All I Love and Know
By Judith Frank
William Morrow, 432 pages, $26.99
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy “All I Love and Know,” Judith Frank’s terrific new novel. Nor do you have to be gay. Although the book addresses issues important to both Jews and gays — Jewish identity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gay parenting and marriage equality — it will satisfy anyone who longs for a first rate novel.
Daniel Rosen is a twin whose brother and sister-in-law are killed when a terrorist bomb explodes in an Israeli café. Their will grants custody of their baby boy and 6-year-old daughter to Daniel and his partner Matt, who, until then, have led an enviably carefree life as a popular gay couple in the “Lesbian Mecca” of Northampton, Mass.
Although Dan‘s brother and sister-in-law loved Israel, “If we die, take them away from here,” they’ve instructed Dan. “Enough is enough.”
But it’s not that simple. The will, as it turns out, isn’t binding. An Israeli court must decide the issue, and the children’s maternal grandparents, who are not only Israeli citizens but Holocaust survivors, are also fighting for custody. And they might win. The judge could have a bias toward keeping the kids in Israel, or against granting custody to a gay couple. And they’re a “mixed” Gay couple at that — Matt isn’t Jewish.
The Mathematician’s Shiva
By Stuart Rojstaczer
Penguin Books, 384 pages, $16.00
Sasha Karnokovitch, narrator of the novel “The Mathematician’s Shiva,” isn’t the warmest of storytellers. Born in Russia at the height of the Cold War to two brilliant mathematicians, Sasha has eschewed the cold Wisconsin town where he came of age in favor of a career in Tuscaloosa, researching atmospheric science and predicting hurricanes. The death of his mother Rachela, a legendary mathematician, brings him back to his hometown in middle age, reuniting him with his family and introducing a number of additional characters to the mix. When rumor spreads that Rachela solved a problem that had stymied mathematical thinkers for centuries before her death, a drove of mathematicians descends on Wisconsin, seeking evidence that Rachela may have left behind.
Rojstaczer has been a professor of geophysics, and he effectively communicates the academic community’s rivalries, making both Sasha’s and Rachela’s pursuits of knowledge tangible. At times, Rojstaczer subtly undercuts Sasha’s perspective. Sasha’s estranged father isn’t introduced in the most glowing terms: We learn that Rachela discovered him cheating on her and left him, less for the adultery than for the shallowness of his choice.
Yet he’s also one of the novel’s most outspoken feminists, lashing out at an obituary that calls Rachela “The greatest female mathematician of her generation.” “What is this qualification ‘female’?” he demands. For all that he is a sober narrator, Sasha is far from perfect: His interactions with women aren’t always laudable, and his rabbinical detection abilities border on the obsessive. And Rachela’s prodigious talent can be alienating: consider her role, decades earlier, in hastening the end of Sasha’s marriage via her devotion to academic rigor.
The word is out. Leonard Maltin’s annual movie guide has fallen into what, in Hollywood speak, would be called “developmental hell.” First published in 1969 and annually since 1986, the new 2015 edition is its last. Like newspapers and other print media, it has fallen victim to the Internet, where much of the information is readily available, easily accessible and free.
The story behind the series is probably more interesting than the average “Transformers” film, however. Maltin was a high school student who published a fanzine. An English teacher impressed with his work put him in touch with a publisher, who was similarly awed.
The first edition of was to become “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” was called simply “TV Movies.” It “is a terrible title,” Maltin said in a telephone interview. “A competitor used up a better title, “Movies on TV.” It was actually Maltin’s suggestions for improving that book that convinced the publisher to sign the high school senior.
“I suggested adding a more extensive cast list, the director’s name, and indicating if it was in color or black and white, which was more important then.”
Maltin spoke to the Forward about being a high school nerd, his favorite (and least favorite) films, and davening with Theodore Bikel.
Curt Schleier: Were you a nerd in high school?
Musician Rosanne Cash reminisces about a purple shirt that once belonged to her legendary father. Designer Cynthia Rowley rhapsodizes about the Girl Scouts sash that helped ignite her entrepreneurial spark. And an octogenarian Holocaust survivor named Dorothy Finger shares memories of a suit made with a bolt of cloth she took from her childhood home — her only possession touched by her late mother.
