Indieland sees many books on Jewish philosophy, cooking, history, and culture. These four starred books—three nonfiction and one fiction—explore different facets of Jewish life, including wanderlust and visiting the homeland, finding solace and wisdom in Jewish texts, the reticence of Holocaust survivors, and using superpowers to evade Nazis.
S. Yerucham chronicles his experiences with sex, drugs, mental illness, globe-trotting, and spirituality in True Stories of the Philosophical Theater (2023). He worked on a ranch in Wyoming, which led to a meth-addled tour of the West; studied at ashrams in India, where he meditated and met the Dalai Lama; visited Israel to reconnect with his Orthodox Jewish roots. Our reviewer says the memoir “sometimes takes on a gonzo, hallucinatory quality worthy of Hunter S. Thompson (‘He gave his best performance as devil’s right-hand man with his odd attractive laugh, mad grin, and head with high bony cheeks mounted like an idol atop his skeletal body. Roasting in the heat, he looked as if he’d been hammered and bronzed in hell furnaces for centuries’). Going everywhere yet getting nowhere, Yerucham’s journey makes for a fascinating read.”
The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey (2023) guides mourners through their first year of loss. Editor Lisa D. Grant, the director of the New York rabbinical program of Hebrew Union College, cites materials from various sources, including songs and poems from lay liturgist and poet Alden Solovy, Hebrew poems by Zelda and Rivka Miriam, and writings from Rumi and e.e. cummings. Our reviewer says, “The themes explored in each unit, from pain and brokenness to acceptance and gratitude, have the potential to engage other audiences” and notes the guide is a “welcome resource for making the journey through loss.”
The Jewish Hungarian parents of author Janet Horvath, a cellist, didn’t talk much about how they survived the Holocaust. In The Cello Still Sings: A Generational Story of the Holocaust and of the Transformative Power of Music (2023), Horvath writes about caring for her elderly parents and making an incredible, late-in-life discovery. In 1948, her father, also a cellist, played in an orchestra of Holocaust survivors in Landsberg, Germany, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. “Horvath’s prose is lyrical (‘Consider a time when hell was on earth, when hands accustomed to a musician’s bow, a writer’s pen, a doctor’s scalpel, a painter’s brush, a tailor’s needle, wielded shovelfuls of rocks, limestone, or human remains’) and brutally honest as she explores how trauma leads to complex dynamics,” says our reviewer. “In a world in which antisemitism is on the rise, Horvath’s story—equal parts disturbing and inspiring—is necessary and timely reading.”
David Michael Slater’s YA novel The Vanishing (2022) tells the story of young Sophie Siegel living in a small German town in 1940. Nazis break into her home and murder her family, but when they find her hiding spot, they can’t see her. While being invisible doesn’t make her invincible, it does allow her the freedom to move about and organize a resistance. Our review calls The Vanishing a “tense and spellbindingly gripping fantasy meditation on the horrors of the Holocaust.”
Karen Schechner is the president of Kirkus Indie.