On the non-fiction shelf
‘Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold” by Stephen Mitchell (St. Martin’s) reads like a novelistic treatment of the Joseph story, when he is sold into slavery by his brothers. Mitchell inserts brief mediations into the narrative, illuminating ideas. About Joseph, he writes, “True forgiveness, he had learned, is the realization that there is nothing to forgive.”
Translated into English for the first time, “Renia’s Diary” by Renia Spiegel with her sister Elizabeth Bellak (St. Martin’s) is the account of a young Jewish woman’s experience in hiding during the Holocaust, including her poetry. The tragedy of Renia’s final days in 1942 were filled in by her boyfriend, and the book’s introduction by Deborah Lipstadt.
A memoir, “The Odyssey of an Apple Thief” (Syracuse University Press) tells of Moishe Rozenbaum’s boyhood in pre-war Lithuania and his escape to Russia, where he served in the Red Army, escaped again and settled in France.
“Believers: Faith in Human Nature” by Melvin Konner (Norton) is a defense of religious belief, based on discoveries in neuroscience and anthropology and the personal experiences of the author, an admitted non-believer who grew up in an Orthodox family and has closely studied other cultures and religions. He shows that the capacity for faith is hardwired into humans, and that religious experiences can alter brain states.
“The JDC at 100: A Century of Humanitarianism,” edited by Avinoam Patt, Atina Grossman, Linda G. Levi and Maud S. Mandel (Wayne State University Press), is a collection of essays by professors reflecting on the history of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and its ongoing impact on Jewish communities around the world.
Over 10 years, Lis Harris moved back and forth between two families, crossing east and west Jerusalem, in order to understand the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in daily life and over generations. The author of “Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family” and other books, she probes their views of history and the future, their losses and hopes in “In Jerusalem: Three Generations of an Israeli Family and a Palestinian Family” (Beacon Press).
“Under My Hat: How Orthodox Women are Shaping the Future of Judaism” by Sally Berkovic (Ktav) is a new edition of the 1997 book, with the addition of new material about developments of the last two decades. It raises important questions and challenges for Jewish women straddling Orthodoxy and modernity.
A Holocaust memoir, “The Listener” by Irene Oore (University of Regina Press) recounts how her Jewish mother shared her wartime stories, including marrying a gentile Polish officer in order to escape the death camps and keep her own mother and sister alive.
“In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch: Portraits of Psychoanalysts in Their Offices” by Mark Gerald (Routledge) is a work of art, memoir, history and analysis, showing the levels of meaning in space and office design, and the connection to emotional life and treatment. Included are more than 50 color photographs.
Seeking to understand the dramatic rift between American and Israeli Jews, Daniel Gordis, in “We Stand Divided” (HarperCollins), acknowledges the long-standing differences and challenges dividing the communities and emphasizes the role of improved communication and shared moral commitment.
Adam Frankel, a former speechwriter for President Obama, writes of his shocking discovery that his dad was not his biological father, and his search to understand the intergenerational trauma experienced by his family related to the Holocaust, in “The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance and Healing” (HarperCollins).
“Parkchester: A Bronx Tale of Race and Ethnicity” by Jeffrey S. Gurock (NYU) documents over 80 years of a planned neighborhood in the East Bronx built by Metropolitan Life, first open to mainly white ethnic groups and later integrated, always a place where people of different backgrounds have managed to live together in harmony. The author, a historian of New York, grew up in Parkchester.
A memoir, “Mixed Messages: Reflections on an Italian-Jewish Family and Exile” by Eleanor Foa (Centro Primo Levi), traces the author’s discovery of her family history and legacy as distinguished 16th-century printers in northern Italy.
In exploring a little-known resurgence of the anti-Semitic phenomenon, “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town” by Edward Berenson (Norton) presents a deep analysis of local events as well as historical context, looking at both American and European anti-Semitism.
“The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between” (Artisan) is an illustrated, smart and comic guide, well-attuned to this moment.
In “Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Eric Lichtblau recounts the story of Fred Meyer, a Jew who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 and returned as an American commando, parachuting behind enemy lines and posing as a Nazi officer and French POW.
“Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era” by Saul Austerlitz (Dutton), published on the show’s 25th anniversary, is a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s creation, development and legacy.
Drawing on new archival materials and interviews, “The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust” by Rafael Medoff (JPS) reconsiders the reasons behind FDR’s policies concerning his unwillingness to admit Jewish refugees.
