Celebrating Jewish Fiction
By Sam Chambers, Lauren Jones, and Ana Matute
L'shanah tovah! 15 September is the start of the Jewish New Year; the festival is called Rosh Hashanah and lasts two days. Jewish people celebrate by eating apples and honey and wishing one another a sweet year ahead. Enjoy these suggestions of excellent fiction and non-fiction by Jewish authors that will allow you to dive deep into their incredible and awarded stories.
Herzog by Saul Bellow
“If I'm out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” Thus begins the greatest novel of Nobel prize-winner Saul Bellow. Herzog (1964) is to literature what Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is to film: an epic psychological lightshow of modern urban America. Following a divorce and cuckolding at the hands of his ex-best friend, Valentine Gersbach, the mentally unstable English Professor Herzog starts to write letters. Herzog addresses everyone in his letters, from General D. Eisenhower to Nietzsche – partly as a means of convalescence, partly as an attempt to understand the human condition.
Herzog plays a modern-day Job as he suffers being analysed not only by his therapist but his brother, his lawyer, his friends and his lovers; yet none of these “reality instructors” can provide him with an adequate account. Beautifully stylised memories of Herzog’s multicultural childhood in the slums of Montreal resurface to taunt Herzog of his fall from grace. He recalls his Russian-born mother, who dreamt of him becoming a bearded rabbi; and his bootlegger father, who died exclaiming Yiddish. And with an American pistol and heavy Tsarist coins in his pockets, Herzog is arrested and nearly loses everything. What Herzog needs is some time off, a stroll in the garden – a fresh start.
Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume
Published in 1987, Just as Long as We’re Together a classic coming-of-age feel-good story that touchingly recounts the trials and tribulations of navigating teenage-hood. Protagonist Stephanie Hirsch’s life has changed drastically over the summer: as well as preparing to enter seventh grade, she’s gained ten pounds, her parents are separating, and she’s developed a newfound interest in boys. When a new girl, Alison, appears, Stephanie’s friendship with long time best friend Rachel Robinson is threatened – especially because Rachel and Stephanie are like chalk and cheese, whereas Stephanie and Alison are far more similar in nature. Blume cleverly exploits the “opposites attract” and “two’s company, three’s a crowd” cliches to create an emotional story with moments of decided tension and conflict and doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of feelings.
Just as Long as We’re Together about changing friendships and learning about the impact of our decisions. While in theory, the plot doesn’t sound especially unique, Blume’s writing inexplicably captures the intense whirlwind of teenage emotion and the feeling that everything that goes slightly wrong is going to be the end of the world. The story is also special because it suits a mixed audience: for a teenage audience, it offers solidarity and escapism; and for older readers, it offers the opportunity to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane. We recommend this read if you’re looking for something a little lighter to try!
Night by Elie Wiesel
Night by Elie Wiesel is one of the most touching books written by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The book is a memoir that recounts Elie’s experiences with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz. Elie’s narration will expertly transport you to a time when all hope had vanished for those Jewish people imprisoned in the camps. The voice is extremely honest and raw, describing all he had to witness while surviving.
Throughout the book, Elie explores the terrible moments he and those around him experienced, as well as the lack of power he had to change his situation. He reflects on the inhumanity of the time and how those feelings never really left him. Nevertheless, the faith he focused on during his time in the camp is one of the things he notes as helping him to survive.
This book shares all Elie’s pain and personal experience in the most truthful and sincere way forcing you as a reader to remember his story long after you have closed the book. In Elie’s words, “never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.”