As we turn the page from 5776 to 5777, how about a few page-turners to keep you occupied in the new year? Here are some volumes — from the humorous to the humbling — that we recommend you add to your reading list.
“Here I Am”
Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in more than a decade is both extremely long and incredibly complex. Inspired by Abraham’s concise claim of fatherly responsibility in the Book of Genesis, the 592-page narrative follows a Jewish American family as it fractures over a tumultuous four weeks during which the world itself literally splits apart when a devastating earthquake in the Middle East leads to a major military escalation in Israel. The stakes are high — but the questions raised by Foer are personal and get to the fundamental duties of being an American, a Jew, a parent and a spouse.
“Here I Am” by Jonathan Safran Foer (592 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Searching for John Hughes”
Millions of American kids in the ’80s grew up obsessed with films directed by John Hughes, notably “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” but perhaps only Jason Diamond became convinced he must find Hughes and write the icon’s biography (despite lacking any experience or connections). In recounting the hilarious and hopeless quest, Diamond’s memoir tells the story of a Jewish kid from a broken home in suburban Chicago who found inspiration in Hughes’ similarly broken characters.
“Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching ’80s Movies” by Jason Diamond (304 pages, William Morrow)
“Between Life and Death”
In Yoram Kaniuk’s final work, the highly regarded Israeli writer who died in 2013 crafted a dreamlike, autobiographical novel describing the four months he spent comatose in a Tel Aviv hospital, somewhere between the worlds of the living and the dead. A mix of memory, illusion and imagination, the writing shifts from recollection of a childhood spent among Holocaust survivors to a retelling of the 1948 War of Independence to a reflection on what it means to die. It was originally published in Israel in 2007.
“Between Life and Death” by Yoram Kaniuk, translated by Barbara Harshav (208 pages, Restless Books)
Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling author of the plus-size heroine-driven novels “Good in Bed” and “In Her Shoes,” puts herself in the protagonist’s role with this honest and entertaining collection of first-person essays. Starting with her days as the daughter of bookish Jewish parents in suburban New England, her memoir goes through many ups and downs, such as marriage, divorce, motherhood, a miscarriage, weight issues and how her mother became a late-in-life lesbian. She also offers parenting tips and plenty of examples from her uproarious Twitter feed.
“Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing” by Jennifer Weiner (416 pages, Atria Books)
“The One Man”
Books on the Holocaust are plentiful, but rarely is a Nazi death camp the setting for a fictional thriller. In Andrew Gross’ twist on history, it’s 1944 and the American effort to build a nuclear bomb, the Manhattan Project, lacks one vital component. The one man with the needed expertise is a Jewish physicist incarcerated in Auschwitz. And the one man who can rescue him is a Jewish, desk-bound U.S. intelligence officer who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland. As suspense novels go, this one is rich in historical detail and reflective on the wide-ranging spectrum of human nature, from hope to brutality.
“The One Man” by Andrew Gross (432 pages, Minotaur)
“The Secret Book of Kings”
Yochi Brandes, an Israeli biblical scholar descended from a line of Hasidic rabbis, has penned an imaginative novel that looks at the ancient kingdoms of Israel. Brandes is one of the best-selling novelists in Israel, and her latest is now available in a flowing English translation. Triggering comparisons to “The Red Tent,” the book is based on textual sources about the well-known kings David, Saul and Solomon, and the plot is rife with little twists that only knowledgeable, critical readers may spot. As such, this adventure and mystery is a dramatic act of modern biblical interpretation, but it’s also a compelling read for the uninitiated.
“The Secret Book of Kings” by Yochi Brandes, translated by Yardenne Greenspan (416 pages, St. Martin’s Press)
“Walking with Einstein” author Joshua Foer and two other writers have compiled an unconventional travel guide of 700 “of the strangest and most curious places” in the world. These include a handful of Jewish destinations, such as the last operating synagogue in Afghanistan and the Old Jewish Cemetery of Sarajevo, which only recently was cleared of landmines placed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the book from the website of the same name, which was co-founded by Foer, the brother of Jonathan Safran Foer.
“Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (481 pages, Workman Publishing Co.)
This dramatic, beautifully rendered tale, the debut novel of Affinity Konar, begins at Auschwitz in 1944. Pearl and Stasha Zagorski are identical twins, part of “Mengele’s Zoo,” an experimental population of siblings subjected to unimaginable horrors (although Konar imagines them vividly). After Pearl disappears and the camp is liberated by the Red Army, Stasha pairs up with a boy (also a twin) driven by vengeance and the hope that his lost sibling is also still alive. In their quest through devastated Poland and a world forever changed, this book goes beyond the expected in Holocaust fiction.
“Mischling” by Affinity Konar (352 pages, Lee Boudreaux Books)