Earlier this week, David Samuel Levinson wrote about the beautiful catastrophe that is New York City and dedicating his first novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence” (Algonquin Books). 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:
I’m sitting on the back porch of my temporary lodgings in Atlanta, while two spiders go at it, the smaller invading the larger’s web. (Why? Who knows. Maybe he or she is lonely.) Larger lunges at smaller, until smaller retreats, and both settle down again to await the arrival of an unsuspecting fly. Watching them, I am reminded of “Charlotte’s Web,” which I read when I was boy, and how caught up I became in the struggles of Charlotte and Wilbur and how I never wanted the story to end. Unfortunately, it did, yet fortunately for me I found many other stories to get tangled up in — Encyclopedia Brown, The Westing Game, The Tales of Narnia, and Bridge to Terabithia.
Back then, I read only for pleasure and escape and erroneously imagined these books I so loved to be handed down through a series of magic tricks to end up in my favorite bookstore. I had no idea they were written by real people, who sat at real desks and typed them out on real typewriters, arduous page after arduous page. These books, these authors, changed the way I saw the world, but more than this they changed the way I interacted with it. I learned about sleuthing, betrayal, love, and death by falling headfirst into these created universes, which matched the reality of my own only insofar as they resembled the familiar — houses, trees, the sun and moon, stars, streets, etc. Other than this, they were as fantastical as they were absorbing; I couldn’t wait to flip the page to find out what happened next.
On Tuesday, David Samuel Levinson wrote about dedicating his first novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence” (Algonquin Books). 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:
When someone asks me where I’m from, I never hesitate to say that I’m from New York City. Then, a little ashamed, I often confess that I’m not really from New York, that I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. While I did not spend my formative years in the city, I have always considered myself a New Yorker, which probably has to do with all those summers I spent on Long Island with my mother’s parents. The day trips to Jones Beach and into the city to see a play or wander around Macy’s! Some of my favorite memories still involve being stopped between stations on the subway or the Long Island Railroad. And then our slow approach into Penn Station and the skyscrapers obliterating the sky and my mother leading my brother and me up into the beautiful, congested fray that is Manhattan.
Every step I took along those overpopulated sidewalks, every museum and bookstore I wandered through, every salty pretzel I pulled apart and devoured—all of it was leading me closer to my future self. At the time, I had little idea that years later I’d live in and among those crowds, museums, bookstores, and pretzel carts, though I should’ve suspected as much, given my early fondness for the city. When I was a boy, I fell head over heels in love with the city, yet it wasn’t until I finally moved there as a young adult that I came to really believe what Le Corbusier meant when he said, “A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”
Earlier this week, Janice Weizman wrote about the bildungsroman and the Jewish woman. 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:
All fiction writers have a streak of audacity. To make up something and then ask readers to suspend their disbelief and give themselves over to your vision is, well, a little outrageous. Among the most audacious are the writers of historical fiction. How can anyone presume to know what it was like to live and work and raise a family in a time other than their own? How can one comprehend the hopes, the limitations, and the challenges of people who lived their lives in historical periods with radically different circumstances and assumptions?
Logic says that it’s impossible. Yet the imagination insists that it’s not. It insists that, with a little bit of help, it can transcend space and time and understand something beyond the here and now.
David Samuel Levinson’s stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, West Branch, and the Brooklyn Review, among others. He lives in New York City. “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence” is his first novel. 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:
I knew I was going to dedicate my first novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks The Silence,” to my maternal grandparents long before I ever set out to write it. Or let me rephrase that: until I was tasked with dedicating the novel, I had no idea just how clear it had been that I would dedicate it to them. During the years it took me to write the novel, I never thought about the dedication, nor did I think much about my dearly departed grandparents, though in retrospect they were always with me, whispering their story into my ear.
No, the novel isn’t about them, not literally anyway, but it does touch upon certain themes — displacement, trauma, assimilation, ambition — which I would never have plumbed had I not known the intimate details of their struggles. Marianne and Stephan—Mimi and Steve to their friends—were both born in Vienna, where they met and married. Both full-blooded Jews, their Jewishness never played a significant role in their upbringing. They were Jewish, just not religious, and rarely attended shul.
