The ProsenPeople

This is a Soul

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Note: This post was originally written last week during the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly, a day after this one.

Two inspiring mornings in a row. NETWORK author Marilyn Berger (This is a Soul) shared her story with a very lucky audience this morning at the GA. Prompted by stories about Dr. Rick Hodes, Marilyn traveled to Ethiopia several years ago to learn more about the man who moved to Ethiopia in the early 90′s to help with Operation Solomon, an operation which helped Ethiopian Jews move to Israel, and never left. Dr. Hodes has spent the past twenty years helping Jews and non-Jews alike throughout Ethiopia, Africa, and nearby regions. This is a Soul tells not only the story about this incredible man, a man recently honored by ABC as a “Person of the Week” and a finalist in 2007 for “CNN Heroes”, but also Marilyn’s own story about traveling to Ethiopia and about a boy who changed her life.

An incredible book and an incredible story. Read more here.

Parents: Need an inspiring giveaway for your child’s bar/bat mitzvah? This is it.

J Lit Links

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

  • HTMLGiant has lots of Jewy stuff right now:

1) Kyle Minor’s post “Jealous of Jews” looks at some of our greats:

…Roth, Bellow, Malamud, Ozick, Singer (the list could be much longer, but these are five of my nine or ten favorite 20th century writers) not only shamed Dobson, Peretti, Lindsay, and Barna, but they also shamed a generation of very good American writers by simply being better than almost everyone else on grounds of language, structure, fire, music, moral weight, and sheer storytelling prowess.

And, our buddies “Etgar Keret, Adam Kirsch, Shalom Auslander, Joshua Cohen, Adam Levin, and Jason Diamond” also got a shout-out!

Continue reading here.

2) Lily Hoang reviews JSFoer’s (“[a] favorite writer-to-hate”) Tree of Codes here.

3) Rachel Shukert! Reviewed here.

  • The Reform rabbinical association “tackl[es] the “k” word head-on” withThe Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic…“mak[ing] the first Reform guide to Jewish dietary practice so significant.” Continue reading here.
  • Shortlisted for the 2010 Guardian First Book Award: Ned Beauman’s Boxer, Beetle, featuring a 9-toed Jewish boxer. Continue reading here.

New Reviews from Winter JBW

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Check out a few sample reviews from the winter issue of Jewish Book World:

Jews and the Civil War: A Reader 
Jonathan D. Sarna & Adam Mendelsohn, eds.
Reviewed by Carol Poll

Kosher Nation: Why More And More Of America’s Food Answers To A Higher Authority
Sue Fishkoff
Reviewed by Barbara M. Bibel

Life as a Visitor 
Angella M. Nazarian
Reviewed by Saba Soomekh

Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood 
Martin Lemelman
Reviewed by Gary Katz

Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt 
Robert Gottlieb
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity 
Shmuel Feiner; Anthony Berris, trans.
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election 
Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Dolly City 
Orly Castel-Bloom; Dalya Bilu, trans.
Reviewed by Judith Felsenfeld

Eden 
Yael Hedaya; Jessica Cohen, trans.
Reviewed by Dani Crickman

Foreign Bodies 
Cynthia Ozick
Reviewed by Beth Kissileff

The Road 
Vasily Grossman
Reviewed by Danielle Mindess

Super Sad True Love Story 
Gary Shteyngart
Reviewed by Joshua Daniel Edwin

To The End of the Land 
David Grossman; Jessica Cohen, trans.
Reviewed by Maron L. Waxman

Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England 
Anthony Julius
Reviewed by Jack Fischel

When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry
Gal Beckerman
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits And Not-So Kosher Laughs 
Sam Hoffman with Eric Spiegelman
Reviewed by Tami Kamin-Meyer

The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership 
Yehuda Avner; Martin Gilbert, intro.
Reviewed by Jane Wallerstein

A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth In Holocaust Fiction 
Ruth Franklin
Reviewed by Bob Goldfarb

Tree of Codes

Monday, November 15, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Vanity Fair interviews Jonathan Safran Foer’s on his latest…Tree of Codes:

Tree of Codes was created by slicing out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz. The result is a spare, haunting story that appears to hang in negative space on the page. Pretentious? Possibly. But it is also very, very cool. Keep reading.

