Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jewish Literature Challenge 2008-2009

*This is a sticky post, scroll down for newest posts*

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NOTE: Changes from last year are in red.

What: Reading at least 4 books by Jewish Authors or about Judaism
When: December 21, 2008 (Beginning of Hanukkah) to April 27, 2009 (End of Passover)
Who: Anyone who wants to participate! Bloggers or Non-Bloggers alike
Where: Right here of course! You can also post your picks and reviews to your own blog if you have one of course.
How: Sign the comments on THIS post to join the challenge. Tell me if you want to be added to the blog. If so, include your email address. (put it like this to prevent spam: yourname AT yourdomain DOT com) Once I've added you, you can post your picks here and when the time comes, post your reviews here too.

NOTE: Also please post on your blog your intention to do this challenge. You can add a list of possible books now or at a later date. Put the url to your specific post about the challenge in the comments.

Are you wondering more about what books are okay?
Fiction, Non-fiction, memoirs, Adult books, Teen books, Children's books, books about the Holocaust, books about anti-semitism, books about Jewish Life, Jewish Culture, Jewish Customs. Books by Jewish Authors no matter what the subject.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Challenge Wrap-Up


Today is the last day of Callista's Jewish Literature Challenge, but I'm not quite done. I'm in the middle of Peter Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, and I'm also listening to Night, by Elie Wiesel, on my iPod, but am not quite finished with it, either. So I'll continue to read and listen to these final choices even though the official challenge is over.

The books I have completed for this challenge are:I enjoyed this challenge very much and look forward to it again next time! Thanks for hosting, Callista!

Challenge Complete (3M from

I really loved participating in this challenge again.  I enjoyed all my books, especially Petropolis, but the highlight of the challenge was watching the film Ushpizin.  I loved it!

  1. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
  2. Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  3. Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
  4. Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
Film from Israel: Ushpizin

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pattie's list **wrap-up**

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Suite française by Irène Némirovsky
Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Fax Me a Bagel by Sharon Kahn (I read one other book in this series last year!)

Alternate selections (in case I can't finish the above books, or decide differently):

The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (BEGUN)
The Hidden Life of Otto Frank by Carol Ann Lee (Dad gave me his copy)
The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz

Wrapping up:

I finished three and began a fourth. I know I won't finish The Book Thief by tomorrow, but I am reading it. It is very good so far.

Thanks again for the opportunity to contribute, even in a small way, to this blog.


Friday, April 24, 2009

The Innkeeper's Song by Peter Beagle

The Last Unicorn is one of the most beautiful and poetic books I've read. I LOVED it. Loved it. So I was thrilled when I found out that Peter Beagle has written other books. This fantasy seemed like it would be right up my alley and it was at first. Told through the eyes of several narrators (in the end I think it was too many narrators), three women: Lal, Nyateneri, and Lukassa to an inn run by an old crab named Karsh. Other important characters who also narrate include Marinesha and Rosseth (two teenage orphans who work at Karsh's inn), Tikat (who is following Lukassa), and the Fox who is a shape-shifter. That's the point of view of eight characters which I'm not saying inherently is a bad thing but I wasn't able to stay with it all the way through.

Here is the Innkeeper's Song upon which the story is based:

There came three ladies at sundown:
One was brown as bread is brown,
One was black, with a sailor's sway,
And one was pale as the moon by day.

The white one wore an emerald ring,
The brown led a fox on a silver string,
And the black one carried a rosewood cane
With a sword inside, for I saw it plain.

They took my own room, they barred the door,
They sang songs I never had heard before.
My cheese and mutton they did destroy,
And they called for wine, and the stable boy.

And once they quarried and twice they cried —
Their laughter blazed through the countryside,
The ceiling shook and the plaster flew,
And the fox ate my pigeons, all but two.

They rode away with the morning sun,
The white like a queen, the black like a nun,
And the brown one singing with scarlet joy,
And I'll have to get a new stable boy.

I didn't quite love this book but I didn't dislike it. There was a very alarming sexual scene in the middle that seemed out of place in the book to me...something important was discovered because of it but it just seemed a bit gratuitious and it caught me completely off guard. But it was just that one random scene and that was it. There was some nice romance too though.

Old Men at Midnight by Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok is one of my favorite authors. He wrote The Chosen, The Promise, the Asher Lev books, and Davita's Harp. I actually wrote a paper about The Chosen when I was in high school and I liked doing it. Old Men at Midnight is a book of three short stories connected to Ilana Davita Dinn from Davita's Harp. The stories are not about Davita, but rather about some of the people she comes in contact with through her life.

