An uneven but candid testament of two men passionately trying to revive and reimagine Judaism.

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STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND

SEARCHING FOR GERSHOM SCHOLEM AND JERUSALEM

A convert to Judaism was deeply influenced by a prolific Jewish intellectual.

Melding biography and memoir, National Jewish Book Award winner Prochnik (The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World, 2014, etc.) examines the life and work of Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), philological archaeologist of the mystical roots of Judaism. For Prochnik, Scholem “loomed as a kind of prophet,” offering “something closer to revelation than anything I could discover in normative Judaism.” Indeed, normative Judaism—to which Prochnik converted in his 20s—failed him just as it had failed Scholem. Growing up in a bourgeois, assimilated German family, Scholem became a Zionist at the age of 11, vowing to go to Palestine, and by his teens, he became obsessed with cabala, a network of “widely diversified and often contradictory” texts. At the age of 17, he met Walter Benjamin, beginning an intense, sometimes-difficult friendship based on common passions. Prochnik traces the evolution of Scholem’s parsing of “the underlying cosmological principles” of cabala, “its metaphysics.” Although Prochnik faithfully and respectfully offers a detailed examination of these metaphysical works, they remain abstract and paradoxical; many who knew Scholem concluded that he “was just a maze of contradictions.” Readers are likely to agree. In contrast, Prochnik vividly renders his own journey to define his relationship to Judaism, which took him and his wife to Jerusalem in search of a spiritual home. They were following Scholem’s path to find “some more galvanizing external form of Judaism” than what they found in America, something “higher and purer.” As they settled into Israeli culture, however, they found increasing consumerism, turbulent politics, violence that included the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and the election of right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu, and strife and oppression among Palestinians that they struggled to fully understand. Frustrated, unable to make a living, the family decided to return to the U.S., where the marriage finally unraveled and where Prochnik’s commitment to both Zionism and Judaism floundered.

An uneven but candid testament of two men passionately trying to revive and reimagine Judaism.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-776-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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