Janice Weizman was born in Toronto, and moved to Israel at the age of nineteen. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Bar-Ilan University, where she initiated and serves as managing editor of The Ilanot Review, an online literary journal. Janice’s fiction has appeared in various literary journals including Lilith, Jewish Fiction, and Scribblers on the Roof. “The Wayward Moon” is her first novel. 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:
A young man leaves his home and sets out on a journey. He is impressionable, sensitive, and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Because he is young, everything is new, surprising, a revelation. He is awkward, but also hopeful. He knows little, but he is eager to learn. He is betrayed by those he trusts, and happily surprised by people he thought were his enemies. So it goes as he journeys in and out of chance meetings, mishaps, and adventures. And ultimately, after feeling the full weight of his experiences in his soul, he comes to understand a truth about himself, about the world, and his place in it.
The literary term for this sort of novel is the bildungsroman. In English, we might call it a novel of self-discovery and it is a classic genre in both Western and world literature. Our literary canon is full of such tales of self-realization. Tom Jones and David Copperfield are examples of the genre as are Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Though works involving a heroine are few, Jane Eyre comes to mind as a rare exception. But generally, women, and particularly Jewish women, are absent from the genre.
Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City
By Peter Kuper, Introduction by Eric Drooker
PM Press, 208 pages, $29.95
This oversized, four-color 30-year compendium of comics, magazine illustrations, painting and sketchbook work by the artist best known for his “Spy vs Spy” pages in Mad Magazine, is stunning in its variety and vividness. “Chronicle” is evidently a play on words, because Kuper is looking at his Manhattan experience — ever since he moved from Cleveland in 1977 — from all sorts of angles, including geographical, aerial, animal, and, of course, human. It’s not always a pretty sight, that’s the price of admission to the real-life Greatest Show on Earth. The Mexican and French publishers of the volume, which preceded this version, must think so, too.
We don’t see the evidence here, but Kuper started as in comics by inking “Richie Rich,” and many of the pages of “Drawn to New York” might be understood as a depiction of the world that real-life Manhattan rich people would prefer not to see. Not that Kuper, a founder of the iconoclastic “World War 3 Illustrated,” is didactic. He takes in street violence, poverty, prostitutes, ecological and architectural crimes almost casually: How would you recognize modern New York without them? He also likes to be self-indulgent: the endangered species in the city is himself, threatened by some random or still unspecified source that makes 9/11 almost a relief in its specificity.
Today D. A. Mishani continues with his series “The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective,” where he has been investigating why it’s so difficult to write a detective in Israel. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published by Harper. The second novel in the series, “A Possibility of Violence,” will be published in the U.S. in 2014. 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:
I can honestly say I was concerned by this “Mystery of the Hebrew Detective,” mainly before and after writing the first installment in my literary detective series, “The Missing File.”
As I come from a family of Mizrahi origins, and since I admire the literary tradition of the realistic police-procedural, I chose not to back down. My protagonist, Inspector Avraham Avraham, is a peripheral character, from Mizrahi origins, like police officers in Israel usually are, and certainly like they are in Israeli culture.
He works in Holon, my home town, which is an urban, lower-middle-class, suburb of Tel Aviv. He didn’t grow up in a kibbutz, he doesn’t work for the Mossad, and the cases he’s investigating don’t have any national importance. He doesn’t chase old hiding Nazi criminals and not even Muslim terrorists. In “The Missing File,” he’s just looking for a 16-year-old boy, as unimportant as him, who went missing.
Still, I tried to address the problem of writing a detective in Israel in some ways.
Today D. A. Mishani continues with his series “The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective,” where he has been investigating why it’s so difficult to write a detective in Israel. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published by Harper. 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:
I’ll try to summarize the new problem of writing a detective in Hebrew in a simple way. The biography of the typical hero of Israeli canonical literature, from its beginnings, is more or less this: he’s a man; he was born in Europe, or in later periods to a family of European origins; he has survived the Holocaust, or was born to a family of survivors. He grew up in a kibbutz, joined the army and served in one of the elitist units, was maybe even injured in 1967 or 1973, and sometime later on joined the Mossad.
