Friday, April 11, 2008

Books for Passover

Chabon, Michael. Gentlemen of the Road (Ballantine $24 Signed). Don't overlook this coming-of-age fable of "Jews with Swords" which recreates 10th-century Khazaria, the fabled kingdom of wild red-haired Jews on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. The skullduggery along the Silk Road, the confidence tricks, and the attempts to put the young heir back on the throne—it's all terrific fun.

Grimbert, Philippe. Memory (SimonSchuster $20). The April Book Sense Pick: "Grimbert has crafted the most amazing novel/memoir of his life as a Jewish youth in a family struggling to survive in Paris and Lyons during World War II. His images are memorable and breathtaking: his family, the 'sporting life' of the 1930s, and the cities, especially the shops. I could not put down this beautiful book!"

Gruber, Michael. The Book of Air and Shadows ($15). Jake Mishkin, NY intellectual property lawyer, and something of a rake, gets sucked into a quest for a Shakespeare MS written in the Bard's own handwriting—and thus of incalculable value, if real. Shootouts in Queens, romance, scholarship, it's all for your inner bibliophile.

Halter, Marek. The Messiah (Toby $25). New to me is the crusade by 16th Century Jew David Reubeni, a prince from the lost Kingdom of the Jews of Chabor, to marshal support for a Jewish state in Hebron (Israel)—and at the height of the Inquisition when Sephardic Jews had been driven from Spain and Portugal to what refuges they could find. Venice settled some in its old foundry, known as the Ghetto. David arrives in 1524, acclaimed by those needing hope as the Messiah. The key to his strategy is a Judeo-Christian alliance that could counter a rising Islam. The novel, beautifully composed (translated from the French), explores his quest at European courts and alliance with Pope Clement VII while painting a marvelous portrait of Venice, the (maritime) center of Europe. The princes of the Church are compelling too. Artist Halter found the legend while researching one of his bestsellers, The Wind of the Khazars.

For the 18th Century Venetian ghetto: Beverle Graves Myers, The Painted Veil ($15).

For policing in 1990s Jerusalem, two terrific novels for crusty Chief of Police Avram Cohen in Robert Rosenberg, Crimes of the Cityand House of Guilt ($15 each).

And then there's the work of Daniel Silva and assassin Gabriel Allon, such as The Messenger ($10).

Kellerman, Jesse. The Genius (Putnam $24.95). To be Signed for us on April 17.
Look up the real story of artist Henry Darger, which prompted Jesse to write his 3rd novel. He writes: "Standing in front of Henry Darger’s drawings, wondering how a person could imagine such nauseating scenes—wondering how I could be so drawn to them—wondering if what I was looking at was art or psychopathology, the question asked itself: What if I looked at the page and saw a face I recognized?"

From this germ of an idea, we get Ethan Muller, an art dealer who is summoned to look at a staggering accumulation of drawings abandoned in a seedy apartment in one of his wealthy family's real estate developments. Ethan recognizes a face in the thousands of drawings by now elderly—and missing—Victor Cracke. Should Ethan take this output of decades and mount an exhibition of Cracke's work even if he doesn't own it? He does, and the past emerges. Cracke's art suddenly looks like evidence—but of what?

Koppel, Lily. The Red Leather Diary (Harper $24). Now here is a real-life coming of age story—for a sporting, spirited Jewish girl. Fished out of a dumpster after a passel of old steamer trunks went into a Dumpster at 98 Riverside Drive, a Manhattan pre-war building, in 2003 by young Lily of the Times Metro desk, the rumbling red diary was a gift to Florence Wolfson on her 14th birthday, August 11, 1929. She wrote in it nearly every day until she turned 19. It took Lily back into a lost New York of easy wealth, the arts, the travels of an ingénue who adored Baudelaire and Jane Austen and was sexually adventurous. Amazingly, Lily eventually finds Florence who still sparkles, is still married to her husband of 67 years (he dies before publication), and reveals more of her slice of life from her Connecticut home. To see a slide show,

No comments:

Post a Comment