The ProsenPeople

The 12 Top Jewish Book Reviews Read in 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 | Permalink

What books were you digging this year? Apparently a lot of fiction! Here are the top twelve Jewish book reviews you browsed in 2014 (and yes, we know that some of these books weren't even published in 2014!).

Related Content:

New Children's Reviews

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Permalink
Find the full list of children's reviews found in the Spring 2013 issue of Jewish Book World here.


New Reviews

Friday, September 07, 2012 | Permalink

This week's reviews:


New Reviews

Thursday, August 30, 2012 | Permalink
This week's reviews:

Part II: Cartoon Book Reviews are FINALLY here!

Monday, December 22, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

And let the trend begin! From, Rabbi Harvey reviews…Leaves from the Garden of Eden (Howard Schwartz). Click here to view.

Free Hors d’Oeuvres & Drinks + Anya Ulinich and Harry Bernstein

Friday, December 12, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

In the D.C. area? If so, don’t miss the opportunity to attend the awards reception honoring the winners of the Goldberg Prize for Emerging Fiction by Jewish Writers and Handelsman Prize for Jewish Nonfiction from the Foundation of Jewish Culture and Moment Magazine, Anya Ulinich (Petropolis) and Harry Bernstein (The Invisible Wall), respectively.

This free (and open to the public) reception will be held at:

Grand Hyatt
1000 H Street in Washington, D.C.
Room Independence I
Monday, December 22, 2008, beginning at 6:30 pm

More information is available here.

From the Fall 2008 issue of Jewish Book World. . . here’s reviewer Juli Berwald’s review of Harry Bernstein’s The Invisible Wall:

Reading The Invisible Wall is like having a grandfather spend several relaxed evenings entrancing you with the story of his childhood. This debut memoir, written by Harry Bernstein at the spry age of 93, is at once a deeply personal memoir, a historical document, and a love story. With wonderfully readable language, Bernstein brings to life the colorful characters who inhabited one street in a small English mill town just before and during World War I.

The title refers to an invisible, but no less tangible division between Jews who live on one side of the street and the non-Jews who live on the other. But if two people on opposite sides of a wall touch the wall, instead of acting as a separator, it is a connector.

And so it happens, that the people who live on either side of the separated street are in fact inextricably bound together. As the trials and devastation of world war make their way along the street, neighbors find profound connections they never knew they had. Bernstein takes the reader on a powerful journey through a book in which emphasis in the title shifts from Wall to Invisible.

Taking Another Look at Iraq and Albania…

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

I’m currently in the middle of Ariel Sabar’s memoir My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq and am fascinated by the history of the Jews and Muslims in Zakho, who lived alongside one another in mountainside villages for nearly 2,700 years. The two communities lived, more or less, peacefully alongside one another during that time, and the Kurdish Jews were subjected to almost none of the anti-Semitism that Jews in other regions of the world were forced to combat. As Sabar explains:

Seclusion bred fraternity. . . In important ways, they were Kurds first and Muslims, Christians, or Jews second. Muslims sent Jews bread and milk as gifts after Passover. . . They sent their Jewish neighbors hot tea during the Sabbath, when Jews were forbidden to light fires . . . And the Jews paid back the respect, forgoing cigarettes, for instance, during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims may not smoke.

Sabar crafts an intriguing portrayal of this exceptional community, blending his family’s personal history with the larger history of the region, interspersing stories and anecdotes of the people who have lived there.

(If you’re interested in more titles about Iraqi Jews, you may enjoy these new titles: Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon (Tamar Morad, Dennis Shasha, Robert Shasha, eds.) and Memories of Eden: A Journey Through Jewish Baghdad (Violette Shamash))

And, conveniently another book that focuses on relationships between Muslims and Jews has found its way to my desk. This stunning book of photography, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II, by Norman H. Gershman, tells the story of Albanian Muslims and Besa, a code of honor deeply rooted in Albanain culture and incorporated into the faith of Albanian Muslims. Besa dictates a moral behavior so absolute that nonadherence brings shame and dishonor to one’s family. Gershman has collected the stories of Muslims in Albania and Kosovo, who sheltered both Jews from their own cities, but also thousands of Jews fleeing other European countries. Each story is accompanied by Gershman’s gorgeous photographs, revealing a hidden period in history, and the compassion of ordinary people.

The stories in Besa will be the subject of a full-length documentary, God’s House, currently in production. To view the trailer, click here.

And… one of Gershman’s photos from the book (photo of Baba Haxhi Dede Reshat Bardhi):

Cartoon Book Reviews are FINALLY here!

Monday, November 10, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Have you seen Ward Sutton’s cartoon book review of Philip Roth’s Indignation? If not, be sure to check it out here

Jewish, Sad, Young, and Literary

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Over the past weekend I found myself completely absorbed in the literary universe of Joanna Smith Rakoff ‘s debut novel A Fortunate Age and wondering about the next generation of Jewish authors to emerge onto the literary scene. Rakoff’s novel opens with the line “[o]n a gray October day in 1998, Lillian Roth found herself walking down the stone-floored aisle of Temple Emanu-El, clad in a gown of dark ivory satin and flanked by her thin, smiling parents, who had flow into New York from Los Angeles…,” setting the stage for a cast of disillusioned twenty-somethings in search of their place in 21st century Manhattan. The “set” of friends (as Lillian Roth deems them) that Rakoff has envisioned seek to carve lives for themselves that evoke their liberal arts education, their intellectual capacity, and their nostalgia for the good old day of a more radically, intellectually charged Manhttan. For several of Rakoff’s characters, their Jewish heritage becomes a part of the backdrop–their Judaism is not front and center–but it’s a part of their foundation, making brief appearances throughout the book. None of the characters are particularly religious (although one does end up exploring Israel outside the boundaries of the narrative), and none comment on their Judaism as a negative factor within their life (or particularly positive)–it’s just a fact. They don’t wear it on their sleeve, but it’s there on the first page of the book, and it seeps back in throughout the course of the narrative.

Prior to reading Rakoff’s novel, I had just finished Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men, which muses on a similar set of characters (albeit male) facing similar questions at the turn of the 21st century. Where does the liberally arts educated, idealistic, intellectual end up in today’s world? What does it mean to (finally) finish your Ph.D.? What’s next? Success? Failure? Disillusionment? Reality? Gessen’s debut novel touches on questions related to Judaism (specifically Israel) more directly than Rakoff, specifically in the character of Sam who sets himself to the task of writing the the Great Zionist novel (having never been to Israel), naively (he’s Jewish, so he must identify with Israel, right?) attempting to weave Israel into his identity. Like Rakoff’s novel, none of Gessen’s characters are particularly religious, but their Judaism does exist as inescapable part of their identity—even if it is is mostly in the backdrop. How does the non-religious, liberally arts educated, Jew, incorporate Judaism into their life without the traditional foundation? And then what does this mean for their children? How does Israel factor in? Does Jewish = Israel?

Two novels in two weeks that focus on Jewish twenty-something liberal arts graduates searching for themselves…with a little Judaism thrown in? A trend? We’ll keep you posted.