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Naomi Alderman's "Disobedience" is Now a Film

Friday, September 15, 2017 | Permalink

Mazel tov to Naomi Alderman! Her novel Disobedience, which was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, has been adapted into a film directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio and starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. The story is about a young woman who leaves behind her ultra-Orthodox upbringing – and the distinguished rabbinical family she was part of – to seek happiness and fulfillment elsewhere. The movie just premiered last weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, but critics have already praised it as "a beautiful, fraught, and emotionally nuanced drama" and a "respectful and immersive..portrait...of the many forms love can take."

The Rohr judges on why they loved the book: Many novels of disobedience in Jewish literature, from the beginning of the modern period on, paint the world left behind in largely or entirely unsympathetic terms; when the main character is forced, by circumstance, to return to that world, one of Alderman’s achievements is to complicate that picture by rendering it in subtle shades and its inhabitants as real people, not caricatures. Alderman’s abilities are by no means limited to ethnography, though; through a series of surprising developments, she explores how and whether change can come to a world that prides itself on holding fast against change; and how her characters’ various disobediences are themselves, if not necessary, seemingly inevitable.

10 Awesome Books for the 10 Days of Awe 5776

Monday, September 14, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Each year produces a fresh crop of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and memoir addressing the Jewish High Holidays and the themes they embody: reflection on the past, forgiveness and reconciliation, spiritual cleanse and personal redemption, and transitioning into a new phase of life—both as an individual and as a community. Building on last year's list, here are ten recommendations for the first ten days of 5776.

1. The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Though the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri

One of the most compelling contemplations of faith—a thoroughly Jewish faith, and the faith of a writer in his own work—which might be the same thing—to fly under the radar, Avi Steinberg’s sophomore memoir is as profound as its premise is bizarre. To study Joseph Smith’s life and legacy is, for Steinberg, a refreshing reflection on the Hebrew Bible, our hero’s childhood in Jerusalem, the nostalgia for belief of his youth.

2. The Book of Numbers: A Novel

Joshua Cohen’s brilliantly unsettling imitates-life bend of fiction hits full force with his latest novel. Playing with science fiction, technology, and identity crisis The Book of Numbers traces the rambling paths of contemporary quests for forgiveness and redemption that emerge when titan of the Digital Age contracts a freelancer who shares his name to write his biography, all in Cohen’s signature engrossing, thoroughly Jewish-postmodern voice.

3. Made in Detroit: Poems

Marge Piercy dedicates an entire section of her nineteenth collection of poetry to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the turn of the Jewish year in stirring imagery and recurring meditations on family, love, and wishes and failure to be better next year.

Apples and honey for the new year
but you are my year round sweet
apple. The apple of my eye, apple
of temptation and delight. My honey:

I was never truly happy before you.
I was never truly whole before you.

4. Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and
the Trial of the Nazis

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, revisited in Tim Townsend’s riveting account of U.S. Army chaplain Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran clergyman assigned to minister to the Protestant defendants tried and imprisoned in the Nuremberg Palace of Justice following World War II. The story is a fascinating history of America’s military chaplaincy, the Lutheran Church and its mission in the United States, and the jurisprudential and journalist community encouched in postwar Germany—as well as a compelling biography of Gerecke and a respectful examination of the members of his flock awaiting condemnation. Besides being my go-to recommendation for a nonfiction read, Mission at Nuremberg is a fascinating study of confronting evil, religious compassion, and the impossible question of what redemption means for the Nazi arbiters of the Holocaust.

5. A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined
House in France

Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s memoir of rooting about her family history in attempts to uncover the secret that separated her grandparents half a century ago is a reflective work of self-discovery and rumination on reconciliation. Get a taste of the book and its author with Miranda’s Visiting Scribe posts on questioning Holocaust survivors about their past and the “madeleine moments” she shares with and observed in her grandfather.

6. After Abel and Other Stories

A richly provocative perspective to carry in rereading the Torah afresh starting next week, Michal Lemberger’s collection of nine heartbreaking stories imagines the experience of the women of the Bible, translating their traditional depictions as virtuous, villainous, or simply present into human actions and responses to the experiences and events they witness without voice in the original text. Also a Visiting Scribe on The ProsenPeople, Michal shared her fascination with the story of Lot’s Wife, the narrative struggle of turning King David into a villain, and what the Lifetime adaptation of The Red Tent got wrong with the Jewish Book Council “way back” in 5775.

7. Thresholds: How to Thrive through Life's Transitions to Live a Fearlessly and Regret-Free Life

The ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is one of transition in the Jewish year and within. If you’re looking to embrace this moment of spiritual transmigration beyond the customary liturgy and ritual practices, embark on the personal examination of self in time and place with Rabbi Sherre Hirsch’s mindful guide to discovery.

8. Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker

Julian Voloj and Claudia Ahlering present a graphic narrative of the 1971 Hoe Avenue peace meeting brokered by the Ghetto Brothers’ president and Nuyorican marrano Benji Melendez to establish a truce between the warring gangs of the Bronx. Alongside Melendez’s discovery of his crypto-Jewish heritage and return to the hidden religion of his ancestors, Ghetto Brother is an absorbing true story of unlikely reconciliation and the birth of Hip Hop.

9. How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey

Certainly you recognize David Gregory from his career as a former NBC newsman and Meet the Press moderator, but you might not know how his strong Jewish identity instilled from his upbringing developed into belief over the course of a decade of study with an Orthodox Jewish scholar. Prompted by a question from George W. Bush during David’s assignment as chief White House correspondent, How’s Your Faith? considers the “ Unlikely Spiritual Journey” from one of television journalism’s most recognized faces.

10. Days of Awe: A Novel

You name your book Days of Awe, it pretty much has to be on this list. While the novel does not overtly address the Ten Days, it spins around themes of past wrongs, forgiveness, and the rending process of beginning anew. One of Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribes over the Ten Days of Awe 5776, read Lauren Fox’s entries on The ProsenPeople here.

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An Interview with Naomi Alderman

Friday, May 03, 2013 | Permalink
by Ada Brunstein

Naomi Alderman was a finalist for the 2007 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and is a Sami Rohr Prize Literary Institute fellow. Her most recent book, The Liars' Gospel, was published by Little, Brown and Company. Win a copy of The Liars' Gospel here.

Ada Brunstein: What made you want to write this book?

Naomi Alderman: I first thought of the idea for this book about twenty years ago when I was sixteen or so. I was studying both Hebrew and Latin at the same time which gives you two quite interesting perspectives on the same period. And my Hebrew teacher was telling me that there were references to Jesus in some of the ancient Jewish texts of the period. And I said ‘Oh somebody should write a book about this,’ and she said, ‘no no no they shouldn’t; no one should write a book about the Jewish Jesus.’ And of course that kind of strong reaction will make it stick in your mind.

And then it was this idea that would recur to me every Easter when there would be all sorts of things on the BBC about Jesus and Easter and it would just be so simplistic as an understanding of what was going on at the time: there are nasty high priests who did nasty things and Jesus died. It’s so much more complicated than that.

AB: How did you choose the characters you chose for these four gos­pels from among all the characters in Jesus’s life?

NA: They are the ones who spoke to me.

I would have loved to have gotten something out of Mary Magdalene but I couldn’t make her say anything to me.

I suppose the high priest definitely chose himself because that character seemed so neglected and I think he’s my favorite of the four because it just feels like a perspective that I haven’t ever seen.

Barabbas was definitely the last one for me to choose and for a long time I wasn’t sure he was right, but as I thought about it he got more and more right.

Judas also I think basically chose himself. I was very interested in whether I could portray him as somebody who was incredibly sincere in his various beliefs rather than again a pantomime villain character, a blaggard.

AB: Your portrayal of Judas is indeed more nuanced than the way we usually see Judas portrayed. Can you say more about how that charac­ter evolved?

NA: In fact the character note for Judas I got directly from the Gospel of Mark, which is the earliest gospel. This is what you get in the story of how that happened: You have two things juxtaposed right next to each other. There’s the story of how they go to Bethany, or Beith Anya, and this woman comes and pours perfume on Jesus’s head. In Mark it says one of the disciples said ‘why did you let her do that? The perfume could’ve been sold and money could’ve been given to the poor.’ And Jesus gives a really terrible answer. He says ‘why wouldn’t I let her do it? I will not be with you for too much longer, but the poor will always be with you.’ It’s a terrible answer. And then the very next line is ‘and then Judas went to betray him.’ And reading that as a novelist I thought well, ‘one of the disciples,’ that seems like it was obviously Judas and that was obviously his reason. And once you have that as the reason —because that’s quite a challenging question to which Jesus gives an evidently awful answer—that’s the basic note of that character.

Incidentally John, which was written much much later evidently came to the same conclusion as me. So he goes, ‘Judas said why did you let her do it, the perfume could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor.’ And then John adds another bit saying that Judas only asked this because he wanted to steal the money and keep it for himself.’ And you go ‘John, boytchik, you know you’re making that up. You saw what I saw in there which is that if you’re following a man who gives that answer then you can have a reason to feel like you have already been betrayed.’ This is the character note for Judas. He’s a man who betrays but he also feels he’s been betrayed.

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