Joshua Cohen Around the Web

Monday, November 15, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Joshua Cohen, whose most recent novel, Witz, was published earlier this year, offers criticism and advice around the web:

New York Times review of Adam Levin’s The Instructions

Tablet review of the new translation of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

Advice from “Ask The Paris Review”

Remembering How to be a Jew

Friday, November 12, 2010 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Lavie Tidhar wrote about Jewish vampires and Hebrew punks and searching for Osama. His new novel, An Occupation of Angels, is now available.

I’m living in Israel again after seventeen years, which is a bit of a shock. The political discourse has always been ugly here, but it seems to be getting uglier, to the point that you might not want to open your mouth publicly about it. Seventeen years after I left, an 18-year-old with a passion for beaches, science fiction and smoking things that were not strictly legal anywhere but the Netherlands, it’s surprising how little has changed.

There is still an occupation, of course. Still half-hearted peace talks designed to fail, still an unwillingness to understand what it is that is so wrong at the heart of the Jewish state. An unwillingness to acknowledge anything can even be wrong. It occurs to me that we, Israelis, have forgotten what it means to be a Jew. I do not mean putting on tefillin, or going to shul, or knowing our Moses from our Abraham (or our Absalom from our David). As Jews we were never very good at being observant, we were merely good at being Jews. It is partly things like the erasure of Yiddish for Hebrew, the writing of a victorious, patriotic, often vitriolic official history, the changing of our names (my family was Heisikovitz before it was Tidhar), the very re-writing of what it means to be a Jew. We are not diaspora Jews, we were told. We are a new brand of Jew. A sabra. Prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside, yaddy yaddy yadda.

We were the few against the many. We were Masada come again. It didn’t even occur to us that taking as our emblem the small, fanatic cult of suicides that was Masada said more about us than we could understand. We worked so hard at being Israelis that we forgot to be Jews. We forgot, in other words, that Jews had learned, for hundreds and hundreds of years, to live amongst other people.

A people who knew prosecution but did not themselves prosecute. Being a Jew is being a wanderer, traveling light, recognising the folly of possession, of permanence. The Zionist dream of a national home was a glorious dream, and a practical one, and Herzl looked hard for options, from British East Africa to Cyprus and parts of Egypt. It just didn’t work out that way.

I grew up on the lands of an Arab village which is no longer there. It was erased, not even a well remaining, in 1948. Its people are still around, somewhere, perhaps in permanent refugee camps beyond the border, unable to return. To be an Israeli is to be defined against the people whose ghosts are still here, whose children are pressing against the windows and kicking at the doors and asking why.

It is as if, in this new Middle East, the Palestinians have become the true Jews – landless, unwanted, subject to discriminatory laws and checkpoints and young men in uniforms and guns. And the Israelis have become what my grandfather would have called the paritz, the goy lord of the manor with the power over us.

I think we forgot that part of being a Jew is compassion, and a part of it is humility. And we lost both those things. We try so hard to hold on to a small piece of land that we do not think of the people who lived on it, whose trees we uprooted, whose ID documents we now mark with a different colour to ours, whose houses we erased with bulldozers.

We forgot, which is the worst thing of all for a Jew, our history. And without
our history, we are nothing.

Seventeen years after I last lived here, I’m back here again. My dreadlocks are gone, and now I look like any other Arab or Jew. I still like beaches, and science fiction, but I don’t really do that other stuff any more, unless someone might pass it to me at a party. Or there’s always Amsterdam.

I’m still not a very good Jew…

But I’d like to be a better Israeli.

