Sunday, May 2nd, 10:30 a.m.
I hope those of you who came to our April discussion with Paul Goldberg, the author of our monthly book selection The Yid: A Novel, enjoyed his visit (virtually). I thought it was very nice of him to donate his time willingly. I write to authors every month and invite them to participate, and rarely get a response — he was unique in responding immediately with “I’d love to”! So I’ll continue to ask.
Our May selection is The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem (2016) by Sarit Yishai-Levi. The book is available in libraries and Amazon has a Kindle version. It’s out of print in the hardcover from Amazon, because there was a rash of sales when it was announced that they’re making a TV series. In fact, the trailer is out here. It’s due to launch this summer. It’s made by the company that made Fauda and Shtisel.
Summary: Gabriela’s mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there’s more to her mother than painted nails and lips. Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family’s previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.
I have 1 copy left for borrowing. First come, first serve!
Join us via ZOOM here.
The Braun Library Book Club meets most months (usually on the first Sunday of the month) at 10:30 a.m. All meetings are currently held via Zoom.
The book club is supported by generous donors to the Braun Library fund. Donate here.
June 6th, 2021
By Fire, By Water (2010) (284 pp) by Mitchell James Kaplan
Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind.
July 25th, 2021
Cry of the Peacock (2015) (352 pp) by Gina Nahai
Peacock the Jew is nine years old and living in the Esfahan ghetto when she marries Solomon the Man. She is the descendant of a three-thousand-year-old tribe of Jews—the oldest community in diaspora, a people largely unknown to the outside world. He is a singer in the royal court, a wealthy man known for his good looks and his charm. A decade later, she will become the first woman in her ghetto ever to have left her husband. Against the backdrop of two hundred years of history, this book traces the story of a Jewish woman caught in the turmoil of twentieth-century Iran.
August 22nd, 2021
Esther Stories (2001) (240 pp) by Peter Orner
Peter Orner explores the impact of life’s essential moments, those brief but far-reaching occasions that haunt his characters. The discovery of a crime, a theatrical performance in a small town, or the recollection of a cruel wartime decision are equally affecting in Orner’s vivid scenarios. All thirty-two wide-ranging pieces—funny or sorrowful, urban or rural, simple or innovative—are welcome additions to the art of the story.
October 3rd, 2021
The Feral Detective (2018) (336 pp) by Jonathan Lethem
Phoebe Siegler first meets Charles Heist in a shabby trailer in the desert outside of Los Angeles. She’s on a quest to find her friend’s missing daughter, Arabella, and hears that Heist is preternaturally good at finding people who don’t want to be found. A loner who keeps his pet opossum in a desk drawer, Heist has a laconic, enigmatic nature that intrigues the sarcastic and garrulous Phoebe. It takes some convincing, but he agrees to help. The unlikely pair traverse California’s stunning Inland Empire, navigating the enclaves of hippies and vagabonds who aim to live off the grid.
November 7th, 2021
The Last Watchman of Cairo (2018) (288 pp) by Michael David Lukas
Joseph, a literature student at Berkeley, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. One day, a mysterious package arrives on his doorstep, pulling him into a mesmerizing adventure to uncover the tangled history that binds the two sides of his family. For generations, the men of the al-Raqb family have served as watchmen of the storied Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary—perhaps magical—Ezra Scroll.
December 5th, 2021
The Lost Wife (2011) (368 pp) by Alyson Richman
There on her forearm, next to a small brown birthmark, were six tattooed numbers. ‘Do you remember me now?’ he asked, trembling. She looked at him again, as if giving weight and bone to a ghost. ‘Lenka, it’s me,’ he said. ‘Josef. Your husband.’ During the last moments of calm in prewar Prague, Lenka, a young art student, falls in love with Josef. They marry—but soon, like so many others, they are torn apart by the currents of war. In America Josef becomes a successful obstetrician and raises a family, though he never forgets the wife he thinks died in the camps. But in the Nazi ghetto of Terezin—and later in Auschwitz—Lenka has survived, relying on her skills as an artist and the memories of a husband she believes she will never see again. Now, decades later, an unexpected encounter in New York brings Lenka and Josef back together.