Their stories are among 67 “sartorial memoirs” in “Worn Stories” (Princeton Architectural Press), a new book inspired by the blog where visitors share their stories about clothing and life experiences. A stark, simple image of an article of clothing — many in an advanced state of wear — accompanies each testimonial.
“Most of the garments aren’t particularly extraordinary by themselves,” says Worn Stories creator Emily Spivack. “It’s only by hearing each story that you recognize the significance. And even though the memories are all very specific, the themes they touch on are universal — family, relationships, a funny moment. They’re all moments in time from a personal and cultural perspective.”
Like No Other
By Una Lamarche
Razorbill, 352 pages, $17.99
In her new young adult novel, “Like No Other,” author Una Lamarche explores the racial and religious tensions in Crown Heights through the chance encounter of a West Indian boy and a Hasidic girl and the relationship that blossoms between the two.
When a hurricane traps Devorah Blum and Jaxon Hunte in an elevator, the two Crown Heights teenagers find themselves drawn into a forbidden romance that forces both characters to re-examine their roles and communal lives. Lamarche paints Jaxon as a book-smart nerd with a heart of gold and Devorah as strong and inquisitive. Both characters speak with young, fresh voices and try to balance their own personal dreams with the values of their families.
Sadly, the narrative fails to subvert the tropes to which it falls prey. There is little reason given for why Devorah and Jaxon fall so madly in love, and Devorah’s brother-in-law, an uptight, misogynistic and racist Hasid and member of the Shomrim community patrol, is unforgivably outlandish.
A version of this story first appeared on Women’s Voices for Change.
The best comic novel I’ve read this year wasn’t published by Random House or Penguin. It was self-published by Philadelphia writer Stacia Friedman. The title? “Tender is the Brisket.” Does the book live up to the comic promise of that title? Absolutely.
Ruth is a TV writer who, as her gold-digging pal Katya frequently points out, “is over forty… with nothing to show for it.” A few sitcoms, a couple of failed relationships, a marriage that went south — and no kids. At 42, Ruth wants what most women want — true love. She also wants a child.
A little financial security wouldn’t hurt either.
When her father dies, Ruth flies to New York for the funeral. To prevent her selfish siblings from stashing their wealthy mother, who has dementia, in a home, Ruth moves in with Mom and takes over the burden of her care. Which means continuing to cope with her malicious brother (a drop-dead-handsome man desperately seeking the money he needs to transition into a drop-dead-gorgeous woman) and her hostile sister, a clueless writer of self-help books like “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Highly Insensitive People,” whose hubby is cheating on her and whose teenage daughter is totally out of control.
“Call me Ishmael,” declares one of the most famous opening sentences in Western literature.
But what if the narrator of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” was actually asking you to call him?
That was the whimsical thought Logan Smalley offered in a spirited bar conversation about notable first sentences. He jotted the notion down on a bar napkin.
Now, Smalley’s turned that notion into Call Me Ishmael, an innovative voicemail project that aims to spread the love of books by getting callers to share their most meaningful reading experiences.
“It’s about telling stories and discovering great books,” Smalley told the Forward. “Books define us, but we also define the books we read.”
In the month since Call Me Ishmael has launched, callers — who remain anonymous — have left messages about a far-flung range of books, from “Of Human Bondage” to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. A significant number of messages have covered Jewish-themed books.
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor called to share her father’s reaction to “Maus” — and her own awe at learning he knew Vladek Spiegelman, the author’s father. A woman rang up to confess how she wept after reading the World War II novel “The Book Thief” — on a treadmill at the gym. “Even when I look like a complete fool in public, I’m still completely transported by a book,” she said.
“Some working actors lost the best years of their lives and don’t know why.” Those words were written by actress/director Lee Grant in her new memoir, “I Said Yes To Everything.” And she should know. She was one of them.
Grant was the “surprise discovery” of the 1950 Broadway season for her role in “Detective Story.” Shortly afterwards, she was discovered by the House Un-American Activities Committee. For a dozen years, from 1952 to 1964 — essentially what could have been the prime of her career — she could not find meaningful work. Often when she did get a job, it was short-lived.