Lavie Tidhar’s HebrewPunk and An Occupation of Angels are now available. His first novel, The Bookman, is out now, and will be followed next year by Camera Obscura.He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series.

Questions that Signal Success

Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Permalink

Joel Chasnoff has been blogging all month for the Jewish Book Council on his NETWORK author tour.

Writing from Houston, TX, in the midst of the mega-est week of my Mega Tour. It began in San Diego on Sunday, where I ran into fellow author (and friend) Joel Hoffman. Then on to Walnut Creek, CA; Cherry Hill, NJ; a Houston day school this morning (Emory-Weiner School, which is a totally great name for a Jewish school), and tonight the Houston Book Fest.

I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon: after a book event, someone will approach me and tell me that he or she is working on a book. The person asks for advice – and by his/her questions, I can tell whether he/she has what it takes to write a book.

Questions that signal success:

“How long did it take you to write it?”
“Did your editor work with you along the way?”
“What are your writing habits?”
“How many drafts did you go through?”
“Did you know when you were finished?”

These are all terrific questions. They are about the writing process, which every author struggles with. These questions show that the writer is immersed in his/her project and passionate.

And then there is the one question that tells me the person is probably writing for the wrong reasons and, therefore, won’t see it through. That question is:

“What are the residuals on book sales?”

Oh, boy. Residuals? Are you kidding me? The residuals on book sales are tiny. And they only come months – possibly years – down the road, if ever, because first you have to earn back your advance for writing the book and only then does the extra money come in. And even then it’s a pittance, maybe 15% of the profit on the book.

The most dedicated writers write their books without any thought for the money. Some even self-publish their books. Either way, writing the book is a two-year process at minimum, and probably more like 3-5. Anyone who’s writing the book for the residuals will probably be disappointed along the way and likely won’t hang in there.

Joel Chasnoff will be blogging here all month as he travels around the country on his Jewish Book NETWORK tour.

Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 of 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

Publishers Weekly recently determined their Best Books of 2010. David Grossman’s To The End of the Land made the list–not a surprise for most who have read it. (Did you see our review a few days ago?) We were also excited to see Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less among the selected titles. PW describes the graphic memoir as “an evocative, sometimes funny and often emotional recap of Glidden’s birthright visit to Israel done with charming watercolors and no shortage of candid responses to the Jewish state and the Palestinian question.”

Searching for Osama

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | Permalink

On Monday, Lavie Tidhar wrote about Jewish vampires and Hebrew punks. His new novel, An Occupation of Angels, is now available.

It can be terribly frustrating, writing a book no one wants to buy.

At the same time, it can be a good indication you’re doing something right.

I wrote a book called Osama. It will be out next year – but only in a limited-edition format, from a specialist press in the UK called PS Publishing. It’s a prestigious publisher – they also publish Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, and they seem to like my stuff. But 20 other publishers have so far rejected Osama for publication.

My favourite rejection said, “What a great book! However, at my previous employer we got bomb threats in the post, and I don’t want that to repeat here, so…” “However” is the one word you don’t want to hear when you send out a book.

A lot of publishers liked the book. But no one wants to buy it.

Osama is the story of Joe, a private detective living in Vientiane, Laos, a place as far from anything as you can get. His world is… different to ours, we find out. Simpler, possibly. Joe just gets by, but then he is hired by a mysterious woman –- who asks him to find a marginal writer, Mike Longshott, the author of a series of pulp novels about one “Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante”…

To find Longshott, Joe has to leave Vientiane, travelling to Paris, London, New York and Kabul on the trail of the elusive writer, who seems to write about mass terrorist attacks, about a war no one seems to understand. And Joe gradually finds out he, too, is in the midst of a secret war, with people after him, and the border between the two worlds blurring… until he has to face who he himself really is.

