2017-06-07 / Columns

These books would make great gifts for dads and grads


June is a month for Dads and grads. We met recently to discuss new books in our libraries— some fiction, some non-fiction—that would also make great gifts for the special people in your life.

AMY: Stories of survival in the darkest times are inspiring. Georgia Hunter’s “We Were the Lucky Ones” is a novel based on the life of her grandfather and other members of his family. Sol and Nechuma Kurc are a wealthy couple with five adult children living in Radom, Poland, in 1939. When war arrives, the family is scattered. Eldest Genek and his wife, along with son Jakob and his bride Bella, and youngest sibling Halina and new husband Adam all end up in Soviet-occupied Lvov, Poland. Adam is a resistance fighter who forges papers for his siblings. Meanwhile, son Mila and his wife have been moved into a ghetto. Addy, the middle son, is an engineer in France; he is the character based on the author’s real-life grandfather. Addy is conscripted into a Polish branch of the French army. When Germany invades France and the army is disbanded, he manages to get to Brazil on one of the last ships leaving Europe. Though the odds were against them, the Kurc family’s survival is quite a story.

MINNA: The new book, “Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War” by Ron Kaplan is not a complete biography of the baseball Hall-of-Famer, but a recounting of the events taking place in Europe leading up to WWII contrasted with Hammerin’ Hank’s stellar year in the game. Greenberg was on track in 1938 to overtake Babe Ruth’s home run record, a feat many anti-Semites inside and outside of baseball did not want to happen. The book tracks events chronologically from Spring Training through the end of the season, while also recounting how Hitler was changing Europe forever.

AMY: Having a nine-yearold narrator in a book for adults might not work in some writers’ hands, but award-winning Joseph Kertes manages it beautifully in his new novel, “The Afterlife of Stars.” Drawing on his own experience—his family fled Hungary when he was four years old—Kertes tells the story of Robert Beck, who witnesses the momentous events of 1956 in that country. Young Robert sees, and describes, eight lampposts, from each of which hangs a Hungarian soldier. This scene will haunt the child even as he and his 13-year-old brother Attila share adventures. Their family plans to travel through Austria and France, with Canada their ultimate goal. The boys learn that their cousin Paul Beck was Raoul Wallenberg’s right-hand man in Budapest, and helped their family survive. Paul disappeared mysteriously, just as Wallenberg did, and Attila now is determined to find out what happened to this cousin.

MINNA: Another novel, this one set in contemporary Israel, is “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” by David Grossman, originally written in Hebrew. Short-listed for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, the entire narrative takes place as we witness standup comedian Dov Greenstein during one long performance in Netanya. Covering his health, childhood, and relationships with his own children, he drags his sometimes unwilling audience on a journey through his life. Narrated by a childhood friend of the comedian’s invited to watch the performance, this is not a comic novel, but rather a novel about a comic.

AMY: Moving back to nonfiction, Bruce Feiler has written bestselling books and starred in popular TV programs. His new book is “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.” In an interview, Feiler opined that “Eve has been victim of the greatest character assassination the world has ever known,” and he presents her as a role model. Going back to the source, the text, Feiler stresses that the message of equality in the story has been overlooked. He notes that there is wisdom in the past, and that we need to preserve the kinds of timeless truth found in the Adam and Eve story. Feiler believes that a key lesson from this story is that “love is a story that we tell with another person. It’s co-creation and co-narration.”

MINNA: Also dealing with religious issues is “My Adventures with G-d” by Stephen Tobolowsky. Character actor Tobolowsky, recognizable for his roles on “The Goldbergs,” “The Mindy Project,” “Californication,” and “Glee,” has written a series of short stories that are very personal in nature, attempting to explore his relationship with Gd and the Jewish faith. Beginning with his Texas childhood and continuing through his escapades in Hollywood, the various vignettes make up a memoir focused on the role religious belief has played in his journey through life.

For more information, contact us: Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org) and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). 

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