Looking forward to a year of good reading

Our American correspondent invites JC readers to join her on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book in the coming year

December 07, 2017 10:48

As the JC’s readers know, the latest longlist for the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize was announced last week. I’m aware of the prize’s focus — as phrased on the Wingate Foundation website — on work that “translate[s] the idea of Jewishness to the general reader.” Having noted that once again, books written by American authors appear on the longlist, and anticipating works that will be published here in the USA in the first months of 2018, I’ve begun thinking ahead to next year’s potential honorees. Not all of these forthcoming books may be available in Britain exactly when they’re released in the States. But that doesn’t mean that it’s too early for you to know about them.

Let’s begin with fiction and Eternal Life by Dara Horn (published in January by W W Norton). Once named by Granta as among the “Best Young American Novelists,” Horn has published four previous novels and won nearly every award that honours Jewish fiction (although not — as yet — the JQ Wingate). The protagonist of Eternal Life is Rachel, a woman who makes a spiritual bargain in Roman-occupied Jerusalem — to save the life of her first son, she will never die. Instead, Rachel cycles through centuries of marriages and motherhoods. Although her location often changes, with much of the novel set in the United States, one thing never does: Rachel is always her Jewish self.

Next is The Château by Paul Goldberg (February, Picador). I’ll confess that Goldberg’s previous novel, The Yid, a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, still awaits my attention. And I suspect that I’ll opt to read this new book first. (How can I resist the publisher’s assurance that I’ll be taken “behind the scenes of a Florida condo board election” and encounter “a wild spin on Florida, Jewish identity, petty crime, fascism, vodka, and life in Trump’s America”?)

Short-story fans in particular should rejoice at the news of Scott Nadelson’s fourth collection The Fourth Corner of the World (February, Engine Books); too few readers seem to be acquainted with his excellent work. According to the publisher, the stories in this volume “roam geographically and historically, featuring a would-be assassin in 1920s Paris, Jewish utopians in 1880s Oregon, and teenage girls seeking revenge in 1980s New Jersey among their casts of beautifully rendered outcasts and seekers.”

Paper Is White by Hilary Zaid (March, Bywater Books) is a debut novel embedded in recent history: 1990s dot-com era San Francisco. It features a protagonist whose professional life is devoted to recording the testimony of Holocaust survivors and whose personal life includes, with her girlfriend, an early path toward marriage equality.

When discussing Goldens Are Here by Andrew Furman (March, Green Writers Press), I should disclose that the author and I have been friends for about 15 years. This novel takes readers back to the 1960s, the civil-rights movement, and a historic citrus season. Through the prism of the Jewish Golden family, it promises to offer a view of the changes occurring in Florida and across the country during one of America’s most turbulent decades.

Of course, non-fiction books are coming, too. As a historian — and a Francophile — I’m pleased to discover that English-language readers will soon have access to Hunting the Truth, the combined memoir of famed Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (translated by Sam Taylor; March, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and novelist Andreï Makine’s turn toward biography in Lieutenant Schreiber’s Country, which shares the under-recognised story of near-centenarian journalist and politician Jean-Claude Servan-Schreiber (translated by Grace McQuillian; May, Arcade Publishing).

To be sure, much new non-fiction will spotlight American Jewish experience as well. Two examples: Joyce Antler’s Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (May, NYU Press) and a short biography of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States, written by Lillian Federman for the popular Jewish Lives series (May, Yale University Press).

But as a granddaughter of German Jews who fled to New York in the late 1930s, I am perhaps most drawn to a history book titled Cities of Refuge: German Jews in London and New York, 1935-1945 by Massachusetts professor Lori Gemeiner Bihler (April, SUNY Press). The book appears to be a revised version of a doctoral thesis completed at the University of Sussex. Whether it lands on a future JQ Wingate Prize longlist or not, I suspect that it may interest at least a few JC readers, too.


Erika Dreifus is a writer based in New York


December 07, 2017 10:48

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