In the wake of the Israeli elections and their policy ramifications, reading this essay collection, which is composed mostly of material written in the past couple of years, occasioned a certain vertigo: Little progress on peace with the Palestinians has been made since the last collection of Grossman’s political essays, “Oslo: Ten Years After,” appeared five years ago. Now, 15 years after Oslo and two and a half years after the death of Grossman’s son in the disastrous Second Lebanon War, Grossman’s voice calling for peace sounds even more desperate, the reality even further from the dream. Which makes this book either delusional or indispensable, depending on your political point of view.
Beginning in the 1960s, Bruce Jay Friedman’s literary star burned hot and bright — acclaimed novels, plays, short stories, screenplays — only to dim after his screenplay for “Splash” was nominated for an Oscar 25 years ago. Although “Even the Rhinos were Nymphos,” a collection of his best non-fiction, was published by the University of Chicago in 2000, “Three Balconies” is the first short-story collection he has published in 20 years, and it focuses overwhelmingly — obsessively, one might say — on aging male writers’ waning creative powers and their pursuit of sex, and the relationship between the two. It is no stretch to imagine that the stories are autobiographical, and that Friedman has made a virtue out of necessity. While the collection shows glimmers of wit and insight, for the most part it suggests a writer who is indeed past his prime.
Avraham Burg’s new book, “The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes,” is maddening: It is by turns incisive and hard-hitting, but also bombastic, vague and repetitious. It is also extremely important.
Readers expecting a grand symphony on how Hebrew was revived as a living language beginning in the late 19th century will be disappointed by Ilan Stavans’s “Resurrecting Hebrew.” The book deals more with Stavans’s own re-encounter with the language and its meaning for his life than with the creation of modern Hebrew in the late 19th century.
There is something unsatisfying about Rafael Goldchain’s faux family photo album, “I Am My Family” — and it is this very quality that accounts for its considerable fascination and power. A photographer who has long explored questions of personal identity, Goldchain meticulously researched his family history and created a photo gallery of family members who have one thing in common: They are all portraits of Goldchain, elaborately made up to capture these relatives’ likenesses.
The old adage notwithstanding, everyone judges a book by its cover. When the cover features a subtitle that promises to tell us how lasting peace can be achieved for Israel, the skeptical reader can be forgiven for thinking that the author — or the author’s publisher — has overreached. All the more so if the author is Bernard Avishai, a sympathetic yet pointed critic of Israeli society and politics.
It is hard to begin a book with a section of “blessings for the dead,” but then it is hard to hail from a community that one never really knew much about. In the opening section of “An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba,” Ruth Behar explores the island’s Jewish cemeteries as she hunts for the grave of a cousin who died before the revolution. By the book’s end, she muses that were there a Kaddish that a Jew could recite for a lost home, she would say it: “Without fear. Finally letting go in order to believe that the only true home is the one we have searched for inconsolably.”