Good read for all tastes
Here Safran Foer explores both contemporary American Jewish identity and Diaspora Jewry’s connections to the Land of Israel. The Bloch family, four generations of Washington DC Jews are a microcosm for American Jewry. The novel is kick-started by Sam, almost barmitzvah, who is caught by his teachers writing hate-speech at school. Screenwriter dad Jack and architect mom Julia have to deal with this crisis or Sam’s barmitzvah will be cancelled. So goes Jewish life in 21st century America.
Later in the novel a devastating earthquake in Israel and a war are litmus tests for American Jewry’s levels of Zionist commitment.
A thought-provoking novel and definitely a springboard for debate for Jewish communities around the world; “Here I Am” is a sprawling narrative, beautifully written and challenging.
“Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” by Ruth Gilligan (Atlantic Books) is a rare book, a novel about Jews in Ireland and follows in the steps of James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Leopold Bloom). Gilligan follows three stories over a century, beginning with the Greenbergs, and especially Ruth, Litvaks whose transatlantic passage to America accidentally arrives at Cork, Ireland instead of New York and a Litvish community takes root, through Shem, (a nod to Finnegan’s Wake) who becomes mute just before his barmitzvah and is called to transcribe the life of another mid-century Irish Jew; to Aisling, an Irish woman in contemporary London who is contemplating conversion to Judaism to marry Noah. This novel will resonate with South African Jews who are predominantly from Lithuania.
“Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari (Harvil Secker) is the follow-up to the international phenomenon Sapiens. In Homo Deus, Harari, a Hebrew University professor of history, looks into the future and tries to foretell what our future will look like and his predictions make for uncomfortable reading. His basic premise is that Humanism, the dominant secular paradigm has allowed mankind to conquer our greatest threats, infectious diseases, hunger and war. What will it allow us to achieve in the future and how long will the success of Humanism, technology and our understanding of life allow man to remain human? What altered forms of life or knowledge processing might we create that could relegate mankind to irrelevance? This book is an uncomfortable read, but needs to be read by everyone who expects to be alive in ten years’ time and not be surprised by future developments.
“Underground Airlines” by Ben H Winters (Century) is an explosive thriller, set in an alternative America, where the Civil War never happened, the South negotiated a constitutional amendment to allow slavery, and slavery exists in 2016. Enter Victor an escaped slave who entered into a Faustian pact: to track down and hand over other escaped slaves to the US government to be returned to their owners in exchange for his freedom. Victor’s current case is not what it seems, and Jackdaw, the escaped slave he must find, represents the greatest threat to Victor’s freedom and the continuation of slavery. Look out for James Brown and Michael Jackson, and South African-produced cheap cars.
“The Supernotes Affair” by Agent Kasper and Luigi Carletti. This book is based on a true story. Agent Kasper is kidnapped in Cambodia while on a CIA mission to uncover counterfeit money schemes. He is meant to disappear forever because he has discovered something so terrible, explosive and damaging, that intelligence agencies want him neutralised.
Finding himself in one of the world’s most notorious prison camps near Phnom Penh, Kasper will do anything to remain alive. This is a truly sensational read.
For the bookclubs
“The Muse” by Jessie Burton (Picador). In her follow-up to the million-plus seller The Miniaturist, Burton once again explores art and creativity setting her novel in Civil War Spain and ‘60s London. Odelle Bastian, an aspiring writer from Trinidad is working in a London gallery. Her boyfriend Lawrie Scott has a painting the gallery owner believes to be a masterpiece. The provenance of the painting is revealed in the Spanish Civil War storyline and revolves around Olive Schloss, an artist, and a Spanish revolutionary, Isaac Robels. Anyone who read The Miniaturist and has been waiting for Burton’s next novel, will not be disappointed.
South African Interest
Switched at Birth by Jessica Pitchford (Jonathan Ball). Two children were accidentally swopped at birth at a Nigel hospital in 1989. A year later when the truth was uncovered the two mothers faced a choice no one should be asked to make: – should they hand back the child they had nurtured for a year to get back the child they gave birth to? Both mothers chose nurture over nature, to try make their strange relationship work and to sue the State for the original mistake which, cast a long shadow over so many lives. Journalist Jessica Pitchford followed this agonising story and has written a heart-breaking account of this bitter saga.