2017-02-01 / Columns

Plenty of great novels to keep you entertained this winter


We know you love a good novel, and our shelves are filled with brand-new ones to keep you entertained and intrigued on cold winter nights. We gathered recently to discuss some of the latest fiction from our libraries.

MINNA: “The German Girl” by Armando Lucas Correa is the debut novel for the Cuban-born journalist and editor-in-chief of “People en Español.” The story of 11-year-old Hannah Rosenfeld, who leaves 1939 Berlin on board the St. Louis headed for Havana, Cuba, is interwoven with that of another 11-year-old, Anna Rosen, in present-day New York City, who receives a package from a relative in Cuba that eventually brings the characters together in modern-day Havana. Largely based on the true story of the tragic fate of the St. Louis (only two dozen of the over 900 passengers on board were permitted to disembark in Cuba), this novel eventually reveals the fate of Hannah’s best friend, Leo Martin, and her father, neither of whom were among those admitted to Cuba.

DEBBIE: In a similar vein, “Girl With No Name” by British author Diney Costeloe is a coming of-age story of Lisa Becker, who arrives in London via the Kindertransport at the age of 14. Not knowing any English, she is immediately adopted by a childless British couple. Her difficulties mount when London is bombed during the Blitz and she wakes up in a hospital bed not remembering her name or her past. Lisa finds herself transported again into the countryside of London and has to rely on her instincts. The novel is filled with twists and turns, and the kindness of strangers is an inspiration for this difficult period in history.

AMY: In a year that has featured many Holocaust novels, some authors are approaching the subject from unusual angles. Kim Brooks’ “The Houseguest” is set in Utica, NY, in the period just before we entered the war. Abe Auer and wife Irene agree to house a Polish immigrant, Ana Beidler. Ana was an actress; she is elegant and mysterious and her odd behavior puzzles her host family. Abe, himself an immigrant whose hard work has brought him some financial success, is tormented by the daily news reports of the increasing brutality against Europe’s Jews. When Ana disappears, Abe drops everything and embarks on a difficult quest to find her. This is the author’s debut novel and she does a fine job of evoking the fears and prejudices in the US as we inched closer to entering the conflict.

Jonathan Rabb’s “Among the Living” explores the aftermath of the Holocaust in a small-city U.S. setting. This is the story of Yitzhak Goldah, who, having survived 2 1/2 years in concentration camps, arrives in Savannah, GA, in 1947 to live with his only remaining relative, Abe Jessler, and Abe’s wife Pearl, prominent members of Savannah’s Jewish community. Yitzhak becomes romantically involved with widow Eva, but there’s a complication: Eva is part of the Reform community, while the Jesslers are Conservative Jews. This distinction is a serious one at that place and time. Yitzhak also encounters the prejudice and violence of the Jim Crow South. Then a woman from Yitzhak’s past arrives, causing upheaval.

MINNA: In “Moonglow,” the newest novel by Michael Chabon, author of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” the narrator is also named Michael Chabon. Loosely based on visits the author made to his grandfather’s deathbed in 1989, the novel blends family history and imagination to tell the story of the grandfather’s life from his early days in South Philadelphia to his career in aerospace to his romance with the narrator’s grandmother, a French Holocaust survivor. Touching on themes of memory, secrets, and the intersection of fiction and memoir, “Moonglow” (the name of a Benny Goodman song) is on numerous “Ten Best” lists for the past year.

DEBBIE: In another contemporary story, Cathleen Schine knows how to write a rich family saga with “They May Not Mean to But They Do.” A Manhattan Jewish family, the Bergmans, are doing just fine until Joy and Aaron start declining from advanced age. In particular, Aaron is stricken with illness while his dementia worsens by the day. Children Molly and Daniel are know-it-alls who think they have the answers to their parents’ needs. Joy is the key to holding the family together but just doesn’t have the guts to voice her true opinions. If the topic of aging scares you, it shouldn’t: The story’s characters are so realistic and its subject so close to home that reading this book will be easy to digest, especially with its humor.

For more information, contact us: Debbie Drachman at the Katz JCC (ddrachman@jfedsnj.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). s

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