Spring Arts: Books



‘At the end of the war, I became immersed in constant slumber,” Aharon Appelfeld opens his latest novel, “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping” (Schocken). The man sleeps his way across much of Europe and remembers little of his journey from Ukraine to Naples, and then onto Israel, where he is wounded while serving on night patrol. In Appelfeld’s fine tradition – he is the author of more than 40 works of fiction and nonfiction — this is a novel about memory, language and humanity. (February)

“Be My Wolf” by Emma Richler (Knopf) is a love story between a sister and adopted brother, and a tale of inventing family history, tumbling back through centuries. At the back of the book, the author, daughter of novelist Mordecai Richler, provides brief bios of the many historical figures mentioned, along with a glossary of the terms no longer in common use, in English and Russian. (February)

Ellen Umansky’s first novel, “The Fortunate Ones” (Morrow), is the story of two women, separated by age and continents, connected to one another through a painting by Chaim Soutine called “The Bellhop,” which is woven into their family histories. Their separate search for it brings them together. Inspired by real events, the novel deals with friendship, loss and forgiveness. (February)

Leonardo Padura is a Jewish writer not yet known well in the U.S. He is considered by many to be Cuba’s greatest living writer. In “Heretics,” translated by Anna Kushner (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), he combines historical events with fiction, opening the novel in 1939, when the Saint Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana, with hundreds of Jewish refugees in search of refuge. One family carries a small Rembrandt painting, hoping it will ensure their freedom, but they are sent back to Europe. The painting disappears, only to reappear 70 years later in an auction house in London. Cutting through deception and violence, the detective story reconstructs events, raising issues of faith, Jewish identity, art and freedom. (March)

“Sonora” by Hanna Lillith Assadi (Soho Press) is the author’s fiction debut. Assadi, like her main character, Ahlam, is the daughter of a Jewish mother and Palestinian father. The novel shifts from the desert landscapes of suburban Phoenix to New York City, where Ahlam and a friend seek to reinvent themselves. (March)

In “All Grown Up” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Jami Atterberg, author of “The Middlesteins,” creates Andrea Bern, an appealing 39-year-old single, independent, quirky New York woman; she’s living on her own terms, still coming of age and seeking connections. (March)

A debut novel, “What to Do About the Solomons” by Bethany Ball (Atlantic Monthly Press), spans a few generations of the Solomon family, once together in Israel and now dispersed from their kibbutz to New York and Los Angeles. In successive chapters, Ball advances the narrative by following the perspective of one of the family’s quirky characters. (April)

“Three Envelopes” by Nir Hezroni (St. Martin’s) is a debut thriller about a rogue agent from Israeli intelligence who is a master killer. The author, who lives near Tel Aviv, calls upon his knowledge of the worlds of high tech and Israeli military intelligence. (April)

In “Tell Me How This Ends Well,” David Samuel Levinson (Hogarth) ventures into the near future with seriousness and humor. The novel opens with a Passover seder in Los Angeles in 2022, at a time when anti-Semitism and intolerance are increasing in America, fueled by an immigrant crisis. As the Jacobson extended family assembles for the holiday, relatives face old rivalries and distrust as they try to unite and make decisions together. (April)

Sonia Taitz, a novelist and playwright who trained as a lawyer, presents a novel of New York City in “Great With Child” (McWitty). She weaves a story of a lawyer, her accidental pregnancy and subsequent romance, and the moral and cultural challenges of her work. (April)


Published on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Russian Revolution, “Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge” by Helen Rappaport (St. Martin’s) tells the story of the Revolution through the lives of ordinary citizens, based on previously unpublished material. (February)

“Meir Aaron Goldschmidt and the Poetics of Jewish Fiction” by David Gantt Gurley (Syracuse) is an analysis of the work of one of Denmark’s greatest 19th-century writers, placing Goldschmidt’s work in a Jewish literary and historical context and introducing him to a wider audience. (February)

A new title in Yale’s Jewish Lives series, “Rabbi Akiva” by Barry Holtz is a portrait or “imagined biography” of the mystic, legalist, theologian and interpreter. Born around the year 50 C.E., Rabbi Akiva was the “true hero” of rabbinic Judaism, both in his time and through the ages. Holtz provides historical, literary and scholarly context for Akiva’s life and teachings. (March)

Also in the Yale series, “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman” by Itamar Ravinovitch is based on original research and the author’s recollections of working closely with Rabin. Rabinovitch, president of The Israel Institute and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, looks at the late prime minister’s life and accomplishments, his efforts toward peacemaking, relationships with world leaders, his murder and its aftermath in Israel. (March)

In “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew” (Fig Tree Books), Abigail Pogrebin cycles through the Jewish year, exploring major and minor holidays experientially and by researching and questioning leading scholars and rabbis of many backgrounds. She sets out on this trail with a spirit of openness, serious inquiry and adventure. (March)

In “The Devil’s Mercedes: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventure of Hitler’s Limousine in America” (St. Martin’s Press), Robert Klara uncovers an unusual post-World War II story about the appearance of Hitler’s armored limousine in America. This is a researched story of mistaken identity, post-war sentiment and mystery. (March)

Nir Baram, who was born in Jerusalem, spent a year and a half traversing the West Bank and East Jerusalem in search of a new understanding of the region he knew little about, and reports back in “A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank” (Text). Baram, the son and grandson of ministers in Israeli Labor-led governments and an advocate for equal rights for the Palestinians, spent a lot of time observing and listening, urging the people he met to share their dreams and visions. (March)

“Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage” (Knopf) is an intimate memoir by novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro. She focuses her attention on her 18-year marriage to M, a screenwriter, and reflects on how marriage changes over time; this is a meditation on love, commitment and the rich complexity of it all. (April)

In “The Story of Hebrew” (Princeton), Lewis Glinert (Princeton) explores the origins, history, evolution, usage and textual culture of the Hebrew language, from biblical narratives to the spoken word in Israel today. (March)

“Distilled: A Memoir of Family, Seagram, Baseball, and Philanthropy” (HarperCollins) is Charles Bronfman’s candid story of his life and career, and his concept of “entrepreneurial philanthropy.” Born in Montreal, Bronfman worked at Seagram, the company built by his father, for 50 years, and has dedicated his significant charitable efforts to Jewish and Canadian causes. The book is written by Canadian broadcaster Howard Green. (May)