Book Briefs


Provocative from its title onward, “The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning” (Bloomsbury Press) includes stories of passion, blood and religious conviction. Freedman, a writer and scholar with a doctorate in Aramaic, notes that the Bible has been translated more than any other book. He writes that William Tyndale, the first man to produce an English version of the Bible in print, was imprisoned in 1535 and burned at the stake the following year, as was his co-translator. Freedman explains that every translator of the Bible into another language had a story, “every bit as illuminating and frequently as violent, as the Bible itself.” And, he says that in present times, while there’s no violence, the controversies and contention remain, “peppered with arguments and disputes about how to read” the Bible and what it really says.

A literary thriller from a bestselling Dutch author, “These Are the Names” by Tommy Wieringa (Melville House) follows the threads of two stories: a group of starving refugees in a quest for survival in the Eurasian steppes and a policeman investigating the death of a rabbi in a small town on the border of the steppes, leaving only one remaining Jew in the town, also a rabbi. In the course of the novel, the two stories collide, and the policeman begins to understand his own Jewish heritage. The title is drawn from the opening lines of the Book of Exodus.

Set in 1940s Savannah, “Among the Living” by Jonathan Raab (Other Press) is the story of a Holocaust survivor who moves to the Southern city to join the only relatives he has. Raab captures the Southern Jewish sensibility well, with its distinctive sense of place and the gaps, in this era of Jim Crow segregation, between Jews and blacks, and between different Jewish communities. The novel is also an affecting story of Savannah.

Gayle Forman, who has previously written bestselling books for young adults, pens her first adult novel, “Leave Me” (Gayle Algonquin), a story of a New York woman who seems to have it all, but collapses with a heart attack from the pressures of having too much of “it all.” At 44, she has emergency bypass surgery and, afterwards, when she realizes that she must continue to bear the responsibilities for her family even as she wishes to be cared for, she acts out the fantasy of many women stretched in multiple directions: She runs away. This is the story of coming-of-age, later in life.

A memoir by Israeli writer Alona Frankel, who has written and illustrated more than 50 books for children, “Girl: My Childhood and the Second World War” (Indiana University Press), is the story of surviving the horrors of the Shoah, that stands out for its powerful writing and the author’s resilience. Born in Poland, she was a young child when Germany invaded Poland; she was hidden by a local woman, and lived among animals, while her parents were hidden by a carpenter, who refused to keep their only child. She writes with sensitivity and unforgettable detail, from the different kinds of lice she gets used to, to facing a hiding place within a hiding place, when the woman refused to keep caring for her. She also writes of the aftermath of the war. The book was named winner of Israel’s prestigious Sapir Prize.

Chaim Potok’s wildly popular novel “The Chosen” is the story of an evolving friendship between two Jewish boys in Brooklyn from different backgrounds — Modern Orthodox and chasidic — who live on adjacent streets but different worlds; they meet in a baseball game — the novel’s bracing opening scene — when one is injured. The iconic book has sold more than 3.4 million copies worldwide, and been translated into many languages. Almost 50 years since its first publication, “The Chosen” (Simon & Schuster) is available in a new anniversary edition, including essays by Robert Gottlieb, the editor who first published the novel by an unknown author that “revelated to readers an unfamiliar and fascinating world they didn’t know,” literary critics Daniel Walden, Hugh Nissenson and others; copies of pages from the early hand-written manuscript with cross-outs and revisions; his original title page when it was called “The Locust Years,” articles by Potok (who died in 2002) reflecting on the work; scenes from the 1982 film and a page of the screenplay; an essay by Aaron Posner who wrote and directed a 1999 version for the stage; and an introduction by his daughter Rena Potok.

A large-format book, “Passage to Israel” by Karen Lehrman Bloch (Skyhorse Publishing) features color photographs taken by 34 photographers, including Naomi Leshem, Rina Castelnuovo, David Rubinger, Michael Safdie, Itamar Grinberg and others. The work includes landscapes, portraits, scenes of intense natural beauty, streetscapes, urban interiors, snow-covered Jerusalem, dreamy views of the sea, sunsets, markets, birds at the Hula Nature Reserve, with brief identifying captions. Bloch writes that she wanted to create this book because she felt that “the real Israel was no longer being seen,” with the media’s repeated focus on the conflict.