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The Spring Booklist
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The Spring Booklist

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

Nonfiction:

“A Delayed Life: The True Story of the Librarian of Auschwitz” by Dita Kraus (Feiwel and Friends) describes how the author risked her life, as a young girl imprisoned in Auschwitz, to care for the books smuggled in by other prisoners, and details her life after the war. Kraus is the subject of Antonio Iturbe’s best-selling book, “The Librarian of Auschwitz” (2017).

A wide-ranging anthology of contemporary and historical voices, “How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish,” edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert (Restless Books), chronicles the ongoing vitality of Yiddish.

In “The Escape Artist” (Gallery Books), a follow-up to “After Long Silence,” Helen Fremont, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, tries to make sense of the deep secrets underlying her family’s experience and, in light of her last book, their dismissal of her.

Based on brief snippets shared on WINS Radio, “Just Give Me a Minute: Insights from the Radio Rabbi” by Joseph Potasnik (Wordsmithy) includes anecdotes and Torah learning, along with some biographical details. A long-time radio regular, the author heads the New York Board of Rabbis and serves as chaplain of the FDNY.

“Hakibbutz Ha’artzi, Mapam, and the Demise of the Israeli Labor Movement” by Tal Elmaliach, translated by Haim Watzman (Syracuse), is a history of Israel’s political transformation.

An English edition of an Israeli best-seller, “Prepare My Prayer: Recipes to Awaken the Soul” by Dov Singer (Koren) is a poetic guide, a book about words and how words are heard. Singer, who heads Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Israel, is an innovative educator and a leader of the modern Israeli revival of chassidut (chasidic philosophy).

Taking a literary and spiritual approach, Elliot Rabin, in “The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility” (JPS), compares six biblical heroes with heroes of world literature, exploring the complexity, flaws and power of these figures; he also includes a chapter on the heroic stature of God.

“Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best” by Neal Bascomb (Houghton Mifflin) is a fast-paced true story from the golden age of auto racing.

Esther Safran Foer, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, writes in “I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir” (Tim Dugan Books) that she grew up as if surrounded by ghosts, relatives who were rarely spoken of, their stories secret. The book is her journey to uncover her family’s history. She is the mother of prominent writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Franklin Foer.

Published 50 years after it was written, “Franci’s War: A Woman’s Story of Survival” (Penguin) is a Holocaust memoir by Franci Rabinek Epstein, a fashion designer and mother of writer Helen Epstein (“Children of the Holocaust”). She writes candidly about the experience of women during the war.

In the illustrated work “The Dairy Restaurant” (Schocken), cartoonist Ben Katchor (who has been described as “a poet of the gone world”) tells the history of a restaurant culture that has all but faded. He includes a directory of all the dairy places once present in New York City, their menus and their distinctive practices.

In her debut, “Nobody Will Tell You This But Me” (Knopf), comedian Bess Kalb pays tribute to her family and her powerful, loving connection to her grandmother — as told by her grandmother from beyond the grave.

“From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History” by Nancy Sinkoff (Wayne State) is the first comprehensive biography of the pioneering historian; her life experiences provide a lens into the major issues of 20th-century Jewish life.

A biography of a charismatic trailblazer, “Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes” by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) chronicles the life of a Jewish refugee from Russia; she was a factory worker, a journalist and eventually the wife of the son of a very wealthy gentile family. Together they campaigned for labor equality and women’s rights. Once among the most famous women in America, Pastor Stokes is now largely forgotten.

“Houdini: The Elusive American” by Adam Begley (Yale) is the latest in the Jewish Lives series.

In the illustrated volume, “Jewish Identity in American Art: A Golden Age since the 1970s,” art historian Matthew Baigell explores the work of artists born between 1930 and 1960 who infused their work with Jewish themes.

Journalist Svenja O’Donnell, the daughter of a German mother and Irish father, grew up in Paris, and only later in life learned about her family’s experiences during World War II; she unveils rarely seen aspects of the war in “Inge’s War: A German Woman’s Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler.” (Viking).

“Concealed: Memoir of a Jewish-Iranian Daughter Caught Between the Chador and America” (Greenpoint) is Esther Amini’s debut. She writes of her family’s journey from Mashhad in Iran to Queens and her own coming-of-age in a new and very different world, making her own choices, like Barnard College over a prearranged marriage.

