CBE Book Group
March 23: "Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany" by Yascha Mounk
A moving and unsettling exploration of a young man’s formative years in a country still struggling with its past. As a Jew in postwar Germany, Yascha Mounk felt like a foreigner in his own country. When he mentioned that he is Jewish, some made anti-Semitic jokes or talked about the superiority of the Aryan race. Others, sincerely hoping to atone for the country’s past, fawned over him with a forced friendliness he found just as alienating. Vivid and fascinating, Stranger in My Own Country traces the contours of Jewish life in a country still struggling with the legacy of the Third Reich and portrays those who, inevitably, continue to live in its shadow. Marshaling an extraordinary range of material into a lively narrative, Mounk surveys his countrymen’s responses to “the Jewish question.” Examining history, the story of his family, and his own childhood, he shows that anti-Semitism and far-right extremism have long coexisted with self-conscious philo-Semitism in postwar Germany. But of late a new kind of resentment against Jews has come out in the open. Unnoticed by much of the outside world, the desire for a “finish line” that would spell a definitive end to the country’s obsession with the past is feeding an emphasis on German victimhood. Mounk shows how, from the government’s pursuit of a less “apologetic” foreign policy to the way the country’s idea of the Volk makes life difficult for its immigrant communities, a troubled nationalism is shaping Germany’s future.
April 20: "Jews Without Money" by Michael Gold
As a writer and political activist in early-twentieth-century America, Gold was an important presence on the American cultural scene for more than three decades. Beginning in the 1920s his was a powerful journalistic voice for social change and human rights, and Jews Without Money--the author's only novel--is a passionate record of the times. First published in 1930, this fictionalized autobiography offered an unusually candid look at the thieves, gangsters, and ordinary citizens who struggled against brutal odds in lower East Side Manhattan. Like Henry Roth's Call It Sleep and Abraham Cahan's The Rise and Fall of David Levinsky, Jews Without Money is a literary landmark of the Jewish experience. Michael Gold (1893–1967) was born in New York City, where he wrote for radical journals and newspapers such as New Masses and The Liberator. Jews Without Money has been translated in more than fourteen countries, including Germany.
May 18: "Adjusting Sights" by Haim Sabato
Avoids the pitfalls of war stories ...written with a music that slowly filters through to the soul the reader. When war breaks out in Israel in 1973, childhood friends Haim and Dov are called up together to serve in a tank battalion. In the chaos of battle, the friends are separated. A month later, on his first leave, Haim returns home alone. Weary and saddened, but sustained by religious faith, he struggles to come to terms with his experiences. One question remains uppermost in Haim’s mind: What happened to Dov? Reminiscent of the work of S.Y. Agnon, this compelling, poignant story draws us into the life of a young man who has to adjust not only the sights of his tank, but his understanding of the world. The original title of Adjusting Sights, Tiyum Kavanot, refers to the adjustment of the gun sight of a tank, the optical device that brings the necessary coordinates into focus. But the word kavanot also means the spiritual intentions one has when praying, making the title a double meaning. Sabato used the writing to bring together all the coordinates of his life, juxtaposing the frenzy of war and the pain of friends killed with repeated reference to prayers and Talmudic passages.
May 18: "The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale" by Haim Sabato
A humble man and a religious man, Ezra Siman Tov is also a teller of stories, stories that enthrall and captivate his friends in their old Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His brother-in-law, Dr Tawil, gives him a grudging respect, the Torah scholars listen surreptitiously and the Great Writer - SY Agnon? - take his stories and give them form. But along with his stories, Ezra also has a shame and a secret, which overshadows his family. Sabato recreates a lost world in which faith provides a framework for life and a source of deep comfort. Translated by Yaacob Dweck from the original Hebrew. With a keen eye for custom, award-winning Sabato (Aleppo Tales) beautifully captures the daily rhythms of an Israeli Sephardic community. Ezra Siman Tov has worked in the same laundry next to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehudah market for 50 years, cleaning and pressing prayer shawls to adorn a bevy of grooms as they await their brides under the bridal canopy. But Ezra is also a storyteller, and the characters at his command include a blind violinist whose plaintive tunes melt even the hardest of hearts; a frustrated scholar who pulls a prank and pretends his own verse is really the creation of a famous medieval poet; a yeshiva student whose planned treatise on the Talmud is threatened by writer's block; and a judge whose sight is miraculously restored after its loss is falsely rumored to be divine punishment for taking bribes. A pious, simple man who is generally content with his lot in life, Ezra must contend with the gentrification that threatens the laundry and with his beloved daughter's defection to Christian missionaries. His measured response conveys a community's timelessness.
June 22: "Dissident Gardens" by Jonathan Lethem
Lethem extends his stylistically diverse, loosely aligned, deeply inquiring saga of New York City (Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Chronic City) with a richly saturated, multigenerational novel about a fractured family of dissidents headquartered in Queens. It’s 1955, and witty, voluble, passionate Rose Zimmer—an Eastern European Jew, worshipper of Abraham Lincoln, and street-patrolling leftist—has outraged her communist comrades by having an affair with Douglas Lookins, an African American policeman. She, in turn, is wrathful when she catches Miriam, her smart and gutsy15-year-old daughter, in bed with a college student. Lethem circles among his tempestuous narrators and darts back and forth in time, landing on historical hot spots as he traces the paths of radical Rose; Douglas’ brainy, skeptical son, Cicero, who becomes an audacious college professor; intrepid Miriam, who marries a folksinger desperately searching for authenticity, and their woebegone son, Sergius, who is led astray by a sexy Occupier. Lethem is breathtaking in this torrent of potent voices, searing ironies, pop-culture allusions, and tragicomic complexities. He shreds the folk scene, eviscerates quiz shows, pays bizarre tribute to Archie Bunker, and offers unusual perspectives on societal debacles and tragic injustices. A righteous, stupendously involving novel about the personal toll of failed political movements and the perplexing obstacles to doing good.
November 17: Hour of the Star and Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
December 15: "Little Failure: A Memoir" by Gary Shteyngart
January 26: "The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World's Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books" by Matti Friedman
February 23: "There Are Jews in My House" by Lara Vapnyar
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