The next work from Gary Shteyngart, the novelist known for books such as “Absurdistan” and “Super Sad True Love Story,” will be a memoir, The New York Times reports. The book will be titled “Little Failure” and will be released in January 2014 by Random House.
According to Shteyngart’s editor, David Ebershoff, the book will be a “candid and deeply poignant story of a Soviet family that comes to America in 1979 to find its future.” Shteyngart himself said in a statement that “I’ve finally written a book that isn’t a ribald satire and because it’s actually based on my life, contains almost no sex whatsoever. I’ve lived this troubled life so others don’t have to. Learn from my failure, please.”
At least Shteygart won’t have any trouble finding other writers to provide blurbs.
Earlier this week, Helene Wecker wrote about dorkdom and writing while Jewish. Enter to win a copy of her debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni, here. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Yesterday I wrote that my novel, “The Golem and the Jinni,” is “pretty darn Jewish.” In truth, that’s only half the story. There are two cultures in my novel, set in New York at the turn of the 20th century: the Jews of the Lower East Side, and the Syrian immigrants who lived in what’s now New York’s Financial district.
When I started writing this book, I was incredibly daunted at the idea of writing about a culture that wasn’t my own. At a guess, I know slightly more about Syrian culture than your average American Jew: my husband is Arab American, so I married into the knowledge, as it were. But it’s one thing to know the foods and the holidays and the etiquette, and to learn how to say salaam aleikum and shukran and insh’allah when the cousins visit. It’s quite another to create fictional characters who belong to that culture, hopefully true to life and free of generalizations. I really, really didn’t want anyone to read my book and cringe, like a British person watching Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
And as soon as I started to research, it became all too clear just how little I knew. The residents of “Little Syria,” as it was called, weren’t Muslim but Christian, mostly Maronite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox from what’s now Lebanon. I’d always been flummoxed by the various and subtle differences between Christianities, and now I felt even more daunted. I tried to plug my ignorance with books and informational websites, and often ended up more confused than when I started. I went so far as to order a back issue of a Catholic magazine that had an article I wanted to read. Before long they’d given my name to every Catholic mailing list in America. One charity even mailed me a rosary. I still have it, hidden in the back of my sock drawer, as though from God’s prying eyes. How the hell do you throw out a rosary?
Enter to win a copy of Helene Wecker’s debut novel “The Golem and the Jinni” here. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
When I started looking through the extensive and awe-inspiring Visiting Scribe archives, one theme kept popping out at me: the perennial question, “What Does It Mean to Be a Jewish Writer?” I decided I’d use my space here to offer my own take, but as I thought about it, the question kept shifting into something else. Not what does it mean to be a Jewish writer, but why am I a Jewish writer?
Because I am, undeniably. True, I’ve only written one book so far, “The Golem and the Jinni,” but it’s pretty darn Jewish. My one other published piece, a short story called “Divestment,” is about a German Jewish woman in the last years of her life. When I think about possible future projects — novels, short stories, maybe a screenplay? — inevitably it contains some element of Judaism, either at its center or cree ping in around the edges.
This surprises me more than you might think. I don’t live what anyone would call a visibly Jewish life. On Friday nights you’ll find me on the couch, eating takeout and watching Doctor Who. My weekly dose of group spirituality comes on Sundays, when I drive 45 minutes to a Buddhist meditation center. My husband is a nice young Arab-American man I met in college. (Bashert!) There’s no Mogen David around my neck, and no mezuzaha at the door, though we do have a lovely silver menorah and an antique page from the Quran. My toddler daughter has only one Jewish-themed board book on her groaning shelf, titled “Let’s Nosh!” — and, let’s face it, that sums up a lot of my religious expression right there.
Earlier this week, Allison Amend wrote about the Jewish connection to art. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
So why would a nice Jewish girl not write nice Jewish fiction? My last book, “Stations West,” was about Jewish immigrants in 19th-century Oklahoma. It was very “Jewish.” It was so Jewish it was nominated for the Sami Rohr Prize (but not so Jewish that it won). One would expect that my next book would be even more “Jewish.” Yet, on the outside it perhaps doesn’t appear to be.
The book jacket calls my new novel “A Nearly Perfect Copy” “a smart and affecting novel of family and forgery set amidst the rarefied international art world. Elm Howells has a loving family and a distinguished career at an elite Manhattan auction house. But after a tragic loss throws her into an emotional crisis, she pursues a reckless course of action that jeopardizes her personal and professional success. Meanwhile, talented artist Gabriel Connois wearies of remaining at the margins of the capricious Parisian art scene, and, desperate for recognition, he embarks on a scheme that threatens his burgeoning reputation. As these narratives converge, with disastrous consequences, A Nearly Perfect Copy boldly challenges our presumptions about originality and authenticity, loss and replacement, and the perilous pursuit of perfection.”
