2017-04-12 / Columns

With Passover preparations over, kick back with a new novel


Now that Passover Seders are over, it’s time to kick back and relax with a good novel. We gathered recently to discuss some new fiction from our libraries.

MINNA: Elinor Lipman, known for her contemporary romantic novels, has a new one this spring, “On Turpentine Lane.” The 32-year-old Jewish heroine, engaged and living again in her suburban Massachusetts hometown, buys a home and finds mysterious artifacts in her new attic. With her fiancé off finding himself and her parents now uncomfortably nearby, the aptly named Faith has to figure out whom to trust as she attempts to deal with her job, coworkers, family, and the house on Turpentine Lane. The author’s knack for dialogue makes this an engaging, light read.

DEBBIE: First-time English author Jennifer Ryan of “Chilbury Ladies’ Choir” has delivered a World War II novel that can be characterized as entertaining. With the men of Chilbury Village gone to fight, the lives of four women unfold as they deal with the struggles of war. The story is told through letters, journals, and diary entries. The lives of a widowed nurse, a midwife, a young Jewish refugee, and the town’s beauty all mingle in the choir, which gives them a place of camaraderie and strength. The births, deaths, and romances that ensue are intriguing and the relationships that grow are uplifting. Ryan’s characters evolve throughout the novel and they emerge as true heroes.

AMY: Sana Krasikov’s collection of short stories “One More Year” debuted to critical acclaim in 2008. At over 500 pages, her first novel, “The Patriots,” is quite a departure from the short form, as it takes the reader from 1934 to the present day. Florence Fein, an educated, idealistic young woman from Flatbush, has a brief affair with Sergey, a Russian on a trade mission to the U.S. In search of a life of commitment and meaning— and a wish to reunite with her lover—Florence leaves Brooklyn and moves to the Soviet Union. The novel follows three generations of her family: Florence, who spends time in the gulag; her son Julian, who grows up in state orphanages; and her grandson Lenny, a venture capitalist who enjoys the fast life in Moscow. The author, who was born in Ukraine, was named a “5 Under 35” honoree by the National Book Foundation, and this richly detailed saga demonstrates her considerable talent.

MINNA: The latest work from acclaimed Israeli author Aharon Appelfeld, “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping,” draws heavily from the author’s own life story. Like his title character, the author was born in the Ukraine, named Erwin by his parents, survived the Holocaust, then spent time in Italy before arriving in pre-state Israel to a new life with a new name—Aharon. Erwin sleeps heavily during his journey to his new life, dreaming of his parents and the life he left behind. Trained to be a soldier and to speak Hebrew, the renamed Aharon is severely wounded and again spends vast amounts of time sleeping and dreaming. While recovering from his injuries, he practices his Hebrew and hopes for a career as a writer in his new language. The novel is a metaphor for the difficult transition that survivors endured to rebuild their lives.

DEBBIE: “Waking Lions,” by award-winning Israeli screenplay writer and novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, is a new must-read that is being discussed in many literary circles. The novel centers around Dr. Eitan Green, an Israeli surgeon who, after a long workday, drives home one night on a deserted road. When he takes his eyes off the road for a split second, he hits an African migrant and discovers, after exiting his car, that the victim is dead. He retreats back to his car and drives away. The next day, a visitor comes to his door claiming she knows what he did. What follows is not what you would expect. This book tackles weighty issues of morality and guilt with a fast-moving plot.

AMY: Joseph Kertes, author of the new novel “The Afterlife of Stars,” escaped from Hungary with his family after the revolution of 1956. Drawing on his first-hand knowledge, he brings us a story of two Jewish brothers: Attila Beck, who is 13, and his brother, Robert, the narrator, who is 9. [This book is a sequel to Kertes’ “Gratitude,” published in 2009, which won the National Jewish Book Award, but readers need not be familiar with “Gratitude” to enjoy this new novel.] Attila’s curiosity seems endless, but when the boys want to know more about their family’s past, their parents avoid sharing information. The secretiveness revolves around two people: A relative named Paul Beck, and a family friend… Raoul Wallenberg.

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

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