In "The Ark Builder," seventeen year old Ilana meets Noah Stremin, the only survivor of the Nazi destruction of his village in Poland. When Ilana is is working on her doctorate in "The War Doctor", she convinces a former KGB interrogation officer to write the story of his life - the horror of war, the anti-semitism in Russia, and the terror of Stalin's reign.The final story is a bit more psychological than the other two. It is about Benjamin Walter, who Ilana moves in next door to when she is a woman in her sixties writing fiction for a living. Benjamin sees her as something she is not - a well maintained, beautiful middle-aged woman. But Ilana is really overweight and dowdy. But Benjamin's wife is ill and he has too suffered during World War II as a soldier in the British Army. "The Trope Teacher" was the man who had a lasting and painful effect on Benjamin.Potok's writing is always impressive. He has a wonderful way with language and while it did not strike me in the same way The Chosen and Davita's Harp did, it was a great book

Wrap-up Posts

There's still a few days left and like I said, feel free to continue, even if you're past the date, it's all for fun anyways.

You can post a wrap-up directly to this blog if you want. If you don't want to or aren't a member of the blog, and you post one at your own blog, leave the link in the comments.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Emil and Karl

Glatshteyn, Yankev. 2006. Emil and Karl. Square Fish. (Roaring Book Press) 194 pages.

There is an immediacy and urgency to Emil and Karl. Written in 1938--in Yiddish--it was only recently (2006) translated and published in English. Set in Austria, Vienna to be exact. The Third Reich is in power, yet the horror of World War II has not yet dawned. The full wrath unleashed during the Holocaust--the organized full-scale murdering of the Jewish people*--has yet to begin. Though the hate is strong and ever-present. Meet Emil and Karl. Best friends. One is Jewish. The other is not. But despite it being in Karl's "best interest" to forget about his Jewish friend, Emil, he can't brush him off.

The seriousness of the novel is apparent from the very beginning. When we first meet Karl, he is alone.

"Karl sat on a low stool, petrified. The apartment was as still as death. He looked at the pieces of the broken vase scattered on the floor. Several times he reached out with one hand to pick up an overturned chair lying beside him. The chair looked like a man who had fallen on his face and couldn't get up. But each time Karl tried, he could only lift the chair up a little bit, and then it fell down again. It was even quieter in the kitchen and the bedroom--so quiet he was afraid to go in there. It wasn't that Karl minded being in the apartment by himself. He'd been left alone there more than once before; he could even go to bed by himself without being afraid. He wasn't scared of spooks or devils. Instead, he loved to stare, wide-eyed, into the darkness and make up stories." (1)

Why is he afraid? He witnessed what I imagine would have seemed the unthinkable. He watched them take his mother. He watched them hurt her. He heard their threats. He heard them threaten to come back...for him. In one night, everything in Karl's world is turned upside down.

When he does move, act, it is to go see his friend, Emil. He seeks the comfort of a true friend. What he learns is that Emil too has changed. Emil and Karl have an enemy in common now. Both have been orphaned. Both have only each other. Can these two children find a way to survive in this topsy-turvy ever-dangerous world where hate rules supreme?

What makes Emil and Karl unique--in my opinion--is its urgency. When it was written, this wasn't a distant event in the past. This wasn't historical fiction. This was current events. This was the threat and danger facing the world. And at the time it was written, it was a threat that had not been conquered. There's a suspenseful quality to it. A sense of the unknown. There was no happy ending light at the end of the tunnel to brighten it up. In fact, the worse was yet to come. It's an emotional novel; it's brilliantly and intelligently written to make you feel that you are there, that you are witness.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fax Me a Bagel

Fax Me a Bagel by Sharon Kahn

I read the fourth in this series last year for this same challenge.

Can I just say that I love Ruby? Ruby is the best minister's wife protagonist I have read in a while. She is so honest about who she is, I hope that someday I can also be that self-aware.

I really enjoyed this novel. It's a great cozy mystery, without icky details (well, unless you count Rabbi Kevin, but I digress...), and a great mystery and some insight into synagogue life (which is not all that different from church life, really...and again, I digress...).

Such fun!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Almost Done

Well the challenge is almost over (although if I hadn't messed the date up, it would have already been over)

I was supposed to participate but haven't read a single Jewish book yet so I'm obviously not going to be done in time. That's okay, I have some on my agenda to read this year and I'll keep running this challenge every year.

For those interested in children's Jewish books, I found this blog on Jewish Books for Children. I'll add that to the side.

Do your best to finish but don't worry if you don't make it. You can keep adding your reviews even past the finish date. Just have fun with it and enjoy new books.

If you do a wrap-up post, I'll put a finish post up soon that you can link to your wrap-up post or you can just post (or repost) it here, whichever. Let me know if you have any suggestions for next time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another author I have just discovered, and am so glad I did, is Adèle Geras. I've been aware of her name, seen some of her books, but had never read anything by her. I just finished a most delightful books of stories by her, and can't wait to read more of her work! Here's what Booklist said about My Grandmother's Stories: A Collection of Jewish Folktales.

“Like all good stories in the Yiddish tradition, the pleasure of Geras’ collection comes as much from the telling as from what happens. These are stories within stories: the narrator remembers herself as a young child hearing them from her grandmother, as they cooked, hung up laundry, prepared for the Sabbath, or cleaned house for Passover. This framing of the stories emphasizes their continuing pleasure across generations; and customs, idioms, traditions, even recipes that the Jews brought with them from Eastern Europe are an unobtrusive part of the telling.”

