Nathan Englander’s New Espionage Thriller, Set In Israel, Spins A Complex Twist Of Stories
BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY for The Jewish Week
An espionage thriller that’s also an allegory, magical realist tale, love story, tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace wrapped in one.
In a dark prison cell somewhere in the Negev, a cell that doesn’t exist in any written record, Prisoner Z spends endless days alone, with his guard. In “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” (Knopf), Nathan Englander artfully spins a complex twist of stories of how this yeshiva-educated boy from Long Island ends up as an Israeli spy, living many lives undercover in Paris and Berlin, and then condemned to this cell.
The novel is intensely engaging in many ways: It is an espionage thriller, and it is also an allegory, a magical realist tale, a love story, a tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace, its many shifts of scene laced with material from Englander’s own life and moments of humor too.
Talking Books with Carol Zoref
Carol Zoref is the author of Barren Island, which was Longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction. Earlier this week, she wrote about communal sin and collective responsibility in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. She is blogging here all week as part of Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.
What books of Jewish interest or by Jewish authors are currently on your nightstand?
Nicole Krauss’s Forest Dark, in anticipation of hearing her speak at the 92nd Street Y with Jenny Erpenbeck. As soon as I finish the Krauss novel, I will dive into Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone, which was recently translated from German by Susan Bernofsky—they are a trifecta of smart writers/translators. In nonfiction, Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths by Emily Katz Anhalt. Anhalt, a classics scholar, shines light on how the Greeks struggled with human violence and the desire for moral evolution.
What’s the last great book you read?
A Different Vision of a Jewish Homeland
By Adam Dickter for Hadassah Magazine
Isra Isle: A Novel By Nava Semel. Translated by Jessica Cohen
In the course of modern Jewish history, there were several visions for a Jewish national home other than Theodor Herzl’s dream of Israel in historic biblical land. In the early 1900s, for example, in response to pogroms in Russia, the British proposed annexing a slice of Uganda for the Jews—a nonstarter. Even more absurd was Mordechai Manuel Noah’s concept of a Jewish homeland as “Ararat City,” to be located in the gray mist of Niagara Falls, where he had purchased Grand Island, poised between the United States and Canadian borders. Noah (1785 to 1851) was an influential American diplomat and journalist, but, ultimately, he couldn’t rally much enthusiasm for an “Isra Isle” while world Jewry dreamed of a return to Jerusalem. (Michael Chabon envisioned another alternate home for Jews in Sitka, Alaska, in his book The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)
Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York Roz Chast
Review by AJ Frost for Jewish Book Council
Roz Chast’s breezy and winsome jaunt, Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, prides itself on not being a “definitive guidebook,” nor an “insider’s guide,” nor a “history book.” Rather, it is a deceptively rich rumination of New York as it exists today, an animated investigation into the heart of what makes New York such an indelible beacon of opportunity. In her inimitable cartoon style, so often a highlight in each week’s New Yorker, Chast breaks down what it’s like to live in the Big Apple.
Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting by Danya Ruttenberg
By Naomi M. Gruer for Hadassah Magazine
In her new book, Nurture the Wow, Conservative Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explores the mundane and mystical, frustrating and fascinating, physical and philosophical aspects of raising children. Using self-deprecating humor and situations from her own life, Ruttenberg ties the act of parenting to the practice of prayer and spirituality. She also questions preconceived and deeply embedded notions of how to be spiritual. “It’s possible that our kids can be important teachers who help us better find the doorways to the transcendent,” she writes.