For example, she landed a role on a TV soap opera, “Search for Tomorrow.” But the network canned her after a supermarket owner from Syracuse, N.Y., told the sponsor’s ad agency he would put up a special display asking shoppers if they wanted to “brush their teeth with a product from a company that employs communists.”
Born Lyova Rosenthal, Grant spoke to the Forward about the blacklist, being her own worst enemy, and sending her adopted Thai-American daughter to Rodeph Shalom Day School in Manhattan.
Curt Schleier: Why did you decide to write your memoir now?
As Team USA carries the hopes of the English-speaking world in Brazil, inquiring minds are wondering why England is so perennially terrible at the sport it invented (and let’s not get started on cricket).
It is a question that was surprisingly well answered in 2009, along with the corollary question about how America is getting good at a sport it barely cares about, by Simon Kuper in his book “Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey — and Even Iraq — Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport.”
In this soccer version of “Moneyball,” which he co-wrote with Stefan Szymanski, Kuper explains the success of various club soccer teams as well as national soccer teams through the judicious use of statistics. It explains the opportunity cost of racism in England in the 1970s and 1980s and, as the title suggests, provides a convincing explanation of why England are poor and the USA are destined for greatness.
There are two Jonathan Wilsons writing about soccer in a knowledgeable way. One is Jonathan Wilson from the Guardian, arguably the foremost journalistic expert on tactics in the modern game, the other is Jonathan Wilson, the Tufts University Fletcher Professor of Rhetoric and Debate, who covered the 1994 World Cup for The New Yorker and who covered the 2010 World Cup for the Faster Times, in the persona of a slightly demented Diego Maradona.
It’s hard for me to write about the latter Jonathan Wilson’s fast-paced memoir “Kick and Run, Memoir with Soccer Ball” — a tale that weaves the author’s passion for soccer through his life — because his dreams and realities so closely mirror my own in crucial ways. Although the details of his childhood troubles in London, his relationship with his mother, his time in Israel and the writing experiences mentioned above bear no direct relationship to mine 20 years later, his journeys through Judaism, Zionism, British and American academia into middle-class American middle age share the same outline.
Although he has more successfully used academia to straddle bohemia and bourgeoisie than I did, we both go to sleep dreaming of goals we — or more often now, our favorite teams — scored. Wilson’s knee injury means he has played his last Sunday morning pick up game, while I still struggle on. But the poignant mentions of the deaths (cancer and traffic accident) of his co-players sound a warning knell over my own beloved cohort of Sunday morning strugglers.
British Jews have never accounted for more than 1% of the population. And their contribution to soccer has always been obscured. But, in his well-researched and compellingly-written history, “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?: The History of Football’s Forgotten Tribe,” Anthony Clavane explains the outsize contribution of British Jews to British soccer and their pivotal role in the creation of the English Premier League.
For America this is the first World Cup. In 1994 the USA (under the guidance of Alan Rothenberg) hosted the games but, beyond the Hispanic community, the nation’s interest was really only piqued by the world’s interest and in a proprietary concern of providing hospitality — it might just as well have been the cricket World Cup for all that mainstream America cared.
John Oliver’s primer about the evils of FIFA is one of the proofs of the current interest. The printed guides to the games in local papers across the country, The New Republic’s dedicated World Cup blog and The New York Times’s three front page stories over the past month are further proof.
Thinkers from Cass Sunstein to Eli Pariser in “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You,” have elucidated the threat to social discourse posed by the Internet. Increasingly able to insulate ourselves from disagreement, we live in bubbles of like-mindedness. From whichever angle, it’s epistemic closure in sociological jargon, “bullshit mountain” in Jon Stewart’s terms.
Soccer is one of the few places that sworn enemies talk, argue, read each other’s news: interact. It’s not perfect, there are inequities, iniquities, pitched battles and tragedies but those narratives clash openly in the media as well as on the pitch.
Tamir Sorek’s book, “Arab Soccer in a Jewish State: The Integrative Enclave,” about the social norms of soccer in Israel is an attempt to analyze how Jewish and Arab soccer co-exist in Israel, in various different ways. And to see whether soccer, in such a conflicted part of the world, can have a constructive effect on the situation.
Image courtesy Abraham Klein
Israel has reached the World Cup finals just once — Mexico 1970 — where, after losing to Uruguay and tying with Sweden and Italy, it failed to progress beyond the group stage. That year in Mexico, though, there was an outstanding Israeli success — referee Abraham Klein.