January 9th, 2022
Mona in the Promised Land (1997) (320 pp) by Gish Jen
The heroine of Mona in the Promised Land is a true child of the suburbs. Mona—a self-described “self-made mouth” goes to temple, loves pickles, is boy-crazy, worries about getting into the right college and keeping up with her over-achieving sister, and wishes her parents were less strict. Her equally Jewish Westchester classmates hardly notice what everyone else finds hard to forget: Mona may be Jewish by choice (and voice) and American by nationality, but her surname is Chang and so she is considered less an expert on seders and schmaltz than China. In Gish Jen’s hands, ’70s suburbia is a place of buoyant hope and change. The divide between past conservatism and present bohemia is one of the novel’s concerns, but its epigraphs hint at the porous nature of cultural identity, of groups taking what they choose from one another.
February 6th, 2022
My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner: A Family Memoir (2011) (224 pp) by Meir Shalev
From the author of the acclaimed novel A Pigeon and a Boy comes a charming tale of family ties, over-the-top housekeeping, and the sport of storytelling in Nahalal, the village of Meir Shalev’s birth. Here we meet Shalev’s amazing Grandma Tonia, who arrived in Palestine by boat from Russia in 1923 and lived in a constant state of battle with what she viewed as the family’s biggest enemy in their new land: dirt. Grandma Tonia was never seen without a cleaning rag over her shoulder. She received visitors outdoors. She allowed only the most privileged guests to enter her spotless house. Shalev brings to life the obsessive but loving Tonia, the pioneers who gave his childhood its spirit of wonder, and the grit and humor of people building ever-new lives.
March 6th, 2022
On Division (2019) (288 pp) by Goldie Goldbloom
In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just a block or two up from the East River on Division Avenue, Surie Eckstein is soon to be a great-grandmother. Her ten children range in age from thirteen to thirty-nine. Her in-laws, postwar immigrants from Romania, live on the first floor of their house. Her daughter Tzila Ruchel lives on the second. She and Yidel, a scribe in such demand that he makes only a few Torah scrolls a year, live on the third. Wed when Surie was sixteen, they have a happy marriage and a full life, and, at the ages of fifty-seven and sixty-two, they are looking forward to some quiet time together. Into this life of counted blessings comes a surprise. Surie is pregnant.
April 3rd, 2022
Someday the Rabbi Will Leave (1986) (280 pp) by Harry Kemelman
Since becoming the rabbi at the synagogue in Barnard’s Crossing, Massachusetts, David Small has seen his congregation through a fair share of unholy bickering and corruption. So when millionaire Howard Magnuson is elected president of the synagogue, the rabbi isn’t surprised that Magnuson wants to bring corporate efficiency to the temple—at the expense of religious tradition. Conflict flares when Rabbi Small refuses, based on temple rules, to officiate the interfaith wedding of Magnuson’s daughter to a non-Jewish Boston politician, and the new president calls for the rabbi’s dismissal. When another player in Boston politics is killed in a hit-and-run accident and the police suspect a Jewish college student, Rabbi Small fears the undergrad might have been set up—and that Magnuson is involved. The young man’s innocence and the future of the temple depend on Rabbi Small solving the case with his signature wit and Judaic wisdom.
The Yid: A Novel – Paul Goldberg
Three Floors Up – Eshkol Nevo
Visible City – Tova Mirvis
The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
The Worlds We Think We Know – Dalia Rosenfeld
The Ghost of Hannah Mendes — Naomi Ragen
A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir — Lev Golinkin
The Color of Water — James McBride
The Hotel Neversink — Adam O’Fallon Price
People of the Book — Geraldine Brooks
Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel — Jonathan Safran Foer
Drawing in the Dust — Zoe Klein
A Bend in the Stars — Rachel Barenbaum
The Muralist: A novel — B.A. Shapiro
The Secret Chord — Geraldine Brooks
Moonglow — Michael Chabon
Naamah — Sarah Blake
Bee Season — Myla Goldberg
A Marriage of Opposites — Alice Hoffman
A Pigeon and a Boy — Meir Shalev
A Tale of Love and Darkness — Amos Oz
The Golem and the Jinni — Helene Wecker
The River Midnight — Lilian Nattel
I am Forbidden — Anouk Markovits
Mr. Mani — Abraham B. Yehoshua,
Ritual Bath — Faye Kellerman
Waking Lions — Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
The Chosen — Chaim Potok
American Pastoral — Philip Roth
Bread Givers — Anzia Yezierska
Einstein and the Rabbi — Naomi Levy
The Best Place on Earth, — Ayelet Tsabari
The Weight of Ink — Rachel Kadish