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Naomi Alderman
Little Brown, 2013, 311 pages

In her acknowledgements to The Liar’s Gospel, Naomi Alderman writes that she has produced a “very Jewish kind of resurrection” in re-imagining the story of Jesus from a Jewish perspective. Based on the work of Amy-Jill Levine, a respected Jewish New Testament scholar, Alderman’s historical novel sees the story and milieu of Jesus differently. She has a new take on this significant historical time. Alderman’s first novel, Disobedience, has appeared in 10 languages and this one seems poised to do the same.

Ari Shavit
Spiegel and Grau, 2013, 464 pages

Ari Shavit has always been an interesting kind of journalist. His first big story, as he writes about it in his most recent book, My Promised Land, came out of his dilemma about whether to serve his Israeli army reserve duty in the Gaza Beach detention camp in 1991. He decided the best course of action was not to go to jail as an “anti-occupation peacenik” but to write about the experience, first for Haaretz and then the New York Review of Books. That experience sets the tone for much of the rest of this fascinating book. Shavit combines well-researched anecdotes, such as his great-grandfather’s journey from England to Israel and what he found there, with current interviews with both high-ranking Israelis and those from humbler vantage points. He is able to articulate the points of view of even those with whom he sorely disagrees and provides balance for each point of view.

Even if you think you know what you need to know about Israel today, Shavit’s thought-provoking and personal account will entertain you and make you think, as well as teach you something you didn’t know. Good journalism and great writing!

Ofir Touché Gafla, translated by Mitch Ginsburg
Tor Publishing, 2013, 365 pages

Israeli novelist Ofir Touché Gafla has written a novel with a unique view of the afterlife – humorous and meaningful at the same time, with a well-developed plot and rich characters. Gafla’s protagonist, Ben  Mendelssohn, is a man who writes endings for a living. When his wife dies suddenly while taking her students on a class trip, he decides, on her birthday, to join her in the hereafter. Mendelssohn finds that “the potential for storytelling in this world is simply endless” and Gaifa proves it in this novel, the first of his five to be translated into English. The World of the End was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten books that sweep you off your feet and put you somewhere else.

This book could work very well for reading groups and book clubs, particularly paired with a discussion of Jewish views and texts on the afterlife and how this modern take may or may not diverge from more classical views.

A Memoir by Imre Kertész
translated by Tim Wilkinson
Melville House, 2013, 217 pages

This autobiography is a dialogue with himself by a Hungarian Jewish Nobel Prize winner in literature. He writes about his life during the Holocaust, memory and fiction, and life in postwar Hungary. The material is about language and writing, facts and fiction, by a man who says that a priest once told him “God has no religion” but who also believes that God can be found in a dictatorship. The circumstances of Kertész’s time at Auschwitz may have given him a “hidden source of energy” despite the “deadly circumstances” but he has no “way of knowing, because the source of energy was always supplied by depicting those in deadly circumstances in the midst of those selfsame deadly circumstances.” This work by a writer who knows that in a novel “it’s not the facts that matter, but precisely what you add to the facts” gives readers a wonderful addition to facts that matters.