An unlikely figure to take charge of 22 iconic athletes, the Israeli Klein stood barely 5 feet tall. At age 36, he was one of the youngest referees at the tournament and a World Cup novice, to boot. And what was his first game? England — soccer’s mother country and World Cup holders since the previous tournament in 1966 — against Brazil, perennial contenders (winners in 1958 and 1962) and embodiment of the exuberant reinvention of the spirit of soccer as “the beautiful game.”
Over the span of the next four world cups (though he missed 1974) he would prove his worth as one of the world’s leading referees, officiating as linesman for the 1982 World Cup Final in Spain.
His highly meticulous and detailed system for refereeing is outlined in his book “The Referee’s Referee: Becoming the Best.” which, though a little tricky to get hold of, is a referees’ must-read.
Photo: Chloe Aftel
Call it a boy-meets-girl-who-thinks-boy-was-born-a-girl story.
In “Adam,” the debut novel from cult graphic memoirist Ariel Schrag, an awkward California teenager named Adam Freedman parachutes into an alien landscape of subcultures and identities when he joins his lesbian sister in Brooklyn for the summer. (Full disclosure: Schrag was featured in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” a traveling exhibition which I co-curated and the Forward sponsored.)
Obsessed with scoring — with women, not sports — he finally meets the girl of his dreams. The fact that she thinks he’s transgender — a boy who was born a girl — becomes a temporary stumbling block once Adam realizes he’ll get much further by playing along.
Like her great graphic novels “Awkward,” “Definition,” “Potential,” and “Likewise,” “Adam” balances Schrag’s ruthless eye and scathing precision with beautifully humanistic and generous portrayals of complex, conflicted characters.
Schrag, who has also written for the Showtime series “The L Word” and HBO’s hit “How to Make It in America,” spoke to the Forward from her home in Brooklyn.
Michael Kaminer: Is it a stretch to draw a straight line between Adam’s predicament and the moments throughout history where Jews have had to hide their identities?
Photo: David Franco
A decade after its publication, Canadian author David Bezmozgis is turning his debut short story collection, “Natasha and Other Stories,” into a film. As with “Victoria Day,” his first cinematic endeavor in 2009, Bezmozgis, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s film school, is both writing and directing the project.
The stories in the breakout “Natasha” chronicling the saga of the Bermans, a Russian-Jewish immigrant family to Toronto, were hailed by critics as “dazzling,” “scary good,” and “stunning.” The book was translated into 15 languages and won several prizes. Virtually unknown prior to the collection’s publication, the Riga-born Bezmozgis’s literary star rose with “Natasha.” His celebrated first novel, “The Free World,” was published in 2011, and will be followed this coming September by a second novel, “The Betrayers.”
The film version of “Natasha” will focus on the title story, which comes in the middle of the collection.
A chronicle of Nazi persecution of gay people, a study of Jews and obscenity, and a haunting artistic collaboration are among the wide-ranging winners of this year’s Canadian Jewish Book Awards. After an announcement last week, the awards will be presented at a May 27 ceremony in Toronto.
With its other accolades for a Holocaust diary, a poetic history of Salonika’s Jews, and a novel about Jewish immigrants in South Africa, this year’s honor roll defies easy categorization. “It was an excellent year for Jewish books,” said Natalie Kertes, director of literary programs at Toronto’s Koffler Centre of the Arts, which runs the awards.
The common thread binding 2014’s far-flung winners? “Superb writing,” said Kertes, who also oversees this month’s Toronto Jewish Literary Festival. “It’s often easy to conflate a great story or theme or strong research with really strong writing. It’s really exciting to be able to say that all of the winners this year are exceptionally written, in addition to having strong content.”
What the prize-winners don’t all share, however, is Jewishness. And Ken Setterington, author of “Branded by the Pink Triangle” (Second Story Press), said the award has even more meaning for him as a result.
Israel is known for all kinds of things — a burgeoning local food scene, TV series like “Homeland” and “In Treatment,” and high tech companies like Waze. Now, with the launch of Granta Israel, a Hebrew edition of the prestigious magazine started by Cambridge University students in 1889, Israel is officially an international literary powerhouse.
