The ProsenPeople

This week on Shalom TV

Monday, March 02, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Can’t make it the National Jewish Book Awards ceremony this week? (If you’re in NYC, it’s free and open to the public!) Then catch History Winner Benny Morris (1948) and Women’s Studies Winner Aliza Lavie (A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book) on Shalom TV throughout the United States from Sunday, March 1 through Saturday evening, March 7 all day, all week.

Shalom TV, America’s National Jewish Cable Television Network, is Free Video on Demand available in over 27 million homes (including 800,000 Jewish families) across America. To access the Network click on “Available” on the Menu line at

A clip of the television presentations are available on the home page of Shalom TV.

Historian Benny Morris outlines how the roots of Islam have influenced modern Arab thinking

Dr. Aliza Lavie on Judaism in Israel and the inspiration for A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book

PW Interviews David Plotz

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Remember back in November when we told you about David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible? Well the publication date is finally upon us (March). Check out his Publisher’s Weekly interview here.

And stay tuned for a review of this title in the Summer issue ofJewish Book World.

Roth & Heller in The New York Times

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Zoe Heller’s new book, The Believers, which tells the story of a liberal Jewish family living in Greenwich Village, will be published this week by HarperCollins. The New York Times published a profile of Heller yesterday. To read the profile, visit here.

And, there’s more. The New York Times Art Beat reports on two new Philip Roth novels, The Humbling and Nemesis here.

Tropical Jews

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Seven hundred and fifty Jewish refugees fled Nazi Germany and founded the agricultural settlement of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Why did dictator General Rafael Trugillo admit these desperate refugees when so few nations would accept those fleeing fascism? In a new book out next month, Tropical Zion: General Trujillo, FDR, and the Jews of Sosua, Allen Wells, a noted historian of Latin American, and also the son of one of the original Sosua colonists, examines the story of the Jews of Sosua, combining vivid narratives about the founding of Sosua, the original settlers and their families, and the geopolitical relationships that led to the colony’s founding. Wells also explores FDR’s role in the colony and how his support strengthened U.S. relations with Latin America.

About a year ago, Marion A. Kaplan also came out with a book on the Sosua colony called Dominican Haven; The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua, 1940-1945, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Jewish Book Awards in Holocaust Studies. Her title expands our understanding of the challenges, opportunities and barriers to refugee settlement anywhere in the world and begins to answer many questions about this most peculiar case of refugee migration.The Dominican Haven is a companion volume to an exhibit that was open last year at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Two examples of photographs from the book and exhibit are below:

Dairy Farming. American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives [NY14917]

Sosua settlers Rosa and Heinz Lesser on their finca [farm]. Courtesy of Hanni Lesser Thuna

Yiddish Lit ONLINE

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Your Yiddish online needs have been heard by the National Yiddish Book Center! As a result of an alliance between the Yiddish Book Center and the Internet Archive of San Francisco, the full texts of over 10,000 works of modern Yiddish literature, comprising the National Yiddish Book Center’s Ste3ven Spielberg Digital Library, can now be read, downloaded, and printed in popular formats, FREE (YES–FREE!!) of charge, at, or “It’s a historic moment for Yiddish culture,” says Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the nonprofit Yiddish Book Center (and author of Outwitting History). “The magnificent record of a civilization the Nazis sought to destroy has been brought fully into the 21st century.”

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Dalia Sofer

Monday, February 23, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fifth, and final, installment of this year’s “Words from our Finalists”…Dalia Sofer

Dalia…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Dalia

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

Ensuring that the world you have created is engaging and cohesive, that all the narrative threads you have introduced early on are carried until the end, and that multiple layers are woven through the story without drawing attention to themselves. All of this should appear seamless to the reader.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a specific inspiration—for me writing is a release, a device through which I digest thoughts and emotions. The final product—the book—is a vessel that holds all this mishmash for me.

I find myself consistently drawn to ambiguity–in behavior, in relationships, in memory, in history, in governments, even in promises. I am also fascinated by the idea of the wheel of fortune—that life is favorable one instant and seemingly disastrous the next. I find much of my inspiration in these grey areas.

Who is your intended audience?

The marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands.

Do you think your work speaks predominantly to your generation? Future generations? Or, older generations?

I think (and hope) that it speaks to all generations. My novel is very much about loss, and everyone can relate to that on some level, regardless of age. Imprisonment is its most obvious and extreme manifestation—the man who had everything loses everything, literally overnight. But the loss is far greater than that: it’s the disappearance of a whole nation as it once was, the annihilation of a way of life. I’ve often thought of this novel as a kind of elegy to what once was.

W. G. Sebald once said, “the artistic self engages personally in […] a reconstruction, pledging itself to building a memorial.” The idea of the writer as builder of a memorial, however imperfect, struck a resonant chord with me.

Who is the reader over your shoulder?

My very discriminating cat Leo.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am working on my second novel, about an elderly man in a remote village in Southwestern France.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read several books at once. Currently I am reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days, and (revisiting) Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Organizing for Dummies.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

The first time I felt jolted out of my isolation after arriving in America was while reading Edith Wharton’s Ethan Fromein eighth grade and identifying—despite the vast geographical and chronological gaps separating us—with the reticent but kindhearted protagonist, trapped in a loveless marriage in the bitter cold of a New England town. In Ethan Frome I had for the first time encountered a protagonist whose passivity I recognized all too well, and ironically, it was in this reticent man that I saw a world opening up to me—a world where all that is left unsaid in real life can finally be said—a world where fictive characters become the reflections of the tangled emotions of humans—the world of novels.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

Knowing that I have connected with readers both emotionally and intellectually, and occasionally challenged them.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

I carry a mandrake root in my pocket at all times. I play the pungi with a white turban around my head to charm my pet snake out of his basket. I wear a silk robe bought from Shanghai, drink absinthe and read Baudelaire into all hours of the night.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

That’s not for me to say. But I’m always eager to hear what they did get out of the book.