Allison Amend’s most recent novel, “A Nearly Perfect Copy,” is now available. Allison was a finalist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her novel “Stations West.” Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
People ask me how much research I had to do on art forgery for my new book “A Nearly Perfect Copy.” The answer is: a lot. Some of it was even necessary. Some of it was just procrastination.
To that end, I wandered into the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme in Paris on one hot day, more in search of a bathroom than in search of wisdom. But, reader I found both (and if you’ve been to Paris, you know how valuable a quality public bathroom is).
The exhibits were what you’d expect (Sephardic artifacts, Vichy government deportation narratives, synagogue records, suitcases — Jewish museums always have a lot of suitcases…), but the true gem here is the library. It’s small but comprehensive, and the librarian was exceedingly helpful when I asked for information
I’m not sure I found anything I couldn’t have found in other English language archives, but this pleasant air conditioned afternoon in a quiet and free study space made me think of two things.
America can’t seem to get enough of Adam Mansbach’s “Go the F**k to Sleep,” the picture book for adults that took the country by storm when it was published in 2011.
Deadline.com reports that husband-wife writing team Ken Marino and Erica Oyama Marino have been hired by Fox 2000 to adapt the book, which was illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, for the screen.
Earlier this week, Jennifer Gilmore wrote about the overlap between her personal concerns and writerly concerns. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“The Mothers” is the first book I’ve written that does not primarily consist of Jewish characters. It’s a little weird that with my first book — where there are pretty much only Jews, even in the department stores and hotels, at the theater and the market — I had no idea I was writing an American Jewish novel. I was just telling this family’s extensive story. I was writing an American story.
This book is also an American story. But similarly, I had no idea that this book was dealing with “cross cultural issues,” which is what some reviewers and readers have reported. I wrote a book chronicling a couple’s struggle to have children. But what I didn’t realize is that, because they are from different backgrounds — the wife, Jesse, is Jewish, the husband, Ramon, is first generation Italian and Spanish — they handle their highs and lows of their experience differently. Though her family has not been particularly observant, Jesse’s memories and her experiences are distinctly Jewish, in addition to being particularly American. She has memories of Passovers with her family, as well as growing up with her sister in suburban Virginia. She remembers the ’70s when her mother working was an unusual situation. Her mother was one of the few women she knew who held a job.
The name “Rothschild” means different things to different people.
In 1902, Sholem Aleichem wrote the monologue “Ven ikh bin Rothschild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”), which would be famously turned into the song “If I Were a Rich Man” by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock for “Fiddler on the Roof.” To Sholem Aleichem and generations of Jews before and since, the name signified the wealthiest of wealthy Jews.
There are those who don’t think highly of the family at all. A quick Google search reveals dozens of sites claiming that it controls the world financial markets, and several other conspiracy theories ranging from true (the family did back the British war effort against Napoleon) to totally bonkers (no, David Icke, Hitler wasn’t a Rothschild that was given power to help reshape the world in the family’s vision).
When I was growing up in the early 1980s, my mother would emphasize the fact that my pediatrician was a Rothschild, though not one of the Rothschilds. But it was still worth mentioning. When people talk about a cabal of Jewish bankers, they’re usually talking about the Rothschilds.
The book “The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild,” gives us a different sort of Rothschild. Pannonica, the rebellious daughter of Charles Rothschild, gave up the life of a European aristocrat to move to New York and support jazz icon Thelonious Monk. What makes “The Baroness” even more intriguing is that it was written by Nica’s niece and fellow Rothschild, Hannah, and is one of the few books on the family written by an actual Rothschild.
The award, worth $100,000, is one of the largest literary prizes in the world and is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years. This year’s runner-up, who receives $25,000, is Ben Lerner for his novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Other finalists included Shani Boianjiu for “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,” Stuart Nadler for “The Book of Life,” and Asaf Schurr for “Motti.”
Inspired by Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” Segal’s book examines the upper-class Jewish community of North West London. The novel is being adapted into a TV show in the U.K. by Carnival Films, the company that produces “Downton Abbey.”
Founded in 2006, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature “honors the contribution of contemporary writers in the exploration and transmission of Jewish values and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest in the future.” Last year Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman was awarded the prize for his book, “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.”
Jennifer Gilmore’s newest novel, “The Mothers,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“The Mothers” is my third novel but it’s the first novel I’ve written that tracks so closely with my own life. I had to make a leap as a novelist to write in the first person, to examine a single woman’s inner life, as opposed to the bigger sweep of the multi-generational novels, “Golden Country” and “Something Red,” that were written with an eye toward history and the way it affects families.
This book is all about families really, or about a couple who wants to make one desperately. If my other books deal with what happens to families over time, this character — Jesse Weintraub — is most concerned about time stopping. About the story, as it were, ending with her.