I can see why publishers are uncomfortable with this book. It is not only the subject matter – the “War on Terror”, or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – not just Longshott’s detailed, almost-clinical passages about attacks in Nairobi or Ras-al-Shaitan or the London Underground. It is not just the title, Osama, which makes grown publishers run screaming. We never see Osama bin Laden in the book. We only ever see his shadow. What I think the problem – one of the problems – publishers have is that the book takes place in a shadowy place. Is it real? It is fantasy? One editor went over the manuscript line by line, highlighting changes he would like. Everywhere the book whispers, suggests, hints, the editor wanted the book to shout. To point and say, This is what I mean!

It is a book that mixes pulp, and the formula story, with bits of old black and white films, and alternative history, and the ghost story, and a very real, very immediate war and its impact on people’s lives.

And no one’s sure, I think, exactly what to do with it.

At least one editor who loved the book had to reject it because the people from Marketing didn’t know how to market it. Others didn’t understand what was happening in the book. Others still were afraid of bomb threats (I’m not sure from whom). It’s a book that gets praises, but not a contract. Which is fine…

#

Because I couldn’t not write Osama. As it happens, I have a very personal history with that loose, and little understood, network of operatives that uses the collective name Al-Qaeda. I was in Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania, recovering from Malaria in a small hotel room in 1998, when the American embassy was attacked. I was in Nairobi a week later, watching the remains of the embassy there, surrounded by soldiers after-the-fact. And my wife, who was with me there, was in the Sinai in 2004 when a set of bomb attacks rocked the tourist coast of the Red Sea. A car bomb exploded less than a kilometre away from where she was, and I remember that night vividly, trying to establish contact, find out that she was alive, with the phone lines jammed and people passing on messages to each other, reassurances that such-and-such is fine, that they’re alive.

Just as I remember being in London in 2005 when four suicide bombers blew themselves up, spreading out of King’s Cross Station, where my wife travelled every day on her way to work (she was out of London that day, and had to travel back through the scene of chaos).

So I feel a certain intimacy with Al-Qaeda. We’ve certainly been through a few things together! I think the real tragedy of this war is that no one seems to understand it. The Americans seem genuinely baffled by the attacks, by the power of anger and resentment directed at them across a large part of the world. Al-Qaeda hasn’t come out of nothing. Nor did the American invasions of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Most recently, a colleague of my wife’s, an aid worker like herself, was kidnapped in Afghanistan and later killed in a failed rescue attempt by a US soldier’s grenade. This is a war that we need to understand.

#

It is a war my hero, Joe, most certainly doesn’t. He just wants to get by, in his very carefully-constructed world. He’s escaped these things he doesn’t understand, has created for himself a simpler world, a black-and-white world that resembles an old noir picture.

But, like Joe, we can’t live in black-and-white. We have to understand the shades of grey.

I think, ultimately, that’s what Osama is about. Maybe, when it comes out next year, no matter how small the print-run is, other people will agree. Maybe they’ll hate it. I wish it would find a bigger publisher, but I am happy either way. Happy that I wrote it, happy that I got to say something important, and happy that one publisher, at least, believes in the book enough to take a chance with it. I think they’re a bit scared about it, too…

But we need to stop being scared, and start understanding instead.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of HebrewPunkThe Tel Aviv Dossier and The Bookman. His novel Osama is forthcoming early next year from PS Publishing.

The Power of Half

Monday, November 08, 2010 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Book Council has been spreading the good (book) word down here in New Orleans. This morning we had the pleasure of presenting NETWORK author Kevin Salwen (The Power of Half) and we left the room inspired and charged to be more conscious of our actions and ability to help others.

Several years ago, Kevin and his family made the extraordinary decision to sell their Atlanta mansion, buy a house half its size, and give half of the sale price to a worthy charity. The experience took the family on a powerful journey across the globe, allowing them to understand how individuals can truly make a difference. In the end, the family devoted their money to help communities in Ghana improve their way of life through the Hunger Project. Author profits from the The Power of Half will be donated to charity, as well as a dollar from each sale.

Learn more about their efforts here.

And, hear from Kevin’s co-author, his daughter Hannah, below: