The ProsenPeople

JBC Bookshelf: Translations and Boundaries

Thursday, April 19, 2012 | Permalink
Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

While not all of this month's offerings are translations, there are quite a few in this round's mix, which makes JBCers particularly happy. We're happy both because fine international titles are making their way into the American literary market, and also because they help reflect the broader Jewish experience and keep lines of communication open between Jews worldwide.

Speaking of translations, if you're not familiar with Three Percent's Best Translated Book Awards, you should be. This year's shortlist includes Moacyr Scliar's Kafka's Leopards (translator: Thomas O. Beebee) and the 2010 winning title was Gail Hareven's The Confessions of Noa Weber (translator: Dalya Bilu). Two other great resources for translated titles are Dalkey Archive Press's Hebrew Literature series, which we feature on our website here, and Melville House's translations, which includes titles by Imre Kertész, Sholem Aleichem, and Joshua Sobol. Bonus: Check out Melville House's Sholem Aleichem bobbleheads. Finally, check out translator Jessica Cohen's article on translation for the Summer 2007 issue of Jewish Book World here.

Along with the translations, several of the below selections explore the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction (see: God's Horse and The Atheist's School, The Messenger, and The Wine of Solitude). When do these forms need to work together to tell the whole story and when does one form suffice?  It may also be of interest to look into newly reviewed HHhH (Laurent Binet; Sam Taylor, trans.), which is both a translation and also explores the aforementioned boundaries. And, of course, who could resist the forthcoming UPNE title focused on coffee (another thing that makes JBCers happy)? Needless to say, we've been spoiled by riches this month, and, as always, look forward to the next round of literary treats.

God's Horse and The Atheists' School, Wilhelm Dichter; Madeline G. Levine, trans. (March 2012, Northwestern University Press)
Dichter's autobiographical novels bring to life the tensions between ideologues and pragmatists, Polish patriots and their Soviet masters.

The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir, Claude Lanzmann; Frank Wynne, trans. (March 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 
Check out The New Yorker's recent profile of Lanzmann here
Jews Welcome Coffee: Tradition and Innovation in Early Modern Germany, Robert Liberles (April 2012, Brandeis University Press)
Not surprisingly, Jews readily accepted coffee when it made its way to Europe in the 1650s.

The Messenger, Yannick Haenel; Mark Baker, trans. (May 2012, Counterpoint Press)
The novelized biography of Jan Karski, a young Polish diplomat charged with bringing the truth of Hitler's extermination plan to the Allies.

The Innocents, Francesca Segal (June 2012, Voice)
Segal's debut novel explores the world of a tight-knit Jewish suburb of London.

The Wine of Solitude, Irène Némirovsky; Sandra Smith, trans. (September 2012, Vintage)
Since we have a bit of a wait for this one, check out JBC's Irène Némirovsky review page here.

Orange Prize Shortlist

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Yesterday was a good day for Cynthia Ozick: she both turned 84 and made the Orange Prize shortlist.  Check out her speech from the 2010 National Jewish Book Awards here and read reviews of a selection of her titles below:


Holocaust Remembrance Day

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) begins this evening and we've compiled a short reading list, including titles for adults and children. For the complete list, please click here. Or, consider searching the full list of Holocaust titles on JBC's website here.



Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Ramona Ausubel wrote about why she's a writer and not an actress. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning. Join us in May for Twitter Book Club with Ramona.

I have been a writer for my whole adult life. I have only been a mother for five months. Like many women, I worried that having a baby would unmake my professional life. I worried that I would never have time to write, that my upcoming book tour would be a disaster and the novel that had taken me eight years to write — arguably my first baby — would not get the birth I wanted for it.

My son was born in November, and for several weeks, I disappeared into the slow, rolling water of motherhood. My sense of time disappeared. It made little difference if it was night or day — I nursed, I slept, I ate, I gazed down at this brand new creature, alive for the first time in history. I forgot all about my book, about the new novel I had been working on while I was pregnant, about publicity and schedules. There was a new story in my life: the story of my son, the story of me as his mother. In the first nights, the baby slept beautifully but my husband and I lay awake because it was impossible to look away from him. His tiny, perfect hands rested on his tiny, perfect chest. This is my baby, I kept thinking. I will love him for the duration. I had been making things my whole life, but never had I created something like this.