Earlier, Boaz Yakin wrote about empathy and conflict. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
In New York City, in our Upper West Side apartment, my little brother and I watched my father act out the events and characters of his youth in British Mandate Palestine. He was a pantomime by trade and a teacher of physical acting, and when he told a story he didn’t just relate it with words— he performed it with every muscle in his face, with every physical gesture in his vast repertoire. And even then, though I thrilled and laughed at his exploits, I suspected that perhaps there was something exaggerated, slightly of the grotesque, in his portrayals of the multifarious denizens of that remote, ancient city; a city on the one hand so tiny and provincial, on the other so vast and timeless and redolent of eternity. A city against whose harsh, stony face the human dramas enacted by my father stood out in sharp, colorful relief, like a commedia dell’arte performance. Tragic, hilarious, and surely daubed with a huge dollop of fancy.
Boaz Yakin’s most recent graphic novel, “Jerusalem: A Family Portrait,” illustrated by Nick Bertozzi, will be published later this month. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
It seems to me that it’s hard for a feeling, empathetic person to know where to place himself in the midst of conflict. Since most people possess some degree of feeling and empathy, in order to live with themselves they don’t necessarily divorce themselves from these senses as they make decisions as to how and where to direct them. These decisions are determined by a host of factors — different in each individual and situation.
The bravest among us, of whom there are few, courageously allow their empathetic sense to extend outward in a manner that generously encompasses a wide variety of people, perspectives and feelings that might be in violent, seemingly intractable opposition to one another — and even more courageously allow their practical behavior and decisions to be strongly influenced by that understanding.
Earlier this week, Jessica Soffer wrote about learning to breathe and a precious treat from the Passover seder plate. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Quite recently, someone asked me about my “process.” This someone wasn’t asking about the creative parts — the meandering through the dark, schlepping a bag full of puzzle pieces and seeking out the elusive slots where they might fit — but quite literally about what I do during my waking hours, which hours those might be, and when and if I stop for snacks. She was asking about the nuts and bolts.
What I wanted to say is that I know nothing (and that of course I stop for snacks). I’m just winging it. I’m still waiting to be found out. Still, I wrote 336 pages that will be printed and bound and on (some) shelves in just a few weeks, which is something one teensy bit better than nothing.
Earlier this week, Jessica Soffer wrote about a precious treat from the Passover seder plate. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I needed something. Everyone was dying. Or at least a lot of people were dying and it felt like everyone might, including me, die at the drop of a hat. I was having panic attacks on the subway. I was avoiding elevators and scaffolding and spinach and caffeine and planes and hospitals and graveyards.
I couldn’t breathe.
My parents are not religious. Someone told me to try yoga.
I was a gymnast for the great majority of my childhood. Yoga came easily. I breezed through the ranks.
I ended up in an Ashtanga class in Amagansett and had no idea what I was in for.
Jessica Soffer’s debut novel, “Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots,” will be published on April 16. Win a signed copy here. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I am bored to death, dying of starvation and on the brink of losing my mind at Passover dinner at my father’s sister’s house on Long Island. I’m 4, maybe 5. My mother has refilled my grape juice many more than four times but it’s not cutting it. She has a look on her face like she would have made a PB&J if she’d known what she was in for — what we were both in for — but she didn’t. There are many more relatives visiting from Israel than usual, which means, apparently, that there is no goofing around and no snacking. Who knew? We didn’t. I will die of starvation, I think to myself. They will find me in a puddle of grape juice with the yarmulke I’ve demanded to wear over my face, dead.
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television lately without running into Clive Davis. He is promoting his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life” a book that might just as easily be called “The Soundtrack of Your Life.” Yes, you.
Davis, 80, is a recording industry executive who helped start or enhance the careers of such hallowed artists as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Rod Stewart, among others.
His memoir is fascinating and has a big surprise that comes more than 500 pages in: He is bisexual. Davis quickly follows that with a less surprising reveal: His first long-term gay relationship — it lasted 13 years — was with a doctor.
“I obviously couldn’t escape the profession all Jews put on a pedestal,” he writes. Davis was born in Brooklyn. Both his parents died when he was a teenager, so he lived with his aunt and with his married sister, won full scholarships to New York University and Harvard Law, and then went out to look for work.
Davis spoke to The Arty Semite about his career, luck and growing up Jewish.
Curt Schleier: Despite your Harvard law degree and your work on the law review, you were turned down for a job at a white shoe firm because the interviewer thought you weren’t “right” for the job. So you landed at a smaller, Jewish firm.
Miriam Katin appears naked in one panel of “Letting It Go,” her new graphic memoir about coming to terms with her past as a Holocaust survivor. But the rest of this novel-length confessional comic is even more revealing.
