Informative, merrily entertaining culinary and cultural history.

RHAPSODY IN SCHMALTZ

YIDDISH FOOD AND WHY WE CAN'T STOP EATING IT

An enticing tour of Judaism’s culinary past.

Wex (How to Be a Mentsh (and Not a Shmuck), 2009, etc.) brings lighthearted humor and his considerable expertise on Jewish culture to a wide-ranging look at Jewish food, from biblical dietary restrictions to New York bagels. The Bible forbade Israelites to mix meat and dairy products, eat leavened bread on Passover, and cook on the Sabbath. The last injunction led to the invention of a stew called cholent, which Jews prepared on Friday afternoon and left heating overnight. The meat came from a list of permitted animals: only “ruminants with cloven hoofs.” And those must be killed while still conscious, and bled thoroughly, in the koshering process. Permitted fish must have scales and fins; insects, with the exceptions of locusts, grasshoppers, and crickets, were not allowed. Nobody, Wex writes, “ancient or modern, Jewish or gentile, has the vaguest idea of why the forbidden species are forbidden.” Some ingredients became pervasive in dishes from many areas, especially garlic, onions, and the delectable schmaltz: rendered fat from chickens or, preferably, geese. Although Wex gives few actual recipes, he does provide one for schmaltz, “the champagne of animal fat.” The author explains the popularity of kishka, or stuffed beef intestine tsimmes, a fruit and vegetable stew; the braided challah; chicken soup, which “has served as a specific for what ails the Jews for close to two millennia”; and the latkes (potato pancakes), blintzes (crepes often stuffed with cheese), and bagels that have transcended Jewish cooking and made their ways into mainstream culture. Wex takes on the thorny question of where bagels originated and what constitutes the authentic variety. The bagel, he writes, “has managed the near unimaginable feat of actually becoming American” despite having “half the shelf life of a fruit fly.” But topping one with cream cheese and lox began only in the 1930s.

Informative, merrily entertaining culinary and cultural history.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07151-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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