A Word from the Israeli Literary Front

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The Jewish Book Council has spent the past few days at Jerusalem International Book Fair and so, keeping with the Israel theme, we offer you two resources to further enhance your experience as a reader of Israeli literature both outside of, and within, Israel. For anyone interested in Israeli Fiction, check out the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Book Club Resources for Israeli Fiction at Fiction is Real ( As the website explains, “you will find reading group guides to some of the most popular, hip, and exciting works of Israeli literature available in English today.” Fiction is Real currently features book club resources for the following titles:

City of Many Days by Shulamith Hareven
Tamara Walks on Water by Anthony Berris
Beaufort by Ron Leshem
Feathers by Haim Be’er
The Lover by A.B. Yehoshua
The One Facing Us by Ronit Matalon
Our Holocaust by Amir Gutfruend
If you Awaken Love by Emuna Elon
Snapshots by Michal Govrin
Bliss by Ronit Matalon
A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev
Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua
Accidents by Yael Hedaya
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
Someone to Run With by David Grossman
The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev
Bethlehem Road Murder by Batya Gur
A Good Place for the Night: Stories by Savyon Liebrecht
The Place Will Comfort You by Naama Goldstein
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God by Etgar Keret
Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato
A Trumpet in the Wadi by Sami Michael
The Dawning of the Day by Haim Sabato

And, for those based in (or visiting) Israel, Evan Fallenberg, author of the critically acclaimed Light Fell (a Finalist for the 2008 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction), has created The Studio. The Studio is a center for writers and readers of English. It is located in Bitan Aharon, just north of Netanya, Israel on the Coastal Road. Fallenberg offers a literary series, as well as writing workshops. The 8-evening series of literary events will feature the following writers:

* Thursday, December 11: Matt Beynon Rees (the Omar Yussef Palestinian mystery series)
* Wednesday, January 7: Joan Leegant (An Hour in Paradise)
* Sunday, January 25: Reva Mann (The Rabbi’s Daughter)
* Wednesday, February 18: Dorit Rabinyan (The Persian Bride,Strand of a Thousand PearlsOur Weddings)
* Monday, March 16: Haim Watzman (Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in IsraelA Crack in the Earth: A Journey Up Israel’s Rift Valley)
* Sunday, April 5: Ron Leshem (Beaufort)
* Thursday, May 7: Meir Shalev (A Pigeon and a BoyThe Blue MountainEsau, In the Beginning…)
* Tuesday, May 26: Tina Davis (book design; art books; children’s books)

The five workshops offered through The Studio include: Beginners, Creative Nonfiction, Short Story, Screenwriting, and Manuscripts.

For more information on this exciting endeavor, visit here.

Have an Extra $40 Million on your Hands?

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Well, fear not! We found a way for you to spend it. Sotheby’s is auctioning off what scholars in the field have described as “the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.”

From The New York Times:

These 13,000 books and manuscripts were primarily collected by one man, Jack V. Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, lives in London and made his fortune as a merchant of industrial diamonds. The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium. But this endeavor is not just an exercise in bibliophilia. These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world. . . Sotheby’s has put it on sale as a single collection. Through next Thursday it is being handsomely displayed to the public.

To read whole Times article, click here.

And, if you’re interested in viewing this collection, check out Sotheby’s viewing schedule.

The exhibition of the Valmadonna Trust Library is on view through next Thursday at Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, at 72nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 606-7000.

Above Photo: Rob Bennett for The New York Times

JPS Aims to Donate 2500 Pounds of Books

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

When the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) discovered four years ago that Jews serving in the U.S. military were offered only the New Testament as their “standard issue Bible,” the nonprofit publishing company responded by raising more than $70,000 to send free copies of the JPS Tanakh (an English translation of the Hebrew Bible) to 13,000 Jewish servicemen and women.

Bravo, JPS!

To read more about this project, please click here.

Like Israel? Like Books?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter 

Then we have the perfect trip for you! Registration for the Jewish Book Council and Hillel’s Taglit Birthright Israel Journalism/Literature trip opens next week.

Israel was built on the written word: the words of the Torah that first designated Eretz Yisrael, the words of the Sages and rabbinic figures who recorded the history of the land, the words of Theodor Herzl who inspired the modern concept of a Jewish state, the words of the journalists who brought the plight of those aboard The Exodus into living rooms across the world, the words of delegates who crafted the Balfour Declaration and Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the words of authors who inspired a struggling nation in its early years, and the words of the next generations of writers who explore, deconstruct, and promote the fast-paced, vibrant and tumultuous culture of living in Israel. With the Taglit-Birthright Israel Hillel/Jewish Book Council trip to Israel, these words come off the page and become an unforgettable experience.

Registration for Summer 2009 will open on February 17th for anyone who ever applied in the past (but didn’t go) and Feb. 19th for totally new applicants. Registration is open until March 4th. To register, please visit