Shabbat shalom, friends.
“With the writers of Orringer’s generation who choose the Holocaust as a subject, we’re watching an inevitable transition from a literature that can remember to a literature that can only imagine. Does the winking magic realism of Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Everything is Illuminated’ call more attention to the author than to his subject? Does the Hollywood-style feel-goodery of David Benioff’s ‘City of Thieves’ put too smooth a polish on mass suffering and death?
Orringer avoids these pitfalls and many more by making brilliant use of a deliberately old-fashioned realism to define individual fates engulfed by history’s deadly onrush. She maintains a fine balance between the novel’s intimate moments — whose emotional acuity will be familiar to admirers of her 2003 story collection, ‘How to Breathe Underwater’ — and its panoramic set-pieces. Even those monumental scenes manage to display a tactful humility: This is a story, they keep reminding us, and it’s not bringing anybody back. With its moving acknowledgment of the gap between what’s been lost and what can be imagined, this remarkably accomplished first novel is itself, in the continuing stream of Holocaust literature, an invisible bridge.
NB: This is not a new find–but I returned to it this week as I prepared for a seminar (happening later this morning) in which we’ll be discussing Orringer’s novel. And the words are all the more powerful this morning, as I consider remarks offered last night at a most special event at the CUNY Graduate Center, and as I discover news of the death today, in Hungary, of author Imre Kertesz.
As mentioned today on the Fig Tree Books blog, March is Women’s History Month here in the USA (and today is International Women’s Day), which means that it’s an especially propitious moment to consider women’s contributions to American Jewish fiction. And the Fig Tree blog post does a good job doing that (if I say so myself).
Here on the My Machberet blog, I’d like to shift focus slightly and alert you to some forthcoming fiction titles by American Jewish women. (Disclosure: All three authors are friends of mine.)
In order of publication:
Emily Barton‘s The Book of Esther is animated by this premise: “What if an empire of Jewish warriors that really existed in the Middle Ages had never fallen—and was the only thing standing between Hitler and his conquest of Russia?” What if, indeed? The Book of Esther is billed as “a profound saga of war, technology, mysticism, power, and faith. This novel—simultaneously a steampunk Joan of Arc and a genre-bending tale of a counterfactual Jewish state by a writer who invents worlds ‘out of Calvino or Borges’ (The New Yorker)—is a stunning achievement. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.” Sounds good to me! This novel, Barton’s third, will be out in June.
In Anna Solomon‘s Leaving Lucy Pear, the action begins one night in 1917, when “Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle’s house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea’s hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea’s abandoned child—now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own.” Leaving Lucy Pear will be published in late July; you may recall Anna’s debut novel, also a work of historical fiction, titled The Little Bride.
Rachel Hall‘s Heirlooms “begins in the French seaside city of Saint-Malo, in 1939, and ends in the American Midwest in 1989. In this collection of linked stories, the war reverberates through four generations of a Jewish family. Inspired by the author’s family stories as well as extensive research, Heirlooms explores assumptions about love, duty, memory and truth.” Heirlooms will be published in the Fall of 2016 by BkMk Press as the most recent winner of the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. I’ve had the good fortune of reading the manuscript, and I can tell you that this book won’t simply make my list for favorite reads of 2016; it has secured a place on my list of favorite books, forever.