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New Reviews July 29, 2016

Friday, July 29, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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Jewish Book Council Staff Picks for July 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Salma Falah





 This month, I am reading Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown. This book is about a young Jewish woman in 1935 and her relationship with her mother. It highlights strong women during harsh times. This book is very well written and very interesting. Even though I am only halfway through, I enjoy her detailed writing style. I recommend it to people who enjoy strong female leads.

I am also reading Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon. This book portrays strong women in the early twentieth century. I am only in beginning, but so far it is extremely well written.


 This month, I am reading Imagine That by Mark Fins. This is a memoir that takes place in Bayside, Queens in 1957. Since I grew up in Bayside in that time period, this book especially resonated with me. I enjoyed the main characters fertile imagination. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a light read.

I am also reading Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This book follows the lives of three different women in 1939. The writing is clear and concise, and it is an interesting read. I recommend it to people who like the time period of WWII.


This July I fell in love with Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, a sylphic novel on the power and powerlessness of parents, children, writers, and their translators, set in contemporary Brazil. I read it one summery gulp.


The Big Lie is a YA look at the world if the Nazi's had won World War II, the focus of the book is on Jessika, who is an exemplary daughter of a high Nazi official. But she struggles with her limited world view when her best friend forces her to confront the world and the lies she has been told, as well as her confusion over her sexuality. The book is fast-paced, compelling, and forces the reader to confront the idea that the world they have always been taken as a given a lie.

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Spies—in the Galapagos Islands?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Allison Amend shared the facts she had about the real Frances Conway and how she became the protagonist of Enchanted Islands. Allison is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council this week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

My latest novel, Enchanted Islands, is about the life story of an unlikely spy, a middle-aged Jewish woman who travels to the Galápagos Islands with her husband, Ainslie, a naval intelligence officer, to spy on the Germans living there.

My protagonist Frances Conway (based on a real-life resident of the Galápagos Islands, though perhaps not a spy, and perhaps not Jewish) may not be Mata Hari or a member of the Bletchley Circle, but she had her small but important role to play in the underreported South American theater: South America, and specifically the Galápagos Islands, was the site of myriad covert activities in during World War II.

The Galápagos Islands are of strategic naval importance. 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, they played a significant role in the United States’ victory in the War of 1812: Captain David Porter captured three armed British whaling vessels that had stopped at the Islands to gather fresh water and tortoises to put in the hold to feed its men. (There’s an apparently apocryphal story that sailors put mail in the Floreana Island post office barrel with their destination, which allowed the United States to find them).

Flash forward about 120 years or so and the Galápagos were again a strategic stronghold. The United States feared that the Japanese navy would muster in the Galápagos and from there attack the Panama Canal, which would have crippled American supply lines. In response, the United States Air Force built a base on the Island of Seymour North, or Baltra, familiarly known as The Rock.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, rumors were swirling that Hitler had included South America in his plans for world domination sooner rather than later. German spies had infiltrated Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and other countries, engaging in intelligence gathering and subterfuge. Additionally, Spain was transferring paper intelligence and equipment from South America to Berlin. Roosevelt possessed what was likely a British forgery of a map purporting to show Hilter’s plans to divvy up South America among the Axis powers and subsequently invade northward. Roosevelt used this map to help convince America to enter the war; it was essentially the Niger yellowcake document of the previous century.

When the real Frances and Ainslie Conway moved to the Galápagos Islands in 1937, they lived for six months on Santiago Island with an Ecuadorian family and a lone Norwegian for company. After six months, they were forcibly moved by the Ecuadorian government to Floreana, which had a history of housing Germans (though by the time Frances and her husband arrived, there was only one German family left). The speculation that Frances and Ainslie were government agents sent to spy is based in part on Ainslie’s military past and an anonymous feasibility study for an air base on Floreana Island, which he most likely authored.

In making my fictional Frances Conway a Jewish spy, I placed her in a situation where she must lie about her culture and religion. As the stakes get higher and higher (at one point, the United States’ security is at risk), the tension this subterfuge creates stresses her to near her breaking point, forcing her to draw on reserves she wasn’t aware she possessed to save the day.

A graduated of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Allison Amend is the author of Things That Pass for Love, Stations West, and A Nearly Perfect Copy. She is currently on tour with her new book, Enchanted Islands, for the 2016 – 2017 through the JBC Network.

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Book Cover of the Week: Leaving Lucy Pear

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Happy pub day to Anna Solomon on the release of Leaving Lucy Pear! I love the book cover (and the story behind it, which you will be able to read in Jewish Book Council's interview with the author later this summer) on the American edition, but the edition for English readers abroad is also worth a gander:

If either book cover isn't enough to whet your literary appetite, read the novel's opening scene!

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Here's What I Know About the Real Frances Conway

Monday, July 25, 2016 | Permalink

With the recent release of her new novel, Enchanted Islands, Allison Amend is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council this week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

“Wait, so you just made her Jewish?”

