As I sit at my computer, so-called normal times seem so distant.The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way we act, where we go, even how we eat. We hope that soon we will return to a semblance of normal. If not, books may bring us entertainment, escape and solace, as well as, challenge.
While the synagogue library itself with all its treasures may not be accessible, this is the time to investigate ebooks borrowed from the public library, from an online bookseller. or a local bookstore. Brick and mortar bookstores also are doing their best to serve their customers with curbside or home delivery service.
Here are some recent books of Jewish interest that I recommend for reading anytime. Many are somber but all have moments of joy.
Barenbaum, A Bend in the Stars. Set in 1914 Russia, this historical thriller about physics and Russian Jews is also a romantic adventure story of chasing down a lover .This book will appeal to readers of The Nightingale and All The Light We Cannot See.
Carroll, The Cloister. This novel weaves two stories together: the fictional relationship between conflicted Catholic priest Michael Cavanaugh and Holocaust survivor Rachel Vedette with the famous love story of Heloise and Peter Abelard. Lots of local color and details flesh out the characters in this novel that explores history, prejudice and love.
Correa, A Daughter’s Tale. Amanda Sternberg flees Berlin with her daughters after Nazis burn down the family’s bookstore and her husband disappears. The next years are fraught with tension, loss and fear as the family is separated and tries to survive. A box of letters from the past brings it all back to Amanda. Based on a true story. (Also The German Girl)
Hertmans, The Convert. Vigdis Adelais is a well-born Christian girl in 1088 Normandy, France. She falls in love with David Todros, the scion of a respected Jewish rabbinical family. Then the adventure-often filled with danger and tragedy- begins. Beautifully written, filled with history and emotion and with a tie in to books about the Cairo Genizah such as The Last Watchman of Old Cairo.
Hochschild, Rebel Cinderella. The life of Rose Stokes Pastor reads like a true rags to riches to rags saga. A poor immigrant who made cigars, Rose became a society wife in a romantic love story which rivaled anything fiction could describe. However, her passion for activism eventually soured the marriage to her wealthy socialite husband. But for a few shining moments, this Jewish woman made a huge splash in early 20th century America.
Hoffman, The World That We Knew. Set in wartime Europe, this novel combines adventure, myth, history, love and magic into a compelling read that should attract readers of historical fiction. It should appeal to those who liked The Golem and the Jinni.
McCann, Apeirogon. This highly touted novel by a National Book Award author tells the complex story of an unlikely friendship between Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin whose lives are united when tragedy strikes both of their families.
Morris, Tattooist of Auschwitz. This novel is loosely based on the experiences of Lale Sokolov who spent almost three years in Auschwitz-Birkenau serving as part of the team that inked the tattoos on prisoners. Despite the horrors related, this is ultimately a book of hope and the power of love. ( Also Cilka’s Journey)
Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings. Rosa and her young daughter Shira must flee their town after the Nazis arrive. They find shelter in the barn of a sympathetic farmer. Shira invents a yellow bird that substitutes for the music that she wishes to make. Rosa eventually must make a difficult choice to save her daughter’s life and is separated from her. However, the emotional bond between them transcends time and place and is eventually renewed. Or is it? Beautiful writing and a tense story.
Weiner, Mrs. Everything. This episodic novel of two sisters, Jo and Bethie Kaufman, traces the ups and downs of growing up, changing cultural scene, historical events of the last seventy years in American society. But it is also funny and highly readable and will appeal to many readers. Loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. A winner.