The Arty Semite

Forward Fives: 2010 in Fiction

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

In this, the second annual Forward Fives selection, we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in film, music, theater, exhibitions and books. Here we present five of the most important Jewish novels of 2010. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

JOYCE RAVID

It’s been some year for Jewish fiction, though we continue to scream about, ponder and dissect what that even means. It is produced by Jewish writers, certainly, but not always. It centers on otherness, our history and culture, the nature of family and whatever we call god. It’s set in Israel or in Europe before or after the war, in New York City, England and America’s heartland. Its heroes are bold, men-children, revolutionists or the inward-looking. And like we’re boarding Noah’s ark, much of the fiction we loved this year can be discussed in pairs.

There were the young men who wrote big books that tinkered with language and form while winking at their readers. Joshua Cohen mellifluously skewers capitalism in “Witz” as he writes about the last Jew on earth. With less hubris, Adam Levin’s “The Instructions” spurred difficult conversations about religion and terrorism by tunneling into the mind of a puckish Day School student.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yann Martel, Witz, To the End of the Land, There Is No Other, The Invisible Bridge, The Instructions, The Finkler Question, The Escape, The Ambassadors, Super Sad True Love Story, Philip Roth, Justin Taylor, Nicole Krauss, Nemesis, Julie Orringer, Joshua Cohen, Jon Papernick, Howard Jacobson, Henry James, Great House, Forward Fives 2010, Gary Shteyngart, Forward Fives, Foreign Bodies, Fiction, David Grossman, Cynthia Ozick, Books, Blooms of Darkness, Aharon Appelfeld, Beatrice and Virgil, Allison Gaudet Yarrow, Adam Thirlwell, 2010 in Books, Adam Levin

Composing Identity, From Jamaica to England

By Emily Landau

This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist featured two authors who write about groups not often represented in British literature. Howard Jacobson, author of “The Finkler Question,” has made a career crafting a literary image of the English Jew, while Andrea Levy, shortlisted for “The Long Song,” has documented the black British experience in her five novels, most recently focusing on colonial slaves in nineteenth-century Jamaica. While Jacobson ultimately took the prize, “The Long Song” thrust its author back into the spotlight — in October, Levy was a guest at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors.

Both Jews and blacks fall outside of the traditional stiff upper-lip of the English novel; in a way, Levy’s novels about black Britons echo many of the issues of identity shared by Jews in both Britain and North America. And, coincidentally or not, Judaism is one of the missing pieces of Levy’s own identity puzzle.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Long Song, The Finkler Question, Small Island, Slavery, Orange Prize, Man Booker Prize, Jamaica, Howard Jacobson, Emily Landau, Books, Andrea Levy

Howard Jacobson's Hanukkah Humbug

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Benjamin Golub

In this season of good will and holiday cheer, Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The Finkler Question” and a guest last term of George Washington’s English Department, has made mincemeat of Hanukkah. Taking to The New York Times to make his case, he suggests that this Jewish holiday has outlived its usefulness — if, in fact, it had any in the first place.

Hanukkah, argues the British novelist in a cascading procession of paragraphs, simply fails to engage the contemporary imagination. Nothing about it — the food, the ritual, the music — can hold a candle to Christmas. “The cruel truth is that Hanukkah is a seasonal festival of light in search of a pretext,” he writes, sidestepping history in favor of sociology. The best Jacobson can say of the holiday is that its name is “lovely.” Really now.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Finkler Question, New York Times, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Howard Jacobson, Hanukkah, From Under the Fig Tree

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy Robert Sherman
  • Michael Goldfarb celebrates the Man Booker Prize win by English Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson.

  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans on giving an honorary Oscar to Jean-Luc Godard. But will they be honoring an anti-Semite? Benjamin Ivry investigates.

  • Fifty years after his initial rise to fame, novelty songwriter Allan Sherman is as popular as ever. Mark Cohen explains why.

  • Ilan Stavans goes to see “Nora’s Will,” a Mexican film that won seven Ariel awards.

  • Gordon Haber critiques a documentary about March of the Living.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: This Week in Forward Arts and Culture, Nora's Will, Rodger Kamenetz, Nachman of Bratslav, March of the Living, Judy Chicago, Jeremiah Lockwood, Jean-Luc Godard, Howard Jacobson, Allan Sherman, Basya Schechter, Burnt Books, Cynthia Ozick, Franz Kafka

Out and About: David Grossman in Frankfurt, Idan Raichel at the Opera

By Ezra Glinter

Idan Raichel, not at the opera.
  • David Grossman has won the German Book Trade Peace Prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer comes to Carbondale, Illinois.

  • As the music consultant for The Israeli Opera, Idan Raichel has chosen Vieux Farka Touré to open the new season on November 26.

  • Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in Literature last week. Watch him speak in 2007 at the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center.

  • Read an excerpt from “Eden,” the latest novel by Israeli (and “In Treatment”) writer Yael Hedaya.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yael Hedaya, Vieux Farka Touré, Schmekel, Roman Polanski, Robert Alter, Philip Roth, Out and About, Nobel Prize, Mario Vargas Llosa, Lee Friedlander, Julian Schnabel, Jonathan Safran Foer, Israeli Opera, Isaach Bashevis Singer, Howard Jacobson, Idan Raichel, George Price, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frank Gehry, David Grossman, Accordion, 92nd Street Y

Howard Jacobson Goes Short for the Booker Prize

By Dan Friedman

Jenny Jacobson

For most New Yorkers, the idea of Jews beyond Israel, New York and New York South (aka Florida) is an annoying complication. For many American Jews, the existence of proud, older, historically significant communities in places other than America and Israel is a constant surprise. As a friend of my then girlfriend asked when first meeting me, “There are Jews in England? Does the Queen know?”

So when the Man Booker Prize longlist was announced, containing within the baker’s dozen Britain’s best known living Jewish novelist and a Levy (Andrea), the general inclination was to either ignore it or to grasp at straws — “Didn’t the New Yorker do a piece on David Mitchell?” “Was “The Sopranos” based on Alan Warner’s book of the same name?” “Will Howard Jacobson make it in America?”

Jacobson, who was named one of the shortlisted authors today (along with Levy and four others), has been an important writer for over 20 years. He was previously longlisted for the Booker twice: for “Kalooki Nights” (2006) (which he described as ”the most Jewish novel that has ever been written by anybody, anywhere”) and for “Who’s Sorry Now?” (2002).

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Finkler Question, Philip Roth, Nadine Gordimer, Man Booker Prize, Howard Jacobson, Andrea Levy




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