2017-11-08 / Columns

Still an opportunity to hear great fiction authors at the Festival


The Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books, and Culture of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill has been going strong all week. Last month we looked at non- fiction by Festival speakers. This month we turn our attention to new fiction by Festival speakers, some of whom already spoke and some are yet to come. Be sure to buy your tickets, so you can enjoy hearing the authors still on tap.

AMY: Alice Hoffman, who spoke on Nov. 7, has a large, loyal following, and it’s no wonder that she does. “The Marriage of Opposites,” “The Museum of Extraordinary Things,” and of course, “The Dovekeepers” are long-remembered stories that captivate readers. Her “Practical Magic” (2003) featured the Owens Sisters—elderly aunts dabbling in the occult, blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. Now she’s written “Rules of Magic,” a prequel to that beloved novel, following the Owens children as they are growing up in 1960s New York City.

MINNA: There are three main characters in Nicole Krauss’ new novel, “Forest Dark”—Jules Epstein, a New York philanthropist who travels to Israel; the auspiciously named Nicole, a writer from Brooklyn whose biographical details echo those of the author; and the Tel Aviv Hilton, where the other characters both stay. The two human characters alternate chapters, never meeting as they both use their trips to Israel to find new starts for themselves. Krauss will speak on Sunday, Nov. 12, 1:30 p.m.

AMY: Pam Jenoff is a familiar local author with many novels to her credit. Her newest is “The Orphan’s Tale,” a World War II-era story in which Noa, a Dutch girl, rescues a Jewish infant. She finds refuge in a traveling circus, where Astrid, a Jewish trapeze artist, is assigned the task of training Noa to be an aerialist. The terror of risking their lives on the trapeze is mirrored in the terror of daily existence for the circus as the Nazis gain power. Jenoff spoke on Monday, Nov. 6.

MINNA: World War II is also part of the story in “The Fortunate Ones” by Ellen Umansky. Here, a fictional painting by the very real Chaim Soutine, a Russian-French Jewish artist, connects the two main characters. Rose leaves her home, and the painting, behind when she boards the Kindertransport from Vienna to England in 1939. Lizzie, a Californian whose father purchases the painting, meets the elderly Rose as they try to track down the painting stolen from Lizzie’s L.A. home when Lizzie was a teenager.

AMY: Those with a taste for historical fiction were really in for a treat. Mileva Maric was Albert Einstein’s first wife. A brilliant girl with a congenital hip defect, Mileva was encouraged to pursue her education by her father, who doubted her ability to ever find a husband. In Marie Benedict’s “The Other Einstein,” we learn about Mileva’s talent for mathematics and physics; she was among the few women in the late 1890s admitted to a prestigious Swiss program, where she met Einstein, who wooed her. Pregnant with their child, she abandoned her education while Albert tried in vain to secure a job. They eventually did marry, and Albert became an abusive, adulterous husband. Virtually written out of history, was she as much a genius as he? Benedict spoke earlier today (Nov. 8) along with Rachel Kadish, author of “The Weight of Ink.” I had the privilege of moderating the discussion.

MINNA: On a lighter note, when her bra-manufacturing husband leaves her for his fitting model, Marcy forges ahead with the help of family and friends in “Lift and Separate,” the amusing debut novel from Marilyn Simon Rothstein. A sequel is already in the works. The author will speak on Thursday, Nov. 9, 10:30 a.m.

AMY: Janet Benton’s “Lilli deJong” is a story with a strong local connection. An unwed mother in 1883 Philadelphia leaves a (fictional) diary, describing her travails giving birth at an institution for unwed mothers. Despite instructions to give up her daughter to avoid a life of shame and poverty, she makes the difficult decision to keep her baby. Themes of motherhood and women’s rights make this historical fiction resonate today. Benton spent 12 years researching and writing this novel. Benton spoke on Monday, Nov. 6, along with Pam Jenoff.

MINNA: Lastly, I want to mention a new book whose author will not be speaking at the Festival. “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” is the latest from Nathan Englander, author of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.” The action centers around Prisoner Z, an American Jew held in Israel for spying. Time moves between 2002 and 2014 and characters include actual historical figures, as the author uses this novel to comment on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This book (and all the others mentioned) is available at the Festival bookstore.

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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