Guide to Jewish Literature
Hadassah Magazine presents its Guide to Jewish Literature, a review of current books selected by advertisers for readers to enjoy.
It is December 1941 and the narrator of Richard Zimler’s new novel, The Warsaw Anagrams, Erik Benjamin Cohen, 67, once a respected psychiatrist, informs the reader that he is no longer human—he is an ibbur, a ghost, a being in transition. Why is he still here? To give testimony to the harsh and bitter events that touched his family in the Warsaw Ghetto and beyond. The most horrible was the discovery of the mutilated body of Erik’s great-nephew, Adam, 9, embedded in the fence that separates the ghetto from the rest of the city, that emboldens Erik to find the killer, assisted by his stalwart, good-natured friend Izzy. Despite infirmities of age, the two seniors, reinvigorated by a sense of purpose, reinvent themselves. They discover that other children have also been killed and bizarrely mutilated and target suspects who knew all the murdered children. Erik and Izzy even follow clues outside the ghetto.
Despite irredeemable horror, the book has many instances of love, compassion, humor and selflessness—in both Jews and non-Jews.
Available at Amazon.com. Overlook Press, 336 pp. $25.95.
The Second Son, the last of Jonathan Rabb’s period and familial trilogy (Rosa and Shadow and Light) takes place at the moment of Hitler’s rise in Germany, just as the country is preparing for the Berlin Olympics and Chief Inspector Nikolai Hoffner is suffering personal angst. Hoffner, now 62 and seeing no future in his job—his mother was Jewish and there is no longer room for Jews in official Germany—has agreed to retire. This leaves him free to track down his son Georg, who is missing in Spain, having left behind a worried wife and young son; ostensibly, Georg went to Barcelona for a British news network to film the alternate Olympiad there. Hoffner’s elder son, Sascha, has aligned himself with the Nazis and is no longer part of his life.
In Spain, anarchists, socialists, communists and fascists are all fighting for control; civil war will soon bloody the country. Was Georg—the good son who converted to Judaism to marry a Jewish girl and gave Hoffner a grandchild—in Spain to do more than take pictures? Hoffner’s police work has led him to make strange alliances; that network helps him in his quest through dangerous geographic and political terrain to try to find his son. He will be missed.
The Second Son: A Novel. Sarah Crichton Books, 294 pp. $26.
Lily Kovner was 8 years old in 1938 and living with her family in Vienna when Nazis stole a 16th-century Italian Seder plate from their apartment. Saved from death by Kindertransport, 60 years later, Lily is living in New York and working as a reporter when she recognizes the family’s magnificent three-tiered plate at an auction of Jewish ritual objects. Startled, she shouts at the auctioneer that she is selling stolen property; the auction house quickly withdraws the plate.
Lily travels to Israel, where she hopes to find the plate at the Israeli auction house that was offering it. Her pursuit takes her into the past, and she uncovers long-lost family history. A new ally—and potential romantic interest—was a Monuments Man, an American soldier who retrieved art stolen by the Nazis.
When Lily finally connects the dots, the stunning revelation is one she must come to terms with: It is a question of whether the means justify the ends, as she learns that for decades, “good” people made a pact with the devil. After the Auction is a work of fiction, yet it is a true tale—about false identities and reclaiming one’s identity decades later.
After the Auction. Linda Frank Books, 57 pp. $14.95.
The violent murder of a private investigator, Zroszek, takes place in modern-day England. Kevin Broom, a Nazi-memorabilia collector in England, discovers the body. Broom (also called “Fishy”) finds in Zroszek’s freezer tray a sealed 1936 letter to Adolph Hitler from one Philip Erskine, thanking him for a gift.
Zroszek is the first casualty in Boxer Beetle, an astonishingly literate debut novel by Ned Beauman. The story alternates between the present and the Nazi era. Whether the action is in 1934 anti-Semitic London or today, the cast of characters is crude, creepy and vicious. After a second murder, Fishy is taken hostage to find a beetle and to discover the burial site of Seth Roach.
Seth “Sinner” Roach is a 16-year-old, 9-toed, 4’11,” thuggish, gay, up-and-coming Jewish boxer, who lived in an era of Jewish predominance in boxing and anti-Jewish sentiment in London. Erskine, a (non-Jewish) student studying eugenics, is part of a fascistic family and social group. He wants to breed a super beetle from the new species he discovered to Nazi-like invincibility. A closet homosexual, he is attracted to the raunchy and belligerent Sinner. After his drinking and violence wreck his career and health, Sinner agrees to live with Erskine in exchange for being “scientifically” examined; and he agrees that after his death, Erskine will take possession of his body.
What happened to the superbeetle—Anophthalmus hitleri—and to the disposition of Sinner’s body? In this fearlessly written book, the conclusion is both explosive and appropriate.
Boxer Beetle: A Novel. Bloomsbury USA, 256 pp. $16 paper.
Unlike Rebecca Cantrell’s debut thriller, A Trace of Smoke, her latest does not feature Jewish characters. What remains is German journalist Hannah Vogel’s continuing battle with Hitlerian forces and related evils.
Hannah has been in South America sheltering Anton, purportedly the child of S.A. Ernst Rohm (that false claim is meant to dispel rumors of Rohm’s homosexuality). She is returning to Switzerland on a zeppelin, a newsworthy event she will be reporting on. To her and the boy’s misfortunes, however, Rohm has learned of their presence, diverted the flight to Munich and kidnaps the boy on arrival. Hannah, who rescued Anton from Rohm’s clutches in A Trace of Smoke, has come to love Anton and is determined to find him. Meanwhile, Rohm wants to make Hannah his wife, to complete the picture of domesticity. The hunt for the child gets more complicated after Rohm becomes one of Hitler’s hundreds of victims killed during the Night of Long Knives and then Hannah must deal with Rohm’s conniving mother, who is set on keeping the child herself.
A Night of Long Knives (a Hannah Vogel Novel). Forge, 320 pp. $24.99.
Jim Riley was a happy man working as a pilot and flight instructor, until the day someone left a book of codes with him and told him to give it to someone who identified himself as “Ellis.” By the time Ellis shows up two people have been killed, Jim has been fired from his job and it is obvious that his student Mary is not who she says she is.
So begins a thriller that returns to a time in Italy when half a dozen Jewish families, reeling from Mussolini’s complicity with Hitler’s anti-Jewish actions, decide to safeguard their collective wealth in 24 Swiss accounts. Ellis is a one-time spy who, during World War II, was involved in finding and returning art stolen by the Nazis to rightful heirs. He knows that there are actually two code books needed to decipher the well-hidden accounts–but one is held by a descendant of the original collaborators, who will stop at nothing to get the fortune for himself.
The Rightful Heirs. 3L Publishing, 326 pp. $14.95.