From the Moment Bookshelf: Books in Brief

By | Mar 07, 2013
Arts & Culture, Culture, Fiction

Books in Brief: Senior editor Eileen Lavine reviews new and forthcoming titles 

 A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski (translated from the Polish) is an unusual crime story starring a Warsaw prosecutor, Teodor Szacki, who has been exiled to the historic city of Sandomierz where he confronts an investigation into a brutal murder where the victim’s body has been drained of blood.  Each chapter has an introduction in typewriter type, as though presenting a historical record, detailing events of the day starting with its Jewish relevance. The victim is discovered by a private genealogical researcher in the State Archive, located in an 18th century synagogue,  who describes the difficulty in his business of coming across Jewish ancestors. This theme carries through when the legend of Jewish ritual murder leads to anti-Semitic attacks in the community. During the investigation, Szacki confronts the murder just after the war of a Jewish doctor in the town, and he has to handle a group of young neo-Nazis looking for trouble.  The writing is complex and dense, filled with Szacki’s thoughts and worries as he recalls a veteran officer’s warning that everybody tells lies – and he suddenly arrives at the convoluted solution.

Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde by Rebecca Dana is the irreverent memoir of a non-practicing Jewess from Pittsburgh and Cosmo, the Russian immigrant with whom she shares a Brooklyn apartment.  He had been adopted by the Crown Heights Lubavitcher community and sent to rabbinical school. She was a fashion reporter covering shows and interviewing celebrities. He had left the rabbinate and was waiting for his green card while he worked in a local copy shop. But at least he was still doing  jujitsu.  Their strictly asexual encounters and hilarious conversations make up the bulk of the book, including visits to Jewish families in Crown Heights for Sabbath dinners, where Rebecca encounters ultra-frum wives surrounded by numerous children and starts her search for meaning to her life.  At the end of this semi-memoir, she concludes that although she is no longer blonde and still has the same job, she has become part of a “sprawling community of meaning” and is in love and is happy.  Fast and funny, and she still  has a whole life to live.

 The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is what a group of six teenagers who meet at an arts summer camp call themselves and what they think of themselves: smart, creative, special. The book tracks them down as adults and revolves around their separate and joint encounters.  Ash and Ethan end up married and wealthy, although Ethan secretly cherishes Jules, the would-be actress turned therapist who marries outside the group. The secret of Ash’s runaway brother, another member of the camp group,  is a continuing thread as the book follows all their lives, loves, interrelationships and on-again, off-again friendships.  Wolitzer is known for her novels with a twist, relating problems of ambitious professional women, unhappy homemakers, odd balls and creative types, and she sets the New York scene here with incision and imagination. (April 9)


  Tomorrow There Will be Apricots by Jessica Soffer tells a poignant story of love, acceptance and memory in the unusual pairing of an Iraqi Jewish widow haunted by the daughter she had given away four decades before and a young teen-age girl who yearns to bring satisfaction to her mother by learning to make a dish she seemed to yearn for. The two meet improbably and feed off of each other’s hopes and desires, as well as a over a mouth-watering menu of Iraqi culinary specialties.  Beautifully written with a deep understanding of both woman and girl, the book is a first novel for Jessica Soffer, daughter of an Iraqi Jewish artist, whose imagination and versatility bode well for her future. (April 16)


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