Unfortunately, the protagonist of the realistic crime novel set in Israel cannot have this biography. The Israeli police force, from its early days until today, is composed mainly of Mizrahim (Israelis coming to Israel from Arab or Muslim countries) and those who grew up in the social and cultural peripheries of Israel.
Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of two books — “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up” and “Fired!” — and the e-book single “Autumn Leaves” (available from Zola Books), a chapter from her comedic memoir for Blue Rider imprint at Penguin, to be published in Spring 2014. 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:
Ok, so I hadn’t done time in prison, I’d just spent one day there.
I’d just covered what was believed to be the first Bat Mitzvah in an American women’s prison for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. It was the only time I’d been in a temple where the person sitting next to me was tattooed with the words “Suicidal Freak.” There’s a saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” but it should amended to, “and in penitentiaries.” If I am ever incarcerated you can bet I’ll be signing up for every form of religious education available as they serve snacks and the non-denominational chapel at Chino is air-conditioned. (In fact, there is a relatively new organization, Atheists in Foxholes, that does great work in the field, not sure about the quality of their snacks, though.) I figured if that rabbi could handle prisoners, he could do just fine with my son whose teenage years were starting to feel like a hostage situation.
Today D. A. Mishani continues with his series “The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective,” where he has been investigating why it’s so difficult to write a detective in Israel. Read installment one here and installment two here. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published by Harper. 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:
Here is, for example, an important piece of evidence I found during my investigation: a fierce article written on detective fiction in a Hebrew newspaper in Palestine in the 1930s, when the first translations of detective fiction to Hebrew were made (mainly to Sherlock Holmes stories) and the first original detective stories in Hebrew were written:
Who is it that poisons the soul of our children with this so-called literature – arouses in them the most savage and hideous feelings? All over the Diaspora, songs are being sung for the children of the Land of Israel (Palestine) and their complete, healthy souls – and who is this that dares to damage them, to damage the pure and the innocent within them? And why isn’t there any public punishment for them? Aren’t we going to finally put an end to this filthy commerce, commerce in the souls of our children?
Yesterday, D. A. Mishani wondered why it’s so difficult to write a detective in Hebrew. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published by Harper. 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:
So why is it so difficult to write a detective novel in Israel? Aren’t we supposed to be a literary culture that appreciates a sharp character who knows how to solve a riddle? And didn’t we produce one of the first recorded murder cases (that of Cain and Abel) and one of the first thrillers about an attempted murder prevented at the last moment (that of the Akeda)? As all detectives do, in order to solve the mystery I had to turn to history for some answers. And, in this case, it was the history of modern Hebrew literature.
I knew that modern Hebrew literature (i.e., literature in the modern and European sense, written not within liturgical or other religious contexts) began in the 18th century, in central and eastern Europe, mainly in what is today Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. During the 19th century many of the newly-born modern European literary forms immigrated into Hebrew literary writing. And, although from its beginnings it understood and described itself as a national literature — like the German or the French — modern Hebrew literature has developed under unique circumstances, unfamiliar to most other national literatures.
Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of three books: “Autumn Leaves,” “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up,” and “Fired!” Her comedic memoir for Blue Rider imprint at Penguin will be published in Spring 2014. 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 turned 50. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I do yoga. I moisturize. I still fit into the same jeans I’ve had for the last 15 years, though they do sit differently, but you can’t escape it, no matter how Vitamin D you’re taking (even though some studies say it doesn’t do anything of significance).
As an actress, I always played roles sometimes even a decade younger than myself. This was before IMDB made it impossible to lie about your age. I’d told so many people so many different ages over the years I’d even convinced myself that my driver’s license might not even be accurate.
There is precedence for this in my family. My father’s mother, Rebecca, shaved a few years off when she arrived in Alabama as a teenager around 1919 from Russia — I can only assume to make her self more attractive marriage material—but then she tried to have it corrected to collect her Social Security earlier many years later. We’re Southern, so a bit of Blanche Dubois tends to seep in from time to time.
D. A. Mishani is an Israeli crime writer, editor, and literary scholar, specializing in the history of detective fiction. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published in by Harper. 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:
My fascination with detectives started very early on.
I remember that one of my strongest reading experiences as a child — when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old — was discovering with growing terror and amazement The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was reading at night, in bed, under the blanket, and I knew I was intimidated by this strange character, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, even more than I was by the monstrous giant dog he was chasing.
