In Spring a reader's fancy turns to thoughts of ... books.
Poet, translator and publisher Peter Cole is among the 24 recipients of the 2007 MacArthur Foundation fellowships, or genius awards, as they are popularly known. The no-strings-attached award, honoring creativity, includes a $500,000 stipend that is paid quarterly over five years.
Self-help books are essential tools.
"Aliya: Three Generations of American-Jewish Immigration to Israel" by Liel Leibovitz.
>"Blood Relation" is Eric Konigsberg's account of his uncle's life, gleaned from 10 visits to the Auburn facility over three years, interviews with family members as well as the families of Harold's victims. It also includes the author's examination of extensive court testimony and FBI records. More than a biography in crime, this powerful book is a nuanced view of Harold in the context of his family, and the author's own reflections on coming to know and attempting to understand his uncle.
Polish journalist Hanna Krall's "The Woman From Hamburg: And Other True Stories" (Other Press, $19) is based on interviews she did that in some way involved the Holocaust. But when one of the 12 stories was recently featured in The New Yorker's fiction issue, an accompanying note explained that her writing is indeed factual.
The 60-something Krall was a reporter for Polityka from 1957 to 1981 when martial law was imposed and her publications were banned. Her award-winning books have been translated into 15 languages, (the English version is by Madeline G. Levine). Yet the boundary between fact and fiction can seem blurred in her work, for Krall writes in an unadorned but intimate style, moving in fractured time, creating a rhythm that might resemble contemporary fiction.
Lev Nussimbaum lived as though life were theater, inventing an identity, dressing the part, shifting scenes, seeking audiences everywhere. He thought he could keep rewriting the ending, believed he could talk his way out of anything including his Jewish past, but ultimately he could not.
Walking near my parents' home in Florida -- where I'm writing this column -- I noticed a hat with World War II insignias, much like the one my father sometimes wears, in the back window of a parked car. I'd just finished reading "GI JEWS: How World War II Changed a Generation" by Deborah Dash Moore, so the image of the hat really struck me, and I imagined that most men on this street must own similar versions.
Walk into Zabar's and it's easy to spot 76-year old Gittel "Gabby" Zuckerman. She's feisty and funny, and her shrinking height and failing health don't diminish her power. Nor do the memories of the family she lost in the Holocaust ever leave her.
A brother announces to his sister that another sister has vanished, as "The First Desire" (Pantheon) opens. Nancy Reisman's highly-praised novel is unusual in many ways, from its premise to the quality of writing to its setting. She follows the lives of the Cohen family, from the Depression to the years following World War II, not on the Lower East Side or in Brooklyn, but in a stately neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y.
Sentence by sentence, this is an exquisite story of family. Reisman writes with assuredness and tenderness, as the story unfolds serially from five perspectives: three of the four Cohen sisters, the brother and their father's mistress.
It was in Poland's primeval forests, where bison roamed amidst labyrinths of poplar and maple trees that Daniel Libeskind first began to understand concepts of land, space, shelter and natural resources, themes that would be the underpinnings of his career as an architect.
In his new book, "Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture" (Riverhead), the world-renowned architect who designed the master plan for the World Trade Center site, describes his early life in Poland, Israel and the Bronx, and he speaks with eloquence and passion about the ideas behind his "overtly expressive" work.
Tony Eprile opens up the complex terrain of a changing South Africa in "The Persistence of Memory."
This is an ambitious novel, a novel of many ideas. Eprile is a gifted storyteller who delves into the inner life and family, and also politics, social commentary and warfare. The literary thread that links these different kinds of stories -- whether accounts of sensual meals, embarrassing school episodes or brutal battles -- and propels the narrative is suggested by the title: the way that memory, the act of remembering, shapes life and history.
The three A's in "Natasha" are filled in by tiny stylized Matryoshka dolls, the traditional Russian stacking dolls, on the book jacket of David Bezmozgis' radiant debut (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $18).
In this collection of linked stories, the three figures at the center are a mother, father and son who leave Riga, Latvia, for Toronto, Canada. The stories are told from the point of view of the son, Mark Berman, who observes everything and helps interpret the New World for his parents.
I don't know how many Jewish psychics there are in Great Neck, N.Y., but Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is easy to spot in the lunchtime crowd at Bruce's, a restaurant and bakery in the heart of the Long Island town.
"The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage," edited by Loolwa Khazzoom (Seal Press, $16.95)
On the last night before her family would flee Libya in 1967, Gina Bublil Waldman recalls that she had to choose between taking her only warm sweater or a photo album with the words "Souvenir of Libya" on the cover. Its hand-painted image of a peaceful seascape was in absolute contrast to the political turbulence and danger her family faced. She packed the photos, remnants of a life she wouldn't know again.
Her essay is included in a compelling collection, "The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage," edited by Loolwa Khazzoom.
"Sort of Jewish","Jewish and something else" "might as well be Jewish" are some of the ways people describe their Jewish identity in Sylvia Barack Fishman's significant new book probing the religious character of mixed-marriage households, "Double or Nothing: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriage."
"Like peeling an onion," Rabbi Steven Greenberg said, about the process of coming out.
Some people like their Passover seders just as they remember them: the same lines recited by the same relatives with the same emphasis, the same songs, jokes and foods, the same delicate glassware that picks up the light in a certain way, reflecting past and present.
Three words, among the last uttered by journalist Daniel Pearl before his murder two years ago this month (on Feb. 21, the public learned of the murder), have become a nucleus for thoughtfulness and creativity. "I Am Jewish," edited by his parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl (Jewish Lights), is a collection of brief essays by almost 150 noted contributors who tease out meaning from these words and compose personal statements of Jewish identity.
The Israel that Donna Rosenthal depicts in her new book, "The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land" (Free Press) can sound like one very crowded apartment building, filled with interesting, passionate people from many backgrounds, often shouting in the hallways, sitting on the stoop, offering advice out their windows, sharing tragedies. But the tenants don't know much about those neighbors who aren't like them.
In 1981, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a 150-page book, published with little fanfare, that changed the lives of the more than 4 million people who read it and made its title, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," part of the vernacular.
The hiding places in the title of Daniel Asa Rose's new memoir refer to the haylofts and cellars where his relatives hid from the Nazis during the war years, and also to the suburban tool sheds and coat closets where the author crawled into during his childhood in a mostly gentile Connecticut town. The title also alludes to the author's efforts to avoid his Judaism. Traveling to Europe to find his family's hiding places in Belgium and France with his two young sons, Rose comes to see that hiding places are "not merely dark holes of concealment" but also "places of revelation." The trip leads him to understand the links between present and past, his own connections to his family's past and to the Jewish future.
Yvette Melanson is a woman who might say the Sh'ma before going to sleep, and in the morning light whisper the Navajo prayer, "May I walk happily and lightly on the earth." Both are deeply felt, authentic expressions of her soul. As she explains, "I know that I'm Jewish. I feel Jewish. I've been raised Jewish. I'm also Navajo."