Deliberations on our individuality, our place in the world — whether or not our attitudes towards social, political and religious responsibilities offer acceptable meanings to life — have been major themes in literature since Antiquity.
The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right
By Ami Pedahzur
Oxford University Press, £18.99
In 1969, 32 per cent of the Israeli electorate voted for the centre right and its allies. Forty years later, this had increased to more than 52 per cent, securing the premiership for Netanyahu. Israeli academic Ami Pedahzur tells the story of this remarkable transition.
How Should a Person Be?
By Sheila Heti
Harvill Secker, £16.99
This book crashed like a kind of meteorite into the literary landscape when it was published last year in the US. It was hailed as a major literary work of extraordinary originality — and has now been longlisted in the UK for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (successor to the Orange).
Boston-born Derek B Miller is a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, with a slew of security-based academic degrees behind him. It is an unlikely background for the writer of one of the best novels of the year, the majestic Norwegian by Night, starring the magnetic, 82-year-old hero, Sheldon Horowitz.
Becky’s mum has died and her dad is thinking of marrying a horrible woman who smells of herring and cooks leathery cholent. No Buts, Becky by José Patterson (Matador, £6.99) is set in Rothschild Buildings, Brick Lane, in 1908, complete with shabbes goy, shadchan, bagel woman and oy-veying bubbe.
Five years ago, Shlomo Sand published one of the most contentious Jewish books of recent times. In The Invention of the Jewish People, which appeared in English translation in 2009, the Tel Aviv University history professor debunked the idea of Jewish peoplehood.
Childhood innocence trembles in Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s bitter-sweet, wartime novella and international best-seller, Noah’s Child (Atlantic, £7.99,). Six-year-old Joseph is sent by his Belgian parents to live with existentialist priest Father Pons, who hides Jewish boys from the Gestapo inside his Christian orphanage.
Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein are both distinguished Jewish writers in their 70s, Raphael is a novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter; Epstein a fine essayist, superb short-story writer and some-time academic and editor.