And there’s another experience I remember very strongly:
I was 11 or 12 years old and I had already finished all the Agatha Christie novels available in the adult section of the municipal library in my home town, Holon, an urban suburb of Tel Aviv. I was standing in front of the library shelves that offered almost no other detective novels and asked myself: And now what? Are there really no other detectives in the world for me to read?
By Rutu Modan, translated by Jessica Cohen
Drawn & Quarterly, 232 pages, $24.95
The past takes many forms in Rutu Modan’s graphic novel “The Property.” There is Regina, an elderly woman returning to Poland from Israel for the first time in over 60 years; overzealous re-enactors encountered by her granddaughter Mica on the streets of Warsaw; slides of far-off nations that Roman, a novelist, looks at as he recalls his youth; and a graphic novel with its roots in Polish history being written by Tomasz, who becomes smitten with Mica while working as a tour guide.
The premise of the book is ostensibly simple: Mica and Regina are visiting Warsaw to inquire about property owned by their family that was confiscated during the war. But nearly every character has secrets, desires, and information that they withhold from others. The weight of history is nimbly evoked here, but Modan’s most impressive feat is numerous plotlines using art, dialogue and language.
Characters in “The Property” communicate in Hebrew, English and Polish, but few speak all three, leading to isolated revelations in public settings and confessions in unlikely locations. Modan uses different text styles for each of these languages; in scenes from the perspective of specific characters, unintelligible languages are rendered as a kind of scribble. This can easily lead to comic misunderstandings or jarring revelations, and Modan makes use of both.
Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about an insult and a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, A Dual Inheritance, was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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:
My paternal grandparents lived across from a canal in Long Beach on Long Island. We went to their house every weekend and — at least in the confusing palace of memory — I spent much of my childhood sitting on their porch, rocking back and forth on a glider in the shade. I remember my grandmother’s pliant arms, her strong opinions, my grandfather’s worry, his strength, his pale blue eyes. I could have listened to them telling stories for hours, and often did.
Because my grandfather was religious, it’s him that I think of first when I think of being Jewish: his broad back in his gray suit and his quiet sense of bearing the weight of the world. I often think that if he were a foul-tempered man instead of gentle and beloved, I might have had negative associations with Judaism. But my grandfather trudging off to temple is linked for me to how he was a landlord who could never bring himself to collect rent if the tenant’s child played a musical instrument; it’s linked to the poetic stories he told me about how the bluebird became blue. His Jewishness is linked with his goodness, and I see him in every talis, every yarmulke.
Last week, Rebecca Miller wrote about Gluckel of Hameln. She has been sharing texts that shed light on the history of Jewish life in France, the setting of her new novel, Jacob’s Folly. 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 was researching my last novel, my friend Michael Rohatyn found a book at the Strand he thought I might like: “The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes,” by Edouard de Pomiane. De Pomiane (1875-1964), a physician, was also one of the most famous chefs and cookery writers of his day. Born Eduard Pozerski, he was born into the Polish aristocracy, brought up poor but refined. Both his parents were Polish patriots who fought against Russian domination of their homeland; his mother fled to France with the young Eduard when his father was deported to Siberia for insurrection against the Russians. Coming of age within the close-knit community of Polish exiles in Paris, he was sympathetic to liberal causes and was a proponent of the Dreyfus cause.
His ethnographic book about Polish Jewish culture and cooking, written in 1928, was originally entitled “Cuisine Juive; Ghetto Modernes” (“Jewish Cooking; Modern Ghettos”). It is, perhaps, the weirdest book I have ever read. A tantalizingly vague recipe for Carpe a la Juive (“Take a large, live carp. Kill it…”) follows a horrifying description of a pogrom, relayed to de Pomiane by a museum guide who had survived the massacre by hiding under a heap of hay in which his sister suffocated overnight: “A corpse, belly ripped open, lay with its guts wrapped around its neck…A child wandered aimlessly, haggard, mute, crazed, its body beaten to a pulp.”
Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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 was 20, I met a charming elderly man on a train in Greece who told me I looked like an angel. He insisted on escorting me to my destination. At some point during our time together, during the man’s patient explanation of Greek history, he explained to me that the Jews were evil.