In “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini” (Avid Reader Press), Joe Posnanski examines the extraordinary life of the most famous magician and his enduring legacy, almost 100 years after his death.
Historian Sarah Abrevaya Stein studies an extensive family archive of letters and other documents to tell the story of the Sephardic Levy family that originated in Salonika, Greece, and then spread across several continents in “Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
In “What We Will Become: A Mother, A Son and a Journey of Transformation” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Mimi Lemay, an advocate for transgender rights, details her young son’s transition, as well as her own path, after leaving the ultra-Orthodox world in which she grew up.
“Hebrew Melodies” by Heinrich Heine, illustrated by Mark Podwal, translated by Stephen Mitchell and Jack Prelutsky with a foreword by Elisheva Carlebach (Penn State University Press), includes a new translation of the cycle of poems considered to mark the poet’s return to his Jewish roots, with luminous illustrations by Podwal.
Bob Mankoff writes, “I always think it’s strange that the Jews, the People of the Book, eventually became much better known as “The People of the Joke.” He shares his favorite Jewish cartoons, from his own collection and from other cartoonists, in “Have I Got a Cartoon for You: The Moment Magazine Book of Jewish Cartoons,” with a foreword by Roz Chast (Mandel Vilar/Moment Books).
“Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman” by Abby Chava Stein (Seal Press) is a memoir by the first son in a rabbinical dynasty. Poised for leadership (the 10-generation descendant of the Baal Shem Tov), Stein grew up feeling misgendered in a highly gender-segregated society, and is now an activist and leader in the struggle for gender freedom. Stein was selected for The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36.”
On the fiction shelf
“On Division Street” by Goldie Goldbloom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is set in the chasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, focusing on the life of a soon-to-be great-grandmother, with 10 children of her own, at an unusual moment. The award-winning author is a chasidic mother of eight.
“Live a Little” by Booker Prize-winning author Howard Jacobson (Hogarth) is a comedy about love in old age, between a pair of Jewish nonagenarians who meet at a funeral in London.
The last novel by the late award-winning Israeli writer Ronit Matalon, “And the Bride Closed the Door” (New Vessel Press) is the story of a young woman who shuts herself up on her wedding day in her bedroom, with her extended family on the other side of the door.
An unusual love story with politics in the background, “The Berlin Woman” by Alan Kaufman (Mandel Vilar/Moment Books) is about two writers, both children of Holocaust survivors, one a Zionist and the other a non-Zionist.
“The Last Train to London” by Meg Waite Clayton (Harper) is an intimate journey through the pre-World War II experience, following two children, whose lives become dangerous with the Nazis’ rise to power, and a Dutch woman resister.
In Jami Attenburg’s “All This Could Be Yours” (Houghton Mifflin), a family is brought together in summertime New Orleans as the father is dying, but there’s not much love for the real estate developer with shady deals in his past. Attenburg chronicles the family dynamics and emotional roller coaster.
“The Professor of Immortality” by Eileen Pollack (Delphinium Books) is the story of a professor of Future Studies who seems to have everything, until her husband passes away, her son slips away and she discovers that a former student might be a terrorist.
“Further Up the Path: Flash Fables” by Daniel Oz (BOA Editions) is a bilingual collection of very short stories, each less than a page, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. These are brief parables, folk tales or descriptive passages that engage with large questions of humanity, and provide no answers. The author is the son of Amos Oz.
The new novel by film director and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (“The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” and several films in the “Star Trek” series), “The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols” (Minotaur) features Sherlock Holmes investigating the creation of the anti-Semitic document the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” with a Russian-American Jewish woman as the heroine.
“Pain” by Zeruya Shalev (Other Press) is the story of a woman who had been wounded in a terrorist attack in Israel, whose pain returns 10 years later, at the same time the love of her youth returns to her life. The kibbutz-born author has published four previous novels and is widely translated. “Pain” is translated by Sondra Silverston.
A first collection of poetry by Erika Dreifus, “Birthright” (Kelsay Books) includes midrash-like reflections on traditional texts, riffs on contemporary events and personal stories about family and faith, anchored in history.
“The Liar” by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Little, Brown), translated by Sondra Silverston, is a novel by the Israeli author of “Waking Lions.” The work is about how one mistake can unfold into thousands of consequences.
With additional reporting by Aderet Fishbane.