An accomplished piece of research shared in a delightfully readable way.

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KNISH

IN SEARCH OF THE JEWISH SOUL FOOD

When is a knish more than just a knish? When it is the repository of more than a century of Jewish immigrant culture.

Silver’s debut nonfiction book is itself like a knish—deceptively simple. A knish is a pastry stuffed with potatoes, kasha, vegetables, cottage cheese, jam or anything really; truth be told, if you can name it, it’s probably been stuffed into a knish. On the surface, it’s heavy peasant food—carbs, often plus more carbs—but the artistry that goes into rolling out the thin dough and flavoring the filling is considerable. Similarly, Silver’s single-subject work of social history has been shaped with skill and nuance and—to continue chewing on the metaphor—seasoned with sharp humor and deep affection, not just for the pastry but for all the people whose lives it has touched. Silver starts with two memories: one of standing in the Polish town of Knyszen, where she had gone in search of the pastry’s roots; the other of the ritual meals of knishes she enjoyed with her Brooklyn-born grandmother. Though the knish arrived in the New World with Jewish immigrants, America is its homeland now, as it is nearly forgotten in Eastern Europe and barely recognized in Israel. Silver then introduces the pantheon of American knish makers, most of them gone today: Mrs. Stahl’s, Gabila’s, Schatzkin’s and others. Her loving, detailed portraits are bolstered by deep historical understanding. After the impressive beginning, the subsequent chapter “In Search of the First Knish” is rather thin and unsatisfying, as it winds haphazardly through Poland and Israel, Internet searches, and an interview or two. But Silver returns to surer ground as she explores pop culture and visits devoted knish makers in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her voice is energetic and deeply personal, and she’s unafraid of puns or a Yiddish turn of phrase; occasionally, that means cleverness trumps clarity and historical details get lost in showy storytelling tropes, but her enthusiasm and knowledge still carry readers along.

An accomplished piece of research shared in a delightfully readable way. 

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61168-312-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Brandeis Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

THREE WOMEN

Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires.

In her dramatic debut about “what longing in America looks like,” Taddeo, who has contributed to Esquire, Elle, and other publications, follows the sex lives of three American women. On the surface, each woman’s story could be a soap opera. There’s Maggie, a teenager engaged in a secret relationship with her high school teacher; Lina, a housewife consumed by a torrid affair with an old flame; and Sloane, a wealthy restaurateur encouraged by her husband to sleep with other people while he watches. Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings. Lina’s infidelity was driven by a decade of her husband’s romantic and sexual refusal despite marriage counseling and Lina's pleading. Sloane’s Fifty Shades of Grey–like lifestyle seems far less exotic when readers learn that she has felt pressured to perform for her husband's pleasure. Taddeo’s coverage is at its most nuanced when she chronicles Maggie’s decision to go to the authorities a few years after her traumatic tryst. Recounting the subsequent trial against Maggie’s abuser, the author honors the triumph of Maggie’s courageous vulnerability as well as the devastating ramifications of her community’s disbelief. Unfortunately, this book on “female desire” conspicuously omits any meaningful discussion of social identities beyond gender and class; only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.

Dramatic, immersive, and wanting—much like desire itself.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4229-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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