I looked him in the eyes and said: But I’m Jewish.
No, he said, no, no. As if I was merely confused.
Yes, I assured him. I’m a Jew. This was 100% true and my family (as far as we know) is 100% Jewish. There was nothing complicated about that fact.
And I was raised by my parents to marry someone Jewish. There was no ambivalence there, no liberal-minded wiggle room.
When I met my husband in my mid-20s, he was living in a small town at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula. He is neither Mexican nor is he Jewish. We fell madly in love and that was that. Though he is not a fan of organized religion, he agreed to raise our future children Jewish, but this was going to be my responsibility. How, I wondered, was I going to nurture a religious identity, when my own life didn’t include much in the way of religious ritual?
Joanna Hershon’s most recent novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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 recently attended my friend’s father’s memorial. It was held at the Faculty House of Columbia University in a perfectly lovely nondescript room with a bar. An elegant man with an appealingly mysterious accent led the service. I imagined he’d been a student of my friend’s father, who was a playwright and professor, or perhaps he worked for the University in some capacity. As the memorial unfolded, three things immediately came to mind: the deceased was roughly the age of the two protagonists in my new novel, “A Dual Inheritance” ; like my protagonists, he’d gone to Harvard, and — though I knew my friend’s father was Jewish — there was no reference to it here. It was an entirely secular experience.
I thought of how my mother always says that there’s something cold and empty when an official service has no religious framework, and as so many friends and family paid loving and witty tribute to this obviously talented, stubborn, erudite, caring man, I carried on a mental argument with my mother, whose Judaism is expressed differently — more politically, more conservatively, less fraught — than mine is. I argued in my head for secularism. Here was a great example, I reasoned; here was a deep tribute without being defined by a religion into which my friend’s father happened to be born. He’d been orphaned fairly young, had a massive heart attack as a young man, had never thought he’d live past 40. He’d also been widowed young and had raised a daughter — my friend — who was now happily living in Berlin, raising a German-speaking son with a non-Jewish husband. You see, I told my mother in my silent protest, life can be so much bigger than religion.
In her first installments of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer and the plight of ordinary German citizen during World War II. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” 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 schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.” ― Simon Wiesenthal
I worked for many years with batterers — men who were adjudicated into a program for domestic violence prevention, men who had beaten, hit, punched, and sometimes killed their wives. They sat and stared at me, denying with the most innocent of eyes the very crimes I had laid out in photos in front of me.
She ran into my fist.
I grabbed her arm and then she ran in circles around me, and that is how she broke her own arm.
She had a soft head, and that is why she died when her head hit the iron railing.
People ask if the men ever changed and my answer remains the same: only if they are able to face their crimes and cruelty. Denial, and the shame these men felt (whether shame at being caught, shame at hurting people they should have loved, or shame at their hidden crimes being brought into the bright sunlight), blocked their change. How do you change if you can’t admit what happened?
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Academics and enthusiasts of Yiddish studies have long been pushing for the translation of Yiddish literature. Unfortunately, few efforts have met with much success, even among Jewish readers. The New Yiddish Library Series, from Yale University Press, had plans to translate and publish dozens of Yiddish books, but was forced to halt the project due to low sales.
Writer and translator Michael Wex hopes to change all that. On May 7, Wex, the author of “Born to Kvetch” and “Just Say Nu,” launched an indiegogo campaign to raise money to translate Yosef Opatoshu’s novel, “In Polish Forests.” Wex plans to render the book into English and then post it online for free. A comprehensive introduction will acquaint the reader with Opatoshu’s life and work.
Through this project, Wex hopes to “pioneer a new model for literary translation while rescuing a seminal work of modern Yiddish literature from undeserved neglect,” he writes on his indiegogo page.
In the novel, Opatoshu describes the decay of the Hasidic dynasty in Kotsk after the Napoleonic period, up to the Polish uprising of 1863. He focuses on the lives of backwoods Jews and their daily interactions with gentile Polish peasants. Contrary to the stereotype that Jews lived in constant dread of their Polish neighbors, Opatoshu shows us a very different reality: Jews interacting easily with Poles, and Poles displaying respect for their Jewish neighbors.
“Touching as it does on Hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland,” Wex writes.