SECRET ANNIVERSARIES OF THE HEART by Lev Raphael

SECRET ANNIVERSARIES OF THE HEART

New and Selected Stories

KIRKUS REVIEW

Offering heartfelt, often painful evocations of Jewish and gay identity, this collection is a bittersweet rendering of a complex culture.

In “The Tanteh,” a writer is cursed by his great aunt for telling her tale too faithfully. Polyglot, European, a figure of faded glamour, she’s Jewish in a secular, sophisticated way that’s alien to his family’s faith, one steeped in Passover Seders and Zionist politics. He considers his writing an act of love; she reads it as betrayal. Raphael (Writing a Jewish Life: Memoirs, 2005, etc.) is expert at conveying tension; each of these 25 stories is rich in ambivalence, and the lives they chronicle are all-too-human—messy, real and fired with uneasy desire. “Betrayed by David Bowie” finds a college-kid narrator, comfortable with his homosexuality, drawn to a Franco Nero lookalike who’s ambivalent about his. Their bond is a shared passion for David Bowie, then at the height of his Ziggy Stardust persona. As the years pass, AIDS and the more prosaic post-’70s zeitgeist intervene, leaving the narrator bereft, reading interviews in which Bowie disowns his gender-bending self. In “Welcome to Beth Homo,” a Hillel student fantasizes about an all-gay synagogue while dealing with furtive self-loathing. “A New Light” features a reporter at a Jewish newspaper combating a highbrow senior writer’s contempt for Yiddish. Conflating graphic sex scenes with Holocaust memories and epiphanies of self-discovery, Raphael writes from a highly distinctive perspective: a compassionate celebrant of souls squeezed by mainstream pressures and fighting for pride.

Concerned ultimately with the struggle for love both human and divine, these are searing stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 2006
ISBN: 0-9728984-7-6
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Leapfrog
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2005




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