When my son was two weeks old, I got an email from my publicist with a series of interview questions from another writer. “Could you have this to me by Tuesday?” she asked. Tuesday? I thought. What is Tuesday? The calendar and I had parted ways. It seemed so strange that everyone was having a regular work-week, that they were tending to the usual business while I was living a miracle. Still, I opened my computer and discovered when Tuesday was. I read the questions and thought about them. It took me a few days to get all the answers down, but it felt good to remember that other baby of mine. Especially since I could do so with my son on my lap, swaddled and sleeping. He was happy to let me do my job, to make room in the day for other parts of me.

Three months later, the book was published and reviews began to come in. Though they were mostly positive, it was overwhelming to see the work I’d done evaluated all over the place. Before the first reading I started to wonder what I was doing.

How was this a good idea again? The private part of writing suits me; I wasn’t sure how I felt about the public performance part. But I looked down at my sweet boy in my lap. He was sucking on his hands — a new trick. “I’m just going to read to you, OK? You are the only audience that matters.” He smiled up at me. And for the next four weeks, in cities across the country, he was there in the back of the bookstore curled up on my husband’s chest. He cooed and gargled occasionally and slept most of the time. He did have to be taken out of the room once, but not because he was upset: he had the giggles.

After I had read and signed books, milled and chatted, the three of us would go out and find a glass of wine someplace. It was wonderful. We were a family, my husband, our son, me – both the mom and the writer. I had worried about how I would pull everything off with a baby, but I hadn’t considered how I would have managed it without him.

Ramona Ausubel grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of the novel No One is Here Except All of Us with the collection of short stories A Guide to Being Born to follow. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker,One Story, the Green Mountains Review, pax americana, The Orange Coast Review, Slice and collected in The Best American Fantasy and online in The Paris Review.

Book Cover of the Week: Liebestod

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The great Leslie Epstein's newest novel, Liebestod: Opera Buffa with Leib Goldkorn, was published by W. W. Norton in February.

A multilayered masterpiece of fevered imagination and eroticism, Liebestod soars as the consummate work by one of America's greatest comic geniuses.

As hilarious as it is heartbreaking, Liebestod returns us to Leslie Epstein's most compelling literary character, that European émigré and meagerly successful musician, Leib Goldkorn, whose final years as a randy centenarian in New York City end in one of the most memorable swan songs in recent fiction. Invited back to his hometown in Moravia, Leib discovers that his father is not a hops magnate but actually one of the twentieth century's greatest composers, Gustav Mahler. Returning to New York with a bevy of rabbinical cousins, Leib, now besotted by a world-famed diva, is determined to bring to the Metropolitan Opera Rubezahl, the only opera his real father ever wrote. Yet the much-heralded premiere turns into a fiasco of unimaginable proportions, all breathtakingly relayed by a stunned newspaper correspondent who survives to report on this monumental disaster. With Liebestod, Epstein once again "illuminates the mystery of our common humanity and mortality" (New York Times).

Earth Day Reading Recommendations

Monday, April 16, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Earth Day is on Sunday, April 22nd. Begin your celebration early, and catch-up on some reading about Judaism and the environment. View additional suggestions here.


Why I Write

Monday, April 16, 2012 | Permalink

Ramona Ausubel  is the author of the novel No One is Here Except All of Us, published by Riverhead Books. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning and is JBC's May Twitter Book Club selection.

Maybe there are four or five people on earth for whom writing is effortless and never heartbreaking. I don’t know those people, and I’m not sure I’d like them if we met. Writers are professional feelers—our hearts should be tender and sore at the end of the day, right?

Still, sometimes it feels as if any other vocation would be easier. I could have studied fresh-water algae, been a long-distance runner, a baby-seal feeder. But that’s exactly the thing that bring me back: writing allows me to live a hundred other lives besides my own. When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be an actress, but there was one small issue—I was shy and not interested in performing. It turned out I wanted the other job where you get to imagine your way into the heads and hearts of other people, feel the world in a new way every time you sit down to work.

Most of the day, we all tend to the usual things. We pay the gas bill, find a parking place, buy cereal, apples, chicken breasts, remember to call our mothers, take the children to the doctor, sort the stack of mail. We do what needs doing. Meanwhile, we lose friends, fall in love with people, teach our babies to talk, help our parents leave the world. Being alive is so gorgeous, so hard, so everything. Writing—and reading—is the place where I get to try to understand some of the ten zillion strange, beautiful, terrible truths. For me, it is the second half of being alive.

