A novel best enjoyed for its examination of a people and a culture.

ONE AMERICAN DREAM

Touching on the influence of religious faith in the secular world, debut novelist Beck intriguingly examines Jewish immigrant life in New York City during the early 20th century.

In July 1890, arriving in America from Minsk, Jacob Rubinowitz decided to become Jack Rubin. In this three-generation family story, Jack is the catalyst, and Beck paints a portrait of a man equally admirable and frustrating. After youthful struggles, Jack marries Rose, the daughter of immigrant scholar Ben-Zion Perlman. Jack helps Rose harness her fashion talent. With Jack’s investments, the Rubins prosper and provide a home for Ben-Zion, who grows resentful and jealous as he ages. The intrafamilial tension grows worse as the relationship between Ben-Zion and his precocious granddaughter, Ruthie, deepens. Ruthie, an accomplished writer as a teen, is invited by a publisher to expand a short story into a novel about the Pale of Settlement and its "heritage of pogroms, and life in the shtetle." Ruthie falls in love with her young editor, Harry Berger. Angry objections arise. The Rubins are Orthodox Jews; the Bergers are Reform. Then, Ben-Zion encourages a decision that soon provokes unintended consequences, one aggravated by Harry’s religious conviction growing more fervent. There are references to scholars from Hillel to Maimonides, to social and ceremonial distinctions between Orthodox and Reform Jews, and a précis on cabala. The narrative—driven by Jack’s "gnawing insecurity" of never being "American enough" and Ruthie’s desire to step beyond Old World patriarchy—is seamless and well-paced. The dialogue avoids parody, and the setting provides an informative portrait of the Jewish immigrant experience, enhanced by back story anecdotes of Eastern European Jewish life, all while offering insight into how religion shapes culture.

A novel best enjoyed for its examination of a people and a culture.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-944995-09-6

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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