Each story was inspired by Geras's grandmother, and each one teaches a lesson in the kind and endearing way a grandmother would teach her beloved grandchildren. This collection was illustrated by Anita Lobel, whose illustrations were as delightful as the stories.

This book won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 1991. I read it for Callista's Jewish Literature Challenge, and it was a wonderful find.


Freefall by Anna Levine

I read a review of Anna Levine's YA novel about an Israeli girl and knew I had to give it a try. Aggie, who lives in Jerusalem, will soon be drafted into the Israeli Army (all Israeli citizens serve their country for two or three years after high school). While she isn't sure exactly what she wants to do, she's pretty sure she doesn't want to push paper in an office for two years. She also isn't exactly sure that she isn't attracted to her best friend's older brother Noah who is already in the middle of his military service. Though her parents completely oppose it, Aggie decides she wants to try out to be part of an elite squad and is determined to prove herself.

I liked Aggie. She seemed like a good girl with a reasonably frustrating home life. She was tough and yet had enough indecision in her to make her be a real teenager. I loved the descriptions of Israel and the information about the Israeli Army was interesting. Also the romance was fantastic.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Passover

Happy Passover the holiday starts tomorrow at sundown.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Diary of a Young Girl

by Anne Frank
ages: 12+
First sentence: "On Friday, June 12th I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday."


Let me say that again.


If I had read this book when I was 12 or 13, I would have totally loved it. I would have completely identified with Anne, with her plight, with her suffering, with her angst, with her. I would have cried at the end. I would have swooned over her relationship with Peter, and the difficulties it presented.

But now...

I just felt like she's a whiny teenager who wasn't completely grateful that she didn't end up in a concentration camp for the whole war, and that she spent too much time whining about how horrible her parents (and the Van Daans) are. I felt like the book is only famous because she (in a cruel irony) died in a concentration camp three months before the Allieds liberated it. Yes, it was human, and real, and sometimes insightful. But I couldn't stand her. Or the book.

Which makes me feel guilty.

Oh, well. I missed the boat on this one.

Monday, April 6, 2009

People of the Book

Geraldine Brooks based this amazing novel on the story of an actual book called the Sarajevo Haggadah (a book which describes how the Passover Seder is to be performed). Hanna Heath is an expert in old books - a serious expert. She is invited to Bosnia to analyze a rare volume and try to determine its authenticity and its origin. Using tiny artifacts found in the book (a hair, a piece of an insect wing, salt, and a wine stain) to trace its history.

The story is told backwards with Hanna's experiences interspersed with glimpses into the book's past, the most recent events explored first. The Haggadah survived some of the world's most tragic moments and been protected by some very brave individuals, several of them not Jewish. Hanna's family life has been less than ideal and as she studies the Haggadah she is forced to confront some of her most difficult relationships.

People of the Book was an intriguing and painful book to read. Some of the scenes I couldn't even get through because they were so disturbing. The interweaving of Hanna's life and the backwards progression of the book worked very well. I have enjoyed all of Geraldine Brooks' other books and this was no exception.

I will say though, if you want a much better review of this book, scroll down and see my sister Corinne's thoughts!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

NOTE to all participants

Somehow I messed up as Passover ends April 16 this year. I'm not sure how I managed to mess up the dates but don't worry, the challenge will still end as planned.

To finish the challenge, you need to finish READING the books in time, but you don't have to have your reviews posted (if you're doing reviews) by that time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Family Fortune

The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz

Very cute chick lit story. I purchased it in the first place because it was based on Persuasion, but I ended up enjoying it for its own sake in the end.

summary from, Publishers Weekly:

Based loosely on Jane Austen's Persuasion, Horowitz's cheeky, uneven debut novel follows Jane Fortune, a Bostonian with a romantic crisis. The 38-year-old founder and editor of a prominent literary journal, Euphemia Review, Jane pines for true love while devouring novels and dealing with the financial woes of her once wealthy family, which force them out of their Beacon Hill home. When an enigmatic writer named Jack Reilly submits a brilliant story to a Euphemia contest, Jane is intrigued; when she learns that he lives off the grid, she becomes infatuated and tries to track him down. But Jane still carries a torch for her first love, Max Wellman, a successful novelist who got his start in Euphemia. Jane's narrative voice is natural and lively, but the plot unfolds in fits, careening between Jane's romantic adventures and the Fortune family foibles. Horowitz captures her "lifestyles of the rich and literary" milieu, but otherwise her Austen tribute is transparent and unnecessary; for all the highbrow window dressing, this is pure chick lit, featuring characters with the depth of a teacup and a "girl loses boy, girl finds boy" plot. Horowitz continues the tradition ably, promising plenty as soon as she ditches the lit-crit posturing and embraces her inner Lauren Weisberger.