joshua Henkin, author of “The World Without You” (Pantheon Books, $25.95), has frequently said in interviews that he first fell head over heels in love with reading and then convinced himself he could become a writer because he intuitively sensed what was missing in other people’s fiction.
“Amazons: A Love Story” (University of Missouri Press: $24.95) is a highly unusual, poignant coming-of-age saga by a half-Jewish writer nearly off the scale in candor and braininess. Her name is E.J. (Ellen) Levy. My bet is that any lover of words who takes the time to read her prose will never forget that name.
The biblical reference in the title of Stephen Prothero’s “The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation” (HarperOne: $29.99) is purely metaphorical.
Ever since Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” won a Pulitzer Prize, no apologies need to be made for the aspirations of comic book artists to enter the realm of literature. R. Crumb, for example, recently rendered nothing less exalted than the Book of Genesis as a graphic novel. And Marjane Satrapi applied the same techniques to a best-selling work of memoir in “Persepolis.”
"What Irving Berlin did for the modern musical theatre," Alan Lerner once quipped, "was to make it possible."
Journalist and filmmaker Ruth Broyde Sharone is an activist and a visionary in what she calls “interfaith engagement,” but she is also a realist, which makes her something of a rarity among those Jews who still hold out hope for rapprochement between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.
Not long ago, I reviewed Peter Longerich's benchmark biography of Heinrich Himmler in these pages -- a work of meticulous and compelling scholarship about the master architect of the Final Solution, a mostly ordinary human being whose claim on history is that he succeeded in putting Hitler's apocalyptic fantasies about mass murder into operation on an industrial scale.
Was Christopher Columbus Jewish? And did he bury a treasure that, if discovered, would shake the political and cultural landscape of the Jewish state? This is the intriguing premise of the suspenseful and extensively researched novel, “The Columbus Affair” (Ballantine Books: $27), by New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry.
Anne Frank, the single most famous name among the six million victims of the Shoah, entered the realm of history and literature with the posthumous publication of her own diary and has been used — and, some would argue, abused — by others who have depicted her on the stage and screen, in novels and comic books. So much so that the flesh-and-blood Anne Frank has wholly disappeared under the accretion of myth and magical thinking.
Only a precious remnant of Holocaust survivors is alive today, and many of them were just children when they went into hiding or ended up behind barbed wire.
A.J. Jacobs waits until the fifth page of his newest book, “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection” (Simon & Schuster: $26), to mention his Jewish heritage. He repeats a line from a previous book of his: “I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian. Not very.”
Yesterday at the ophthalmologist I realized my eye doctor was looking deep into my eyes but couldn’t see me; not at all. My husband compulsively takes the same photograph over and over again unaware that no picture looks different from any other.
Among the many Roths who figure importantly in Jewish letters — Henry, Cecil and Philip are only the most famous — perhaps the least celebrated is Joseph Roth. As a novelist (“The Radetzky March”) and an essayist (“The Wandering Jews”), but even more crucially as a foreign correspondent for German newspapers during the 1920s and early 1930s, Roth was an eyewitness to the great events of the 20th century.
The victims of the Holocaust are most often recalled at their moments of agony and death. But it is also our duty to recall the richness of their lives before Europe fell under the shadow of Nazi Germany. What Hitler sought to destroy, after all, was not merely 6 million human lives but also the whole vibrant culture that they created and sustained.
Over the many years I've spent bumping around the book business, I have introduced my wife, Ann, to a great many literary lions and lionesses, but nothing quite compares to the evening when we first met Dora Levy Mossanen at a book-signing for John Rechy at Dutton’s in Brentwood.
Thirteen years ago, Nathan Englander’s debut story collection, “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,” brought its then twenty-something author his initial fame. Eight years later came the publication of a first novel, “The Ministry of Special Cases.”
“A Sweet Passover” by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by David Slonim (Abrams: $16.95).
An epidemic that started among the forest-dwelling Jews — “genetic in nature … a problem only for certain people” — is spreading to other communities and threatening to impose an ominous silence upon the world. The culprit is the toxic language of children. This is the ingenious premise of “The Flame Alphabet,” a novel By Ben Marcus (Knopf. $25.95).
Investigative journalists do not tend to make good storytellers. After all, they are trained to write in the taut prose of a daily newspaper, and they are constrained by the discipline of fact-checking. As a result, sometimes they cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to a charming and cherished fiction that fixes itself in a family’s collective memory.
Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple, Sony Bono, George Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all entertainers who launched their political careers in California, and they are all Republicans. Indeed, aside from Al Franken, no prominent Democratic officeholder on the scene today started out in the entertainment industry.
"Where are you?" This is the first question in the Torah. Asked by God, directed to Adam, this foundational question — ayecha in Hebrew — echoes as more than mere inquiry about physical location. Ayecha is a piercing question about character: “What matters to you?” “What do you stand for?” “What do you do about what you see?”
Around our house, Irvin D. Yalom is a familiar name, and for more than one reason.
Imagine a private conversation - at moments, an intimate conversation - between two public intellectuals whose careers have been devoted to understanding the wider world in which we find ourselves. One is facing imminent death, and the other is recording the conversation in a valiant effort to preserve the dying man’s final thoughts.
“On 13 October 1991 my grandparents killed themselves.” So begins Johanna Adorján’s stunning book, “An Exclusive Love: A Memoir” (W.W. Norton, $14.95; trans. Anthea Bell). It’s a slim volume, appearing even less assuming in its new paperback edition. But it is extraordinary, both for the story it tells and for the quality of its writing.
Amy Ephron’s captivating new book, “Loose Diamonds … and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way” (William Morrow, $19.99), is a deliciously honest account of Ephron’s life experiences, wonderful vignettes that, to borrow her own words...
Jerusalem is always in the headlines, or so it seems, but the same city on a hill has commanded the attention of the Western world without interruption since biblical antiquity.
Those who follow the teachings of religion by presuming the innate goodness of fellow human beings will quite likely find the book “Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us,” by Mary Ellen O’Toole and Alisa Bowman (Hudson Street Press, $25.95) shocking.
No book review I’ve written for The Jewish Journal has prompted as much feedback as the one I wrote about “A New Voice for Israel” by Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of J Street. His argument that Israel must make uncomfortable compromises and take dire risks in order to secure peace with the Palestinian Arabs is clearly unsettling to a great many Jews, both in Israel and America.