The Sacred and the Profane

December 9, 2005 | , ,

Like her prize-winning debut novel, “In the Image” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), Dara Horn’s remarkable second work spans generations, continents and languages. “The World To Come,” which will be published in January 2006 by W.W. Norton, centers on former child prodigy Ben Ziskind and his twin sister, Sara, who live, love, mourn and steal art in contemporary New York. Tracing the mysterious provenance of a Marc Chagall painting, the book also relates the real-life tragedy of the Yiddish writer known as Der Nister (the Hidden One), who was murdered by the Soviets before completing his masterpiece. Horn recently discussed the new book with Josh Lambert, who reviews contemporary Jewish fiction for such publications as the Forward, the San Francisco Chronicle and Canada’s Globe and Mail, among others. (more…)

A Late Pioneer Is Still Pushing Boundaries

May 22, 2005 | ,

The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
By Will Eisner
142 pages. W. W. Norton. $23.95.

What’s so comic, exactly, about comic books? As far back as the Golden Age, when the form flourished in the hands of mostly Jewish American young men, relatively few of the word-and-picture narratives to which we ascribe this label have been primarily concerned with humor. The dominant modes have been action, mystery, horror and romance. Still, silly as it sounds, even when they aren’t the least bit funny they’re known as comics. (more…)

Chabon Returns, Still Crusading for Fun in Literature

May 29, 2004 |

The Final Solution
By Michael Chabon
Fourth Estate. 144 pages. $16.95.

Depending on their authors’ predilections, so-called “literary” novels are often unsettling, disturbing, enlightening or tragicomic. They are not, in the main, much fun. Fun is left to hacks, those genre writers who churn out the chick-lit blockbusters, weepy romances, thrillers, sci-fi fantasies and blood-and-guts horrors that dominate the best-seller lists.

Michael Chabon is the shining exception to this rule. (more…)

Up and Down, Over and Out

May 28, 2004 |

The Place Will Comfort You: Stories
By Naama Goldstein
Scribner. 224 pages. $22.

In her debut collection of short stories, “The Place Will Comfort You,” Naama Goldstein explores the emotional effects of displacement from American to Israeli culture and back again. As an epigraph and symbol for the constant flux of migration to and from Israel — the shuffle of ideologies and practicalities played out by a few thousand migrants each year — Goldstein chooses the verses from Genesis 28, in which Jacob dreams of a ladder standing on the ground, reaching up to the sky, with “angels of God ascending and descending on it.” (more…)

A Boatload of Languor and Dreaminess

May 27, 2004 |

House on the River: A Summer Journey
By Nessa Rapoport
Harmony Books. 146 pages. $22.

In literature’s most ambitious exploration of the collision between Canada and the Jews, “Solomon Gursky Was Here,” novelist Mordecai Richler conjured Ephraim Gursky, a highly Bronfmanesque patriarch and explorer who so influences Inuit tribes that they don taleisim long after his death. Reading that novel and a couple of Richler’s others, one senses the author marshalling all his creative energies to deliver something richly, and uniquely, Canadian Jewish.

Nessa Rapoport takes an alternate route toward a similar destination in her memoir, “House on the River.” (more…)

Desperately Lost Americans Find Themselves in Prague

May 9, 2004 |

The View from Stalin’s Head
By Aaron Hamburger
Random House. 245 pages. $12.95.

If recent literary fiction is any indication, Prague is giving Brooklyn a run for its money in terms of attracting young, disaffected American Jewish men. Gary Shteyngart’s “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook” returns a post-Soviet Manhattanite slacker back not to the St. Petersburg of his birth, but to a thinly-veiled Prague, and Jonathan Safran Foer wrote the first draft of “Everything Is Illuminated” in an apartment there. Now another young American Jew, Aaron Hamburger, has published a collection of stories about the expatriate experience in the Czech Republic, in “The View From Stalin’s Head.” (more…)

Enough To Make Bugsy Siegel Blush

May 19, 2003 | ,

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…)