In 2015, Jewish stories will come in diverse guises — from flights of magical realism to groundbreaking history and biography.
Assimilation and tradition assert their warring claims. While memoirist Judy Brown chronicles her escape from a suffocating religious upbringing, Bosnian immigrant and literary prodigy Aleksandar Hemon continues his embrace of Jewish characters and themes.
Anniversaries continue to be catnip to the publishing industry: The 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination brings us Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell’s important study “Lincoln and the Jews.” And the centennial of Saul Bellow’s birth — which is also the 10th anniversary of his death — ushers in a biography of impressive proportions, along with a Bellow nonfiction miscellany.
This idiosyncratic list, emphasizing the first half of the year, could easily have been twice as long. As new caches of documents come to light, books on the Holocaust continue to stream from the presses. Ruminations on Israel and the vexed politics of the Middle East are another publishing mainstay. Our selection this year happens to be particularly rich in short stories and memoir, from the young, the old and even the recently deceased.
● Voices in the Night: Stories
By Steven Millhauser
Knopf, $25.95, 304 pages
Pub Date: April 14
More adventures in magical realism from the author of the inventive, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Martin Dressler” and the short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” which inspired the 2006 film “The Illusionist.”
● The Book of Aron: A Novel
By Jim Shepard
Random House, $23.95, 272 pages
Shepard, a National Book Award finalist, pens a tragicomic novel of the Warsaw Ghetto, seen through the eyes of a resourceful boy smuggler who must elude capture and spread the news of the ghetto’s fate.
● The Making of Zombie Wars
By Aleksandar Hemon
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, 320 pages
The Bosnian prodigy and winner of the MacArthur Foundation “genius award,” best known for his novel “The Lazarus Project,” imagines the screenwriting aspirations and romantic entanglements of a Chicago ESL teacher named Josh Levin.
● The Sunlit Night
By Rebecca Dinerstein
Bloomsbury USA, $26, 272 pages
Dinerstein’s much buzzed-about debut novel is a fanciful Arctic Circle romance between a Russian immigrant raised in a Brighton Beach bakery and a Manhattanite seeking refuge from family problems in a Norwegian artists’ colony.
● Coup de Foudre: A Novella and Stories
By Ken Kalfus
Bloomsbury USA, $25, 224 pages
In the title novella, Kalfus, a National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, riffs entertainingly on the outlaw sexual proclivities of a financial titan reminiscent of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Other stories in the collection explore a spell cast by a murderer on death row, the possibility of the end of the world, and the struggles of a young writer.
● Lincoln and the Jews: A History
By Jonathan D. Sarna, Benjamin Shapell
Thomas Dunne Books, $40, 288 pages
Sarna, a scholar of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, draws on the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s collection to document Lincoln’s dealings with his anti-Semitic generals and his support for Jewish equality. A linked traveling exhibition debuts at the New York Historical Society in March.
● There is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction
By Saul Bellow; edited by Benjamin Taylor
Viking Adult, $35, 608 pages
● The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964
By Zachary Leader
Alfred A. Knopf, $40, 816 pages
The centennial of the birth of the Nobel laureate, whose classic novels include “The Adventures of Augie March” and “Herzog,” produces the expected literary bonanza: both a collection of Bellow’s nonfiction and the first volume of a major scholarly biography drawing on previously unavailable documents and new interviews.
● Words Without Music: A Memoir
By Philip Glass
Liveright, $29.95, 288 pages
The prolific “minimalist” composer describes his peripatetic work history, his creative process, and his collaborations with such diverse talents as Allen Ginsberg, Doris Lessing and Martin Scorsese.
● The Archive Thief: The Man Who Salvaged French Jewish History in the Wake of the Holocaust
By Lisa Moses Leff
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 256 pages
This quirky Holocaust story is the morally ambiguous saga of Zosa Szajkowski, who after the war stole tens of thousands of documents from French public archives and collections, spirited them to New York, mined them for his own research, and sold them to U.S. and Israeli libraries.
● The Seven Good Years: A Memoir
By Etgar Keret
Riverhead, $26.95, 192 pages
One of Israel’s literary stars takes a nonfiction turn — a biblically-titled memoir about birth, death and grief in the shadow of war and terrorism.
● The Pawnbroker’s Daughter: A Memoir
By Maxine Kumin
W.W. Norton and Company, $25.95, 160 pages
Kumin’s posthumously published memoir details her Depression-era Jewish Philadelphia childhood and her development into a feminist and a much-honored poet of rural life.
● This Is Not a Love Story: Growing Up in an Ultraorthodox Family
By Judy Brown
Little, Brown and Co., $26, 352 pages
Brown, the once-anonymous author of the controversial novel “Hush,” tells the unvarnished story of her coming of age in an illustrious Hasidic family, and her subsequent flight from faith.
Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.
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