New fiction at the Libraries, March 24

March 24, 2011 – 11:32 AM

A Call from Jersey by P.F. Kluge
PS3561.L77 C35 2010

With A Call From New Jersey Kluge has outdone himself with a long view of the American experience and the steady mutation of the American dream. Set in the1980’s it follows the life of Hans Greifinger, a German-American who immigrated to the United States in 1928 and built a life for himself and his son, George, who has adopted the surname Griffin for his nationally-syndicated lackluster travel column.

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
PR6054.U528 B48 2010

Leningrad in 1952: a city recovering from war, where Andrei, a young hospital doctor and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together. Summers at the dacha, preparations for the hospital ball, work and the care of sixteen year old Kolya fill their minds. They try hard to avoid coming to the attention of the authorities, but even so their private happiness is precarious. Stalin is still in power, and the Ministry for State Security has new targets in its sights. When Andrei has to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, Volkov, he finds himself and his family caught in an impossible game of life and death – for in a land ruled by whispers and watchfulness, betrayal can come from those closest to you.

The Final Hour by Naguib Mahfouz
translated by Roger Allen
PJ7846.A46 B2713 2010

Hamid Burhan, a retired government employee, and his loyal wife Saniya have built themselves a home in the southern suburb of Helwan, away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo itself, where they raise their son and two daughters, expecting life to remain as blessed as it was in the photograph of the happy family at a picnic in a Nileside park in the early 1930s. Events in the wider world impinge—wars, revolution, peace with Israel—while Saniya and the old house in Helwan remain the bedrock of the family’s values. But everyone else is buffeted in one way or another by the tumultuous processes of change in Egyptian politics and society.

In this compact novel written in 1982, Naguib Mahfouz again uses a family saga, as he did in his Cairo Trilogy, to reflect on the processes of enormous social transformation that Egypt underwent in the space of a few generations in the twentieth century.

The Lost Minyan by David M. Gitlitz
PS3607.I63 L67 2010

Between 1391 and 1492 a substantial number of Spain’s Jewish community, once the largest in Europe, converted to Catholicism either voluntarily or through physical or psychological coercion. While some converts publicly attended mass and privately observed the Sabbath, others were determined to abandon their Jewish past entirely but found it difficult to close the door on their heritage. In 1478 the Papacy approved Spain’s request to establish an Inquisition. Its goals were to induce individuals to recant their heretical beliefs and behaviors and exclusively adhere to orthodox Christian practices and to encourage individuals to do so by making the punishment of sinners a public, exemplary event. Prior to the Inquisition, conversos continued to behave as if they were still Jews with relatively little danger; after 1480 to Judaize incurred mortal risk.The Lost Minyan, an intricately woven tapestry of historical fiction, profiles ten Crypto-Jewish families coping with the trauma of living between worlds, neither wholly Catholic nor wholly Jewish. Struggling to hide their secrets from neighbors, servants, children, and even spouses, they try to resolve the tension between their need for and fear of community. Attempting to navigate the mandates of the Church and their own idiosyncratic version of Jewish customs, they wonder on which law to peg their hopes of eternal salvation; and they wonder how to safely pass their Crypto-Jewish identity on to the next generation. While the details and conversations of these lives are fictional, they draw from historical fact as documented in eyewitness accounts, contemporary chronicles, and the dossiers of Inquisition trials in the archives of Spain and Mexico.

Gryphon: New and selected stories by Charles Baxter
PS3552.A854 G79 2011

Ever since the publication of The Harmony of the World in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America’s finest short-story writers. Each subsequent collection—Through the Safety Net, A Relative Stranger, and Believers—was further confirmation of his mastery: his gift for capturing the immediate moment, for revealing the unexpected in the ordinary, for showing how the smallest shock can pierce the heart of an intimacy. Gryphon brings together the best of Baxter’s previous collections with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement.

Baxter once described himself as “a Midwestern writer in a postmodern age”: at home in a terrain best known for its blandness, one that does not give up its secrets easily, whose residents don’t always talk about what’s on their mind, and where something out of the quotidian—some stress, the appearance of a stranger, or a knock on the window—may be all that’s needed to force what lies underneath to the surface and to disclose a surprising impulse, frustration, or desire. Whether friends or strangers, the characters in Baxter’s stories share a desire—sometimes muted and sometimes fierce—to break through the fragile glass of convention. In the title story, a substitute teacher walks into a new classroom, draws an outsized tree on the blackboard on a whim, and rewards her students by reading their fortunes using a Tarot deck. In each of the stories we see the delicate tension between what we want to believe and what we need to believe.

By turns compassionate, gently humorous, and haunting, Gryphon proves William Maxwell’s assertion that “nobody can touch Charles Baxter in the field that he has carved out for himself.”

The War in Bom Fim by Moacyr Scliar
translated by David William Foster
PQ9698.29.C54 G813 2010

What if, as David William Foster poses in his introduction to Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar’s novel, the Germans did choose to invade the Americas in the second World War? What if the Luftwaffe did plan to bomb American cities?

Wartime residents of Brazil’s populous urban areas where Scliar himself grew up in the 1940s surely asked themselves those same questions. And immigrant Jews, clustered in the Bom Fim neighborhood of Brazil s third-largest city, had reason to wonder even more than others.
With playful irony, homage to the Jewish folktale, a touch of magical realism, and keen insight into the customs and characters of this Yiddish-speaking melting pot, Scliar spins a fable of an imaginary war waged by the youngsters of Bom Fim. Brothers Nathan and Joel and their gang defend their quarter against a pretend German military invasion, while their parents deal with the quarrels and worries of the adult world. But which is more real? In Scliar’s richly layered fantasy Carnival and Pesach, Nazi and Jew, the consumer and the consumed, the grotesque and the quotidian intermingle unexpectedly amid the kitchens and alleys of Bom Fim.

At last available to English-language readers, students, and teachers, this first novel of a master storyteller brilliantly portrays a little-appreciated segment of Latin American, and Jewish, culture.

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