Ramona Ausubel grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of the novel No One is Here Except All of Us with the collection of short stories A Guide to Being Born to follow. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, One Story, the Green Mountains Review, pax americana, The Orange Coast ReviewSlice and collected in The Best American Fantasy and online in The Paris Review. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman wrote about an unexpected Hava Nageela moment and about his disdain for the phrase: "How's Everything?" He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Have you ever been ‘bageled’?

Bageling,” is:

the conscious act – or speech - of a non-obviously looking Jewish individual to an obviously looking Jew intended to indicate that he or she is also Jewish; or, the conscious act of a non-Jew towards a Jew to indicate his or her affinity with the Jewish people.

An example of the former is when I was on the plane back from Denver and a bare-headed Jew came over to me and said Shalom. He was ‘bageling’ me. He was attempting to indicate with the word Shalom that he too is one of the tribe.

I am sure that many of us have been bageled before. Often all of us have been approached by individuals –Jewish and non-Jews- and befriended or just greeted in order to inform us that the person standing before us would like to connect with us.

In the latter case of a non-Jew, the act of being bageled can be as innocent as the non-Jew also saying Shalom or sometimes - as happened to me at the airport in Denver- much weightier and significant.

So sit back, relax and listen to one more tale of the ‘travels of Rabbi Eisenman’.

My least favorite part of flying is the security check point. Believe it or not- I enjoy the actual flight. After all, I have hours of uninterruptible time by myself; what could be better?

However, the security check point is always uncomfortable for me. I do my best to empty everything in my pockets, hoping that the metal detector alarm will not sound, as I do not want everyone seeing ‘the rabbi’ having to undergo the ‘wand’ treatment.

As I was approaching the security machine in Denver I was quite conscious of the fact that I was the most obviously looking Jew in the airport at the time. I emptied my pockets and waited for the guard on the other side of the metal detector to signal me to begin the shoe-less, belt-less, cell phone-less stroll through the metal detector doorway to the freedom of the plane.

The officer on the other side of the detector was big. He was about six feet three and trim, fit and very stern looking. As I waited to be instructed to begin my walk, I wondered silently if he was physically capable of smiling.

He slowly lifted his fingers ever so slightly and indicated that I was now to proceed through the invisible aura which sees all.

I walked through and looked up at my protector expecting and hoping for ‘the nod’ which would allow me to proceed without further delay.

However, it was not to be. 

Officer Cheerful-face indicated that I must approach him.

I slowly neared my ‘defender of the homeland’ with both trepidation and nervousness.

“Will I be whisked off to Gitmo, never to be seen again?

Will I become the next poster child for the Agudah?

Will prayer rallies be held on my behalf?

Will the very same ‘please forward to everyone you know’ emails that I have preciously railed against now be splashed all over the virtual world for my quick and immediate release?

Will the young girls in Bais Ya'akovs all across the globe know my Hebrew name by heart as their pristine and sinless lips fervidly say Tehillim for my redemption?

Will I now write books from the inside of a prison cell in Guantanamo Bay?”

I was now face to face with the law. 

He slowly looked me in the eye and then, in a move which no doubt would strike fear in the hearts of the mightiest of men, he motioned to me to come very, very close to him. He then began to look from side to side.

“What is going to happen to me now?

If the person who is supposed to be my protector is now making sure no one else is looking and that no one else can hear us, what is he planning to do?

Could it be that he is secretly related to a choleric and cross congregant who still bears a grudge against the rabbi for his not getting ‘Shlishi’ last Shabbos?

Could it be that he is really a secret admirer of Osama Bin Laden and he has mistaken me as a fellow Taliban?’

Finally, after his being convinced that no one else could hear us, he began his murmured divulgence:

“America must support Israel! The only hope for America is when we and Israel are totally in sync and when there is no difference between our interests and that of Israel. That is the only hope for our country. I just wanted you to know this!”

I nodded and, as quickly as my little legs could transport me, I proceeded to the plane.

Friends, I was just super bageled; with cream cheese and lox as well!

Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman's The Elephant in the Room is now available.

How's Everything?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 | Permalink

Earlier this week Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman wrote about an unexpected Hava Nageela moment. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Yesterday a man came to see me for an appointment. As he came in to the office he asked me, “how’s everything?” At first I did not answer, so he asked again, “Is everything alright?”

Once again, I did not answer.

