Fiction: An Eye on Jewish Literature | July 2013

See also Collection Development.—Ed.]

Brett, Lily. Lola Bensky. Counterpoint. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781593765231. $25. F

Lola, a 19-year-old Australian rock music journalist, leads a dazzlingly glamorous life. She spends her days interviewing and hobnobbing with the hottest musicians of 1967, backstage, in their living rooms, and at concerts like the famous Monterey International Pop Festival. But beneath the surface, Lola struggles with deep-seated self-doubt and an eating disorder rooted in the psychological legacy of her parents’ experience as Jewish Auschwitz survivors. Via a series of temporal shifts, Brett limns Lola’s metamorphosis from a chubby, insecure teenage reporter to a charmingly imperfect wife, mother, and acclaimed novelist who finally learns to believe in happiness. VERDICT In this semiautobiographical novel, best-selling Australian author Brett (Uncomfortably Close; Too Many Men) has crafted an appealing tribute to 1960s pop culture, with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Cher, Mick Jagger, and others making cameo appearances. Brett also brilliantly evokes the heartbreaking emotional prison occupied by so many Holocaust survivors and their troubled children. This gorgeous and wise novel is sure to please readers of Jewish fiction, music fans, and anyone interested in the craft of writing.—Kelsy Peterson, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib, Overland Park, KS

Cantor, Jillian. Margot. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781594486432. pap. $16.F

YA author Cantor’s second adult novel (after The Transformation of Things), which explores what might have happened if Anne Frank’s older sister had survived World War II, exerts its grip on the reader from the start and doesn’t let go. In postwar Philadelpha Margot works incognito (as Margie Franklin) in a law firm passing as a Gentile, wearing long-sleeve sweaters in the summer heat to cover her concentration camp tattoo while combing the telephone book for Peter, whose family had been in hiding with Franks in Amsterdam. Peter had promised to meet Margot in the city of brotherly love after the war. Margie’s yearning for Peter threatens to produce results just as she’s falling in love with her boss, who plans to fight discrimination against Jewish workers in America through group litigation. Readers will keep turning pages to find out whether the story of the “‘ghost” of Margot is magical realism or whether Cantor’s Margot didn’t really die at the age of 19, two days before her sister Anne in 1945, but instead escaped the Nazis to start over in Philadelphia. VERDICT Cantor’s deft juxtaposition of the specter of Nazi Germany on the American psyche in the days of Marilyn Monroe reveals itself with unexpected force, although her disregard for Margot’s actual history throws into question the novel’s dramatization of the Nazi war camps.—J.L. Morin, Boston Univ.

Gleichmann, Gabi. The Elixir of Immortality. Other. Oct. 2013. 784p. tr. from Swedish by Michael Meigs. ISBN 9781590515891. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590515907. F

In his ambitious debut novel, Gleichmann relates 800 years of the Spinoza family history through the unreliable memories of its last living representative. In every generation, the family has produced a son of exceptional genius who will die a tragic and often brutal death. The Spinozas become involved with the most famous and infamous individuals of European history. One Spinoza is burned at the stake by Torquemada during the Spanish Inquisition, while another loses his head to Robespierre during the French Revolution. Rembrandt paints their portrait; Voltaire tutors their children. Yet through all their tribulations, the eldest son preserves the family secret—the recipe for the elixir of immortality. VERDICT Gleichmann, whose family immigrated to Scandinavia from Hungary, has penned a massive multigenerational saga reminiscent of works by two other Hungarian novelists: Péter Nàdas (Parallel Stories) and Miklós Vàmos (The Book of Fathers). With its graphic depictions of torture and dismemberment, this book is not for the squeamish reader. However, the panorama of history refracted through the lens of Europe’s Jewish community is breathtaking and heartbreaking in turn.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Hess, Hannah S. Honest Deceptions. Caravel: Pleasure Boat Studio. Jul. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781929355860. pap. $18. F

Raised in the United States, newly minted physician Margot Brenner cannot explain the draw that her birth country, Germany, holds for her. She moves there, gets an internship, and tries to piece together the story of her family, destroyed in the Holocaust. Margot’s late mother only told her fragments about her father and older brother. Margot meets Dr. Willie Meinhof, her father’s closest friend, who is strangely reluctant to help Margot, and he discourages a friendship between her and his son, Willy. But Margot entrances Willy and the two become close. Flash back to 1939, and readers learn more. Both families had young boys. Only baby Margot and her mother were able to exit the country before the Nazis shut things down. Other old-timers share information with Margot until she finally learns more than she’d bargained for. The unfolding storylines, alternating between 1939 and 1963, exude tragic foreboding. VERDICT Hess’s quiet debut will haunt and provoke discussion. Her detail-laden descriptions of postwar Germany—both setting and peoples—are especially fresh. Ursula Hegi’s fiction comes to mind.—Terry Jacobsen, formerly with Solano Cty. Lib., Fairfield, CA

Horn, Dara. A Guide for the Perplexed. Norton. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780393064896. $25.95. F

Horn’s latest after The World To Come is part thriller and part philosophical rumination on family and memory. Josie and Judith Ashkenazi have a long history of sibling rivalry that has intensified over the seven years Judith has worked for her younger sister. Josie’s company produces Genizah, a Facebook-like digital archive that catalogs life in real time via cell phones, computers, cameras, and other personal technology. While working in Egypt as a software consultant for the Library of Alexandria, Josie is kidnapped. As the family deals with the aftermath of the kidnapping, the narrative travels back in time to Solomon Schecter’s expedition to Egypt to investigate the Cairo Genizah. This enormous and unsorted archive was filled with both religious and secular documents dating back as early as 870 CE. Both the real and fictional genizahs raise questions throughout the novel about how and why we choose what to remember or forget. VERDICT Readers will be taken in by this literary thriller’s fast-paced plot and complicated but well-imaged characters. Recommendations for readers interested in learning more about the Cairo Genizah include Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole’s Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Genizah or Mark S. Glickman’s Sacred Treasure: The Cairo Genizah; The Amazing Discoveries of Forgotten Jewish History in an Egyptian Synagogue Attic. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Pamela Mann, St. Mary’s Coll. Lib., MD