When people hear that I based my most recent novel, Enchanted Islands, on a real person, they immediately want to know how much I made up and how much is true to life.

Here’s what I know about the real Frances Conway: she wrote and published two memoirs about her time in the Galapagos before and after the Second World War. She died in 1968 in Los Gatos, California.

I attempted to research her, but was unable to find out much about her other than where she was buried. (There’s a rumor that she and her husband were spying on the Germans who lived there, but it’s unsubstantiated). That’s it. Not a lot to go on.

Frances’s memoirs are interesting both because they are the story of living on a deserted island, but also for what they leave out: any personal information. Nowhere does she mention her motivation for moving to an island in the middle of the Pacific. Nowhere does she talk about how she and her husband—who was 11 years her junior—met or got together, and she gives only the vaguest sketch of their lives before the islands.

I have no evidence that she was Jewish, though her books are dedicated to “Rosaline and Clarence Fisher.” So why make her Jewish? I was interested in the rivalry between German and Eastern European Jews at the turn of the century in this country. What it would mean to this character to have to hide her religion for the sake of her job; what tensions would that create within her? I was also interested in exploring the two women’s changing attitudes toward Judaism— Rosalie, raised without much religion, becomes observant, while Frances, raised in a traditional household, abandons many of the traditions she grew up with.

At readings and online, people want to know why, if I knew so little about the real Frances Conway, did I not just change her name? I wanted to honor the spirit I discovered in her memoirs—an intrepid woman who lived during a tumultuous time in history and whose sense of adventure (and humor, and ability to laugh at herself) buoyed her through. I’m hoping that a renewed interest in her memoirs allows others to fall in love with her as I have.

A graduated of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Allison Amend is the author of Things That Pass for Love, Stations West, and A Nearly Perfect Copy. She is currently on tour with her new book, Enchanted Islands, for the 2016 – 2017 through the JBC Network.

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New Reviews July 24, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:

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A JewAsian July 4th

Friday, July 22, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Leavitt determined the three takeaways on raising Jewish-Asian families worth sharing from their research for their coauthored book JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America's Newest Jews. They are blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

The publication of JewAsian, coming just prior to the 4th of July holiday, provides a unique lens through which to observe the United States and try to learn about the state of our nation in 2016. Indeed, the way that young mixed-race Jews think about themselves allows us to make larger observations about our society.

On one hand, we are in the hot season of a mean-spirited presidential campaign in which race and diversity are focal points for voters’ anger and activism. On the other, on this final Independence Day during the administration of America’s first mixed-race President, the multicultural cast of Hamilton is on magazine covers and red carpet runways, challenging us to think in new ways about our nation’s founding story and current identity. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the University of Texas affirmative action admission plan reminds us that we cannot avoid taking race into consideration when we attempt to describe America.

Writing JewAsian helped us confront the central role that race plays for the young people at the center of our investigation. Like our nation, our mixed-race Jewish interviewees feel both the stress and the optimism of their complex identities.

Demonstrating the depth of ingrained racial stereotypes and expectations, they told us that they often were challenged in Jewish spaces because they did not appear “Jewish” (by which they meant white and of Ashkenazi descent). Their racial presentation led people around them to make unwelcome and often incorrect assumptions about their religious beliefs and practices. Whether those comments were made out of racist motivations or a simple lack of racial awareness we will never know, but the impact of such comments does not change for people receiving those comments, whatever the speakers’ intent.

At the same time, our interviewees were proud of and reveled in their racial complexity. Many used terms like “special” and “kind of unique.” They delighted in the opportunity for openness to the world that their identities offered—“the availability of having more choice and opportunities to appreciate cultures,” as one of them told us.

They also felt connected to others in ways we did not expect. Interviewees described themselves as being both Asian and Jewish and also part of a larger biracial community that includes people with many different racial and ethnic traditions, not just Asian or Jewish. And our interviewees frequently felt included in that and wanting to contribute to the well-being of other biracial individuals.

Their pride in their racial identity often gave them a foundation for engaging in civic and political debates around them. They told us that their participation was rooted in their experiences making meaning from their own racial identities which led them to feel connected to other racial and ethnic minorities. Their racial position afforded them a platform for jumping into campaigns for equality, including racial as well as other markers of identity, like gender and sexual orientation.

Accordingly, as demographers predict a significant increase in the number of mixed-race households and individuals in America, and as the country’s population becomes more diverse, we draw the following insights from our JewAsian interviewees:

1) Race continues as the master category for social organization.

2) We must create more ways to learn to decouple our visual experience of people from our assumptions about them.

3) Biracial or multiracial identity can be both specific as well as general.

4) How one identifies racially cannot be isolated from one’s social interactions and larger context.

5) Confidence in one’s racial identity can be a platform for connection and activism and engagement.