According to the English press release for Granta Israel, set to launch at the International Writer’s Festival in Jerusalem, this literary magazine will “join the international Granta family which includes local versions of the magazine in Turkey, Spain, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Sweden, Norway and more. “
The magazine is published out of the unpretentious independent bookstore Sipur Pashut in the Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. It is the kind of place that editors and authors frequent, and which regularly hosts literary events.
Shira Levy one of the two editors of Granta Israel, with Mira Rashty, who does a regular segment on English language books on Tel Aviv 1 radio.
In Amos Oz’s “Rhyming Life and Death” it’s a sticky night in Tel Aviv, and the Author is to give a reading. Surveying the room, he begins to fashion life stories for the people attending. He takes note of a boy of about 16, moving restlessly in his chair. “He looks unhappy,” the Author thinks. The torments of his age “have etched a tearful look on his face.” The Author imagines him as a budding poet named Yuval Dahan, “but when he timidly sends his first poems to a literary editor he will sign himself Yuval Dotan”:
Through his pebble lenses he loves this Author de profundis, secretly and passionately: my suffering is your suffering, your soul is my soul, you are the only one who can understand, for I am the soul that pines in solitude among the pages of your books.
This feeling Yuval Dahan has — that the Author is speaking directly to him, that he has him in mind — is an illusion and to that extent irrational. Yet it is a recognizable one. In the process of trying on various writers, for me Amos Oz — who turns 75 on May 4 — was the suit that fit. His narrative voice — in turns precise and lyrical, never wasteful, always insightful — remains the one that speaks back to me, that feels familiar, that feels right.
The first time I read a novel by Amos Oz, I was a volunteer on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, one of a number of kibbutzim founded on the upland between Haifa and Hadera. The kibbutz had a library divided between Hebrew and English, with the English section open some afternoons, dependent upon the kibbutznik responsible turning up on her bicycle. Oftentimes, it would open and close without much notice.
Ellen Litman dreamed of being a writer when she went to school in Moscow in the 1980s. There was only one problem: She was Jewish, and thus she was advised to focus on something more practical, since in the Soviet Union, Jews couldn’t be successful at writing.
Litman studied math and computer programming, and immigrated to Pittsburgh with her family in 1992. It took her several years to work up the courage to take a writing class; she worried that she couldn’t write in a language that was not her native one. It turned out she could: In 2004, she completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Syracuse University. In 2007, she published her first book, “The Last Chicken in America,” which deals with the experiences of a young woman from Russia trying to settle into Pittsburgh.
In March, Litman, who is an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut and teaches writing and English, released her second novel, “Mannequin Girl.” Set in a Soviet boarding school for children with scoliosis, it tells the story of a Jewish girl, Kat, and her journey into adulthood dealing with her parents, who teach at her school, as well as unrequited love and latent anti-Semitism.
Litman, 40, lives with her husband and two children in Mansfield, Conn. She spoke to the Forward’s Anna Goldenberg about playing with autobiographical elements and why moving to the United States hasn’t changed her idea of Judaism.
When Lisa Robinson name-checks Elton, Mick and Iggy, it sounds completely natural. It should; through four decades, the legendary music journalist has been nearly as pivotal a pop figure as her subjects. Robinson famously introduced David Bowie to Iggy Pop, helped The Clash and Elvis Costello score record deals, and hung out with the Beatles. In great detail, she recounts these and other unbelievable-but-true anecdotes in “There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll” (Riverhead Books), a vivid, richly detailed memoir that functions as a de facto history of rock — and of an edgier, bygone New York.
Robinson culled her copy from thousands of hours of tape-recorded interviews she’s collected since her first columns were published in the British music weekly Disc and Music Echo in 1969. Today, as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, she oversees music coverage and profiles pop royalty like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga — who ended up cooking Robinson pasta. The Forward caught up with Robinson by phone from Manhattan, where she lives with her husband of more than four decades, Richard Robinson, himself a onetime rock journalist who produced Lou Reed’s first solo album.
Michael Kaminer: “There Goes Gravity” offers all of these fascinating anecdotes about pop legends, but gives away very little about Lisa Robinson. Why did you leave out autobiographical details?