Last week, in the wake of Don­ald Trump’s vic­to­ry and Leonard Cohen’s death, I reached for Liel Lei­bovitz’s thought­ful and illu­mi­nat­ing 2013 med­i­ta­tion on the great poet/​songwriter, enti­tled A Bro­ken Hal­lelu­jah. Read­ing it actu­al­ly made me feel a lit­tle better. 

I’m also read­ing The Empire of the Sens­es, Alex­is Lan­dau’s sweep­ing his­tor­i­cal nov­el set in Berlin between the two world wars and filled with Jew­ish and gen­tile char­ac­ters who are at once unit­ed and divid­ed by fam­i­ly ties, nation­al loy­al­ties, and roman­tic passions. 


Writ­ten in three-parts, Noe­mi Jaf­fe’s What are the Blind Men Dream­ing? brings togeth­er the expe­ri­ences and reflec­tions of three gen­er­a­tions of women: Lili Stern — the author’s moth­er — a Holo­caust sur­vivor whose diary entries open the book; Noe­mi Jaffe her­self, reflect­ing on her moth­er’s expe­ri­ences upon read­ing her diary and vis­it­ing Auschwitz in 2009; and Noemi’s daugh­ter Leda Cartum​, as a response to the pow­er of mem­o­ry and sur­vival.” Trans­lat­ed from Brazil­ian Por­tuguese and Ser­bian (Lili moved to Brazil from the Balka­ns fol­low­ing the war), What are the Blind Men Dream­ing?is a thought­ful and mov­ing addi­tion to the canon of Holo­caust literature. 


Mis­chling by Affin­i­ty Konar is a debut nov­el of the hor­rif­ic times in Dr. Men­n­gele’s Auschwitz lab­o­ra­to­ry. The sto­ry alter­nates between 13-year-old iden­ti­cal twins Pearl and Stasha and the hor­rif­ic acts of med­ical exper­i­ments that were done to them and thou­sands of oth­er chil­dren. Through­out this nov­el, there is awful despair but also acts of sur­vival and hope. 

I’m also read­ing The Impe­r­i­al Wife by Iri­na Reyn, in which the past and the present col­lide over a price­less arti­fact. This is an inter­est­ing look at the ambi­tion of two dif­fer­ent but sim­i­lar women.


I thought Helen Maryles Shankman’s In the Land of Armadil­los it was strik­ing­ly emo­tive, a glimpse into one small Pol­ish town dur­ing World War II. The short sto­ries are elec­tric and heart­break­ing, show­cas­ing a the many dif­fer­ent sides to one larg­er sto­ry — the reg­u­lar lives of a peo­ple that are thrust into his­to­ry. The writer has the uncan­ny abil­i­ty to craft each sto­ry as if it was its own world, yet fit neat­ly with­in the oth­ers like a puz­zle. Each char­ac­ter is fine­ly wrought and com­plex, often strug­gling with the mun­dane details of their every­day lives while under the immense pres­sure of death hov­er­ing over them dai­ly. They are beau­ti­ful sto­ries flow­ing with mag­ic and poet­ry, as the author insert­ed a lit­tle piece of mag­ic into each one.


Per­fect for this time of reflec­tion, Tri­umph of the Heart: For­give­ness in an Unfor­giv­ing World by jour­nal­ist and award-win­ning writer Megan Feld­man Bet­ten­court is an emo­tion­al jour­ney explor­ing every­thing from a mun­dane slight to crimes that are unthink­able, with teach­ers from all walks of life who show the way to learn­ing to forgive. 


The Gus­tav Sonata by Rose Tremain is about two young boys — one Jew­ish and one not — grow­ing upon Switzer­land after World War II. I love the author’s beau­ti­ful but spare writ­ing — the nar­ra­tive seems so direct that it takes a while to real­ize how much is left unspo­ken. I’m also par­tic­u­lar­ly struck by one boy’s con­cept of Swiss neu­tral­i­ty and self-reliance, which affects his rela­tion­ships through­out the novel.


On rec­om­men­da­tion from Nao­mi, this week I read David Samuel Levinson’s forth­com­ing nov­el Tell Me How This Ends Well, in which three adult sib­lings are forced to con­tend with their mother’s rapid­ly declin­ing health in a rabid­ly anti­se­mit­ic world six years into the future. I’m also revis­it­ing David Peace’s GB84, a hefty crime nov­el set against the British coal miner’s strike in of 1984, and yes­ter­day I picked up a copy of The Self­ish­ness of Oth­ers: An Essay on the Fear of Nar­cis­sism by Kristin Dombeck. It’s one of the most illu­mi­nat­ing and all-too-real works of non­fic­tion I have read this year — it’s all I can do to stop myself from tear­ing pages direct­ly out of the book and anony­mous­ly deliv­er­ing them to cer­tain mailboxes…

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