“Invisible Years: A Family’s Collected Account of Separation and Survival during the Holocaust in the Netherlands” by Daphne Geismar (Godine), published to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, is an unusual second-generation Holocaust memoir. Geismar’s parents had a “Holocaust drawer” in their Connecticut home, where they kept documents relating to both sides of her family. The author, a book designer and teacher, pieced together the letters, diaries and other papers plus additional research to rewind their stories into a single narrative. The illustrated book has the feel of a museum catalog; images of the drawer liner serve as endpapers.

“Yes To Life: In Spite of Everything” by Victor E. Frankel (Beacon) is the first English-language edition of a collection of lectures published by the acclaimed psychologist and Holocaust survivor in 1946. For him, every crisis also includes an opportunity.

“Saving Free Speech … From Itself” by Thane Rosenbaum (Fig Tree) explores the meaning of the First Amendment and sparks a timely conversation about whether some regulation of free speech is warranted. Even some of the strongest advocates of free speech are second-guessing whether neo-Nazis should have been allowed to march in Skokie in 1977 or alt-righters to march in Charlottesville in 2017.

Fiction:

An impressive debut by a New York City high school student, “The Lie in Our Hearts” by Evelyn Landy (Sky) is a coming-of-age story about a teenager finding her own voice amidst the dramas of high school romance, studies, friendship and the wide-open future ahead.

“Villa of Delirium” by Adrien Goetz (New Vessel) is set along the French Riviera in the early 1900s, when a Jewish family builds a grand villa, replicating a Greek palace. The narrator, the son of a servant from a nearby estate owned by the designer of the Eiffel Tower, is adopted by the family and survives the Nazi confiscation of the house and deportation to death camps of the family.

A first novel that draws on Jewish folklore, Latin American oral literary traditions and stories of exile, “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” by Michael Zapata (Hanover Square) tells of a Latin American science fiction writer whose lost manuscript turns up decades later, connecting lives in New Orleans.

Inspired by a true story found in manuscript fragments in the Cairo Genizah, “The Convert” by Stefan Hertmans (Pantheon) reimagines a young woman from a wealthy family in 11th-century France who falls in love with a rabbi’s son, facing dangerous anti-Semitism; the author weaves in his own story of tracking the woman’s history.

“Apeirogon” by Colum McCann (Random House) is rooted in the real friendship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, both of whom lost children to the conflict in their land. The story is told in 1001 small numbered sections, with two passages in the middle in which the real-life men speak in their own words. The short episodes, set across the world and through time, link to form this novel, named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides.

Jennifer Rosner interviewed a number of Jewish child survivors for her debut novel, “The Yellow Bird Sings” (Flatiron), about a mother and her young daughter, a musical prodigy, hiding in Poland during the Holocaust.

From Turkish best-selling author, composer and film director Zulfu Livaneli, “Serenade for Nadia” (Other Press) is a novel based on the actual episode of the sinking of the Jewish refugee ship, the Sturma, in 1942. Set in 2001 Istanbul, an elderly German-born Harvard professor visits the city where he taught years earlier and last saw his wife, still haunted by the circumstances. The narrator is the woman who hosts him at Istanbul University, 60 years after the sinking.

“The Body Politic” by Brian Platzer (Atria) follows the lives of four friends who meet in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. Fifteen years later, finding their lives and their city very different in the wake of the 2016 elections, they face a betrayal. As in his earlier novel, “Bed Stuy is Burning,” Platzer captures the many dimensions of life in the city.

Inspired by the story and genius of Lise Meitner, the Jewish woman who discovered nuclear fission, screenwriter and film director Jan Eliasberg reimagines the race to build the atomic bomb in her debut novel, “Hannah’s War” (Little Brown).

“The King of Warsaw” by Szczepan Twardoch (Amazon Publishing) fictionalizes the very real tensions felt within the Jewish community in Poland in the late 1930s, focusing on one boxer’s interests in power, both inside and outside the ring.

“The Drive” by Yair Assulin, translated by Jessica Cohen (New Vessel Press), is the story of a young Israeli soldier at a critical moment, deciding whether to leave the army, a decision discussed during a car ride with his father. He his soul-searching reflects the complexities of Israeli society.

A mix of fact and fiction, “Keep Saying Their Names” by Simon Stranger (Knopf) was published to much acclaim in Norway. The author first heard the story of Henry Rinnan, a secret agent for the Nazis, while visiting his Jewish mother-in-law, who grew up above a basement that had been his secret headquarters. The novel, formed like an encyclopedia, is shaped as a letter to the author’s children’s grandfather, who was killed.

“The Book of V.” by Anna Solomon (Henry Holt and Co.) intertwines the lives of women across centuries: a Brooklyn mom in 2016, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C., and the biblical Queen Esther. _

With additional reporting by Aderet Fishbane.

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