The Autograph Man
By Zadie Smith
Random House. 368 pages. $24.95.
En route to a wrestling match, a Chinese Englishman asks his Jewish son to explain, once again, about “the boxes.” “Tefillin,” the exasperated 12-year-old Alex-Li Tandem replies, “You just strap them. On your head, you know. And a bit on your arms.” Readers of Zadie Smith’s critically acclaimed debut novel, White Teeth, should be familiar with this sort of cross-generational, cross-cultural exchange. With that book, Smith showed that she could write about anyone, anywhere, no matter how far removed from her personal experience—whether they are Jamaican Jehovah’s Witnesses, British Protestants, Bengali Islamists, or Jews. (more…)
The Dialogues of Time and Entropy
By Aryeh Lev Stollman
Riverhead. 240 pages. $24.94.
What would it be like to have the inspiration of a genius? Only a handful of humans will ever know firsthand. But the rest of us can contemplate the hints of modern genius strewn throughout The Dialogues of Time and Entropy, Aryeh Lev Stollman’s first collection of short fiction. (more…)
The Hebrew Hammer isn’t the only Jew in a frock coat and a black hat meting out justice this winter. In fact, next to the Weiss brothers, lieutenants in San Francisco’s turn-of-the-century Jewish mob, the Hammer looks like a bit of a nebbish.
The brothers are the heroes of “Market Street,” the first story arc in “Caper,” a new monthly series published by DC Comics. “Market Street” will wrap up in the February and March issues of “Caper” and will be followed by two more four-issue arcs, written by Judd Winick and drawn by different artists. Varied in tone and setting, the tales are loosely linked through family connections between characters, and revolve around double-crosses, heists and various criminal misadventures. (more…)
Fabulous Small Jews: Stories
By Joseph Epstein
352 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $23.
Jews have an age-old answer to snobbery. It’s called chutzpah. If some pretentious jerk looks down his nose at you because of the “-berg” at the end of your name or the Honda at the end of your driveway, Jewish wisdom teaches that you just give him the old stink-eye and tell him where he can shove his judgments. Mordecai Richler knew this, Alan Dershowitz knows it, and apparently Joseph Epstein knows it, too. (more…)
Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge
Edited by Paul Zakrzewski.
Perennial. 550 pages. $14.95.
Paul Zakrzewski’s new collection of contemporary Jewish-American fiction, Lost Tribe, is that rare anthology that adds up to more than the sum of its parts and is, in fact, worth talking about. While the stories vary in literary quality and entertainment value, the book offers a revealing cross-section of the youngest generation of American Jewish authors, and, through them, of the youngest generation of American Jewish adults.
To be clear, this is a valuable book of uneven stories about massively screwed up Jews. (more…)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W
By Gabriel Brownstein
W. W. Norton. 192 pages. $23.95.
The rules of plagiarism can be confusing. It’s not okay for you to “borrow” your roommate’s term paper, and historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and the late Stephen Ambrose were recently busted for improperly attributing sources. On the other hand, in his debut collection of short stories, Gabriel Brownstein rips off characters, dialogue, and plot points from Hawthorne and Kafka and nobody seems to mind. What gives?
The Russian Debutante’s Handbook
By Gary Shteyngart
Riverhead. 452 pages. $24.95.
If you came of age in Jewish schools, summer camps, and community centers in the 1990s, as I did, you probably knew more than one kid like Vladimir Girshkin. Think back: remember that ultra-pale, surprisingly hairy 14-year-old whose wardrobe came straight off the sale racks at Kmart in various shades of vinyl? He spoke with an indeterminate accent, was unfamiliar with the touchstones of our culture (cartoons, baseball cards, sugary breakfast cereals), and he wasn’t the guy you wanted to be paired with in lab or gym. Of course, there were plenty of Russians at my day school who adapted perfectly to life in North America, fitting right in with the rest of us—braces, top forty radio, and all—but the one or two oddballs are the ones we remember.
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In Gary Shteyngart’s widely praised debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, we discover the fate of such an oddball when he is released into the wider world. (more…)