I do not recall when the phrase “how’s everything” first became part of our vernacular. When I was a child, people greeted each other with “How are you today?” or “How do you do?” I don’t think the phrase “how’s everything” became popular until the era of ‘a cell phone on every belt clip and a blue tooth in every ear.' 

Whenever this phrase became popular, I really dislike it and do my best never to use it.

Why do I have such disdain for this seemingly innocuous greeting? What possible reason could there be for me, a normally mild mannered and easy going person, to become full of wrath and contempt about the use of this little ditty of a phrase?

The reason, which has been made clear to me on numerous occasions, was particularly brought home yesterday when this fellow asked the question. Here was an individual who had requested a meeting to see me about his concerns. Nevertheless, normal human relations necessitate a formal asking of your host’s health and well being. For this somewhat almost perfunctory necessity, people would say, “How are you today?” That was fine. The petitioner would at least sincerely inquire as to how his host was feeling today.

However, nowadays we have this all encompassing and meaningless greeting “How’s everything?” 

When I hear it, I say to me, “does he really want to know HOW IS EVERYTHING?”
What does that mean everything?

Does he want to know all about my children and their issues? What about me and my personal struggles and battles? What about communal affairs? Does he really want to inquire about EVERYTHING

Of course not.

Therefore one can deduce that when one says "how’s everything" they really do not care about anything!

However, by using the word ‘everything’ they are being ‘politically correct’ in conveying the artificial message of care or of setting up the illusion that they really care about everything when in reality perhaps they are interested in nothing.

Try this sometime. The next time someone asks you, “how’s everything?” Answer, “I am so happy you asked" and proceed to discuss at length your issues at work, your issues with world politics, your issues with…..everything! And then see their reaction.

For those who think this post is Much Ado about Nothing, you are right. 

When people say: “how’s everything?”- they are indenting for all to believe that they are interested in ‘much ado’ while in realty it is all nothing.

So let us begin our own little “We Hate ‘How’s Everything’” club:

Show you really care about people and stop using the phrase how’s everything.

All members of the club should only say “How are you today” and really listen and care about their answer! Let’s attempt to stamp out this depthless and casual type of greeting. Let’s go back to the meaningful, "how are you today?"

This can make all the difference in the world.

Thank for reading and by the way, “How’s’ Everything?”

Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman's The Elephant in the Room is now available.

wordSpoke Poetry Festival

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | Permalink

Jewish Book Council is thrilled to be a media sponsor for the wordSpoke Poetry Festival at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue in NYC. The festival is curated by Jake Marmer and Steve Dalachinsky and brings together some of the greatest Jewish poets, thinkers, and characters. The events will be held on the following dates: April 18th, April 19th, April 29th, and May 6th. Information on each event can be found below:

Wednesday, Apr 18 at 07:30 PM - Downtown Perspectives: Steve Dalachinsky & Friends

Featuring: Hersch Silverman, Bonny Finberg, Ivan Klein, Danny Shot, Eliot Katz, Tsaurah Litzky, Jake Marmer, and Steve Dalachinsky. 

Cover: $5

Thursday, Apr 19 at 08:30 PM - Radical Poetics: Stephen Paul Miller, Adeena Karasick, and Bob Perelman

Milestone publication of the "Radical Poetics & Secular Jewish Culture" - a collection of poetry & criticism - opened a great deal of dialogues, readings, and possibilities for contemporary exploration of Jewish identity. Publication's editor Stephen Paul Miller as well as contributors Adeena Karasick and Bob Pereleman will convene for a poetry reading and conversation.

Cover: $5

Sunday, Apr 29 at 11:00 AM - Reading & Writing New Jewish Poetry Workshop led by Adeena Karasick & Jake Marmer 

This summer, KlezKanada festival will be piloting the world's first Jewish poetry retreat, co-hosted by Adeena Karasick and Jake Marmer. Join them for the preview of the upcoming attractions, a sample workshop session.

Cover: $5

Sunday, May 6 at 07:00 PM - Radical Poetics: Charles Bernstein, Hank Lazer, and Erica Kaufman

Milestone publication of the "Radical Poetics & Secular Jewish Culture" - a collection of poetry & criticism - opened a great deal of dialogues, readings, and possibilities for contemporary exploration of Jewish identity. Publication's contributors Charles Bernstein and Hank Lazer (on a rare visit from Tuscaloosa, Ala.!) will be joined by Erica Kaufman for a poetry reading and conversation.

Cover: $5

For more information on each event, please click here