Her first full-length work since 2006’s award-winning Holocaust memoir “We Are On Our Own,” “Letting It Go” chronicles Katin’s emotionally charged visit to Berlin after her son and his girlfriend relocate there. Katin’s fury over the move mellows to resignation, and finally acceptance, though her emotions surrounding her own history remain ambiguous. The book spares no one, least of all Katin, who unflinchingly depicts her self-doubt, angst, and bodily functions. Her cartooning style is masterful, maintaining classical elements while subverting genre conventions into a singular work that’s fluid, vibrant, and potent. It’s also hilariously funny.
Katin’s work is part of the exhibit “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and which the Forward is sponsoring. The traveling exhibit will open at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach in October. Katin spoke to The Arty Semite from her home in New York.
Michael Kaminer: “We Are On Our Own” was published in 2006. Why so long between books?
Earlier this week, Yuval Elizur examined religious political power in Israel and January’s elections and Lawrence Malkin discussed the tension between tradition and modernity in contemporary Judaism and its consequences. Today, Yuval Elizur reveals Rabbi Moshe Gafni’s powerful hand. Elizur and Malkin are the co-authors of the recently published “The War Within: Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Threat to Democracy and the Nation.” Their blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Of all the representatives of the religious parties in Israel’s Knesset, none have been more powerful or outspoken than Moshe Gafni, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who served as Chairman of the Finance Committee in the last parliament. In this key fiscal position, the rabbi was a master at diverting funds to haredi causes, especially yeshiva subsidies to the separate school system devoted mainly to teaching and debating the Torah—the religious academies that some secular Jews have angrily characterized as Jewish madrassas.
Now that secular representatives are in the ascendant following January’s national elections, Gafni has turned angrily on Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing his former political ally of betrayal. But in order to form a coalition Netanyahu needs the votes of two new parties, one the tribune of religious nationalists and the other of secular Israelis. Both refuse to serve in any government that includes ultras like Rabbi Gafni, largely because his supporters demand continued exemption from military service.
In the snake pit of Israeli politics, it could be payback time for Bibi for abandoning his ultra-Orthodox supporters in order to stay in power as prime minister, and this could have international repercussions far beyond the local problems of the yeshivot. The rabbi has warned that Netanyahu will soon “be sorry” for deceiving him and the other representatives of the ultras by “shamefully” leaving them out of power.
“Jews have been on the wrong end of the gun, the crossbow, and the sword forever,” a man tells Dan Baum over breakfast in Baum’s new book “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” That man — Aaron Zelman, founder of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, “an organization widely revered by gun-rights activists as so absolutist that it made the NRA look like a bunch of milk-and-water sissies,” as Baum explains — goes on to describe the moment his life changed. He was 43-year-old brassiere salesman and one night, after putting their children to sleep, his wife asked him, “What is it you really want to do?” Zelman’s answer was simple: “I want to destroy gun control.”
Wisconsin is one stop of many on Baum’s cross-country quest to discover “the essential quality that, like anchovies on pizza, impassioned some people and disgusted others” about firearms. He visits gun stores, gun shows, gun ranges, and gun factories. He takes a guided tour of the National Firearms Museum at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. He goes hunting for feral hogs with a .44 Magnum in Texas. And he stops by an exclusive machine gunners’ retreat in Wikieup, Arizona. “Choose the most adamant anti-gun peacenik you know and give him a tommy gun to shoot at a stick of dynamite,” he writes after firing off a full magazine in a matter of seconds. “Then strap him to a polygraph and ask him if it was fun.”
Baum is a gun guy who doesn’t belong to gun culture. He was raised among Jewish Democrats in suburban New Jersey, where one of his mother’s friends once said, “Jews make and sell guns… we don’t shoot guns.” And yet, after firing a .22 Mossberg rifle at summer camp, he began studying shows like “Combat!” “with the devotional zeal of a Talmudic scholar” and tucking a toy Luger inside his suit jacket during High Holiday services. The Arty Semite caught up with Baum recently to talk about to talk about his new book and one of the country’s oldest, fiercest debates.
Philip Eil: Judaism provides a kind of microcosm for the broader national debate in your book. Jews are both vehement gun-control advocates and vehement anti-gun control advocates.
Earlier this week, Sami Rohr Prize winner Austin Ratner discussed the land of the living versus the land of “The Princess Bride.” His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Some academics have observed that young Jewish writers do not mine their personal lives for material in the same way that Jewish writers did a generation ago. In my own case, this is and isn’t true. My first novel, “The Jump Artist,” was based on someone else’s life and took place in lands and days disparate from my own. My second novel, “In the Land of the Living,” which is being released by Little Brown this week, draws on my own personal experiences and on events in the history of my own family. It’s first and foremost about loss at a tender age, and finding your way out from under the pall of grief, back to the land of the living, and to all that makes life worth living. (Why am I not on Oprah’s book list?)
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