So, this July 4th, we toast the optimism of the young people we’ve met over the past five years, who despite the challenges of their racial presentation nevertheless gain strength from who they understand themselves to be, using that strength in turn to both challenge and educate those around them as well as ally themselves with many other mixed young people around our increasingly mixed country.

We find it poignant and hopeful that our polyglot immigrant nation can derive wisdom from the experience of our interviewees.

Helen Kiyong Kim is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Whitman College. Noah Samuel Leavittis an associate dean of students at Whitman College and has served as the advocacy director for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. Both authors are currently touring for the 2016 – 2017 season through the JBC Network on their book JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews.

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Extra Diapers, Two Bottles, Four Cans of Evaporated Milk, Five $20 Bills

Thursday, July 21, 2016 | Permalink

Excerpted from Leaving Lucy Pear: A Novel by Anna Solomon

If they were coming, this was the night. The pears had stayed yellow and hard for so long that Bea had started to despair, but they were finally ready to pick. The moon was a quarter full. The afternoon’s wind had gone limp. Midnight came and went. Bea counted to five hundred for extra measure—silently, so she wouldn’t wake the nurse—then she took up the infant from its bassinet, wrapped it in her aunt Vera’s angora shawl, and crept down the cellar stairs in her bare feet.

The stairs to the cellar were granite, and cold. The original wooden ones had burned with the original wooden house in 1873. Bea did not know about the fire but she could smell it, because the cellar was the one part of the house that hadn’t needed rebuilding and its walls retained the flavor of ash. She moved toward the bulkhead door as fast as she could, feeling along the wall with her free hand, careful not to bump the handles of shovels and hoes, though the shovels and hoes had been through far worse. They had witnessed flood and fire. They had been variously cared for and abused by generations of gardeners, had been used to plant tulips and to dig graves. They had even, once upon a time, been in the presence of another unwed mother and her infant. Knowing this might have put Bea’s own suffering in perspective. But she did not know and she had not been taught perspective. She was eighteen, the daughter of ascendant Boston Jews who had sent her away to Eastern Point in a black, curtained limousine the day she started to show.

The bulkhead door was heavier than she expected, its diagonal slope demanding that it be lifted as much as pushed. She had unlocked it from the outside before going to bed but she hadn’t tested its weight and now the thing didn’t budge. She pressed harder. The cellar was her only way out—she had tested the doors on the first floor and every one either shrieked or squeaked or groaned. She pushed again. If she put the baby down, it would cry. Bea started to pant with panic. The cellar roof seemed to be dropping, the walls squeezing. She climbed the bulkhead steps until she was bent nearly in two, the infant squeezed into the small space between her thighs and chest, and tried to open the door with her back. Her legs shook. Sweat sprang at her neck. She was still soft and weak from the birth two weeks before, her right eye bloodshot though she had no memory of pushing, no memory of any of it, nothing until a baby was being handed to her, clean and silent, like a doll her mother had bought. She was lucky, Bea understood—Aunt Vera had hired a doctor who had studied in Germany with the father of twilight sleep. There had been morphine, there had been scopolamine—these, according to Aunt Vera, would do more to liberate women than the vote. Bea understood that she was supposed to understand herself to be lucky. She understood that she must have pushed, and that she should be glad not to remember. She pushed now, using her neck, her shoulders, every muscle in her body. At last the door gave an inch, then two, then lightened so quickly Bea was following it—she had to scramble to catch up before it slammed on the ground outside. She looked behind her, above. The hinge had given a sharp cry. She went stiff waiting for another sound, the nurse’s heavy footsteps, her heavy call: Beatrice? She waited until her breath came and quieted her heart. Then she stepped out into the night.

Through the near trees she could see the far ones in the orchard down below. Slowly, her eyes adjusted, and she saw the pears themselves, their waxy orbs glowing greenly in the three-quarter dark. Her mouth watered and Bea, embarrassed by this bodily secretion, turned her thoughts to her Plan.

Walk to orchard.
Wake infant.
Nurse infant.
Change infant.
Check inside paper sack: extra diapers, two bottles, four cans of Borden’s evaporated milk, five twenty-dollar bills.
Set infant under most plentiful tree.

From Leaving Lucy Pear: A Novel by Anna Solomon, published on July 26, 2016 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Anna Solomon, 2016.

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Book Cover of the Week: New Renderings of the Night Trilogy

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

While Sophie Segal, one of Jewish Book Council’s interns this summer, was researching her essay on the legacies of the late Novel laureates Imre Kertész and Elie Wiesel, I came across some striking representations of Wiesel’s Night trilogy, dreamed up by independent graphic designers:

Definitely a strong departure from the standard paperback edition. What do these aesthetics contribute to the books they cover, or does an artistic element somehow detract from the work as Wiesel intended? I’m curious to hear other readers’ thoughts on this—please chime in using the comments section below!

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Quiz: Which Up-and-Coming #JewLit Book Should You Read Next?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016 | Permalink

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