Coming Soon: New Jewish Books for Winter and Spring
Some fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that I’m anticipating with particular eagerness.
1. The Art of Leaving: A Memoir by Ayelet Tsabari (February 19, Penguin Random House). I have Roxane Gay to thank for my initial encounters with the work of Ayelet Tsabari—and the fact that I was so eager to read Tsabari’s debut story collection that I ordered the book from Canada, where she resides, literally years before it was published here in the United States. The publisher’s description warns me that this book may not be easy to read: “This searching collection opens with the death of Ayelet Tsabari’s father when she was just nine years old. His passing left her feeling rootless, devastated, and driven to question her complex identity as an Israeli of Yemeni descent in a country that suppressed and devalued her ancestors’ traditions.” But I am certain that it will be a beautifully written and worthwhile one.
2. Savage Feast: Three Generations, Two Continents, and a Dinner Table (a Memoir with Recipes) by Boris Fishman (February 26, HarperCollins). Another example of a new book by a writer whose work I’ve been following with admiration for some years. Born in Soviet Belarus, Boris is the author of two excellent novels. This nonfiction book, the publisher tells us, is “a family story, an immigrant story, a love story, and an epic meal” that “explores the challenges of navigating two cultures from an unusual angle.” For a preview of the sort of writing that I expect to find in its pages, I recommend—strongly—this magnificent essay that appeared on Tablet some months back.
3. Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel by Matti Friedman (March 5, Algonquin). I’m a huge fan of Matti Friedman’s work, and I’ve been looking forward to the publication of this book, which is the latest winner of the Natan Book Award. In a press release announcing the book’s receipt of this pre-publication prize, the Jewish Book Council noted the spies at the book’s center “were drawn from an early wave of Mizrahi Jews (Jews from Muslim countries) who came to Israel to escape lives of poverty, powerlessness and persecution. They traversed the boundaries between Jews and Arabs, blending – often imperfectly – into both worlds. By focusing on these Mizrahi Jews, Spies of No Country returns to the moment of Israel’s birth and tells a radically different story about what the country is and how it was created. Israel always saw itself as belonging to the story of Europe, and many of its enemies have chosen to see it that way, too – as a foreign implant. But Israel’s population has always been Middle Eastern as well as European, and the country is becoming increasingly Middle Eastern over time, from religion to culture to politics. Understanding the country now means moving away from stories about Europe and instead placing the Middle East in the center.”
4. Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict edited by Rachel S. Harris (May 6, Wayne State University Press). This one would have piqued my interest even if I hadn’t met its extraordinary editor this past fall. Per the publisher’s description: “Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict brings together thirty-nine essays from experienced educators who reflect on the challenges of engaging students in college classrooms. Divided into seven sections, these personal essays cover a broad range of institutional and geographical settings, as well as a wide number of academic disciplines. Some of the topics include using graphic novels and memoirs to wrestle with the complexities of Israel/Palestine, the perils of misreading in the creative writing classroom as border crossing, teaching competing narratives through film, using food to teach the Arab-Israeli conflict, and teaching the subject in the community college classroom. Each essay includes suggestions for class activities, resources, and approaches to effective teaching. Whether planning a new course or searching for new teaching ideas, this collection is an indispensable compendium for anyone teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
5. The Flight Portfolio: A Novel by Julie Orringer (May 7, Penguin Random House). I have been waiting years (yes, literally) for this novel—I learned that Orringer had begun working on it when I read her previous book, The Invisible Bridge, some years ago. I loved The Invisible Bridge, and the history that grounds this new novel—American Varian Fry’s work, from southern France, to rescue Jewish artists and writers from Nazi Europe—is history that once upon a time I considered writing about, too (albeit in the form of a doctoral dissertation in history, not fiction.)
6. Bar Mitzvah Dreams: Poems by Baruch November (May, Main Street Rag Press). I’ve become acquainted with Baruch November’s work in part through my awareness of his brother’s (Yehoshua Josh November); Baruch also moderated a panel that I was a part of a couple of years back. And I’m impressed enough to have pre-ordered this collection. Check out sample poems from the collection on the publisher’s website.
7. The Book of Jeremiah by Julie Zuckerman (May, Press 53). I’ve recently learned about this book of debut fiction by an American writer now living in Israel. And when Ilana Kurshan offers advance praise, I take note: “This book is the moving, endearing story of Jeremiah Gerstler—son, father, husband, academic, Jew—who tries over the course of his life to be the best person he can, and who will inspire his readers to do the same. Jumping backwards and forwards in time to hone in on various periods in Gerstler’s life, this novel-in-stories offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of some of life’s most painful and private moments.”
And I’ll take the liberty of adding one more title: The Dark Young Man by Jacob Dinezon (trans. Tina Linson; ed. Scott H. Davis; February 12, Jewish Storyteller Press). Disclosure: This first English translation of this 1877 bestseller by Dinezon, “the greatest Yiddish writer you never heard of,” is most definitely on my radar because I am working with the publisher on promotion/publicity. The novel’s release is part of this year’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary Dinezon’s death in Warsaw. As the publisher promises, the novel “evokes themes familiar to readers of Dinezon’s more famous colleagues and friends Sholem Aleichem and I. L. Peretz: disparities between rich and poor, the impact of modernity on religious traditions, and the challenges of assimilation on Jewish identity.” It’s also very much a love story. Find out more about the book and sign up for commemoration updates on the Jewish Storyteller Press site.
Which soon-to-be published titles are you anticipating?