2018-07-04 / Columns

Head outdoors and relax with some great summer reading


IRENE AFEK AMY KAPLAN MINNA SIEGEL IRENE AFEK AMY KAPLAN MINNA SIEGEL It’s summer—time to relax with a good novel. Head outside and settle in with these great reads (be sure to look for next month’s column where we’ll feature even more!).

AMY: Fans of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther historical detective thrillers will be happy to find Gunther starring once again in “Greeks Bearing Gifts.” In this latest installment, it’s 1957 and Gunther is sent to Athens to investigate a large insurance claim. A boat, once the property of a wealthy Jewish merchant but confiscated by the Nazis and ultimately owned by a former Wehrmacht soldier, has burned and gone down in the Aegean. The case is complicated by murder, and an Athenian policeman working on a similar case joins in the investigation; both murders fit the description of a killer who operated during WWII, and who may still be in Athens. The novel addresses the confiscation of valuables from thousands of Salonika’s Jews who were sent to Auschwitz. Sadly, Kerr, who wrote 13 Bernie Gunther novels, passed away in March. The 14th entry is scheduled to be published posthumously next year.

MINNA: “The Lost Family,” written by Jenna Blum, the best-selling author of “Those Who Save Us,” deals with the trauma that lingers decades after the Holocaust. Set from the 1960s through the 1980s, the story revolves around Peter Rashkin, the chef-owner of Masha’s, a Manhattan restaurant named for his wife, who did not survive Auschwitz. The title refers to his young twin daughters, who also perished. Peter remarries and has another child, but the past continues to haunt the present.

IRENE: Why was my grandmother shot to death in her candy store? Michael Daniels, a young disc jockey from New Jersey wants to know. Author Peter Golden weaves a captivating tale in “Nothing is Forgotten” that discovers the answers and transports us from early 1960s New Jersey to Munich, Amsterdam, Paris, and Russia, where Michael meets Yulianna— a WWII orphan in her mid-20s. This novel is mystery, romance, history, and spy thriller all in one. There are connections to Picasso, to Soviet partisans in World War II, to Dachau and Auschwitz, and the battle between the CIA and KGB over prosecuting Nazi war criminals. This is a fascinating family saga wrapped in a heartbreaking coming-of-age story.

MINNA: Another coming-of-age story is “My Mother’s Son” by David Hirshberg, set in 1952 Boston. Written as a fictional memoir by a first-time novelist using a pseudonym to separate himself from his corporate past, the novel covers topics such as the Korean War, polio, baseball, and life after the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Joel, the younger of two brothers.

AMY: Twenty-five years ago, author Mary Morris’ family employed a babysitter in Santa Fe who believed himself to be a converso, a descendant of Spanish Jews forced by the Inquisition to convert to Catholicism while still secretly practicing Judaism. Now Morris has written a novel, “Gateway to the Moon,” set in a small Southwestern town where Miguel Torres, an amateur astronomer and one-time juvenile delinquent, takes a babysitting job for a Jewish family in nearby Santa Fe and realizes that his Hispanic Catholic family follows many of the traditions he sees being observed by the Jewish family. The novel weaves together Miguel’s story and that of Luis de Torres, a true-life converso who sailed with Columbus on the Santa Maria, and offers stories about the travails of conversos set in different times and places.

IRENE: Head back further in time to Rabbi Akiva’s “orchard” and discover the intriguing story of his ascent to greatness. Award-winning Israeli author Yochi Brandes brings us an historical novel of the 1st century, beginning after the destruction of the Second Temple. “The Orchard” is about a woman’s love—Rachel—the wife of Rabbi Akiva. She defiantly married Akiva against her father’s wishes and then sent him on his way to become a rabbi. Rachel was the woman behind the man, and this account brings her to the forefront. The Jewish sages and their debates of the day come to life in this intriguing novel, while Brandes humanizes this important hero of the Jewish people.

MINNA: “Another Side of Paradise” by Sally Koslow is historical fiction set in more modern times. This is a novelization of the very real romance between gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and the author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in 1930s Hollywood, the author delves into Graham’s impoverished Jewish childhood in London using her memoirs, letters, and interviews to create a portrait of the three years their affair lasted, until Fitzgerald’s death.

For more information, contact us: Irene Afek at the Sanders Memorial Library of the Katz JCC (iafek@jfedsnj.org) and Cong. M’kor Shalom (library- @mkorshalom.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom (msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). 

Return to top